I am not one usually taken to posting seasonal articles.
My reasoning is the posts are there all year-round, so most times such posts are read ‘out of season‘ negating the prime reason for scheduling them as such.
Today, I am making an exception. I am posting a story about one of my Christmas’s. Today is the 12th of December. So, this post can fairly be described as ‘Seasonal’.
I cannot recall exactly which year it was, but I will hazard a guess at 1977. It was the year the first Star Wars hit the cinema and the James Bond film, the one with the Lotus Elite which could convert into a submarine was shown.
Although I cannot swear on the date, I recall the films because I watched that first Star Wars in a theatre on George Street in Sydney Australia. Months before it was released at home in England.
Before I arrived in Sydney, I spent a few weeks visiting towns of Perth and Freemantle. I loved the laid-back lifestyle in Freemantle, a slow pace of life and live music in almost every bar. I hope it has not changed much during the ensuing years, it would be such a shame.
But I digress.
I was to spend around six weeks in Sydney.
Most of this time I stayed in Woolloomooloo, from where I did the touristy bit, crossing the Harbour bridge and visiting Taronga Zoo. Walking in Hyde Park, marvelling at the Opera house and drinking beer in its café while watching the boats sail under the bridge.
I may have passed through an area called Kings Cross. I may also have played a game called ‘two-up’ in a seedy bar situated on the edge of nowhere, or these may both simply be rumours.
I did take a trip up to the Gold Coast and was driven almost two hundred miles to visit a certain ‘disco’ because my friend wanted to secure a relationship with a certain young lady. He didn’t succeed.
I met a sweet girl who lived in Redwood. She was a second-generation Aussie from Scandinavian origin. She had a mass blond hair, blue eyes and rather large…. um… upfront personalities… if you get my drift.
She and I enjoyed an open-air public rock concert held on the steps behind the opera house and took a trip on a ferry from circular quay.
As Christmas drew near I decided I would spend a few days as a beach bum lounging around on Bondi beech drinking ‘Tinnies‘ and ‘Tubes’ while eating ‘Prawns’. So, I moved into a suit on the top floor of the Bondi Beach hotel.
Now, there are a number of beaches around Sydney, Bondi being the most well known with another called Lady Jane, which is rather infamous in its own right for its liberal view on clothing. However, this being Christmas time, I chose to spend it on Bondi.
The currents here can challenge the best swimmers, so whatever you do obey the lifeguards and only swim within the flags. On one particular day, I was behaving correctly and swimming in the designated zone when I was stung by a type of jellyfish.
The jellyfish wrapped itself around my arm, the sting was like a ripple of electricity curling around my forearm.
I was swimming with a friend who heard me curse and came across to see what the problem was. I held my arm up. There was a strange looking ‘tape’ wrapped around it. My best description is to say it resembled a ‘pull tape’ or ‘tear strip’ from a packet of cigarettes, but rather than a solid red line this ‘tape’ had small blue dots equispaced every inch or so along its entire length, which we estimated to be about a meter.
It stung like hell, a sort of electrical toothache throbbing sting. While it was extremely painful it was not debilitating. I swam back to shore and visited the lifeguard station, joining the queue with the other victims and dabbing vinegar, or a vinegar smelling substance, onto the wounds. I had already pulled the offending creature from my arm.
One of the lifeguards took a look and nodded, calling his mate over. They both inspected my arm, commenting, “That’s a bute, mate… bet that hurts like a bugger?”, before wandering off to assist other wounded souls.
It turns out ‘blue bottles’ are not the large black blow-flies we have in England during the summer, but are long straggly jellyfish which tend to drift on the currents and sea winds. It just so happened, on this particular day, both the wind and current, along with the tide worked in bringing large quantities of ‘blue bottles’ into shore.
A few beers in the bar and some showing off of the trail of red welts, which ran from my wrist to above me elbow.. my wounds.. to several young ladies, gaining their sympathy and company, took my mind from the pain. So much so, an invitation to the Bondi Surf Club that evening was gladly accepted.
I decided I would not be venturing into the sea again this day, so armed with some cans… sorry tinnies.. of beer and a bag of prawns, we returned to the beach, but to the far right-hand side, near the rocks where the surfers perform their daredevil stunts among the large breaking waves.
Now, unlike the rest of the beach, this area is not deemed family friendly. It is not an area where swimming is advised. But it is an area where topless bathing is acceptable and, like the beer and prawns, something I self-prescribed myself as a cure for my earlier misfortune. After all, I was looking forward to a night at the surf club and needed to feel my best for the evening.
My self-medication worked.
I was full of joy and gusto on the evening, although I am only reporting from partial memory and the odd anecdotes of my friends. Apart from waking among the dunes, wrapped in the arms of a young lady, my memory is missing from the moment the house band started to play Queens ‘We are the Champions‘ to the sunrise.
I have been assured I did not embarrass myself… unduly… and the floral mini skirt I found myself dressed in that morning was fairly gained by winning a ‘lemon-sucking from cleavage’ competition. Though no one can recall what happened to my trousers.
After refreshing myself back at the hotel, I spent the rest of the day drinking water and sleeping off a major hangover , by laying on the beach until the sun sank below the horizon.
Tonight was round two at the surf club. I was representing England and I needed to be in top form and hopefully win myself a replacement pair of trousers.
Thank you for reading and have an excellent Christmas and a wonderful New Year… unless you are reading this in April.. then let me wish you a Happy Easter.
Still, time to grab that last-minute gift… like my book, The Abduction of Rupert DeVille, a comical story of wrongful kidnapping, finding oneself, love, lies and…. well, just get a copy and read it!
I shall conclude this series of posts about my visit to Rigi with an abridged version of our last day and evening, which was the day we ventured up the mountain, twice.
The first was planned. Not the finite details, just that my wife and I, accompanied by Mike and Heidi, would venture to the high point of Mount Rigi, Rigi Kulm.
As far as mountains go Rigi is not a monster, it is accessible to most people from children to the elderly or infirm who may need to use walking aids. I am unsure about access regarding wheelchairs.
Even though Rigi Kulm, is only 1,797 meters above sea level you can enjoy a view of no fewer than 13 lakes and a regular “sea of peaks” in a 360-degree panoramic vista. (cloud base permitting).
We boarded the vernacular railway at Vitznau, the “oldest mountain railway cogwheel train in Switzerland“. It takes a good thirty minutes or so, with several stops to reach the top known as Rigi Kulm.
A one-hundred-yard walk from the door of our hotel took us directly to the area where you board the train. I would call it a station, but it is more of a ‘halt’ on the dockside where the Lucerne ferries stop.
The timings of the trains are coordinated with the arrival and departure of the ferries, making it possible to spend a full, or part day, visiting or skiing on Rigi mountain, even if you are staying in the city of Lucerne.
The trains are heated, so sitting back and looking out of the window from the comfort and warmth of a heated carriage is wonderful, especially when you are looking out onto a countryside of deep, freezingly cold snow.
The oddest thing is the impression one gets from the train, as it climbs the mountainside, for the houses built on the mountain look as if they are listing at a forty-five-degree angle. Of course, it is the train that is climbing at an angle, but while one can comprehend such, the eyes tell the brain otherwise.
Once at Rigi Kulm it is on with the woolly hats, scarves and firmly fastening of jackets and coats because the temperature difference from the train to the outside world is dramatic. Even like this day, when it was not particularly cold, one needs those few moments to adjust to the lower temperature.
Our little group were not going skiing today, so we stayed the ‘station’ side of the tracks and wondered towards the peek.
A large tower, a radio mast is located there and I believe (I was told), it has a webcam attached; at least I hope it does, as I stood pulling a variety of faces, waving and dancing a sort of jig at the (supposed) camera on the tower in full public view of the other visitors. I did wonder why some cast a curious glance towards my performance.
Take a look around Rigi Kulm, this 360 experience is near the top, but not quite… you will still have to go yourself.
Following the path upwards, the untouched virgin snow on the banks became irresistible and I followed Heidi’s dive into the soft drifts and we made several snow angles. I still think mine was the best.
There was a little cloud about, which obscured the full 360degree view possible from this high point on a clear day. But as the clouds drifted the view between them was stunning. In some ways, this peek-a-boo sighting of the landscape was more exciting than having an entire uninterrupted panorama.
It was not the coldest day, but the breeze and low temperature ensured the need for a call of nature, so we idled our way towards Rigi Kulm hotel. Yes, the ingenious Swiss have built a large hotel on top of the mountain.
In the hotel’s own words…. ” While the view from the Rigi is legendary, the mountain experience is unparalleled. The 360º all-round view at 1800m ASL depicts the incredible number of 125 named Alpine peaks and 13 lakes. If you stay at the Rigi Kulm Hotel, you’ll have the chance to witness the divine spectacle of colours at sunrise and sunset.
Upon seeing the rippling waves from the sea of fog, many struggle to find the right words to describe this experience and often just smile quietly and joyfully. The night-time tranquillity is pure relaxation, in which you can even look out for shooting stars. The Kulmhaus was opened on the Rigi in 1816. In 2016, the Rigi Kulm Hotel was celebrating its 200th anniversary.”
The Rigi Kulm has a good fine dining restaurant but also caters for the day-trippers and sightseers such as ourselves. You can eat local sausages and chips in the dining room or outside on the terrace. The choice is yours. We settled simply for a ‘natural break’ and relaxed with a coffee.
After which we moseyed around a little more before visiting the gift shop. Don’t get too excited, this is a typical tourist gift shop full of useless ornaments and poorly crafted ‘stuff’. My wife settled for a keyring with a whistling beaver… yes, a battery-powered beaver that whistled a tune when squeezed… do not ask me why, or what relevance it has with a Swiss mountain because I do not know, and moreover I do not care. (Lol)
Another coffee and a light snack, this time sat outside the gift shops, (which is also a café), terrace we watched people learning to ski on the nursery slopes opposite, while accompanied by the tunes of a whistling beaver… repeatedly, followed by giggles and howls of laughter from the girls.
A short walk across the mountain footpaths led us to the cable car, which we used for our descent back to Vitznau.
Our second trip up the mountain was a surprise.
We knew tonight’s meal was to be a treat from the boys, (Kurt and Alessandro) but did not know we were going back up the mountain until we were boarding the vernacular railway once more.
This time we alighted at a station a short way up Rigi and settle ourselves into a corner of a small tavern for some light refreshment. As I came to the end of my first glass Kurt hurried us, saying we had to leave ‘now’. He seemed a little excited in comparison to the laid-back atmosphere of the evening so far.
Once outside we found out why.
Waiting for us were horse-drawn sleighs, white horses and canopied sleighs. Soon we were seated, a thick blanket tucked around our legs… and we were off, galloping through the snow along twisting tracks, climbing higher and higher towards the mountaintop. It was like a scene from some romantic movie.
The journey ended on a small plateau where a large, a very large log cabin stood. This cabin was a fondue restaurant, the ‘Rigi-Huette’.
This is the first traditional and authentic Swiss fondue I have eaten, it was very tasty and lace with a little kirsch, even more so.
The only downside to eating on a mountain is staying at its base, which meant leaving in time to catch the last train home. Well, the party simply had to carry on in the hotel’s own bar.
I would love to tell more about this trip, but I have other places and other journeys to tell of, each with their own unique story, so I shall leave Rigi, Vitznau, Lucerne and Switzerland for you to visit and ensure my next post on Wild Geese take you in a totally different direction.
Keep Happy, Paul.
Why not take my three-book collection, ‘Tales of Crimes & Violence’ with you the next time you travel?
Each volume has a range of short and not so short stories to keep you entertained during your journey and to help you relax in the quiet moments, like when you are relaxing around the pool.
It has been a few weeks since I last posted ‘Visiting Rigi – Part one’
The reason for the delay is I have been travelling again, this time to Belgium, but that journey is a story is for another time.
Unlike many, I am not a fan of posting my blogs ‘on the hoof’.
I may drop the odd Instagram photo, but it is a rare thing. (I would post on Instagram far more if I could do so from my laptop.) However, when it comes to writing a blog post I like to have time to consider my experiences and to portray them in the right context, so I take notes at the time and add the finer details later.
I find this approach suits my form of travel blogging, which as a regular reader you will know, is not crammed full of dry, boring facts and figures.
Neither do I owe any allegiance to holiday companies, travel agents or airlines. Wild Geese is an independent blog and will not gush about a certain location, hotel or airline without honest reason drawn from personal experience.
If you are looking for a blog which reads like a glossy holiday brochure, Wild Geese is not for you. But if you want an insight into a destination, have genuine personal opinions and experiences shared with you, then read on and follow this blog. (The follow button is on the right.) 😊
Back to Rigi.
We took the rest of the day of our arrival as lazily as we could.
After unpacking and chatting to both our hosts (Kurt and Alessandro) and our friends (Mike and Hiedi) where we owned up to taking the wrong train and travelling for the best part of an hour in the opposite direction, we decided to stretch our legs and wander along the shoreline of the lake. (Lucerne).
It was a reasonably bright but chilly day. A perfect day for strolling about and taking photographs of Vitznau, which is the area at the foot of Rigi mountain. We wandered a little further than we initially intended. To rest we found a small café and took the weight from our legs while we drank coffee and ate a snack.
I like to look at ‘non-tourist’ menus, such as the one in this café, wherever I travel. They give a clear indication of popular dishes eaten locally. On this cafes menu, two items stood out. The first was ‘Goulash soup’ the second ‘Hawaiian toast’. Neither of which are familiar items on a traditional English menu.
As we were due to eat with our friends at the Rigi hotel later that evening, we selected a small cake to accompany our coffee and not one of these unfamiliar items. The rest and hot drink bolstered us and soon we arrived back at the hotel.
That evening our table comprised of my wife and me, Mike and Heidi, Kurt and Alessandro, Oushi from the wool shop, and a German couple whose names I forget, but I think were brother and sister.
As one can expect when a group of friends, who have not met for a while, gather together the conversation flowed as easily as the wine. Tales and stories of boldness, foolishness and idiocy shared, jokes and anecdotes told, past experiences regaled. Soon, I cannot recall having left the table, we found ourselves in the bar. Exclusively, thanks to Kurt.
Debbie and I compiled a playlist before leaving home which contained several tracks we, the group, had partied to before, along with two ‘jokey’ tracks, like an old rendition of ‘Heidi on a mountain top’. (groan).
Needless to say, the night was long, and the morning arrived all too soon.
Kurt and Alexandro still had the business to run, so we were left to our own devices until the evening when a ‘night-out’ was planned.
We decided to travel to Lucerne for the day with Mike and Heidi. Mike drove along the twisting roads, which in many instances are rather like English country lanes. The journey was… steady… the Swiss have strict rules about speed and harsh penalties.
After moseying around the shops for a while, the temptation to purchase some chocolate became overwhelming. Now, Swiss chocolate stores are not the run-of-the-mill sweet (candy) stores one finds in London or New York. The Swiss shops tend to be smaller, often family-run businesses, with handmade, or at least, hand finished confections.
Two things caught my eyes. One, the Ladybirds, or Ladybugs. Known as Glückskäferli. These little creatures represent good luck and traditionally, Parents in Switzerland told their young the Glückskäferli brought them; Much as some cultures tell of Storks arriving with newborn infants.
The second eye-opener, which can soon have one drooling are the large chocolate ‘slabs’. An amazing array and amount of fine chocolate displayed in flat tray-sized pieces just waiting for chunks to be broken off and taken away by a sweet-toothed person… like myself.
Nibbling on ten various flavours of chocolate, regardless of quantity, does not replace a hot drink and a good lunch, or so I was told as my companions herded me into a restaurant.
Once again, the two dishes I was unaccustomed to seeing were on the menu. Goulash soup and Hawaiian toast.
I have eaten, on several occasions, the dish I know as Hungarian Goulash, a rich beef stew flavoured with Paprika, often a mix of both sweet and smoked. It is a dish I enjoy.
Both my wife and Heidi ordered the soup, which was a thinner, but no less tasty version of the same. Much as expected.
I forget who ordered the Hawaiian toast. Now, this is a strange beasty indeed and one I doubt very much has an origin in Hawaii, in fact, I would bet the good Hawaiian folk are as ignorant of this dishes existence as I once was.
For those who have not had the dubious pleasure(?) of tasting this… amalgamation, I shall describe its… well, I shall describe it.
Consider a Croque Monsieur, or a simple ham and cheese on toast and you are some way to realising the basic formula of this swiss delicacy… BUT…
The ham on the toast covered with cheese is good, but think of gruyere cheese not Cheddar, Monterey Jack or red Leicester. Then add a ring of pineapple, (this is inevitably from a catering pack of pre-sliced, soaked in syrup pineapple, not juicy sweet fresh fruit.)
The addition of either a cherry or cranberry sauce is then placed in the centre of the pineapple ring before grilling, (That’s broiled to you Americans, who have not quite got the hang of the English language yet) or baked in a very hot (pizza?) oven.
I assume those of you who think it is civilised to eat Pizza with fruit (pineapple) on will love the idea of fruity grilled cheese on white processed bread.
I feel sorry for you.
Back out on the street and wandering through the town like the visiting tourist we were, we find an ‘adult’ shop.
Curious to find out the Swiss attitude towards such, we enter the store. This is, as I have said, purely for research purposes… of course.
Browsing around there is the usual array of underwear and strange dressing-up costumes, (or so I am reliably informed), along with an overabundance of potions, oils, lubricating jells and… and… stuff. Strange objects I am certain are some form of weapon, possibly of mass intrusion if not destruction and the inevitable display of vibrating obelisks.
I must admit, I have never seen such a plethora of colours, sizes, shapes, textures and materials, mostly stood upright, displayed together in one place before. The girls, Heidi and my wife, seemed somehow mesmerised by this colourful exhibition, while Mikes and my own masculinity seemed to fade into the mists of a Swiss snowstorm by comparison.
The squawks, giggles and laughter of the girls soon attracted the attention of the store’s assistants, who was happily describing rotation, speed and…well, use your imagination. I began to wander off across the store when I heard a scream, followed by more raucous laughter.
Heidi, whether by accident or in her excitement, knocked a vibrator from its position, creating a domino effect from the smaller almost human appendage size, right up to the ‘pleasure an elephant’ monstrosity to topple over. The result a mass writhing, buzzing and juggling of multi-coloured latex, metal, glass and Kevlar ‘toys’ dancing across the display counters surface.
We all left in a hurry, leaving the staff to undertake a co-ordinated rescue attempt, hopefully without sustaining any long-lasting injuries to themselves.
We left Lucerne shortly after and headed back to the safety of the Rigi Hotel and a bottle or three of Châteauneuf du Pape.
Tomorrow was going to be interesting.
We were going to head up the mountains.
If you follow this Wild Geese blog, you will find out about our snow angles, real Swiss fondue, Rigi Kulm, whistling beavers and a fairytale ride in the snow at night in part three of this Visiting Rigi post.
In the meantime, you might want to check out my book, ‘The Abduction of Rupert DeVille’, a tale of suspense, humour, love and all sorts of stuff you never thought about before. The perfect book to read when you are on your travels.
It all started in when I received a phone call from my wife, asking me to meet her in the local Waitrose café.
Twenty minutes later I arrived. My wife was sitting with two of our friends, Mike & Heidi, who were leaving for Switzerland at the weekend to visit some mutual friends of ours in Rigi.
I was speaking to Mike, wishing him a pleasant time, asking him to pass on my regards to Kurt and Alesandro when my wife interrupted our conversation.
“Did you hear what I said?” Debs (my wife) asked.
Now, that is always an awkward question to ask a man.
I answered, “umm, no dear” trying to convincingly wear my most confused look. I mean, how on earth could I have not heard my wife asking me a question? (don’t answer that)
“I said, we’ll have a great time in Switzerland”, she say’s grinning inanely at me.
“Yeah, I’m sure they will” I said, knowing I was missing something, somewhere. But was uncertain what it was. This was further confirmed as all conversation had ceased and all eye were on me.
I shrugged, opened my palms in a submissive gesture and said, most eloquently, “What?”
Once again, Debs spoke. Only this time slowly and precisely as one might when explaining something to a child. “We – shall – have – a – great – time – in – Switzerland.”
“Yeah…and?” I said frowning, still plainly not getting the gist of things.
Debs groaned and told me I was not listening. “WE” she repeated, “WE will have a good time, not just Mike and Heidi.”
The penny dropped… “We” that meant “us”… “we” were going to Switzerland. (Doh/slaps forehead with palm)
All I could manage was a string of questions… when, how, when was this organised, who said… and a few more garbled mono syllables which made no sense.
It turned out Debs bumped into Mike and Heidi while shopping for chestnut mushrooms and disposable cleansing wipes. They decide to have a chat over coffee during which Heidi suggested we travel to Rigi too.
Having nothing planned for the following week or so, Debs booked the flights there and then, via some online app or whatnot, before telephoning me to join them in the café.
So, it was arbitrarily decided I was to travel to Switzerland in three days’ time.
It is a relatively short flight, just under two hours from England to Basel,
So, my wife booked low cost airline Easy Jet. We could tolerate the cramped conditions for such a short time.
The flight took off and landed on time. (That is all there is to say about that).
From the airport we took the shuttle bus to the Railway station.
However, this was the first time either of us had been to this railway station and, even as seasoned travellers, there is always a little apprehension when visiting such a busy central commuter hub.
Basel SBB station is Europe’s largest border station. (Switzerland’s border with both France & Germany)
On this occasion any niggling doubts we might have harboured were instantly dispelled by the helpful, informative and efficient clerk in the ticket booth.
We told her our destination; she gave us our tickets (24 Euros each), told us which platform number we needed, the trains route number, the time of departure, how long it was between now and the departure time, where we would find somewhere to rest, have a snack and drink coffee nearest to our trains platform. All in perfect and pleasant English.
If one followed those clear, precise instructions to the letter nothing could go wrong and we would arrive in Lucerne in 1hour and one minute. (Yes, it is that precise. After all, this is Switzerland, the home of watchmaking).
Sitting outside a small café on the upper level, people watching, Debs noticed a sign saying that the train for Lausanne was leaving in two moments from platform so & so.
It seemed a little strange after being given such detailed information there should be another, earlier train. Without thinking I grabbed our bags and soon we were comfortably seated in an impeccably clean carriage and enjoying a smooth quite ride.
About twenty minutes into the journey the guard passed our way and asked to inspect our tickets. Glancing at our tickets he asked where we were going. Lucerne, we told him, before travelling on to Rigi.
“On this train you are not” he said.
“Why” I asked.
“Because this train is going to Lausanne, not Lucerne. It is the wrong direction.”
Ahhh…… You see, even us seasoned and experienced travellers can make mistakes, by not paying attention, or not following the correct advice.
The Guard was somewhat bemused, clearly because two idiotic English people could not even catch the correct train to their destination. He told us to get off at the next station, cross the line and travel back to Basel. He would telephone ahead and inform the station of our foolishness. (He did not say foolishness, that is my interpretation). He also scribbled some notes on the rear of the tickets in Switz/French I could not decipher. Perhaps he had been a doctor in a previous life?
Alighting from our carriage back in Basel, we were met by a kindly chap who guided us to the correct platform and saw us seated comfortably on the correct train. It seems he received a phone call about two feral English who needed to be herded in the right direction. The large grim which spread across his face as he read the note on the back of the tickets was another embarrassment we had to swallow.
For me, the big lesson to be learned here is not one of miss-direction, by taking the wrong train, the wrong bus, or a wrong turn. It is recognising the ease and efficiency which an excellently organised, well-oiled system can react to something as simple as two foolish Brits travelling in the wrong direction.
I cannot imagine, on any other countries railways, especially at a major international commuting hub, the communication, courtesy and personal service shown to us would occur. It is something I have not previously, or since, encountered… anywhere.
We relaxed and chatted as the train rumbled its way through the (mostly) picturesque Swiss countryside. As scheduled the train pulled to a halt in Lucerne one hour and one minute after departure. Which left us exactly seven minutes to race out of the station, cross the road and board the paddle boat ferry.
Not that we needed to rush. The ferries are a constant and frequent service servicing all the villages and towns around the lake as well as running many tourist/sightseeing trips daily.
We grabbed a coffee from the restaurant and wondered outside onto the deck. It was rather chilly but refreshing. Bracing I think would be a more appropriate term. But worth facing the cold for the sight of sailing on this lake.
We phoned Kurt when we reached Weggis, because he wanted to welcome us in person at the Rigi Vitznua dock, which he did. This landing point is where the cog, or vernacular railway, which travels up the mountain is situated. In a very Swiss way the trains times of departure are synchronised with the arrivals and departures of the Lucerne ferries.
A short walk of a few hundred yards, towards the mountain and Kurt’s hotel, the Rigi Hotel is there, right at the base of the mountain.
I shall continue my Swiss adventure in a second post, where you can read about Goulash soup, snow angels, something adult and special night journey up the snowy mountain.
Follow Wild Geese not to miss out on my true traveller’s’ tales.
Thanks for reading, Paul.
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It is okay, I never knew how to pronounce this either until I visited South Africa.
This time we flew on Emirates, one of my favourite airlines and not just because of the great food, the large seats and many accessories. Neither is it because of the professional and attentive cabin crew, or the excellent lounges they have at many airports.
Although all that counts. Primarily, it is because I have had some amazing times flying with them, like being one of only six passengers on a 747, on another having bottles of complimentary champagne because… but that’s another story.
We landed at King Shaka international airport, where we are met by our driver who whisked us away in air-cooled comfort to the ‘Protea Hotel by Marriott Durban Edward’, a huge and unnecessarily overly long name. This hotel was The Edward and, when I first stayed, The Karis Edward, both names that are far easier to say.
The Edward is situated on North Beach, by the Indian Market. It is a traditional hotel, not a resort. If you are looking for tourist style amenities choose another Hotel. For instance, the small swimming pool is on the roof and is partly in shade most of the day, therefore often far too cold to be comfortable, except for the hardiest or most determine of swimmers.
This is NOT a place for children, which makes Hotel Edward even more appealing to me. Neither can this hotel boast of extensive gardens, but it does have a few palms near the front veranda.
It is a rare example of South African’s Art Deco and overlooks the Indian Ocean from its position right on Durban’s Golden Mile. In keeping with such tradition is the highest quality of service and attention to detail. The food is excellent whether you eat in the main restaurant or up on the seventh floor.
If you choose to stay here you can add your name to the long list of princes and presidents, millionaires, celebrities and me, who have stayed since the Hotel Edward, Durban opened its doors in 1911.
As nice as the Hotel Edward is and as wonderful as its location, I was not visiting Durban for either of those reasons. I was simply using it as a base to explore further inland, KwaZulu-Natal and Hluhluwe–iMfolozi park, the oldest established game reserve in South Africa.
This would be my first time in Hluhluwe and that was what was exciting me.
When I was a teenager I read Wilbur Smiths tales of the Courtney and Ballantyne families. The books, When the Lion Feeds to The Triumph of the Sun and beyond, charts the lives of these two families and the history of Africa from around 1860 to the outbreak of WW1.
On the phone from his home in London (he lives between here and Cape Town), Smith told about his 33rd and latest novel an Indian Ocean pirate thriller, Those in Peril… but that is not for this blog.
Yet it was these books which first fascinated me regarding this part of Africa. A part I was off to see in a couple of days… I’ll fast forward to then…
Okay… I have done so, it is now a couple of days since my landing in South Africa.
I was collected by Jurgen at the unearthly hour of 5:30am. swiftly we exited the city and dove a little too fast deeper into the real south Africa, stopping at a small café/shop just outside of Melmoth and, in the tourist’s handbook THE birthplace of Shaka (Chaka).
History records that Shaka was born somewhere near the town named Melmoth, (named after Sir Melmoth Osborn in 1887 after the annexation of Zululand by the United Kingdom.) But there is no official recognition of it being outside this shop, where rather dodgy and dirty souvenir sellers pray on unsuspecting tourists with a range of vaguely African looking statuettes and charms. (mostly made in Taiwan and China.)
Thankfully Jurgen can swear fluently in isiZulu, Afrikaans and Ruger Hawkeye .30-06. This kept the unwanted attentions of these hawkers to a distance where even their shouting was carried away on the breeze.
After a twenty minuet break we were off again, throwing up a huge cloud of dust in our wake.
Sometime later we entered the park, Jurgen chatting with the guards on the way in and assessing what animals had been seen and where. Then we were in.
Now, being in an African game reserve is not like visiting a ‘Safari park’ in England or America. Oh no. While the Hluhluwe–iMfolozi park is nowhere near the largest reserve in Africa, it still covers a reasonable 96000 Hectares, plenty to keep me busy for a while.
The main ‘camp‘ is Hilltop. But there are several throughout the park. You stay in well appointed ’roundels’. Alternatively go for a walking safari, ranger accompanied of course and camp out in the bush… if you don’t mind sharing your bed with a lion or a snake, or three.
If you have the slightest chance to go to Hluhluwe–iMfolozi in Zulu Natal, do. Just do.
Anyway, that’s enough about me. The reason one comes here is to see some animals, so I’ll finish the post with a few of those.
Oh, all images are copyright, please do not reproduce them without permission. Thank you.
Generally, when one writes a travel blog they write about their travels. Which sounds like an obvious statement to make.
But one should consider, where you travel to is usually someone’s home. Likewise, your home town is a destination for other people.
With that in mind, I have been considering my own locality and have decided to write a little about the nearest town to my own home, an historic market town in the East Riding of Yorkshire, called Beverley.
Beverley is situated about 9 miles North, (& slightly West), of the City of ‘Kingston-Upon-Hull’, commonly referred to simply as Hull. (The City of Culture 2017).
Beverley was voted as ‘one of the best places in to live in the UK‘ and I must agree. But living here I am bound to be biased.
This town inspired the naming of the cities of Beverly, Massachusettsand Beverly Hills in California.
So, what is special about Beverley?
Let’s start with BEVERLEY MINSTER, is the parish Church of St. John and St. Martin, in the Church of England. It is one of the largest parish churches in the UK, larger than one third of all English cathedrals and regarded as a gothic masterpiece by many.
The minster owes its origin and much of its subsequent importance to Saint John of Beverley, who founded a monastery locally around 700 AD John died in 721, his body was buried in a chapel of the Saxon church. He was canonised in 1037. The present minster is built around his tomb.
After a serious fire in 1188… King Henry III granted oaks from Sherwood in 1253, and the high altar was dedicated in 1261.
It took 200 years to complete building work but, despite the time scale involved, the whole building has coherent form and detail and is regarded by Thomas Rickman as one of the finest examples of Early English design. The twin towers of the west front are a superlative example of the Perpendicular style. These formed the inspiration for the present west towers of Westminster Abbey, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor.
In the 18th century the present central tower replaced an original lantern tower that was in danger of collapse. This central tower now houses the largest surviving treadwheel crane in England, which used to be used when raising building materials to a workshop located in the roof. A distinctive feature of both the north and south transepts is the presence of wheel windows, with ten equal parts. Tours to the roof space to see the crane and rose windows are available to the general public, subject to other church commitments.
Today the church is still a place of pilgrimage for visitors. It also continues to be a place of prayer and worship at the heart of the community.
Walk along Beverley’s cobblestone paths and roads to the Georgian Quarter at the other end of town where you will find ST. MARY’S CHURCH, the 15th Century North Bar and a great number of listed buildings.
“Lovely St Mary’s, unequalled in England and almost without rival on the continent of Europe” so said Sir Tatton Sykes, a 19th century East Riding landowner and restorer of churches, said, whilst contemplating the West front of the church.
It may fairly be claimed that St Mary’s holds very high rank among the great Parish Churches of England. This was the opinion of both Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural historian, and Sir John Betjeman.
The church owes its great architectural interest to having been developed through 400 years of almost continuous building from 1120 to 1530. Many of the Craft Guilds of the town adopted St Mary’s and, during the Middle-Ages, it was regarded as the Parish Church of the town.
Between 1844 and 1876, a complete restoration of the church was carried out under the successive supervision of Augustus Welby Pugin, his son E. Welby Pugin, and Sir Gilbert Scott.
The view of the exterior is especially fine from the South West, in which the pinnacles of the South Porch mingle with those of the battlements of the Nave, South Transept and Central Tower.
The West front is a fine example of late fourteenth century work and may well have influenced that of the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, which was built more than half a century later.
There is lots to look out for in the church from the ‘Lewis Carroll’ White Rabbit to the ceiling of Kings we do hope you find time to enjoy this fabulous building which is dedicated to the glory of God.
BEVERLEY RACECOURSE, situated on the Westwood, has been part of the historic market town of Beverley for over 300 years. In 1752, the Jockey Club was founded and the first Grandstand was built in 1767. Between 1813 and 1833, Squire Watts owned no less than four St. Leger winners, including the famous horse, Altisidora. (There is a public house named after the horse in the small hamlet of Bishop Burton, on the outskirts of the Beverley town).
Currently two most prestigious races being the Hilary Needler Trophy for two-year-olds, in May and Beverley Bullet Sprint over 5 furlongs, in August for three-year-olds and up.
The racecourse is a right-handed flat course, just over 1 mile 3 furlongs. It is predominantly flat but with a stiff, uphill finish and tight turns. Beverley has the most pronounced “draw bias” on a UK racecourse on its 5-furlong course. The sharp right-hand bend and the fact the ground runs away to the left make a low draw (i.e. on the inside rail) much more advantageous than a high draw (i.e. on the wide outside and on ground sloping right to left).
Wednesday 15 August – is the 2018 date for the Flemingate Ladies’ Day at Beverley Racecourse, considered by some, to be second only to Ascot.
Beverley has four pastures, East and South East of the town, aligning the river Hull are the pastures of Figham and Swinemoor.
To the East and South East of the town are the Westwood and Hurn in the form of one large pasture, usually referred to solely as BEVERLEY WESTWOOD.
The wellbeing of the pastures is overseen by the Pasture Masters, a group of men (and recently women), elected from the Freemen of Beverley each March. Although the Pasture Act of 1836 clarified the right of the Pasture Masters to administer and enforce their bylaws, it did not state who ‘owned’ the land. In 1978 the courts decided the pastures were owned by the then Borough Council; it is now ‘owned’ by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council.
The pasture allows free grazing of cattle and is an open public space which contains Beverley Racecourse, Beverley Golf Club and the Gallops, along with the remains of the notorious Black Mill windmill.
Chalk taken from the pasture was used for the foundation of Beverley’s streets and for making lime. The Corporation obtained a regular income from leasing out lime kilns on the Westwood until 1812. Clay was used for brick making by local brick makers, the North Bar in Beverley town is built with Beverley made bricks. The signs of this industry are still to be seen in the many hollows and pits that give the pasture its character.
Talking of Windmills, Skidby Mill, Yorkshire’s last working windmill is a four-sailed tower mill built in 1821 by Norman and Smithson of Hull is situated just outside of the town on the edge of Skidby village.
The adjacent warehouses form the Museum of East Riding Rural Life, with displays illustrating the agricultural and rural history of the area, including a range of simple child-friendly interactive exhibits.
If you love live music, you may want to make a date with the Beverley Folk Festival or theEarly Music Festival and catch some of Britain’s best live performers. These two festivals are the stand out events in the annual Beverley calendar and are not to be missed:
Beverley Folk Festival – For 30 years, the festival has helped to put Beverley on the music map. It’s 3 nights & 2 days of: Concerts, Dance, Comedy, Film, Literature, Poetry, Family & Youth Events, Workshops, Craft Fair, Food Outlets, Real Ale Bars, Camping and lots more.
Beverley Food Festival has become an award-winning event, winning the 2017 North of England ‘Rural Oscar for Tourism’ and commendation at national level, and ‘Remarkable East Yorkshire Tourism Award for Best Large Event’ in 2016. This year approximately 140 stalls attended the event, alongside the well-loved Local Food Theatre Marquee.
Beverley has an extensive range of interests and activities to keep everybody entertained. Besides a plethora of cafes, restaurants, hotels and shops, you could visit The East Riding Treasure House, a heritage centre providing museum, library and archive facilities under one roof, plus access to the adjoining Edwardian exhibition spaces of the Beverley Art Gallery. The Treasure House tower provides splendid views over the rooftops of Beverley.
An evening at the ERT (East Riding Theatre) located in a converted Baptist chapel was founded by actor and Beverley resident Vincent Regan and achieved through a huge community effort, the theatre opened its doors for the first time in December 2014. It has since delivered an eclectic programme of quality theatre, music and entertainment.
There are parklands, walks and trails in abundance and, of course, Beverley is a perfect place to use as a base to visit the rest of the East Ridings, or the whole of Yorkshire. You could take a peek at where you might venture be taking an air tour first?
In existence since 1930, the flying club has been based at Beverley (Linley) Airfield (Leven) since 1991. The Yorkshire Wolds and coast are easily visible once you are in the air, as are the River Humber, the wind farm and two reservoirs that help give visual guidance for pilots coming in to land. There is one single grass runway here and it’s nestled in amongst the patchwork of farming fields that surround this delightful spot, away from controlled airspace and restricted flight paths. Great fun.
I would say the latest claim to fame Beverley has is that much of the Town and its buildings were used as the location for the movie ‘Dad’s Army‘
I could go on shouting the delights of Beverley and, indeed, the whole of Yorkshire, which is known as ‘God’s own County’. But the best way to find out more is to visit; honestly it is far nicer here than amongst the noise and grime of a big city like London.
You never know, we could even meet up and grab a coffee together, maybe?
I only posted once in Wild Geese last month (September), which is remiss of me; although I do have my reasons (excuses).
One of which is, I was gearing up for the release of my latest book, ‘Jacks Dits – true tales from the mess deck’, another was arranging the final bits & bobs for my 2018 calendar, Boggle Eyes, a series of distorted, fun portraits, one for each month of the year (of course). Along with a few other things and life’s own demands, I did not find time to catch up with you all.
I have now enough time for this post, a little fun story about part of our trip to Scotland earlier this year and how we came across Michelangelo. (Who became our travelling partner.)
So, without further ado, I shall start on the evening we stopped at Esthwiate waters, in the Lake District. Yes, I know the Lake District is in England, but we were heading North toward Scotland.
Hence stopping on the shores of Esthwiate waters, a small lake situated centrally between the better-known Coniston waters and Lake Windermere.
We found a small wooded area with parking that led right down to the water’s edge. There were two other vehicles, one belonging to an elderly couple out for an evening’s walk, another, a small camper van, in which the young folks were planning to sleep overnight.
My wife set about preparing food and I making tea on our small butane stove. No sooner had I placed the kettle on the flames than we were visited by an inquisitive pair of Mute Swans. I think they were curious about what food we may have, but had a strange way of enquiring, namely pecking my backside with snapping beaks.
I flapped my arms shouted, in an attempt to ‘shoo’ the Swans away. In return they started to hoot and hiss at me. My wife found it hilarious watching me scamper about trying to shield my nether regions from Swan molestations.
Happily, once the Swans realised I would not be feeding them they wandered off along the shoreline, leaving me battered but whole.
While I waited for the kettle to a boil, I noticed a child’s toy, accidentally left or abandoned, standing upright on a tree stump. It was a slightly damaged, (part of his left arm is missing,) figure of a Ninja Turtle.
Neither my wife or I were certain which Ninja Mutant Hero Turtlethis was, until after consulting the great google in the clouds, whose sage knowledge informed us it was Michelangelo, the only one we did not name during our attempt at childish recollection.
As I was taking a photo of said Michelangelo Turtle toy, (to keep as a record,) my wife suggested we take him with us on our trip.
I agreed, considering another companion was welcome to join us.
The following are some photographs of Michelangelo enjoying his outing with us. As he is such good company, we intend to allow him to travel with us on our future trips too, so you may well see him popping up on future Wild Geese posts.
Please forward any photographs of any such ‘travelling companions’ you and your family may have.
Feel free to visit my website where you can see my books, find links to my other blogs and see what I have planned for the future.
Now seems like a perfect time to mention a fantastic day I spent on the island of Barbuda.
I say perfect time, because as soon as hurricane Irma has passed, the Island nation of Antigua & Barbuda will need tourism to return. The income from tourism will help in rebuilding the infrastructure, homes and lives of those affected by the storm.
Maybe, these few words on Wild Geese will encourage you to visit. (Actually, it is a long post, but I hope it is one which keeps you entertained and makes you want to trace my footsteps.)
I hope so.
I spent just over two weeks in the island country known as Antigua & Barbuda.
The hotel of choice at that time was the ‘Grand Royal Antiguan beach resort‘ at Deep Bay beach. It is built between the sea and a lagoon. I am sorry to say, by all reports, the hotel has deteriorated since my stay and I believe it is undergoing some necessary renovations by its new owners.
The official line is “We invite you to indulge in the luxury of our 40-acre, tropical garden estate-a secluded hideaway bordered by a protected cove and ½ mile of glistening beach. This Caribbean beach hotel sits on Antigua’s western coast, nestled into a hillside at breath-taking Deep Bay.”
Even though this hotel has a wonderful location and was considered one of the best places to stay at the time of my visit. I cannot suggest you take a chance of staying there now. Not until the renovations are complete at least.
The good thing is there are so many hotels, to suit all pockets and all tastes on the island, you will be spoilt for choice.
You should still visit Deep Bay though, because the far end of Deep Bay beach turns into the Five Islands peninsula, on which is Goat Hill, where Fort Barrington stands.
Fort Barrington was one of the first lines of defence for St. John’s, reporting ship movements to nearby Rat Island, via flag and light signals. While Fort Barrington was officially only a look out post, it saw the most action of any fort on Antigua, being captured and liberated from the French, going back as far as 1652.
The Fort as it stands today was built in 1779 and is one of the best ruins to explore. Not only does its position atop Goat Hill provide a short but invigorating climb, there are also several rooms to explore, and the view from the top is unmatched for its sea view — blue sea stretches for miles.
BUT… (yep, a ‘but’. Those who read my blogs know all about my ‘buts’)
I’ll say again… BUT… I am not writing about Antigua today, I am writing about one of its sister islands, Barbuda where I decided to visit, after hearing a few things about the island, including it having one of the few pink beaches in the world.
Being this close to somewhere as special as a pink beach, we felt it would be stupid not to set eyes upon such a wonder. The ‘we’ in this instance was my mother & father in-law, my son, my wife and I.
A quick phone call from the hotels concierge booked us an early morning flight, the following day.
Morning came and we indulged in a lazy breakfast before setting off, in a taxi, for V. C. Bird International Airport. The Taxi, by the way, was a rather rickety, rattling mini-bus type vehicle, which had seen many better days. BUT… (another one), it was in far better condition than many others, including the one we took from the airport on arrival.
Remember, I travel independently and rarely use travel agents or tour companies. I feel one gets a lot closer to the real world exploring this way, in contrast to the cotton wool, candy-coated falseness of contrived agency tours. Which leave you with a distorted and falsified impression of the places you visit.
As we dawdled into the airport, one of two staff members, sitting behind a small table, temporarily halts her conversation, holds out her hand and says. “Passports.”
Glancing at each other and shrugging in unison, we all say, in perfect harmony “passports?”
The woman looks at the frowns on our faces, before her expression changes, as it dawns on her we are in the domestic area of the airport, not the international departure lounge.
I spoke up. “We are going to Barbuda.”
“Oh, yes” she says, looking at the bemused expression of her college. “Barbuda… same country… you do not need a passport.”
She raises a hand in embarrassment as her co-worker bursts out laughing.
“I am so sorry, off you go” she says ushering us into the airport, towards the departure area.
(Due to differing world circumstances, I think you now need to carry your passports when island hopping in the Caribbean… shame.)
Unbeknown to us, this was an indication of the way the day was to pan out.
We were only on a day trip, so carried very little with us. The girls had their larger sized handbags with the necessary hand wipes, sun protection lotions and whatnots women always lug around for no reason at all.
We men, travelling lighter, had our cargo shorts pockets loaded with as little as possible. I had a SLR camera, sunglasses. My father in law a small case holding a video camera. That was it. We could see no reason to cart anything more with us.
We found the departure gate from where our plane was to leave.
As we arrived, a uniformed member of the airport staff came to us and explained, as the plane which flew from V.C. Bird international airport, Antigua, the airport were at, to Codrington International airport, Barbuda, our destination, was only capable of seating eight passengers, the plane was full.
She pointed to the runway. Our plane, being full, was given authority to leave early and was racing down the runway. We watched as it took off and flew away.
“Not to worry” she said. Another plane was being readied and the pilot was on his way to the airport. As soon as they were organised, they would come and fetch us. She estimated about twenty more minutes from now. In the meantime, just relax, have a coffee, a beer, some rum. Or all three.
With that she happily skipped away, leaving us with a wide, bright smile.
I do not know how many airports or airlines have pulled a plane from a hanger and readied it for flight for you because the one you booked was full?
Maybe, it is something which happens regularly in your world, but for me, this was a first.
True to their word. In thirty minutes, we were sat in an airplane and beginning to taxi to the runway. There were nine passengers in total, on the eight-passenger seater plane, much to the delight of my young son, who was seated in the co-pilots seat so all the passengers could travel on one flight.
(Don’t read that bit if it is against aviation regulations.)
Soon we were in the air and my attention was drawn to the plastic hoses dangling from the engines and held fast by cable grips. I did fleetingly wonder about the liquid dripping from the ends, before considering if we would make the entire twenty-minute flight.
Then again, as we seemed to be flying only a few feet above the sea, I guessed it would not be a problem landing on the calm blue waters if needed. These considerations were from the viewpoint of having a few hours of flying lessons under my belt. The main difference being, this plane was twice as long as anything I had piloted, plus it was laden with passengers, a pile of boxes and a few crates of live chickens, so it would weigh an awful lot more than the light aircraft I was learning in.
By the time I speculated about the possibilities of dying in an air disaster in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, or which fictional novel I could weave this journey into should I survive, we were descending to the grandly named Codrington International airport.
Codrington is a family name inexorably linked to Barbuda. The town of Codrington was founded by Christopher Codrington and his brother John in 1685. It is the only residential centre on the island and the site of Barbuda’s airport, hence the name.
I have been to some rather strange and some rather surprising airports around the globe. Not one of which prepared me for Codrington International.
The airport consists of one small brick built hut. There are two doorways. One facing the runway, the other, on the side of the building, is the exit.
At one end is a short Formica covered desk where a young lady stands to welcome you, or to say goodbye on departure.
In the centre, there are six plastic chairs. Three facing the exit door, the other three have their backs against the first three, facing in the opposite direction. Three are designated, in theory, as departure the other three as arrivals
That is it, in total.
The entire building is about the size of my lounge, at home.
As we were exiting the airport, the girl behind the desk, who was collecting her handbag ready to go home. She did not need to be here again, until we were leaving the island tonight. Said we should wait, because George was on his way.
“Who is George?” we enquired.
“George is George” she said, as if we should have known. “He is coming in the car.”
“What car?” I asked.
“The car… like a taxi. He takes all the visitors about. He will be here soon.” Pulling the airport door closed, but not locking it, she scuttled off, crossing the road and disappearing around a corner.
The five of us were left standing beside an empty road and an empty airport; with absolutely no idea of what to do, or where to go.
Where the other passengers, the pilot, or anybody else had disappeared to, was a mystery.
So, we waited for George.
George arrived in a large 4×4, Jeep/Land Rover type SUV vehicle. I did not take much notice of the model. But once inside the air conditioning was wonderfully chilling after standing on a dusty verge for ten minutes, in blazing sun with no shade. I think the temperature was hovering around 40 degrees.
We asked George to take us to the pink beach. After all, this is why we made the journey.
“Oh, no” said George. “I’ll take you there later, you do not want to spend all day on that beach.
My wife dug me in the ribs with her elbow, stimulating me to make a comment to the contrary. George was having nothing of it however.
The first thing we needed to do he said, before we contemplated any beach, was to take a boat trip and see the frigate birds.
We gave up trying to argue with George and decided we would enjoy the day by simply ‘going with the flow’.
I have never seen frigate birds in the wild before, the way the males puff out their chest pouches is amazing and seen from the water, in a small boat, allowed us to creep in close to the reed beds and mangroves, giving a clear view of their nesting sites and perches.
On our return from bird watching, George was waiting and whisked us off again, this time to a beach, but not the pink one, which I was now considering could simply be a myth, a trap to capture the unwary traveller… but that was just my muse playing up.
Back in the Jeep we passed one of Tommy Hilfiger’s houses. He was not at home, or I might have popped in for a coffee and a pee. Oh well, next time.
We arrived at the longest and most deserted beach I have ever seen.
Some time ago, George and a few islanders, erected a small open building made from driftwood and fisherman’s netting, to provide a shaded area, so the beaches few visitors could shelter from the sun when they needed.
George deposited a cool box containing iced water and some fruits and mumbled a suggestion he would return after lunch… I think that is what he said anyway.
This is how I found myself on the 17 mile long Access beach, probably the most beautiful beach in the entire world.
Just along from where we entered the shoreline is the K club, which was Princess Diana’s favourite ‘get-away’. A destination many of the rich and famous escaped too. Mostly for its isolation and relative inaccessibility. The 251 – acre, small luxury resort was opened by Mariuccia Mandelli, founder of Krizia fashion label in 1990.
At the time of writing this post the K club lies abandoned, it closed 16 years later. But Robert DeNiro and James Packer want to utilise the site for a new, high class project. Both men have aims to help re-build Barbuda after hurricane Irma, so there is hope yet.
Honestly, the journey to Barbuda is worth it just to be on this beach. Miles and miles of pristine soft silver sand. I walked forever, before turning back and re-joining my family. For the hours, we spent on Access beach we never saw another person, excluding George, when he came to collect us.
Next stop… the Pink Beach… so, it really does exist.
Now why, you may ask, have I been babbling on about this beach. Simply because it is such an exceptional and fascinating sight.
It is difficult to compare this beach with Access beach, because both are matchless for their beauty and these are only two of the 365 beaches on the island, that is one for each day of the year.
But I fell in love with this beach the moment I stepped onto its 8 miles of pink silky sands. That is eight miles of deserted oceanfront, which stretches from Spanish Point to Palmetto Point.
The sand glows like rosé champagne, thanks to the crushed coral in the mix. We spent the entire afternoon swimming and strolling along this beach and never saw another soul. I used the powerful telephoto lens of my camera to scan both ways along the shoreline. There was not a single person as far as I could see in either direction.
I hope to return to Barbuda in the future. Maybe stay here instead of on Antigua. We shall see.
Too soon it was time to leave. George returned us to the airport, the young girl wished us a pleasant flight. This time we had the entire plane to ourselves, for all the twenty minutes it took to return to Antigua.
As we wandered out of A. C. Bird airport and looked around for our driver, who was due to collect us and take us back to the hotel, my father-in -law felt a tap upon his shoulder.
It was the pilot of the plane. “You left this, John” he said, holding out the bag containing the video camera.
My father-in-law thanked him and thanked him again, for flying us safely back.
I could not help but believe this was something which could only happen here, in such a peaceful and laid-back community. I mean, how many times have you had the pilot of your airplane return your forgotten luggage to you, outside of an international airport?
I think, this trip and the string of experiences we encountered that day, (of which I have abridged in this post), is indicative of these amazing islands and the wonderful people of Antigua and Barbuda.
This is a place which should feature near the top of everybody’s bucket list. But I am glad it does not, because tourism in any great quantity would spoil the pristine nature of the islands. What is needed is a balanced quantity of visitors, visitors who acknowledge and respect the fine balance of natural beauty Barbuda offers.
I hope you will become a responsible tourist to Antigua and Barbuda, especially after the violence of hurricane Irma. Nature will recover, slowly at its own pace, but the inhabitants may need your support to do the same.
Thanks for reading Wild Geese.
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Like to read on your travels? Then choose The Abduction of Rupert DeVille, a fun filled, suspenseful, romantic, finding -ones-self, humorous drama about kidnapping!
Honestly, don’t have any preconceptions, just grab a copy and enjoy.
Because I live in England and generally travel abroad whenever I can, most of my travel writings are of places far from my home.
The places I consider close, such as Wales and Scotland, I rarely consider as a holiday or vacation, even though much of these countries are closer to my house than some parts of England.
This is not to say I do not ‘get out and about’ frequently. But what I have been remiss in doing is sharing some of the places I visit.
For me, many of these ‘near-places’ are simply a day out. But if you are visiting England, many would make wonderful destinations, so I shall include various locations in England which I would recommend on a personal level.
One last thing before I get under way…
Wild Geese is an independent blog for independent travellers. It is NOT associated with any travel, tour or holiday company. Nor are any of the posts sponsored or paid for. (Although I am happy to accept gratuities for any posts or mentions which have already been published… just saying!)
The first ‘Local Post’ must be one of my favourites, a ‘Open-air, living museum’ called Beamish.
You may recognise some of it if you watched the TV series Downton Abbey
Beamish is not far from Washington. NO. Not that Washington, the original Washington in the county of Tyne & Wear, England.
The neighbouring county is County Durham and Beamish is there, situated just off the A693.
The easiest way to find it is to take the exit at Junction 63 on the A1(M) and head west along the A693, just past Pelton, Nr Chester le Street, you’ll find Beamish.
Getting there is easier than it sounds. It is quite well signposted too.
Just a note.
You will need at least a day, a whole day, especially if you want to see and sample everything. Also, if you do stop for refreshments and/or for lunch. I would, because Beamish is spread out over a large area. So, taking it easy and taking your time to admire it all, is by far the best way.
But don’t worry, because once you have your entrance ticket it is valid for a whole year, so returning the following day, to pick up where you left off, is no problem at all.
Beamish was the vision of Dr Frank Atkinson, the Museum’s founder and first director.
Frank had visited Scandinavian folk museums in the early 1950s and was inspired to create an open air museum for the North East. He realised the dramatically-changing region was losing its industrial heritage. Coal mining, ship building and iron and steel manufacturing were disappearing, along with the communities that served them.
Frank wanted the new museum to “illustrate vividly” the way of life of “ordinary people” and bring the region’s history alive.
Beamish remains true to his principles today and brings history to life for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
Sadly, Frank passed away, aged 90, on 30th December 2014.
His museum continues to grow, with ambitious plans and remains a true legacy of the values and vision of its extraordinary founder.
What’s to see & do?
Visit beautiful the 1820’s Pockerley Old Hall’s new and old houses and enjoy the magnificent gardens. Take a ride on Pockerley Waggonway and wander through the glorious Georgian landscape.
Nestling in the Georgian landscape is this beautiful medieval church, St Helen’s, from Eston, near Middlesbrough. The church was due to be demolished due to vandalism until it was saved and rebuilt at the Museum.
Explore the 1900s Town and see how families lived and worked in the years leading up to the First World War.
See what’s cooking in the 1900’s pit cottages, practise your handwriting in the school and visit the chapel. Don’t forget to say hello to the pit ponies in their stables.
In Ravensworth Terrace you can see the solicitor’s office and see how a dentist used to practice.
The towns shops.
The corner building in The Town is now home to an early 1900s photographers and chemist, with dispensary and aerated water sections.
Visitors can have their pictures taken in Edwardian costume in the photography studio of JR & D Edis, while at W Smith’s Chemist they can try the traditionally flavoured aerated waters, help to prepare medicines, and discover miraculous “cure-alls”.
The businesses are named after chemist William Smith and photographers John Reed Edis and his daughter Daisy, who all worked in Durham City in the early 1900s.
The Co-operative store. Browse the grocery, drapery and hardware departments of this store, which was moved from Annfield Plain, in County Durham. Can you remember your “divi” number?
Printer, Stationer & Newspaper Branch Office. Downstairs you’ll find the Sunderland Daily Echo and Northern Daily Mail branch office, and a stationer’s shop, where you can pick up some souvenirs from your visit. Upstairs is the printer’s shop – look out for the press in action
Food & Drink
You may also like to pop into the Tea Rooms or the towns Public house ‘The Sun Inn’.
Freshly baked cakes and biscuits can be purchased from Herron’s Bakery. While a mouth-watering range of traditional sweets are available from the Jubilee Sweet Shop. If you time it right you can watch the sweets being made in the old-fashioned way too.
Sinkers’ Bait Cabin, in the Pit Village serves pies and pastries along with light refreshments, as does the British Kitchen where you should try a ‘Black market bacon Hot Stotty’.
One of the most popular is Davy’s Fried Fish Shop, where they serve traditional British ‘Fish & Chips’ cooked in beef dripping on coal-fired ranges. They really are ‘the best’ I have eaten in many a year and evoke all those wonderful memories of childhood.
Down the Pit.
No recreation of the history of North East England would be complete without a colliery and the people who worked and lived around it.
Generations of families worked down the North East’s pits – it was the industry on which the region’s prosperity was built. In 1913, the year of peak production, 165,246 men and boys worked in Durham’s 304 mines.
See this railway station as it looked in Edwardian times with its signal box, waiting rooms, goods yard and spot a variety of wagons on display.
The station was originally in Rowley, near Consett, County Durham, in 1867. It was reopened at Beamish in 1976 by poet Sir John Betjeman.
A wrought-iron footbridge from The Town crosses the railway line and leads towards the signal box, dating from 1896. Across the tracks in the Goods Yard is a Goods Shed, dating from 1850.
The 1940’s Farm
Discover how life was on the Home Front during the Second World War. Look out for the Land Girls and the Home Guard.
Pop into the cosy farmhouse, and find out about wartime family life. You may smell cooking on the Aga or range (using rations, of course), hear 1940s music and news broadcasts on the wireless, and see “make do and mend” in action.
Getting around Beamish.
Of course, you can walk. It is particularly pleasant to do so during a warm summers day.
But you may wish to ride an original Tram or trollybus?
The operating fleet usually consists of between four and six trams, with others in store or undergoing heavy maintenance.
There are two Edwardian replica buses based on the London B type (in Newcastle Corporation livery) and a Northern General Daimler.
A 1932 Leyland Cub is presently being restored this will be followed by a further Leyland Cub in 2017. At present, there is one working trolleybus, Newcastle 501, but this will be supplemented once the development of the trolleybus route begins from 2016. An Armstrong Whitworth replica car is also available as a limousine, and a supporting fleet of cars and vans dating from the 1920s to early 1960s can also be seen at work around the Museum.
What going on.
This is an important question because there is always something happening a Beamish. Be it re-enacting the ‘Children’s Strike’, Digging for Victory or a workhouse Wednesday, Falconry Friday or listening to tales on a Tuesday.
Fancy driving a tram or a steam-driven steamroller, trying your hand at blacksmithing or becoming a Georgian maid? It is all possible at Beamish.
The future looks rosy too.
Beamish is celebrating a £10.9million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Remaking Beamish project.
The funding is a major milestone in Beamish’s history and it will help the museum create a range of new ways for people to experience the heritage of the North East. It is the largest single investment ever seen at Beamish.
The centrepiece will be a reconstructed 1950s Town – meaning that alongside existing attractions depicting life in the early 19th and 20th centuries, the museum will once again include a period within living memory. Visitors will also be able to stay overnight in a recreation of a Great North Road coaching inn.
The new town will include;
The former Grand Electric Cinema from Ryhope.
A replica of the Coundon and Leeholme Community Association centre at the Leeholme Welfare Hall will help to tell the story of community life in the 1950s.
The 1952-built semi-detached house of Esther Gibbon, daughter Linda Gilmore and their family.
Replica shops from Bow Street, Middlesbrough; Darras Drive, North Shields and Blackhall Rocks.
The interior of John’s Cafe, from Wingate, County Durham.
Billingham Bowling Club’s green and pavilion are set to be copied.
A fried fish shop from Middleton-St-George, near Darlington, will be replicated to serve up this popular 1950s food. We have a 1952 gas-powered range collected from Middleton-St-George.
Spain’s Field Farm, which has been donated by the Jopling family, will be rebuilt at Beamish stone by stone to tell the important story of upland farms and how rural life changed in the 1950s.
I could simply go on and on about this wonderful place, somewhere I shall be returning to soon, before this year’s entrance ticket expires and because I want some more ‘real’ Fish & Chips.
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We planned to go fishing, troll fishing. Which, for the uninitiated has nothing to do with the internet, your personal details or catching the bad guys.
Troll, in this instance, refers to a form of sea fishing where baited lines are dragged through the water, relatively slowly, behind the boat. Several lines are used, some on outriggers, so the set lines do not tangle.
We were on the hunt for Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Kingfish, Swordfish, in fact we were not fussy. If we caught something we would be happy.
To get a good days fishing means an early start, a bleary eyed, why the f.. flip am I doing this, why am I out of bed before sunrise, type of early start.
Hey, and guess who got to drive.
I am not too bad at getting myself organised in a morning. in fact, if I have prepared the night before, I can be up and out of the house in around fifteen minutes, including taking a shower and a grabbing a quick drink.
The problem is ‘the others‘.
Especially when two of those others are eleven and thirteen-year old, as was my son and nice at the time.
At the other end of the scale, was the over preparedness of my mother in law.
To take a simply day trip with her, was like organising a military field exercise. The number of bags, containing equipment and substances to cater for any and every possible occurrence, from a small scratch to surviving a Zombie apocalypse, had to be precisely packed, in a precise order, in colour coded bags.
A short drive, to the right after exiting Cheeca Lodge, soon saw us at Whale Harbour Marina. This is a location many game fishing charters run from. Besides there was café which was open, even at this stupid o’clock time in the morning, so the kids could grab a drink, a light breakfast and the ‘others’ get their morning dosage of caffeine.
Eventually, as the sun began to wake from its own slumber, we were all in the ‘wide awake club’ and made our way towards the harbourside, where our boat and captain should be waiting for us.
Capt. Davey and his mate.
The Captain’s mate was a well suntanned girl, who I am certain worked out with weights, at least ten times a day and who I think was the Captain’s mate in more than just the boating sense.
We were helped aboard, the clean, smart looking purpose-built vessel. I have no idea what kind of boat it was, how long it was, or how many horses were stored away with all the knots and other sailory stuff. But it was white, had blue seating and plenty of places to for a dozen or so rods to be set at once.
Once we had stowed away the mother in laws ten weeks’ worth of supplies, we got under way and tootled out of the harbour.
We lazed about while the mate made her preparations. The women sat in the cabin, as the mornings sea breeze had a slight chill. It was still silly o’clock, about 6.am if I recall correctly.
I sat on the fishing deck staring out to sea. I liked the slight chill and the occasional spray from the sea. It is surprising how quickly the sun rises and how much more heat it radiates with every millimetre it rises above the horizon.
By the time we reached the first fishing spot, the sun was up and it was getting hot. Hot enough for the girls to venture out from the cabin.
If we wanted big fish, we needed to catch some smaller ones first. Small ones we could use as bait to lure the larger one to us.
Soon, we had a bucket full of assorted fish. Mostly mackerel or others of similar size. Now, I like Mackerel, grilled and served with a mild mustard sauce and any one of these ‘bait fish’ was large enough for a satisfying meal.
Soon we were off again, heading out towards deeper waters.
By now the sun was beaming down, the girls had already stripped off to swimsuits and bikinis. I was wearing my sports style sunglasses. At least we looked the business, even if we had no idea what the hell we were actually doing.
(I should have mentioned, this trip was taken when we were novices, before my wife and I became proficient at game fishing.)
Therefore, if you have never been deep sea troll fishing, please, please have a go, at least once. You may become hooked… excuse the pun… as we did.
Soon there were several lines out and Captain Dave was slowly driving the boat forward, trailing the lines behind and waiting for a bite.
We did not wait long.
John, my father in law took the first rod and started, under the mate’s guidance, to reel in whatever was on the end. ‘Pull the rod, by lifting it and then wind the line in as fast as you can, while slowly lowering the rod until it is level with the horizon… repeat, soon you will have wound in your catch.’
That’s all a beginner really needs to know, at this stage.
After five minutes we had a sparkly, shiney Dolphin fish… NO, not a flipper type Dolphin, but a brightly coloured fish also known as a Mahi Mahi. We were told they are excellent to eat. It was put straight into the ice-cold refrigerator.
Then they began to bite, more Mahi Mahi, Skipjack and Black-fin Tuna, Kingfish and more.
I took the line, reeling in a biggy… yeah, that old fisherman’s tale. Only this one was going nowhere.
Captain Dave put the boat into reverse and the mate strapped the belt around me, so I could support the base of the rod against my body. I was in a fight with a sizeable beasty.
Twenty minutes later, I was going to ask someone else to take over, as my arms felt like my biceps were about to pop, the mate shouted and leapt forward with the grappling hook.
I was asked to walk backwards, towards the cabin, but keep the tension on the line. This I did.
I could see nothing as all the family, along with the mate, were at the stern and looking into the water. I was still hanging onto the rod for dear life.
There were some shouts, big smiles and clicks of the camera, then that was it. The mate had released my catch. It seems it counts as a catch when brought alongside with the bill hook. It does not have to be bought aboard.
I saw nothing. After thirty minutes of hard graft I saw nothing.
It turned out I landed me a shark. No wonder it fought so hard. It was a young feisty shark; a smallish one, which conservation dictates must be released again. To me that was fair enough. Sharks do not make good eating.
The chefs back at Cheeca Lodge were cooking our catch today, for dinner tonight. Shark was definitely NOT going to be on the menu.
Besides, right then all I wanted was a cold beer and a chicken sandwich from my mother in laws stock pile of food.
As for how big the shark actually was; I only have the photographs to show. But if anyone askes, you can say it made a Great White look like a tiddly little Stickleback.
I’ll end my Islamorada tales there, at least for now.
Next time, on Wild Geese, I’ll entertain you with a tale from another part of the world.
Oh, just one more thing before I go. Rupert gets taken away, locked in the back of a plane by his kidnappers… It all happens in my novel, ‘The Abduction of Rupert DeVille.’