Wednesday, 30 December 2015

A City Tour of Vigo

The best part of this tour was the last bit so read on to find out why!
Vigo Harbour

Tour guides come in many versions, mostly pretty good but I suspect that the young lady we were landed with was wearing 'L' Plates. Her English was heavily accented and a bit lacking in the colloquial department. By the end of the tour we all felt that if we heard the phrase 'As I told you' one more time we would scream. Yes, the guide had a lot to tell us and, yes, she also had to interrupt herself to point out statues and buildings but didn't seem to know how to return to her narration without those fateful words.

I don't know about anyone else on the coach but I felt that the start of the tour was so depressing it took time to begin to see the charms of Vigo. A 2kl. long tunnel (not good for claustrophobics) to reach La Guia Hill for the panoramic views of the bay, the countryside and the mussel farms - obscured by loads of vegetation - then a drive back to the city through a derelict area is not good for Public Relations.

The City of Vigo is very hilly - which is why I had opted for the tour. We drove along many streets, the names of which were a blur as we passed the street signs, so I am not sure of the location of many of the statues and memorials we passed. For example, there is a Worker's Monument, The Merman, Fishermen and, in Plaza de Espana (hard to miss this one), a fabulous statue of several wild horses - in black. According to the guide these horses represent the wild white horses that roamed El Castro Hill and each July there is the fiesta of white horses celebrating the cutting of the manes of these beautiful animals. (I've searched the internet but haven't found any references to this Fiesta).

In Montero Rios Avenue is a statue of Jules Verne because the second chapter of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is based on a Spanish treasure ship which was sunk in the Bay by the British.

If you don't like bagpipes check very carefully when planning to visit Vigo. As the pipes are a popular local instrument, every July there is a bagpipe festival when pipers from around the world gather to share their music.
Castrelos House

The penultimate 'treat' was a stroll through the 17th century Castrelos Park. I am sure that they are beautiful in spring and summer but in October they were a tad dreary.

A small Folly in the garden

Now we come to my favourite part of the tour.... The final stop on the tour was at the 5* Hotel Playa los Escudos for tapas. Most people had tea or coffee but I opted for a very nice white wine (not the usual plonk dished out on these occasions). And, I confess, ate a lot of the tapas which I adore. I certainly didn't need lunch when we returned to the ship!

Even from my whistle-stop tour of the city it was easy to see that Vigo is a beautiful place to stroll around. And, shopaholics, there are plenty of shops! It is no good blaming P&O for a not very good tour - the local tour operator is the one at fault. Something which I had to point out to several of my fellow passengers.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas and Kindle Presents.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy (and peaceful) New Year!

Just for Christmas, here are a couple of gifts for owners of a Kindle (or Kindle APP) - especially if they come in the form of presents!

DEATH OF A COPYCAT - you can have for FREE until next Monday.

HOMICIDE IN HAMPSHIRE - an introduction to Cleo Marjoribanks is currently available at 99c (about 66p).

To take a look at the books simply click on the links.

Obviously I do hope you will like them and buy some more of my books throughout the coming year. Many thanks to every one of my fans for supporting me.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Lilac Island of Terciera

I understand that Terciera, the third largest of the islands of the Azores acquired its nickname due to the pastel coloured sunsets. Unfortunately we weren't there long enough to find out.

Although the capital is Angra do Heroismo as it wasn't possible to enlarge the harbour, the east coast town of Praia da Vitoria is the major port. Here you can have a lazy few hours on the beach, head for the shopping centre or go sightseeing.

The first stop on the tour of the island was up a mountain from where we saw the most spectacular views. Looking down at the farms I was reminded of English farms of long ago. Small fertile fields and meadows but divided by stone walls rather than hedgerows. As dairy produce is a big earner there are herds and herds of cattle, mostly Holsteins with some Jerseys which provide a richer cream.

The drive took us along virtually deserted roads, across a bumpy cobbled road (a nod to historic preservation) and across to the capital Agra do Heroismo. So named by King Pedro IV in 1834 in recognition of its patriotism against various threats (from pirates?) and resistance to the Portuguese King Miguel during the Civil War (1820 to 1831).

This was the only place where we saw a lot of traffic. There was a walking tour available but as it is a hilly town, much as I would have liked to join it, common sense prevailed. Instead I sauntered on my own - to the port, back to the town square (for a sit down) then to amble around some very pretty gardens. Of course, if you cannot walk far or just feel lazy you can always sit in the square to watch the world go by and maybe have an ice cream.

In the centre of the island we also drove to the top of another mountain via San Sebastian Fort. A word of warning to the nervous - the entrance/exit to the fort is about 6 inches wider than the coach. Definitely a time to shut one's eyes then cheer the driver once he has successfully negotiated his vehicle through that aperture. As well as fantastic views, there is also a tall Memorial to walk around.

Although Portugal was neutral during World War II, due to the important strategic location of the Azores, the United States was allowed to construct a small airfield on this island. This is now the airport of Lajes.

Visiting the island of Terceira was a last minute decision due to some unfortunately rough seas. The designated island had been Horta but as landing there is by liberty boats, it was deemed too dangerous so P&O did a quick bit of re-organisation, along with the island's tourist board and we had an excellent half day out. Those of us who went ashore weren't disappointed and I think congratulations are in order to the people of Terceira for organising the last minute tour of their homeland.


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Strictly Come Dancing Row

I love Strictly Come Dancing. Not particularly to see the Celebs - most of whom I've never heard of! - but to watch their progress. Besides which I just love watching dancing.

The current row about who, in the past, has done what dance-wise doesn't surprise me. Several of the past contestants have obviously had dancing lessons of some description prior to the competition. It doesn't matter if you have only had a few lessons in various other dance disciplines, it does help when learning a new dance discipline. That may be the ability to stick with the tempo, arm-ography (?), pointing toes, not pointing toes, keeping the upper body still when necessary. And any other movements you can think of.

I have just researched the last seven and if the 'Rules' are to be adhered to then there are only two celebrities entitled to reach the final - ANITA RANI and KATIE DERHAM. All of the rest have either had lessons, attended theatre schools (where they learn to dance), appeared on stage in musicals and, in the case of Peter Andre, danced during his career. Sorry, but I'm not quite sure what his career is, other than smiling a lot, trying to tell jokes which nobody else understands and, when rehearsing wearing a teacosy on his head.

Scoring? There are two things I am still trying to understand. Sometimes the judges praise someone very highly then give them moderate scores; another time the judges give so-so reviews then score high. Cheating? [Shrugs shoulders].

And can someone tell me how, when there are four judges and three vote between the two couples in the dance off, the head judge (Len) can vote  - IF THERE IS A TIE. Sorry, doesn't make sense.

Keep on Dancing!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Ghosts in the Guest House Countdown

This Cleo Marjoribanks Murder Mystery (the 3rd in the series) goes on Countdown on Saturday 24th October - starting FREE.

Cleo and DCI David 'Steaming' Kettle go on holiday to Spain and stay at a boutique hotel where all sorts of strange happenings occur, including their finding a body in the garden. And the holiday goes downhill from there. A Spanish detective who cannot trust his officers enlists David's help, a pair of English teenagers disappear, a smuggling ring is discovered and general mayhem ensues.

Among other guests at the hotel is a grandmother and her sulky granddaughter, an English couple and a pair of Texans - she with big hair and big boobs.

Take this opportunity to get a free of cheap copy!  Simply click on the link. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

School Holidays

Here in England if parents take their children on holiday in term-time they risk being fined by the school. The reason given for taking schoolchildren away then is because package deal holidays are too expensive in the High Season. It has always been called the High Season and has little to do with children.

Let's go back in time. Most of my parents' generation didn't go away for holidays. They couldn't afford it.

I had my first holiday in 1947 - one week on the Isle of Wight. I was eight-years-old. My next holiday was three years later.

In those days the normal annual holiday was two weeks and workers were told by their employers when they could go. Bosses did try to play fair and give dads their holidays during the school summer break but it wasn't always possible.

We couldn't afford holidays every year but a couple of mine fell in term-time. My other drawback was having a mother who didn't have the patience to cope with my young sister who was born in 1948. Therefore, before she started school, if Mum had had a bad day with her I was kept home the next day to keep her entertained. The same went with the children's illnesses - I was kept home from school to help look after her.

As the schools maintain, taking children out of school in term-time interferes with their leaning. I KNOW. It took me many years to catch up. My knowledge of English grammar was mostly learned in Spain when I went to Spanish classes in the 1970s.

The answer - if you can't afford to take your children on expensive package-deal holidays take them somewhere affordable. There are plenty of places to spend holidays in the UK.

As a travel courier I discovered that the reason why many parents took their children overseas was because they wanted an overseas holiday. And I lost count of how many of those parents expected others to care for their children. I once rescued a toddler from a second floor balcony at 1.00 am. - his parents were at a bar in the town. On another occasion there was a child who almost drowned in the pool - his parents were in their room having a siesta.

Sorry, but I thought holidays (and weekends) were the time for families to bond.

Okay - I'm off the soapbox!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Rostock and a Sailing Regatta

It was Sunday and very festive when The Arcadia anchored at Warnemunde on the north German coast. Turned out that it was the last day of the 25th Annual Hanse Rostock Sail. There was a carnival atmosphere and loads of people were all heading in that direction.

Before we tourists could either go and join in the fun or relax and watch the boats sailing up and down the river, it was time to go and tour.

Our guide was excellent, especially at helping us to understand what life had been like under Communism. Although there were restrictions such as how much money you were allowed to earn, so long as people kept their heads below the parapet, life wasn't too bad. Not good but bearable. And, as the guide pointed out, his parents' generation had suffered under the Nazi Regime. Now, since reunification things have vastly improved and life is good.

The drive to see the Cathedral and town of Bad Dobenan took us through the flat countryside. Meadows, woods, farmland and pretty thatched cottages. Sounds very English, doesn't it? But a lot less traffic.

Bad Dobenan is in the state of Mecklenburg which once had close ties with Great Britain. One of their Princess's, Charlotte, married a Hanovarian Prince and they became known as King George III and Queen Charlotte. Remember the film 'The Madness of King George'?

En route into Rostock we were told that because, during World War II the Heinkel plane factory had been located there, the town had been very badly bombed so much of the old town that we were to see had been rebuilt or renovated. The guide also pointed out some blocks of flats which were the original Communist blocks but have now been very much renovated. Both inside and out, with Architectural decorations and good paint jobs. They are now very much sought after residences.

We left the coach to take a stroll through the old town and get a feel of it and admire the beautiful gabled buildings which are either in red brick or stucco painted in various pastel shades. Being Sunday the shops were closed but the streets were crowded with tourists and residents.

Back on board the ship and having had lunch I settled on deck to watch the various regatta ships passing up and down the river. Everything from many masted yachts to rubber dinghies, some pirate galleons (one flying the Spanish flag), the steam driven ice-breaker Steltin and police boats scurrying hither and yon keeping the seaways clear.

If you get a chance to take a Baltic cruise, let me recommend one with Warnemunde as a port of call. There are several other places to visit from there including the island of Lubeck, famous for its real Gothic architecture.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Cruising in St. Petersburg

A canal boat in St. Petersburg isn't quite the same as a cruise ship but it does get under some pretty low bridges. Definitely not a cruise that lets you stand up.

Getting from the Neva River into the Fontanka River is fun. The boat has to turn on the Neva to line up precisely opposite the Fontanka so that it can get through the low and narrow bridge. On this second river is Michael's Castle, Once the residence of Tsar Paul 1. Then on to the Mayka River to pass that fantastically colourful Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood.

Back on the Neva the boat crossed the river to the Peter and Paul Fortress. In the 18th century this was a part of the garrison and a high security gaol. Among some of the prisoners were Gorky, Trotsky, Lenin's brother Alexander and Tsar Peter's son, Alexei.

The main reason for visiting this island is the Peter and Paul Cathedral which is the burial place of all the Emperors and Empresses since Peter the Great. As with the majority of cathedrals, the interior is a bit OTT with 'gold' chandeliers and decoration all over the place but the reason people are visiting is to see the royal tombs. I've lost count but I do remember that on some of them were wreathes of white flowers.

And in a side chapel lie the family of the last Tsar of Russia, Alexander III, who were murdered by the Bolshevists in the 20th century. Their remains have now been transferred to the Peter and Paul Cathedral. There is a notice forbidding photography but as everyone else was taking photos.....

On top of the Cathedral's gilded spire is one of the most prominent of St. Petersburg's symbols. The 'flying' angel, holding a cross. Why 'flying'? It is a weathervane.

A word of warning. To get from the Cathedral to the prison the guides like to take a short cut - diagonally across some very large cobbles. If, like me, your feet are a bit delicate, take quick walk the long way round.

Incidentally, the excursion might operate the other way around - the Fortress before the canals.

The Arcadia spent two nights in St. Petersburg and this was the trip I took on the second day.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

St. Petersburg in the Sunshine.

The Church of the Saviour
of the Spilled Blood

Am I glad I decided to re-do the tour around St. Petersburg which, last year, was rather fraught with too much traffic and the rain.

This time the day was full of sunshine and much less traffic so we not only saw all of the sights we should have seen last year, but also made a non-scheduled stop to take photographs of the Hermitage.

Some domes on the Church
of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood

It is quite a long drive from the docks into the centre of St. Petersburg but as there is so much look at - from road-side flower beds to the various domes and spires of the churches - the journey isn't boring. This year at the Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood we had time to do more than just hop off the coach and take a photo. There was time to take a walk around the outside of the cathedral and admire its colour and architecture from different angles. And with the sun glinting off the gold and showing up the colours was a breathtaking.

The coach was also able to make a proper stop at St. Isaacs Church with its gold dome that you seem to be able to see from any direction in St. Petersburg. This is the only gold dome. The others are coated with bronze-made-to-look-like-gold. I also crossed the road to take a look at the gardens in front and watched a bride and groom posing for their photographs.

Stopping at the Stock Exchange Bridge gave us the opportunity to see the views across the river to the Fortress and various edifices along the river side - one of which was once the British Embassy.

During the drive around the city we took the road that goes between the Summer Garden which was created by Peter the Great and has 79 sculptures - but I didn't have time to count them - and the Field of Mars, once a parade ground which became a park in the late 19th century. This was a part of the tour we completely missed last year.

Of course there was the obligatory shop stop.  One thing puzzles me about the souvenirs. I always thought that Matryoshka dolls (the ones that have smaller and smaller replicas inside) were 'Mamma' dolls. If I'm right, what do they call the ones of sports people and politicians? And, no thank you, I don't want one of Putin or Stalin, thank you very much. What I did want but couldn't afford, was a gorgeous purple figured velvet cape trimmed with purple fur. Only £1,250! Oh, where is my millionaire!

Thank you, Mr. Sunshine, for a glorious day in St. Petersburg.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Seeing Helsinki - at Last

I had been in Helsinki before, but a long time ago and on business. I was to sail out on a new ship so my only views of the city were from taxi windows on the drive between the hotel and the docks. Consequently I had long wanted to return to see the city at my leisure.

Although I would have liked a few days in which to explore, I did, on my coach trip from the Arcadia see much more of Helsinki.

As well as busy streets of shops, offices and museums, we saw the Uspenski Cathedral, the Opera House and the Railway Station. The red-brick Cathedral is Eastern Orthodox and looks Russian with its green domes and gold cupolas.

And parks - great open green spaces. Although we drove past most of the sights, including the 1930s-built Olympic Stadium. It was used for the 1952 Olympics and has a stark white viewing tower. We did eventually make a photo stop. As it was at the Sibelius Park I was thrilled. Even if you have only heard 'Finlandia' you have heard music by Jean Sibelius, Finland's greatest composer. And here in the park is the Sibelius Monument called 'Passio Musicae', a stainless steel construction that resembles organ pipes. It was designed by architect Eila Hitunen and unveiled in 1967. Apparently there was a bit of an outcry over its design and there is now, alongside the memorial, a face of the great man also cast in stainless steel.

Eventually we returned to the city centre and Senate Square where the offices of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are located and across from them is the main University building. But it is dominated by the Lutheran Cathedral of St. Nicholas. This is very imposingly set at the top of a flight of steps - all glittering white and green domes. In the centre of the square is a statue of Alexander II with, around the plinth, representations of the law, culture and peasants. Many coachloads of tourists were milling about and getting in each other's way. (There were several cruise ships in). This was also, of course, the stop to let us buy souvenirs.

Later in the day I learned from some of my fellow cruisers who had 'done-it-themselves' that they had seen a band playing in the square. I would have loved to have seen that but I bet the band waited until the tour coaches had left.

For many of us, the shopping was left until the end of the tour when we strolled from the ship to the nearby very colourful market. Much more interesting to browse through and mingle with the locals.

'Passio Musicae

Monday, 31 August 2015

Coffee and Cakes by the Baltic in Swden

Roses in the garden

My lasting memory of the tour of Stockholm will be sitting in a garden on the banks of the Baltic Sea. Across the water is a fascinating free-standing waterfall and off to the right is an iron bridge. Very peaceful except for my fellow travellers milling about and taking photographs. Oh, and the peep-peep-peep of a baby seagull calling for its parents. This was at Rosendals Tradgard, a popular cafe where we had coffee (or tea) and a cinnamon-type-bun.

We had driven through the city, crossing several of the bridges that connect the many islands and were now on Djurgarden, once the King's hunting ground, but now an upmarket residential area. Hikers and cyclists make full use of the forest and parkland. It also contains the Diplomatic Quarter with many embassies lining the streets.

Probably the most visited museum is the ABBA. Very popular with fans and as it is interactive - great for a singalong and dancing.

During the first part of our tour we had, inevitably, seen shops, houses, churches, the Parliament buildings and City Hall where the Nobel Prizes are presented in the Blue Hall on 10th December which is the anniversary of the death of Swedish born Alfred Nobel.

There were several photographic stops to see the colourful medieval old town which has the Royal
Palace, the Cathedral and the Nobel Museum.  And from across Lake Malaren we again saw City Hall.

To my way of thinking the best way to reach Stockholm has to be sailing in on a cruise ship and viewing the scenery from a top deck. We seemed hardly to be moving as we sailed majestically into port. All around were what seemed like hundreds of islands, some small enough to look like puffy green cushions. Some of the larger islands are residential and/or have businesses located there.

Obviously in one day it is impossible to see everything the City has to offer, especially among museums such as the Vasa, home to a 17th century Warship, and the Skansen Open-air one. And not forgetting time to shop.

Would probably have been better had the photographer been
on the other side - in the water?

Stockholm was the third port of call on this P&O Cruise.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Good Neighbours - Edison, Ford and Firestone.

People from the Northern United States and Canada have been travelling to Florida for the winter since the 19th century so this isn't a modern day fashion. The difference is that the earlier snowbirds had lots of money and bought winter homes in the Sunshine State.

Three of these gentlemen were friends and neighbours in Fort Myers - Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. One invented rubber made from Goldenrod, one made cars and the third made tyres. Put the three together and you can see the result in Edison's garage at the home in Fort Myers.

The home is actually two houses, the second one containing the guest bedrooms. Set in lush gardens the two story white houses have red roofs and the main one is surrounded by a wide patio - like a large outdoor sitting room. When the houses were built central heating hadn't been invented so it was, obviously, cooler to lounge outside. Can't you just picture the men having an afternoon nap there?

The rooms themselves open onto the patio and into each other to help any passing breezes keep the rooms cool.

All of the rooms are beautifully furnished. The living room has sofas and chairs and a well-stocked bookcase. The dining room has the table laid with hand painted china, crystal and silverware.

Lighting throughout the house is, of course, electric and consists of ten brass chandeliers and electroliers that were originally in the Edison home at Menlo Park (New Jersey). Some of the bulbs are ones that were invented by Edison - and they are still working.

Following a tour around the house there is a visit to the laboratory and a chance to look in the museum to see examples of some of the many items that Edison invented.

A blooming Lipstick Tree
The beautiful gardens are filled, not only with native trees, shrubs and flowers, but also with plants from other continents. He would experiment with various plants to see what could be made from them - such as the tyre from goldenrod.

The adjoining Henry Ford house is also open to the public. Some evenings when the friends were all in residence they would roll back the living room carpets and square dance. The caller? Henry Ford. I would have loved to have seen them and their guests on one of those evenings!


Monday, 17 August 2015

First Stop - Oslo

Moored by the Ramparts
Yes, I've been cruising with P&O again. This time on the Arcadia. Last year I did a Baltic cruise in June (on the Oriana) and the weather let me down. St. Petersburg was wet and Tallin was freezing. So this year I went in July and the weather was fantastic - blue skies and sunshine! I also chose a cruise calling at some different ports, the first stop being Oslo, the capital of Norway.

Coach drivers everywhere are excellent especially those who have to manoeuvre their buses around some very tight corners, but guides come with various qualifications. Especially problematical are the ones with heavy accents which get emphasised through the sound system. Fortunately all of our guides - at least, on the tours I took - were very clearly spoken and interesting to listen to.

In Oslo we were driven around the city being shown the sights such as the Nobel Peace Centre and City Hall where the annual Peace Prize is presented on 10th December each year. The recipients are selected by the Norwegian Nobel Committee made up of five people chosen by the Norwegian Parliament. Other sights we passed were the National Theatre, the Ibsen Museum, the Royal Palace and, in Market Square, the Cathedral.

Nowadays instead of through-traffic clogging up the centre of the city there is a tunnel and Main Street is pedestrianised. With the sun shining it looks fabulous as the restaurants have tables set out in what was the road - and doing fantastic business. It reminded me of the ramblas in Spain with shops and restaurants along one side and a tree-lined 'rambla' on the other.

Out of the city and we were taken to Holmenkollen to see the famous Olympic Ski Jump, the first in the world. Remember Eddie the Eagle? No, we didn't go to the top but to the viewing platform part the way up, from where we watched daring young people whizz down on a zipline wire. Rather them than me.

The view down across the fjord is glorious - blue water, islets and every imaginable foliage green of nature's palette.

Back down into the city again to finish our tour and have a couple of statues pointed out to us. Two of their 'war' heroes - Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and Sir Winston Churchill.

Inevitably it was time to return to the ship to sail on to our next port of call - Copenhagen. As I visited this city last year you can read the blog about it and the ports of call during that cruise on

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Dancing the Night Away

One of the things that I look forward to on my cruises is ballroom dancing. As a single person living in a village this is the only time I get to participate in one of my favourite activities.

It wasn't until my third P&O Cruise that I discovered that members of the Entertainment Staff drop in at the dances and help the host and hostess by dancing with people needing a partner. Unfortunately, since that cruise, it seems that the young men no longer have the time or, as I discovered on one cruise, they cannot dance.

Obviously I have complained to both P&O and Carnival (the parent company) each time I have returned from a cruise. The popular response is that they don't - at the moment - have enough members of the Entertainment Teams to go around but.... They are working on it and there will be more staff and they will be taught the basic steps. I first complained after a cruise last September and I am not giving out any prizes to those of you who have guessed the reason for this blog.

On one occasion I was told that there are Dance Hosts on Cunard but not on P&O because Carnival want to keep each Line distinctive. (When I cruised on P&O's Oceana last year it was just like being on a Carnival cruise ship. I know because when I lived in Florida I used to take short breaks on their ships out of Tampa).

As single people pay extra - a LOT extra - surely we are entitled to a couple of Dance Hosts?

Of course there are Strictly Come Dancing Cruises on P&O but you can guess what happens to the price. Way out of my league with the added Single Supplement.

Come on, P&O, stop spoiling the cruises for singles who want to dance.

Thank goodness for the dance tutors who also act as hosts. Without them I wouldn't get in any dancing and on this Baltic cruise it was Wayne and Sharon who came to my rescue. Thanks guys!

A plea - if you are single, cruise and enjoy dancing but there aren't dance hosts on the Line you use - write and complain. It seems that that is the only way - at least with P&O. Maybe if a few thousand single ladies write and complain they might (fingers crossed) re-think their policy.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Spending Wisely

How splendid that we can now see pictures of a far distant planet. Two things I want to know - 

1. Why do we need to know about it? 

2.  How much is it costing?

I'm sure that money would have been better spent on medical research.

Here in the UK a great deal of money is being spent on improving some rail lines. Excellent - and about time too.

But there are other lines that need work done on them.

And a vast amount of money is being wasted over the HS2 plans (a high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham). My advice to the Government? Scrap HS2 and invest the money in transport improvements. And I know that I am not the only person who would like to see that happen.

At a time when wages have been frozen or increases kept to the minimum up pops an official body recommending a large increase to politicians' salaries.

Forgive me, but where have the so-called experts been hiding? And - our taxes probably pay their wages.

Oh yes, I know that some MPs are saying they will donate their wage increase to charity.... Where the first bite of the cherry will go to the admin people.

Far better, ladies and gentlemen of the House of Commons, to be brave and vote AGAINST an increase so that that money can be put towards, say, the Health Service.

So there!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A Stately Sail to Seville

Academy of Dance
One thing large cruise ships cannot do is sail majestically up the Guadalquivir River to the beautiful Spanish city of Seville. And to anchor at what must be the prettiest port in the world.
Fortunately there are a few small cruise ships that do just that. P&O's Adonia being one of them. 

Opened in 2014 the Muelle de las Delicias is near the Academy of Dance in the Maria Luisa Park. The port building is made up of re-used shipping containers painted grey and architecturally arranged. It doesn't look as awful as it sounds.

From the dock it is very easy to walk into the city along the Paseo de las Delicias shaded by the numerous trees in the park. Once in the centre there are, of course, plenty of shops, the famous Cathedral and the Alcazar to visit. (Last year I posted a blog about the latter on A word of advice - to avoid the long queues to get into the Cathedral and Alcazar get there VERY early.

Bridges over the river at Plaza de Espana

Don't want to go into town? Take a stroll through the beautiful park with its ponds and lakes and, of course, trees and flowers. Within a five minute walk of the ship is the fabulous Plaza de Espana, built as a showcase for an Exposition in the 1920s. With its towers, ceramics and huge fountain it is a magnet for tourists. The building now houses Government offices and the Town Hall. And it is all very photogenic.

When it came time to sail away the ship's decks and balconies were filled with happy cruisers who had spent two days discovering Seville. And we waved our thanks to the people on shore. For me the two memorable things about our sail downstream were sitting on my balcony listening to bird song from the bushes lining the banks and, later, passing through a small town with the residents waving and cheering. I felt like the Queen with all that waving!

Prior to Seville we had made calls at Lisbon and Portomao (to take a look at some of the Algarve). Following Seville we crossed to Tangier to be greeted with a pall of smog - yucky. I was very glad that I had opted to stay on board. Yes, the smog did clear but I wasn't prepared to venture ashore on my own. Coward!

Sailing back north in the Atlantic we eventually reached Galicia in north-west Spain to anchor at Villagarcia de Arousa.

Digging for clams
Unfortunately it was a rainy morning and the weather didn't improve as our coach wended its way to the small fishing village of O Grove. As the tide was out we could see fishermen in wellies digging for clams. The next part of the trip was on a land train across to the small island of La Toja. It is described as beautiful but to see that we needed sunshine. The best bit of trip was a stop in Cambados to visit the Parador el Albarino for tapas and wine tasting. The tapas - of course - were delicious, as was the white wine.

Sailing into Bordeaux

The last port of call was Bordeaux. Again it was a river trip up the Garonne to anchor in the centre of the city. I would have enjoyed two days there with time to do my 'own thing' on the second day after a coach tour of the City.

P&O always come up with surprises for cruises so I always look forward to the next year's programme. My plans? So far, the Northern Lights and later in the year Iceland.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A Short Tour of Gran Canaria

Never having visited this island, when on my cruise I took the opportunity to have a look around - the lazy way on a coach.

Gran Canaria is famous for its variations in temperature. In January when we left Las Palmas (in the north) it was chilly but in Puerto de Mogan - down south - it was warm enough to sunbathe.

Along the east coast there are many resorts which tend to be concrete jungles. For example, Playa da Ingles, through which we drove to Maspolomas in order to admire the sand dunes which are spectacular and made the journey worthwhile.

Back on the coach we took the picturesque coast road which goes through the purpose built resort of Puerto Rico. The hills and valley are filled with characterless blinding white blocks of apartments and hotels which look like a child's painting. Beach and water sports are available.

Our last stop was at Puerto de Mogan where we encountered chaos. It was Friday and Market Day so loads of traffic and locals from nearby villages. Plus - would you believe - road works.

And this is a resort described as small and tranquil. That day it was far from tranquil and I'm sure the locals didn't appreciate the coach loads of tourists

I wandered around the market which, as well as comestibles, was also full of tourist tat. I found a small local minimart, bought some snacks and a bottle of water then searched for somewhere to sit. Away from the market is a small promenade and, miracle of miracles, I found a vacant bench. Sitting in the sun, snacking and reading is my ideal way of passing the best part of an hour.

Our return journey was much quicker as we took the motorway. The only drawback for anyone with claustrophobia are the tunnels. Most of them are quite short, if close together, but there is a long one. I usually close my eyes and think of green fields but with long tunnels the weight overhead gradually impinges. By the time we saw daylight again I was sweating and my hands were clenched. Obviously I shan't go that way again!

I was cruising on my favourite ship - P&O's Oriana. All excursions are graded as to physical abilities - i.e. number of steps, amount of walking etc - but no warnings for claustrophobics. I'm sure all cruise lines use the same method and would suggest they include such a warning.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Finally I've seen La Coruna

The Tower of Hercules
This was not the first time I had been to this city when on a cruise, just that I hadn't, until now, successfully been around it. Previously I had opted to go it alone but it had always rained. Yes, I'm a coward when it comes to bad weather.

This time I was sensible and booked a tour.

Following a boring drive through the port area to get to the exit, the coach did an about turn to drive us back the way we had come, but this time outside the port along Avenida de la Marina where we could admire some of the older buildings. Do you know that La Coruna is also called the 'Crystal City'? This is due to the number of glassed in balconies fronting the apartment blocks. A very wise precaution as many of them face the sea (the Bay of Biscay) so the windows help to keep the wild weather at a distance and also enable people to use their balconies even in winter.

Some of the things of interest we saw in passing were the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Mankind, the Millennium Monument and some excellent beaches.

Heard of Sir John Moore? He was a Lieutenant-General in the British Army which fought Napoleon's troops at La Coruna. There is a memorial to him and the soldiers who lost their lives in that battle in the San Carlos Gardens.

Out of La Coruna we headed to the Tower of Hercules Lighthouse. It was originally built in the 2nd century but this version dates to the 18th century. There is a long slope up towards it but you don't have to struggle up there to see the building.

By the time we reached a large restaurant on the top of a hill we were well ready for our tapas and wine - tea and coffee were also available. The views and the food were fabulous and I suspect some were wishing they had doggy bags. No, I don't really know why because the food on board the ship is some of the best I've ever had.

La Coruna from the restaurant

Back down into town and another drive through La Coruna back to the ship.

If you don't want to take a tour or wander around the city let me recommend some lovely gardens just a couple of minutes from the ship. Stroll out of the port and up to the Avenida. Don't cross the road, but turn left.

This was - of course! - another excursion I took on my P&O cruise on the Oriana.