Over the pond, and far away…..Day 1

N507NS[1].jpg

Glasgow to Montreal ……….

Some five years ago, Lady and I, on retirement, traversed the north Atlantic, and the North American Continent to see Calgary, Banff, Jasper, the Rocky Mountaineer, Kamloops, yet more Rocky Mountaineer, and finally the fair city of Vancouver, before embarking on  a cruise into Alaska.

It was a momentous journey for me, as I am not a great lover of sitting in a metal tube for many hours at a stretch, either in the air, or on a rail line. Much as I loved it in retrospect, I was pleased that we had returned unscathed, and vowed that ‘That is That!’.

Lady is not so easily put-off, and expressed a gentle (but insistent) wish that ‘Boston in the Fall’ might be worth a view. As any man knows, this indicates that cerebral plans are already well-established, if not completed, in the Lady’s mind and that further discussion is meaningless……IT WILL HAPPEN….

This was all in August 2015, and when our Travel Agent was approached, I knew that all struggling was futile. Dates, times, hotels, cruise itinerary, were all established, as I saw a dwindling bank balance being replaced by increasing paperwork in a folder. Weather forecasts all along the way were viewed anxiously, so that it could be established what clothes I would require, to have washed, ironed, unworn, and sitting beside an open suitcase some weeks before departure. I had no inverse opinion requested about Lady’s clothes!

And thus it was that just a couple of weeks ago, accompanied by the massive amount of paperwork demanded by the so-called ‘paperless society’, we set-off for our flight from Glasgow to London. Weather and flight were pleasant and great views of London convinced us that we were lucky to live to the north of Glasgow with a view of the lovely Campsie Fells……all was looking good…..

Our Heathrow transfer was painless and our 7 hour BA flight to Montreal uneventful…… even some sleep was possible after a pleasant meal. As a bonus, the Canadian Customs Officers at Montreal were courteous, and the airport coach took us to a couple of hundred yards from our hotel. So we set off happily walking and chatting in the late evening …….but everything had been going too swimmingly….!

There is something about a foreign city at night…….it doesn’t look at all like it does in Google Street! We had just missed a turning, but, hey, there were a few police standing together, and we could ask them. It turned out that they were there because of the presence of the Chinese president! We chatted briefly and then asked for confirmation of where our hotel was ….well you know what they say…..policemen know everything. We set off again on our way happy that we would be soon tucked up in bed…..

The receptionist was mystified, and justifiably so, as she had no record of us. Showing her the booking confirmed that the police were wrong. It was NOT our hotel, although is sounded similar (probably my Irish/Scottish French!).

OK, so we now had the correct directions to our correct hotel and we DID arrive, checked the name over the door, and met ANOTHER mystified Receptionist…..’Sorry, Mr Monroe, no record of you’…..’Can you give us a bed and we can sort it in the morning?’……..’Of course, De Luxe OK?’…..’Anything!!’…..’Sleep well’……..

Three am saw me on my phone to our Travel Agent (the 5 hour time change permitted that) who reassured me that they would be working on this for me, and slumber eventually overcame tiredness from a very long day, annoyance, anxiety, and the question….. what can happen next?

For that you will just have to wait……

 

 

 

 

 

The reason for holidays

We’re having a few days away, trying, unsuccessfully, to get a little pre-Summer sun. The concept of  Holidays obviously derived from the phrase Holy Days, when labourers, apprentices, servants, etc would be released from their work, to travel home to the bosoms of their families, for a few days.

I wouldn’t imagine that they could contemplate being away from work for perhaps two weeks as we often have now, or what we do with our free time.

Looking back as a child,  I remember the summer hols especially,  being free from school clothes, and playing in the countryside where we lived, or walking out to our grandparents, who had a small Irish farm-holding near Lisburn.

I never remember being bored, as we had cows to chase, trees to climb, streams to cross, knees to graze, tents to sleep in, tomatoes to water, lettuces to gather, a black labrador to entertain, water to drink from a well, frogs to catch and return to a damp area, cricket and football to play with neighbouring school pals, as well as the children’s television programmes on the black and white TV.

No, life was busy, but we always looked-forward to the  trip on the train to the beaches of Bangor and Newcastle, for a day. It might have been on the organised Sunday School picnic, or just with the family. Mum always had a long flowing skirt, white sandals, and a cardigan (which she had probably knitted herself) ‘….in case it gets windy’. She carried a leather, or wicker, bag, containing the waterproofs,  towels, sandwiches,  and all the other essentials for a 1950’s day at the sea. Dad was photographed in a suit, and tie.

Staying at a boarding house, for a week (we always went to the same one in Newcastle, County Down) meant suitcases and games to keep us amused if the weather was bad, and the fact that it was at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne meant that there was always an element of risk of rain or cloud. Whatever happened we generally had a good time.

Into teenhood, and brother and I did Youth Hostelling around the Mournes. Carrying everything in our ruck-sacks, we endured rain and wind, unheated primitive premises, self-cooked food, basic sleeping conditions, but again we had good times.

Proper holidays were out of the questions during my late teens, due to father’s on-going health problems, but brief trips to Ireland, from Scotland (where I now lived) allowed me to keep in contact with friends and relations. But they were exactly that….not really ‘me-time’.

Marriage and then later, holidays with our children, meant that we started doing what had happened to us as children. Buckets and spades, hotels near a beach, in the South of England and the far North of Scotland, ice cream, wet swim suits, sand in the shoes and in the car, in-laws, etc were all part of very-happy times. Pleased to say that we were always proud of how our son and daughter behaved in public, and with other children. In comparison, scenes of screaming, ill-disciplined children would grate on the ear and must have caused embarrassment to many a parent.

As they grew to teenage-hood, and we took them abroad, they would meet with other children, and entertain themselves, with only the occasional return for some money. Again there were no problems, and cans of coke, and chattering with their new friends, allowed Lady and me to blether with other similar parents, with similar children. We began to feel independent adults again!

The time came when they organised their own holidays, and we did our own thing. We still had our own business, so breaks were fitted-in with the requirements of our staff and their school children. They were therefore limited, so we chose carefully, going on cruises, and to places we had dreamed-off, as we fortunately had more disposable income.

Then came retirement, in 2011, and the extra available time allowed longer and more distant times away from home. Also the knowledge that we did not have to go back to work, makes a big difference. We have spoken-to, and become friends with, people from other countries, stayed in the house of a Nethetlands family and they have stayed with us. This has given us a much-wider breadth of vision about life and politics from a European perspective.

We are quite happy, now, to sit in the bar in the evening, and chatter with complete strangers in a foreign language. So our holidays have changed from going to see things and places, to giving us the chance to meet new people……..

Our holidays, and what we expect to get from them,  have changed dramatically, but it is still nice to go away, and return home, in equal measure….however, the connection with different people and different cultures still holds the greatest attraction for me.

What about you?

Posted from WordPress for Android

To the lovely north of Scotland…Day 4..Thurso to Lochcarron.

It was now Wednesday 30th October, and after another super breakfast, we SAM_0464were to head west from Thurso, on a gorgeous day.

When we ate last night at near-by Scrabster, it was dark, so we wanted to see the harbour in the light.   A simple place, but the lorries were leaving in numbers, with their marine cargo in refrigerated containers, to presumably the nearest station to continue their journey to the tables of London and beyond.

We only had one thing to do in Thurso itself; get a postcard for a niece and family. We have always done this and it HAS to be about the town.  Chatting with the shop staff, we mentioned that a nephew was married to a local girl, whose family still lived in Thurso. It was inevitable that they were known, and we might have enticed a few skeletons from the cupboard if more time had beenSAM_0473 available!

The A836 follows the north coast from John O’Groats in the east, to Tongue, and then heads south to the Dornoch Firth, through very-varied scenery. Not far from Thurso we met a lot of wind turbines (turning, or stopped as required), then the wave power of the north Atlantic. But most interesting was seeing the Dounreay Power Station, near Reay village, again after some 40 years, when it was at the height of its power generation. Now decommissioned, I fully expected to see a rusting hulk or half-demolished sheds. Pleasantly surprised at how attractive it still looked, whatever concerns we might have about nuclear safety…..and the sheep seemed quite unaware of the technology so close to them.

I wanted a photo of Dounreay  from another direction, and just past Portskerra, SAM_0479when a little track ran out onto Strathy Point, we took it. Up here the roads are in good condition, and I got my desired shot. Returning to the main road we saw work on a ‘bothy’ which is now used as an animal shelter.

For the next 20 miles, till we got to Tongue, we were treated to some of the loveliest scenery I have ever seen, with massive beaches, headlands, gentle valleys and deep clefts in the coastline.  I have let some photos speak for themselves, and then we will renew our journey…..

SAM_0482

SAM_0486

SAM_0484

After this beautiful scenery on the coast, the road went south just before Tongue, and we headed for Crask the-crask-innInn for lunch. It is a well-known place, not just in the area, but on Trip-Advisor. One is well-warned that it is not a ‘normal’ inn, as it is run by farmers, and takes a pragmatic attitude to serving food, drink, and accommodation. When we arrived about lunchtime, there were no cars about, so I parked opposite and went to the front door, opened and looked in. There was a nice little bar, but no-one about. Back to car, to be followed by a lady who asked if we had been looking for something. She didn’t seem worried t0 lose potential business…..and we drove off. However I’m sure it’s better in the evening!

Minimal lunch came courtesy of our cool-box in the car, and another 20 miles or so took us to The Cally Café, at Bonar Bridge, at the western end of the Dornoch Firth. It’s a pleasure going in here as the staff are so friendly, so hot choc and home-made cake refreshed us. They also have a little shop of local goods so some Xmas shopping could have occurred.

SAM_0489 The photos show the view from the window, the little shop and the Bridge itself.

SAM_0491

SAM_0490 Suitably refreshed, we turned round the end of Dornoch Firth, and then struck south onto one of the most170px-B9176_-_Coppermine_-_13619[1] infamous roads in Scotland…the B 9176 Struie Hill. I had never driven it before, but it is well-known on the weather forecast as one of the first roads in Scotland to be closed when snow hits. It is very twisty and steep so that it is bad enough negotiating it in good weather, but it must be a nightmare in December. Fortunately the snow-gates were open and we proceeded to some of the loveliest views in Scotland, down the Dornoch Firth……if you can find somewhere to stop, of course! The other problem was that there were a lot of dark clouds gathering, so the mid-afternoon light was not good, so we pressed-on  via Alness, Dingwall, Strathpeffer (with the Highland Museum of Childhood…..well worth a visit), Contin, Garve, Achnasheen, and down Glen Carron, to the village of Lochcarron, our stop for the night.

SAM_0497It’s not a big place, and is built on a main street, which separates it from the loch from which it takes its name. This time of the year most accommodation was closed for the season, so we were lucky to get booked at the Pathend House. The local Hotel was near enough to walk-to so we went along in the rain, for an evening meal.

The bar, like most of these places is an entertainment in itself, with a dog wandering about, several ‘worthies embibing, the quiet bar-staff, and the owner chattering with some of the locals through the base of a whisky glass. If you ever watch the TV Series Hamish McBeth, then you have it in essence. Big portions of everything, and transport costs are said to keep prices high, but the vegetables, and no doubt the beef and potatoes were local…..or maybe they just saw us coming!

It had been a long day….almost 200 miles over highland roads, and sleep was required……….but the SAM_0495rain, thunder and lightning, and the rich sauce of the steak and ale pie would intervene……

…even with all that planning!

Those who know me have made my obsession with planning, a family joke. The minute Lady and I decide on a break, even a long weekend, I open a new file on the computer and begin to build-up a calendar and details of flights, hotels, things to be checked and packed, spare batteries for cameras, diaries, travel insurance, booklets on local places to be seen, neighbours to check out the house, list of items in each case in case one gets lost…etc, etc, etc… A copy (sarcastically called the Schedule) is then made available to Son and/or Daughter.

And so (with everything planned and organised as per the Schedule) it was that four of us recently booked-into Glasgow Airport at the un-Godly hour of 6am. Luggage accepted by the airline within weight limits, and the appropriate boarding passes received, we headed to the comfort food area for a full Scottish breakfast and some banter, in happy anticipation of the forth-coming trip to the sunnier climes of the Canaries.

Adequately sated, all bags and coats were gathered together as we headed towards Security Clearance. This required that we all carry our own hand luggage, passport, and boarding pass, and since I had the assembled paperwork, it was up to me to hand over the passports and passes to each individual. It was only then we discovered, as we stood at the entrance to Security that there were only three passports to identify four individuals! …and guess whose passport was missing!!!!!

….OK folks, everyone check your pockets, handbags, wallets and rucksacks….but no sign! Everyone remained calm and no naughty words were exchanged. I now had to admit that my Schedule had not anything to say on such an eventuality…we were into uncharted waters. Logic was now called-for. If necessary, three could go on holiday and I could investigate the situation and follow as quickly as possible….not much fun for me!

I decided that I would go back over the areas where we had been and ask and hunt about. The restaurant was investigated but looking under the seats only resulted in the recovery of 4op in loose change. Also nothing had been handed in to the staff. Next, there must be an Enquiry Desk where things might have been handed in, but there was no-one about…great!

So back along the long walk to the Check-in Desk in Terminal 2. Long queues had formed, but I simply appealed to their better nature, and went to the front to ask the same lady who had dealt with us….but again drew a blank….Oh dear, the original optimism of an early resolution was fading rapidly!

Walking disconsolately back past a neigbouring check-in desk, my name was called out by the assistant behind the desk. As I moved over to him, he held up a little maroon booklet which looked remarkably like a passport! It was, and it even had details and photograph which identified me as the owner. We were happily re-united and a speedy call to the rest of the party brought blood-pressure levels back to normal.

The rest of the holiday was absolutely perfect, but the next time I’m watching one of those Airline programmes which expose the problems encountered at airports, I’ll be able to empathise with them!

Now what about this next holiday we’re planning?

The luck of life

It’s been some time since I have attempted to amuse/entertain/inform/persuade/cajole fellow-bloggers with a posting here. I left you in the middle of Alaska when we were on a marvellous cruise trip from and to Vancouver. It was great and we arrived back home to get on with our semi-retirement, and to sort out the hours of video and hundreds of photos to recount the happy times.

………..and suddenly the BBC brought us news and photos of a liner beached just off Tuscany (a favourite spot of ours) and the loss of life, injury and terror involved. Whatever happened or caused it to happen may eventually be explained but things for those people involved will never be the same again.

How many times have we gone down a road where there had been a recent fatality, got on a plane after one of the same types had just crashed, or feared to get on a Pendolino train knowing what happened recently on the Edinburgh/London express?

I know that statistically travel is safer than it has ever been, and vast numbers of people traverse the roads, sea and sky of this earth of ours in perfect safety, but let us remember in our hearts those who set out on a journey and never arrived.

The Adventure…Chapter 7

 

Leaving Vancouver, cruising on the Holland American ‘Hollandam’ heading North on the Inner Passage for the first time to Alaska………………………..

I’m not a good sleeper at the best of times, tossing and turning, wakening with the slightest noise, and with a body which  finds it difficult to go back to sleep once wakened. But, boy, was I tired when my head hit the pillow on our first night out of Vancouver on the 1st of June…….the start of our journey to this mysterious place called Alaska!

Don’t misunderstand me; it had been a week which had been wonderful, busy, awe-inspiring, exciting, revelationery (is that a real word?), with the long flight, snow, glaciers, Rocky Mountaineer train, different food, and latterly the calming effect of Vancouver.

The senses had been over-whelmed, and we were somewhat glad to be spending seven nights in the same bed without the constant repacking and moving-on. Our knowledge of what was to come had been taken from travel books, Google, what  others had told us, and a few television programmes. So all these thoughts were drifting through my mind as I tried to get to sleep. Meanwhile Lady was happily breathing with the sleep of the innocent!

I woke on the morning of 2nd June at 5.30 am (not an unusual scenario for men of a certain age!), and went up on deck (after dressing of course!) for a wander round. Although it was bright, there was nothing really to see as we were obviously some distance from land on either side. This land, and Inner Passage, was bigger than I had imagined!

Now, I have often been told-off, by you-know-who, for having my still camera or DVD camera by my side ready for use at the most inappropriate times……but no such stricture applied on this holiday as we wanted as complete a record as possible.  

We had been told that this area should be a good area for spotting whales, and over a leisurely breakfast, they materialised quite a few times.  However, the whales felt no need to give any advance warning of leaving or entering the water!  It is only when the event has started, been spotted by someone, who then hollers about it, and I grab one of  my cameras and point it in approximately the right direction, that I have a hope of getting a shot. By that time, of course, the blighter has disappeared, and I get lovely shots of empty water, only to find it re-appearing some distance away, after the camera has been set-down!  Try doing this as you are munching your cereal, or swilling coffee and you can see that discontent returned to the marriage relationship occasionally!

I tried leaving them switched-on, but then either achieved dead batteries, or shots of feet or floor, and the recording of chatter…so that didn’t work. However I did get one or two classic video shots of the tails but none of the great snout coming out of the water…..but never mind…there are some lovely shots on You tube!

The ship boasted a large theatre which hosted many events. After breakfast we attended an interview on stage with the ‘Hotel Manager’ who is responsible for some 7000 meals per day, in 7 restaurants…. the mind boggles! We then decided on the shore trips we wanted (some at an eye-watering cost!)….however ‘we may not pass this way again’….

There were good areas for walking and the promenade deck was exactly 1/3 of a mile right round….so we felt highly virtuous that we did several circuits every day. The above shows us enjoying a well-earned rest after a brisk walk. The sports ‘nutters’ were well-catered-for, with a a basketball and a tennis court, and those who simply wanted to sit at slot machines could do so…with the only exercise being for their elbow!

There was also a very good library, and now that I was in the area, I was reminded of a poem my father occasionally recited when I was a child. All I could remember was the name of the hero…Dangerous Dan McGrew, and the author, Robert W Service. In seconds I had been directed to a book of his poems and had great joy in reading  ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’ (who had a lady known as Lou), and ‘The Cremation of Sam McGhee’, who when he was alive, had hated the infernal cold of Alaska!….hence the name of the poem) and who could blame him!

As is probably the norm with most people, you find couples who come from your next of the woods and this also applied to us. Two couples attached themselves to us, but without suffocating the friendship. It was good to have someone else to join with or pass the time of day. We all went separately to the presentation devoted to booking shore trips, as we do not like to be pressurised by what others want to see! in the event we all did different things.

Dinner on the main Lido deck , a great Broadway show, and karaoke in the Crows’ Nest bar ended the first day out…..unfortunately, before bed we had to change watches back one hour! Would our brain and body clock ever be the same again??

The Adventure Chapter 6

………so far……….flight Glasgow to Calgary; transfer to Banff and the snow;  making waffles; Lake Louise and the marvellous Hotel;  Athabasca Glacier;  Athabasca Falls; two days on the Rocky Mountaineer; walking in Stanley Park……and the noisy air-conditioning!

…….Sadly we were soon to leave a lovely city, Vancouver. We had scarcely scratched the surface and we could only imagine from guide books what the rest was like. We had not got(gotten?) to Victoria or anywhere on Vancouver Island and I promised Lady that this is one area to which I would happily return. This photo was taken down at the harbour just before sunset…marvellous isn’t it?

It was now time to get our last sleep on terra firma for a week, in the Blue Horizon Hotel, but the infernal air-conditioning system whirred away, just above the threshhold of hearing, and hence, of sleep !  However, we had another good breakfast and a short taxi ride took us back down to the Harbour, where the cruise-ships lay. We were really getting excited!

We were physically still on Canadian soil, but politically it was American, as we would be. heading into American waters, so we were questioned, finger-printed, and photographed by American security border staff. I had inadvertently made a slight error in my on-line visa application,  and was slightly apprehensive that I might be considered suspicious, especially with my Irish accent. They were perfectly pleasant and luckily they didn’t seem to have noticed the mistake, so we got through with a hugh sigh of relief…..but what if?

Our ship was the American Holland  ‘Volendam’ and could take 1400 passengers. We had never been on such a large  cruise ship before…our Mediterranean cruise had 400, and our Rhine/Mosel ship only took about 100 folk. However, there was no feeling of claustrophobia or crowds as we were taken to our ‘Stateroom’ F1822 on Dolphin Deck. each evening we were faced with a strange animal on our bed made with a folded hand-towel!

‘Stateroom’ sounds very posh, and often expectations are unrealised, but we were very pleased with our king-size bed, panoramic window overlooking the harbour, loads of hanging and drawer storage space (mainly commandeered by Lady of course), good-sized shower-room and loo, dressing-table (eventually featuring a number of pills and potions, as well as a few drink bottles), cumfy sofa, and television….the following link ahould work.

http://www.hollandamerica.com/virtual-tours-videos/Main.action?cat=accommodations&subcat=am&type=vt&id=4&title=Holland

I, like most men, would probably have preferred to go out immediately, for a walk round to get my bearings…..but Lady had other ideas! Cases had to be instantly unpacked, hangers had to be acquired and drawers utilised, so that clothes which had been left unpacked for a week could now be allowed to un-crease, so that she could go out to meet her public, looking pristine.  My argument that some 1398 other people might have some creases in their attire cut no ice, I’m afraid!

Life-boat drill whilst we were still in port, was a bit of a farce. People wandered to their Station late, chatted, moved about, so they were difficult for the Crew to find, wandered off when they thought it was all over, and no-one donned a life-jacket. It was in sharp contrast to some 16 years previously, when men and women were separated, life-jacket-donning was compulsory and no photos or video was allowed! That completed (if not remembered!) we were able to set sail.

There’s something about that time just before any journey starts (be it plane, sea, train or car), when you want to get away, you know that certain things have to be checked (gas off, front door locked; ear plugs in, hand luggage under the seat, lap-belts fastened, etc) but you just want to get going. With planes there then follows the adrenalin-rush of take-off; with cars there is the last wave to the neighbours; with trains there is the noisy clanking over the points and the unsightly backs of houses, as we get on our way.

There is no such effect with large liners. After the ropes have been unhooked, they seem to gently slink away from the quayside. Some make a great noise about it whilst others, like ours, waited until an appropriate time before sounding their hooter.  In Vancouver Harbour it seems to be just as we went under the wonderful suspension bridge and we headed for the Inside Passage…we were leaving the black clouds and were on our way!

Duty done, we went to the Lido deck (one of seven restaurants) for a barbecue with salmon. This was a large deck with undercover tables and also a large area where the roof could open, just like Wimbleton. It had a fair-sized pool, but the sight of some semi-clad bodies entering and leaving the water did not do anything for the digestion!

However, the food was fine, and was, surprisingly, served by the staff. This was as a temporary measure for the first few days to prevent the possibility of e-coli or other bugs being brought-in by passengers…always a worry.

The goodly number of shops on board pleased the Lady so we had to have a look. I managed to get a good book called the ‘Alaskan Cruise Handbook’ (not surprisingly) which gave the maps, mileage references and the history of exploration in the area….I can certainly recommend it as I am reading it some time after returning home.

A brief walk round the promenade deck, and we were in bed at 11.45….but it was still bright enough outside to read by. Tomorrow would be exciting!

Nite nite!!