2009
Yes, not a good start to the year. On the first Sunday, in the evening I was sat relaxed in my armchair, and had occasion to speak to Muriel, and found my speech to be slurred - a very considerable surprise!, but I realized what had happened, I had received a stroke. Absolutely no other symptoms, apart from my speech. I was taken to hospital where I stayed four days. Obviously I had heard about strokes, and how they affected a person, in my case it was on my left side. However this has not caused over much disability, really just the upper part of my left side, and that relatively mildly. It could have been far worse. However, this did place restrictions on activities for the first three months of the year.

On the first of April an organization of which I am a member, had arranged a visit to the Princess boat factory at Plymouth, being that boats are now perhaps my main interest, this I had to partake in! So we drove down the previous day, staying in our usual Ibis Hotel that evening. My health had by now recovered such that I felt perfectly OK, unfortunately though the value I got from the tour round the works, was certainly less than it could have been. This was due to the guide being extremely difficult to hear and follow. There were fifteen in our party, thus only a few could get close enough to heed his comments. Had he used some form of speech magnification, and we could all hear him, then this could have helped, but in this case the numbers involved prevented best communication. We learned much all the same.

Following on from this visit, we travelled over to France. Brittany Ferries had just commenced the use of a brand new ship called the Amorique, for the route over to Rocoff, so nice to use it. The late arrival justified a room in the ibis, this turned out to be right at the back of the building, with the sea at hight tide almost touching the walls. Quickly to sleep, with sounds of the sea. Roscoff is traditional Breton town, we enjoyed the walk we took round it, prior to the hundred miles drive to Josselin. The return drive back to Cherbourg is not much short of 180 miles, so we though we'd split in two, with a stop at Villedieu-les-Poels, this being a town we'd visited several times previously. Famous for its copper utensils and ornaments - numerous shops full of the stuff!

End of May, just a note on our activities: I am hoping to feel as I did before my 'problem', but it is a slow job, as already mentioned, medication is a necessary evil, and these can cause other affects, in my case appetite. At the moment I am trying leaving off one pill, to see if this improves matters. We are also in the process of moving back to the farm, the tenant there having left, so 'The Cottage' need to be prepared for other occupants.

At last - we've started to use our boat again! We planned that our first trip would be to Harold Hayles yard at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. So here we are! (17th June) Sylvania has the dinghy on the back. Quite apart from the gorgeous situation, another reason for our visit was to get the engine serviced. We were lucky in this, I have never liked engine oil to be changed when the engine is not really well warmed up - could not complain here, within minutes of arriving from Poole, the engineer was sucking the old oil out, Perhaps it might not be so important nowadays, with thinner oils, but even so, I really was pleased with this excellent service.

Another matter which pleased us was that we managed to get the dingy in the water, and then back on the platform again with little difficulty. Not done that before, had thought it could be to difficult an operation, specially since my 'problem'. But we did it well.

Again full use was made of our bus passes while on the island. First to Newport, then on to Cowes. Next day through Sandown and Shanklin to Ventnor, returning via Niton and Chale, these service buses - mostly double decked in fact, do provide most excellent views of the countryside on the island.

The annual Round the Island Yacht Race took place on the Saturday. To view this, we took a bus to Alum Bay, then to the Needles, so we could watch the early ones round this point. Later we crossed to the far end of the island to view the boats as they rounded Bembridge.


Another trip out of Yarmouth we really enjoyed was one we took in our dingy up the River Yar virtually to Freshwater. On the voyage I took particular interest in the views we were getting of Norton Manor, pictured on the right. As can be seen by the waterline, this lovely old house could be badly affected by rising levels as a result of global warming.

On the Tuesday we set sail for Gosport, little bit tricky entering here because the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour is so narrow, luckily I had already informed myself we had to enter on the left (port). We were thus on the correct side for entry to Haslar Marina, quickly we found a berth, then up to pay for it, £25 for just 24 hours. But they did include the electricity in that sum.

Next morning we crossed on the the ferry over to Portsmouth, and took the opportunity on this visit to go up the Spinnaker, on our previous visits there had been queues, not so this time, not sure if because of less visitors, but it was just ten minutes after opening. I'm not fond of heights, but I was perfectly comfortable up there, and in fact stayed for over an hour.


 
Soon after midday we set sail for Southampton. This was our second visit with the boat, and our berthing at Ocean Village Marina. Here, we are only 10 - 15 minutes from the main shopping centre of Southampton - though obviously we do not hang around such places in full summer. We did though take two trips out in our boat, mainly to take a closer look at the number of cruise ships in the docks.

Considerable number there were too, best known perhaps being the Queen Mary 2. On the Saturday at berth 106 was a cruise ship we have a particular interest in: The "Grand Princess". The reason being, we are booked for a cruise on her at the end of August! Photograph below:
 
As can be seen on the left, we managed to get AIS working on our Apple laptop. This is a system whereby vessels of not less than 300 tonnes are obliged to transmit details regarding their actions, this comes into its own when visibility is poor. I do confess however for me it is a matter of interest, what ships are, and where they are going.

In addition we also have the benefit of GPS, this shows the track of our boat - the solid red line, also the position, in this screen shot, the red marker triangle is almost hidden by one of the AIS markers.

We were berthed in Ocean Village Marina when this screen shot was taken, the full screen did show vessels below the Bramble Bank, just North of Cowes so this does indicate the range of this system.

Note the interesting names of some of these ships!
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29th August: Commencement of perhaps one of our greatest voyages: I've already indicated we'd booked a cruise on the "Grand Princess", 'photo above. Must confess; though I was looking forward to this, I had no preconceived ideas as to what it would be like.  

On board however it would prove to exceed any normal expectations. Our cabin was almost as good as any hotel room we've ever stayed in, and far better than the majority! It is the food though which is quite outstanding. I doubt any top restaurant would be as good. Staff likewise friendly and attentive. We have always said, cruises are not for us, but in our case the places visited are the real draw. So to comment on these:

After leaving Southampton at 1700 - at the same time as several other cruise boats, including "Queen Mary 2", an unusual amount even for this port, we arrived at Zeebrugge the next morning. We'd booked for a trip to Brugges and Ghent, worth doing this time, but in honesty a guided tour is not for us, too much standing around. Lovely visit otherwise.

                                     Some views taken while on our tour in Brugges - nice mural above!                       


Brugges is reckoned to be the "Venice of the north", well we consider it to be superior to that city having visited there in 2000 - see Bloggings 2000.   The trip on the canals was well worthwhile, but we had to keep our head down sometimes!   

Leaving
Zeebrugge that evening, the following day was spent at sea, voyaging up through the North Sea then round the north of Denmark, turning south to reach Copenhagen. Here we were tied up to the quay, quit close to the city centre actually. No organized excursions for us, we walked along the dockside and came across perhaps the best known of this cities icons, the "Little Mermaid" here pictured with Muriel. Alongside, coloured houses in Nyhavan, close to city centre.


These two 'photo's were in the Marble Church. We were able to view the changing of the guard, which takes place at twelve midday. Obviously little different to the ceremony in London. even down to the 'bearskins'! Whether it was modeled on that I've no idea, interesting to know. Denmark does of course have a 'Royal Family', but on the day we were there, they were not in 'residence', so this was said to be just a token change.

The last picture shown here was taken in the famous Tivoli Gardens, which I gather was opened in 1844. Large sections in these grounds are given over to so called 'amusements', must confess I for one would not consider many of these enjoyable, in particular the 'chairoplanes'. Persons paid to ride to these, but I would have paid NOT to ride on them!

As might be noticed, we were indeed blessed with the weather while we walked through this lovely Capital City.

Just a very short cruise from Copenhagen northwards to the small Swedish town of Helsingborg. Our ship had to anchor off here, and passengers like us who wished to go ashore were ferried by the ships tenders, pictures below:


Leaving Helsingborg, it was an overnight voyage to Oslo Norway. Like in the other capital city we had visited on the cruise, we were able to berth just a short walk from the town centre. So again, we took our own walk round it. Below left is the National Parliament, the white emblems placed on the grass were intended to represent a person who had died as a result of taking drugs. We were informed that an election was due to take place in a fortnight, but that the politicians were ignoring the drug problem in Norway, so this was a demonstration that was endeavoring to raise the issue. Smart building also pictured.


Interesting that the majority of the properties we viewed appeared modern and smart. Copenhagen more or less the same. In the more mainland parts of Europe however, Brugges being typical, buildings tend to be older and atractivly decorated.

Right next to the quayside and our ship is the Norwegian Resistance museum. Here we spent an hour or so. Educational to learn how and why these people appreciated the assistance of the 'Brits' in the period 1940-1945. Oslo we found (learning by travel!) is at the head of a long Fjord, this around fifty miles in length. So we enjoyed to voyage back down it. Some pictures follow. First one showing just part of the exceptionally large ship, including one of the several swimming pools, also a huge television screen. As might be noticed, the sky was rather overcast, this togethor with the latitude in which this area is situated, Made for a slightly dismal atmosphere. Still I suppose the scenery and wealth of the district make up for it.


All in all this does seem to be an attractive part of the world  to live, certainly for those like ourselves who gain pleasure from being on or near the water. Not altogether sure however I'd appreciate living in the little building on the right!



Interesting final day to our cruise, considering I like rough seas! We crossed back over the North Sea in what the Captain said was a force ten gale. This meant that our speed had to be substantially reduced, thus our arrival back in Southampton was some hours later than scheduled, not that we were much concerned, we enjoyed additional time aboard!

Would we go on another cruise? Well, we both considered this one excellent value, the main draw to us was the places visited, no point in going to these again, and we have no desire for warmer climes. So no, we are very unlikely to do so. In any case, as we often remark, we're not cruise people.

Just as conclusion: "Grand Princess" is 109,000 tonnes. The crew number well over a thousand, and on this trip, there were 2,800 passengers, thus almost four thousand aboard. Interesting statistics!

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Well, we may not be 'cruise people', but we do both enjoy travel. As is recorded in these pages we've done several rail 'rambles' in the UK, the first one not detailed here as it was previous to the commencement of this site. This was for a 'freedom of Wales' rail pass, allowing one week to travel on the Welsh rail network.

For scenic rail journeys Scotland has the reputation - really thoroughly deserved in our experience. We started our trip from Bath, first to Bristol, then Birmingham, and from here caught a direct train to Glasgow. We'd decided it might be wise to pre-book accommodation, rather than dragging our bags through the streets looking for it. Though on our fifteen day rail tour round Switzerland, we did exactly this, and found virtually no problem at all. Glasgow is a big city however, and as it had an Ibis hotel near the centre, we based our first three nights there. We considered the city itself a bit more atractive than its reputation allows. Saying that though, I can think of no other city with the number of tower blocks in its environs.

The rail line between Fort William and Mallaig is often mentioned as one of the best in the world. This line does start from Glasgow, so this we did first. Taking pictures through windows can be problematic, partly caused be reflection, but more by train movement. However I think the two below illustrate both the beauty of the countryside, and how they show.





We took a trip to Edinburgh the following day, this being a city previously visited by us, though i confess I'd completely forgotten its layout. The next days trip was via here, then up the east coast to Aberdeen, the 'photo below was one we took on this journey and which I particularly like, nice picture, but also good indication of quality of farming in Scotland.

This journey took place on a Saturday. Sunday not a good time to travel, so we booked two nights in Aberdeen. I remarked in my trips 2002 page how easy we found it to walk round the dock area. We found that trying to do this considerably more difficult on this visit, the area being strewn with notices relating to a act dated 2004 warning against entry. I can only presume this being a result of the attacks in previous years, docks in the south have never been easy to get into, I imagine the earlier ease being due to the part of Britain the port is in.
Pity the change, but we did enjoy exploring other sea related parts of the city.

On the Monday we took the shortish rail trip across the north of the county to Inveness. Here we booked three nights, and next day enjoyed our longest rail ride - nine hours in all. This to the very 'top' of Scotland, and the towns of Thurso and Wick. To me, this turned out to be the most pleasurable of our rides. Open interesting scenery, and the train was quite speedy, certainly as compared with the following days route, this being a result of a better track I assume.

The rail line distance from Inverness to Wick is given as 161 miles, we decided to use the first train, timed to leave just after 7 AM, so we had to skip breakfast. The arrival in Wick was around half eleven, and return an hour later.

 
Just time for a coffee, and an amble around town. Our train pulled back into Inverness at 1645, really enjoyable day, some 'photo's follow:


Often said a picture is worth a thousand words, and perhaps I've indulged myself here, but I really enjoyed this scenery, excellent means of viewing it also. Perhaps too few visit this far north part of the British Isles, worth doing so, as I suggest these views well demonstrate.

The final views in this block were taken close to the 'top' of this journey, and illustrate the farming, and how late it can be, the combine was working in the scene on the right. This part of Britain had endured even higher rainfall than is usual for this district, and it may well have been the case some fields were still too wet to allow harvesting - above right.

Our ride the next day was down to the Kyle of Lockalsh and back again. We'd really been blessed with the weather up till now, this being obvious from the pictures shown here. For the rest of our time in Scotland this altered. Heavily overcast and some rain, so not good for photographing through the window. For myself though, I do not think the 'highland' parts of Scotland to be as scenic as the 'lowland' areas. We'd 'done' most of these, so again we were lucky. 
It was too long a 'hop' to travel by rail Inverness to Oban, so we booked again the Glasgow Ibis. A fellow passenger had suggested we could take a trip out to the southern end of Lock Lomand, so this we did once we'd dumped our bags in our room.
The ride the next day to Oban, was perhaps the least scenic of all our rail journeys. We considered it was a town in which there was not a need to pre-book accomodation, as from previous visits, we were aware it had plenty. We did though call at the visitor centre to inquire regarding self catering. Good idea this, for a stay of three nights or more, the extra room this almost always provides, tends to provide better value than bed and breakfast. Certainly this turned out to be the case for our four nights in Oban.

Just across the bay is the island of Kerrera, this is the base for Oban Marina, who run an hourly free ferry service, so we took this trip. I found this island interesting. Really close to the 'mainland', yet in itself pretty isolated. A few houses, seperated from each other by muddy tracks. Parts are farmed, fact I think we were told there were three farms on the island. We'd also heard from several about the restaurant here, turning out to be perhaps the most unusual we have eaten in, just a tent really. Oysters were on the menu, as we'd
heard much about these, but had never tried them, we did this. Cannot say we were over impressed. Bit too late to have the traditional affect I also regret to remark!

In reporting on our cruise, I remarked that we found organised trips tended not to suit us. Excellent example in this regard on our trip to the island of Coll. We found Cal-Mac were doing one, and as we wished to visit, we booked. Not good at all I'm afraid - complete waste of time in fact. A taxi did take us round part of the island, but we'd have done far better exploring on our own. Our days visit to Tobermory turned out to be far more enjoyable. A really isolated town, 21 miles from the ferry port at Craignure. It is famous for its painted houses. Picture right.
We managed to get down to Carlisle from Oban via Glasgow in the day, this also using an alternative route south out of the city, via Kilmarnok and Dumfries. Thus completed a 'rambler' I'd often thought of doing, and am so pleased I've now done. Really enjoyable. Matter of interest; the total distance we'd travelled 'on the rails', from Carlisle round Scotland, and back again to Carlisle, amounted to a grand total of 1827 miles.
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7th October, we journeyed over to our French cottage for a short visit. Staying the night at the Ibis Cherbourg. Coming back, we broke the drive in half by overnighting at Averanches, again using an Ibis.

Very interesting morning visit to the Freshwater Research Station on the River Frome at East Stoke, Wareham, on 21st October. Here we listened to lectures regarding their work. I found the one on Salmon quite enthralling - what a remarkable fish this is. And how good it is that scientists are still working to find out more about them.

End of Octobet, we took a trip up to Cheltenham. Our friend Mimi Benn stayed the night with us in a hotel there, and the next day we took a tour through some of the lovely Cotswold villages. How lucky we are to have such an area so close.

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Stayed the night at a hotel in a rural situation, on the eastern side of Southampton at the end of November. This followed a very enjoyable club dinner, of which we are both members.

Couple of days after this, leaving our car at Cobbs Quay, we caught the ferry out of Poole, and travelled over to Cherbourg, staying that night in the Mercure hotel. Next morning, trailing our baggage behind us - very handy, these suitcases with wheels attached, we reached the 'Gare' as the French term a rail station. Here we caught a train to Paris, spending a day in that city.


Enough time to visit an attraction I had not previously viewed, the Arc de Triomphe, This as we all know is on the famous Champs Élysées, a long wide boulevard being a main feature of the city. At the western end is a much lesser known aspect - the "La Defense" area of the city. This remarkable futuristic set of buildings can just be glimpsed behind the group  of young people. We were impressed with La Defense in our previous visit, as  recorded in our 2003 blog

It seems that the metro runs underneath here, and onto La Defense. So we considered another visit worthwhile, as indeed it proved.


As will become clear, our main purpose on the trip, was to view Christmas Markets, these having become quite famous over the recent years. We came across a couple of these in Paris, the first outside the "L'Este" station - not all that good. A far better one we stumbled on was on the large courtyard underneath the Grand Arch, which can be seen described and pictured in the afore mentioned blog. Yes, a really nice market here, but as rain commenced we did not linger.

Our main intent however was to visit some German Christmas Markets. Muriel had the idea of these from a cruise itinerary. Being this would be Rhine based, it seemed sensible to go to perhaps the most famous city on this river, Cologne. To get there, we took a trainfrom Paris Nord to Brussels, we'd been advised we could break our journey here, so we took a wander. Mistake! Howver we did reach Cologne that evening. I did wonder! 

Pictured below left
is the first of the markets encountered, right outside the famous Cathedral. Alongside, is placed another of this icon, pictured from across the Rhine. As those who follow these journals well know, I've long taken interest in the waterway traffic of Europe, so I made sure barges were included in the picture.

One of the very many pleasures of travel is the people we meet up with. The pair on the right for example. Muriel has long been attracted to dachshunds - a breed we used to keep. We came across these in one of the markets in Cologne. The Germans explained that the one on the left is a female, and she is five months old. The other one is her boyfriend, who was twenty months old, as they explained; males always prefer a mate to be younger than they are! They trust these two will produce offspring.

All in all I think we found six markets in this city, some better than others, but all certainly worth a visit. One point I would make however was that our two day visits coincided with a weekend, rather unfortunate that as they were far too crowded for comfort. If anything the shopping streets were even worse, we found these streets really good and interesting in themselves, a good variety of shops, specially those selling musical instruments - as we all know these people have music in their blood.

After our visit to this city, I set to wonder what our route should be to return to Paris. Perusing the European Rail Timetable we carry with us, I noticed there appeared to be a rather interesting route to a town called Trier. I confess I'd never heard of this place before, but from the the details I could glean, it seemed an interesting place. "Oldest town north of the Alps" was one statement I noted.

 
So to there we bought tickets. Actually, as it turned out, the journey itself, most certainly could not be termed scenic in any way. It was a long train ride too, over three hours in fact. Very twisty, the line appearing to be following some valley. It was possible to stand behind the driver, and obtain a glimpse of the view he was getting. Following one stop, as I was walking along towards the cloakroom, a bunch of ladies passed me, it seemed they had some purpose. I soon found out. On returning to my seat in the rear coach, I found Muriel surrounded by them. Waving a glass at me, she bellowed "we're having a party"! These ladies had taken over her section, and decorated it as for Christmas. As Muriel could understand their explanation, they were on their way to Trier, for a girls day out. I left them to it!

We found Trier also had a Christmas Market, so this a welcome addition to our entertainment. Though the town itself was well worth the visit, Muriel would have liked a longer stay there. Many would find the Roman excavations worth a look, a rare site this I would have thought.

The following day however we returned to Paris. First to Luxembourg, change trains. Then to Nancy. From here we caught a TGV to Paris.  We'd booked a room close to Paris Nord. Next morning, we trundled our bags back across the city to Paris St Lazare, from were we caught the train back to Cherbourg, and the ferry back to Poole that evening. A really enjoyable excursion, despite of the cough I had developed.