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The Sound of Mull and the mountains of the Western Highlands

We spent pretty much the whole of the final day travelling back to Edinburgh. After the magic of the previous two days on Mull and Iona, this was a disappointing day, if truth be told. Lots of time in the mini-coach again, and this time the scenery wasn’t quite so beautiful. We also took a diversion that, on reflection, wasn’t ideal. Once we got off the ferry at Oban we were offered a choice – a direct drive back to Edinburgh with a break in Oban first, or a detour around part of the Kintyre peninsula, south to Kilmartin, then turning northwards at Lochgilphead and up through Inverary and back onto the expected route at Tarbet, on Loch Lomond. The consensus on the coach was that the Kilmartin diversion sounded good so that was the way we went.

I suppose, looking back on it, that in fact the scenery was beautiful, and once again the weather was good. But this was the fourth day of long drives in the mini-coach, and I think this was one too many remote highland scenic drives. In fact, I can’t remember much about it at all, to be truthful. Was there a strange ‘standing stone’ monument that we stopped at? Or was that another day? I can’t even remember where we stopped for lunch. Even looking at the time-stamps on my images from that day doesn’t help – I’ve got a load from the ferry to Oban at around 10:30, and another load at 3:30pm at Tarbet pier on Loch Lomond, but nothing in between.  So I have no real memories of that drive at all – it obviously made a big impression on me.

We got to Tarbet in the mid afternoon and spent about 30 minutes there, before heading back to Edinburgh. I think we avoided Glasgow – well, it was late afternoon on a Friday – and eventually joined the M9 at Stirling for the drive into Edinburgh, and we got back to Edinburgh bus station at around 7pm. Then it was back to the hotel where I recall that we ate in our room – room service – and subsequently went down to the bar for a couple of glasses of wine. And that was the end of the tour.

We travelled back to Sheffield on the train the following day, but we had time for a bit of a walk and a coffee before we checked out of the hotel. As you can see from one of the images below, Val decided to think she was on a beach – after all, there were deck chairs and the sun was shining!

In the next (and final) post from this trip I’ll give my thoughts about this tour and compare it with last year’s, to Arran.

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Chania Harbour from Kastelli (iPhone)

I finished my holiday with a couple of full days in Chania. I had been wondering what I would do with myself – was I mistaken to have gone back there for a fourth time in as many visits? – but the answer was ‘no’. It’s as beautiful as ever, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and I do enjoy just walking around.

Of course I refreshed my memories of the places I already – the lanes around the harbour, the walk out to the lighthouse, and the climb up to Kastelli overlooking the harbour, and I enjoyed seeing them all once again. But I also managed to find one or two places that I hadn’t visited before, the Archeological Museum of Chania, and also the Splantzia area.

The museum was OK. To be truthful, there’s no way it could match the the glories of the Archeological Museum in Heraklion. Chania doesn’t have a Knossos on its doorstep, and while there has been a settlement in the Chania area for a very long time, it seems as if it was always a minor place in the high Minoan period (proto- and neo-Palatial periods) – it only came into some prominence in the later post-palatial or Mycenaean period. And of course, the fact that Chania was then built on top of Kydonia doesn’t help archaeologists – in a place like Chania you can only dig when a site is available, which isn’t often. But there were some lovely Roman mosaics in the museum; indeed, I would say that it’s stronger for remains from the Classical and Roman periods than the Minoan.

I enjoyed exploring the area around Splantzia square. I’d seen (from a distance) one obvious sign of its existence on each of my previous visits, the minaret of Agios Nikolaus church, but had never been able to get up close. This time I did. But what’s a minaret doing on a church? Well, the answer is that after the conquest of Crete by the Ottoman Turks in the 17th century, most churches were converted into mosques, and gained a minaret; then when Crete became fully independent in the early part of the 20th century, the mosques were converted back to churches and the minarets demolished – except (in Crete) in the case of this one. The church was originally part of a Dominican monastery, and there are some ruins in the area around the existing church that I assume data back to the monastic period. Since the Dominicans were a western (Catholic) order, I believe that the monastery would date from the Venetian period.

I also did a sunset cruise. I’d done one of these on my first visit, on the good ship ‘Irene’ and I was disappointed to see her moored up in a far corner of the harbour looking rather sorry for herself – lots of rust streaks and generally not in a good-looking condition. But I found that the sunset cruises were being run this year in a smaller but still traditional boat, and on my final evening in Chania I went on one. It was pretty much the mix as before – a short boat trip out to an island a couple of miles off Chania harbour; sit there in the gentle swell for 40 minutes or so while some people went for a swim; then enjoy some refreshments of fruit and raki; and then as the sun dropped below the island, the run back to the harbour. It was advertised as being from 7:30 to 8:30, but in the event it was more like 7:45 to almost 9pm.

And after that I spent the rest of the evening – until quite late, actually – in the Melodica cafe-bar on Sifaka just outside the Byzantine walls. I’d visited it last year on a hot afternoon, and did the same this year, but this was the first time I’d visited during an evening, and I certainly had a relaxing time. Excellent Cretan wine, and a bit of conversation – recommended. It’s definitely not a tourist place – I was the only non-Greek person there – but welcoming and peaceful.

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At Singapore airport – I just liked the airline name.

Which the usual abbreviation for Kuala Lumpur, of course – the capital of Malaysia. I’m spending two nights here before heading home.

I flew in to KL International just after lunchtime on Monday. The flight time from Singapore was given as 1 hour, but in fact only 40 minutes of that was in the air. No sooner had we got to our cruising altitude of about 35000 feet than we were beginning the descent. But the flight attendants managed to get refreshments round to everyone and to tidy up afterwards, though the refreshments were just a small packet of peanuts and a carton of orange juice.

KLIA is over 50 kms from the city, so my transfer took about an hour, and was a quite frightening hour at that. It wasn’t that my driver was speeding, just that lane discipline while driving along the motorways seemed to be missing, not only my driver but all around him. There were a number of times when both the car I was in and another vehicle were veering towards each other. We also seemed to drive for miles straddling the white line between two lanes. I now see why the riders of the little motorbikes zip around so much and so quickly – it’s to stay clear of all the randomly-driven cars….

Part – just part! – of the room.

However I did arrive safely at my hotel, the ParkRoyal Kuala Lumpur. This is now my third stay at one of these hotels, the previous two having been at the ParkRoyal on Kitchener in Singapore. That hotel is a solid 4* and perfectly good, but this in KL is more like 4*+. And I found I’m booked into their ‘Orchid Club’ – better and bigger rooms, and use of a separate club area, including a large lounge on the 6th floor where I took breakfast, afternoon refreshments and soft drinks, and early evening canapés and drinks. The latter two – ok, mainly the last one – was a huge pleasure. The canapés could actually be a complete meal if you took a generous portion of all the food on offer – let me say that I didn’t. But they had wine, and they kept coming round and offering to refill my glass, and who was I to refuse?

The hotel is in one of the most commercial ares of KL, Bukit Bintang, home to glitzy malls. I went out for a while later on Monday and explored locally, and again late in the evening.

My first impressions of KL at the end of the day were that it was noisier than Singapore; more vibrant with lots of energy, but also harder. For example, walking down a street of eateries and being accosted every 30 seconds by the greeters for each one. The traffic seemed worse – more congestion than in Singapore – and the public transport system seemed to be more fragmentary. (Apparently not many people use the in-city systems which consists 3 or 4 monorails and a couple of subway lines. Possibly the fact that they’re not well integrated and may not share a ticketing system has something so do with that). And finally, lots of things seem a little unfinished, whereas in Singapore everything is just-so. (Of course, many people would prefer the KL approach.) It might be a city you could come to love, but I think it’s a city where it takes more effort just to be comfortable. And of course it’s hot – a couple of degrees more so than Singapore.

Tomorrow I’m going out for the day, and I shall report back. More pictures in day or so, too – I have most of the walk-around images on the phone and not available to me at the moment.

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I spent a day doing not a lot, but the following day I spent a couple of hours wandering the small area of Singapore’s Chinatown. Just wandering around with no especial aim in mind, bur I enjoyed the colours and energy. This was the last full day of the Chinese New Year period, I think, which  meant that the decorations and special displays were still up. (It’s now the Year of the Dog, btw.)

Actually, I gather that the idea of a Chinatown in a city that is predominantly ethnically Chinese anyway is a fairly recent invention – post-independence. They’ve designated the area that was originally specified by Raffles (or one of his people) as the area where the Chinese would live – other areas were Indian, Malay and European residents (guess which group got the best area?), plus large spaces for business and colonial administration. And right from the start the areas started leaking – no-one stayed in their own area for long (except the europeans who didn’t move into other areas, and into whose own areas no-one else moved). Today, for example, there is a mosque and a Hindu temple within the boundaries of Chinatown, and those would be unusual choices of religion for anyone who was ethnically Chinese.

But this is Singapore where there are unexpected juxtapositions all over the city, so it’s no surprise really.

Here are some of the pictures I took.

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The view from Monsal Head (taken on a different occasion)

Since I retired I’ve been able to get back to doing some walking in the Peak

District. I’ve been pleased to find that I can still do 10 to 12 miles over the hills, although the longer distance does now leave me tired. This year I’ve been out a handful of times. A couple of these were quite hard – I remember one in the upper Derwent Valley when I went badly off the path and spent a very tiring half hour floundering through waist-high bracken and heather which was very successfully concealing uneven ground below; the result was several stumbles and much hard work. I was glad to finish that one. But in mid September the weather cleared up after several days of rain and I went out again, to an area that I’ve never really walked – just to the north of Monsal Head.

The walk was about 10 miles round altogether, and was quite easy underfoot. It divided nicely into two – out and back. The outbound half took me to Foolow Village. After a couple of miles climbing up not-too-steep slopes the route levelled off and I had another couple of miles walking across the limestone – pretty level, and good underfoot. This was a really good section. A final stretch along a lane took me into Foolow village where I ate my lunch – alongside the pond, no less.

After more walking across the fields to Wardlow Mires the return section begin in earnest at the entrance to Cressbrookdale. This continued easily for a mile or more, and indeed I could have stayed on the path in the bottom of the dale all the way to Ravensdale Cottages, about three miles or so. But I was tempted by a suggested diversion on a side path, steeply up the side of the dale to the rim for the sake of the views, and I did this. Readers, the views were great but it was hard work! Then down an equivalent path back to the dale bottom. Beyond Ravensdale Cottages there was some road walking untilI I reached Cressbrook and the river Wye, where the path took me up to the Monsal Trail. It was about a mile along that to the viaduct over Monsal Dale, followed by the sting in the tail – the climb from the viaduct up the Monsal Head hotel, back to where I’d left my car.

As ever I had my camera and took a number of pictures. Looking at them on the computer I decided that they felt very ‘monochrome’ so that’s how I’ve processed a number of them.

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This is one of the most famous stretches of railway line in the country – the main line from Exeter to Plymouth where it runs along the sea wall between Dawlish Warren and Teignmouth. It was made even more famous in winter 2013/14, when a stretch of it was washed away by a storm.

Here are a few snatched photos from inside a train, taken with a smartphone.

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A Virtual trip…


The Wee Dram

Still no real trips, unfortunately – but this afternoon I was able to do a virtual trip.

We went over to Bakewell, in the Peak District, about 10 miles from where we live. There are a lot of good things about the town – it’s very attractive, there’s a Rohan shop (I wear a lot of Rohan gear) – but best of all is The Wee Dram. It’s a whisky shop, specialising in single malts, and they claim to have over 620 expressions in stock. (An Expression, in this sense, is a particular version of a distillery’s whisky.) I’ve never counted them but there are a lot of different bottles on display – the picture above is of their shelves.

As readers of this blog will know I’m a regular traveller to Edinburgh and I’ve visited some good whisky shops there. I’ve done the same in Glasgow and Inverness; but I reckon the Wee Dram in Bakewell is the best of them all.

So that was my virtual trip – with my feet firmly rooted in Derbyshire, for a few minutes I was travelling around Speyside, the Islands and the Highlands before settling on Islay as my destination, and a new bottle of 10-year old Laphroaig will remind me of the trip. Well, until it’s gone; at which point I shall have to repeat the exercise.

Here’s a link to their website. Slainte!

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Keuka Lake from Hammondsport

Keuka Lake from Hammondsport

Today I drove over to Keuka Lake, another of the Finger Lakes. On the way I also met with Michael Johnson, the writer and publisher of a leading photography blog, The Online Photographer.


Mike at TOP World HQ

I spent a couple of hours with Mike and his dogs. We talked about a whole range of subjects, including photography, politics, blogging, house prices, F1 and Indy-car racing, and a whole load of other things. I gave Mike a copy of a photo book I’d bought – “On Home Ground”, the collection of Denis Thorpe’s pictures published some years ago the Lowry Gallery. (They still have some copies, btw, and at a reduced price.) Mike said that he had in fact heard of Denis Thorpe but then remembered that it was mainly thanks to British readers of TOP. I very much enjoyed meeting him and I hope he enjoys the book. He certainly lives in a stunning place – at least in summer. He did say that it was very lonely in winter.

Then I drove on to Hammondsport, at the foot of Keuka Lake. (more…)

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Unfortunately, I had a very bad 24 hours following the Sunset cruise. Earlier that day I’d had a helping of baclava and ice-cream, and come bed time I was definitely feeling not well. During the night I was quite bad with a very upset tummy; in fact, at one point I was so depressed that I started investigating early flights home. However I had a chat with Val the following morning and she gave me a good pep talk, as a result of which I went to a pharmacy and got some pills (Immodium, in fact, in Greek packaging) and felt a bit better thereafter. But that day I ate very carefully and plainly, drank only sparking mineral  and other bottled water, and no alcohol.

A day or so later when I felt better I mentioned to a restauranteur that I’d been bad and he said that it was almost certainly the ice-cream rather than the baclava. He suggested that it was perfectly possible that ice-cream might be opened one day, might get soft but then might get put back in the freezer overnight, then re-opened the following day. All of which would be a good way of cultivating germs. So be careful of the ice-cream in Chania. (Update in 2016 – a neighbour to whom I mentioned this experience and who’s also been to Crete said exactly the same thing, without prompting: “it will have been the ice-cream”.)

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