On the Rock – 28 June 2018

Today we were at Gibraltar. That little corner of a foreign land that is forever England. Not Britain, England.

Today was a short stop. We arrived at 8am and after being told for the umpteenth time not to carry anything on board “for the benefit of a stranger” (why use one word when ten would do?) we were ok to go looking for cheap booze and fags. There’s not a lot more to Gibraltar than that.

  • Well, there’s the rock, but once you’ve gone up on it and admired the view, you come back down.
  • There’s the apes, but manky beasts they are and best kept at someone else’s arms length, preferably a stranger’s.
  • There’s the hundreds of electronic and photography shops selling five year old models, slightly cheaper than Amazon and without any warranty.

Other than that, there used to be the Almeda Gardens, but the last time we went there the gardens were in a sorry state and looking the worse for wear. It used to be good fun for me watching the coming and going of the airies at the airport, especially the scary Tornados, but they’re all gone now and it’s just the occasional commercial flight that lands or takes off, so no fun today.

We got off fairly early and walked up the Main Street populated with well known UK high street shops, the aforementioned cheapo photography and computer shops and the rest are tax-free jewellery or tourist places. Scamp got a new piece for her Pandora bracelet in the shape of a dragonfly. How neat is that. She was quite taken by it and so, I must admit was I. That doesn’t mean I’m thinking about getting a Pandora bracelet any time soon.

Stopped at a street side cafe for a slice of apple pie and a coffee. I won’t tell you how much they cost, but it was extortionate. Very nice apple pie though. We bought two cards and posted them and then went back to the ship.

We went for a swim in the inside/outside pool to avoid the Great British Sailaway. One man a few nights ago was trying to get the other people at the table excited about it, telling us that “… then the bunting comes out and we have a right good singsong.” Sorry mate, allergic to bunting and don’t do singsongs. Some of these english are so easy pleased. Give them a flag and some songs their granny sang and they’re happy as a sandboy, whatever a sandboy is.

Dinner tonight was with two of the most boring couples we’ve been with. They seemed frightened to speak to us because we were obviously not english. They droned on all meal about weather, sailing and driving. Driving us away.

Highlights of the day were the flowers in the garden of the court house and the cheap booze and fags.

Alghero – 26 June 2018

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Today we were in Sardinia.  We’d been there before, but not to this port.  That meant we didn’t have to go looking for a pizza shop or an art shop we’d been to on previous years!

Spent the morning in the pool again and then decided it was time to go ashore.  Today we had to get a Tender ashore.  As usual with P&O, the organization of the disembarkation was really well done.  Issued with tickets and told to wait in one of the restaurants until our number was called.  It was only about twenty minutes of a wait before we were called, then it was all aboard the Skylark for the short trip to the harbour. 

Alghero was a lovely little place.  One of those places you take an immediate liking to.  Old houses and a few Roman ruins.  Twisty, winding streets with lots of trees and little parks.  Nothing new or brash.  Not a lot of shops and the ones that were there were small jewellery shops or touristy ones.  No big stores, not even a supermarket.  Loads of cafes too.  We stopped and had lunch in one.  I had a pizza and Scamp demolished Spaghetti with Scampi (prawns) and Tomatoes.  Both were voted very good.  The only down side was the number of flies.  Earlier we saw a fountain that would scoot water up at random intervals in the street.  We stood for a while watching kids running round and through it, almost willing the water to start an soak them, but eventually they got fed up waiting and ran away … dry.  There were really large (3m long) posters on the walls of buildings showing old people around the town.  I was really impressed with the quality of them.  They seemed to be part of an exhibition.  We didn’t linger long after our lunch and soon got the tender back to the ship.

Dinner was at a table with a strange assortment of people.  A family where the father was really obnoxious and sarcastic to his wife who hardly spoke and a daughter who seemed quite ‘normal’ by comparison.  The other person at the table ‘Barbara’ was playing the ‘little old lady’ card.  She pretended that she was a little bit lost, but managed to wangle a full bottle of wine from the wine waiter by claiming she had handed over her wine card. (When you buy a bottle of wine and don’t drink it all, you can reserve the remainder for the next day and are given a card with a number on it.  That same number is written on to the bottle label.)  I’d seen her take out the card and then slide it into a side pocket of her purse.  After that she berated the wine waiter and told him she had definitely given him her card.  The daughter of the family of the family had seen the subterfuge too, but Barbara got a full bottle to replace her half empty one they couldn’t find without the matching number.  Must try that trick some time.

Not a lot going on after dinner, so a couple of drinks and then it was time for bed, and a sea day tomorrow.

Civitavecchia – 25 June 2018

P1050163- blogDespite all our plans and research, we decided not to go to Rome today.  Instead we’d go round Civitavecchia again.

This was definitely a bus into town day.  It’s a long walk to the town from where the ship was berthed.

As usual there was an enormous queue when we first looked, but we weren’t in a hurry.  Went for a swim in the inside/outside pool.  Finally decided to go about 11.30.  Queue by that time was minimal and we got on the bus which was just arriving.  My main task today was to get some watercolour paint.  Burnt Umber if you must know.  I had a bit left in the pan in the paintbox, but a tube bought in a holiday place always brings reminders of it on dark winter days. I remembered chancing upon a stationers shop that sold art materials the last time we were in the town and I was sure I could find it again. I did eventually find the shop, but they didn’t have any watercolour paint.  Acrylic and Oils, even some pastels and marker pens, but no watercolour.  Well, at least the shop was still there, almost where I remembered it to be.

Scamp was looking for a pizza restaurant where she remembered us having a pizza and using their WiFi the last time we were here.  Despite looking in all the places it remained elusive.  We had a beer each in a little street cafe instead and that was good enough for me.  The place hadn’t changed much, but we did find a street we hadn’t been on before and while we investigated it, I noticed the clouds were drifting in.  Scamp said she thought she’d hear a clap of distant thunder too.  Not good.  As we walked down the street, I came across an artist’s shop!  It stocked W&N paints too, but it was closed, probably for lunch.  It didn’t matter, those clouds were definitely getting blacker and closer and the thunder was coming closer too.   It was time to go back on the ship.  If I got a chance I’d come back and get the paint.  If not, then maybe tomorrow.

Just got the bus back to the ship and were inside when the rain came on, and it stayed on all afternoon.  Spent the rest of the day in the inside/outside pool swimming and soaking in the hot tubs.  I didn’t get back in to town for that paint, although the rain disappeared just before we left the port.

Dinner was in the sit down restaurant.  We had two young(ish) boys at our table.  About 18/19 years old.  Scamp and I reckoned they ‘were an item’.  It certainly seemed like it, but they were good company and didn’t seem at all fazed by talking to all these ‘oldies.’

A glass of beer and a G&T sent us off to bed.

Tomorrow it’s Alghero in Sardinia.

Memories of Civitavecchia were the thunderstorm and the new bus parking area next to the castle and the water feature that’s under construction there.  Impressive.  We didn’t even have time for a walk along the prom!

Napoli – 24 June 2018

P1050113- blogNaples today.  28c predicted and achieved.

Yes, it was Naples today, but we weren’t in a rush.  We chose to spend most of the morning in and around the pool.  It was quietly relaxing with all the maddies off on tours round Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii and Vesuvius.  Us, we were going looking for a pizza shop.  In Naples.  It has a few pizza shops!

We never did find that pizza shop, although I was sure I knew exactly where it was … a few times.  I knew it was on a side street to the main road that was up a hill.  Scamp knew it was to the right when you left the ship.  It turned out both of us were wrong.  We wandered round some of the seediest parts of Naples and that’s where I got today’s PoD.  Some really dodgy areas near the docks.  A bit like Carbrain.  Ok to walk through in daytime, not worth risking at night.  I’d hate to have a new car in Naples.  Every one we saw today had bashes and scrapes.  Some were missing windows, nearly all had broken lights or cracks in the windscreen.  It’s when you see the traffic and when you try to cross the street, you realise how they get into that state. 

We eventually gave up on our search for the ultimate pizza shop (that’s twice in two days!) and settled for a busy pizzeria near the port.  It was all going well until I tipped over my beer and soaked the table.  It was all sorted quickly.  Table was cleared and we were moved to another one.  A fresh pint was brought at no charge and we both had our pizzas.  Mine was a bit underdone, but it wasn’t until I started to eat it that I realised it had no sugo (tomato sauce).  Another silly mistake.  Had an extra glass of wine just to be sociable and paid about half the price we’d have paid at home, so left a good tip for the entertainment and good humour of the waiters.

Going through security today was much more laid back.  I triggered the alarm going through the scanner.  The Italian polis looked at me.  I said “Shit.  Forgot my watch.” he shrugged and said “OK.”  That’s how it should be done!

Back on the ship we both decided we’d have a light dinner at Smash & Grab, and that’s what we did.  Went to a really awful Tropical Party on the pool deck which consisted of drunk punters shouting a lot.  Not my idea of fun, nor Scamp’s.  Ended up going to the posh, quiet downstairs bar for a Long Island Iced Tea for Scamp and a Jolly Olly IPA for me. 

Early bed again and more of the same tomorrow in Civitavecchia, but without the beer waterfall, hopefully.

The Dark Side – 18 June 2018

IMG_4954-Edit-Edit- blogToday started early, very early, around 2am early.

Up and a glass of OJ as breakfast, then a last scout around switching power off here and there until the phone rang twice to announce the arrival of the taxi.  A quick drive to the bus station where the bus was waiting.  Then we were off proper.  First stop was services in the north of Engerland, near to where JIC and Sim would be out walking Vixen in a few hours time.  Probably for the first time in her life, and maybe the first in mine too, we had breakfast in Macdonald’s.  Who’d have thought it, the foodies in Micky D’s, but little did we know that more and worse indignity was to come.

Back on the coach and down even deeper south for a short stop to change drivers and a chance to stretch our legs, then it was a longer run and a longer stop at the end of it near Warwick this time we were forced to join the Dark Side.  The only option for coffee was That Whose Name Must Not be Spoken.  So it was burnt water for drinking.  Scamp wisely opted for peppermint tea.  I must admit though that their Spiced Beef on a Bagel was quite excellent and the spicing on the beef successfully masked the taste of the burnt water they advertised as coffee.  To prove that we did in fact visit TWNMNBM, I took a photo of Scamp sitting in front of their logo and it became PoD.  The driver we’d picked up just outside Manchester was a PITA who thought he was a comedian and a fount of all knowledge.  I think his name was Richard, because he sounded like a Dick.  However he got us to Southampton in double quick time and the usual efficient P&O embarkation procedure took over from there.  The cabin is small, but perfect for our needs.  Just before we left Southampton with no fanfare or even a notification from the bridge, it started raining, then the mist came down and we settled inside after taking some photos of Britannia and the Queen Mary 2 to unpack.

Dinner was in the “Sit down and be served” restaurant and was sooo much better than Thompson last year.  Later we went to the upstairs lounge on the top floor to listen to a pianist who was really just too far over the top to be comfortable.  Impressive playing, but the singing was dire.

Early bed for us after a long day.  Getting to bed at 10pm means we’ve been on our feet for almost 20 hours. 



The Oyster Shed – 26 May 2018

At breakfast today Mairi was talking about The Oyster Shed.

Basically The Oyster Shed was simply a shed where they sold oysters and other seafood in Carbost. We looked for it on the web and discovered that there are two Carbosts in Skye. The one we were looking for seemed to be the furthest away (It would be, wouldn’t it) That was today sorted. We were going to Carbost, the far away one, to get some seafood.

Drove down through Portree to Sligachan and turned right, then drove through the Cuillins. From there we eventually found Carbost, but struggled to find the shed. We climbed a hill and stopped the car then stood watching and listening to a cuckoo being mobbed by sparrows. My satnav was directing me to a single track road that would allegedly lead to the shed. We got most of the way there when it looked as if the road was blocked by a van at the bottom of the hill. Not that way then. We reverse, turned and drove back down to the village. We found a sign pointing up a hill to The Oyster Shed. We seemed to walk for miles up the hill, but it was only a fifteen minute walk, but it was a steep walk. When we got to the Shed, I realised it was where the van had been parked earlier. We did get some shellfish. We got some cocktail crab claws, some crab meat and I got a mug. We got a can of lemon and mint drink which tasted like medicine as far as I was concerned. Not something I’d have again.

Walked back down that really long hill and had a picnic lunch of crisps and the lemon and mint. It didn’t matter really as the scenery and the sun made up for a lot. Watched a bunch of German teenagers hiring a boat and just managing to steer it round a couple of buoys before sailing off.

Came back through Portree and dropped Scamp off at the house then I went to see if there was room for one more at the slip. There wasn’t. That’s just ridiculous, isn’t it? No room at the slip for me. What’s the world coming to. Drove back up the road and stopped at the wee Loch Langaig to get some photos. That’s where today’s PoD came from.  Eventually came back to sit in the sun at the back of the house.

Tomorrow we pack our bags and turn the Juke to face south again.  Had a great time, but really, there are too many visitors on Skye and most of them shouldn’t be at the wheel of a pedal car, far less a real one.

Going up country – 24 May 2018

We were on our way north today.

Waited for the bin men to empty our bins and then we were off with a quick stop to fill up with the £1.30/litre gold plated, diamond encrusted petrol, (Well, it should be at that price.) then we were off up the road. First stop Fort William for lunch and a comfort break. Back on the road and the next stop was just outside Kyle just to stretch my legs. After that it was Portree for a quick top up of slightly cheaper (!!) petrol and then the last leg up to Staffin. The roads were fairly clear most of the way with the occasional slow tourist to pass, but drop a gear and press the ‘sport mode’ button and they’re history. That button will now be called the ‘overtake button’. Hit one big heavy pothole just before Staffin and after that, became ultra cautious which was just as well, considering the chasms between Staffin and Digg.

Dinner tonight was chicken stuffed with haggis and chicken stuffed with black pudding for me and just plain pan fried chicken for Scamp. All were excellent. Washed down with a pint of McEwan’s Export.

Later a wee dram to ease me to sleep. How quiet it is and how light, with just a glimmer in the sky at 11.10pm. Skye is a marvellous place, despite the potholes.

Things to remember today?:

  • The crowds of tourists around the Commando Monument at Spean bridge.
  • Seeing a plane (Tucano?) flying low above the loch on the Caledonian Canal.
  • Pressing the overtake button in anger for the first time.
  • That can of McEwan’s Export – how well did it go down?
  • PoD – the stacked up trolleys at Morrisons in Fort William.
  • Scotland in the sun.

Tomorrow we’re hoping to drive round the top end.

Going Home – 13 May 2018

Today the fun was over for a while and we were going home.

A laze about morning then we went to a garden centre for lunch. Saw some interesting plants for the garden, but because we were flying home, there was no opportunity to bring any of them north to visit our garden. Maybe that is a godsend with the number of planters and pots we have there now. Wandered round the shop with the usual amount of tat and junk. I bought some pea seeds to plant in addition to the ones we already have.

It doesn’t matter what you try to fill your hours with on ‘leaving day’, there’s only one thing on your mind and that’s going home. The drag of going through security and waiting for your gate to show then finding that gate, which is usually the furthest away one. Better to get started and just go. That’s what we did.

Really busy place Stanstead. Couldn’t believe the queue to drop folk off, but soon we were through security and sitting breathing in the muggy reconditioned air in the departure ‘lounge’. Then there was the hour in a metal tube in the sky before landing in a really sunny and warm Glasgow. I don’t say that very often, do I? Bus in to Glasgow, then train to Croy while being serenaded with rebel songs by a seriously guttered Sellic supporter whose wife and son tried to disown him. Thankfully he was travelling on to Stirling, although Croy would have been more fitting surely. Just going to phone for a taxi when the ‘wee bus’ appeared and we used our pensioner’s tickets again to get to Craiglinn and then walked home.

It was a lovely stay. I think we both really enjoyed it. Thank you again JIC, Sim and the new, improved Vixen. Great, relaxing few days. Too few, but sometimes it’s better leaving wanting more.

Back to auld claes and purrich tomorrow.

Baldock, DIY and Gardening – 11 May 2018

Not quite as good weather wise but still warm for us.

After a very restful sleep in the country with only the wood pigeons and blackbirds breaking the silence we woke refreshed. Once JIC had returned with Vixen from her morning walk we had breakfast and then got ready to go out.

JIC drove us to Baldock and while he went to get his hair cut, we had a walk around the town. Interesting church and churchyard which looked good in the afternoon sunshine. We all had lunch in Jack’s, the Italian cafe in Baldock. We’d been there before and had enjoyed the repartee that’s part of the fun in this cafe. We also enjoyed the food and especially the wine which Jack forgot to charge for, but we told him and got a “multo gracias”.  With a quick visit to the butchers for JIC, we were on our way home.

Back home we split up. JIC and Scamp went gardening or to be more precise, they did some gardening while I accepted the technical challenge of putting up the pot rack. After an hour or so the garden was looking better, but the kitchen was a bomb site. However, the pot rack was up and secure. Then the Dyson cleaned up the mess. Done.

Before dinner we took Vixen for the same walk up to the top of the hill.  For the first time, Scamp and I got a chance to feel the pulling power of a Staffie.  I think JIC was right when he said that it was useful for pulling you up a steep hill!  Because the weather wasn’t as kind as yesterday, the lighting wasn’t as good.

Dinner tonight was Chicken with Sorrel on a bed of risotto.  Very nice again, but we all agreed that the taste of the sorrel was lost.  Pity.

Tomorrow we are hoping for good weather to go to a Steam Fair at Astwick.

Going down South–10 May 2018

Like I said yesterday, today was going to be a busy day.  Woke at the usual time, but unusually, got up and got going right away.

Quick breakfast and then the slow bus to Glasgow.  Isn’t it strange to think if we had got the bus one hour earlier, it would have taken it as long to get to Glasgow as it would take to fly from Glasgow to London.  We weren’t in a rush though, we walked along three stance in the bus station to get the bus to the airport and then went through security and had a sort of lunch before getting the call to the gate and then on the plane to Stanstead.  JIC picked us up at the airport and drove us to see the ‘Devil Dog’ who was quite angelic compared with our last meeting over a year ago.  She seemed to accept us as ‘safe’ since we had been passed fit by her owners.

After settling in, downing a cup of tea, getting a tour of the garden and catching up with all things English, we settled down in the garden, enjoying the chat and the exploits of Vixen.  She really is much calmer and more settled than when we last saw her.  Still a funny dog, stalking pigeons, but never catching them.  Trying to square up to next door’s dogs who weren’t even in their garden.

Later in the evening we went for a walk across the fields with Jamie and Vixen and that’s where today’s PoD came from.  Beautiful light tonight.  It’s not surprising that everything is some much further progressed here.  Oil seed rape is almost past where back home it’s not even started flowering yet.

By the time we got back Sim had returned from work.  It was soon time for dinner which was Mackerel tray bake with rice.  Very messy to eat, but lovely.

We watched a Black Mirror episode at night which I can’t get out of my head.  Could they really plug in to someone’s memories as easily as that?  I’m sure it’s not that far fetched.

Vixen decide it was time for us all to go to bed and actually I was ready for an early night.

Tomorrow we go to Baldock I believe.