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Cross Country – 16 September 2017

A day driving east, then west, then back east again. Don’t say we don’t get around.

Started out driving Sim and JIC to Chris’s for them to be taken to Embra for the, as yet, undisclosed ‘Birthday Surprise. We knew what it was, but were sworn to secrecy. With the rest of the day ahead of us and no particular place to go, we headed, not for the Kokomo 1, but in a generally western direction. I thought we would go to Gourock or Helensburgh to sit and watch the sea … in the rain. Yes, it was raining, just as the weather fairies had predicted.

All was going well until we reached the Royal Infirmary section of the M8, then things started to clog up. However, our many drives through this part of the motorway meant I had the answer in my head. Never get stuck in the inside lane where all the dimwits ahead of you allow poachers to cut in in front of them. Get into the middle lane and if that clogs up, move over to the outside lane. Using this technique, the Kingston Bridge was a dawdle. Drove on past the airport and out into the country. That’s when traffic jam number 2 started. At first, after two police cars passed at a fair lick, we assumed it was an accident, then it became clear that only the inside lane was clogged. Managed to ease my way into the outside lane by choosing a decent space in front of a fairly new car. (Drivers of new cars will let you in. They don’t want to damage their shiny new car by rear-ending a dirty old car!!) Soon it became clear that the problem wasn’t an accident, well, not that we could see, but it was roadworks on the Erskine Bridge that would have taken us over to Helensburgh. So, we could confidently wipe Helensburger off today’s chalkboard. On to Gourock.

There was a cruise ship docked at Port Glasgow, the Caribbean Princess. I think she was far from the Caribbean. Perhaps she had been blown off course by the recent hurricanes. We did see some bemused looking travellers seeming to come from the ship and wonder why on earth they had been given this wet and miserable place to berth. We both knew exactly how they felt after our admittedly warmer trip to Igoumenitsa or as it will always be known to me,  ‘The Ig Place’ in Greece.

By the time we go to Gourock it was really miserable. The rain was thumping down and the Lomond hills were just smudges on the horizon. We continued to Cardwell Garden Centre near the Cloch lighthouse. It used to be a wee garden centre with a cafe. Now it’s a gigantic place with a children’s zoo, an indoor amusement arcade, a whole host of shops as well as a fairly extensive plants sections. It also sells coffee and scones. Decent enough coffee, but really, really excellent scones. Best I’ve tasted in a long time. We weren’t tempted to buy any plants and just started back the way we had come.

On the way home the weather started improving with the rain finally going to annoy someone else and the sun coming out. We stopped just outside Port Glasgow because the light was getting good and I reckoned I could get some photos. I did, but they needed some work. That’s the PoD above.

From there it was a straight run home in the dry. In fact it was under a clear blue sky.

Tomorrow is to be a better day. Don’t know where we’re going yet.

  1. No Particular Place To Go – Chuck Berry. Google the lyrics. 
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Following my nose – 15 August 2017

The forecast for today was good, so we headed off this morning to South Queensferry.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Western world had also decided that today was the perfect day to go to South Queensferry, and they’d got there and parked before us. No room at the inn. Not to worry, we could just carry on along the road and go to Cramond. Almost as good, and it has a good ice cream van that does Mr Whippy style ice cream.

Then we got stuck behind an old ‘diddy’ who seemed determined to wear out his brakes. Ten miles an hour everywhere. I’m sure he was getting the clutch and brake mixed up, either that or he had enormous feet and was covering both pedals. The road down the hill is very narrow and there sometimes isn’t room for two cars to pass. This diddy just kept driving and forcing others to reverse out of his way. Only once did he give way. Anyway, eventually he got to the bottom of the hill and the parking place. He went one way round, I went the other. The parking place was full. Who did we meet at the other end of the carpark? The diddy. He just stopped and indicated that I should reverse. Sorry, I don’t take instructions from diddies, so I just sat and waited with my arms folded. The standard I’m not going anywhere signal. He gave up and reversed out of my way! Result! He’s probably writing a blog at this minute ranting about the ignorant man who thought he owned the road and the carpark! He’d be right too. Hope his brakes cooled quicker than his temper.

So, no room at the inn number 2. We knew there was a big wide road that we’d seen cars parked on and it ran parallel to the esplanade at Cramond, but we’d never found it. Today we needed it. By following my nose, I found it. It was a dual carriageway that apparently was just a big carpark. It was nearly empty and we got to choose our parking space. We walked along for a while, but then turned back because Scamp had spotted an ice cream van. We both had 99s. It’s ages since I’ve had a 99. So glad we found this parking place. Now all we had to do was get back out of it and onto the road home again.

That was more difficult and we had to drive almost into Embra before I could find the road back, but I did, by following my nose again. Just to be cantankerous, I didn’t take the motorway or the Forth Road Bridge (the new crossing isn’t open yet), but headed for Bo’ness instead. Stopped at a garden centre that appeared on our right and had coffee ’n’ a scone. Scamp had been looking for a pair of proper secateurs for ages and the garden centre provided them for a price she was willing to pay.

From there it was an easy drive home.

Today’s PoD was taken from the ‘new’ carpark and is entitled “Are we having fun yet?”

Today was a lovely day, but tomorrow is to be not so nice, so I may be doing some painting. Not oils this time, but acrylic and not on a canvas either, it’ll be on the inside window sills which really need another layer of varnish.

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Paisley Pattern and Siri – 5 August 2017

We were intending to go to Salsa in Paisley on Sunday and, as we hadn’t ever driven there, we planned a recce today.

Getting there was simple, even if Google Maps on my iPhone insisted on showing the route upside down. Just off the motorway we found the restaurant that hosts the Paisley Sunday Social. There were some parking areas around it, but nothing substantial and, as the social attracts a fair number of dancers, we decided to find a bigger car park. That’s when the trouble began. Paisley, it seems, has an even more complicated one-way system than is really necessary. After travelling round and round, we eventually found the exit and after a couple of wrong turnings, got parked. I’d just pushed the button for 2 hours parking when I noticed that you only need to pay on weekdays! No problem, at least we were parked.

Paisley is like most Central Scotland towns. It’s in a state of decline with frantic attempts by the council to make it look new and vibrant. It wasn’t working. Too many ‘pound shop’ variants and charity shops in the main street. A new shopping mall with only half the shops occupied. Cumbernauld without the concrete.

We wandered round the Abbey and surroundings, but didn’t even stay long enough to have a coffee. That shows how bad it was. I found some interesting buildings that I may go back and sketch and today’s PoD is one of them. It’s a former Territorial Army drill hall, now on the steep slope to Beyond Economic Repair. It was also falling into a big bucket of Photoshop tonight and that’s where the Haunted House look came from.

When we went back to pick up the car, I thought I remembered the street it was parked in. It’s the same street I drove a box van up to JIC and Andy’s new student flat! It’s a small world, Paisley.

After negotiating most of the one-way system, I foolishly followed Apple Maps which took me the wrong way down a one-way street! Never again Apple. Google maps may be upside down, but at least they are reasonably accurate. Eventually found the road back to Glasgow and late lunch at Milano. While there, I noticed that Apple Maps was still active on my phone, despite me having switched the phone off half an hour before. I switched it off – again. Meal was good as usual in Milano and when we got home I again noticed that the phone had switched itself on and was sitting on the lock screen. I got so mad at it I long-pressed the button, summoning the useless Siri. When it appeared, I shouted at it “Switch the fuckin’ phone off”. It switched off!!!

I wasn’t expecting that. Then I noticed, just as the display disappeared that power was down to 2%. That’s why it switched off, nothing to do with stupid Siri. Just coincidence.

No plans for Sunday, apart from Paisley.

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Perf – 4 August 2017

Perf (or Perth). A great place for coffee, tea and lunch in any order you like.

Today I drove, although we could have gone on the bus or the train. I didn’t mind, it’s usually an interesting drive. Today, although it was fairly dry when we left, it rained for most of the journey. We listened to a Radio Scotland program while we travelled about a couple who have been to almost all the Edinburgh Festivals from 1947 to the present. They were German Jews who had come to Britain in the Kindertransport just prior to WW2. Really fascinating. Pity it was presented by Stephen Jardine. We outran the rain just before Perf.

Lunch was in Cafe Tabou which has restricted its menu a bit, but my Lamb Gigot was absolutely faultless. Scamp’s Sea Bream seemed to satisfy her too and left her with just enough space to have a Rhubarb Martini instead of a coffee to complete the meal. Choice a bit more restrictive, but quality not compromised.

Bought my coffee and much needed tea and then headed back to the car … in the rain, because the clouds had traced us to Perf and dumped some of the wet stuff on us.

Today’s PoD is of a strange architectural detail on the roof of a shop in Perf. It would make a very nice roof garden.

Tomorrow? Don’t know.

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1,371 miles apart, Dubrovnik to Cumbernauld – 27 July 2017

Time to go home.

Up early and out for breakfast before grabbing the bags and checking out, one last time. Pretty sure we’ll never go anywhere on this ship again.

You don’t really want to know the details of the day, do you? You’ve all done this end of the holiday stuff. Half of you wants to stay, but half of you wants your own bed and your own chairs and to be able to listen to your own music without having to break every 30 minutes for some infantile ‘game show’. Yes, I’m glad to be home.

Today’s final sketch of the cruise was done while sitting on the deck waiting for the minutes to tick away until we leave the ship for the last time.  Watching all the folk looking incongruous in their long trousers and jackets, milling around doing the same as us.  Just waiting for the minutes to tick away …..

Went out for a walk to St Mo’s just to make sure it was still there. Only out for 15 mins and got bitten by a cleg. It won’t bite anyone else, I made sure of that.

The cruise is now officially over for another year.

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Submarines, Scenery and Showers – Kotor – 26 July 2017

Today we were sailing into Kotor. It’s a sail in not to be missed.

We were up just around 7am to watch the scenery slide by with the beautiful slow-motion you only get from a ship. It is such a relaxing view and unfortunately, unless you’ve done it, it’s impossible to describe. This year, I was on the lookout for the camouflaged submarine pens on the side of the fjord (I missed them two years ago). Yes, it is a fjord and yes, there are submarine pens. Some were built by the Germans in WW2 and some by Yugoslavia in the late 20th century. Allegedly they are no longer used. That’s one top left. Google Kotor Submarine Pens for some amazing accounts.

Further in to the fjord there are more picturesque views of little islands, churches and waterside villages. It’s remarkable scenery which looks very like the west coast of Scotland. I often wonder what it would be like to take a leisurely cruise up the west coast. A couple of hours later we reached Kotor.

We’d been there two years ago and knew it was a maze inside the walls. What we weren’t prepared for was the way it had expanded internally with cafés taking over spaces in squares and piazzas that created bottle necks with so many visitors crowding in trying to get the best angle for photos or the ubiquitous selfie. Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ve taken a few selfie shots of us this holiday, but when you see people making idiot faces with ‘surprised’ looks on their faces as they search for the shutter button on the phone, you begin to wonder about the future of the human race. Thankfully a lot of them are americans and not really part of the race, more simply onlookers.

We wandered the shops and found junk, tat and also a few interesting articles or quality artwork too. I liked the sign middle bottom. We had a coffee under cover in one of the squares and were about to leave when there was a cloudburst and the rain came thumping down. It had tried to rain earlier, but it was only a half-hearted attempt, this was the real thing. We decided to leave it for a few minutes more.

When the shower passed and the sun came out, we headed out through the walls and found the pond where the blue dragonflies circle almost endlessly and spent a fruitless quarter of an hour trying to snap one. We both came close a couple of times, but no cigar.

Further down there was a market. The outside stalls were full of fruit and the ones under cover were for fish. The fruit especially looked amazing. Not at all like the sanitised articles our supermarkets have.

I got one sketch done of a clock tower while Scamp went for a walk, trying to find the Christmas shop.  After we met up again we went for lunch in another wee cafe with canvas umbrellas giving protection from the sun this time, not the rain.  When we were fed and watered, we went to find the Christmas shop and got two Christmas decorations and another salt ‘n’ pepper set.

Too soon it was time to go back the the ship for a last dinner. Didn’t even get to dance tonight, because some eejit was doing the worst dad-dancing I’ve ever seen. The bloke last week was funny and interesting. This one was just stupid. He was english.

Back to the cabin to complete the packing and then put the cases out to be taken away ready for tomorrow.

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Move along please, nothing to see here, Igoumenitsa – 25 July 2017

Today we were in Igoumenitsa. You become a bit disillusioned when you read on the daily bulletin that there is nothing to do or see in this port. So, why are Thomson taking us there? I suppose the answer must be so they can sell more excursions. The rest of us could go to hell, or go to Igoumenitsa. I don’t think there would be much difference.

We had intended to get a taxi into town, but nobody wanted to take us the short run into town. There was only one taxi and he seemed more interested in getting us to go on a longer trip. We gave up eventually and walked into the ‘town’. Along the way we passed a few ’grey hairs’ who were walking back. None of them had actually made it to the town. Surely it wasn’t all that difficult, or that far. It wasn’t. After about 15 minutes walking we reached the outposts of the main town, with some uninviting cafés and bars and a supermarket.

The town when we found it was nothing special and the bulletin was correct, there was very little to see. Certainly no antiquities or scenic views, just a wee Greek town trying to get by when the country is bankrupt. I found a shop selling ground coffee by the usual method of following my nose. It smelled enticing so I bought 250g of what the bloke said was the favourite blend of 50/50 dark and light grind.

We went for a cup of coffee and then walked back to the ship. On the way we stopped to get some ‘messages’ at the supermarket. We always try to bring back something useful from our travels and this year it was cinnamon sticks, coriander and sweet paprika. We also got a bottle of tonic to mix with the gin I bought on Monday.

We were late sailing away from Igoumenitsa (isn’t cut ’n’ paste wonderful!) because one of the coach parties was an hour late getting back. When we were watching the stragglers plodding across from the customs house the bloke standing at the rail next to me was incandescent! He was jumping around, making rude signs at them and shouting. Worse still, he was Scottish! Then I remembered where I’d seen him before. He had been on our cruise with Royal Caribbean when the aircraft broke down at Palma and we were taken to Magaluf to an 18 – 30 hotel to rest overnight while the spare part was brought from the UK and the mechanics fitted it. He was demanding that they fitted it that night. I remember him shouting “I’ve just been on a cruise with ROYAL CARIBBEAN and you expect me to stay here!!!” As if that would make any difference. I know I fly off the handle at times, but this guy was flying out of orbit! Nutter. He’s the kind that gives morons a bad name.

We finally sailed away from Igoumenitsa and on to Kotor tomorrow. Tonight we were having posh dinner for the second time this cruise and looking forward to it after a boring day.

I liked the sign top right. The midges must be really bad here. They shoot them with shotguns!

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I say Toronto and you say Toranto – 24 July 2017

Today we were in Taranto, Italy. Not to be confused with Toronto, Canada.

There was a reception area outside the ship when we disembarked. That was new, we’d never had anything like that before. Maybe it was to prevent us wandering out into the maze of wind farm windmill blades stacked on the dock. It wasn’t quite clear if they were coming or going. Got a free ‘cooncil’ bus into Taranto from the ship’s berth. That was new too. Two girls were on the bus to act as guides and answer question. That’s an idea that made sense. The bus took us out of the docks area and along a very congested coast road to the town. Luckily there was a bus lane otherwise we might have been waiting in the queue still.

Immediately after we got off the bus, we were ushered towards the castle where we were offered a free tour, but I had seen something interesting from the bus and I wanted to investigate. We walked along the road we had just come in the bus, and there they were, two mermaids. Probably bigger than life size, although I’ve never actually seen a mermaid, and made from concrete. I have no idea the significance of these statues, but they made a fine perch for the seagulls.

When we walked back to the castle, and after photographing some strange double headed flowers, we decided to take up the offer of the free tour. The guide who wore some kind of uniform explained the history of the castle in a sort of broken English, but he spoke much better English than I could speak Italian. The tour was an interesting way to spend half an hour and as half of that time was inside the cool interior of the castle, it gave some shelter from the sun. We both decided that the free bus, the guides on the bus and the free trip round the castle showed a town that was beginning to see the opportunities of encouraging cruise customers. The area around the castle was one big traffic jam and the buildings were sorely in need of some TLC. However, the town seems to be trying to make the most of their scenic parts and we hope it works out for them.

We walked over the swing bridge which, luckily, wasn’t swinging at the time and sought refuge from the sun in Joyce’s Irish pub. It may have been in Italy, but the Guinness was pure Irish. We walked around Taranto and found a park, but it too had sun scorched grass and a sad wee couple of cages, one with peacocks and another with white doves.

We walked down the side of the canal and took some photos of the Monument to the Sailor. Then we went for ice cream and the bus back to the ship.

Another sketch done on the deck.  This time of an oil tanker bridge.


Tomorrow Igoumenitsa in Greece

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Mechanical Marvels – 23 July 2017

Today we docked in Messina in Sicily. It was shut. Well, that was to be expected because most places in Italy are closed on Sunday with only churches and a few cafes open for business.

Not at all put out by this, we went for a walk round the town. We were disappointed because we had passed Messina before on a previous cruise. The whole town was a bit rundown. I paused to take a photograph of a little arcade that looked as if it had been well looked after but had fallen into disrepair. There was scaffolding holding up the roof, but if you ignored that, or cropped it out it took on an air of lost elegance.

The main reason for stopping in Messina, apart from Thomson’s desire to sell you excursions, was to allow us to visit the cathedral with its animated clock that displayed scenes from the bible at 12 noon. We got there too early and and, as there was a Little Train just waiting we jumped on. The girl selling the tickets assured us that the trip that took 45 minutes for the drive round the town would get us back in time to see the clock perform its display, and she was right. The trip was quite informative with a running commentary and tinny music playing. It did, however give us a chance to see the parts of the town we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

We got back in plenty time to get a good place to see the clock. In fact there was time for me to go round and photograph the bikes that were gathered round the square. It was a Ducati owners convention and there was a lot of expensive and customised merchandise on display. I’ll have more on Flickr soon, I hope.

With the minutes ticking away, we got ourselves into position and the display began with some figures marching round at the bottom of the tower. Then the display proper started with the lion at the top of the tower roaring. Then the cockerel below the lion crowed three times. After that, it was a bit of a jumble, but the animations were worth seeing, even if I couldn’t understand what was happening. I tried to film it, but in doing so, didn’t get the big picture, if you know what I mean. I was too busy trying to record what was happening, so probably missed out on some of the fine detail. Anyway, we have a record of it, with a car alarm giving a 21st century addition to the music.

The other thing that impressed me in Messina was the ‘Lookie-Lookie’ men’s ingenuity in building display boards showing their watches, jewellery and fridge magnets, mounted on old pram and buggy frames. No doubt this makes it better for a quick getaway should the polis chase them away.

We had coffee in a wee streetside cafe where the bloke that owned it told us he had good coffee and very good WiFi. He was right about both.

Today’s sketch was done on deck again looking towards the statue protecting the harbour.  First time using the Moleskine  watercolour paper.  Not sure if I like it or not.  I maybe prefer the sketchbook surface for light washes.  However, it’s nice to have a white paper rather than the slightly yellow tint.  Thanks for the paintbox Hazy, the brush is magic and the colours are so useful.

Tonight the cleaners made a beautiful peacock out of towels. Pics when I get a chance.

Tomorrow Taranto.

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Maltesers for a day, Malta – 22 July 2017

22 July

Got off the ship and into the heat.  31ºc predicted today.

We’d intended getting the Red Bus to tour the city, but got so pissed off with the arrogance and persistence of the ticket touts that we gave up and went up in the gigantic elevator instead.  It took us up to the Upper Garden and the Saluting Battery where the 12 o’ clock guns get fired every day.  The garden was quite cool and shaded so we hung around there for a while taking photos and watching a girl bore a woman almost to tears with her religious spiel.  The girl was quoting, not from her Bible, but from her iPhone.  She was american, so that explains everything (we have met one decent American this trip, only one.  The rest were just americans.)  After tiring of this display, we headed into the city.

Instead of going back down the elevator, we walked into Valetta.  We stopped in a square to try out their lovely bent wood seats and it was there we saw another Little Train.  I knew then why we hadn’t got the Red Bus tour.  This was the way to go, on the Little Train.  Wandered up what looked like the main street, a bit like Sauchiehall Street with sunshine, if you can imagine that.  We reached the top and entered what looked like a building site, turned and walked back down and it was then we found the Little Train stop.  Off we went on the bumpiest ride ever, round the city with a commentary running all the time.

When we got back we went for lunch at a cafe on the street.  I had a Warm Wrap filled with bacon, chicken and salad.  It was really delicious.  Scamp had a Chicken Skillet which was like an open Panini.  I had a beer and she had an Aperol Spritz which was Aperol, soda water and prosecco.  It seems to be the Maltese drink, at least for this year.

After being fed and watered, we proceeded to get lost trying to find our way back to the ship.  However, by following our noses, we found the Lower Gardens with its Greek temple and views across to the quite elegant war memorial.  We also passed the colourful garage doors on a steep sloping road down to Victoria Gate.  Then we knew where we were and walked on past the covered area where the horses and carriages had waited to take the unwary on expensive trips round the town.  The had mostly all gone home by now, the horses getting a rest in their horse boxes while the carriages were loaded on to the back of a truck.  I felt sorry for the horses.  There are a lot of hills in Valetta and it looked like hard work for them.

We’d bought a bottle of Gin the day before and today we’d managed to smuggle a bottle of tonic through the ship’s scanner, so we had a G&T while we watched the ship prepare to sail away.  We kept being ‘buzzed’ by little boats that looked like gondolas, but on closer inspection looked a bit more like Greek boats.

Today’s sketch was done on deck looking out at the skyline of Valletta.  A wee man stopped and complemented me on my painting.  That was nice.  Most folk just sidle up and steal a sly glance then walk on.  It was good to be recognised for my efforts however amateurish they are.

Tomorrow we go to Sicily.