Category Archives: Around the World

Travel reviews and notes


There's only one good looking one!

This is an awfully belated post on golfing with Sandy McKinnon in Thailand and is really just an excuse to publish the photographs.

For those of you who were at 13 Sigs from around ’60-’64 and/or 9 Sigs from ’64-’69 you may well remember Sandy; and Kay as well during the Cyprus stint.

They now live for most of the year in Bangkok and were good enough to invite Josephine and I to stay with them in March on our way back from Cambodia. Unfortunately the photographs from my camera have disappeared into the ether but a couple taken on my mobile on the Muang Ake Vista golf course have survived. (surprise! surprise!).

The caddies (and Sandy)


Picture of sartorial elegance - Terry and I

It is hard to make a riveting story out of a long walk along a canal unless one is Claire Balding or a waterways enthusiast. I can say without fear of contradiction that I am neither of these and, after the first six or seven miles, the effort of putting one foot in front of the other was enough to put most other considerations way down the priority ladder. Having said this I feel bound by a sense of duty to my many and very much appreciated sponsors to give some flavour of the weekend in general and the 15 mile hike from Bingley to Leeds in particular.
Saturday 19th June – Arrived at Leeds/Bradford Airport about 10am, after a pretty uneventful journey, to find the temperature around 10° and a gale blowing. This was not quite what I expected and certainly wasn’t dressed for. Rummaged in case at bus shelter and found cashemere pulli which helped a bit!

The Old Post office Leeds

Eventually reached Leeds station and discovered that the hotel did not open their check-in until 2pm. Luckily Leeds is a pleasant city with some great architecture and I was able to pass away the time visiting the central market and a couple of the malls and watching the Yorkshire world go by from one of the innumerable coffee  houses.

I eventually booked into my hotel, pottered about a bit and had just decided to have a couple of hours snooze when I had a phone call from Jim Malone, who was on the Skipton – Bingley section, asking why I hadn’t showed up. This was a strange query as I had never intended to be on the Skipton-Bingley leg.  An inexplicatble feeling of guilt overcame me so I felt duty bound to catch a train to Bingley and meet them.

I walked about  a mile or so along the canal, which included going up both the 3 and 5 rise locks.

5 rise lock, Bingley

It’s supposed to be flat!!!  I eventually joined up with the happy band and we walked back to Bingley and thence into the Foundry Hill Bar opposite the station for a (well earned??) couple of pints.  Great little pub with really pleasant staff and a great line in Saltaire Blonde Ale. Real Ale at around £2.00 a pint, “eh up” lads (and lassies)!  From there back to Leeds and a wash and brush up prior to dinner which Tom (or Julian if you prefer) organised in the bistro of the Queens Hotel; he being in residence there. (That’s an almost Caesarian Gallic Wars construction).  Dinner was excellent and made even more enjoyable by the waitress and waiter on duty in the restaurant.  Their efficiency and sense of humour are qualities that seem to be lacking in too many staff these days.  We had an extra couple of drinks in the bar to finish off the night – Well one does doesn’t one.

Start of the Final Leg - Bingley Station

A not too arduous start to the day, for me at least, meant breakfast at 7.45, and then on to Leeds station to catch the 9.00 train for the short trip back to Bingley, to start the walk back to Leeds!.  One could get dizzy with all this toing and froing . In the Bingley station car park we were joined by other members of the team who had been staying at various points West over night.  It was here I caught up with Terry Ireland whom I had not seen since ’64: might only have been yesterday, just picked up our last conversation which had involved beer and minis!

Only 38 bridges to go

We were blest with perfect weather, the sun was out but there was a gentle breeze which made it ideal for walking. Before too long the group split up into about three or four sections with the “professionals” out in front and the rest of  us in small packets chatting away about times past, or whatever! The great thing about going in the Leeds direction is that the locks are all downhill so that the only uphill bits are where the tow path goes over a bridge.  I have only admiration for those of the party who walked more than one section and am amazed at the two stalwarts, Julian and Kevin, who covered all 9 sections and 127 miles.  Of course it must be said that they practiced beforehand! But as  it was not a game it was not ruined (Apologies to Flanders & Swann).

The Ice cream barge

After about an hour or so we came upon an Ice Cream Barge, so designated because it sold the said product rather than being made of it.  Moored under a large tree it made the ideal point to take a well earned break and, we were told, there was nothing else along the path for a couple of hours at least.  Then off we set again past the factories and mills of Saltaire and Shipley.  My first wife was a Shipley girl but that is another story!

From here on it was a fairly uneventful walk until, about an hour and a half later we came across a canal side café.

Tom lays out the strategy

I had acquired a raw little toe by this time so it was a relief to stop, remove my sandle and, being much the wrong shape to do it myself, get Terry to apply a plaster.  During this break who should appear but Maxi Wilson, of 13 Sigs Fame back in the 70’s, who just happend to be out strolling along.  More reminisences!  As a hostlery this was not the the most efficient I have ever been in – It took nearly 20 minutes to get a cup of tea, by which time everybody was wanting to move on so I ended up with a scalded mouth.  Took my mind of my toe though!

We moved on towards Apperley Bridge which was our designate lunch stop and en route I was met by Lynne and Mick Shepherd, ex RAPC and 9 Sigs rugby player extraordinaire, who had driven up from Nottingham to make a donation to the cause.  We had not met for, probably, fifteen years so there was more catching up to do.  We arrived at the George and Dragon and somehow, due to excellent real ale coupled with lively conversation, I  forgot to order lunch and so it was that I left foodless for the afternoon stint.   This was probably a good thing as rumour has it that it is not good to do too much exercise on a full stomach!


Terry having teamed up with the lead group I joined Andy and Kamie Beer to form a mutual support section for this session.  This is one of the prettiest stretches of the canal, passing through Rodley, with its period terraces on the bank, and Calverley Bridge, where an old friend whom I met whilst on my Greek Interpreters course in Corfu in ’72, has a riverside cottage.  By this time we were beginning to feel the strain and we were counting down the bridges.

225G at last

But they got there first!

The start of the industrial skyscape of the Leeds suburbs were a welcome sight and when we found that bridge 225A was followed by 225D it elicited positive euphoria. Then, there it was, 225G and the end of the line. So about fifteen minutes later, and some 7 1/2 hours after leaving Bingley, we joined the first group at Wetherspoons for more excellent real ale. It is a pity that they did not run to foot baths as well!

The final resting place - Wetherspoons Leeds Station

I did it - honest!

Unfortunately a number of the party had to disperse home and Tom succumbed to an attack of terminal tiredness so it was a small party, Kamie, Helen, Maria, Andy and me that attended a final dinner an adjacent Indian Restaurant.  For the first time I can think of I cannot remember the name but I do remember the outstanding chicken liver starter and generally authentic food.  It also had a good line in Red Wine.(if anybody who was there can enlighten me as to the name please do it in the comments.) It was a pleasant way to end an exceptional weekend.

I had to be up at 4.30 am to get a taxi out the the Airport for my 7 o’clock flight.  Monday was definitely a day to be forgotten.

The most important part of all this  is the “unofficial” final tally of sponsorship which amounts to just under £5,500.  This is a really impressive total and is a credit to all those who took part, those who supported and especially to all those of you who put their hands in their pockets when asked.  On a personal note I would like to give special thanks to Julian (Tom) McMahon for involving me in this enterprise.

Also thanks to Kamie and Andy Beer, Julian, Maria. Laura and Tom for their photographic contributions

SEE THE SLIDESHOW -click on the pic to go to full size

Fitzpatrick’s, Rockmarshall, Jenkinstown, Co Louth


My good friends the Rankin’s called into the office to  discuss a piece of furniture and having finalised the design requirements, plus me having slipped a chair in to the equation, they invited me to join them for lunch. The idea was to test the newly opened Newry Bypass and get to Fitzpatrick’s Restaurant in record time. This of course did not take into account the erroneous reporting that the last section of the bypass had opened at eleven o’clock!  It hadn’t!  Looking across to the northbound carriageway it seemed that this had been opened at about 13.03.

The potting shed

On previous trips down the Carlingford road I do not recall getting past the Ballymascanlon Hotel so was amazed to be introduced to the Irish answer to the “Traditional Irish Pub” a couple of kilometres further down the road.

The bicycle park

Arriving in the car park at first glance Fitzpatrick’s appears as the picture book example of the rural farmhouse style building with whitewashed walls and slate roof.  The adjoining courtyard boasts a plethora of flowers growing in pots which are set in anything from bicycle baskets to a van engine compartment.  Of course there is also the regulation horse and donkey in the adjacent paddock. I actually thought that the donkey was a cast model until it brayed!

Once one enters it appears as the Irish answer to the ubiquitous “Irish Bar”, at least one of which is to be found in every major city round the world.  Every available inch of wall, cill and beam sports period adverts, pictures and artefacts.

The amazing thing is that it works without ever seeming to be “over the top”.

Every available space!

We were taken to our table by a young lady who was certainly not indigenous but who was definitely very well trained. She took our drinks order and provided us with menus.  At first glance it occurred to me that anyone who can include “Almost famous French Onion Soup” and “Now Famous Chicken Wings” as offerings is certainly worth a try.
Helen and I picked the Whole Baked Sea Trout on seared courgettes with Hollandaise sauce, with chips on the side, from the “day’s specials” menu whilst Trevor went for the sausages with champ and onion gravy.

The fish was cooked to perfection, just firm, and the chips were golden crisp; how do they do that?  The courgettes were melt in the mouth and the Hollandaise sauce complemented it all perfectly. Not only that but there was a serving of vegetables  as well:  cauliflower, broccoli, mange tout, carrots and green beans. All of which managed to be cooked “just so”.

Trevor report his sausage ring to be excellent and the same for the champ and gravy.

We finished up with a couple of standard coffees.

Not just any loo!

The Gents loo is also worth a mention as it resembles a Victorian apothecary’s. Beware the hand dryers which are designed to remove the skin along with the water!

We returned to Belfast via the now opened Newry Bypass. Unfortunately no-one was offering gifts for being one of the first 1000 cars.

Having said this there were lots of police out with little books and those flashy black things they are so fond of pointing at people.

No doubt we will revisit this excellent hostlery at some point in the not too distant future.

Manor Restaurant, Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim

Last time I was in this restaurant  it was called the “Fillet of Soul”.  It was the brainchild of Master Chef Anthony Armstrong who opened it to much acclaim in ’04  but, according to the waitress, it has been through two reincarnations before settling down as the Manor Restaurant.

I was on my back from Sligo with my designer Kelly, where we had been measuring up a lecture theatre in Sligo IT.  This had involved clambering amongst scaffolding and rubble as, true to form, the contractors promise that it would be completely cleaned out was  a myth.  So by 3 p.m. we were in dire need of sustenance!

It has much the same décor and layout as the last time I was there. Divided into two rooms with comfortable high back fully upholstered chairs it has a welcome feel about it, even on a Monday afternoon.

There were two young ladies at the reception/bar, one of whom I took to be the chef.  Her credentials were the wall in Polish.  We had the choice of tables as it was probably the least busy time of day.

The waitress took our drinks order and brought the menu which was pretty extensive and would cater for all tastes.   There were three “specials”.  One was Special Meatballs and one a tortilla wrap with sautéed potatoes;  I forget the other.  I queried the constituents of the meatballs and was informed that they were made from minced beef with carrot, rice and herbs served with a garlic sauce, mashed potatoes and vegetables. In for a penny, in for a pound!

Kelly chose the Tortilla Wrap. This turned out to be most substantial and was accompanied by about a kilo of sautéed potatoes.  She reckoned that the sauce was splendid and that there was a mass of meat, mushrooms and salad.

The meatballs were delicious and the sauce a perfect complement. The mash was as good as I have had anywhere. If one was to look for a fault then the carrots were a little overdone for my taste but then the cauliflower was just firm.

They do a very good line in red wine by the glass and a glance at the wine list showed that they offer a reasonable selection, none of which are overpriced.

We finished up with instant coffee, not bad at all, accompanied by “After 8s”.

All in including soft drinks for under €30,00.

If you in North Leitrim (about 2 1/2 hours drive from Belfast) visit the beautiful Glencar Waterfall, made famous by Yeats in the poem “The Stolen Child”, and call into the Manor Restaurant to finish the experience.

Walking the Dogs to Music

Antrim First Old Boys Silver Band


Twice in the last seven days I have been out with the dogs to find bands playing in the open air. Reminiscent of the old days when many of the parks sported bandstands. 
Firstly, last Thursday, in Glengormley park at about 7pm, I found a silver band,  Antrim First Old Boys Silver Band, playing adjacent to the Bowls Pavilion.     

East Antrim Seniors Accordion Orchestra

   Then on Sunday afternoon, in the car-park on the Loughshore at Jordanstown, there was the East Antrim Seniors Accordion Orchestra playing their repertoire. Given that the weather was not the best, although quite warm, there was a reasonable number of people enjoying the music.
Maybe I have just not been in the right place at the right time, but the old practice of music in the parks is something that slows down the pace of life for a while.  A welcome interlude.

Paris, May 2010

Gare de l 'Est

None of us have been to Paris before so this was a new experience. Our first venture, having collected our luggage, was to acquire a taxi to take us to our hotel, the Opera Franklin which is off the Rue La Fayette. We took the next available from the rank which was driven by a gentleman of unknown origin who had never heard of either the hotel or the street. Luckily his satnav was able to direct him, though with my limited French, I disagreed with his interpretation of the final leg.  It did not make any great difference as we arrived safely.  The Opera Franklin, as I discovered from their welcome pack, is one of the Ibis group hotels and lives up to their reputation for basic, clean tidy accommodation. They are currently refurbishing the top three floors so there was a bit of a smell of fresh paint and the occasional crash of drilling, but nothing to to upset one unduly.  The receptionist said that they hoped to have the bedrooms completed by July and the foyer area by September.

Having booked in and parked our cases we bought the two day tourists tickets for Les Cars Rouge (€24 unlimited travel) and set off to walk to the Opera, this being the nearest stop. This is Paris so nothing is as easy as it should be and we took a little time to find our bearings, even with the courtesy map!  The bus is red (surprise, surprise) and similar to all other city tour vehicles except that this one offers complimentary earphones has a commentary system in a choice of eight languages.  The French version definitely differs from the English but I am not sure by how much!

Although it was dry there was a biting wind and I was the only one who braved the upper deck and even then I made forays down stairs to get my fingers working again. We went round the complete circuit, Champs Elysée,  Grand Palais, Invalides, Louvre, etc.  and ended up for lunch in the brasserie of the Cafe de la Paix. This is decidedly on the posh side but the menu was pretty good and Trevor and I settled for the cappachio of beef with parmesan and capers which came served on a sheet of slate, Josephine had a croquet Monsieur and Helen settled on the home made Burger. Trevor and I finished off with coffee viennasoise. We did consider an Armagnac but at €40 a shot felt this was a little excessive.

We wended our way back to the hotel where we indulged in the said Armagnac at €4.80. I wondered if it were just a matter of the decimal point.

We had asked the hotel concierge to recommend a restaurant that evening and she sent us to Hugo a small bistro on the Rue de la Papillion about 10 minutes walk away. This is a truly memorable little restaurant and is described in more detail in the Eating Out section.

Day two started with breakfast which I was pleasantly surprised to find included salami, ham and cheese as well as the inevitable croissants and jam.

Following this we set off again to catch the Red Bus with the intention of visiting the Louvre and then the Musêe d’Orsay.  We had noted quite a swish tailors the day before and I nepped in to see if I could get a bow tie (papillion, en français) but was  a bit taken back to find they only sold ready tied. I tried a number of shops after this, including Galeries Lafayette, with no avail.  So much for French savoire faire!.

We arrived at the Louvre which was not at all what I had expected. One it is a huge building set round an imposing square which then extend on two sides to form the Cour Napoléon which contains the fountains and three glass pyramids which look down into the the entrance to the museum itself. Froom here one moves out across the Jardin du Carrousel towards the Tuileries Gardens. We never did get to visit the museum itself as the queue was enormous. The visit was well worth it just for the arcitecture and overall view.

We headed over the Pont du Carrousel and down the Quai Voltaire for lunch in La Frégate, a typical brasserie with the usual parisian varieties on the menu. The Soupe à l ‘Oignon was a meal in itself, none of your dainty croutons, 3 slices of crusty topped with melted cheese. Trevor’s omelette aux champignons got lost in the system somewhere but turned up eventually! Everybody was very friendly and helpful as usual.

Following this we headed down to the Musêe d’Orsay.  The queues there were even longer than those at the Louvre.  It is definately a must to get tickets in advance! The rest of the party decided to take the bus back to the Opera but, haaving had enough of buses I elected to walk.

It is definately the way to see Paris once you have got your general bearings from the bus tour. From the Quai d’Orsay across the Pont de la Concorde and on across the great square with it fountains and statues and central obelisk. Across the road I noticed a Nicolas wine shop.  My first bottle of red wine was bought from an “offy” in Birmingham around 1957 and was Vieux Ceps by Nicolas. Strangely for those days it had a plastic stopper.  From there past the Marie Madeleine Church and Maxims. It was when I reached St. Lazare station that I realised that I should have taken a right at the Madelaine! Ah well It was a straight run back to the hotel past La Trinite, I would not have seen had I gone the right way.

Thinking that the rest of the party would already be back and resting I ordered a large Armagnac and collapsed into a chair in the lobby bar with a bowl of nibbles.  Surprise, surprise the rest arrived five minutes later having stopped off to buy a handbag.

We had booked for a Seine Cruise and dinner with Bateaux Parisians as our farewell to Paris and an excellent evening it turned out to be. The service and food were excellent.  I had not remembered that wine was included in the price and was a little taken aback to see that the cheapest red on the wine list was €75!  On being seated we were served with a Kir cocktail and our waiter for the evening, Jacques, introduced himself. The menu is not extensive; one would not expect this on souch a tour, but it coveres most tastes, you’d be pretty miserable not find something suitable. Starters included a “cappuchino” style soup with lobster and slow cooked morels,absolutely delicious, and duck foie gras with asparagus.  The veal with madeira sauce and truffle essence was robust and cooked to perfection and my companions reported the same about the Beef tournedos in a Bourdelaise wine sauce.  The vegetables and potatoes passed muster with no complaint. My Crêpes Suzette, orange butter with Grand Marnier were flambéed at the table, nice touch, and I believe that the Cantai maature cheese with apple and grape condiment were not to be sniffed at (no pun intended). The wines, a 2008 Medoc and a Château la Capitelles Chardonnay, all French of course, complimented the meal perfectly as did the coffee.  In fact the food was so good one was to be forgiven for not watching the Paris illuminations glide by.  There was, in addition a very competent singer accompanied by a small combo to ensure that we did not get bored.  We arrived back at the Eiffel tower to the spectacle of a fireword display which wound up the evening perfectly. On our way to the taxi rank at the tower we encountered our first roller skating gendarmes and security guards, neat!

On Saturday morning we set off to the Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar.  This station does not rate as one of the top 100 stations I have been to.  It did not help that there had been some sort of alert in the tunnel and that all trains had been halted.  The poweres that be had roped off access to the Eurostar section of the station which is on the first floor and there seemed to be a general lack of information.  Luckily, about 45 minutes later, it was announced that the problem had been cleared and that trains would begin to run again.  In true French style the put up seperate queue notices for the two trains that were due to leave.  After about fifteen minutes they changed the notices round so nobody knew which was which. Happy days!

We eventually boarded about an hour and a half late.  We had booked Leisure First tickets which, seeing as we are all pensioners, coast about £15 a head more than the standard fare and gave us big comfortable seats free wine and an excellent three course meal.  My choice  of with a gorgonzola sauce was a definite hit. Not that I am obsessed with food you know. The rest of the journey was uneventful and Trevor was able to increase my knowledge of British rolling stock to quite a degree, but I was starting from a very low base.
I would recommend Eurostar; even with the delays it was smooth and quick and dropped us into the centre of London without the hassle of transfers.

As a final note we got a cab to Liverpool Street to catch the Stanstead Express and were treated to a true East End commentary on everything from the way to improve the economy to his holiday in Spain. Priceless and a great end to the holiday.

Click on the photo below to go to the full album and then choose slide show.


Back to Orient Express

Cambodia 2010, Days 6-9 – Siem Reap

Sunrise over Angkor Wat


I am lumping the four days at Siem Reap together as they were spent touring the various Angkor ruins.  It has been said that one could spend seven,  eight or even more days here but, unless one is a dedicated temple freak, I believe that Kuoni got it about right and we had plenty of time to visit the the important of the temples without too much rush.  It is a fact that one can only assimilate so much knowledge in a given amount of time and as I have mentioned before the complex mix of Khmer, Buddhism and Hindu mythology which are found here leave the mind boggling.      

We were back in 4 star luxury as far as accommodation went, the Tara Angkor Hotel,which could nearly have qualified as a 5 star which was the perfect place to recover after a hard days sightseeing. Air conditioned throughout, great spa, nice restaurants and free wi-fi in the lobby.  Service also impeccable.      

Our first day started with an elephant ride across the bidge and through the Victory Gate into Angkor Thom, (literally Great City) which was the Khmer capital founded in the late 12th century by king Jayavarman VII.
We were then deposited back onto solid ground and headed off toward the Leper King Terrace which is off the royal square and boasts a replica of the 15th century statue of the Hindu god of death, Yama. You really needed to know that!

The terrace is named because of the lichen and moss which grew on the original statue and was reminiscent of leprosy and this complemented a Khymer legend of a Angkorian king who suffered from the disease. This is a cheery way to start the day.
From here we moved on to Phimeanakas, a Hindu temple in the shape of a three tier pyramid with a tower on the top. According to another legend the king was supposed to spend the first watch of every night there with a woman who represented the snake diety, Naga. Not even the queen was allowed to intrude. He was able to return to her at the second watch. It was believed that if he did not show up each night disaster would strike the land. I do not think this ploy would work at home.


A short walk down the road and one comes to the Baphuon, another three tiered temple the original of which was built in the 11th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva the destroyer. It was converted to a Buddhist temple in the 15th century and a reclining stone Buddha, 9 metres tall and 70 metres long was built on the second tier.  Due to the inherent instability of the site much of the edifice has collaplsed and it is currently being restored with aid from the French.
 Then on to the main attraction, the Bayon Temple, which sits in the exact centre of the city and represents the intersection of heaven and earth. It is a Buddhist temple but, believe it or not, has Hindu cosmological elements. It is famous for the huge stone faces of the Avalokiteshvara carved into the towers. One on each side facing the cardinal points of the compass. They really are amazing and there are vantage points which gives one  differing perspectives. The smiling image is thought to be a portrait of King Jayavarman an has the attracted the dubious title of “the Mona Lisa of South East Asia”!  There are 51 smaller towers surrounding the Bayon each with four faces. There are two long walls round the temple which carry bas relief scenes depicting legendary and historical events. In total there are about 11,000 carved figures. I cannot do justice to it here but i hope that the pictures on the page and the ones you will see on the links go some way to showing it attraction.
We were supposed to see the sunset over Angkor Wat but our guide, Srey Thy,  suggested that we give it a miss as it would be difficult to get a vantage point due to the crowds and the weather was not the best for photographing sunsets.  We were booked to see the sun rise over it (see the title photo) on the morrow and we were templed out by this time anyway.  Like many other temples  Angkor Wat started life as Hindu, dedicated to Vishnu the creator, and was later  adapted to Buddhism.  Not being a Khymer classicist I think Bayon has the edge but Angkor Wat is considered to be the epitome of Khmer architecture and is embodied in the national flag (so they must be right)!  It is imposing and is a favourite place for wedding photographs.  We came across this couple with their photographer on one of the collonades.  Unlike in the west orientals have their photography done weeks or even months before the wedding and the photos are then displayed at the ceremony, often blown up to poster size, or larger in some cases. Angkor Wat also boast the famous bass relief depicting the “churning of the ocean of milk”, the Hindu creation myth.
The following two days were spent visiting various diferent Angkor city/temple complexes which were interesting in their own right and in various states of deterioration.  The Khmer Rouge were responsible for some of the wanton destruction and lack of money and resources means that restoration many is unlikely to take place for years, if ever.  There are acres of collapsed stone like huge jigsaw pieces that would take lifetime to put into place even if one had the picture to work from. Nature has also had quite an effect especially at Ta Prohm where huge strangler fig trees have engulfed the buildings. Our tour here was enlivened by a large group of Russians, who were probably the rudest and most obnoxious crowd that we have come across on our travels, climbing over barrier ropes to photograph each other hanging from porticos and completely ignoring the protestations of the guides.
As you may have realised Siem Reap is host to a myriad of complexes all of which have their own particular histories. The last place that we visited was the minature temple  of Banteay Srei, Citadel of the Women. This is renowned for the detailed stone carvings and air of  tranquility. Our final evening in Siem Reap was spent at the Apsara Theatre for dinner and a dancing display.  The tables and benches are sunk into the floor so one is sitting with one head at roughly stage level.  A somewhat different experience to western cabaret.  This ended our time in this district of Cambodia and we prepared for the day journey to Kratie, a small town on the Mekong River and home to the Irrawadi dolphins.



Simplon Orient Express, Venice to Paris

This was to be an “experience of a lifetime” holiday with our friends Trevor and Helen Rankin; with them celebrating their 45 wedding anniversary and for us, Josephine’s (if you don’t know, don’t ask) birthday.  After a completely uneventful journey, all flights being on time and the Aviance business lounge at Gatwick North being a haven of peace and quiet whilst dispensing restorative alcoholic beverages, we arrived at the Hotel Kette in Venice by water taxi in the pouring rain.  22⁰ mind you. 

It is an old fashioned hotel with a charm of its own.  The staff are friendly, the rooms comfortable and the prices reasonable. We dropped our bags and hied us into the bar for a much needed cool drink.  No local beer, but they do a great line in 7.7 proof Danish Ceres! 

We elicited the concierge’s help in picking a restaurant for dinner and he recommended the Antico Martini.The report on this can be found as a separate post.  It was magnificent! 

Having got back to our room we discovered that it was only nine pm so we ordered a bottle of Chianti from room service and endeavoured to stay awake until a reasonable hour for bed. I will not  enlighten you with further details of the evening.

We awoke early to the sound of the hotel service boat exchanging laundry three floors below. The weather had cleared so I decided to go out for a stroll and found that St. Marks square was about a 3 minute walk away. Six thirty in the morning is the ideal time to wander the streets of Venice. The only people about are the early shop keepers, joggers and a few hardy tourists. The clean smell of the sea wafts between the buildings and one can take in the sights without being bustled along. 

I collected Josephine and retraced the walk before meeting up for breakfast at eight.  A goodly spread it was; fruit, cereals, cold meats, cheese and coffee to die for. 

We were collected by a water taxi to take us to the station to embark on the next stage.  We thought that it would just run round the Grand Canal, however, we were treated to a tour of the one way system which short cuts the curves of the major thoroughfare. 

Our bags were collected from the taxi and transported to the booking in desk for the Orient Express. A word of warning;  do not use the currency exchange on the station – I was offered €47.60 for £60. I know sterling is not particularly strong but that is ridiculous.

The train, 17 coaches long,  is everything that you would expect; even before one embarks it exudes an aura of opulence, added to by the liveried carriage stewards who greet you at the door.  The cabins are luxurious without being large; with built in washing facilities, complimentary dressing gowns, fan etc.  As we had adjoining cabins we opened the connecting door which gave the appearance of far more room. Our carriage steward duly instructed us as to how everything worked. 

We went to the first sitting for lunch, a three course extravaganza starting with asparagus lasgne and followed by monkfish tail on a sweet pepper crepe with a curry sauce, fennel and basmati rice in a red pepper shell. Josephine and I chose a Chianti Classico whilst Trevor and Helen went for the Sancerre. The sweet was a mixture of fresh berries with ice-cream and splashed with fresh prosecco. Yum! 

We retired to our accommodation to take a snooze and watch the passing scenery. If you are contemplating a trip on the Orient Express do pick the Venice to Paris option. We have spoken to people who have taken the London to Venice route but the views are of flat countryside and by the time it reaches the Alps it is dark. 

Dinner is a black tie affair, although this is not de rigueur , and it was disappointing the number of people who appeared in lounge suits.  This did not detract from the food.  We opted for the 7.00 sitting which proved a good choice.  This time four courses, opening with sautéed filet of Turbot meunière, tarragon and tomato sauce and diced vegetable ragout (not my favourite accompaniment). The main was a roast rack of lamb with pesto and simmered purple artichokes, accompanied by a lamb spring roll with parmesan cheese and crispy potato “Anna” cake. The lamb was perfect. I would normally cremate mine but this managed to be medium and still fall off the bone. A cheese board followed, fairly frugal but tasty and then came the coconut blancmange with cardamom scented mango. If this was not enough coffee (or tea) was served with pastries. 

We hied ourselves down to the bar for a nightcap.  The bar seats 39 people approximately and the second dinner sitting were there.  We managed to acquire seats and get served.  What followed can only be described as Pythonesque. more people came from our sitting and passed down the car towards the bar and the piano. This continued for some 30 minutes. At about 9.30 they called the second sitting for dinner and people began to file back up the carriage.  I am still do not know where the came from as once again there was a steady stream. I am just glad that we did not opt for the 9.00 dinner as it was served nearly 45 minutes late which meant it would not have finished before 11.00 – not too good to sleep on! 

We returned to our couchette which was now transformed into a sleeping compartment with bunk beds.  I had the top.  Given that it was a strange environment we slept remarkably well.  Note that these are Victorian and there is no en-suite toilet.  They supply dressing gowns (€40 from the boutique if you want to take one with your) and slippers for night time excursions. 

We had booked breakfast, which is served in the compartment, for 7.00 so at 6.45 our steward arrived to convert it back to a sitting room. A class act that took no longer than three minutes!  Breakfast consisted of fruit juice, fruit salad, yoghurt, rolls, croissants, honey, cheese, jam with coffee and tea on the side! 

We rolled majestically through the countryside for a further hour and duly arrived at the Gare de l’Est around 8.20. 

Our luggage was delivered to us at the end of the platform and the next stage of our adventure began! 

Click on the photo below to go to the album for the trip and the choose “slideshow”.

Orient Express Trip

To read about the Paris adventure click here.

Mount Stewart House and Gardens, Newtownards, Co. Down

The sun shone on bank holiday Monday so, having tidied the garden a bit, we loaded the dogs into the car and set off for Mount Stewart House and gardens.  My satnav got me there without too much trouble even taking into account the closed roads for the Marathon. (Just trying it out!) It is certainly a very popular spot and they had opened a field for overflow parking.

The estate was bought by the Stewart family, who later acquired the title, among many others, of Marquess of Londonderry, in 1744.  It was then known as Mount Pleasant. The second marquess left it to his son Viscount Castlereagh who committed suicide a year later due to stress (must be something about Castlereagh). After a period of decline the wife of the 7th Marquess, Edith, took on the refurbishment of the house and a complete redesign of the gardens from 1915 to 1957 when, following he death it was taken over by the National Trust.

There are a number of specific gardens within the estate together with a large lake.  There are extensive walks and the variety of trees, flowers and shrubs are unrivalled in any gardens I have visited.

A great place for walks and to take the children for a picnic.

Needless to say, having the dogs with us, we did not take a tour of the house but will return to do so at some later stage.

Cambodia 2010, Day 5 – Sangker River

This was one of the most rewarding days on this adventure.  An 8a.m. start saw us board our boat, complete with packed lunch, for the 9 hour trip down river to Siam Reap.  This was a welcome break from road travel and promised to give us an insight to the completely different lifestyle of those living along the banks of, or on, the river.The river is basically divided into three, the upper section where the villages are static and the population farm rice,
sugar kapok whilst on the water there is a healthy fishing industry and boatloads of firewood, going up river from the lake,  or bamboo going down river are to be seen depending on the season. There are no bridges and a variety of ferries operate along the way.The middle section is the flood plain.  There are no permanent villages here and people come and farm rice, jute and vegetables as and when the weather permits. In the dry season, whilst we were travelling, the river becomes extremely narrow with banks of shrubs, reeds and grass, but lower down it becomes degraded swamp forest. There are quit a number of rare birds in this area. One then moves down, past the Wat Chheu Khmao (the black wood pagoda)  Here we encounterd a village where a crocodile had escaped from the farm and all the inhabitants were engaged in trying to locate it. Apparently crocs reared in farms have no concept of hunting and die of starvation very quickly. After this excitement we continued towards the Tonle Sap  great lake where the flood water rise up to 10 metres.  This is a world of of fishing and floating villages, housing not only Khmer but Vietnamese, Chams and Chinese.  There are about 150 different types of fishing tackle used in the area, from the huge raft-mounted lift nets (chhnuk) to line with a hook and cormorant feather. The Prek Toal sanctuary, an area of flooded forest is the most important breeding site for large water birds in Southeast Asia.

We finally crossed the corner of the Tonle Sap and headed up river to the landing pier to disembark and finish our journey, by way of a twenty minute bus ride, to Siem Reap.

Siem Reap and the temples

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