A Travellerspoint blog

October 2013

Poor Porto

sunny 23 °C

Thanks to the British aristocracy’s love of port wine in the mid 1800s, Porto (also called Oporto) became one of the most splendid cities in Europe. It had magnificent waterfront buildings…
Beautiful churches…
And flambouyant castles…
The Castel Santa Catarina was built by a wealthy aristocrat, Comendador Antonio Pimenta da Fonseca, in the late 19th century just to house and impress his guests. It is now an opulent hotel stuffed full of original antiques and sumptuous furnishings and it certainly impressed us…
From our turret room in the castle everything in the city below looks picture perfect, but when we take to the streets we find a city falling apart faster than Detroit. At least half of the buildings in the city’s historic core are crumbling and boarded up…
The old city centre may be a World Heritage site but the roofs are falling in, floors collapsing and entire blocks are being left to rot, but there is a bright spot…
These dockside warehouses with their terracotta tiled roofs have been the repositories for the giant casks of ageing port for more than a century…
Each of these oak casks contains upwards of 60,000 litres of fortified port wine for as long as 50 years. The city of Porto is awash with port and every producer wants us to visit their ‘cave and try their ports - ruby, tawny and white. These smaller barrels are for maturing the tawny ports…

For the next few days we are going to follow the river Douro to find the vineyards, the source of all this booze. The river meanders drunkenly as it winds its way through Portugal and so will we if we continue accepting all of the free samples of port on offer – life’s tough for tourists here.

Posted by Hawkson 01:46 Archived in Portugal Comments (8)

Soggy Santiago

rain 20 °C

The rain in Spain doesn’t always stay on the plain. In fact, Santiago de Compostela in the northern region of Galicia is the second wettest city in Europe and now we know that!
Santiago is the place where El Camino ends; where, after forty or more days of slogging up and down mountains and battling through rain, wind and scorching heat, the weary pilgrims collapse triumphantly on the steps of the Cathedral of St. James…
This year nearly two hundred thousand pilgrims from all corners of the world have conquered El Camino and, for many, the experience will have changed their lives forever. Here are the latest arrivals, carrying a scallop shell as tradition demands, waiting to get their final stamp of success…
We too have arrived in Santiago after a journey marred by cramped conditions, difficulty sleeping and terrible food. We didn’t walk here but we understand the pilgrims' discomfort - because we flew here on Ryanair.

Santiago de Compostela is the land of backpacks and blisters. There are few fatties here, and this is a good job because the streets are very narrow…
And the whole place is on the side of a mountain...
But it is a beautiful old city bursting with historic houses, monasteries, churches, and restaurants. The food is very good, but don’t expect to eat much before nine at night. However, while you are waiting for the kitchen to open you can fill up on local wine – it’s the same price as bottled water. For dessert, the traditional Tarta de Almandras (almond tarts) are a must…

Pilgrims have been hiking here from all over Europe since the announcement of the discovery of the remains of St. James in 812AD. However, this may have just been a stroke of marketing genius by the hoteliers of the day. Imagine that you are the publicity director of one of the rainiest places in Europe: how else do you get people off the beach?

We would like to salute people like our friends Ute, Sharron and Harvey who conquered El Camino, but we think that flying here on Ryanair was punishment enough for us.

Posted by Hawkson 11:42 Archived in Spain Comments (9)

Beautiful British Columbia

sunny 16 °C

Most visitors to British Columbia start in Vancouver and travel by ferry to Vancouver Island from the picturesque port of Horseshoe Bay - a cove surrounded by steep sided mountains just north of Vancouver...


The coastline of British Columbia offers some of the most picturesque scenes in the world. This is the view of the Coastal Mountain Range across the Strait of Georgia, (also known as the Salish Sea), from our home on Gabriola Island...


The seascapes from our windows change constantly as vessels of all kinds enter and leave the ports and harbours around Vancouver and the many islands in the Salish Sea. Giant cruise liners pass us on their way to Alaska and Seattle in the summer while ferries constantly ply back and forth across the Strait year round. Freighters, trawlers, crabbers and commercial ships of all kind sail these waters along with vast numbers of pleasure boats like this...


Looking north from our home we see the lighthouse on Entrance Island. It is always a colourful sight with its red-roofed buildings but sometimes nature takes a hand at brightening it up...


We are surrounded by nature's colours from the blue Pacific and the distant snow capped mountains to the evergreens of the surrounding forest. The colour of sunrises and sunsets over the ocean are often so intense that we cannot trust our eyes, while sometimes they just delicately brush the sky...


There is nothing delicate about the colour of the starfish on our island's beaches...


Seen in the shallows the starfish create nature's true watercolours...


Wildlife abound on our island and in the surrounding sea and we have often written of the whales, sea lions, dolphins, raccoons, eagles and deer. The humming birds are always a delight as are the majestic blue herons...


Life on a small island revolves around the ocean, and everywhere we look we see the ocean's hand. The rocky shores are daily washed by the tides and pile pebbles on the beaches, but when wintry storms smash the waves into the sandstone cliffs the resultant sculptures are truly amazing...


British Columbia, Canada, is truly beautiful.

Posted by Hawkson 09:52 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Rubbing Shoulders with Royalty

semi-overcast 12 °C

No matter how many times we've been to London, the city always manages to delight and surprise us.
We only had one free day this time so hadn't made any plans, but there is always plenty to do - and most of it is free.
All the major museums and galleries are free and the city's ancient streets and iconic buildings are in themselves a wonderful outdoor museum dating from 79AD onward. It's all there - two thousand years of architecture: Roman, Saxon, Norman, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian, as well as fantastic modern buildings like the Shard. So, after a little window shopping in our favourite store, Harrods, we joined the tourists at Covent Garden Market...
Begun in 1654, Covent Garden was the main fruit and vegetable market of London until the 1970s. But now the rowdy costermongers have been replaced by a more genteel bunch of vendors flogging all manner of bric-a-brac to the tourists. It is a bustling place, though nothing like the crazy markets of S.E.Asia, and the streets entertainers are a riot. This guy caused a stir just by hanging around in mid-air...
After lunch we signed up for a free guided tour of Somerset House - the home of the Admiralty when Lord Nelson planned his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This enormous 18th century rock pile on the banks of the Thames replaced a Tudor palace...
Remembrance day is fast approaching, the poppies are coming out, and we were lucky to get the last couple of seats at a concert given by the Royal British Legion's Central Band. Even luckier - we took our seats and found ourselves sitting next to the Duke of Gloucester,(the Queen's first cousin), and his wife. The Duke and his missus (Dickie and Birgitte to us) had a rollicking good time. The music was splendid and you can get a taste on youtube. Go to http://youtu.be/6oNbTc5hVuA or Google the Central Band of the Royal British Legion.

That's it for our day. The rain is coming so we're off to sunny Spain.
Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends back home.

Posted by Hawkson 04:10 Archived in England Comments (3)

We're Off On The Road to Morocco

Blog entry number 300

semi-overcast 12 °C

It has been a summer full of sunshine and visitors on the west coast of British Columbia and we have been exploring our own backyard – the mountains and lakes of the Rockies. This is Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies...
While this is the world renowned Lake Louise...
Surrounded as we are by all this beauty you might wonder why we travel to far off places. Saint Augustine had the answer when he said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page".
Since we began blogging five years ago we've sat down at the computer three hundred times to bring you images of places and people from other worlds and other times in history. Yet, although we have explored more than two dozen countries in that time, we've barely scratched the surface of the Globe.
Unbelievably, our blogs have been read more than a third of a million times and we have been asked countless times to write a book about our travels. Well, we've finally done it – and we may even do it again, (gluttons for punishment that we are).

‘Slow Train to China’ chronicles our recent Trans-Siberian journey from St.Petersburg to Hong Kong; a ten week journey of some 10,000 kms. This is planned to be the first in a series of inspirational travel guides for people like us – independent second-lifers. So if you, (or someone you know), need a bit of a shove to get out of the Lazy-Boy, then order a copy and let us persuade you that world travel is neither difficult nor dangerous. As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than the by the ones you did.”

Summer is nearing an end on our Canadian isle and as the sun sinks lower in the sky there are storm clouds on the horizon. It’s time for us to clear the decks and set sail on another Blissful Adventure. This fall we’re taking Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s advice. We’re off on the Road to Morocco. We’ll have a few stops in England, Spain and Portugal en-route, and after the Kasbahs of Marrakesh and Fez we will be heading south of the Sahara for a safari in the National Parks of Ghana. Please come along for the ride, (and let us know if you, or a friend, would like a copy of our latest book for Christmas).

Posted by Hawkson 14:31 Archived in England Comments (13)

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