Thursday, 31 March 2011

Cipper Cruising

You can’t get much greener than a sailing ship especially one that has been converted into a 5 Star luxury cruise liner. Sails and cruise ships are we being serious here? I have been lucky enough to go on Royal Clipper, the flagship of Star Clippers.
With their teak-lined decks and billowing white sails, luxurious amenities, gourmet cuisine, exceptional service and with only 150 to 300 guests on board these vessels allow clients to soak up the ambience of almost owning their own private yacht. The real beauty of these ships however is that because the vessels are smaller than conventional cruise ships they can call into ports untouched by larger craft.
You're not leaving the comforts and safety of traditional cruising, most ships have engines and stabilisers, and they will be visiting places that are not going to be swamped by large numbers and at the same time are helping small, local communities.
Star Clippers are renowned worldwide for their service and the experience they offer their passengers of comfortable, crewed sailing on traditional clipper ships, built to uncompromising yacht safety, with the elegant surroundings of a private yacht of a bygone age. At the present time the company has three ships in their fleet and all are modern, high-tech, re-creations of the classic clipper sailing ships that dominated the oceans of the world in the 19th century.
Guests can sail in the far east, the Caribbean and what could be more swish than sailing in to Monaco harbour to watch the Grand Prix from the deck whist sipping a gin and tonic? The company even offers trans oceanic cruises when the ships are relocating for the summer season. In the middle of the Atlantic, with no light pollution, the stargazing is spectacular, with the Milky Way clearly visible. Have a nice day now.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Hong Kong - not what you think

One always imagines Hong Kong as one of the most densely populated places on earth and indeed the city itself and its near neighbour Kowloon are just that, but the rest of the area consists of wild mountainous terrain and marsh land and some 235 islands to explore.
Of these island only a very tiny number are inhabited due to the lack of freshwater and that again leaves great possibilities for the walker and outdoor enthusiast. There are also excellent public and private transport links to take you to some of the remoter areas plus nearly everyone speaks English and is desperate to please. Honk Kong may be a millionaire’s playground but the walker and outdoor enthusiast will also have a great time.
The New Territories are separated from the urban sprawl of Kowloon by the Lion Mountains and one of the delights of this area is the archipelago of small islands that you can visit on an “Island Hopping tour.” These islands are virtually untouched by tourism and you can get superb walks on them. One of the delights of Hong Kong are the birds and all the way on this trip you are accompanied by Giant Egrets dazzling white against the sun. Sea eagles sit on posts and Kingfishers the size of crows seems to be all around.
Pulling in at Tap Mun Island Crested Mynah birds flew around us in large flocks. Tap Mun Island has a small seafood restaurant” in fact it’s more like a local bar with Formica tables and basic amenities but the local beer is tremendous after an hour of walking around! A short walk is available here across to the other side of the island that gives you superb views all around.
This tour has been specifically designed for the person with an interest in nature and on Lai Chi Wao you can walk on a raised walkway through the mangrove forest to look at trees and plants clearly labeled. However the people here are also fascinating as they carry on a way of life that despite the marvels of the electronic age has changed little over the centuries.
Other islands to the south of Hong Kong Island should not be ignored. Lamma Island is just a forty minute ferry ride to the south of the city. No cars are allowed here and it has an easy 6km walk of some two hours with some of the most stunning scenery you will see anywhere. Cheung Chau Island, about an hour on the regular ferry, has a moderate walk of 7.5km. and will take you about 3 hours to complete.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Eco Adventure Cruising

The biggest growth area in the cruising world is without doubt the boutique eco adventure cruising sector. With their high adventure/expedition factor going to areas not usually visited by the bigger cruise lines they provide a superb opportunity to see wildlife up close. These ships come equipped with zodiac inflatables, rubber boats that can hold up to twelve or even sixteen people so guests can be landed on remote islands and shallow sandbanks and really get up close to the animals. You don’t have to be 100% fit or under 25 to do these trips either and most have them have five star comforts waiting for you when you get back on board.
The problem is with a specialist cruise operation such as this you need specialist ships. So much so that adventure companies will hire out ships that are suited to this genreThis may be expedition cruising but the clients still want a unique style of ultra-luxury sailing on some of the most sleek and highly innovative yachts to be found on the seas in modern times. Although each ship varies in their design and function, they all share a range of qualities, spacious and comfortable luxury, outside view cabins, ensuite facilities, fine cuisine, lecture rooms and/or lounges and numerous decks for viewing opportunities of sea mammals or birds.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Lobster potting

A recent visitor survey showed that 98% of visitors to Northumberland said they loved the scenery, serenity, the castles and activities. What they were disappointed with was the shopping and food and drink.
This picture was taken about a mile off shore from Amble in Northumberland. We have a wonderful array of seafood that annoyingly often disappears off to Spain and other Meditterreaan countries to fee the hoards of toursits each summer.
Northumberland’s seafood is known to be amongst the best in the country. Lobsters, flatfish, oysters, crab you simply can’t beat it. The noble kipper has graced countless breakfast tables across the world and Seahouses folk will proudly tell you that it all happened because of a fire in a herring shed in the village!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Northern Corsica

St Florent is one of those places that is just too large to be a village and too small to be a town but it makes a good base to explore the north of the island as both Calvi (2 hours) and Bastia (1 hour) are within easy reach.
With about 1500 inhabitants it still retains much of its charm with its pastel washed houses, restaurants and bars that have no wide screen televisions with Match of the Day blaring out. In fact most of the local’s money comes from the sailing boats and huge motor yachts that make the short trip here from Italy and France as the string of some twenty plus restaurants along the front testify. Do please note that in the summer the village can get very busy and noisy but if you have an apartment overlooking the harbour it’s well worth it. However in the old part of the village behind the seafront you will still find traditional life as it has gone on for centuries with small restaurants and shops serving local dishes, fish, cheeses, the local pate and wines that are a marvelous assault on the taste buds. You’ll also find La Maison de Pizzas where everything is cooked in wooden fired ovens. It’s very popular with the locals and there’s also a little hatch where you can order a take away. We took our picnic up the short walk from the square to the old citadel. There is not much left of the original 15th century Genoese fort but from its ramparts you can get amazing views of Cap Corse, the old village and the mountains beyond. If you really do want to try something different then pay a visit to the open air cinema just to the south of the town!
St Florent also offers one other excellent reason to use it as your base as you can take a boat from the harbour for a 10 Euros return trip to the beautiful white beach at Plage du Loto on the edge of the Désert des Agriates, a wilderness of chalk and maquis scrub where the only sign of human life are found in the ‘pagliaghji’ that provide shelter for shepherds and their sheep. Covering 60 square miles, until the 1850s this was the bread basket of Corsica but now the fields are abandoned and the maquis or ‘mucchio’ has invaded the terrain.

The boat drops you, via a rubber dingy, on to the Plage du Loto beach where you can stay until the return journey or if you like take a three hour walk back along the coast to St Florent. The beach is also the start for an easy 30 minute walk to the magnificent beach the Plage de Saleccia but do take a hat, plenty of water and sun cream if you attempt either.

St Florent is full of restaurants cafes and boutiques along the harbour catering for the visiting Italian and French sailing and motor yachts.. The main town square is now a dedicated boules court with often six or seven games going on each evening and is surrounded by cafes where you can sit and idly watch the locals whilst you try out some of the local delicacies.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Bosa, Sardinia

Welcome to Bosa. Adventure cruise ships doing circumnavigations of Sicily stop at Alghero and you can get an excursion going southwards along the winding, twisting coast road hugs the steep cliffs again giving you tantalizing sea views until you come to the town with its pastel coloured houses perched on the banks of the Temo Sardinia’s only navigable river. Still very much isolated from tourism Bosa is a sleepy little town famous for its golden Malvasia wine.

But it’s the colours that draw me back to Bosa. This small town with its houses painted in pastel shades of yellows, blues and greens is ringed by mountains and sea and thus is virtually untouched by tourism development. It still has a relaxed, laid back atmosphere where you can experience the slow rhythm of Sardinian life as you explore its ancient streets.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Norway's Hurtigruten

If you are dedicated cruiser then you must expect something different from the Hurtigruten. it is not so much a cruise as more a way of life. You are in fact a guest on an explorer and working cargo ship that calls at ports delivering the mail, doctors supplies, supermarket goods, locals journeying back and forth to work or going to the dentist.
Travelling along Norway's coastline from Bergen to Kirkenes is one heck of an experiece. The beauty of this is that the ship’s ambience changes at each stop as people get on and off. Schoolchildren desperate to try out their English are joined by businessmen in suits and seasoned travellers who decided to break the journey to explore a town or the local area. Don’t think too that what you have here is some sort of tramp steamer. Most of the fleet are modern ships with an intimate friendly atmosphere and some of the newer ones have jaccuzzi, gyms and a spa.
Also you don’t need to get a port or starboard cabin depending if you’re travelling south or north to get a view of the landscape rather than the ocean. The ships weave their way through channels with hundreds of islands of all shapes and sizes either side of you. At times it feels as if you can almost literally stretch out and touch the walls of the steep cliff sides as well as those of the pitched, rich red, mustard yellow and brown houses so beloved by the Scandanvians.
This is not a cruise with vast open water stretching to the horizon either side for hours at a time. Having said that at times the ships veer out to sea and at once are visited by gannets, puffins and other seabirds going about their daily business. This a cruise not about getting to destination but about the cruise itself. Have a great day now.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Tobago Cays

Well here we are again courtesy of Star Cippers From the second your bare feet first touch the white sand of the Tobago Cays you know you’ve arrived somewhere special. With a 1,400 acre sand-bottom lagoon encompassing four uninhabited islands and a 4km aptly named Horseshoe Reef the Cays are recognized as the "jewel in the crown" for marine tourism in the Southern Grenadines. Although the Cays are uninhabited unfortunately this very uniqueness puts them under threat as they are rapidly becoming one of best known and most popular tourist destinations in the region.

Major visitors to the Cays include cruise ships bringing an estimated 10,000 visitors a year as well as small yachts and day charters from nearby resorts and hotels. The local people are not slow to latch on to this and some have set up stalls with the traditionally mass produced tee shirts and hats that you can see anywhere in the Caribbean whilst others offer restaurants and barbecues with lobsters and fish to the visitors.

Yet despite this the Cays have retained their beauty and wonder. A short walk from the beach across the islands brings you to a different world. Here the shallow lagoon offers peace and solitude with Tropical Mockingbirds fluttering about in the trees and it is possible if you are early enough to image you are marooned alone on a desert island. The emerald colours reflected by the shallow water and the reef are simply stunning and this surely must be one of the most beautiful places on earth. Have a great day now.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Gig Boats, Isles of Scilly

Here we are on the The Isles of Scilly courtesy of Zegrham Expedtitions. The Isalnds have a particularly long and distinguished history when it comes to pilot gigs. Local pilots who know the waters around the Islands like the back of their hand would be taken out to any vessel requiring assistance of any kind and put aboard. The boats from each Island would race to the vessel, and the first one there would get the contract for the pilotage. St. Agnes was particularly successful regarding being first to put a pilot on board as it had the best access to the western approaches. At it's height as an industry, St. Agnes had four pilots living on it. Gigs were made in different shapes in order to fit the purpose for which they would be used, for example, long gigs with fine lines were built for speed whereas a wide gig would be build for stability and for carrying cargo.

The Isles of Scilly is currently home to thirteen gigs, the number would have been more than twice that when they were used as working boats. The gigs now are used as a sports event and the weekly races are seen by many as one of the main social activities on the islands bringing the community together. Every Friday evening in the Summer, the men's gig race takes place, usually about eight or nine gigs will take part in this. Wednesday night is women's gig racing night.  Have a great day now.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Mahon, Menorca

Thought I'd have abreak from adventure cruising today! You know it is the windows that draw me back to Mahon, that most British of Spanish cities. Situated on the eastern tip of Menorca, Mahon is the first city in Spain to see the sun rise in the morning and more often than not her windows throw the orange light around her streets, bouncing it back off each other as if playing with a football.
These are no ordinary windows however as they are huge bow windows with sashes brought by the British when they moved the capital here from Ciutadella in 1722. Still known in the local dialect as “boinders”, streets such as the Carrer Isobel II are adorned with these magnificent Georgian structures with their Sheraton and Chippendale style furniture in situ behind.
The British moved the capital here because of Mahon’s superb harbour, the largest in the Mediterranean, but the Phoenicians had a settlement long before as did the Carthaginians and the Romans. The harbour is indeed a magnificent site, it is also far easier to park, and it’s free, rather than in the city with its pay and display bays or in the underground carp park in the Placa de S’Espalnda.
The word ‘Mahon’ is being replaced by the word Maó on posters and signs. This in fact is the original name of the city, the Spanish version of Mahon being imposed upon it at a later date. Now with the ascendance of the everyday tongue of Menorquen, a dialect of Catalan, the city is becoming known more and more by its ancient name.
The name of the city is also enshrined in one of the world’s most popular sauces. During the French occupation of the island the Duc de Richelieu’s housekeeper mixed some raw egg, olive oil and a touch of vinegar with lemon juice and created what we know today as Mayonaisse Sauce.
Have agreat day now.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Farne Islands, Europe's Galapagos

The Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has many good birdwatching sites. But strangely enough the best one is actually two miles away from land! The Farne Islands are regarded by many as Europe's Galapagos which is not quite the ridiculous statement it appears. This National Trust reserve two miles off the Northumberland coast is a place where the birds are totally contemptuous of human beings and have no hesitation in showing it.

Visiting the Farnes is an experience that most birders should make once in their lives. For those of us who visited once is definitely not enough and the sights, sounds and smells leave an indelible mark on our memories. 

The Arctic terns in particular have a way of dive bombing as you walk along the path that passes through their colony. A hard hat is definitely recommended!  Have a fantastic day now.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Larsen's Hut, Paulet Island, Antarctica

This is the remains of Larsen's hut on Paulet Island. Some three miles off Dundee Island on the north east of the Antarctic Peninsula. I visited Antarctica with Hurtigruten.
The hut was built by Larsen and his crew when their boat was crushed in the ice and they were forced to drag the lifeboats over 14 miles of pack ice to get here and over winter in 1902.
They then rowed the 90 odd miles south to Snow Hill Island when the spring came to reach the geologists there. By an amazing coincidence Shackelton's ship was there to pick up the geologists as they thought Nansen and his crew had perished. Have a great day now.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Swimming pools and main masts

Isn't it great when you stop doing something that scared the very life out of you how good you feel? I can still remember how scared I was clibimng up the main mast to get this shot of the swimming pool on the five masted Royal Clipper! Have a great day now.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Brown Bluff, Antarctic Peninusla

Welcome to Brown Bluff  the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, you can see how it got it's name. It's actually a former volcano and you can see the layers of eruption on it. Have a great day now.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Chinstrap penguins

These chinstrap penguins are on Half Moon Island in the South Shetlands. They and me were freezing cold even though it was summer! The wind had picked up and the snow had come with it. Have great day now.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Ring o' Brodgar

If one olace has come to represent Orkney's ancient heritage, it must surely be the Ring o' Brodgar. Part of a the Orkney World Heritage Site, the Ring is found in the West Mainland. It stands on a thin strip of land separating two lochs.
It's an amzing place to go and must be one of the biggests stone cirlces anywhere. Originally it had a hugeditch around it too, It must have been an incredible site. Have a nice day now.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Tobago Cays

I just can't stay away from the Tobago Cays! Sorry about posting two pics in a row but it is a fabulous place. Have a great day now.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Land Iguana

This picture of a land iguana was taken on the Tobago Cays in the Windward Islands. Shame about the plastic bag in the background though. Have a nice day now wherever you are.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Sineu Market

If you get the chance do go to Sineu in Mallorca early on a Wednesday morning. The whole hilltop town gets taken over by the market and it realy is a great site with some 300 stalls. Have a great day now.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Tinurra Mural

Welcome to Sardinia again  and another of those fabulous murals in Tinnura. I really like how the artist has painted not only half a frame in the bottom right hand corner but also the paint bucket with brushes in. Have a great day now.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Southern Fulmar

This Souhern Fulmar was flying alonside the ship as we crossed the Drake Passage on our way to Antarctica. Not as spectacular as the Wandering Albatross but still a magnifcient bird. Hope all's well with you and have a great day wherever you are.

Friday, 4 March 2011

That Marie Celeste Momernt

There's something about being at sea when a rainbow appears. It can also be a little bit worrying when you look around and there's no one else on deck and the wheel's been tied up! A sort of Marie Celeste moment. Enjoy your day now.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Landing on Tresco

Well here we are landing on Tresco in the isles of Scilly from one the ship's zodiacs. A lovely place and I can remember the American birders going nuts over a blackbird. To us it seems so normal but to them it was a most beautiful jet black species with a bright orange bill. Almost tropical, in fact just like Tresco.
Have great day now

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Midnight Sun

Good morning, in more ways that one! This picture of the Midnight Sun was taken at 1.30 a.m. about 50 miles north of Tromso off the Norwegian coast. I really want to see the Northern Lights some time too. Have a great day now whevere you are.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Macaroni Penguins

I love this shot not just because of the two Macaroni penguins but also because the sleeping chinstrap seems to be smiling! The chinstrap chick with its back to us is also well on the way to getting its adult plumage. Have a great day now.