Category Archives: Travel

Plah! A Journey through the Jungle

Last weekend, I was in Oslo. Originally, the plan was to meet my friend and co-author of the Hope Meadows series, Victoria Holmes. Sadly, Vicky became unwell soon before the trip and was unable to come. Charlie very kindly joined me instead for the weekend. Vicky did ask me, however, to record the things I saw and the food we would have eaten. So here is one of my favourite meals of the weekend.

The venue: Plah Thai Restaurant, Oslo

Our waiter for the night was the delightful Sebastian. He was very friendly and spoke excellent English.

I chose the vegetarian option.

The starter came in three parts.

Kaho grab – rice chip

Light rice crisp with flavoursome herb topping

Miang kam – “betel leaf” with pomelo

The stuffed leaf was served on a delicious bed of toasted coconut. I had to stop myself from eating the lot, knowing there was so much more to come

Karipap – Southern Thai samosa with sweet potato and curry

I think this was my favourite part of the whole meal! Crunchy pastry with a delicious filling

 

Then there were four further savoury courses

Kao tod – Rice ball with cucumber and sour mango

Sebastian recommended the rice ball should be crushed, then eaten with the crunchy salad

Gaeng klo wan – Green curry soup with bitter eggplant, fresh bamboo and basil

This was hearty and delicious, with a slightly hot and sour taste

Taohoo – Crispy soft tofu with pepper chilli and coriander

The tofu was perfectly cooked with a wonderful crisp coating. Perfectly contrasted with the colourful salad

Gaeng deng pak op – Baked roots, kale and curry

This was marvellous: sweet chargrilled root vegetables, some soft, some firm, with a delightful curry sauce. Extremely satisfying

Then there were three parts to dessert.

Kanun lae saowaros – Jack fruit and passion fruit

Like miniature tasty smoothies

Som chon – Kaffirlime and pandanus granite

Flavoured ice. Sweet and refreshing

We were offered coffee. My cappucino was as beautifully presented as the rest of the meal

Kanom dok djok – “Rosettebakkels”

This was the most amazing presentation of the evening. The rosette biscuits came under a glass container which had been filled with steam to carry the aroma of the dish to us. It was lifted at the table. There were edible flowers and small chunks of chilli jelly in the glass cover.

The biscuits inside were equally beautiful

And now, all I need to know is, when can we go back! A fantastic evening.

 

Caledonian Canal – A Brief Foray on Loch Lochy and the Return to Base

Loch Lochy on a calm Wednesday morning: a beautiful place to drift as we ate breakfast, having passed down through Laggan Lock in the early light. It seemed less forbidding than the wide expanse of Loch Ness, though it is rumoured to host its own monster, Lizzie. Sadly she failed to make an appearance, so we had to be content with the scenery.

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No complaints!

We could only spend a short time there, as we had to return the boat on Friday morning, so we turned Eriskay VI’s blunt nose back towards Inverness.

I wish I could share with you the way the sun glanced through the trees that grew right down to the water’s edge and the grace of the swallows skimming through the shadows, but I can only show some photos and you will have to imagine the sense of peace that comes with being close to nature.

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Back in the delightful Loch Oich, the gentle ripples of our boat made wonderful patterns on the water.

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Back through Cullochy Lock.

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After a second peaceful night at Fort Augustus, we headed back across Loch Ness.

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Leaving Fort Augustus
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The wind rose as we left the shelter of the narrow glen

We stopped at Urqhuart Bay …

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By the time we returned, the weather was deteriorating. The last stretch of the loch was challenging as the boat, though comfortable and easy to steer on the calm canal, was not highly powered for ploughing through the waves.

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Still, we made steady progress. As we approached the entrance to the final stretch of the canal, I was amused to see this boat that made me think of Captain Flint’s houseboat in Swallows and Amazons.

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Brooding light at Lochend

Of course, there is wildlife everywhere. I felt honoured to be visited by some ducks.

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There were families of them on the grass beside Dochgarroch lock where we spent our last night. It had been a wonderful four nights aboard. Some moments of hard work amongst the glorious scenery, but what remains with me is the peace I find when life is slowed to a walking pace and the modern world is temporarily out of view.

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A rowing boat on Laggan Avenue

 

 

Caledonian Canal – Fort Augustus to Laggan Locks

We have just returned from a trip on the Caledonian Canal. We hired a motor cruiser from Caley Cruisers (I would highly recommend them) for a four night trip. We started from Inverness and cruised the length of Loch Ness on Monday evening. I didn’t get any particularly good photographs that day, though there was a seagull following our boat most of the way, so I snapped him (or her).

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The light was grey and flat, though the scenery was beautiful. Therefore, I will start with day two, when we set off in the morning from Fort Augustus in Eriskay VI:

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Eriskay VI neatly moored on the left. 

I didn’t get a chance to take any photographs of the locking procedure at Fort Augustus. There were five gates in a row, six boats in each lock with us, and we had to pull her through using ropes, so I didn’t have a free hand for my camera, but here is our boat waiting to go through Cullochy Lock, which is not far from Fort Augustus.

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Coming out of Cullochy Lock with several other boats.

There were a number of swing bridges. I have several photos of the approach to Aberchalder Swing Bridge.

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Then we were out into the very beautiful Loch Oich. The sun sparkled on the water, but in the distance, the glowering clouds cast their shadows over the mountainside.

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We called in at the ruined Invergarry Castle.

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Through another swing bridge and we were back into the narrower canal. The trees crowded the banks, lending a real sense of isolation and peace.

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We are already back in Norway, but there are more photos to share. I will do so within the next couple of days. Hope you enjoyed these.

Palazzi e Piazze – a Weekend in Genoa

Charlie and I have been fortunate to travel to Italy a number of times. On this occasion, we visited Genoa in the Liguria region.

We stayed on the converted fourth floor of an Italian Palazzo. We approached by taxi, which was a hair-raising experience through the tiny streets.

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We entered our room, to be greeted by this view from the window.

The ancient city of Genoa still hosts a thriving port and the narrow streets of the old town are filled with life.  Gilded churches abound. Prostitutes sit in doorways in the half-light. Threading our way through the maze of cobbled streets, we emerged from dim ravines into sunlit piazze.

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As always in Italy, it didn’t take us long to find a coffee shop. Drawn in by the fragrance, we entered and our eyes were caught by this original coffee machine from the 1950s.

We began to ascend, through wider streets, rising steeply up towards the mountains that embrace the city. Up and up, unable to see past the lofty buildings that scaled the hillside.

Then we emerged to wonderful views of the city and the sea beyond.

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The city is stunning.

A night’s sleep and then we set off to explore some more.

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We sat and had coffee outside the Cathedral di San Lorenzo.

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We were unable to resist…

 

At street level, the city is intense, occasionally to the point of seeming almost oppressive. Not so bad in the April sunshine, I found myself wondering how it would feel in the depths of January.

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But as ever, in Italy, food was not far from our thoughts.

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I think this pizza was the best I have ever tasted.
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Similarly, this lasagne was sublime. Because I’ve eaten lasagne so often in Scotland, I had never tried it in Italy. I now know this to have been an error of judgement!
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Tarte tatin… another stand out food moment.
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Down in the market… you smelled this stall well before you saw it!
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Another coffee beside the harbour. Just out of view, a row of millionaire’s yachts.

On the last day, we took the funicular railway up into the hills and walked back down.

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There were a lot of steps!

And then we were back down into those narrow streets again.

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Deep fried milk for dessert? Who knew?

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Better than bread and butter pudding.

But as always, every trip comes to an end.

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Italian style, right to the end… in the airport lounge.

20th Wedding Anniversary – Barcelona

Again, this is a very belated entry. I wish I had posted sooner. These posts are the nearest thing I have to a diary and already, less than a year later, there are many details I cannot remember. Some of the more memorable things, I didn’t photograph. The rustic food we ate at Bar Casi was not aesthetically pleasing in a way that made me want to take pictures, but the friendliness of the owner, despite a significant language barrier made a lasting impression, as did the flavoursome bean stew.

The Sagrada Familia was, quite simply, the most stunning building I have ever been inside, mainly due to the warmth of the light that poured in through the stained glass, but also in the organic impression of the internal design. I have some pictures of that, but they don’t do it justice.

I’ll start though with the lovely gifts that greeted us on entering the hotel when we arrived.

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Twenty years – thank you Charlie

Although I describe the Sagrada Familia above as one of the most stunning buildings I’ve been inside, I have to confess that externally, I found the shapes of the towers disconcerting. I suppose it is difficult to adjust to unfamiliar shapes in architecture, though it did grow on me.

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Standing near the Nativity Façade entrance to the Sagrada Familia

 

At the time of posting, the Sagrada Familia is still only 70% complete. It was designed by Antoni Gaudi and has been built using donations. Because of its popularity, work is accelerating and it is hoped the building will be complete by 2026. I would love to revisit.

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This picture comes closest to showing the astonishing nature of the light that filters in.
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Looking upwards. The pillars are based on the design of trees. See also the photograph at the top of the page. I have no words to describe the intensity of feeling my visit inspired. Despite the number of visitors, it felt peaceful.

We went up the Passion Tower. Going up in the lift was easy, going down more disconcerting. Despite being relatively fit, my knees were shaking by the time we reached the ground. As well as views over the city, there were glimpses of parts of the construction that you would never see from ground level.

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Looking out over the city.
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A long way down

Later, we went out for dinner at Accés Restaurant. The staff could not have been more friendly.

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The food was fabulous
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We were presented with this at the end of the meal
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I think the barman thought we were hilarious. We may have been very slightly the worse for wear at this point.

The following day, we went on a bus tour. We saw some other buildings designed by Gaudi.

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To me, this one looked a bit like a gingerbread house

On Sunday, we went to visit Botero’s bronze cat.

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Fernando Botero’s bronze cat

We sat down and ordered some food.

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Meatballs in squid ink
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Catalan patatas bravas

I was pleased as I watched, to see that Botero’s cat was one of the most interactive pieces of street art I’ve come across. Everybody seemed to want to touch him. Many went further and climbed onto his back, or boosted their children up onto his tail.

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I’m not sure he’s anatomically accurate, but he’s certainly a tom

There were trees lining the street and many parakeets flitting around.

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Monk parakeet

We then wended our way back to the hotel. There were many beautiful buildings. Sadly, this is where my memory fails me as I don’t recall the names of the places we found.

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Sunday’s meal was less of a success. Charlie and I have a history of awful anniversary meals, which is astonishing, considering how much we normally enjoy eating out. I won’t mention a name, but we visited one of the most highly recommended restaurants in Barcelona, supposedly a real food experience. It was an experience, but sadly, for us, the food just didn’t live up to the hype. Still, it wasn’t quite as bad as the salt-flavoured soup and white sliced bread we once had in Bodrum. And unlike that night, we didn’t have to go for a second meal on the way home as we were still so hungry.

My last view of Barcelona is of something that intrigued me in the taxi on the way in from the airport, and caught a passing photograph on the way back.

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Montjuïc cemetery

I understand that in amongst all the graves and mausoleums set into the hillside, there are many fine examples of funerary art.

There are so many reasons to revisit Barcelona and spend longer exploring. A weekend was no time at all to do it justice. One day, we will return.

 

Venice in Spring

We visited Venice in Spring 2013, I have recently been looking back at the photos and wanted to share some of them here.

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Rooftops…
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…and a maze
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…from the bell tower of St Georges church.
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I was fascinated by the back-lane feel of these miniature canals.
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On the Waterfront
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Police, Venetian style.
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Who knew there were daleks as well as vampires in Venice?
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Grand canal from a gondola.
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Chaz’n’Saz
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The fish market.
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Buy one, get one free!
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And, of course…
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…the obligatory pictures of wonderful food.