An afternoon in Cambodia

There are few things in life which I enjoy more than a holiday aboard a Thompson (TUI) cruise ship. That little blue plastic card is the ticket to two weeks of paradise! The first stop on our trip was in Cambodia – not the most obvious choice of a tourist destination but interesting nonetheless.

Our first trip out from the boat was to Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s south-west coast overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. With only an afternoon free in this port we boarded a tuk-tuk (complete with smoking engine and decorated with green astroturf) around a couple of areas of interest, including the famous ‘golden lions statue’ and the Wat Leu Temple on the outskirts.

There is a lot of poverty in Cambodia and it is impossible to ignore people living by the roadside and children begging for money in the streets. There is also massive construction work of luxurious apartments and it seems that every other renovated building is a casino, which is a shame.

Cambodia has a terrible history as I am sure you are already aware, and any decent tour guide will point out the killing fields and the legacy of the Khmer Rouge 1975 -1979, when Buddhist temples were destroyed, desecrated and used as mass graves. Even before this, the country was bombed consistently in the Vietnamese War with America.

The country is trying to rebuild and establish itself as a tourist base, and it does have a lot to offer, although there is such a lot of work needing to be done. Should we visit Cambodia again in, say, another ten years’ time, I am sure that it will look very different…

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A Weekend retreat at the Salamis Bay Conti Resort & Casino Hotel ∼Northern Cyprus

How often have I heard people ask “Why do you need a holiday when you live in Cyprus?” Will you please cut me some slack? Everyone needs a break from their daily routine. For years my friends have been telling me about this great hotel on the northern side, which is only a 50 minute drive from my village of Oroklini on the Greek side of the island. Having got a great all inclusive deal, (£210 English pounds – via Travel republic for both of us for 3 days), we were looking forward to a relaxing long weekend.

I must admit I that my expectations were moderate as 5 stars can defer greatly, depending on the location, but I had underestimated the quality of holiday experience on offer in this lovely hotel. Our room (I am married to Derek, if you don’t know me personally or are new to my blog) is on the top floor,  and it is a family room with an extra bed. We are very happy to have the extra space and the view from the balcony is gorgeous!

The food is excellent too, with every type of salad leaf imaginable in the buffet. I spent so much time trying new and unusual looking salad dishes that I didn’t bother with any meat at all. For someone who has food allergies, like me, being able to select your own food is a godsend and I would always choose this over a formal sit down arrangement; but we are all different…

nailsI think this only the second or third time I have gone all inclusive, and I must admit it does feel a little Benidormish, having that plastic band around your wrist (spoilt – who me?)  So I decided that the best way to tackle this situation was to have my nails painted the same shade of purple  as the band in the  super health spa on the  lower ground floor. So, now that I am perfectly co-ordinated, I feel a lot better. (You can take the girl out of Hartlepool…)

Is there much to do? Well apart from a pharmacy run, as the prices of prescription medication are considerably less over here, we have just chilled out so far, but I can tell you that the dry white wine is really nice and they make a mean gin and tonic; so it’s so far so good. We are thinking we might actually do something tomorrow… but best not over-do-it eh?

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Photos of Lake Bled∼ Slovenia

 

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There are few sights more beautiful than Slovenia in the autumn! Here are some photographs I took on a wonderful day out in Lake Bled, before attending the Alibi International Crime/ Noir Festival in Slovenska Bristrica. This was my first ever trip to Slovenia – but it certainly will not be my last!

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Last Day in St. Petersburg ∼ St. Peter& Paul Fortress

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Is the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral the most beautifully adorned church I have ever seen? – without a doubt! It’s amazing internal design by Domenico Trezzini and Ivan Zarundy (1722-1729), successfully combines elements from the traditional Russian Orthodox with western Catholicism in a stunning Baroque style.

The details of our trip were quite sparse and after a long day visiting various locations we were ushered quickly in through the gates.  I must admit the external structure did not prepare me for its stunning interior. The church is not huge, but there is a lavish array of architectural splendor on display. Personally, it was the sumptuous ceilings which drew my attention; the cathedral is a rich and potent source of Russian history and probably contains more decorative gold in its iconoclasts than I have seen previously in my entire lifetime…

As well as, the iconoclasts and paintings, the Cathedral is also an important burial vault, containing the tombs of Peter the Great, and  Alexander II. In 1998 the remains of the last Russian Emporer  Nicholas II and members of his family who were killed at Ekaterinburg in the revolution of 1918, were buried inside. There is so much to see that is breathtakingly beautiful, and the history of the Cathedral and Fortress is fascinating.

Did I save the best until last? Absolutely – I hope you enjoy the photos!

 

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Cooling in the Troodos Mountains & Free murder mystery book!

We decided to take a break in the Troodos mountains to escape the heat of Oroklini, and my husband and I also were celebrating our wedding anniversary the previous week so this was a special trip for us! We had been to the Troodos mountains In Cyprus before but never to the very charming village of Kalopanayiotis. It is so beautiful and peaceful up here – I have included a photo of our apartment balcony, which overlooks the river and has an amazing unrestricted view of the mountains. Kalopanayiotis village is very traditional in style, with cobbled narrow streets and pathways picturesque balconies and courtyards. It is surrounded by beautiful green forest vegetation and stunning landscapes.

The village is very attractive and there is a lot to see for such a small place, including several small churches as well as the Ayios Ioannis Lampadistis Monastery (courtyard photos below – you are not allowed to photograph the interior) which is literally on our doorstep. There are many restaurants and traditional taverns serving delicious food (some of the best we have tasted in Cyprus – I would definitely recommend the Old Cinema- the mezze was gorgeous!).

To celebrate our trip into the mountains in Cyprus, my kindle book Buried in the Hills which is partially set in the Troodos, as well as my own village Oroklini, is FREE on all Amazon sites at the moment. If you would like to have your own mountain adventure, then please follow the links on the Amazon photo below! It’s

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Next Stop∼Tallinn

This was my first visit to Tallinn, and indeed to Estonia!  It was not at all as I imagined because I think I expected something a little less colourful and austere.  The architecture in the old centre was beautiful, a mixture of romantic pastel coloured prettiness and stately gothic splendor. The Town Hall Square had a lovely mixture of restaurants and bars offering excellent quality food, and it was a great place to spend the day people watching and taking in the friendly atmosphere.

I was surprised at how contained the tourism was, the shops were not full of tacky, mindless rubbish you see in some places, it was more hand knitted socks, homemade handicrafts and really amazing amber jewelry – which of course I couldn’t resist! The town is famous for its markets, which have been happening since the 11th century; unfortunately, I didn’t catch one, but still managed to come away with lots of pretty amber pieces.

This was a quick visit but I wanted to mention it as it was so nice to roam around the beautiful old buildings, some of which date back to the 15th century. The centre had a lot of charm and the oldest coffee shop, the Maiasmokk Café, was gorgeously old fashioned as well as being very popular!

As well as the historic areas, Tallinn is actually a hub for IT and communications, with many major companies having development centres in the commercial part of the city. Tallinn is not only beautiful, historical and friendly, but is a surprisingly innovative and modern city too! ∼

First Stop Copenhagen!

There is nothing quite as exciting as travelling to somewhere that you have never been to before!  That feeling of not knowing what lays around the next corner, what you will see and whom you might meet, are all good reasons to venture to holiday destinations which you have never tried before. I had never been to any of the Scandinavian countries I was about to visit on this trip, and obviously, I was very excited to discover the cold North, as well as travelling to my dream travel destination of St. Petersburg, Russia.

The trip began in Copenhagen which was pleasantly cool after the heat wave in Cyprus, which had sent temperatures soaring before we left. It was a nice place, although smaller than I had imagined. We had taken a trip around the city and to be honest, you could have walked around the city center or taken a hop-on-hop-off bus just as easily. As on most guided tours there was a lot of historical information, which is great, but I probably only retained a small amount of this and am not going to bore you with lots of facts, particularly as most of the information was about the river, port and new buildings, which to be honest, looked a little unexciting.

The nicest part of the city is Nyhavn, this is the area with the fish restaurants and bars next to the canal, and it’s a very good spot to relax, take in the atmosphere and have a cold Carlsberg if you are so inclined. After our city tour that’s exactly what we did, before our trip to the ice bar, which turned out to be a lot more fun than we had imagined that it would be.

In the Reflections Ice Bar (the only one of its kind in Denmark, they seem to like to tell you – it opened about a month ago). The walls, tables, and bar are all completely covered with ice and there are some sculptured ice pieces too. It feels as if it is freezing, although it’s probably a few degrees above. It cost around 20 euros for entrance (this is a conversion price from Danish Krone) and for that, you got to wear an enormous cape, which stops you from literally freezing ( although you do end up looking like you have just escaped from an old episode of Dr. Who) and your first 2 drinks. There is a shot of vodka or whiskey served in a molded ice cube, and a cocktail mix in a plastic pot, that resembles one of those plastic dispensers that you use for washing powder! This is a traditional kåsa or cup, apparently. I can report that both drinks were delicious and the bar was very lively and a lot of fun.  Thanks to our enormous hooded cloaks we were able to stay on, for our full forty minute slot.…

Last Cruise ∼ Turkey

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After the stunning Santorini our next port of call on The Thompson Spirit was Marmaris in Turkey.  I hadn’t been there before and I must admit that my expectations were not that high. I had imagined a pleasant enough seaside resort, filled with budget bars, and shops in which you were hassled to buy stuff you had merely taken a passing glance at (my experience of Turkey years ago when every second shop sold handbags and if you dared to venture into a shop you would be lucky to get back out without buying anything).But I was in fact, very surprised at what I found.

The resort itself is gorgeous. There is a cosmopolitan feel to the place, with upmarket shops restaurants and very nice bars with clean toilets (another of my personal gripes from previous years). The area of the Datça Peninsula has a distinct lakes and mountain feel to it, which I had not expected, and it was really beautiful!

The town was quite vibrant, even for this early in the season, and had we had more time we would have visited the recently restored castle of Suleyman the Magnificent, which was only short bus ride away. I was on a bit of a shopping mission as the textiles in Turkey are amazing and the prices unbelievably low, and I bought a wonderful silk scarf a and cashmere pashmina; both of which are lovely.

Turkey is only a short flight away from us in Cyprus, so yes, I would definitely visit Marmaris or our second Turkish port, Alanya, which was also a very attractive seaside resort, with one of those cute miniature trains that transport you around areas of interest in the resort(for two euros amazingly!)

I would definitely recommend a boat trip from Alanya; ours cost only ten euros and for just over an hour on a very smart boat and it was wonderful experience in the sunshine, viewing the smugglers caves and a special “love cave” (heavens you would have to be desperate!) set deep into the cliff face, which a local young boy climbed up to, doing an extremely high dive back into the sea: to the delight of the tourists on board various sized boats, many of whom were having on board barbeques and having fun dancing.

It’s really sad that the Thompson Spirit will no longer be docking in Limassol, Cyprus, after the end of this season. The companies docking rites are due to expire. There have been rumours that the ship will dock at my own nearby town of Larnaca; but that was more of a case of wishful thinking on our part, unfortunately…∼∼∼

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara ~ A Doomed Romance

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It all began with a romantic honeymoon visit to the beautiful lakeside at Connemara in Ireland in 1850. This area of natural outstanding beauty captured the hearts of Mitchel Henry and his new bride Margaret Vaughan. Margaret fell in love with place and so Henry, in an incredibly romantic gesture, purchased the 15,000 acre estate as gift for her and went on to create one of the Republic of Ireland’s most treasured and iconic castles in her honor.

The couple went on to have an impressive nine children and enjoyed a carefree, charmed existence in their amazing home. Unfortunately tragedy stuck on a holiday to Egypt in 1874 when Margaret contracted dysentery on a train journey to Cairo. She died a mere 16 days later, having never reached her holiday destination.

Margaret’s body was returned to the castle in Connemara and entombed in a specially built mausoleum, which still stands in the castle grounds. An impressive Neo–Gothic Church described as “a cathedral in miniature” was built on the state by Henry as a heartfelt, lasting memorial to his beloved wife.

Kylemore Abbey is currently home to a community of Benedictine nuns who arrived after the destruction of their own Abbey in Ypres, Belgium, which was destroyed in WW1. The Benedictine Community opened a boarding school for girls and began restoration work on the Abbey, Neo-Gothic Church and stunning formal gardens, which have been beautifully restored and are currently open to visitors.

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Afternoon Tea at the Plantation∼ Jamaica

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Elizabeth is buried under the large stone on the top left hand corner of this room!

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If your ideal holiday is an endless daze of sun drenched, rum soaked days full of wall to wall reggae, then Jamaica will not disappoint; but perhaps you are interested finding out a little about the history of the island? There is nowhere more enjoyable than a trip up the mountains to Good Hope, an original plantation house which has a strange, sad history and is surrounded by amazing scenery!

The first owners of the plantation was Colonel Thomas Williams in 1744 who was granted the right to the land. He built a small house there but in preparation for his marriage to his young English bride Elizabeth, he had the “Grand House” built in 1745. Elizabeth adored her home and relished her new life in Jamaica, but unfortunately it was short lived as she died a terrible death from yellow fever at the age of 24, seven years after arriving in Jamaica. She was buried under the stone floor of the entrance room to the house. Her grave is marked with a simple stone.

Colonal Williams was apparently devastated after Elizabeth’s death and his health and fortune went into serious decline as he descended into debt and then sold the plantation to a neighbour John Tharpe, who was an astute in business made a huge success of the estate. Tharpe and his wife, a rich heiress called Elizabeth, had 5 children, but Tharpe did not trust his estate with over 3, 000 slaves to any of  andnstead he left it to his grandson, who was forced into a quick marriage that he didn’t want, and was said to have become hysterical on his wedding night and subsequently went insane.

John Tharpe suffered from severe arthritis and had a special copper bath, the first of its kind on the island, installed on doctor’s orders, although the bath unfortunately also contained lead, and many people believe that he was slowly poisoned to death by it.

As well as his four sons and a daughter with wife Elizabeth, John Tharpe also had an illegitimate son with one of his slaves, called John Harewood, who was his favourite child and whom he trusted to manage all of his properties. John Harewood was considered to be a kind man, and continued to run the plantation successfully after slaves became emancipated in 1833.

The plantation house had been beautifully preserved and offers guided tours with lots of history and special afternoon teas with Jamaican delicacies, which were really delicious!