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 walking tour ∼Photos from St. Petersburg

On my walking tour of St. Petersburg, the thing which surprised me the most was the vast scale of the city. My tour took in some stunning sites, which I have tried to capture in the images below.

Without a doubt, the most spectacular is the roof of Church on the Spilled Blood, which is the featured image above. The church was built on the spot where the Emperor Alexander ll was murdered in 1881. The design is incredibly beautiful the church is both a historical monument and amazing work of art. As this was a walking tour, unfortunately, I did not have time to visit the stunning mosaics inside – maybe next time…

Other photos below include The Winter Palace, Palace Square, St Isaac’s Cathedral and a statue of the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…∼∼∼

The last cruise from Limassol

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Come this time of year the population of my Cypriot village, Oroklini, tends to diminish due to the Thompson cruise liner which lands for a day in the nearby port of Limassol. With no flights to buy, no weight restrictions on luggage (hurray!) and a mere 40 minute drive from the village this cruise is a definite favourite with many friends and village residents – some of whom manage to get really good last minute deals!

Me and my family climbed aboard for many years as the cruise fitted in with my daughters school holidays and it had great kids and teenager clubs, which seem to work brilliantly until your child decides they are far too cool for such organised activities…

The itinerary changes slightly from year to year, often depending on what is considered safe at the time. This year Egypt is off the menu, although we have had some really amazing trips out there the past. Israel is always interesting and this time we stopped at Haifer, before visiting the gorgeous Greek island of Santorini.

I had been to Mykonos many times before, but Santorini proved to be a real treat with its stunning cliff top views, sensational white washed stone buildings and cobbled alleyways of enticing little shops containing art, bronze sculpture and traditional handicrafts. We were lucky in having a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the views were amazing and we had lunch in a lovely little place with excellent Greek food and wine.

There was more fun to come, but this was certainly the highlight of the cruise for me!

 

Mykonos holiday photos

Long gone are the days when you had to endure an extended session of someones holiday snaps, when they whipped out the super sized photo album, after coffee or dinner. Now we can post them online, and friends can browse  at their own leisure without all of those tedious explanations and extra slow page turns!

In the spirit of not boring everyone to death – here are some of the photos of my recent holiday in Mykonos – and yes I did see Peter the pelican, but I didn’t get too close as he got mobbed by a busload of overexcited tourists off one of the cruise ships in the harbor…

Havana ~ The Highlights

Cuba is very popular at the moment, with restrictions being lifted in the near future for American tourists, travel articles the world over are urging us to visit the “real” Havana before its unique qualities disappear under the weight of the mighty American dollar. But how fast could this actually happen? Islanders seem to think this is gross misrepresenting the situation as nothing ever happens quickly in Cuba; probably due to a crumbling infrastructure and the sheer scale of improvements needed to renovate this once beautiful city to its former glory.

There is no doubt the place is amazing, charming and very special, the islanders seem so friendly, but some of the living conditions and levels of poverty that you witness can take your breath away. I was told that the main income of the island is already extremely focused on tourism, ( approx 1.2 million tourists in the last year), but there is still a long way to go for this semi-isolated island to be able to offer anything that approaches the luxurious standards that most of us expect these days…

Still an injection of cash could help raise living standards, but as always with commercial tourism – at what price to the islands cultural heritage? Overdevelopment can be as damaging as underinvestment. How this once staunchly Communist Island will cope with the imminent changes will be interesting to watch; not from just an economic viewpoint, but for those of us who have seen the “real” Cuba in all of its crumbling glory and uniqueness.

 

 

Durty Nelly’s ∼ One of the Oldest Pubs in the Republic of Ireland

A wonderful old tale of whisky and intrigue at this gorgeous pub in Bunratty, Reblic of Ireland! (please note this old story contains its original spellings)

Who was Durty Nelly?

Many, many moons ago, in the misty past of Cratloe’s rolling countryside, there lived a buxom lady, tall in stature, but shapely and appealing to all.  She was known simply as Durty Nelly, a name that puzzled all who had the good fortune to meet her – but soon became apparent!

Times were hard in Ireland but the wily Nelly always found a way to make ends meet. She was keeper of the toll-bridge over the river Owengarney, which flowed outside her window on its way to join the Shannon.

All visitors who sought to cross the bridge had to pay their dues to Nelly – those who could not pay in cash paid in kind with the presentation of a chicken, a few eggs, a piece of home-cured bacon or even, legend has it, a bit of ‘comfort’ for the lady herself.

Durty Nelly was a woman of considerable charm, known to the virile men of the day from Galway to Cork, Dublin to Limerick. Nelly’s hospitality to the many travellers coming across the bridge gained her a place in many a man’s fond memories, and the legend of Nelly has been handed down through the centuries.

Durty Nelly was also renowned for her little shebeen – a special corner of the house overlooking the river where she kept a jar of whiskey, to warm the bellies of the tired and exhausted journeymen.

There came an unfortunate night when one of those travellers, a rogue from Kilrush, crept in during the night and stole poor Nelly’s savings, all the gold coins she had collected at the bridge.

The following evening, she went to bed broken-hearted and after a night of fitful sleep, awoke with a start. Occupying her mind was a clear impression of a new recipe for whiskey.  She set to work straight away, filling four of her best earthen jars from her distillery in the woods.  As she labored over the concoction, she became more and more convinced that there was magic to this brew.

Only a short time later, she came across an old Irish Wolfhound, on his last legs outside her front door. He was weak and feeble and was not long for this world. Nelly poured a drop of the poteen (her home-made whiskey) from one of the urns and carefully rubbed it into the dog’s muscles.  She left the dog to rest and took her place on the curved wall where she waited daily for the tolls. In the heat of the midday sun, she started to drop off.
Two or three hours later, she was disturbed from her slumber by a warm wet feeling in her palm: with a shock, she realised it was the Wolfhound, licking her hand.  He raced across the bridge exuberantly, showing no sign of his previous malaise.

This extraordinary occurrence had not gone unnoticed by Nelly’s neighbours in Bunratty, and news quickly spread that she had a special potion, one which would bring the gift of new life.

And so they came in droves from all over the country seeking “the cure” for that lame horse, the sick piglet, the slowing greyhound or the muscle-bound athlete.  Each visitor left with a renewed vigor, cured of all ills.

The Little House by the bridge grew with the increased trade and became a landmark in Munster for the high quality of its refreshment – both food and drink.

One day, a young woman from Rineanna (now Shannon International Airport) came to see Durty Nelly with a broken heart. She was married for three years but sadly remained childless.  She confessed to Nelly that she believed it was because her husband lacked any warmth in his attentions. She wanted to try the cure on him, to see if he too could be brought ‘back to life’ within their marriage.

From the first sip of the smooth liquid, the woman’s husband was a changed man. His wife could never complain of his powers as a loving husband. His virility thrilled her and resulted in the birth of 3 sons and 2 daughters within six years – and she still retained her beauty in body and charm.

News of the miracle brew spread far and wide across Ireland and Durty Nelly’s ‘cure’ found a place on the shelves of her hostelry as the drink to cure all ills – with a tot of the powerful drink, men became virile and strong, thrilling their women and gaining triumph in all battles.

Durty Nelly had discovered one of Ireland’s best-loved secret brews, famed for its purity, strength and health-giving powers – poteen.

Times have changed and poteen is no longer a legal drink in Ireland. Because of its unusual power and danger if consumed to excess, it had to be ‘officially’ outlawed.
But to this day, it is distilled among the hills and valleys of the land. It continues to relieve pain and restore new life – there is a many a champion hurler, footballer, athlete – and even racehorse – whose rubdown is well-laced with poteen.

Down through the years, the house of Durty Nelly has thrived. It has brought refreshment and comfort to many a weary traveller and it has remained the noted gateway to the stunningly beautiful West of Ireland.  Men and women who saw plantations, penal laws, great hunger and countless battles over time have traversed this famous bridge and stopped for a quick drop in the comforts of this famous tavern.

Durty Nelly’s hospitality, warmth and generosity of spirit have remained in this most welcoming of public houses for centuries since her death.  When you stop by some afternoon, think of her and toast her memory with a tot of the ‘good stuff.’

Nelly’s Blessing
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your field sand until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Nelly’s Blessing
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your field sand until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

 

Click to find out more about Durty Nellys.

A Blustery Day at The Cliffs of Moher∼ Co. Clare, Ireland.

The Cliffs of Moher are a spectacular sight; their beauty is legendary and has been captured in many big budget movies such as Harry Potter, Princess Bride and Ryan’s Daughter. If they look a little familiar perhaps you already recognize them from that wonderful TV series, Father Ted? (more tea anyone?)

The Cliffs attract over a million visitors a year, which is not surprising as they are really awe inspiring. There are some excellent cliff walks which extend beyond the bounds of the visitors centre, and on days when the weather is wild, they are definitely for the more experienced and confident explorer. Even at the full height of the cliff tops there are moments when huge gusts of wind, literally steal your breath away!

From the cliff edge a wonderful variety of birdlife can be spotted, including Puffins, which nest on Goat Island between April and July. Kittiwakes often nest on the perilous ledges, and a pair of Peregrine Falcons can be seen swooping and diving as they protect their territory under the tower.

The weather can be unpredictable and dramatic on the cliff edge, and so a visit inside the visitors centre may offer a welcome respite from the lashing wind and rain, which can start up quite suddenly. The centre is built into the rock face and has successfully integrated the natural environment into its design. Inside the centre there is a film area showing two exciting short movies, my favourite being ”The Ledge Experience,” which includes some stunning aerial photography.

We were very fortunate in our visit as the weather was blustery, but the rain held off, and apparently it had been much worse in the previous few days. Considering it was late October, it was a wonderful day out, and if, like me, you enjoy views of an exceptionally dramatic coastline and a bit of unpredictable weather, the cliffs of Moher are not to be missed on a visit to the Republic of Ireland.

Fundació Joan Miró

Joan Miró was a Catalan artist (born 1893 in Barcelona), who worked in many mediums producing art lithographs, murals, tapestries, and sculptures for public spaces as well as being a prolific abstract painter. A visit to the Fundació Joan Miró is wonderful experience if you enjoy modern art.

The building in Barcelona is light and modern, with well apportioned gallery space and a very interesting selection of his work from the early realist paintings influenced by Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh though to his later Surrealist work. Joan Miró always instead that he did not belong to any specific art school, but his works exhibit a dream-like, subconscious quality which is indicative of the Surrealists. Throughout his life he developed a style which included cosmically symbolic elements; and there is a definable tension between the dream-like poetic images from his mind which are contrasted with the harsh realities of life in the real world…

In many interviews from the 1930s on-wards, Joan Miró expressed contempt for conventional painting methods, which he saw as a device to support a bourgeois society. He went on to declare an “assassination of painting” and decreed to upset the visual elements of established painting. At the time, this was no doubt seen as a radical and exciting mission to followers of the Surrealist movement!

His work from around 1937 took on a political meaning, but his wonderful constellations (as above) shifted the focus to the subjects of women, birds, and the moon, which dominated his iconography for a great deal of the rest of his career (he died in 1983).

* If you visiting for the first time the audio guide is in valuable as there is very little description next to the artworks, many of which are difficult to decipher without extra information. Please note that for purchase of the audio guide you will need documents or identification to leave at the desk otherwise a returnable deposit of 50 euros is required.

Casa Batlló: Barcelona

Casa Batlló is an outstanding architectural delight. Once the family home of Antoni Gaudi, the building has been restored with much respect of its architectural heritage, opening to the public as a private museum to the in 2002. It design is unprecedented in the architectural world, and on The Noble floor which was the main […]