My Travel Blog

I do quite a lot of travelling these days and this page details some of the places that I have visited – when I have remembered to take my camera along that is. However, if you came here looking for a blog about fungi check out  Fungal Snippets from MykoGolfer.

Ahmedabad Angkor Wat Athens Barcelona Beijing Bergen
Boston Bratislava Bruges Budva Buffalo Cancún
Conegliano Copenhagen Dordogne Dubai Dublin Dubrovnik
Funchal Gettysburg Gibraltar Hanoi Helsinki Hong Kong
Istanbul Kavala Kotor Kraków Kuala Lumpur Lanzarote
Las Vegas Lisbon Łódź Los Angeles Lübeck Madrid
Málaga New York Niagara Falls Oporto Oslo Ostend
Petra Reykjavík Riga Rochester Rome San Francisco
Skopje Sofia Split St. Petersburg Stockholm Tallinn
Thessaloniki Treviso Valencia Verona Vienna Vittorio Veneto
Washington Würzburg Xanthi Yellowstone NP

October 2018 Shkodër, ALBANIA
February 2018 Tokyo and Kyoto, JAPAN
October 2017 Lisbon, PORTUGAL
July 2017 BALTIC CRUISE - The Piano Penthouse
July 2017 BALTIC CRUISE - Saint Petersburg, RUSSIA
July 2017 BALTIC CRUISE - Helsinki, FINLAND
July 2017 BALTIC CRUISE - Stockholm, SWEDEN
July 2017 BALTIC CRUISE - Copenhagen, DENMARK
March 2017 Angkor Wat, CAMBODIA
March 2017 Hanoi, VIETNAM
March 2017 Hong Kong, CHINA
September 2016 Beijing, CHINA
June 2016 Dublin, IRELAND
June 2016 Vienna, AUSTRIA
June 2016 Bratislava, SLOVAKIA
May 2016 Petra, JORDAN
February 2016 Verona, ITALY
December 2015 Cancún, MEXICO
November 2015 Lanzarote, SPAIN
September 2015 San Francisco, UNITED STATES
September 2015 Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks
August 2015 Ahmedabad, INDIA
June 2015 Tallinn, ESTONIA   &   Riga, LATVIA
January 2015 Conegliano, ITALY
September 2014 Funchal, PORTUGAL
August 2014 Oporto (Porto), PORTUGAL
June 2014 Reykjavík, ICELAND
May 2014 Boston, UNITED STATES
October 2013 Madrid, SPAIN
September 2013 Split, CROATIA   &   Kotor and Budva, MONTENEGRO
June 2013 Málaga, SPAIN   &   GIBRALTAR
May 2013 Niagara Falls and Buffalo, UNITED STATES
March 2013 Sofia, BULGARIA
December 2012 Dubai, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
October 2012 Kraków, POLAND
September 2012 Dubrovnik, CROATIA   &   Mostar, BOSNIA
May 2012 Blue Ridge Mountains, Los Angeles and Las Vegas
March 2012 Istanbul, TURKEY
November 2011 Dubai, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
November 2011 Vittorio Veneto, ITALY
September 2011 Ostend, Bruges and Brussels, BELGIUM
June 2011 Łódź, POLAND
May 2011 Washington and Gettysburg, UNITED STATES
April 2011 Kavala, GREECE
June 2010 Würzburg, GERMANY
June 2010 New York, UNITED STATES
May 2010 Treviso, ITALY
May 2010 Barcelona, SPAIN
February 2010 Valencia, SPAIN
February 2010 Rochester, UK
June 2009 Dordogne, FRANCE
May 2009 LaGrange, UNITED STATES
April 2009 Delhi and Agra, INDIA
March 2009 Thessaloniki and Xanthi, GREECE
November 2008 Mumbai, INDIA
August 2008 Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA
July 2008 Oslo, Flam & Bergen, NORWAY
June 2008 Shanghai, CHINA
December 2007 Athens, GREECE
October 2007 Lake District, UK
May 2007 Rome, ITALY
1999 & 2000 BOLIVIA & PERU


October 2018 - Shkodër, ALBANIA 

We are staying in Dubrovnik but have a two day tour of Albania that includes an overnight stop in the city of Shkodër. On arriving in Albania we first visit the town of Krujë to see the remains of the castle that withstood three massive sieges before falling to the Ottoman Turks. We also visited the largest and best preserved Ottoman bridge in Albania built along an ancient trade route near the village of Mes, about 6 km from Shkodër. Many mosques and churches were shut down or demolished during the Communist era but in Shkodër we saw two mosques that looked almost new. The Great Mosque was renovated and refaced in 1995 and the Parrucë Mosque was rebuilt in 2006. Rozafa castle is situated on a rocky hill just outside Shkodër. The fortifications seen today are mostly of Venetian origin. A 13th century chapel inside the castle was turned into a mosque during the Ottoman occupation. On departing Albania just before the border with Montenegro we come across one of the defensive bunkers built by the communist government during the 1960s to 1980s who feared an attack from what was then Yugoslavia.

Sunset over the Adriatic Sea near Dubrovnik

Trees laden with pomegranates in the hedgerows
on the road from Croatia to Albania

We stop off at the town of Krujë to visit the castle

Part of the castle has been restored and now houses a museum

Fresco depicting the Illyrian-Roman wars

A section of the old walls of Krujë castle

View of the town of Krujë from the castle

Tavë dheu a national dish in Albania consisting of
baked meat with cheese and garlic

Ottoman bridge near the village of Mes built around 1770

The bridge is about 6 km from the city of Shkodër

The Great Mosque in the centre of Shkodër dates from the
18th century but was renovated and refaced in 1995

The Parrucë Mosque in Shkodër was completed in 2006
to replace a mosque demolished by the communist regime

There is a steep walk up to the entrance of Rozafa Castle

The castle grounds are quite extensive

Remains of a mosque built ~1479 which featured a large minaret

The castle walls viewed from the overhanging terrace of the café

Looking down on Bojana river from Rozafa Castle

View of Shkodër from Rozafa Castle

One-person bunker near the Albania-Montenegro border

Date inscribed on the concrete inside the bunker

View from the gun slit of the bunker



We had a day to visit Valletta and the surrounding districts before boarding the Oceana for the start of our cruise.

The Watchtower at Gardjola Garden, Senglea

Panoramic view of the Grand Harbour from the Watchtower

From our hotel I walk down the Great Siege Road into Valletta

View across the harbour to Fort Manoel on Manoel Island

Old residential buildings in Valletta

The Cat Village in St. Julian’s set up as a refuge for feral cats

Rita gives a donation approved by a local house cat

Sliema Point artillery battery built by the British in 1872-1876

Saint Julian's Tower and artillery battery now used as a restaurant

I had wanted to visit Rinella Battery (Batterija ta' Rinella) a Victorian battery in Kalkara. It is commonly referred to as Fort Rinella and contains one of two surviving Armstrong 100-ton guns. The other remaining gun is in Gibraltar. Originally two guns were delivered to Malta and two to Gibraltar in the 1880s as part of a program to improve the fortifications of these strategic locations due to the introduction of iron plated ships and in particular the use of the same guns on two Italian battleships. These muzzle-loading guns were enormous weapons for their time and had to be operated mechanically using steam-driven hydraulic power. My great-grandfather was an Artificer Sergeant Major and served in Malta between 1894 to 1898 and then in Gibraltar from 1902 to 1906. He would have almost certainly been responsible for overseeing the maintenance and repair of these guns amongst other duties. The guns were phased out in 1906 but supposedly made ready for use again during the First World War although by then they would have been totally outclassed by more modern artillery.

Fort Rinella is a coastal gun battery completed in 1886
to house and protect an Armstrong 100-ton gun

This room was used as a dining area for the garrison

The Armstrong 100-ton gun

The gun is mounted on a wrought-iron sliding carriage

Traversing and loading of the gun was carried out
mechanically using steam-driven hydraulic power

The fort has been restored and turned into a live museum
by volunteers from FONDAZZJONI WIRT ARTNA
– Malta Heritage Foundation

My great-grandfather (Artificer Sergeant Major) with his wife in Gibraltar

We depart from Malta in the cruise ship at night

The bedroom includes a walk in wardrobe

The separate lounge area was also spacious

Our large balcony overlooking the stern had enough room
for a table with four chairs, two sun loungers
and two deck chairs



Our cruise ship put down anchor close to the town of Hvar and we were ferried to the seafront promenade by tender. As well as visiting the town we also had time to tour part of the island of Hvar. You can walk from the town up to Fortica the Spanish Fortress which has good views of the Port but for an even better viewpoint we drove up to the French Fortress (Napoljun). The French Fortress itself now houses Hvar Observatory and is not open to the public. In the countryside we visited Malo Grablje an agricultural village that was abandoned in the 1950s for economic reasons. Grapevine cultivation and winemaking suffered a serious setback in the 19th century when both an insect (grapevine phylloxera) and fungus disease devastated local vineyards. There was also a thriving lavender oil industry but this could not compete on price when large scale production was taken up by other European countries. We went on up narrow winding roads to visit Sveti Nikola the highest peak on Hvar at 628 metres (2,060 ft).

St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the town of Hvar

The Loggia and Clock Tower now part of the Palace Hvar Hotel

Winged lion of St. Mark symbol of the Republic of Venice

The Arsenal once served as a refitting station for sailing ships

St. Mary's Gate part of the late medieval city walls

Hvar town walls leading up to Fortica the Spanish Fortress

View of the Port of Hvar from the Spanish Fortress

Splendid view from the French Fortress (Napoljun)
of Hvar town and the Pakleni islands

Malo Grablje an ancient village abandoned in the 1950s

The village had a large concrete catchment area for rain water

Hand driven mill for making olive oil one of the millstones is dated

There were some nice butterflies but difficult
to photograph - this one is a Swallowtail

We continue our journey through the islands green countryside

Some of the roads are quite narrow

Sveti Nikola (Saint Nicholas) is the highest peak
on Hvar (‎628 m) it has a small chapel and stone cross


February 2018 - Tokyo and Kyoto, JAPAN 

I travelled to Japan in an Emirates A380 not my first time on this airliner but I have not been in a first class suite before. In Tokyo I stayed at the Tokyo Station Hotel which is so big they give you a plan of the hotel on arrival to find your way around. As the hotel is part of Tokyo Station it was very convenient for catching the Shinkansen train to Kyoto. Too early in the year for cherry blossoms but plum blossoms were just starting to appear on the trees in Tokyo and Kyoto. By going early in the year I avoided the crowds of tourists and the weather was mainly good with blue skies and relatively clear views of snow-capped Mt. Fuji.

First class private suites on the Emirates A380

Dom Pérignon a good start and they have left the bottle

The Emirates A380 first class shower spa

You only get five minutes of water but
can turn the shower off and on again as required

I change into the pyjamas provided by Emirates after my shower

Hennessy Paradis an excellent choice for the digestif
I will sleep well tonight

Looking down on Tokyo Station Hotel from a restaurant in KITTE

Control unit for the toilet in my hotel room

Zojoji Temple and Tokyo Tower

The plum blossoms are just beginning to appear

View over Tokyo from Mori Tower with Mt. Fuji on the horizon

Mori Tower observation deck

Giant spider sculpture near Mori Tower

Another monster this time Godzilla

After all the walking I stop for a bowl of soba (thin noodles)
with conger eel tempura and a glass of sake

I continue down Takeshita Street

Takeshita Street is renowned for its shops
selling colourful and crazy clothing

Barrels of sake wrapped in straw at Meiji Jingu Shrine

Ema (prayer tablets) at Meiji Jingu Shrine

I make my way to the Imperial Palace which
contains the retrenchments of the former Edo Castle

The stone bridge is an entrance to the inner palace grounds
there is a separate iron bridge just behind the stone bridge

Sotosakurada-mon an outer Gate of the original Edo Castle

One of the turrets of the Imperial Palace

I travelled out of Tokyo to the foothills of Mt. Fuji about an hour and a half by car. There are several lakes in this region at the base of the mountain and on a clear day good views from the Chureito Pagoda.

There are 398 steps up to the Chureito Pagoda

Snakes as well - not for the faint-hearted

Chureito Pagoda with Mt. Fuji in the distance

One of the lakes near the foot of Mt. Fuji

View of frozen Lake Kawaguchi from the top of the ropeway ride

To warm up I try a local specialty Hōtō made by
stewing flat noodles and vegetables in miso soup

I take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Kyoto a journey of just over 2 hours with only three stops before Kyoto. I booked the ticket in advance with a reserved seat in the Green Car (first class). The old city of Kyoto is famous for its Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. I arrive in Kyoto late afternoon the weather forecast for the next day is not too good so I make my way using a local train to Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. I hope to get some good pictures before sunset.

A Shinkansen waiting to depart from Tokyo Station

My ticket gives the carriage and seat number

Inside the green car

Good view of Mt. Fuji from the window of the Shinkansen

The entrance to Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is
just across the road from the railway station

Tourists wearing kimonos which can be hired from a local shop

The Shrine is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates

Map of Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine

It is starting to get dark I set off for my hotel in Kyoto by taxi,
taxis have a distinctive company crest displayed on the roof

Do not try and open the rear door of a taxi in Japan
it is controlled by the driver

I am staying at Hyatt Regency Kyoto for a couple of nights. I am too tired to go out looking for a restaurant in the city this evening so I try 'The Grill' restaurant at the hotel. Today they have a buffet of prime meats and seafood grilled to perfection and a selection of wines - all you can eat and drink for around 30 GBP. I am really going to get my moneys worth here tonight.

Next day I visit Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) a
Zen Buddhist temple covered in gold leaf

Reflections in the lake at Kinkaku-ji

The weather takes a turn for the worse
so I seek shelter in a bamboo grove

I have vegetable curry for lunch it is mild and very tasty

Washed down with some green tea

Cultivated fungi for sale at Nishiki Market

A selection of cooked fowl and fish at the market

Back to the old part of Kyoto in the Gion district

A Maiko performs a traditional dance
accompanied by a shamisen player


October 2017 - Lisbon, PORTUGAL 

We are spending a few days in Lisbon although October it is sunny and warm. The city centre has some steep hills hence the presence of funicular trams and the Elevador de Santa which are all included in the 24-hour public transport ticket. Most of the old city was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake as evidenced by the ruins of Carmo Church and Convent.

Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square)

View from the top of Rua Augusta Arch

São Jorge Castle from the viewpoint of 'Our Lady of the Hill'

The entrance to São Jorge Castle

You can walk all the way round the battlements

The Elevador de Santa Justa a 19th century lift

Ruins of Carmo Church caused by the 1755 earthquake

The Glória funicular tram attracts the graffiti artists

The Torre de Belém (Belém Tower) a 16th century fortification

View from the top of Belém Tower

MeetUs ao Carmo a small tapas restaurant and wine bar
just across the road from our hotel

The Sobremesa da Casa (House Dessert) was delicious

During my stay in Lisbon I visited part of the Linhas de Torres (Lines of Torres Vedras) constructed on the orders of General Arthur Wellesley (later to become the 1st Duke of Wellington) to defend Lisbon against the forces of Napoléon Bonaparte. Forte do Alqueidão (also known as Forte Grande or the Great Redoubt) is one of a handful of forts that have been restored and maintained by the local authorities.

Wellington's headquarters at Pêro Negro the
building is now used as a nursery school

The Linhas de Torres (Lines of Torres Vedras)
museum at Sobral de Monte Agraço

A signpost points the way

There is a lot of Eucalyptus here a non-indigenous
tree used by the paper making industry

One of many old military roads in the area

At last I reach the location of Forte do Alqueidão (Forte Grande)

The remains of one of five powder magazines which supplied
the 27 cannons. They would have been covered by thick
wooden planks, coated canvas and several layers of earth.

The Governor's House with storage rooms and a larger room
where possibly Wellington met with his senior officers

Observation tower at Forte do Alqueidão

Details of the nearby fortifications and signal stations

View from the top of the observation tower

Before heading back to Lisbon we visited Óbidos an historic town still encircled by its ancient defensive walls. It is a small town and can easily be visited in half a day. The main street is lined with a variety of shops selling gifts and traditional items such as bottles of the local cherry liquor.

The streets of Óbidos are mainly paved with cobbles

Pillory built in granite at the end of the 15th century

A sepulchral chapel dating back to the 14th century

The old castle has been converted into a hotel

The walls extend around the entire town but be
warned there are some dangerous verges


July 2017 - BALTIC CRUISE - The Piano Penthouse 

I booked a suite but we were given a free upgrade to The Piano Penthouse on the Aurora. About four times larger than a stateroom the two-storey Penthouse Suites (there are only two on the Aurora) have private balconies on both decks. The upper balcony is overshadowed by the ship’s bridge and is a good place to cool off on hot days.

The Piano Penthouse is located just underneath the
ship's bridge and has five windows

View from one of the windows

The downstairs lounge area

Rita with our butler

Self-playing baby grand piano

The downstairs balcony

The bedroom and upstairs balcony

Sunset viewed from the upstairs balcony


July 2017 - BALTIC CRUISE - Lübeck, GERMANY 

Our first port of call was Travemünde about 20 minutes by taxi from the historic Hanseatic city of Lübeck. The Altstadt (old town) of Lübeck is surrounded by the river Trave. Amoung other things Lübeck is famous for its marzipan industry.

The Holstentor (Holsten Gate) dating back to the 1460s is all
that remains of a complex of four interconnecting city gates

The front of the Rathaus (Town Hall) with renaissance staircase

Guildhall for seamen and skippers originally constructed in 1535
the only building of its kind still existing in Lübeck

The Burgtor (Castle Gate) the only other suriving city gate

Bars of chocolate covered marzipan from Lübeck


July 2017 - BALTIC CRUISE - Saint Petersburg, RUSSIA 

The Aurora berthed overnight at Saint Petersburg. We visited Peterhof Palace the first day and had an evening tour of the State Hermitage Museum. Next day we toured the centre of Saint Petersburg in a vintage Volga. The ERGO White Nights Marathon was being held so some roads were blocked off to traffic.

The entrance to Peterhof Palace

The two-headed eagle on the top of this building was a
Russian state symbol in the time of Peter the Great

One of many fountains in the gardens of Peterhof Palace

The Grand Cascade at Peterhof Palace

We toured the centre of Saint Petersburg in a vintage Volga

The ERGO White Nights Marathon was being held

Monument to Field Marshal Kutuzov next to Kazan Cathedral

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

One of many stalls with Matryoshka dolls for sale

The State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg

The Benois Madonna
(Leonardo da Vinci)

Mosaic Portrait of
Empress Elizabeth of Russia


July 2017 - BALTIC CRUISE - Helsinki, FINLAND 

The centre of Helsinki has some attractive and imposing buildings including the neoclassical Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral and Uspenski Cathedral built in the Byzantine-Russian style. The Market Square (Kauppatori) is one of the best known outdoor markets in northern Europe.

The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral

Monument to Tsar Alexander II in Senate Square

The "Sederholm House" built in 1757 the
oldest building in the centre of Helsinki

Havis Amanda mermaid statue and fountain

The Market Square in Helsinki

The Eastern Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral


July 2017 - BALTIC CRUISE - Stockholm, SWEDEN 

The old town (Gamla Stan) of Stockholm is one of the best preserved medieval city centres in Europe situated on an island it is compact and easy to walk around.

The Riksgatan (National Street)

The tower of the Storkyrkan the oldest church in Gamla Stan

Wooden sculpture of Saint George and the Dragon
(1489) located inside the Storkyrkan.

Statue of Crown Prince Karl XIV Johan

Stortorget the oldest public square in Stockholm

Monumental well in Stortorget

Antique looking telephone booth

"Fear God. Honour the King" on the gate of the German Church

Reindeer roast was on the menu at this restaurant


July 2017 - BALTIC CRUISE - Copenhagen, DENMARK 

Historic areas in Copenhagen are quite far apart so we used a taxi to get around.

Nyhavn (New Harbor) has brightly painted gabled houses

The lightship (Fyrskib) dates from 1885

Bronze statue of The Little Mermaid

Dragon Fountain and Town Hall

Art Nouveau style Palace Hotel dating from 1910

Statue of Frederick V at Amalienborg Palace Square


March 2017 - Angkor Wat, CAMBODIA 

I am staying in Siem Reap close to the temple complex of Angkor Wat, the old Khmer city of Angkor Thom with the Bayon temple at its centre and the temple of Ta Prohm that has been left covered by the massive roots of trees. The temple of Banteay Srei located some 25 km from the main group of temples is built largely of red sandstone. Tonlé Sap the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia is less than an hours drive away.

Pub Street in the centre of Siem Reap

Amok fresh water fish curry dish served in a coconut

The restaurant cat

Restored head of a naga at the causeway leading to Angkor Wat

Scenic view of Angkor Wat with reflections in the water

Bas-relief of a battle scene at Angkor Wat

The guide offers a thirsty monkey a drink

The gateway to Angkor Thom

Smiling faces on the towers of Bayon temple at Angkor Thom

Bas-relief at Bayon temple depicting a naval battle

At the temple of Ta Prohm the decision not to
clear the site of trees made it an ideal
location for the film Tomb Raider

Is this really the carving of a stegosaurus or a hoax?

Monkey guardians at the temple of Banteay Srei

The temple cat at Banteay Samre

Boats on Tonlé Sap (Great Lake) the largest lake in SE Asia

During the monsoon the water can submerge these trees

Lotus plants are cultivated near the Great Lake

The lotus farmers catch catfish from the water


March 2017 - Hanoi, VIETNAM 

My modern hotel in Hanoi's Old Quarter is surrounded by old houses. There are small shops at the front of many of the houses that spill over onto the pavements and motor scooters are parked everywhere. I visited Halong Bay which is about a 3½ hour drive away. I would also recommend going to a water puppet theatre which are unique to North Vietnam, the show lasts for about one hour.

View from my hotel window in Hanoi Old Quarter

Motor scooters are everywhere in Hanoi

Pho Ga (Chicken Noodle Soup) is a popular dish for breakfast

Bags of dried fungi for sale at the market near my hotel

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The Peugeot 404 was a gift given to President Ho Chi Minh

The Hanoi Opera House opened in 1911

A T-54B tank outside the Viet Nam Military History Museum

The Flag Tower is located inside the museum grounds

Taking a boat ride amoungst the limestone karsts in Halong Bay

Thien Cung “Heavenly Palace” cave in Halong Bay

Water puppetry is a tradition unique to North Vietnam


March 2017 - Hong Kong, CHINA 

I am staying at the Island Shangri-La hotel for a couple of days with the view from my room overlooking Hong Kong Park. The park contains some old colonial buildings such as Flagstaff House and a variety of indigenous and non-indigenous birds can be found here. In the evening I went on a cruise of Victoria Harbour to witness the Symphony of Lights laser show that takes place at 8 p.m. everyday. The nearby Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark includes spectacular hexagonal rock columns of international significance.

Flagstaff House built in 1846 as the office and residence
for the Commander of the British Forces is the oldest
remaining colonial building in Hong Kong

The sulphur-crested cockatoo is a non-native species

People statue outside the Conrad Hotel

This building opened in 1915 as the Wan Chai Post Office

The Clock Tower is the only remaining building
of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Terminus

The Symphony of Lights laser show

Live sea food on display outside a restaurant in Sai Kung Town

Hexagonal rock columns near East Dam of High Island Reservoir

How the hexagonal rock columns are formed

My tour guide Alex points out the hexagonal rock columns
at East Dam and gives some idea of their scale


September 2016 - Beijing, CHINA 

For this trip I booked my own flights and hotels but used the excellent services of to provide a local guide at each location. Hainan Airlines now provide a direct flight between Manchester and Beijing making it easy for me to get to China for a short break. In Beijing I had time to visit Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Mutianyu Great Wall. Following this I travelled to Xi'an to see the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang then on to Yangshuo and Guilin famous for their dramatic landscape of limestone karst hills.

Hainan Airlines advert for the direct flight between Manchester
and Beijing at Terminal 1 Beijing Capital International Airport

The impressive Tiananmen Square in the centre of Beijing

Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City

Dragon Turtle in the Forbidden City

A Kylin (Qilin) at the Summer Palace

The Long Corridor has elaborate pictures on its beams and ceiling

The Marble Boat in the Summer Palace

You can take a dragon boat to cross Kunming Lake

The Seventeen-Arch Bridge is the largest bridge on Kunming Lake

In Beijing I had lunch at Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant

The Bell Tower together with the nearby Drum Tower
were used to announce the time until 1924

Mutianyu is the longest fully-restored section of the Great Wall

Both sides of the wall have a crenellated parapet
so that soldiers could fire arrows at either side.
This is rare on other sections of the wall.

The North Arch Gate was originally built in 1404

I meet one of the farmers who discovered the Terracotta Army

The terracotta figures have been restored from fragments

Kneeling archer in a glass display cabinet

The soles of the archer's shoes are textured to provide grip

View of Li River from my hotel balcony in Yangshuo

View of Yangshuo from the peak of the TV tower

Tasty snacks on the menu at Cloud 9 Restaurant in Yangshuo

I decide to have the beer "MaoGu" fish

A cormorant fisherman at Xingping

Dried fungi for sale at Longji Ancient Zhuang Village

Ganoderma lucidum is too tough to eat but
can be powdered and used in soup or as a tea

The Flower Mushroom is a type of Shiitake

Wood or Jelly Ear Fungus

A happy cat

Terraced rice fields at Longji - the water
filled basin is meant to represent the moon

A Yao woman at Longji

Rice plants are irrigated with spring water from the mountains

Bamboo Rice - sticky rice cooked inside a bamboo tube

View of Guilin and karst mountains from Elephant Trunk Hill

Elephant Trunk Hill a local landmark resembles
an elephant drinking water from the river

Samantabhadra Tower at the top of Elephant Trunk Hill
was built from solid brick during the Ming Dynasty

Sun and Moon twin pagoda-style towers in the centre of Guilin

Shopping centre in Guilin


June 2016 - Dublin, IRELAND 

I have a stopover in Dublin but just half a day to see the city sights. I could not resist visiting the Guinness Storehouse a seven storey building that floor by floor covers the history of this famous stout beer with tastings and a rooftop bar. You could easily spend half a day here but I had to limit myself to 2 hours in order to see more of the city centre.

The entrance to the Guinness Storehouse

The entry price includes a free pint of Guinness

Molly Malone commemorated in the song 'Cockles and Mussels'

Plan of Dublin Castle which formed part of the original city wall

The Record Tower is the last remaining intact tower
of the castle and also of the city itself

Dubhlinn Gardens were laid out on the site of the original
harbour or "black pool" (Dubhlinn in Gaelic)

The State Apartments were built as residential
and public quarters of the Viceregal Court


June 2016 - Vienna, AUSTRIA 

It takes just an hour to travel from Bratislava to Vienna by road. In Vienna we stayed at Hotel König von Ungarn close to St. Stephen's Cathedral and a 10 minute walk from the Hofburg Imperial Palace complex. It is about 10 minutes by taxi to get to Schönbrunn Palace. It is worthwhile doing a tour of the display rooms at this former imperial summer residence. Unfortunately filming and photography are not permitted inside the palace during opening hours.

Johann Strauss monument in Stadtpark (City Park)

Inside the courtyard of Hofburg Imperial Palace

A heuriger (wine tavern) on the outskirts of Vienna

Cheese schnitzel went well with a bottle of Grüner Veltliner

View of Schönbrunn Palace from the main entrance

Artificial Roman ruins in the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace


June 2016 - Bratislava, SLOVAKIA 

Our hotel is in the pedestrian zone of Bratislava's small and compact old town so you can easily visit the main sites by walking. We went on a Danube cruise to visit the ruins of Devín Castle about 12 km from Bratislava.

Michael's Gate the only one of four mediaeval
gateways that still survives today

Display of military uniforms in the Museum of Arms

Short section of the medieval city walls next to the Cathedral

Bratislava Main Square with Gothic Town Hall and Fountain

Statute of Schöne Náci a former inhabitant of Bratislava

Napoleon and his army were in Bratislava in 1805
looks like this soldier did not want to leave

Top facade of the neoclassical Primate's Palace

The 'Blue Church' an Art Nouveau building sanctified
in 1913 as the Church of St. Elisabeth of Hungary

Bratislava Castle was destroyed by fire in 1811 reconstruction
of the Castle Palace was not carried out until the 1960's

Sigismund Gate the best preserved part of Bratislava Castle

The ruins of Devín Castle destroyed by
the retreating forces of Napoleon in 1809


May 2016 - Petra, JORDAN 

Petra known as the rose-red city after the colour of the sandstone rocks from which it is carved is located in the mountainous desert of southern Jordan and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city began to prosper through trade from the 1st century BC and was later annexed to the Roman Empire. In 363 AD an earthquake destroyed much of the city and by the middle of the 7th century it appears to have been largely abandoned. The entrance to Petra is through a narrow gorge called the Siq. It is about a 15 minute walk from the visitors centre to the Siq and another 20 minutes to the Treasury.

Two soldiers guard the entrance to the Siq

One of the wider parts of the Siq

Al Khazneh (The Treasury) is located at the end of the Siq
it was probably constructed in the 1st century BC

You get a better picture of Al Khazneh in
the morning while it is in full sunlight
this one was taken when I returned in the afternoon

The Street of Façades the name given to a row of tombs
carved into the face of the sandstone cliff

The Theatre has been cut into the hillside out
of solid rock but is now badly eroded

The Urn Tomb is the largest royal tomb at Petra
built around 70 AD and later used as a church

The Colonnaded Street had tall columns on both sides
but these were destroyed by earthquakes
a few have been partially restored

The Colonnaded Street as it would have originally looked like

The Hadrian Gate and Cardo Maximus
(main Roman north-south oriented street)

A winding trail with steps leads up to the Monastery

View looking back as you get near the top

Ad Deir (The Monastery) is one of Petra's largest
monuments dating from the early 2nd century AD

I take a donkey ride back to the Treasury

During my visit to Jordan I stayed in Madaba famous for a Mosaic Map dating from the 6th century depicting the major biblical sites of the Middle East. Mount Nebo, the River Jordan and the Dead Sea are all relatively close to Madaba and can be easily visited in half a day.

Remains of the Madaba Mosaic Map on the floor
of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George

Mount Nebo said to be where Moses was
given a view of the Promised Land

The River Jordan marks the border between
Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank

Baptisms taking place in the River Jordan

The Dead Sea at Amman beach

Salt deposit on the shore of the Dead Sea


February 2016 - Verona, ITALY 

We are staying in the historial centre of Verona a city founded in the 1st century BC. Surviving Roman structures include Porta Borsari, the Arena, the Arco dei Gavi, the Ponte Pietra and the Roman theatre. All are within easy walking distance of our hotel located just off the Piazza delle Erbe.

Piazza delle Erbe located on the site of the Roman forum

The winged lion of St Mark symbol of Venice stands
on top of a tall column in front of the Palazzo Maffei

The painted facades of the Mazzanti Houses

Juliet's purported balcony is believed to have
been constructed from a medieval sarcophagus

Bronze statue of Juliet in the courtyard beneath the balcony

Porta Borsari an ancient Roman gate

The Verona Arena a Roman amphitheatre still in use today

The Arco dei Gavi was dismantled in the Napoleonic era
and rebuilt next to Castelvecchio in the 1930s

Ponte Scaligero a fortified bridge that was totally destroyed
during World War II but rebuilt to the same design

The Ponte Pietra a Roman stone bridge was badly damaged
during World War II but rebuilt using original materials

Verona has one of the best preserved Roman theaters in Italy


December 2015 - Cancún, MEXICO 

Having a weekend break in Cancún with its white sandy beaches and the city is sufficiently close for day trips to ancient Mayan sites such as Chichén Itzá and Tulum.

Playa Delfines a stretch of white sandy beach in the Hotel Zone

I am standing in front of El-Castillo at Chichén Itzá

Stone serpent heads flank the base of the steps

You have to arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds

Unrestored rear view of El-Castillo

Engravings on the walls of one of the temples

The Temple of the Warriors at Chichén Itzá is
flanked by round and square columns

The clifftop Castillo part of the walled Mayan site at Tulum

The Templo de las Pinturas takes its name from
coloured frescoes found on an inner wall

There is a stone mask carving on each corner of the temple

The ruins provide a home for lizards

This beach near Tulum is a nesting site for turtles


November 2015 - Lanzarote, SPAIN 

On holiday with Rita visiting the volcanic island of Lanzarote. Visitors can take a bus trip around the Fire Mountains formed during the greatest recorded eruptions that occurred between 1730 and 1736. It is amazing how plants cope with what at first sight appears to be such a barren landscape. In Lanzarote where the climate is very dry volcanic rocks are initially colonised by lichens that break up the rock over time turning it into soil. There are plenty of things to do here we went on a dromedary camel safari and took an underwater tour in a submarine.

Parish Church in Teguise the original Capital of Lanzarote

Castillo de Santa Bárbara (16th Century) overlooks Teguise

View of Teguise from the Castillo

The Cactus Garden (Jardín de Cactus)

A variety of crops can be grown in the volcanic ash

Dromedary camels wait for tourists to turn up

A forest of lichens growing on the volcanic rocks

Dwarf woody plants grow among the lichens

The Green Lagoon near El Golfo gets its colour from algae

The submarine and its support vessel

View at 30 metres under the Atlantic Ocean

Los Hervideros a rocky coast of cliffs and caves
formed by the erosion of solidified lava


September 2015 - San Francisco, UNITED STATES 

I am staying at the Argonaut Hotel in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf a popular tourist area. Local attractions include trips to Alcatraz Island departing from Pier 33, a colony of sea lions at Pier 39 and you can go inside a World War II submarine moored off Pier 45. The The Powell-Hyde cable car turnaround is just across the road from the hotel.

A street magician performs tricks at Fisherman's Wharf

Alcatraz Island

Cells at Alcatraz had a small sink with cold water and a toilet

The colony of sea lions at Pier 39

USS Pampanito (SS-383) a World War II Balao-class submarine

The 4" deck gun was an important weapon in the Pacific War

One of the hatches you go through on the submarine tour

The Powell-Hyde cable car turnaround

View of Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

Lombard Street's 8 hairpin turns do not appear to deter drivers

Cable car in San Francisco's Chinatown district

The Dragon Gate in Chinatown

Display outside a shop in Chinatown

Colourful decorations adorn the streets in Chinatown

September 2015 - Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, UNITED STATES 

I am staying in Jackson a town located in the Jackson Hole valley of Wyoming. Jackson is quite close to Grand Teton National Park and about 96 miles from the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park. An aerial tram located in Teton Village (12 miles northwest of Jackson) goes to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. Yellowstone is famous for its thermal features including geysers, hot springs and mudpots. The bacterium Thermus aquaticus was first discovered here and its thermostable DNA polymerase is now widely used in medical diagnosis and forensics. I also visited the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone a deep canyon cut out by the Yellowstone River.

The Jackson Town Square antler arches are made
from elk antlers shed on the National Elk Refuge

The aerial tram takes you up to 10,450 feet in the mountains

Bear aware sign on top of the mountain

Birch reveal their autumn colour in Grand Teton National Park

Yellowstone's Old Faithful erupts on time as usual

Wild bison are free to roam in Yellowstone

Grand Prismatic Spring with its colourful microflora

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone


August 2015 - Ahmedabad, INDIA 

I am visiting Ahmedabad the largest city in the Indian state of Gujarat. In recent times many villages have become part of large urban areas however families have often continued to keep cattle despite spatial constraints. Therefore it is common to see cattle on city roads. There are many historical buildings in the area including temples and mosques. I was able to visit an ancient stepwell located just outside the city.

View of Vastrapur Lake from my hotel window

There are many street dogs in Ahmedabad

Greynecked crows (Corvus splendens) are also common

It is OK to sound your horn in India

Oxen and cows are frequently found wandering on the roads

Adalaj stepwell dating from 1498 is 18 km north of Ahmedabad

Intricate carvings adorn the sandstone walls of the stepwell

The Shaking Minarets of Sidi Bashir Mosque
are located in the centre of Ahmedabad


June 2015 - Tallinn, ESTONIA and Riga, LATVIA 

We started our holiday staying at the Palace Hotel close to the Old Town of Tallinn. Tallinn used to be one of the best fortified cities in Europe and 26 of the defensive towers still survive today.

The artillery tower known as Fat Margaret would have
housed cannons inside its structure and may also have
used mortars on the flat roof in times of siege

View towards the Old Town from the top of Fat Margaret

View of the harbour from the top of Fat Margaret

The two towers of Viru Gate are all that remains of a
much larger defensive structure that once served as
the main entrance to the city

The Maiden Tower is the only surviving rectangular
defensive tower with an open town side

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral built in a typical Russian
Revival style was completed on Toompea Hill in 1900

View of the fortification towers from Toompea Hill

The Gothic Town Hall of Tallinn dates from 1404

The medieval-themed restaurant Olde Hansa has minstrels
and a menu that includes bear meat and elk fillet

Rita has eaten too many steaks on this holiday

Kadriorg Palace built for Peter the Great is only a
10 minute taxi drive from the Old Town of Tallinn

The story of the hunter Actaeon and Diana, goddess of the hunt,
depicted on the ceiling of the Great Hall in Kadriorg Palace

We took the Lux Express coach from Tallinn bus station to Riga bus station a journey of 5 hours at a cost of €14.40 per person each way. You need to show your passport when boarding the coach. Our hotel in Riga the 4-star Avalon is only a short walk from the bus station.

The Cat House (10 Meistaru iela) built in 1909

Rockabilly House

Laima Clock and the Freedom Monument in the background

The Swedish Gate was erected 1698 as a part of the city walls

The Powder Tower originally part of the towns defensives

House of the Blackheads (a guild for German merchants)
the original building was destroyed during the war
this reconstruction was completed in 1999

View of Riga from St Peter's Church Tower

Riga has many examples of Art Nouveau architecture

Riga Castle (Rīgas pils) on the banks of River Daugava

View from our hotel window - the large buildings originally
German Zeppelin hangars now house Riga Central Market


January 2015 - Conegliano, ITALY 

I am staying in Conegliano a small town located in the Veneto region of Italy. Conegliano is noted for its wine, particularly the increasingly popular dry white Prosecco. My hotel the Best Western Canon d'Oro has a splendid location in the historical centre of Conegliano. Just down the road from the hotel is the main square, Piazza Cima. From the square there is a walk up to the remains of a 10th-century castle, the Castello, via the Calle Madonna della Neve, a steep path running alongside the old defensive town walls. There are battlements and the Torre della Guardia (Guard Tower) which houses the Civic Museum at the top. You can climb up to the top of the tower for a good view of Conegliano.

The 4-star Best Western Hotel Canon d'Oro is housed
in a 16th-century palazzo with a frescoed façade

Arcaded walkways in the historic centre of Conegliano

The impressive neoclassical theatre (1868) in Piazza Cima

The 18th-century Palazzo Municipale (Town Hall)

The Duomo with its tall bell tower is undergoing renovation

The walk to the Castello along Calle Madonna della Neve

The 14th-century walls have a watchman's walk at the top

Oratorio della Madonna della Neve a small
17th-century church partly embedded in the walls

The Castello at Conegliano with its guelphic battlements

A cat guards the entrance to the museum in the tower

Cannon built in 1911 standing outside the tower

A room forming part of the museum inside the tower

Panoramic view of Conegliano from the top of the tower

The Convento di San Francesco a former convent

Ruins of the lower section of the town walls


September 2014 - Funchal, PORTUGAL 

I am on holiday staying in Funchal the capital of Madeira. There is plenty to do at our hotel complex with four restaurants, six bars, an ice-cream parlour and five pools. However, I wanted to spend a day exploring Funchal with its historical buildings and also visit the hilltop suburb of Monte.

Banana plants growing outside our hotel

Lacerta dugesii the endemic lizard of the Madeira Islands

Palace and fort of São Lourenço (16th century)

Fortaleza de São Tiago (Fortress of St. James)
the fortress was rebuilt in the 18th century

Cathedral of Funchal (completed in 1518)

Funchal’s Town Hall (18th century)

Marble statue of ‘Leda and the Swan’ located
in the interior courtyard of the Town Hall

Igreja do Colégio (17th century Jesuit church and school)

Cable cars link Funchal with the hilltop suburb of Monte

The toboggan run transports tourists 2 kilometres downhill
to Livramento where you can take a taxi back to Monte

I walk from Monte back to Funchal using this trail which goes
through eucalyptus forest & then follows the course of a levada

The start of the trail has a good stone path

However it soon becomes a dirt path with fallen trees

The route is mostly downhill so quite steep in places
fortunately some wooden steps have been provided

Fungus probably a Crepidotus growing on a fallen log

I reach a narrow bridge over a stream

At last the levada which does not appear to
have been used to carry water for some time

Cat with a collar & bell I must be near the end of the trail

I follow the cat back to civilization after walking alone
for 2½ hours I did not see anyone else on the trail

There is a good view of Funchal from the levada

Preparing the traditional drink Poncha made from
lemon juice, honey and distilled alcohol from sugar cane

The cooked chestnuts were delicious

Followed by cake and a glass of Poncha
I am now ready to walk another levada


August 2014 - Oporto (Porto), PORTUGAL 

I am staying at the Hotel Carris located in the historical district of Ribeira with its medieval streets and alleyways. Just down the road is Praça da Ribeira (Ribeira Square) and the River Douro.

Praça da Ribeira with statue of St John the Baptist

Boat traditionally used to transport goods along the Douro river

Chez Lapin Restaurant located on the Cais da Ribeira

Gratin of codfish a speciality of Chez Lapin

View of Cais da Ribeira from the other side of the river

Café Majestic said to have been frequented by JK Rowling
while working on the first Harry Potter book

Inside the Café Majestic

Traditional grocery store with Art Nouveau tiled façade

The interior of São Bento train station is decorated
with tile panels depicting the history of Portugal

The Lello & Irmão bookshop has an elegant interior staircase
unfortunately they do not allow photographs to be taken

Carmo Church has an exterior panel of tiles representing
scenes describing the foundation of the Carmelite Order

Torre dos Clérigos - you can climb the steps inside this
tall bell tower to reach a viewing area at the top

View from the top of the Torre dos Clérigos

A small remaining section of the medieval city walls

A funicular runs alongside the walls

You can walk along the top of the walls - the entrance is
inside the grounds of the convent of Santa Clara

View of the Ponte Luís I bridge from the tower at the end of the walls


June 2014 - Reykjavík, ICELAND 

I am with Rita on holiday in Iceland staying at the Reykjavík Centrum located in the historical centre of downtown Reykjavík. Underneath the hotel are the remains of a Viking hall or a longhouse dating from the tenth century. In Iceland most building materials have to be imported and much use is made of corrugated iron and steel for the roofs and even the sides of houses.

Hotel Reykjavík Centrum is located on Aðalstræti
which is the oldest street in Reykjavík

Residential houses close to the hotel

Aðalstræti used to lead to the beach

Vehicles with 46” inch tyres can travel through
deep snow and over rough mountain trails

Well fed cat in downtown Reykjavík

The Water Carrier dedicated to the women that carried
water from a pump to the houses in town

The Christmas Shop

Looking up Skólavörðustígur towards Hallgrímskirkja Church

There are plenty of excursions leaving Reykjavík every day to choose from - we visited the Geysir hot springs area, several spectacular waterfalls and went on a snowmobile tour to the top of the glacier Mýrdalsjökull an icecap covering Mount Katla.

We passed by several green fields with horses

Geysir Hot Springs Geothermal Area

Strokkur erupts every few minutes

How Strokkur compares to other geysers

Seljalandsfoss waterfall - you can walk behind it

Arctic lupins often seen by the side of roads were
introduced into Iceland to reduce soil erosion

Heading towards the glacier Mýrdalsjökull

I am with Rita on top of the glacier

Rita on the snowmobile


May 2014 - Boston, UNITED STATES 

I am in Boston for the weekend staying at the Wyndham Boston Beacon Hill hotel in an historic area with gaslit streets. A good way to explore Boston on foot is to follow the Freedom Trail from Boston Common to the Bunker Hill Monument.

Charles Street with its gas lamps and brick sidewalk

The Freedom Trail

Boston Common

Relief sculpture depicting the city’s founder William Blackstone
welcoming Puritan John Winthrop and his party

The Massachusetts State House built in 1798

The Old State House built in 1713 is the
oldest surviving public building in Boston

The house where Paul Revere lived built in about 1680

Tablet depicting the battle at Breed's Hill

Bunker Hill Monument

I climbed the 294 steps to the top of the Monument which is actually located on Breed's Hill where most of the fighting took place. There are good views over Charlestown from the top. I then visited the old Charlestown Navy Yard which closed in 1974 but has been preserved as part of the National Park. Here the USS Constitution a heavy 'copper-bottomed' frigate launched in 1797 is on display and visitors can walk over three of the decks. I then took the ferry called Rita from Charlestown to Long Wharf in Boston.

View from the top of the Bunker Hill Monument

The USS Constitution

Boston ferry

View of Boston from the ferry

The Long Wharf

Another way to see the historical sites and other points of interest is to take the 80 minute Boston Duck Tour in an amphibious bus. Tours depart from the Museum of Science and part of the trip involves driving into the Charles River. The drivers are a mine of local knowledge.


Passing another DUKW on the river

'Make Way for Ducklings' in Boston Public Garden


March 2014 - Skopje, REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA 

I am staying at Hotel Square in the centre of Skopje a city full of recently constructed monuments and statues. Many buildings were destroyed during the 1963 earthquake and the government has attempted to transform the capital of Macedonia by highlighting the country’s rich heritage. Although the cost has proved somewhat controversial the transformation of Skopje has already resulted in increased numbers of tourists visiting the city. Since it is still early in the year the fountains and coloured light displays have not been turned on yet.

Warrior on a Horse statue in Macedonia Square

The Stone Bridge connects Macedonia Square to the Old Bazaar

The Eye Bridge named after its midway circle
features statues of Macedonian rulers

Statute with inscription on the Eye Bridge

The Bridge of Art features statues of noted
Macedonian painters, poets and musicians

There is even a statute at the base of the Stone Bridge

I tried the local cuisine including 'Tavče Gravče'
which is bean stew cooked in a ceramic dish

The baklava was deliciously sweet and sticky

Reconstructed tower and wall at Kale Fortress

Reconstructed tower and gate

Shop in the Old Bazaar

A street cat in the centre of Skopje

The memorial house of Mother Teresa who was born in Skopje

Porta Macedonia a triumphal arch covered with carved reliefs


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