Monday, 12 February 2018

The World's Most Beautiful Voyage - The Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal voyage 6

Day 10

We crossed the Arctic Circle once more at 9.15am and much of the day was spent at sea there were stops but only for very short periods so we could not go ashore. Natasa gave a  talk on Mythical Creatures of the Sea which was fascinating.

Wild Weather in Bronnoysund
We arrived at Brønnøysund at 3.45pm and as there is a stop of one and a quarter hours we decided to go ashore to go to a small shopping centre that had a branch of a cheap Christmas shop we'd been in at Hammerfest as we wanted to buy something. Quite a few people got off with us and headed the same way. The weather was atrocious, howling wind and driving rain, but the centre was not far away and it was a relief to stumble into the shelter and warmth of the shops. We bought a few things in the Christmas shop and looked around some others before heading back to the Nordnorge. We tried to do a selfie with the ship in the background but it was so windy I couldn't hold the camera straight and, as my mother used to say, every picture tells a story!

The evening meal this evening was billed as the farewell meal as lots of German tourists were leaving the ship in Trondheim tomorrow. We had some free prosecco and representatives of all the departments of the ship's staff all lined up and sang a funny song about the trip and then went around the restaurant to toast "skol" with passengers. It was
The Staff all Lined Up For the Farewell Meal
really lovely, very warm and friendly as the staff had been throughout our voyage. The meal, as ever, was delicious and we had the best dessert of the trip, "success tart" which was absolutely gorgeous - everyone was loving it! 

That evening we just relaxed in the panoramic lounge, chatting and drinking the expensive wine very slowly. 

Day 11

Our last full day onboard the Nordnorge and I felt  sad that the trip was coming to an end. We had a stop for a few hours in Trondheim, but it started at 6.30am and finished at 10am  so we didn't go ashore, we had been on a tour of the city on our way north anyway.

We had our last meeting with Bjorn and David where they told us a bit about the shifts the staff work and arrangements for our departure the following day.  They also told us that it would get very choppy later in the night.

That evening Bjorn held a quiz about Norway in the panoramic lounge and Marian and I won it!  Considering some of the teams were six people strong I think we did very well! Our prize was one of the smart Scandinavian design water carafes each they used in the restaurant which we were both  very happy with. 

We went back to our cabin but had barely got in bed when the ship started to go through the storm and there was no way we could sleep then!  The ship was tossed around by the storm until about 4am when things calmed down and we were able to get a bit of sleep, luckily neither of us got seasick.

Day 12

A Last Photo of us on the Nordnorge
We had to be out of our cabin by 10am but there were plenty of areas we could sit in, the ship was much quieter since the Germans had left yesterday. We had our last buffet lunch, I was starting to get used to having all this great food made for me.

I went out on deck to watch us head in towards Bergen and soon we were docked at the Hurtigruten Terminal.  We arrived late due to the storm in the early hours. We left the ship and got the bus to the airport. Bergen Airport is a strange place. It's not very big and has no proper place to eat or drink. Everything is self service and the shops are few and not very interesting, I remembered Bjorn had said there wasn't much at the airport in the meeting the previous day, he wasn't joking!

So that was it, the end of a fantastic experience, I absolutely loved it all. Norway is a stunningly beautiful country with lovely people, I felt very at home there. The Nordnorge was just the right size of ship for me, and it's staff were wonderful. Apparently Hurtigruten staff are well paid and there is a no tipping policy, though if you wanted you could leave something when you left. Nothing was ever too much bother for them and they went out of their way to talk to passengers. The food was amazing and some very seasoned cruise travellers we talked to were very impressed by the food and voyage in general.

I loved the fact the ship was a working ship and we were on a journey not a cruise. There is always something to see and I loved how you could just hop off the ship at the ports if you wanted. Sometimes we'd stop at some tiny place where, as well as goods and post, people, sometimes just one person, would get on or off, sometimes a car waiting to pick them up. Marian said it would make a good storyline for a book, the stories of these people where they had been, where they were going, what they had done.

Favourite events/places? I loved the tour I went on way up north to the winter/Christmas house in Skarsvag and the gallery in Kamovaer. The Midnight Concert in the Arctic Cathedral in Tromso was so beautiful.  And I'll never forget travelling along Vestfjord balancing against the window so I didn't have to test out my survival suit in the icy water, looking up at the vivid green ribbon of northern lights as they danced above the fjord.  The only disappointment being that there was not enough snow to be able to go husky sledding in Kirkenes. Winning the quiz was a perfect ending to our trip.

I would highly recommend sailing with Hurtigruten, especially if you want a trip that is a bit diffrent. I will be doing another voyage with them, maybe in the spring to see another side of Norway.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The World's Most Beautiful Cruise - The Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Voyage 5

Day 9

We arrived in Tromsø just before midnight and those of us who were going to the Midnight Concert in the Arctic Cathedral which we could see all lit up in blue light on other side of strait linked to the island of Tromsoya by a long and elegant bridge. The cathedral was completed in 1965 and, like a lot of churches here, is triangular in shape. Inside it has A large triangular stained glass window and at the other end organ pipes. Otherwise in true Scandinavian style minimal decoration.

The Arctic Cathedral
The performers were a singer, flautist and a piano player. Their performance was absolutely beautiful, the acoustics in the cathedral were amazing the singer's voice soared throughout the building and gave me goosebumps. The music was a mixture of traditional, classical and they finished off with Auld Langs Syne which brought a tear to my eye! Absolutely loved the concert and would recommend anyone to go to it.

We got back to the ship at about 1.15am and the Nordnorge soon set sail once more. I stood on deck as we left the city watching the lights slip away into the darkness. Tromsø was like being back in civilisation once more even though we were still well above the Arctic Circle. It was a city I always wanted to visit and it looked lovely and I would love to visit it again but in day light!

Next day we were sailing south passing through stunningly beautiful landscape towards the Lofoten Islands, I love the easy going life of this ship and what views we had!

Later we had a talk on the history of the Hurtigruten shipping line. In the 1890's it took mail many weeks to reach Hammerfest from Trondheim. A tender was put out for a service that could provide faster services to the coastal communities. Richard With, a very experienced captain, accepted the challenge and did the route in just 67 hours. He named the shipping company he set up Hurtigruten which translates as the "fast route".

We arrived in Stokmarnes and had time to leave the ship and visit the nearby Hurtigruten Museum. The ground was like an ice rink and a couple of people fell. We managed to get there in one piece and it was a fascinating place to look around. Outside, and also part of the museum, (you could go into it) was an old ship Finnmarken, it looked really impressive. Afterwards we gingerly made our way over the ice again to the ship and made it there in one piece!
The Finnmarken part of the Hurtigruten Museum in Stokmarnes

There was a meet up on the deck later for hot chocolate and brandy as we went into the entrance of Trollfjord and the spotlights lit up the massive sheer sides of the fjord. It seemed strange but nice drinking the yummy drink out of special Trollfjord mugs (which you could buy - we did) while Abba was singing Dancing Queen and everyone chatting at the mouth of the fjord. Afterwards the ship made its way through the Lofoten Islands. The only downside was it was dark so we couldn't see the beautiful scenery we knew was there.

Our next stop was at Svolvaer, where we'd been soaked to the skin on the way north! This time we went on a tour to look at the huts and A-frames used by fishermen in the past. We were taken by bus a short distance and walked to a large A-frame or hjell as they are called in Norway. These frames were and still are used to dry cod, it is hung on the frames and dries out naturally in the cold, dry air for three months. The end result is called stockfish and can be stored for years. Stockfish is Norway's oldest export and today big importers of the fish are African nations and Italy.

Hjell on which cod is hung to dehydrate and
so preserve for many years
 We then went into a small wooden hut that had all the things in it that would have been there when it was in use. Up to 15 men lived in the small space there during the fishing season. As we entered the hut a man had a bowl full of dried stockfish and offered us some. It was brown and tough as old boots, after trying the soften it in my mouth for ten minutes I gave up and spat it into a hankie and put it into my bag (next morning my bag stunk of it and it took ages to disperse lol!) We had a talk about the lives and work of the fishermen and boy they had a hard life!

After that we went to the Gunnar Berg Gallery which was very close by. Berg was born in Svolvaer, trained in Germany and lived much of his life there. But he came home to Lofoten during the fishing season and painted many paintings of the landscape, fishing fleets and day to day life of the area. His paintings were beautiful, he was only 30 when he died, it makes you wonder what else he could have produced had he lived longer.

We then went to visit a small hotel that has a shop beside its reception that is preserved from around 100 years ago. Fascinating to look around. And if I remember rightly it was owned by Berg family members.

We had the best cod I have ever had for our evening meal, huge tasty flakes steamed in a white sauce, beautiful! Good to have fish not in batter or breadcrumbs. The food on this ship is fantastic and healthy. Lots of fish (but also lots of other things for people who don't care for fish), hardly anything fried, chips never served once, tasty potatoes, and lots of delicious berries in the desserts, sauces you could put over desserts and also sometimes with the main course. Loved it!

We'd had a busy day so just spent the evening relaxing in our favourite lounge, drinking the expensive wine, very slowly lol! Really enjoyed the day though and was beginning to get sad that the end of the trip was not very far off.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The World's Most Beautiful Cruise - the Hurtigruten Coastal Norwegian Voyage Part 4

Day 7

Today we arrived at Kirkenes, 955 miles from Bergen, further east than Istanbul, as far north as northern Alaska and just 10 miles from the Russian border and the point at which our ship would turn around and head on back down the Norwegian coast. Marian and I had been due to go on a husky sledding trip here but it was cancelled due to there being no snow. I was very disappointed as it was one of the main things I was looking forward to on this trip, but you can't control nature. So Marian opted for a hike and I walked into the town from the harbour which wasn't far. The place was bleak and quiet, (it was a Sunday and in Norway everything is closed) and I had to watch how I walked as it was icy. I had my ice grips on but they made me walk really funny and didn't help much, apparently the chain ones are best. It was cold but I found that the dry cold they have there doesn't feel as cold as I expected. I saw a supermarket which had it name in Norwegian and Russian, quite a few Russians live in the town. This area was occupied by the Germans in World War Two and when they left they burned almost all the buildings (something that happened in many of the Norwegian coastal towns.) Apparently it had also been a crossing point for Syrian people entering the country which is strange in such an isolated, northerly place. To be honest on my little walk there wasn't much to see in Kirkenes, but some of the things it is famous for were not happening (sledding, the Snow Hotel) due to no snow. As I got back to the harbour I noticed a rock that had lots of little stones on top of it, so I added one to it, it seemed to be the thing to do.

In the afternoon we had a talk from Natasa about the Vardo witch Trials which was one of the biggest witch trials in Scandinavia and took place in 1621. It resulted in 91 people being burned at the stake. The ship set sail from Kirkenes and in a short time docked in Vardø. There we could disembark and see the place the trials were held and a memorial to those who died. The trial took place at the Vardøhus Fortress which was a five minute walk from the ship. It was dark and the icy wind howled in from the Barents Sea, I was glad to have the torch on my phone to see where I was going. Some people stopped at the fortress and others, including Marian, went on to the memorial, there wasn't time to do both. 

Cannon on Sledge in Vardohus Fortress
The fortress was octagonal in shape and made up of small turf-roofed houses in which there were militaria exhibits. One we were inside the fortress walls there was a bit of shelter from the wind and I wandered through the little houses. In one there was a cannon on a sledge which makes perfect sense for this area. It was a small museum but it was interesting.

Marian said Steilneset Memorial was impressive. It is made up of two parts, a cocoon-like structure mounted on A-frame like structures. You can go inside and in there are lamps by small windows each lamp representing one of the people who was burned at the stake after the witch trials, beside each one is a little information about each person. The other part of the memorial is an eternal flame that burns through a chair and is reflected by mirrors.

It was good to get out of the wild and icy weather and into the welcoming warmth of the Nordnorge. We went to the talk by Bjorn and David which was as entertaining as ever. I learned that during hibermation bears do not urinate, urine produced is converted into amino acids that stop their muscles from wasting away during their long sleep, nature is amazing! We also learned that house prices in this area are cheap but if you go to Tromso or Bergen they are very expensive.

That evening we had reindeer (this being the area where the herds of reindeer range) for our evening meal and it was lovely.  Later the staff put on a tongue-in-cheek fashion show of items from the shop, some of them really got into it.

Day 8
We sailed past an island called Håja that sat in the sea like a huge whale. Once past this island you see Hammerfest which claims to be the most northerly town in the world. Once docked we disembarked and first went to a pharmacy to buy some (very expensive) cream for my eczema which had flared up. We then popped into a nearby art gallery but it wasn't really our cup of tea. Nearby was The Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society  which housed a small museum and rather good little shop. The museum depicted the history of Hammerfest, and the hunting and fishing that once made this town a very busy port. It was also full of stuffed animals including an eagle, walrus and polar bear. Some of the old photos were really interesting. Seeing we had time to spare after looking around the museum we walked the short distance to the church. It was built in 1961 (Hammerfest was another Norwegian town that was burned by the Germans when they left) and had a beautiful triangular stained glass window and wooden panels painted by local artists. We both liked Hammerfest, it still felt very polar but it had a good feel about it. 

Inside The Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society
We headed back to the Nordnorge and I went out on deck and watched Hammerfest disappear behind Haja once more. The scenery was stunning as we headed south once more towards our next port of call, Tromso.
Beautiful Scenery After Leaving Hammerfest

Thursday, 28 December 2017

The World's Most Beautiful Cruise - the Hurtiguten Coastal Voyage Part Three

Day 5

The morning was spent relaxing and admiring the beautiful views of snowy mountains as they passed by, I love the relaxed way of life of the ship that by now we were well into.  In the afternoon I went to a lecture about Norwegian explorers of the Arctic and Antarctic. It was dark by time the ship docked in Tromsø. Tromsø is a place I have always wanted to visit, the setting is so beautiful. But unfortunately as it was dark I couldn't see that.

Kitted up for Whale Watching
Marian and I were booked on a whale watching trip in nearby Vestfjord - yes I know that sounds weird to do at night, but the boats are fitted with spotlights so you can see the whales if they are around. We got a bus to a small village and went into a small place where we changed into survival suits all ready for the trip. We got on the small boat and off we went. There were drinks provided plus lovely cinnamon cakes and biscuits.

After a while I went to join some others who had gone onto the viewing deck. To do so I had to squeeze up a steep flights of steps and onto the deck which didn't really have anything to hold onto! The rails were very low and there were no seats. Like a few others,  in order to feel stable and safe, I leaned back on a window and stayed there as the boat chugged along the fjord at quite a pace. Unfortunately there were no shoals of herring showing on the radar which meant there were no whales. But while we were on deck we saw a beautiful aurora. It was vivid green and was directly overhead and stretched like a ribbon above the fjord and snow covered mountain tops, twisting and twirling along itself.  For me it made up for not seeing the whales.

Later as the Nordnorge left Tromsø I stood on deck, the city seemed lovely, snow started to fall as the lights slipped away and I thought how lucky I was to be able to
Day 6

Ever north we go, I loved seeing all the new places we stopped at, locals getting on and off, supplies for and from the ship. Cars waiting in tiny Arctic villages to pick up a loved one. The Hurtigruten
Near the North Cape
ships are especially vital to this part of the country, there are 12 ships that do this trip and one a day calls at the stops along the way.

Today our main stop was Honningsvåg on the island of Magerøya which is almost the most northerly point Europe. Marian had opted to go on a trip to the northernmost place in Europe, the North Cape while I went on a trip to two fishing villages. It was very cold here but it was bright and sunny. 
The Winter and Christmas House

We drove for about 20 minutes along narrow icy roads, hairpin bends and over a mountain before arriving at a small village called Skarsvåg where we visited the Winter and Christmas House. The small shop and cafe is run by a lady called Heidi who was born and raised in Skarsvåg. First we sat in the cafe area where she had mulled wine, coffee, waffles, Christmas cake and cinnamon biscuits, it was very snug and cosy. She talked about the changing fortunes of the area, a lot of the young are leaving. Her husband is a king crab fisherman and you can make a good living doing that. She and a few other ladies from the village get together once a week and knit various items in the traditional style which she sells in her shop. She was very passionate about her village and its traditions.  The sun will not rise above the horizon here from November 21st to January 21st, but there is a winter blue light for a while each day. She also said that you have to have plenty of firewood in stock for when the electricity goes off in the winter.
The East of the Sun Gallery
You also need to be well stocked up on food as they are often snowed in as well. I bought some mittens knitted by the ladies and she thanked me for supporting their work.

We left the snug Christmas House and the Arctic cold hit me, onto the bus and off to the next visit which is the village of Kamoyvaer where we visited the East of the Sun Gallery. This is the gallery of Eva Schmutterer from Germany who came to Kamoyvaer many years ago. She was inspired by the amazing landscape and wildlife of the region and produces amazing paper collages. I loved her work and it was very reasonably priced so I bought three prints. I had a little wander around the village afterwards, it was very isolated and it felt really Arctic. Places like Tromso didn't feel really Arctic to me but here it did, as fascinating as I found it I couldn't live here.

Fishing Boats at Kamoyvaer
The trip back to the Nordnorge was in the dark and once again it was lovely to feel the warmth of the ship again. 

Later that day we had a talk on the Sami culture which was enlightening. Many of the Sami people live a nomadic life across the northern areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia and at this time of year are in the east so we wouldn't be seeing any Sami or reindeer. We had the usual talk from Bjorn and David and learned that gulls drink seawater and filter the salt out through glands in the head and the salt is excreted through their noses - nature is amazing!

That evening we relaxed in the lounge on deck seven, my favourite place on the ship. It was quite stormy, after all we were now well into the Arctic in the Barents Sea, 742 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The easy going life on a ship is deceptive, you are travelling further than you realise.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

The World's Most Beautiful Cruise - The Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Voyage Part 2

Day 3

Had a lovely breakfast as we headed up Trondheim Fjord towards the city of Trondheim, Norway's third largest city. Once we docked we left on an organised tour of the city. Trondheim used to be
Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim
called Nidaros and is over 1000 years old. The cathedral bears the old city's name and is not at all of the  usual Scandinavian style, it is more Italianate in style and it is the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world. We went inside and had a short guided tour which was fascinating. We then went on to a viewpoint that looked out over the the city and the fjord. We saw the brightly coloured warehouses along the banks of the River Nidelva that are now exclusive homes and shops. Trondheim seemed a lovely city and I really enjoyed the tour.

We went back to the Nordnorge and set off along Trondheim Fjord and ever northerly. Later in the afternoon Natasa gave an interesting lecture on how the Norwegian landscape was formed. I've always been interested in geology and so really enjoyed the talk.

Later Bjorn and David gave their talk which was as entertaining and informative as usual. After another delicious evening meal we just chilled in the panoramic lounge on deck seven, love this life!

Day 4

 Awakened at 7am by the intercom telling us we would be crossing the Arctic Circle in 20
minutes. So it was a mad scurry throwing on clothes and heading up to the outside area on deck seven. It was still dark but we knew when we crossed into the Arctic as there was a lit golden globe marking the line and the ships horn was sounded. I had a glass of wine to celebrate, think it's
Champagne after entering the Arctic
the earliest I've ever drunk alcohol! Later the winner of the competition to guess the exact moment we enttered the Arctic was "baptised" with ice put down his back! The winner also received a Norwegian flag signed by the crew. Others could also be baptised and got a free glass of cloudberry wine. It was a bit of fun and was just one of the onboard events that made this trip such an easygoing, fun eperience.

Funnily enough after entering the Arctic the landscape became more dramatic, snowcapped jagged mountains and huge monolithic-type mountains jutting out of the sea like huge whales. Our main stop today was Bodø, Marian went on another hike and I walked into the town to explore. To be honest I wasn't very impressed, there wasn't a lot to see there. I wandered about for an hour before returning to the ship. Marian returned from the hike which she had enjoyed.

When we returned to our cabin we found certificated confirming our passing into the Arctic signed by the captain who was called the wonderful name of Roar Winther. I later went to a lecture about Vestfjord and Trollfjord given by Natasa, then the usual information talk by Bjorn and David which included eider ducks, snowart. Each of their talks finishes with some Norwegian music and art, which so far has been lovely.

Our evening meal was fabulous tonight. Each evening the meal is comprised of specialities of the area we are passing through. Today we had the tenderest beef I've ever had from Trondelag. Dessert was chocolate parfait with a rhubard compote, sounds like a strange combination but it worked perfectly. Rhubarb is one of the first crops to start growing after the snow melts so it is viewed as a reminder that the winter is passing and summer is ahead.

We had a longish stop at Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands so we decided to go ashore and explore. There was a boardwalk that skirted the water so we walked along that passing lovely looking bars and restaurants. After a while the heavens opened and the rain poured down, I could hardly see where as I was going as my glasses were full of water. Luckily my coat was waterproof and long but my boots were sodden in no time. It was a relief to walk up the gangway and get out of that rain and feel the welcoming heat heat of the Nordnorge.

We dried out and went up to our favourite lounge to relax. We stayed there until we reached Trollfjord which we could not enter as it is too dangerous to do so at night  as much of it is very narrow. But the captain went into the mouth of the fjord and shone spotlights on the sheer cliffs so we could see a little of it. The rain was still poutring and we could see waterfalls running down the rocks. The entrance to the fjord is very narrow and it was an amazing feat of steering to give us a peek of this place.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The World's Most Beautiful Cruise, the Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Voyage

For many years I had wanted to go on this trip and when I saw it at a bargain price I jumped at the chance to go on what is advertised as the world's most beautiful cruise - and I wasn't disappointed.

Day 1.

We flew to Bergen and from there were transported to the Hurtigruten Terminal where we did a smooth and well organised check-in. Afterwards we were free to go on board the ship, we couldn't yet go to our cabins so we explored. Hurtigruten ships are not cruise ships, they are a vital part of daily routine up and down the coast of Norway. They deliver and take on supplies, post and local passengers during the 34 stops going north and 33 south, they are working ships. But having said that the seven decks were beautifully fitted out with a lovely restaurant, two small cafes and a bar in the panorama deck which has the most comfortable seats in the world! There was also a shop, reception, expedition desk where trips are booked and information given. There is also a small gym, sauna and a jacuzzi on deck.

At 6pm we were able to go into the cabin which was small with a square porthole, very clean and had all we needed.  We then went to the Torget restaurant for the evening buffet which had everything under the sun and was absolutely amazing!

Later there was a meeting with the friendly expedition team, Bjorn, David and Natasa who gave us all the basic information for our trip and what to expect on the voyage. They also told us that if you walk round deck five four times you have walked a kilometre, so I decided I would do that at least once a day as I knew I would have to walk off some of the wonderful food we would be having!

Day 2

I had a lie-in and skipped breakfast as I didn't sleep well due to the motion and engine hum of the ship. Today the major stop was at Ålesund. Marian decided to go on a hike up 400 steps to Mount Aksla which overlooks the city. I went out to explore the city by myself rather than go on the organised tour as the ship was docked right near the centre and it was not a large area to explore. Plus the tours are quite expensive!
Art Nouveau Building in Ålesund

The city had been almost totally destroyed by a fire in 1904 (the fate of many Norwegian towns/cities due to them being mainly built of wood in the past.) When it was rebuilt much of the architecture was in the Art Nouveau style which is one of the things the city is renowned for nowadays. It was a mild and sunny day as I explored the cobbled streets of Ålesund which indeed had some beautiful buildings often painted in bright colours in typical Scandinavian style. 

The city is built on islands and there are lots of bridges and waterways, it is very picturesque, laid back and I really liked the place and it would be a city I would love to return to and explore some more one day.

I returned to the ship and Marian returned not long afterwards having enjoyed her hike with its amazing views over Ålesund.

Leaving Ålesund
We later went to the Norwegian Way of Life talk by Bjorn and David which was very informative and entertaining covering such subjects as elk, language,music and art of Norway.

During dinner it came over the ship's intercom that the northern lights were visible. There was a mass exodus from the restaurant as people headed out to see the.  The lights were light green and formed a semi-circle in the sky  at the front of the ship. They were gorgeous and magical and it was also surprisingly mild out on deck five. What a brilliant start to the trip!
Northern lights from the ship's deck

Monday, 4 September 2017

Re-planting the Joshua Tree, a Poem by Debbi Voisey

After seeing the first show of The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 in London I asked if Debbi (who is a very talented writer) would write a poem about the gig, U2 and what it means to longtime fans like us. In 15 minutes she wrote the poem below which speaks so eloquently for me and I'm sure for many other fans of this amazing band. You can read more of Debbi's writing here - My Way by Moonlight.


A symbol of resiliance
Survival, faith and prayer
Planted 30 years ago
And in music you took us there

To a place of sheer rejoicing
And we followed you because
There is beauty and profoundness
In those songs you gave to us

Some years ago you chopped it down
And took us somewhere new
As your lives took many different paths
And as men you changed and grew 

We've been there to witness all of it
To share in all the joy
As our band became the man that was
Always hiding in the boy

A concert full of wonder
Emotion, love and tears
The Joshua Tree re-planted
After 30 glorious years

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Dublin and the U2 Joshua Tree Tour 2017 (part 2)

We arrived in Dublin after a bit of a nightmareish Ryanair departure from Manchester. They announced over the tannoy that it was the last boarding call for the Dublin flight. When we got to the gate everyone was waiting, and waiting and waiting for at least an hour, no one told us that the plane had been delayed in Dublin and was not even in Manchester yet (we found out later!) Eventually we boarded and before we knew it we were back in Dublin on a pleasant evening. We caught a taxi to our accommodation, which was lovely and larger than it looked from the photos and a good location. As usual on our arrival evening we got the shopping in from a nearby Tescos, ate in and had some wine. 

July 20th
We were woken far too early by building work going on beside our apartment. We had an easy day and then later Debbi and I split up, she went to meet a friend and I went to Dun Laoghiare to see friends Ken and Elizabeth. As I travelled south on the DART Dublin Bay looked beautiful. calm and blue on this lovely summer evening. I had good night with my friends, as usual Elizabeth had laid on a good spread, which unfortunately, due to my stomach problems, I couldn't eat as much of as I would have liked to.  

July 21stWe went to Bewley's Cafe Theatre (which is still being held in the Powerscourt Townhouse while Bewley's is being renovated) to see To Hell in a Handbag. A very funny play about the secret lives of a rector and a governess inspired by Oscar Wilde. We had delicious mushroom soup and the best soda bread in Dublin as we watched the play. This was going to be our lazy day, we always have one when we are way, we just drift from pub to pub and chilling out. We first went to The Octagan Bar in the Clarence Hotel to sample their Joshua Tree cocktail, specially created for this U2 tour, it was delicious. Next stop was O'Neill's pub, a large place over three floors with lots of nooks and crannies. We ordered some chips (the best in Dublin) and some onion rings, strange combination but it was what we fancied! We had a long wait but it was worth it, the chips were proper chips, big and tasty and the onion rings huge and crispy, very yummy. Our next stop was The Brazen Head pub, the oldest pub in Dublin, but it was heaving so we left and walked the short distance back to our apartment.

July 22nd

Showtime! First we stopped off at The Study at The Clarence Hotel and had coffee, and I ordered a scone. First off we had to ask at reception to be served, then waited ages for the simple order. Then I had to ask for sugar for the coffee and also pointed out that I should have had whipped cream with my scone as per the menu. The waiter left then came back and said said they had no cream (??!!) and would I like something else like honey - yuck not with a scone thank you! I said that wasn't very good and could I have a discount, again the server left and came back and said no, the price is for the scone and the jam and cream are extras! I was dumbfounded, how ridiculous was that? The server was very nice, it wasn't his fault, but it was terrible service for a simple order. Finally we again had to go to reception for them to call someone so we could pay, the Clarence isn't what it once was.

We got a taxi which dropped us off as near to Croke Park where the U2 gig was going to be. It was already quite busy and we bumped into our friends Declan, Jane and Sharon. Declan was actually on holiday in Portugal and had come back to Ireland and was flying back to Portugal the next morning, that's dedication for you!

Our seats were really good, and shortly before U2 were due to be on we were joined by our friend Paddy. This show had a lot of energy from the band and the audience. The set list was simlar to London, Bono added a it of America on the end of Bad instead of Bowie's Heroes which I felt did not work as well, Heroes was perfect. As the band started playing the Joshua Tree songs with Where the Streets Have No Name, the Irish Flying Corps flew over the stadium trailing smoke in the colours of the Irish flag, very impressive! Only U2 could pull that off. Half way through the Joshua Tree Bono said, "Welcome to side two of the Joshua Tree Cassette," Which made me smile, some of the younger people there wouldn't even know what a cassette was! The show was amazing, once again Exit was the highlight for me. I was sad when it finished as this was to be our last show of this tour.

Paddy, Debbi and  Me in our Seats
After the show we met up briefly with Declan, Jane and Sharon again, then Paddy went off to have a drink with a few friends and was coming to our place later, whilst Debbi and I went off looking for a taxi home. There was absolutely no chance of getting a taxi and we ended up almost home by time we found one. We were exhausted when we got into our apartment and almost kissed the floor with relief! I'd barely put the pizza on when Paddy arrived, he'd left after an hour with his friends and got a taxi easily!

We had a lovely night putting the world to rights, discussing  an eclectic mix of Trump (Paddy lives in America), genealogy, art, and guns to name a few subjects. Paddy left at 6.30am and we crashed at 7am, we are real rock chicks lol!

July 23rd
Got up in the afternoon and later we went to the Octagon bar to meet our friends Jane and Sharon, we were sad that our friend Dianne hadn't been able to come due to travel problems, but I'm sure she was with us in spirit. Another friend Patty joined us for a while too, it was good to catch up with everyone. Debbi and I had another Joshua Tree cocktail but this one was totally different to the one we had the other day! Afterwards we had an early night as we were off home the next day.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

London and the U2 Joshua Tree Tour 2017

July 6th

I had treated myself to first class for my long rail journey to London, had salmon and scrambled egg for breakfast and a delicious soup for lunch, very good indeed. When I got off the train at Euston it felt like I had alighted in the south of France it was so hot! Debbi was waiting for me and we headed for our accommodation, a two bedroomed apartment in Ealing. We found it ok and it was very nice were pleased to see all the basics food and drink-wise had been provided for us.

After a cuppa we haded to a nearby supermarket to get our supplies in. It was really, really hot and I was wilting, heat really saps my energy and I was glad when we got back to the apartment. We did our usual first night thing, eatingin and catching up on each others news. We also opened a bottle to Veuve Clicquot in celebration of being friends for 25 years!

July 7th

Our Lunch at Claridge's
Had a lie in and then headed into the city centre for our planned lazy afternoon in Claridge's. It was a hot and humid journey there and we were so frazzled when we got there when we went into the bar

the first a server asked us if we wanted some cool water which was like nectar and helps us recover. We had a sharing platter of  delicious duck spring rolls with a plum sauce dip and a cheese platter along with a bottle of  refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. We spent a wonderful afternoon relaxing in the bar and got friendly with George the server who loved a good chat! Claridge's is upmarket with excellent service, but it is not stuffy, it's an easy place to chill out in (and become bankrupt!)

We left and went into the nearby pub called The Running Horse for a drink (cheaper than Claridge's!) It was still very hot so we sat outside in the shade. Later we headed home and had an easy night eating in.

July 8th

Debbi's husband, Keith, arrived early afternoon, he was going to see U2 for the first time that night! It was still very hot. We had lunch at Bill's on Ealing Broadway. Because of my stomach problems at the time I could not eat much so I had the pate starter while the others had proper meals. I must say I was envious of Keith's delicious looking flat iron steak!

Keith, Debbi and Me Before the Gig
Afterwards we got the tube to Richmond where there were shuttle buses laid on to take people to Twickenham Stadium.  Our seats were in the back corner, not the best but they gave us an all round view of the stage which was quite simple. A plain stage with a back screen with a Joshua Tree on it and a b-stage in the shape of a Joshua Tree and that was it. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds were ok. U2 came on at 8.15 (there is a 10.30 curfew at Twickenham.)  And played a few songs from The Unforgettable Fire, including Bad that had me in tears as usual and I loved the snippet of Bowie's Heroes on the end, it worked perfectly.  The screen came to life with Streets and the beginning of the playing of the entire Joshua Tree album.  The screen was amazing such bright, crisp colours. It was a treat to hear this album in full and I especially enjoyed hearing songs I'd never heard sung live before such as Trip Through Your Wires and One Tree Hill, but the highlight of was
Photo by Kinda Cownley
Exit.  Black and white on the screen showing Bono whipping himself up into a murderous frenzy, quite scary! And also absolutely brilliant, it gave me goosebumps. A beautiful Mothers of the Disappeared,  with video on screen showing women in shadow holding candles that they individually blew out one by one, simple and moving, brought the first part of the show to an end.

The second part of the show was a mixed bag of songs beginning with Miss Sarajevo. Bono got the crowd to sing Happy Birthday for his daughter Eve who had turned 25 the day before. A new song called The Little things That Give You Away was played, sounded good, but I needed to hear it again before it really sinks in. At the End of the gig Noel Gallagher came back on and the show finished with U2 and him singing Don't Look Back in Anger. I was disappointed at the ending, it didn't feel like a proper U2 ending somehow.  I really enjoyed the show and felt it was very much a
show of two halves. The first very structured, a nod to The Unforgettable Fire album during the first four songs and then The Joshua Tree in full, it all flowed beautifully. The second half was more disjointed theme-wise and though I enjoyed it I preferred the first half.

Afterwards we walked to join the massive queue for the shuttle buses, it was still very warm even though it was late. It took over an hour before we were on our way to Richmond station.  We got home about 12.30am and did our usual post gig thing, pizza and wine and chatting until the early hours.

July 9th

Photo by Linda Cownley
Debbi's husband left the next morning and Debbi and I went into London for a while, it was still far too hot for me and I was wilting. We had a late lunch in a restaurant called Burger and Lobster which was blissfully cool. It was expensive, so we both had the starter of crab goujons and a glass of prosecco.

Afterwards we headed towards Twickenham again. This time we had standing tickets, and we spent ages trying to find a good place. There was one place where Deb could see but I couldn't (I'm smaller) so we split up and I spent ages wandering trying to find a place where I could  see more. I eventually noticed a line of small women so headed there and found that in front of them was an open area at the entrance to the Red Zone kept free by security. I sidled through and stood at the end of the line of women and had a really good view of the main stage though could not see the b-stage (which seemed rather low on this tour) and that was my spot for the rest of the show.

The set list was quite similar to last night's show but I enjoyed it. Bono, as last night, was in good voice with amazing energy for his age. Exit again was stunning, and this time they finished with One, the perfect typical low-key U2 ending.

After the show Debbi and I met up and headed off to the shuttle buses again. It took even longer to get on one than the previous night and we got to Richmond station at 12.05 only to be told that the last tube was gone and we'd have to get a normal train to Waterloo! We simply could not believe it, there were loads of people coming behind us many, like us, not knowing London well and not sure what to do.  Surely extra trains should have been put on for such a major event? Debbi checked how far Ealing, where we were staying, was and as it was only around four miles we decided to get a taxi as if we went on to Waterloo we might not get a tube back from there and that was even further away. The transport organisers should take a lesson from Glasgow where crowds from Hampden are away in record time because of brilliant organisation by police and transport staff and train after train leaving the local station.

We got home and were really relieved to be back as we were really tired. The heat and standing for a long time took it's toll on us and I think that may well be our last standing gig! We had something to eat and some wine and then crashed out.

Next day we headed home, and I must admit I'm always glad to be leaving London too big for me and on this occasion too hot as well! But it was worth it for seeing the shows, such a treat to hear those all those Joshua Tree songs live, some for the very first time.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The BowieXperience

My friend Jayne and I recently saw The BowieXperience at The Sands in Carlisle. We are both David Bowie fans, though only Jayne has seen him play live. I thought that the singer's voice was very like the original Bowie's, the backing band was tight and the screen behind them added to the experience and there were countless costume changes for "David." The BowieXperience went through all his great songs and their show was very well performed. Watching it made me realise all the more what an amazing artist the real David Bowie was, how he constantly reinvented himself and his music, pushed boundaries and remained very relevant. I do regret never having seen him play live. Jayne enjoyed the show too and afterwards made the classic quote, "Bowie had better legs"!!

If you are a Bowie fan I would recommend going to see this tribute act, they put on a good, professional show and bring the great artist back to life and make you realise all the more just how amazing his talent was.

(Image from The Bowie Experience Website)

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Venice - Beauty, Grandeur, People and Far from the Madding Crowd.

I have neglected my blog over the last few months, I've been very busy and just haven't had time. But I will try to get back into writing it regularly now. First of all I'll write a brief catch up of the last few months.

First of all I'll write a short write up of the trip my friend Jayne and I went on to Venice.  We arrived at Treviso airport on a hot morning. We got a shuttle bus into Mestre and walked the short distance to the Hotel Delfino where we were staying. After some lunch we got the very crowded and sweaty bus into Venice. We just wandered around in the city trying to take it all in. It was very beautiful but also very busy. We went into the first church we saw, S. Maria di Nazareth, built in 1674, and were taken aback by its over the top, ornate, baroque interior. It was just stunning, we both gasped as we entered. It was also an oasis away from the heat and crowds, beautiful, almost as if time had stopped.

We wandered a bit away from the main streets and it was like a different world once you go into the narrow alleys, much quieter, with the day to day life going on there for the locals, it must be hard for them to share their beautiful city with all the tourists. We headed back to the hotel and had an early night as we had an early start that day.

Next day we got the sweat bus to Venice and got on the valporetto, the water bus, to St Mark's Square. We had a snack at a cafe and got chatting to a couple from Peterborough, he was Italian and she was English, we had a nice chat. We then went to St Mark's Square, it was hot and busy with people. We went into the basilica which was beautiful but very dusty. We walked around the square peering in the famous Caffe Florian - the oldest cafe in the world opened in 1720 - with its stunning art work - too expensive to go into. Later we headed into the peace of the quieter lanes and found a cafe for a snack and the same couple from Peterborough were there small world! We had a lovely snack there and then got the valporetto to the Jewish ghetto where we were meeting our guide for a tour, pub crawl with chiccetti (snacks.) On our way we came across a gorgeous standard wire haired dachshund called Olga who I just had to pet!

The lane from the Jewish Ghetto
to the canal
Our guide's name was Beatrice and she was excellent. After a snack and prosecco we entered the nearby Jewish ghetto and immediately it felt like another world. The houses were five stories high (the only area of Venice where that is) and plainer in design. The word ghetto comes from the Italian Gheto meaning smelting which took place here. The Jews were shut in at night until Napoleon freed them in 1797 and it is still a Jewish area to this day. We came across a large square where children were playing, and the water wells were still there. Beatrice explained how Venice was built on wooden stilts and bricks. It was very peaceful and relaxing there.

We left the ghetto and went for our last drink and snack near the Rialto Bridge, more prosecco and that was the end of our tour, I would recommend it highly.

It was now almost dusk, the colours were rich and an almost full moon hung in the sky, it gave the place a magical feel. It was also much quieter along the canals and I wondered how the locals coped with the hordes of tourists that descend on the city nowadays.

Next day we rode the sweat bus into Venice and got a valporetto to the island of Murano, famous for its distinctive glassware. The trip took about 10 minutes during which we saw a coffin heading to the nearby cemetery island of San Michele on a speedboat, a bit different! Apparently nowadays it is expensive to be interred there and ordinary people are buried on the mainland.

It was raining but still warm (much preferred this to the heat there had been can't take the heat) when we got to Murano and it was noticeably quieter than Venice. We had a coffee in a nice little place beside the main canal. We went to the glass museum which was quite interesting but could have been better.

The heavens opened so we had a late lunch in a canal side cafe. The service was terrible, but we got the wrong bill at the end and only paid a small amount for our meal! Normally I would have said something but due to the bad service we felt it was only worth that anyway! Interestingly an Asian girl on the table beside us got a pizza with chips as a topping, even her friend laughed when it arrived!

We browsed the shops a bit more and bought a few items then headed back to the valporetto stop. We had intended going to Burano and Torcello too but as it was getting later decided to do that tomorrow. We bought some wine and food at the supermarket beside our hotel and ate in that night.

Another day another ride on the sweat bus into Venice and a repeat of yesterday valporetto to Murano then changed to another to Burano an island famous for its lace making. This island was much further north in the lagoon and I enjoyed the ride though we had to stand all the way. When you get off the boat at Burano the first thing you notice is the colour - the buildings are painted in bright colours that even on this rainy day looked so cheery. However, I was not so cheery when I discovered my phone had been stolen when I wanted to take photos. There had been someone on the sweat bus that I thought was touching me up and I moved away but he had already got my phone. For that reason I only have a few of my own photos from this trip.

We went to the lace museum which I found really interesting, much better than the one at Murano. We went to the church nearby but it was closed until later in the afternoon. I'm not really into lace so didn't buy anything.

We got a valporetto to Torcello, about 15 minutes north of Burano and when we arrived it was very quiet. We walked along a path beside the canal, passed a few houses, a bridge and ended up in an very old looking square which had small Byzantine-looking  cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Unfortunately we couldn't go in as there was a wedding on. We wandered along a path away from the square which lead to a reedy channel of water which I imagine most of the lagoon once looked like. I really liked Torcello, loved the peace of the place.

It was just after 4pm when we headed back towards the valporetto stop, the boats only come to Torcello once an hour so we went into a little cafe and had some prosecco and chatted. We next checked the time and it was just after 5pm so we decided to catch the 6pm valporetto and had more prosecco and chat! When we did leave the cafe the sky was blue and the sun shining and the walk to the stop was delightful. Later I found out that Torcello was once highly populated and a leading trading island of the lagoon, hard to imagine.

Venice is a beautiful and unique city in so many ways, but for me though it was too crowded during the day, it was an ocean of people and I don't like that. It is one of those places that you have to visit once in your lifetime though and the islands nearby are ideal if you want a day chilling.

All photos by Jayne Malley.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Dublin - Food, Wine and Friends

20th August

My trip started badly, first I got to the railway station and saw my train was cancelled, the next one was an hour later. luckily I always leave loads of time when travelling so I was still ok timewise for my flight. Met up with Debbi at the airport good to see her again, but our plane was an hour late in taking off so more waiting, patience is a virtue.

St Patrick's Cathedral from our living
room window
We landed in Dublin and as usual immediately felt at home, it's the first time we've been there in the summer for a while. We got a taxi to our accommodation, an apartment right opposite St Patrick's Cathedral, lovely to look out at. It was a lovely place, very clean and in a super location. We got our food and drink supplies in and then ordered a Chinese to be delivered. It was delicious, sweet and sour chicken and duck in plum sauce, we decided every first night in a place we will be doing this in the future.We stayed up late chatting, lots of catching up to do, it felt wonderful to be back again.

21st August

We had a lie in and then walked to Sophie's, a rooftop restaurant in the Dean Hotel for brunch. The restaurant has windows all around three sides which give you views over the city. I had eggs benedict which was good, but a bit rich for me early in the day. On the way out we just had to have a go on some swings that were hung opposite the lifts. A bit weird but it was fun reverting to our childhood for a while.

Our Tagines at Dada's
Afterwards we set off on a mission, I had forgotten my ipad lead and Deb her plug, with four devices between us we needed these things.  We trudged across to St Stephen's Green, then down Grafton Street, onto College Green, Dame Street popping in and out of phone shops along the way, the prices were high and we weren't willing to pay them. We headed towards our apartment via Aungier Street and found a little shop off the beaten track that had what we wanted at a good price, mission completed. That day we walked around five miles, and the irony was, that once home, I found my ipad lead and a second plug in an inside pocket of my handbag! Ahh well the walk was good for us.

That evening we went to Dada Restaurant. We'd been there a few years ago and loved it so decided to go back as we had loved it so much. We were not disappointed, I had the most delicious lamb tagine with apricots, nuts and cinnamon amongst other spices. I will write a full restaurant review about Dada's in a separate post at a later date.

August 22nd
After breakfast we headed out towards the Powercourt Theatre to see the play Buridan's Ass. This production is part of the famous Bewley's Cafe Theatre but as Bewley's is being renovated at the moment they are using the nearby Powerscourt theatre. We had the soup and soda bread as usual and sat at one of the small wooden tables right a front so had a brilliant view. I thoroughly enjoyed the play, which is a dark comedy set in a struggling taxidermy business with the boss, Mahone, last in line of the family ("a genetic cul-de-sac" and his keen apprentice, Ernest. Mahone pondering on his life and future and it had a good twist at the end. So even though headless dachshunds came into it (don't ask, as I wrote it is a dark comedy!) I thoroughly enjoyed it.

So today was our lazy day, we have one of these where we just drift from place to place having a drink so our first port of call after the theatre was Cafe en Seine the fabulous place celebrating Belle Epoque where I had one of their gorgeous Singapore Slings.

The Bar at Kehoe's
We then wandered round to South Anne Street to try out Kehoe's pub and I loved it! We went into the bar and I asked if they had any prosecco, the barman said "I don't know, I don't work here" Apparently he was just filling in for a couple of hours, he had a look and found little bottles of prosecco and seemed surprised at how much it was and that we'd pay that much for the drink! There was an amazing old-style till at the bar. We sat in the snug (an original one, this pub dates from 1803) and it was lovely. There was a lot of Irish banter between the bar staff and the place just felt comfortable place, a world away from bustling Grafton Street close by.  It reminded me a lot of Dockers pub which was a favourite  haunt of ours for years until it closed. Now all that's left is the frontage on the quayside, all the atmosphere and history swept away.
O'Neills Chips, the Best in Dublin

Next stop was O'Neills in Suffolk Street. This is a large pub with lots of nooks and crannies and a pleasant and friendly atmosphere. Debbi was happy to go there because it had her favourite beer which isn't available in many places. By then we were getting hungry so we ordered two portions of chips and they were the best chips I've had for years and years, real chips!

We ended our lazy day pub crawl there as we had to be home as our friend Declan was coming round. Lovely to see him again, he only had a knee operation a week previously, so it was so good we managed to meet up.

23rd August
Next day we got the DART train to Sandycove and Glasthule to see our friends Ken and Elizabeth who had invited us for an Irish brunch. As usual Elizabeth was very generous with the food and it was delicious, glad it included white pudding which I love! We had a good chat and caught up on each others news.

Debbi and Me at the Trocadero

That evening we went to the Trocadero, a large restaurant that has pictures of famous people on the walls, lots of mirrors and very comfortable seats. I had pate to start and chicken in tarragon sauce with pesto and chorizo. It was good, but , for me, not exceptional.

Next day it was home, it had been a short but wonderful holiday. It's always like coming home when I visit Dublin. We did all the touristy things decades ago and now we just enjoy the Dublin for itself, good food, drink, theatre and friends, the best things in life!