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


Ålesund
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.



RE-PLANTING THE JOSHUA TREE by Debbi Voisey

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.