Arrival and overnight in Venice then onto Florence

Malaga airport virtually deserted but a joy to navigate. Madrid somewhat busier but got to Venice without problems. Arrived with my expensive and negative Covid test but no one asked to see it or my other virus related documents. Better safe than sorry as they say. Italians offering Covid tests on arrival but avoided that detour as it seemed to involve brief quarantine waiting for the results.

Malaga Airport

Autumn came to Venice last week and brought with it lots of rain. The new flood barriers were deployed and worked !! So no wellies required to cross St Marks Square and Venetians relieved after decades of controversy, corruption and vast amounts of dosh !! Dark when I arrived so only a brief glimpse of Grand Canal. Very “Don’t Look Now” – kept expecting to see the flash of a red cloak!!

Arrival at hotel

Then departure next morning

Leaving Venice after brief overnight stay. A palazzo to myself and now on the train to Firenze – A carriage to myself as we cross the causeway with snow capped mountains to the right and nasty industrial shit to the left.

Very glad that I packed a coat as it’s 8 degrees and damp. What little I saw of Venice (back for 4 days next week) – not a tourist in site – just Venetians going about their business. Needless to say it is still outrageously expensive but then they have always been bunch of pirates and still are. All done with Italian charm!! Train very speedy and efficient though clean windows would be a major improvement!!

Florence has been amazing. Two long days pounding the cobbled streets visiting churches and museums until my legs and feet were about to drop off ! A long climb up 400+ stairs to the top of the Campanile (Bell Tower) – well almost to the top – had my muscles screaming at me ! I must remember that I’m nearly 70 !!

Streets quite crowded mainly with locals (well Italians anyway). It must be hell on earth when you add tourists to the mix. Many Hotels and Restaurants are closed but enough open to satisfy the current demand.

Most museums etc are open, but with limited access. Masks and hand sanitiser everywhere with social distancing strictly enforced. Booking time slots in advance on the internet is the way to go but can lead to a somewhat disjointed schedule!!

Food is wonderful and totally outshines Spanish fare !! Makes me wonder why I ended up in Spain. Could have something to do with the cost of stuff – cheap it isn’t !!!!!

This is what you would get if you crossed Hurley with a Dalmatian

Meanwhile an update from the kennels. No sign of Hurley but I am sure that he’s there somewhere. Up to no good no doubt

On the train back to Venice now for 4 days. At least the bell tower in St Mark’s Square has an elevator!!

Will post this now while the train WiFi holds. Between tunnels.

The Great Escape

After several very frustrating months “holed up” at home, my Italian Trip starts tomorrow. This latest adventure has expanded to 14 days including 4 days each in Venice, Florence and Naples.

Its been a constant battle to keep up with cancellations and re-bookings but hopefully I have got there in the end !! Just heard from the travel agent in charge of the Venice section that they have had a last minute cancellation and I am the only “Member” of the Group. Oh well so much for getting to know my fellow travellers !! It should be amazing so see places that are normally swarming with tourists and selfie sticks, virtually empty !!!

Talking about “battles”, and I know that the travel industry is going through hell at the moment as are most “industries”…. Turkish Airlines and Expedia (US version) are top of my shitlist at the moment as 8 months later they are still giving me the run around as far as my cancelled Turkish trip that was scheduled for last March. As far as buck passing is concerned they are unbelievable. The last time I saw such a display was at a Rugby match at Twickenham !! They are only too happy to accept your booking and take your money but try getting it back after they cancel ………….

Most of my other cancelled bookings – Pandaw, Air France etc have been rescheduled or refunded. As they should be !!

Anyway back to “the Now” so: Covid19 Test Certificate at the ready, its off to Malaga airport in the morning. The test cost as much as booking an entire family on EasyJet. That should keep the riff-raff at home and at bay !!!

The kids have gone off to their Holiday Camp. A first for Hurley but they seemed to settle in almost immediately.

I will be travelling light on this trip and relying on my new iPad skills to update my blog. So bear with me, as there is a bit of a learning curve underway here. A few decent train rides ahead so will hopefully catch up with Posting as the Italian countryside flashes past the window.

Stay Safe and I will endeavour to do likewise !!

Living in Hope !!

Myanmar is still totally off limits to all, and so Pandaw have “thrown in the towel” and cancelled any/all cruising plans for 2020. So my Irrawaddy and Chindwin cruises are now rescheduled for November 2021. By which time much of the world will hopefully be vaccinated and long haul travel will be back on the horizon !!

In the meantime, to stave off the boredom, and retain my sanity, I have been looking and booking ahead for places to hopefully visit in the upcoming months. Have scheduled a 4 week cruise up the Danube in May, from Bucharest and the Black Sea to Amsterdam. 7 different countries – all currently EU members so hopefully not too many closed borders and if the Covid shit hits the fan, getting home to Spain should be achievable.

However May 2021 is still a long way off (9 months), which seems like an eternity, so to keep the travel demons at bay and to make use of a soon to expire voucher from my cancelled Turkish trip earlier this year, I have booked a short Italian excursion for October (this year !!). 4 days in Venice and 4 days in Naples to see Pompeii etc.

Hopefully the Gondoliers and other disgruntled Venetians will have forgotten or at least forgiven the havoc that we wreaked in 1989 with Pink Floyd. After three years on the road with “Momentary Lapses of Reason” and “Delicate Sound of Thunder” there was no stopping our production “juggernaut” as we rolled/floated into the canal in front of St Mark’s Square and swatted away any/all of the local pirates who were determined to stop us, or at least profit from our incursion into their territory ! Heads rolled, promises were not always fulfilled and we snuck off to Marseilles for the tour finale. Probably should leave any PF swag at home just in case……

A couple of reminders………………………

The Night Before……………
The Day of……….

So then, providing I escape recognition, a train ride down through Italy to Naples and a few days exploring Pompeii before heading home for what looks as though it will be a thoroughly grim and depressing winter waiting for the Vaccine to kick in !!

I am totally prepared for disruptions to any of the above. So watch this space for updates, as I learn some new IT skills, which will hopefully mean that everything can be done from my iPad, and I can leave the laptop and its peripherals at home !!

Izzy RIP

The End of An Era

It is with a heavy heart that I have to let you all know that Izzy has been battling a nasty Lymphoma on her throat for a few months and on Friday she finally gave me that “Bully Look” that meant “time to go”.    She has crossed the Rainbow Bridge and gone to join Cleo and Mambo and the others.    Needless to say I am pretty gutted as she was a wonderful dog and we had many amazing times and adventures together !!
It is the end of an era for me having had Bullies in my Pack for over 30 years.  I have been sorely tempted to get another, but I am not as strong as I used to be, and think it wisest if I stick to my selection of Spanish rescue dogs to keep me company.
My Bull Terriers have always been the core of my team and especially my Dikram Trio who were all amazing !!!   

Izzy – A Celebration

I have many memories of her adventures and escapades. Probably the most memorable was when Izzy and Mambo decided to explore Central London as soon as RWP arrived to set up camp in Green Park for the Diamond Jubilee. Izzy was brought back by one of the off duty Royal Protection officers heading for Westminster Bridge while Mambo had made his way into one of the “stalls” in the Royal Mews and was entertaining the Queen’s horses etc !

Izzy overcame many medical and health crises but in total Bull Terrier style defied all the experts and always bounced back !!! This was one “bounce” too many and we were forced to surrender. Needless to say she has left a large hole in the household but the rest of the pack are in fine form and keeping me on my canine toes !!

Meanwhile I am going stir crazy down here…………

My November return trip to Myanmar is looking increasingly doubtful as the dreaded virus continues to sweep the planet. As soon as Pandaw resume their river cruising schedule, and it is logistically possible and safe to do so, I will be there. The Dogs Jigsaws and Netflix continue to keep me relatively sane, as I watch from the sidelines, as the world goes mad and Covid 19 triggers consequences and crises that a few month ago were unimaginable !!! Respect for, and sympathy with, many of the worlds “leading” countries is diminishing. Lets hope that the bickering and conspiracy lunacy goes away and we all get through this nightmare safe and sane. Right now the future does not look great !!!

Pack Update – August 2020

What a difference a couple of months makes !!!

Got back from my Myanmar trip in early December just in time for stunning result in UK Election, and an end in site to the interminable Brexit uncertainty. Australia was on fire and there was a rumour of a new flu virus coming out of China.

Hurley arrived from Adana (local dog rescue). One of a litter of 10 puppies abandoned on the mountain behind Estepona along with their mother .

Hurley

Nick & Sara had already adopted Zeus & Apollo – two of Hurley’s brothers so it keeps them “in the family”. Their mother was a German Shepherd cross and subsequent DNA tests have indicated that Dad was a cross between a Brittany Spaniel, an English Cocker Spaniel, and various other Spanish Herding/Sporting/Hound breeds. Loves swimming and destroying sofas and cushions and eating carpets (anything actually)! However he has fitted in well, is much loved, and has bonded with the rest of the team (now back up to 5).

Fast forward 2 Months…………

The Chinese flu rumour has escalated to a full blown global pandemic. Seemingly unstoppable, and with Europe as the current epicenter, the world has gone into panic mode and damage control. Most countries have sealed their borders and implemented drastic policies of “lock down” and Social Isolation/Distancing. Here in Spain, the entire population has been ordered to stay at home and avoid all travel and external contact with other humans. The Police and Army are on the streets enforcing the lock down and any trips to pharmacies and food shops are controlled and limited. All shops, bars & restaurants are closed, But then, unless you have been hiding in a cave for the past few weeks, you probably know all of this already !! Depending on what country you find yourself in, and what control measures are in place, it is a very different and scary world out there !!! All sorts of shit going down and the world has gone into medical and economic meltdown !!

Fake News and other Bullshit

Conspiracy theorists are having a field day and Social Media is full of “fake news” and other misinformation, which is quite frankly bullshit. There are a very few “rays of sunshine” emerging and even fewer, sources of reliable information. The health services in most countries are stretched to (if not beyond) the limit but are doing an amazing job as they try to keep up with ever changing nightmare scenarios.

Communities are rallying together to support each other, There are unfortunately still many folk who are in denial about the gravity of the situation. Also some arseholes who are refusing to comply and thereby putting other peoples lives and well-being in jeopardy !!

I will try to stick to what I consider to be reliable sources which include:

  • World Health Organisation
  • NHS (UK)
  • HSE (Spain)
  • BBC Website

So conspiracy theorists and bullshitters Look Away Now !!!

I will also include anything that I consider positive or that will put a smile on my/your face !!

Lets start with Danni Ravden – https://danniravden.com/ Her Svetlana, Chantelle and Lemon personas are fantastic !!!

I will post this now and update as and when I get bored or there is stuff worth publishing !! Stay Safe.

Inle Lake, Yangon and heading Home

Left Kalaw high up in the mountains.    An old colonial Hill Station and now a sizeable metropolis.     This was the only city/town/village on this trip so far, that was not an overwhelming sea of smiley faces and welcoming locals.    Even my guide (who is from the area) confessed that she was happy to move on !!    A centre for the military administration and the corrupt generals who run and are doing their best to ruin Myanmar and my first, and so far only, glimpse of the “dark underbelly” that so often festers in these wonderful Asian countries. 

A two hour drive down to the idyllic Inle Lake.    Everything here is either built over, floating on, or sadly sinking into the lake,    This includes houses, markets, gardens and restaurants etc.   Agriculture and needless to say fishing are the mainstays of the economy.    Vast fields of tomatoes and a myriad of other crops floating on rafts of weed and linked with a series on narrow canals and creeks.  

Virtually everything is accessed by boat, including the tourist infrastructure which tragically has “fallen of a cliff” in the past few years as a result of the adverse publicity and international reaction to the Rohingya genocide etc.      Large 4/5 star resorts lie empty and in many cases closed down.    Meanwhile the corrupt few who own and run this country continue to build more resorts which lie unfinished and empty, while they also spend a fortune on renovating and building new pagodas and stupas everywhere.     A few tourists (French mainly and the inevitable Chinese) including Yours Truly still come here to explore and enjoy the tranquil surroundings while the local population struggle to make ends meet.     The usual story that the kids are all heading to the cities and a huge range of local skills & crafts that have been handed down through generations are fading away and slowly sinking both economically and physically into the lake !!

The usual collection of amazing faces and a veritable forest of Stupas and Pagodas.

Lots of well nourished temple dogs. The Milk Bar is open…

Sunset and Sunrise over Inle Lake and then a flight to Yangon for a quick city tour terminating at the gobsmacking Shwedagon Pagoda. The biggest and goldest and holiest in Myanmar and the logical place to watch the sunset before heading back to Home which involves 4 flights and hours of hanging about in airports etc.

Street food in China town. Decided not to risk it so back to the safety on hotel cuisine.

These folk have a lot to learn about tourism and service and cant keep blaming it all on the “Generals”.    They are constantly “shooting themselves in the foot”.   Yesterday as the Shewdagon Pagoda I bought a guidebook that promptly started to fall apart.   Priced in $$s they refused to accept a brand new $100 bill as it had an ink stain on it.     It was part of the watermark !!!   Then refused a $20 bill because the picture *Abraham Lincoln” was old and out of date !    I explained the he was dead but to no avail.    Their currency meanwhile often looks like it has been through the mangle in a sewer and definitely warrants much hand washing after handling etc.     I was probably the only customer they had had all day !!

A wonderful country,  and am booked back next year for another month.     I fear that they will take many generations (if ever) to recover from their history and legacy.   So I highly recommended it as a place to visit before it descends into further anarchy and total chaos !!     

Steer clear of the cities.   The rivers are the way to explore this extraordinary country and have been the transport arteries for thousands of years.    The roads are virtually non-existent !!

Am home now with happy dogs and a new addition to the pack – Hurley – brother of Zeus & Apollo – Nick and Sara’s latest additions to their family.

So far so good in that Max seems to have accepted him.

Happy Xmas !!

Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp – Possibly the highlight of the trip !!

Back down into the valley – A 4000 ft. drop in altitude and LOTS of hairpin bends etc. The camp is amazing and houses 8 elephants rescued from various traumas and living out their retirement in 200 acres of jungle with 24/7 TLC and veterinary care. All survivors of the now defunct teak logging industry where their services were replaced by the introduction of the chain saw. Much rejection, neglect, trauma and abuse followed.

These 8 were the lucky ones !!!! Amazing !!!

An honour and privilege so get up close and personal with these amazing creatures. The photos speak for themselves. 7 females and one male (easily recognisable by his HUGE appendage !!) Varying in age from 8 to 68. The photos speak for themselves……………So I will put them in large format.

That was the feeding – yes that is my hand in her mouth. Then came the bathing……..

Then more feeding before his mahout brought the male in for a pedicure…..

Another delicious lunch and them back up the wiggly road to Kalaw, its market and train station. Back in the lodge with Christmas Carols and log fires blazing/blaring as the 82 staff members put up the Xmas decorations for us 7 or so guests. Internet access still remarkably still there (albeit a tad sluggish). Will publish this now,

Off to Inle Lake tomorrow for two days of Stupa overload and floating everything. You have to do this !!!

Leaving RV Kanee Pandaw & The Irrawaddy

After the Beach Party we got to say farewell to our Crew who were amazing and had looked after us all in typically brilliant and smiley Pandaw style !!!

Needless to say there was more somewhat cringe-worthy audience participation

Final sunset & sunrise before disembarkation at dawn for a short, though a tad delayed, flight from Mandalay to Heho where I was met by my new guide & driver combo and off to see caves and golden Buddhas . A photo stop to see some rice winnowing just before their lunch break,

We stopped for delicious lunch is a local home en route

Caves and Buddhas and some flight crew, posing for selfies The caves guarded by a large spider who was slain by a fearless archer way back. Or so the Buddhist story goes………….

A stop off for paper and umbrella making demo.

Then lengthy drive into the mountains to Kalaw – 5000 ft up and many hairpin bends later arrived at Kalaw Hill Lodge – home for the next two nights and a definite “chill in the air”. Not many fellow guests, apart from a loud Chinese family (just for a change !!) but a delicious dinner with log fires blazing and Xmas Carols playing in the background. Yet again very surreal !!

Relatively early night. As off to see the Elephants tomorrow……………

Watch this space as it was mind blowing !!

A village visit followed by a Beach Party…..

After the Largest brick pile and Bell, it was back to the ship for lunch and then a short cruise upstream for another “unscheduled” village visit. Huge marble quarries in the distance and the usual “life along the banks” !

These guys were peanut and rice farmers with a motley array of livestock including cows, oxen, chickens and some Huge pigs. As usual there was much hospitably and giggling and the whole village gradually came out to greet us. First the mooring and then the livestock….

Lots of smiley people and a new pal ….

We cast off and cruised across to a large sandbar in the middle of the river where we moor up and the crew relocate all the deck furniture for Happy Hour. Disco and conga dancing to Abba, Neil Diamond and Michael Jackson. Hot air balloon/lanterns that never got hot enough and some rather lame fireworks. Somewhat cringe-worthy but some of my fellow passengers loved it ! The highlight of their vacation etc !!! No Comment !!!!!

Then back on board for dinner. A village visit today to see pots see BIG pots being made.

The Milk Bar is open !!

Then back on board to start packing as the cruise portion of the trip comes to an end. Two days at an Elephant sanctuary and two days on Inle Lake (floating markets and more Stupa overload). Then 1 1/2 days in Yangon (Rangoon) before the long haul home via Bangkok , Heathrow and Malaga and the reality of Elections and Brexit etc. Go Boris and get it done for Gods sake !!!!!