Category Archives: Travel

Madeira – land of wine, and Ronaldo?

From Evernote:

Madeira – land of wine, and Ronaldo?

Continuing my account of our outward journey from Tilbury in England, via Amsterdam, Lisbon, Madeira and Cape Verdes to the Amazon. We arrived in, Funchal, Madeira at 7.30am on Thursday 10th January. The temperature was marginally warmer than Lisbon, our previous port of call, at 20C. 

Funchal is the largest city and capital of Portugal’s Autonomous Region of Madeira. Madeira has been called the floating garden of the Atlantic due to its profusion of flowers and fruits that flourish in its Mediterranean climate. "Madeira" means ‘timber’ in Portuguese and the island is so named because when it was discovered in 1419 by two Portuguese navigators, Joao Goncalves Zarco and Tristao Vaz Teixeira, the whole island was wooded, from the peaks to the sea. Funchal means ‘fennel’ which was also aptly named by Zarco and Teixeira because of the abundance of fennel growing on the island.

The discovery of the Madeira archipelago, of which Madeira itself is the largest of the five islands, marked the beginning of the Portuguese navigators of the 15th and 16th centuries. It proved that the Atlantic was not the dangerous abyss populated by terrifying monsters as had previously been believed. Under the governorship of Zarco and Teixeira, the colonists cleared the land for agriculture by setting fire to the dense woodland. Historical accounts say that the island burned for between five and seven years.

In the 16th and 17th Centuries, Spain ruled Portugal (including Madeira) for sixty years and when Charles II of England married Catherine de Braganca in 1662, one of the provisions of the marriage agreement was special favours for English settlers in Madeira. During the era of Napoleon, British troops moved into Madeira to protect it from invasion. In Victorian times, Madeira was a favourite of the wealthy English, the climate being supposedly beneficial to the health, and a pleasant escape from the winter. 

Today, Funchal is a modern city, renowned for its high quality cuisine and its most famous ‘export’, Christiano Ronaldo.

A popular tourist attraction is the mountain levadas. When the slaves were imported into Madeira in the 15th and 16th centuries, they were set to work developing the unique and enormous network of irrigation of ditches all over the island, built to bring water from the highest points to the lowest. Modern technology has changed the face of irrigation so these ditches are no longer used for their original purpose, but have been preserved as hiking trails.

Madeira is famous for its embroidery, it’s sweet fortified wine, and its cake! 

We didn’t have long to explore the city because the ship was only in the harbour for 5 hours, but we took in the cathedral and Funchai market at Mercado dos Lavarades with its traditionally dressed flower vendors plying their trade next to the fruit and vegetable vendors, where we ended purchasing every variety of passion fruit there could possibly be – orange, banana, vanilla and many more – and I thought there was only one type of passion fruit! The fish market was also very interesting – note the size of the tuna fish segment in the photo and imagine the size of the tuna fish this came from!

Next stop, Cape Verdes islands off the west coast of Africa.


Funchal Harbour


Funchal Cathedral


The fish market

Lisbon and custard creams

From Evernote:

Lisbon and custard creams

We set sail (if I can  use that term for a diesel-powered ship) from Amsterdam on the evening of 7th January, headed for our next destination – Lisbon. This entailed navigating back up the 19-mile canal to reach the North Sea, turning left along the English Channel then around the corner of France before heading across the Bay of Biscay. Renowned for its storms and choppy waters, we had fair weather and a relatively calm sea across the Bay. However, the rhythmic and deep swell was too much for some and there were reports of a number of passenger and some crew being laid up with sea-sickness.

We had been advised to keep an eye out for dolphins and maybe the odd fin whale, but I saw nothing of either. Apparently the Bay of Biscay is part of their migratory route during the winter months. Oh well, there’s a way to go yet so will keep looking.

We arrived in Lisbon early on the 8th January, sailing up the Tagus river and catching a glimpse of the illuminated forts and the statue of Christ the King (Cristo-Rei) on the southern bank in Almada. With open arms, it is a copy of the Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer) statue in Rio de Janeiro. It stands 90 feet tall and has a church at its base. We passed beneath the 25 de Abril bridge, at one time the longest suspension bridge in Europe at almost 1.5 miles, before docking on the north side of the Tagus river.


A Bit of Background

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest city in Western Europe, predating other modern European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome by hundreds of years. Julius Caesar made it a municipium called Felicitas Julia, adding to the name Olissipo. Ruled by a series of Germanic tribes from the fifth century, it was captured by the Moors in the eighth century. In 1147, the Crusaders under Afonso Henriques reconquered the city and since then it has been a major political, economic, and cultural centre of Portugal.

Prior to the 18th century, Lisbon had experienced several significant earthquakes – eight in the 14th century, five in the 16th century and three in the 17th century. On 1 November 1755, the city was destroyed by another devastating earthquake, which killed an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Lisbon residentsof a population estimated at between 200,000 and 275,000 and destroyed 85 percent of the city’s structures.

Lisbon was the site of three revolutions in the 20th-century. The first, the 5 October 1910 revolution, brought an end to the Portuguese monarchy and established the highly unstable and corrupt Portuguese First Republic. The 6 June 1926 revolution would see the end of that first republic and firmly establish the Estado Novo, or the Portuguese Second Republic, as the ruling regime. The final revolution, the Carnation Revolution, would take place on 25 April 1974 and would end the right-wing Estado Novo and reform the country as the current Portuguese Third Republic.

Lisbon has two sites listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site: Belém Tower (pictured below) and Jerónimos Monastery. Belém is famous as the place from which many of the great Portuguese explorers set off on their voyages of discovery. It was built between 1515 and 15 21 as a lighthouse and fortress protecting entry to the city. The tower marks the place from which Vasco da Gama departed for India in 1497.



A traditional form of public transport in Lisbon is the tram. Introduced in the 19th century, the trams were originally imported from the USA. These small but distinctive yellow trams are well suited to the steep hills and narrow streets of the central city. Getting around was relatively cheap and convenient using the tourist 24-hour hop-on-hop-off tickets that can also be used on the buses.

Lisbon’s – and possibly Portugal’s most important historical monument is the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery), an opulent church and cloistered garden built in the elegant Manuellian style at the beginning of the 16th century when Portugal was a great sea-going power.

One of the oldest structures in Lisbon is the Castle of São Jorge (St George), built by the Romans and taken by the Moors in 1147 by the first king of Portugal, Alfonso Enriques. It has some beautiful gardens and offers panoramic views of the entire city.
The Santa Justa Elevator is a giant lift, designed and build by Eiffel (as in the Tower) in 1902, linking pedestrians with the high and low districts. Note also the mosaic patterned pavements – which are common all over Lisbon.

Lunch was a fresh sardine baguette (why do Portugese sardines taste so much batter than what we get in the UK?) followed by the famous Lisbon custard creams. 
I couldn’t leave Lisbon without buying what most people most closely associate with Portugal – vintage port. My funds would only stretch to a 1987 vintage at 55 Euros, but for anyone with a palette and the money for a good vintage could pick up a bottle of 1902 vintage for a mere 1500 Euros! 

Unfortunately our visit to Lisbon was too brief to take in the famous palaces at Sintra – a UNESCO World Heritage site. Something for our next visit….one day!

It was then back to the ship and a night + 1 day voyage to our next stop, Funchal on the island of Madeira.

Background information sourced from Wikipedia.


First Stop: Amsterdam

From Evernote:

First Stop: Amsterdam

Our first day at sea was mainly taken up with unloading the suitcases (4 of them) into the limited storage space available in the cabin, undergoing a fairly protracted but thorough lifeboat drill (lifeboat 8 now indelibly imprinted on my brain), finding our way around the ship, and meeting our fellow travellers. Oh yes, and discovering where we eat and what times (most important!).

Actually, the cabin space is not too bad, and under normal circumstances the storage would be adequate, but packing for a 42-day cruise was a challenge – more so for Lynda (wife) than me, since this meant 42 x 2 changes of outfit (1 x daytime + 1 x evening), and of course shoes and bag have to match each outfit. Fortunately I could "donate" some of my allotted space since 2 shirts, 2 T-shirts and a pair of shoes don’t take up much space (I am joking, of course!).

The lifeboat drill was an interesting experience. Carried out in a calm and controlled environment, I wondered how many would actually survive if there were no lights, a smokey atmosphere and decks at a 15 degree angle. One gentleman spent the entire time we were assembled grappling with his lifebelt, and I’m not quite sure if he managed to sort it out by the time we finished, about 45 minutes later. I felt I was sometimes sub-conciously identifying the weak and the frail who might be the unwitting obstacles in a real emergency – but then again I’d hope if it came down to it I would help my fellow man (or woman) if they were having difficulties. 

The evening dinner went without incident, other than trying to remember the names of the guests on our table (Brian, Bridget, Dermot, Margaret, Jo, Dale, Lynda)…I think. I’m pretty sure about Lynda though, she’s my wife! Once minor coincidence, Brian was ex Royal Navy (like me), and was a Weapons Electrical Artificer (like me). We shared a few old sea-dog stories and I’m sure we’ll bore our fellow guests with lots more before the week is out. 

Pictured below, some of the artistic melon designs that randomly appear on the buffet table.

And so we arrived at Amsterdam at about 7.30am on Friday 5th January, having navigated the 19-mile canal that connects Amsterdam with the English Channel. We went ashore about 9.30am and walked the 10 minutes or so to Central Station, where I bought 2 x 24-hour tram tickets (7.5 Euros each), thinking we’d be hopping on and off trams all day. In reality, we mostly walked, taking in the sights and the wonderful architecture of the old 3-4 story houses. I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times previously, so I was able to fairly easily navigate our way to the famous (infamous?) "Rosse Buurt", otherwise know as De Wallen or more pupularaliy known as the red light district. This is a designated area for legalised prostitution and consists of a network of roads and alleys containing several hundred small, one-room apartments rented by sex workers who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights.

An interesting experience for Lynda, and a re-awekinging of some dimly forgotten experiences for me! Actually, at this time of day (about 11am) it was a very safe and sedate experience with only some of the more "experienced" (or desperate) wares on show behind their illuminitated windows.


After a coffee (a normal one, not one from the many "Bruine Kroeg" (brown coffee) houses with their non-coffee-like aromas escaping from their open doorways), we thought we’d follow the usual tourist trail Anne Frank’s house. I’ve never been there before, despite my previous visits to Amsterdam, so was looking for a fairly old, pre-wartime house with one of those blue signs on the outside stating "Anne Frank lived here". In reality, what we found was a large, modern all-glass building with a queue of people snaking from it for a good 200 metres. I assume some of the original house might be in there somewhere, but unless I was prepared to wait about 6 hours in the queue I’ll never know for sure!


Our next stop was the Riksmuseum (or State) Museum. This gave us an excuse to use the tram tickets, since it’s a a fair walk beyond the city centre to Museimplein (Museum Square). All of the most important museums are located at Museimplein, including the Van Gogh and Stedelijk museums. The Rijksmuseum possesses the largest and most important collection of classical Dutch art. Its collection consists of nearly one million objects.The artist most associated with Amsterdam is Rembrandt, whose work, and the work of his pupils, is displayed in the Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt’s masterpiece De Nachtwacht (The Night Watch) is one of top pieces of art of the museum. It also houses paintings from artists like Van der Helst, Vermeer, Frans Hals, Ferdinand Bol, Albert Cuyp, Jacob van Ruisdael and Paulus Potter. Aside from paintings, the collection consists of a large variety of decorative art. This ranges from Delftware to giant dollhouses from the 17th century.


Having immersed ourselves in Dutch culture for over 2 hours, it was time to make our way back to the ship. A tram back to Centraal, and then a 10 minute walk along the harbour

Next stop, Lisbon, where we arrive on Tuesday 8th January via the Bay of Biscay, where we’re hoping (by all accounts) to see some dolphins and fin whales on their migratory path. Let’s hope the weather is calm!




Creating a travel guide from Wikipedia

A much-overlooked but useful feature of Wikipedia is the “Create A BooK” tool. This enables you to source useful reference information from Wikipedia’s pages into your own personalised book, that you can either download for a free as a PDF or in open document format.

Alternativley for a small charge, you can have it professionally typeset and bound. Why would you want to do this you may ask? Well, for me it was the desire to have my own personalised reference guide for the places I am visiting on my trip (cruise) to the Amazon and West Indies.

For my guide I’ve sourced information about the places I’m visiting, the indigenous peoples, the animals and wildlife, the climate, the languages and much more. All neatly indexed and collated with photos, text and hyperlinks. If travel is not your thing, you could maybe create a book about your favourite music, composer or a specific professional interest. If you’d like to give it a go, read on. 

How to Create A Book Using Wikipedia

(Adapted from an original article in MakeUseof)

Search, browse and navigate to the Wikipedia article of your choice. On the left hand side, near the bottom is the create a book menu. It includes two items – Add wiki page and Books help.

Start adding the pages to your book by clicking the Add wiki page link on the relevant Wikipedia pages you want to include. The number of pages in the book gets automatically updated in the menu on the left. Two additional menu items ““ Show book (with a page counter) and Clear book appear in the menu.

You can also add an entire category within which the relevant page falls with just a single click. You can find the category hierarchy at the end of the article page.

Add The Title Of Your Book


With all pages added, click the Show book button to review your book. Here it is possible to add a book title (and a subtitle) and change the ordering of the wiki pages of the book through drag and drop. Unwanted pages can be dumped by a simple click of the “dustbin” icon. New chapters can be included using the Create chapter link.

Many advanced functions like adding a particular revision or saving a book and improving the layout can be achieved through a combination of advanced functions. The Help page details those steps.

Download Or Order A Printed Copy

Voila! You have just “written” your first book with the help of Wikipedia. Now, the finished book can be downloaded in PDF or OpenDocument format or ordered as a bound book. To download in the format of your choice, select the format from the dropdown and click theDownload button. To order the book as a bound book, click the Order book from PediaPressbutton.

Wikipedia’s built-in rendering engine assembles the pages, grabs the images and parses them before they are passed on to the user in the final downloadable format. In its final format my 469 wikipedia pages transformed into a 95MB file downloaded as a 275 page PDF book. The end result was good, with neat alignments of photos and text.

If you take the PediaPress option as I have done, you’ll pay for typesetting, layout and binding. Cost will depend on whether you want colour (I did) or black and white, and if you want a hard or paperback cover.  I was pleased with the end result (see photo) and will be using this as my everyday companion during this holiday.


The Amazon, West Indies and the Azores

This is the first in a series of posts I hope to publish (Internet access permitting) about my forthcoming adventure to the Amazon, West Indies and the Azores. Though I travelled fairly extensively during my time in the Royal Navy (more years ago than I care to remember), and since then during my tenure at Reuters – (I left in 1999 after 17 very happy years) – I have never been to many of the places on this cruise itinery. I might add I’m not too familiar with cruise ships or cruising holidays, but anticipating a bit more space and better cabin service than what I experienced on one of Her Majesty’s anti-submarine frigates!  

I will be using this blog to keep a personal record of this once-in-a-lifetime (?) trip, and to maybe share part of the experience with family and friends. I’m hoping to keep the blog posts synchronised as far as possible with the places and events experienced.

A brief outline of the trip:
The great adventure starts on 3rd January, at Tilbury, where Lynda – my wife – and I will be embarking the Marco Polo for the start of our 43-day cruise.

Our first stop will be Amsterdam, before sailing to Lisbon and then Funchal on the beautiful island of Madeira – at least it looks beautiful, but somewhere else that I’ve never visited.

We then head for Mindelo in the remote Cape Verde Islands, and then onto Brazil, stopping at Santarem, gateway to the Amazon River. We call at the Indian community of Boca da Valeria before reaching Manaus, where we hope to see the “Meeting of the Waters”, the confluence between the Rio Negro, a river with dark (almost black coloured) water, and the sandy-coloured Amazon River.

After that we visit Parintins and hope top see the “Boi-Bumba” Festival Show, and a brief stay at the little fishing village of Alter do Chao. We continue to Almeirum and Santana for Mecapa on the Amazon Delta for the return to the Atlantic.

We then head for the West Indies, stopping at Iles du Salut, the forma penal settlement better know as “Devil’s Island“, made famous by the film Papillon, and continue to St George’s, Granada. Then to St Vincent in the Grenadines and St Lucia. After that it’s Barbados and then homeward bound, with calls at Horta and Ponta Delgada in the Azores, finally returning to Tilbury and then home. 

The full itinerary as follows and the Google “route map” is shown at the bottom of this blog post.

03/01/2013 Tilbury, UK
04/01/2013 Amsterdam, Netherlands
08/01/2013 Lisbon, Portugal
10/01/2013 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
18/01/2013 Fazendinha, Amapa, Brazil
19/01/2013 Santaram, Para, Brazil
20/01/2013 Boca da Valeria, Amazon, Brazil
21/01/2013 Manaus, Amazon, Brazil
23/01/2013 Parintins, Amazon, Brazil
24/01/2013 Alto do Chao, Para, Brazil
25/01/2013 Almeirim, Para, Brazil
26/01/2013 Santana, Amapa, Brazil
28/01/2013 Iles du Salut, French Guiana
30/01/2013 St Georges, Granada, West Indies
31/01/2013 Kingstown, St Vincent, West Indies
01/02/2013 Castries, St Lucia, West Indies
02/02/2013 Bridgetown, Barbados, West Indies
08/02/2013 Horta, Faial Island, Azores
09/02/2013 Ponta Delgada, San Miguel Island, Azores
14/02/2013 Tilbury




Nobel Peace Prize Winners – Three Incredible Women

Nobel Peace Prize Winners – Three Incredible Women

I was privileged to be in the audience yesterday at the Oslo City Hall for the CNN interview with the three Nobel Peace Prize Winner Laureates; Yemen’s Tawakku Karman, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and her compatriot Leymah Gbowee. The first time the prize has been awarded to three women. 

Well worth watching the interview, not only to get a true sense of the incredible achievements of these three ladies in making a stand against oppression, corruption and terrorism, but also the robust response to some slightly naive (condescending?) questioning from the interviewer, Jonathan Mann.  You do not tangle with these three ladies! I personally felt very humbled by what they have individually achieved – well deserved winners of this prestigious award.   #ciscopss #nobel #oslo

The Straits (without Dire) performing at the Royal Albert Hall last night, 22 May 2011.

The Straits (Dire Straits without Mark Knopfler) performing Sultans of Swing at a Lords Taverner’s charity event at the Royal Albert Hall, yesterday eveny, 22 May 2011. The first time they have performed together for 20 years. Where did all that tiem go? ! sometimes think I’me living in a time warp. Anyway, it was all utterly brilliant, with proceedings ably led by Alan Clark, former keyborad player with Dire Straits.  They should do a tour – with or without MK.

I’ve included a short video clip of their performance. Apologies for the sound quality – due to my mobile phone rather than what was actually produced by the band.



Happy memories of Punch and Judy

Had a great Bank Holiday weekend watching a show about a dysfunctional family, complete with husband and wife battering, child cruelty, and assault on a police officer. We had such fun, and everyone laughed when the baby was thrown out of the window. Ah yes, good ol’ Punch and Judy. It’s somehow comforting to know that the story hasn’t yet been ‘sanitised’ by the politically correct lobby (also known as the British Taliban), and is much the same as when I first saw it as a toddler – all those hundreds of years ago!


For those ignorant of such quaint customs, the story is roughly as follows:


The show starts with the arrival of Mr. Punch followed by the introduction of Judy. They kiss and dance before Judy requests Mr. Punch to look after the baby. Punch fails to carry this task out appropriately, sitting on the baby in a failed attempt to “babysit”, and even putting it through the sausage machine. He then drops it out of the window onto the floor. Cue little child who rushes to pick it up and on tippy-toes tries to hand it back to Punch – but can’t quite reach. Cue slightly taller child who similarly fails. This sequence continues until finally one of the older children in the audience finally has sufficient height to hand the baby back to Mr Punch.  Judy returns, is outraged, fetch’s a stick and the knockabout commences. A policeman arrives in response to the mayhem and is himself felled by Punch’s slapstick. All this is carried out at breakneck and farcical speed with much involvement from the gleefully shouting children in the audience. Enter Joey the Clown who suggests it’s dinner time. This leads to the production of a string of sausages which Mr Punch has to look after. Cue even greater audience participation with the arrival of the crocodile, which Mr. Punch does not see until the children shout out and lets him know. Punch’s subsequent struggle with the crocodile leaves him in need of a Doctor who arrives and attempts to treat Punch by walloping him with a stick until Punch reciprocates.  Punch then counts his “victims” by laying puppets on the stage only for Joey the Clown to move them about behind his back in order to frustrate him. A ghost appears and gives Mr. Punch a fright before it too is chased off with a slapstick. 


In the version I remember, a hangman would arrive to punish Mr. Punch, only to himself be tricked into sticking his head in the noose. This seems to have been expunged from this most recent performance, so I guess we have moved on with the times. Maybe later versions will include an ASBO or community service!. Anyway, great fun was had by all, and I’m so pleased I haven’t succeeded in growing up yet!