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Return to Maho

Honeymoon - St. Maarten

all seasons in one day 28 °C
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Most of this trip was to new places, however St. Maarten would be a return. I previously spent 10 days of my round the world trip here, and loved it. So much to see and do for a small tropical island, so it was great to make a return. Despite 8 and a half years and a devastating hurricane since, it was pretty much the same as before.

We arrived as usual before breakfast, waking to find ourselves in a new port. This was a pretty busy one, and there were 6 ships in today!

Busy Port Day

Busy Port Day

The port itself is located just out of town, and so we had to walk for around 15 minutes to get there. Once there the town was pretty busy, and I guess this is how most port towns would usually have been before the pandemic!

Having been here before I knew how to get around, and we headed straight to catch one of the cheap minibuses to take us over to the west side of the island. Surprisingly, even after 8 years, the prices hadn't increased, and it was a bargain $2 to take us on the 45 minute journey. However his made up for being stuck with a bunch of Americans on the whole route who just wouldn't stop talking to us!

Bus trips during Covid

Bus trips during Covid

They were the bad stereotypes, comparing everything to their state, and asking stupid questions to anyone they could catch hold of... when we told them we were from England they thought we'd sailed across the Atlantic, and couldn't understand that we'd flown to Barbados... Thankfully a local who worked at the airport got on board, but the poor guy was then subjected to questions about what the local fish was(?). When he didn't get the question it was repeated at him three times before he just picked a random one to shut the guy up!

Eventually after crossing the beautiful hills, we made it to Maho Beach. This is the famous beach directly at the end of the runway, and the huge planes come in to land right above the sunbathing public.

Even mid morning, it was pretty busy... but we did eventually find a nice spot in the middle of the beach. We set ourselves up and within 10 minutes we got our first taste of what was the come - a small plane coming in from St. Barths that looked like it was about to crash onto us! Of course it didn't, but it was certainly exciting!

On Maho Beach

On Maho Beach

I kept an eye on the schedules to see when the bigger ones would come in. Since my last time here, the huge jumbo jet from Amsterdam had been cancelled, and due to the pandemic there were a lot less mid-size planes from Europe and North America coming in than there would usually have been.

As one of the larger planes was due imminently, I left Chris to mind the bags, whilst I went off to get a side angle shot. However there was a bit of a delay, and some of the planes already at the airport were about to take off. These take offs are a very different experience, as this is when the thrust kicks in.

No one cares though

No one cares though

Despite the signs saying the opposite, people will stand right behind the barrier fence to feel the full force of a plane taking off. I knew what to expect, but Chris and many of those there did not. As the engines got stronger and stronger, the thrust threw up all the lose stones and sand on the beach. From a distance it looked like a sandstorm encompassing the whole of the middle of the beach!

Plane landing

Plane landing

After finally seeing the large plane from New York coming in to land directly over the beach I headed back to find all our stuff covered in sand, and people still looking around for their sunglasses and other lost items! I then got in the sea and had a swim, whilst more planes came in to land - including one that was so low I'm surprised it managed to clear the airport's fence!

After having spent a few hours here, we headed back to the capital, Philipsburg. After a drive back across the island we had a little wander around the shops before waling back to the port.

Philipsburg Courthouse

Philipsburg Courthouse

After another afternoon of sitting around the pool, we went back to the room and got ready for the evening. However even after showering, Chris still had sand lodged in his back - such was the force of the thrust at Maho beach!

For the first time in the trip, we decided to go and watch the evening entertainment in the theatre. As we had been a bit concerned about picking up Covid we didn't dare go during the first few nights, but as tonight there was an 80's inspired music extravaganza on offer we decided to risk it!

Having booked our slots, after dinner we went to go and watch, and luckily found it wasn't too busy so there was plenty of space to feel comfortable watching. As we left the auditorium after the show ended, we walked past a crowd of fumigators ready to sanitise for the next show! If you've ever seen Monsters, Inc. - it looked like the bit where one of the monsters arrives back contaminated by a kid's mislaid sock!

Next door there was a pub quiz about to start, but as we entered the room we realised there were now no spare seats! As they had cordoned off all the stools by the bar it left us with nowhere to sit, and so not only did we lose, but we also had to stand up for the entirety of it!

The following day was another sea day, as we made our way further west, and into the Bermuda Triangle.

Inside the Bermuda Triangle

Inside the Bermuda Triangle

Like on the other sea days we grabbed some spots around the pool and waited for the quizzes to start. However today the weather was a bit iffy. After grabbing a nice slot in the shade it then started to rain. We pulled our sunbeds under the shelter and waited five minutes whilst the rain soaked the entire area! The poor lady next to us who had gone for a swim came back to find all her items were now soaked.

Rain

Rain

We then got chatting to her and she told us all about her trip so far. Then when the quiz started she was helping us with our answers and it turned out she was quite knowledgeable! Even so it still wasn't enough to win...

And sun

And sun

The weather later that day brightened up and once again we got quite hot and sweaty. By the time the mid afternoon quizzes ended we had had enough of the heat for the day and so headed back to freshen up for the ship's second black tie night.

We started off the evening by heading to the first performance of the evening entertainment in the theatre - which tonight would be Britain's Got Talent 2014 finalist, impressionist John Clegg. Some of his act was actually really funny, however in what seemed like an intention to entertain the general demographic of the cruise, some of his 'jokes' were quite old school so I didn't end up enjoying it quite as much as I was hoping to.

Entertainment with John Clegg

Entertainment with John Clegg

Nevertheless it was something different to enjoy. After this ended, and much later than we would usually have done we finally went for dinner. It had been a lovely evening once again and we were excited for another port day tomorrow.

Posted by kmmk17 14:58 Archived in Sint Maarten Tagged planes sea rain beach airport sun port caribbean swimming entertainment Comments (0)

Colonial St. Kitts

Honeymoon - St. Kitts

sunny 28 °C
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After a sea day, this morning we awoke to find we had arrived in St. Kitts. Together with Nevis, this is the most recent British Caribbean island to have gained independence - just 39 years ago. It is also the smallest independent country in the western hemisphere, with only three Pacific island nations, and three European microstates beating it from the eastern hemisphere.

After breakfast we headed out for our Excursion for the day - a quick tour of the capital, followed by a trip to a former plantation and then to a fortress. The port here was a relatively large passenger friendly port - completely different from the last two.

Port Zante

Port Zante

Bizarrely, when on a cruise you don't get your passports looked at, and sometimes don't even need to take them with you. It makes it easy to get on and off the ship, as your room card identifies you, but it does mean that it's difficult to get a passport stamp. Here, we managed to get ourselves one, as there was an immigration office inside the main gateway (although it had appeared to be empty when we first walked in! Two officials sitting in an isolated room two doors in!).

We then went and queued up for our excursion. There were loads of excursions today and they were all queued up next to each other - it was like lining up at school! Then we were led over to a minibus where the tour guide ran over the essentials and advised the driver would be there soon. Then he walked over to the driver's seat got in, and announced he was in fact also the driver!

We began by heading out of the terminal, and driving into Basseterre. We drove past the old port gate entrance, followed by the clock tower, before arriving at Independence Square.

Independence Square

Independence Square

This square was renamed in September 1983, but was previously know as Pall Mall Square, and was the location of the original Slave Market, where enslaved Africans were bought and sold.

Being home to just 14,000 people, Basseterre wasn't very big, and after driving past the cathedral we were already heading out of the town. We drove west along the south side of the island, passing several of the international universities, and through lots of villages before we arrived at Wingfield Estate, seeing the ruins of a sugar plantation.

Former Railway line serving the Estate

Former Railway line serving the Estate

Behind this, is Romney Manor, the manor house that the owners, including one of the ancestors of the third US president, Thomas Jefferson lived in.

Romney Manor

Romney Manor

The manor has now been transformed into botanical gardens, and a batik (wax dying) factory, where locals showed us the art.

Batik

Batik

After a bit of time spent here, we then continued further west and headed to Brimstone Hill, one of the Caribbean's best preserved fortresses. As the island is volcanic and has steep sides in this area, the fort sits at around 300m above sea level and therefore has beautiful views over the nearby areas, including the Dutch islands of Sint Eustatius and Saba - which ironically is the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, despite being 4200 miles from the mainland.

Brimstone Hill

Brimstone Hill

After a long and windy route up the mountain side we arrived at the fort to find it in exceptional condition. Inside the fort, the museum detailed the history of the fort, showing how throughout the 1900s the fort was restored, and was reopened by Prince Charles in 1973, before being made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

Brimstone Hill Fortress

Brimstone Hill Fortress

The museum also had information about the Slave Trade and the Imperial Age, discussing how St. Kitts was at one time divided between the British (in the centre) and the French (on the east and west sides).

After wandering around the area and enjoying the stunning views, we boarded the bus and headed back to the Port. Whilst the weather until now had been glorious and sunny, en route we got caught in a huge rainstorm. But as was usual in this part of the world, it lasted just a few minutes before the weather brightened up again.

When we got back to the port we then bought ourselves a postcard, before heading back into the town. We wanted to get some better pictures of the sights, and so headed over to Independence Square, and went inside the cathedral.

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

Before heading into the port, we stopped at the supermarket to get some drinks, and then headed back to the ship. As this was a large passenger friendly port, the authority had also laid on some local dancing for us to enjoy.

Local Dancers

Local Dancers

Getting back from the excursion we arrived in the cabin to find a useful guide to all the Covid protocols in each port - just a shame we'd already been to three of them...

After spending the afternoon around the pool enjoying cocktails and snacks, we went to some entertainment this evening. The on board brochure had advertised "The Pursuit", a gameshow which was essentially ITV's The Chase. One of the entertainment team would play "The Pursuer", whilst three audience members would compete to win a P&O goody bag.

"The Pursuit"

"The Pursuit"

One of the selected competitors was a rather skanky looking lady from Gloucester. Although when they asked her to repeat where she was from as they couldn't quite catch what she'd said through her face mask she shouted out "Fred West". Not sure the serial killer who buried several women and his own daughter in his back yard is what I'd have said to remind people of the cathedral city on England's longest river but well... looking at the state of her maybe she knew him?

They asked her what she did for a job. "Retired" she said. To looks of bemusement - how could she be retired when she's clearly no older than her late 40s? Then she announced that she'd won the lottery! Well, I guess that explains why she was there with a bunch of kids - some of them were probably her own, and others we assumed must be their partners?

In the end the contestants won the game. After a bit of fun watching this, we headed back to the cabin for the night as tomorrow we'd have yet another island to explore!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 15:21 Archived in St Kitts/Nevis Tagged islands fort cathedral port caribbean games colony botanicalgarden Comments (0)

The North West Coast

Caithness, Sutherland & Wester Ross - Highlands

semi-overcast 18 °C
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Although it was now our third day up in Caithness, we had yet to really explore the area. And so after checking out of our hotel in Wick, we drove back up to John O'Groats to start exploring the nearby area.

We began by heading east to Duncansby Head, the most north-easterly point of Great Britain, and from where there were beautiful views of the Duncansby Stacks. The short walk between the two, through the field of sheep, took us past beautiful coves, and cliffs full of birds including puffins.

Duncansby Stacks

Duncansby Stacks

Having already seen John O'Groats the previous day, we drove through the small settlement and made our way to the Castle of Mey, which was bought and restored by the Queen Mother.

Castle of Mey

Castle of Mey

Sadly, the Castle was closed, but we gained a vantage point of it from a nearby road before we continued our drive further west towards Dunnet Head - the northernmost point of Great Britain.

The top and bottom ends of the country are uniquely similar despite having no reason to be so alike.
Land's End is neither the most southern or western point of Great Britain, the former being Lizard Point not far away, whilst the eastern point is actually on the west coast of Scotland. And to top it off, there are parts of England further beyond (the Isles of Scilly).
Meanwhile John O'Groats also has islands further off the coast (Orkney, and Shetland), and it's also neither the most northern or eastern point of Great Britain, the latter being in Norfolk, England, and the former being Dunnet Head, again not a far distance away, where we were driving to.

Dunnet Head is a clifftop peninsular jutting into the North Sea and marking the western end of the Pentland Firth, where it's cliffs are, like Duncansby Head, home to many different species of bird.

Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head

Having now seen all the sights in Caithness we began our two hour drive along the northern coast. Passing the beautiful Dunnet Beach that could easily have been Cornwall in this sunshine, we drove through the only significant town on this coast Thurso.

Being home to just 7,500 people it wasn't long before we were again on the rural coastal road, entering Sutherland and passing by more beautiful beaches before the hills arrived. It was also not long before we reached the first stretch of single track road that would be a regular staple of the next few day's driving.

Some of the beaches en route

Some of the beaches en route

After a quick comfort break, we continued our drive past miles of Gorse before making it to the beautiful, but inconvenient Loch Eriboll. After a half hour detour around this beautiful loch, we were soon at the Smoo Cave.

Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave

The cave was formed both by the tidal gorge just north of the cave, as well as the stream that feeds the internal waterfall. Sadly the stream was pretty dry due to the lovely weather that the area had recently had, and so the waterfall was not flowing. However it still looked pretty inside.

After a strenuous (or was it just post-Covid laziness?) walk back up to the road, we continued our drive along the coast heading south.

Once again, the landscape was beautiful, but pretty barren with just a few scattered small settlements, including the beautiful Scourie, where we (and everyone else taking this beautiful coastal drive) was alerted to the fact it was Donna's 50th birthday. Hope she had a nice day 🙃

Wildlife en route

Wildlife en route

We were blessed with great weather, which enhanced the beautiful scenery. We stopped at a viewpoint at the top of the hills looking over the lakes of lochs of Assynt, before crossing over the Kylesku Bridge en route to our final pit stop of the day, Ardvreck Castle on the edges of Loch Assynt.

Scenery overlooking Assynt

Scenery overlooking Assynt

From here it was just half an hour to our stop for tonight, in the largest town for miles around - Ullapool, which has a population of just 1,500!

Even in June the town gets a rain day half the time, and so we were blessed with beautiful sunshine that made the views down Loch Broom some of the most beautiful we'd seen in a long time.

Ullapool

Ullapool

Being such a small town there weren't a lot of choices for accommodation or food - we grabbed a fish and chips by the harbour before settling in to our room for the night.

The following morning after trying some haggis for breakfast, we set off on our journey further south. After around 20 minutes we arrived at our first sight for the day - the Corrieshalloch Gorge.

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge

This already deep gorge contains the Falls of Measach, a 46m waterfall, which can be seen from the slightly wobbly bridge that crosses to the other side. From here a small footpath leads down to a viewing platform, where the real scale of the waterfall and gorge can be seen.

Our next destination was a 90 minute drive further south to the Eilean Donan Castle, which sits at an imposing postion on a tidal island at the junction of three lochs. Sadly due to Covid, entry was only permitted by prebooking in advance, which we hadn't done as we didn't know when we would actually get here.

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Nevertheless the views we got on this comfort break were still impressive, and after buying some souvenirs we continued our journey on to our next destination of the trip - The Isle of Skye, which will be covered in the next blog post.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 18:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged waterfalls castles cliffs wildlife cave port highlands&islands Comments (0)

Fascinating Fjords

all seasons in one day 15 °C
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My last excitement this summer was to visit the Fjords around Norway's second city, Bergen. Celebrating mum's 50th and my brother's 21st, we went on our family holiday in several years, and for once I wasn't travelling alone!

Norway was incredibly expensive, and I guess it was very much how foreigners, particularly from Eastern Europe must feel when they come to Britain. However saying that, there were lots of good things like WiFi absolutely everywhere - from getting on the plane at Gatwick until we returned several days later at the other end I was essentially connected the whole time! Despite being Norway's second biggest city, Bergen was still remarkably small, taking very little time to walk round and explore. Hence our visit of just two and a half days was more than enough. Arriving in the afternoon and staying close to the centre of the city, the first evening was spent walking around the immediate vicinity, seeing the main shopping area and the city squares.

Bergen from Mount Fløyen

Bergen from Mount Fløyen

The following day we took the funicular to the top of the mountain that overlooks the whole city and bays nearby, before walking down and seeing the rest of the city, including the castle and it's most famous attraction - Bryggen, the old Hanseatic port buildings.

Bryggen

Bryggen

On our final full day we took a 3.5 hour cruise up the nearby fjords, into the heart of Norway, witnessing scale of the country's valleys. It was only when we travelled deep into the cruise that we had our first rainy day, which considering the rate of 75% for the city, was pretty good going.

Fjords

Fjords

Despite the city being small, and our 4 day trip being very expensive and short, it was worth it, and I would highly recommend it, as the scenery was stunning!

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Norway Tagged boat history fjords port Comments (0)

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