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Stunning St. Lucia

Honeymoon - St. Lucia

all seasons in one day 29 °C
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After a relaxed day in Antigua, today was going to be much busier. We had arrived in St. Lucia, and were going on a full day tour. After having breakfast we headed down to the dock.

St. Lucia was another of the Covid concerned islands, with temperature checks and wristbands to wear. We queued up for our tour, and looked at the ominous clouds above us. Next thing we were led to the side of a building just in time to take cover from the downpour about to hit us. It only lasted around 5 minutes, but being tropical it soaked anything caught in it.

We then boarded our bus and as we took a quick drive through the city's streets, got an introduction to the island from our guide. We then headed out of the city and up the mountain side, for views over the harbour.

Overlooking the harbour

Overlooking the harbour

The route south passed many hills and valleys, as well as passing by other aspects that make up the heritage and life on the island - seeing banana crops, fuel storage and alcohol distilleries.

Banana Plantations

Banana Plantations

We then arrived at Soufriere, the main area for our tour today, and which is dominated by the majestic Pitons - two twin peaks that are icons of the island, and stylised on the flag.

The Pitons

The Pitons

Our first major sight here was the Diamond Botanical Garden, a former plantation converted into a park with many beautiful ornamental plants.

Plants

Plants

There was also a walk down a gorge towards a waterfall, which being geothermal and mineral rich had stained the rock beneath.

The Waterfall

The Waterfall

After this, we headed back to the coach and travelled around the other side of town to the world's only drive in volcano.

The Volcano

The Volcano

Of course the sulphur escaping into the air meant it absolutely stank around here, but it did mean we got to see the bubbling mud pools and steam vents. Sadly we didn't get to stay here for long enough to bathe in the mud baths.

Mud Baths

Mud Baths

By now it was lunch time and we headed down the road to Morne Coubaril Estate for a Caribbean lunch where we got chatting to some of our other travelling companions.

Morne Coubaril

Morne Coubaril

It was now time to head back towards the capital, but rather than drive back the way we came, this would be via a boat trip. We boarded a catamaran at the small port at Soufriere as once more a huge black cloud came our way. Again this didn't last long, and was over by the time we set sail.

Uh Oh...

Uh Oh...

There were beautiful views of the Pitons once more, as we enjoyed Rum Punch.

The Pitons

The Pitons

We sailed to the secluded Anse Conchon Beach, where like in St. Vincent the boat's ladder was lowered and those who wanted to could get out and go for a swim or walk on the beach.

Anse Conchon Beach

Anse Conchon Beach

We decided to stay aboard as we'd done plenty of swimming until now, and after being surrounded by locals selling knickknacks, we headed north back towards Castries. En route, there was one last sight, the beautiful Marigot Bay, where lots of expensive small boats are docked.

Marigot Bay

Marigot Bay

For the last bit of the sail, the music was ramped up and there as a real carnival atmosphere with tipsy passengers and crew enjoying the music and dancing.

Party Boat

Party Boat

After arriving back at port, we went for a quick wander around the capital, seeing the cathedral and main square.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral

We then headed back towards the ferry terminal where the scale of the ship's size dominating over the town was clear.

Hiding Ship

Hiding Ship

We were now coming towards the end of the cruise - with just one new island still to see, and only three more days. Once we got back to the cabin we found our flight tickets had been delivered. Then the mood turned. We had been allocated seats in separate rows - despite the fact the flight out had been 1/3 empty, and the flights contained the same people.

Chris went own to reception to ask why we had been separated, and if we could be moved. But when he came back, told me that a very rude lady on reception had stated that they probably couldn't do anything, if we had wanted to sit together we should have paid £35 each to select our seats (even though when I had looked at this option before we had left home this was not actually possible), and if they were able to find seats together we would have to pay £70 for it. We would need to go back down at 8pm to see if they had been able to do it.

I was livid. We weren't asking for a particular seat on the plane, just two seats together for a couple on their honeymoon who had paid a fortune for this cruise, and on a plane with tonnes of spare seats.

Being slightly tipsy from the Rum Punch meant I marched down to reception at full speed, where I spoke to someone else who fobbed me off saying that only the Flight Coordinator could get involved and there was nothing they could do. What a way to kill the mood of what had until just now been a really good day....

After emailing P&O to complain about this problem and the appalling customer service, we headed for dinner and tried to enjoy the rest of the evening as best we could.

When 8pm came round we headed back down to reception to find a new set of people who knew nothing about our flight tickets. Speaking to a young guy called Calvin, we told him what had happened, and I ranted about the appalling customer service, this being yet another irritation on our holiday and the fact that not one person had yet had the decency to even say "I'm sorry, let me see what I can do". To which he said "I'm sorry". Whether it was genuine I don't know, but at least he had said it...

He told us he'd see what he could do and would give us a call later to let us know. In the meantime I had received an email back from P&O to say that as we were already on board, only the Flight Coordinator could do anything. Unsurprisingly, not even a 'sorry' in sight...

Expecting not to actually hear anything, and adjusting to the reality of probably having to spend the overnight flight back home separated we got into bed to head off to sleep. Then suddenly, the phone rang. It was Calvin, telling us he'd sorted out tickets and to come down to reception.

We got dressed and headed straight down, where he told us he'd sorted it and put us in seats together. He gave us the new tickets and we didn't need to pay. At least there was one nice person on board - but the question is, if this was so simple, why had it been such aggro to sort, why had we had to kick up such a fuss, and why had this not been done initially!?

By now it had been a very long day, and with another early tour tomorrow morning, we headed to bed.

Posted by kmmk17 17:25 Archived in Saint Lucia Tagged mountains rain boat beach volcano cathedral waterfall caribbean geology botanicalgarden Comments (0)

Glorious Grand Turk

Honeymoon - Grand Turk

all seasons in one day 28 °C
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Having travelled through the Bermuda Triangle, we arrived at our westernmost destination on the trip, the beautiful island of Grand Turk.

Grand Turk is a relatively small island making up part of the larger Turks & Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory. The name 'Turk' coming from the name of the locally grown cactus that looks like a Fez hat, historically worn by the Ottomans.

The Grand Turk Cactus

The Grand Turk Cactus

So it turns out it's a rather old school racist name rather than actually having anything to do with the Turkic ethnic group!

Despite this island being only the 7th largest in the territory, it is the second most populous and home to the capital. As it also has a recently built cruise terminal located on the south of the island, this island is the focal point for the cruising industry in the territory.

Grand Turk

Grand Turk

The complex features shopping areas, cafés and restaurants, a swimming pool, surf simulator and luscious beaches. We didn't need to leave the terminal, and so we didn't! - not that there was much outside the complex anyway!

The Cruise Terminal

The Cruise Terminal

After having breakfast we left the ship and headed for the short walk over to the complex along the jetty. This was certainly one of the most beautiful locations on the trip - with white sand and clear blue seas, and it's a shame we were one of the last visits P&O will do to this island. We had a little wander around the shops before finding some sun loungers on the beach.

Grand Turk

Grand Turk

We spent some time between both the beach and in the sea, enjoying the glorious views before we started getting hungry for lunch. Whereas usually we'd have been out and about, as we were next to the ship we simply headed aboard, grabbed some food and then made our way back to the cruise terminal. We then had another wander around before again finding a place to lounge.

On the beach

On the beach

Having spent much of the day enjoying the sunshine, after a final walk along the beach, we headed back to the ship to prepare for dinner. We started sailing away from port just before dinner opened and we watched as we sailed around the west coast of the island and past the island's lighthouse.

Sailing around the Lighthouse

Sailing around the Lighthouse

We were also informed that this evening's performance had been cancelled, along with all others for the foreseeable future. We had already booked a performance for a few day's time that we would now no longer be able to watch. Although no specific reason had been given it is likely this was Covid related, with the rest of the performance troupe being forced to quarantine.

Thankfully we had already been to see a performance a few days earlier, and so we had got to have that experience on board, and with there not being a replacement for tonight as yet, we instead spent the evening watching some of the on-demand movies in the cabin.

The next day was another sea day, heading back towards the Eastern Caribbean. Whilst the weather on the trip had until now generally been pretty good, it was starting to turn, and we got caught in one of many showers that would linger over the next week.

A wet day

A wet day

We once again spent the day around the pool, (trying to) sunbathe and doing the quizzes. That night was again a black tie night and we again went to the restaurant for an à la carte meal.

After having finished my Champagne Sorbet at the end of the meal, whilst walking out of the restaurant we saw our quiz friend from a few days earlier. We stopped to say hello, and asked how she'd done in today's quizzes - of course better than us, and she had also won the bingo this afternoon!

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

We then headed back to the cabin to chill for the evening, before our next port day tomorrow!

Posted by kmmk17 13:03 Archived in Turks/Caicos Islands Tagged sea rain beach sun caribbean Comments (0)

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)

Day Trip to Tescos

Day Trip to Wales - Wye Valley

rain 6 °C
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As Coronavirus has hit it's meant many of the plans for 2020 have gone out the window. For us this not only meant major things like our wedding, stag dos and honeymoon, but also other trips and breaks we had planned. As we try to make something of the year by doing new things we wouldn't have done otherwise as the lockdown eases, let me take you back to that week in March where everything went crazy and we had no idea what would happen from one day to the next.

So originally, we had planned ourselves a (somewhat) last minute trip to Egypt. This was already a Plan C, as we had originally been planning to go to the Caucasus before Turkey back in September, however my health problems peaked and we had to cancel the week and only got to do the second half of the holiday.

I cancelled my annual leave for the week and decided we'd reuse it later in the year when I'd (hopefully) feel a bit better. During the Autumn we had thought about booking a last minute trip away, and having wanted to try and enjoy a bit of sun we had looked at going to Mexico. We had found some good deals in Cancun, however just before we decided to settle some dates Thomas Cook went bust and all other operator's prices shot up making this a pretty poor deal.

Instead we decided to go away in mid-March, and seeking somewhere that would be warm, whilst still being interesting we settled on Egypt. We had a plan to visit the pyramids, Luxor and Abu Simbel, which was all going swimmingly until just a week or so before, when the threat of Coronavirus came.

As most people, in hindsight we had been rather delusional thinking it wouldn't cause too much of an effect and we'd probably be fine. However the closer it got to the trip the more things escalated. We had already packed our bits and were ready to jet off just a few days later when it became clear we wouldn't be back before lockdowns would start.

Just two days before we were due to fly we made the decision to cancel our trip and were able to turn this into a open ticket which we could use sometime later in the year when things settled down.

It is a good job we had cancelled, as five days into to the trip, and two days before we would have flown back, all international flights out of Egypt were stopped, and we would not have been able to fly home as planned anyway.

Having been the second holiday in six months we had had to cancel, it didn't feel as gutting as the first, however I still had the week off to take as this was my carryover and needed using by the end of the month. We decided to take the week off as planned anyway, and use it for something useful. We started the week by repainting our bathroom.

Knowing a lockdown was coming we also wanted to try and squeeze one last holiday in whilst we could, and so quickly researched a two day trip to Pembrokeshire in Wales, which we booked the night before we left after checking no new regulations had come in.

The following morning we left the house and started making our way to the Severn Bridge. We headed off towards Swindon, however not long after leaving, the stress of the whole situation started to get to us and we started to wonder if we had caught Coronavirus ourselves.

We continued driving to see if we'd feel a bit better, and not long later we crossed the River Severn and stopped in Chepstow on the English-Welsh border. It was raining and after popping inside the town's Tesco we ate some lunch in the rainy car park before continuing north up the Wye Valley.

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

We drove past the beautiful Tintern Abbey en route to Monmouth, where after arriving, we took a quick (rainy) walk around the centre of the small historic town before heading back to the car. By now we had to make a decision, do we continue towards Pembrokeshire or turn back and head home?

Monnow Bridge, Monmouth

Monnow Bridge, Monmouth

Sadly, we decided to turn back as we really didn't feel great and weren't sure if we were up to continuing. Abruptly ending our trip, and cancelling our third holiday we drove back home where we arrived by early evening.

It turned out we didn't have Coronavirus at the time but we simply didn't know. A few days later the lockdown came into force and with it, all our plans for the year went out the window.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 03:18 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged rain wye Comments (0)

A Visit to the Vatican

Rome 2019 - Vatican City

sunny 36 °C
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Our next holiday this year was to Rome, my second time in the city after having previously visited after New Year in 2015. This time however it would be much hotter - by about 30˚C.

My cousin and aunt from New Zealand were also going to be in Rome at the same time, so after checking our plans we decided to head out on the same flight as my aunt, to be there at same time.

After working on Friday morning, we headed up to the airport and met up with my aunt just before security. Heading through and into the departure lounge we had a catch up after having not seen each other for three years.

The weather at home during this weekend was abysmal, and after sitting down in one of the restaurants, where we were joined by my sister who works up the airport and was on her break, we could see (or rather not see) the sheer level of rain hitting the roof window from outside. It was so heavy for so long that eventually one of the seals broke and the water started gushing in like an indoor waterfall. The people sat by the window themselves had to run to escape, leaving their belongings to get soaked, including one woman's entire dinner.

Flooded Airport

Flooded Airport

As we moved away due to the floor flooding, my sister called security to advise them, but they weren't interested - turns out this was by far the only place that had flooded and the whole airport was full of water. Not long after the water had broken through, the rainstorm had ended and the sun was shining again- however the sheer level of water that had entered meant it was going to take a long time to clean up. We could now see just how much rain there had been, as our view that had previously been blocked by water was now clear to see a plane at one of the gates surrounded by fire engines as it's cockpit was on fire! What an experience today!

By the time we were boarding the rain had ended and there were no problems, we took off as planned and arrived in Rome's airport a few hours later after having had a nice catch up on the journey over. Using the EU queue at immigration for what might be our last time, we headed for the train station to make our way to our hotel. Saying goodbye to my aunt until the following day in the city we finally arrived at our hotel just before midnight and after quickly settling in, headed to sleep before our next four days in the city.

Our first full day was spent at the Vatican. After breakfast we made our way to the Vatican Museums, waiting outside for my aunt and my cousin to join us. We spent the trip around the museum catching up with my cousin, who is travelling around Europe and who I hadn't seen since 2016.

Vatican Gardens

Vatican Gardens

Starting with the view of the dome and gardens we eventually made it to the highlight of the trip, the Sistine Chapel. After viewing the famous painting by Michelangelo, we headed through the secret entrance for tour groups only, luckily not being stopped and made our way directly to St. Peter's Basilica, saving us 2 hours and a wait in the hot midday sun.

Before entering the cathedral itself we made a trip up to the roof and dome. Getting the lift up, we entered around the inside rim of the dome looking down over the altar.

Inside the Dome

Inside the Dome


Walking up the dome

Walking up the dome

We then climbed up the dome itself, which at times felt like a fairground ride with slanted walls. Little did we realise at the time this is the tallest dome in the world and still meant another 231 steps after taking the lift! Nevertheless at the top the views were stunning and absolutely worth it.

Views from the top of the dome

Views from the top of the dome

After taking in the views, we headed back down to the roof before taking the lift down into the cathedral itself to explore.

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

We then made our way out of the cathedral and into St. Peter's Square crossing the border back into Italy.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Square

By now it was early afternoon so we headed to a nearby restaurant for some food, which we followed afterwards with gelato. Having now seen the Vatican, and with three more days to explore the city, we left my aunt and cousin and headed back to the hotel via the supermarket to chill for the rest of the day.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 08:30 Archived in Vatican City Tagged rain church airport city cathedral plane border christianity Comments (4)

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