Tag Archives: culture
September 20, 2014

Why you MUST visit the North West of England

Why you MUST visit the North West of England

Having lived in the south of England for some years I know how far away ‘the North’ can seem. But it really isn’t, especially if you let the train take the strain, as they used to say, and it’s so worth the journey.  From the outstanding sea-faring heritage of Liverpool, the dynamic buzz of Manchester, the blowsy charms of Blackpool and natural beauty of the Lake District, this part of the country has attractions and sights to appeal to all ages and tastes.

Singing-Ringing-Tree-Panopticon Lancashire - near Burnley - by Zoe Dawes

The Singing Ringing Tree Panopticon overlookikng the Pennines in Lancashire

 

You can win a year’s 1st class weekend rail travel for two in the Virgin Trains Twitter #ArriveAwesome competition which pitts the enormous North against the simpering South. Click the link above or at the end of the article for details.

I make no excuses for focusing on the area I know and love best, so here are a few reasons why you must visit the North West of England.

The North West has soulfully beautiful scenery and natural attractions

A few years ago Wastwater in the Lake District was voted ‘Britain’s Favourite View’ and when you see the mighty lakeland fells reflected in the dark waters of England’s deepest lake, you can see why. Water ripples and furls through this National Park via its lakes, tarns, rivers, streams and waterfalls.

Sunset over Windermere in Lake District - by Zoe Dawes

Sunset over Windermere

With its majestic mountains and sheep-grazed hills the Lake District and Cumbria have a positive Feng Shui feel to it that may explain why so many people talk of the spiritual and healing benefits of this region. The many ancient stone circles from Birkrigg in the south, to Castlerigg to the west and Long Meg in the Eden Valley, tell us that people have lived in this area for centuries. Take the ferry across Windermere, walk up Latterbarrow, wander beside Ullswater or admire the Jaws of Borrowdale from Friar’s Crag – just some of the many ways to see nature at her most impressive.

Not far off the M6 lies the attractive Forest of Bowland where you can wander through ancient woods and take a picnic beside a rippling brook. Walk along Morecambe Bay promenade and see huge flocks of seabirds, featured on Autumn Watch, set at Leighton Moss Nature Reserve. Red Squirrels scamper about Formby pine forest and beside lovely Buttermere. Spooky Pendle Hill may be haunted by the ghosts of Lancashire witches and the undulating Pennines form a natural backdrop up to the Scottish border.

The North West has vibrant, dynamic cities with strong character and illustrious history

Liverpool Liver Building and Docks - by Zoe Dawes

Liverpool Liver Building and Docks

Liverpool and Manchester are not just famous for their football teams. Liverpool has always been linked to the sea, showcased in the Maritime Museum. It’s still a major port and Liverpool Cruise Terminal welcomes visitors from all over the world. You can also explore its less salubrious links on the Liverpool Slavery Tour. Of course the Beatles are celebrated all over the city and music can be heard in the many lively clubs, bars and restaurants. Art lovers of all styles are catered for – the Walker Art Gallery has one of the country’s best collections of Pre-Rafaelite paintings and Tate Modern satisfies contemporary tastes. Make time to see Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’, an evocative collection of figures gazing out sea from Crosby Beach.

Manchester Town Hall - by Zoe Dawes

Manchester was pivotal in the 18th century Industrial Revolution and its magnificent architecture is epitomised by the impressive grandeur of the Town Hall. With its stylish skyscrapers and sensitive restoration work, a fantastic night life and possibly the best shopping in the north, Manchester has moved far away from its ‘dour and grimy’ image. Wander along Canal Street and nearby Chinatown for a cosmpolitan flavour of this multi-cultural city. Superb classical music performed by the BBC Philharmonic and the Hallé Orchestra can be heard at the accoustically superb Bridgewater Hall. Take the tram over to Salford Quays, where the BBC has set up base in Media City. The Lowry has over 300 art works by the eponymous ‘stick-figure’ artist and the nearby Imperial War Museum tells the story of conflict – and peace – through the ages in sensitive and  fascinating displays.

The North West does ‘seaside and coastal’ with fun, style and historic diversity

Blackpool Tower, pier and beach, Lancashire - by Zoe Dawes

Blackpool Tower, pier and beach

Britain’s most popular seaside resort, Blackpool, is a brash, bold and fun as you imagine it to be. With three Victorian Piers, iconic Blackpool Tower,a heady funfair, Madame Tussaud’s waxworks, an indoor water park, zoo, many theatres and numerous clubs, there really is something for all the family. But it’s not all glitz and kiss-me-quick hats.

Have tea in the graceful surroundings of Winter Gardens and relive the elegance of an era long gone or maybe take a twirl around the floor of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom and imagine you’re a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ finalist!

Southport Pier train and Marine Lake - by Zoe Dawes

Southport Pier train and Marine Lake

Further down the coast is Southport, pearl of Merseyside, a slightly more genteel seaside resort with plenty of shops along Victorian-arcaded Lord Street, boats on the Marine Lake, a fairground, modern pier, beautiful Botanic Gardens, attractive parks and numerous golf courses. It’s got a long, sandy beach but the tide goes very far out; it’s not the best place for a swim but great for making sandcastles. Discover your inner Hercule Poirot in the Art Deco elegance of the Midland Hotel overlooking the vast sands of Morecambe Bay.

Morecambe Bay fishing boat - by Zoe Dawes

Morecambe Bay fishing boat

On the Cumbrian coast you can discover Roman ruins in the tiny village of Ravenglass, and shelter from the Irish Sea breezes beneath St Bees’ heady cliffs. Whitehaven has moved on from its mining past and is now an attractive harbour town, as is Maryport a little further along the coast.  When you reach sleepy Silloth, you can see the the Scottish Hills across the Solway Firth and stand at the start (or end?) of Hadrian’s Wall.

Horses and riders on Hard Knott Pass, Cumbria

Horses and riders on Hard Knott Pass, Cumbria

Of course, I’ve not even started on our delightful villages, welcoming pubs, delicious local food and very friendly people. You’ll just have to come and visit the North West and find out for yourself.

JOIN THE RACE!

Virgin Trains #arriveawesome competition

Tweet #ArriveAwesome along with #TheNORTH or#TheSOUTH to power your train to victory, and you could WIN a year’s unlimited First Class weekend travel for two. Details of the Virgin Trains Twitter Competition here. There are a load of other awesome prizes to be picked up along the way too, so get tweeting!

August 22, 2014

Top 10 things to see and do in Malta

Top 10 things to see and do in Malta

Having been farmed, plundered, conquered and cherished by everyone from Neolithic man, the Romans, Arabs, Knights of St John and the British, today it is tourists who invade Malta every year.

Church and yachts, Sliema Malta - by Zee Dawes

Church and yachts near Sliema Malta

I’ve been twice, on a recent stay at the very luxurious Azure Golden Sands Resort and Spa and a previous winter trip about 15 years ago so here are my top 10 things to see and do in Malta.

1. Wander round Valletta

Valetta street view Malta - by Zoe Dawes

Valletta street view

Valletta is quite simply ravishing. With a celebratory jumble of beautiful old churches including the stunningly baroque St John’s Co-Cathedral, palaces, museums, forts, ports, shops, restaurants and bars there is no shortage of fascinating sights. Stroll along the bustling streets and get lost down ancient alleyways. I’d recommend the Malta 5D Show where you experience the history of the islands through the eyes of a Maltese Falcon via film and special effects, including moving seats, the smell of baking bread and one that will make you jump.

2. Take a tour from Sliema

Sliema and Valetta harbour from Sliema Malta - image Zoe Daawes

Valletta harbour from Sliema

All along Sliema promenade, with its stunning view of Valletta and the mighty harbour fortifications, are tempting tours inviting you to discover war-time Malta, go deep-sea diving or set sail on a sunset pirate cruise.  It’s a popular resort with many hotels, lively night-life and good shopping. I joined the Malta Sightseeing Hop/Off Tour Bus which does excellent tours of the island and Gozo. The multi-lingual commentary is really informative.

3. Mooch around Mdina

Quiet back street in Mdina - image Zoe Dawes

Quiet back street in Mdina

Please, please make enough time to absorb the elegant, tranquil and soulfully lovely old ‘Silent City’ of Mdina.  Slow down and enjoy its high-walled, honey-coloured, simple architecture and seductive ambiance.  As everywhere in Malta, there are many churches to see and echoes of its Arabic past. The audio-visual L’mdina Experience tells the story of Malta’s original capital.  From Bastion Square parapet you get a superb view across the island. When you’ve finished sight-seeing, elbow others out of the way and grab a table at popular Fontanella Tea Garden; I can HIGHLY recommend their enormous cakes!

4. Go caving in Ir-Rabat

St Paul's Church, Rabat - image by Lysy

St Paul’s Church, Rabat – image by Lysy

Not far from Mdina, Ir-Rabat was part of ancient Rome’s Melitta and there are some archaeological ruins including the Roman Villa Catacombs.  As well as a number of convents and monasteries, it is most famous for St Paul’s Church and Grotto.  The saint was supposedly shipwrecked on Malta on St Paul’s Island, near the busy tourist resort of St Paul’s Bay.  He sheltered in this cave and it is now a place of pilgrimage, albeit a rather dark and gloomy one.

 5. Take photos in Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk fishing boats - luzzu - Malta - image Zoe Dawes

Marsaxlokk fishing boats

Still a thriving fishing village, Marsaxlokk is well-marked on the tourist map, mainly for the photogenic fishing boats and market stalls. (Beware cheap tat, but the nougat is good.)  The village’s unusual name comes from marsa, which means “port” and xlokk, which is the local name for south east. The word is related to the name for the dry sirocco wind that blows from the Sahara (Wikipedia). The traditional ‘luzzu’ are painted in vivid primary colours and have the protective ‘Eye of Osiris’ painted on the prow.  The nearby power station and oil terminal are not quite so picturesque.

6. Travel back in time at the archaeological sites

'The Sleeping Lady' found in Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Malta - image Jvdc

‘The Sleeping Lady’ found in Hal Saflieni Hypogeum

Malta, the ‘Sacred Island’ is riven with prehistoric monuments and archaeological sites. Not from Marsaxlokk is Ghar Dalam Cave with a large collection of prehistoric animal bones dating back 180,000 years.  The Hal Tarxien Temple dates back to the Bronze Age. Not far away is the unique 5000 year old Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a vast underground cemetery, hacked out from the rocks by hand where ‘The Sleeping Lady’ used to lie.  (I’ve not seen it but my guide books says it’s the ‘must-see’ megalithic site on Malta.) High up on a cliff further along the south sit the Haģar Qim and Mnajdra Temples c. 3600 – 3200 BC and the post-Neolithic rock tombs of Haz-Zebbug.

7. Sunbathe

Golden Sands beach and watchtower, Malta - image Zoe Dawes

Golden Sands beach and watchtower

Well, it’s what most people come to Malta for, isn’t it? The island is popular with sun-seekers for a lot of the year. There are some lovely beaches, (and some not so good) including Golden Sands, on the north east coast, where I stayed. Nearby Mellieha Bay has a big beach with lots of activities for all the family. On the west coast, Ghajn Tuffieha and neighbouring Golden Bay are considered the best beaches on the island, whereas popular St Julian’s has a pocket handkerchief of sand and a lido on the coast.

8. Marvel at Mosta’s lucky Dome

Mosta Church dome, Malta - image Zoe Dawes

Mosta Church dome

Mosta Church (Rotunda of St Marija Assunta) is famous for a lucky escape. On April 9th 1942 locals sheltered in the church to escape German air attack. A bomb fell through the dome (third largest in Europe) and didn’t explode. A copy of the bomb is on display and you can see the repair marks on the ceiling, which is geometrically splendid.

9. Take a boat to the Blue Grotto

Luzzu - Malta fishing boat going into Blue Grotto - image Zoe Dawes

The Blue Grotto Malta

Yes, it’s touristy and no, it’s not as impressive as the Blue Lagoon at Comino, but the Blue Grotto makes a nice little excursion.  You get a ticket at the tiny creek of Wied Iz-Zurrieq, and are man-handled into a crowded boat. If you’re lucky it will be one of the traditional fishermen’s boats and you’ll then putt-putt beneath massive sandstone cliffs in a boat relay into a series of seven caves rippling with crystal clear and a times very blue water.

10. Discover the zen of Malta in the Gaia Peace Grove

Gaia Peace Grove at Ghajn Tuffieh headland, Golden Sands bay, Malta - image Zoe Dawes

Gaia Peace Grove at Ghajn Tuffieh headland

Finally something you may not find in many guide books – yet.  The Gaia Peace Grove was inaugurated on 21st June 2013 on the breezy NE coast headland of Ghajn Tuffieh, overlooking Golden Sands bay. An olive grove has been planted next to an ancient watch-tower and information boards have been set up set up, commemorating many “who have worked so hard and courageously, and made such sacrifices to build a better a world”. They include The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Dian Fossey, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kji, John Lennon and Mahatma Gandhi. Time seems to stand still here as the shusshing of the sea mingles with the cries of gulls and the scents of the Mediterranean permeate the air.

I stayed at Azure Golden Sands Resort and Spa, in one of their luxury timeshare  apartments.  Thanks to everyone there for a really relaxing and enjoyable stay on the fascinating island of Malta.

Azure Golden Sands Resort - Golden Sands Beach, Malta - image Zoe Dawes

Azure Golden Sands Resort beach

August 19, 2014

The best student holiday destinations in Europe

The best student holiday destinations in Europe

You’ve saved, scrimped, studied and finished your exams … so what are you going to fill your hard-earned three-month break with? Holidays in Europe are becoming increasingly cheaper, with varied accommodation options which range from hostels to couch-surfing attracting more travellers than ever before.

Madrid Post Office and fountain Spain - image via laterooms.com

Madrid Post Office and fountain – image via laterooms.com

Flight operators such as Flybe offer cheap flights to some great destinations that will keep you entertained over the summer or even throughout the rest of the year. We’ve compiled some of the best and cheapest European destinations for inspiration when booking student holidays on the continent.

Budapest

Budapest - image irenne56 via Pixabay

Budapest – image irenne56 via Pixabay

The beautiful capital of Hungary combines incredible sights, including one UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the top nightlife you would expect from a capital city. Modern, underground pubs in hidden courtyards and hip rooftop clubs make the nights in Budapest unique and there are so many activities and places to squeeze into your visit that you’re guaranteed never to be bored.

Try and schedule your visit to coincide with the Sziget Music Festival if you can. As one of Europe’s largest music and cultural events (held every August in the north of the city) it’s a great way to experience the local atmosphere.

Ibiza

Ibiza beach, Balearic island Spain - image Andre30c via Wikimedia

Ibiza beach – image Andre30c via Wikimedia

Ibiza is one of the default holiday destinations for students and it’s not hard to see why. You can revel in the sun by day and enjoy an array of music at an abundance of bars and clubs by night. The island also boasts beautiful beaches and a mass of pools to relax by on those lazy afternoons.

An abundance of clubs with the biggest and best DJs, combined with long nights watching the sunrise on the beach are the type of features which make an Ibiza break in the Balearics  ideal for those who have worked hard and are looking to blow off some steam.

Madrid

Madrid Plaza Mayor Spain -image Jean-Pierre Dalbera via Fotopedia

Madrid Plaza Mayor -image Jean-Pierre Dalbera via Fotopedia

Grab a cultural fix before heading back to university by visiting the cultural centre of Spain. Madrid is still one of the cheapest European getaways you can get and combines rustic Spanish life with modern, cutting-edge developments.

The city is hectic yet relaxed. The downtown area can be easily explored by foot with a mass of things to see and places to go and plenty of culture and art to experience along the way. You don’t have to give up the nightlife either – with Madrid nights possessing a vigorous character that could see you carrying on until sunrise. Its location is perfectly placed in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula so it is easy to use Madrid as a base from which to explore other parts of Spain.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam canal Netherlands - image Jean-Pierre Dalbera via Fotopedia

Amsterdam canal – image Jean-Pierre Dalbera via Fotopedia

A list of top student holidays wouldn’t be complete without Amsterdam for several reasons. The city remains cheap enough to fly to with plenty of reasonably priced accommodation options helping to keep core costs low. It is also renowned for its relaxed attitude towards certain matters, whilst holding an incredibly rich cultural side with attractions including Anne Frank’s house and the Van Gough Museum.

Amsterdam is certainly a cultural experience with its world-famous cafes and canal trips. So, what are you waiting for? Get on a Flybe flight and enjoy one of these beautiful destinations; you won’t regret it!

This article is brought to you by Flybe.

August 12, 2014

On Mykonos: Cavafy keeps Ithaka always in your mind

On Mykonos: Cavafy keeps Ithaka always in your mind

Ithaka

The last of the summer sun flooded the beach and filtered through the open widows of the Ithaki Restaurant on Ournos Beach, Mykonos.*

Ournos Beach and restaurant Mykonos Greece - image Zoe Dawes

It was Oxi Day, the 28th October, a national holiday in Greece, celebrating the day they said ‘No’ to the Italian dictator Mussolini in 1940.  (He demanded they allow German forces to enter the country and occupy strategic sites during World War 2.  The Greeks said ‘Ochi’ – the Germans came anyway.)  Families, friends, tourists and locals mixed together in a happy muddle, chatting, laughing, shouting, eating, drinking and generally having a wonderful time.

Ournos Beach dining table, Mykonos Greece - image Zoe Dawes

I was having  salad and beer at a table overlooking the water, enjoying the when familiar music came over the loudspeaker.  When asked, an elderly chap at the next table confirmed it was Dalaras, a quintessentially Greek singer I had seen in a concert over 30 years ago when I lived in Athens … My lunch was made perfect by that unique combination of beautiful weather, friendly restaurant, Greeks celebrating a special day and the soundtrack of my youth.

Ournos restaurant on Mykonos, Greece - image Zoe Dawes

As I went to through the restaurant to pay, I passed this table above which was chalked a quote from Cavafy’s most famous poem, Ithaka, “When you set out on your journey to Ithaka, pray that the road will be long, full of adventure, full of knowledge …”

Constantine Petrou Photiades Cavafy (as he wanted the family name to be spelled in English) was a poet, the son of Peter-John Ioannou Cavafy and Charicleia Georgaki Photiades.  He was born in Alexandria on 29 April 1863. Both his parents were natives of Constantinople, and Constantine was proud of his heritage and his illustrious ancestors.  He wrote over 150 poems.  This one epitomises the pleasures of life journey’s and the need to take time to relish every moment.

Ithaka (or Ithaki) is one of the Ionian islands and the poem is inspired by Homer’s tales of Odysseus and his lengthy voyage back to his wife Penelope.  Translations vary; this version of Ithaka is from the official Cavafy site.

ITHAKA

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon — you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

* Sadly the Ithaki Restaurant is now closed but the pleasure it evoked, live on …

May 14, 2014

The Magic of the Samburu Tribe

The Magic of the Samburu Tribe

The Masai tribe in Kenya are very famous; everyone has seen those iconic photos of the tall elegant Masai warrior standing majestically looking out across the plains of the Masai Mara.  They are indeed a most beguiling tribe as they’re intelligent, charming and beautiful but it is the Samburu tribe who are often overlooked. In the 3rd of our Africa Safari posts, we take a  closer look at the Samburu people.

Saruni Samburu Kenya Africa

Saruni Samburu Africa

It was during a stay at the ultra luxurious Saruni Samburu that I really fell in love with them. The Masai can be quite arrogant and vain, not the Samburu – they have a fantastic sense of fun and are always laughing and smiling. This really shows in the atmosphere of any lodge where the Samburu work, since they will always inject a huge amount of fun and joy into any situation.

Samburu Lodge Kenya Africa

Saruni Samburu Lodge

Like the Masai, they also have an in depth knowledge of the bush and are passionate about the wildlife you are viewing – they have hawk eyes and will spot things that you cannot even see. Their wonderful multi coloured shukas and bright beads are incredibly eye catching, and unlike the Masai they also include brightly coloured feathers in many of their head pieces. They too are tall and elegant and make the most beautiful photographic subjects.

Saruni Samburu Tribe Kenya

Saruni Samburu – photo Ol Malo

They are efficient as staff and will know your name before you’ve even arrived at Saruni Samburu, making you feel very at home. You will want to give them big tips, such is their charm and charisma. They will also delight in showing you their home if you choose to visit a village. The Samburu are nomadic and are spread far and wide in Northern Kenya – their riches are based on the number of cattle each man owns and even when paid well by a lodge they prefer the currency of cattle.

Samburu and camels Kenya Africa- photo Ol Malo

Samburu and camels – photo Ol Malo

Often when booking a Kenya trip, people are obsessed with the safari and what wildlife they will see.  Of course this is a major factor, but guests do not realize just how much the local people will enhance and make your trip.  They add colour and humour to every day in the bush and you will come home with fond memories of shared laughs and all you have learnt from their expert knowledge of the bush.

Samburu girls in Kenya - photo Ol Malo

Samburu girls – photo Ol Malo

This post is brought to you by The Luxury Safari Company.

March 26, 2014

From Havøysund to Honningsvåg in Arctic Norway

From Havøysund to Honningsvåg in Arctic Norway

It looked like a giant Hershey Kiss; a chocolate cone dusted with icing sugar rising from the freezing waters of the Norwegian Sea.  Snow swirled from its peak as enormous seabirds wheeled above.

'Hershey Kiss Mountain' Havoysund Norway Hurtigruten ferry - photo by Zoe Dawes

This first view of Arctic Norway in daylight was breathtaking.  Not just because of the icy wind whipping round the ship’s forward deck but mainly because of the imposing scenery floating by.  Dark blue waters chopped and slooped beneath the big red ship as we sailed slowly along the fjord towards a colourful little village.  Jagged rocks jutted out from sheer snow-clad cliffs and an ever-changing cloudscape cast shadows across the white and black landscape, dwarfing a little fishing boat pootling out to sea.

Arctic Norway seascape and fishing boat near Honningsvag - photo by Zoe Dawes

I had boarded Hurtigruten MV ‘Richard With’ with a group of travel bloggers and photographers in Tromsø the previous night.  I’d been to Norway once before, on a cruise in May and seen the splendours of Geiranger Fjord, travelled on the quirky Flåm railway and enjoyed the delicious sights and flavours of the more southerly regions – but this voyage was very different.  Hurtigruten runs a regular ferry service along the filigree coast of Norway from Bergen to Kirkenes, providing a life-line for the tiny hamlets dotted along the way, as well as a unique sea-going experience to the very edge of the inhabited world.

Photographer on Hurtigruten ferry at Havøysund Norway - by Zoe Dawes

As we manoeuvred our way alongside Havøysund docks more people came out to watch and capture the scene on camera. One hardy soul dressed only in jeans and shirt seemed oblivious to the cold and undulating motion as he focused his enormous zoom lens onto the old church in the middle of the town.  Havøysund is a traditional fishing village with a population of about 1,000; its terracotta buildings will be forever in my mind because it was the first – and there were many more beautiful sights to see in the next few days …

Havøysund fishing village Norway - by Zoe Dawes

We were quickly on our way again but the weather closed in and the sky turned an uninviting grey. I retreated to the warmth of the lounge.  The ship’s tannoy announced we were passing Måsøy Island.  A craggy shape loomed out of the snow-dark sky.  Apparently there are over 400,000 puffins living here – not one to be seen on the day we passed.

North Cape - Hurtigruten excursionNext stop was to be the highlight of our trip – Honningsvåg and North Cape, the northernmost point of mainland Europe on the 71st parallel. But the weather gods had other ideas.  “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are sorry to announce that the excursion to North Cape has been cancelled as the roads are blocked by snowdrifts.  We still have a few places left on the trip to Skarsvåg, the world’s most northerly fishing village.” There was a rush to the Excursion Desk as disappointed adventurers vied to get on to another superlative-laden jaunt.

“It’s such a shame we can’t go to North Cape.  I’ve just bought some croutons from the shop.” The elderly lady standing next to me held up a paper bag decorated with the Hurtigruten logo.

'Richard With' Hurtigruten shop

We gazed at it in some bewilderment.  Was she hoping to feed some of the seabirds at the Cape? “Um, what are they for?” asked fellow blogger Kathryn.  “Oh, to put on the bottom of my shoes. They make walking in the snow so much easier.” There was a stunned silence as we tried to picture this novel idea.  “Er, do you mean crampons?” “Oh yes, silly me,” she said with a wry smile and held aloft the now redundant pair for all to see.

Hurtigruten ferry in Honningsvåg harbour Norway -  - photo by Zoe Dawes

We didn’t get on the fishing village trip (apparently its main attractions are the swimming pool and flowers in the gardens) so instead went for a walk round Honningsvåg, capital of the Nordkapp region (also the ‘most northerly city in Europe’).  The first tourist was an Italian priest called Francesco Negri who travelled this area in 1664, curious to see how people could survive this far north.

Boreas Northern Wind sculpture Erling Saadvedt Honningsvåg, Norway - photo by Zoe Dawes

Disembarking from the ship I saw a large sickle-shaped metal sculpture called ‘Boreas the Northern Wind’, symbol of the extreme weather conditions that rock this hardy coastline.  With a flourishing fishing industry the port is awash with vessels of all shapes and sizes, plus one very weird looking ship boasting a huge cannon-like affair on its deck. Maybe to blow the fish out of the water, or to keep marauding Russian trawlers at bay?

Hurtigruten ferry 'Richard With' in Honningsvåg, Norway - photo Zoe Dawes

Other sights include the world’s most northerly Micro-Brewery and the Nordkappmuseet with a small collection of Sami artefacts, local crafts and photographs of reindeer and snowscapes.  Outside is a statue of Bamse, a St Bernhard dog owned by a Norwegian captain and famous for his exploits in Second World War.

Bamse the St Bernard Dog Honningsvåg, Norway - photo Zoe Dawes

It is said that in battle “he would stand on the front gun tower of the boat, and the crew made him a special metal helmet.” Wikipedia.

Honningsvåg was mostly destroyed during WWII but a simple wooden church still stands. Built in 1885 it is one of the few churches to survie in the Finmark region of Norway and the War Memorial in front of the building is testimony to the many local people who lost their lives in the war.

Honningsvåg Church, Nordkapp, Norway - photo Zoe Dawes

On the way back to our Hurtigruten mothership I passed a gigantic snow plough. We’d been unable to get to North Cape because a beast like this couldn’t get through the snow …

Honningsvåg snow plough, Nordkapp, Norway - photo Zoe Dawes

Every cloud has a silver lining.  If we had made that final trek to the North Cape I wouldn’t have seen the world’s most northerly American Car Club …

American Car Club Honningsvåg Nordkapp

I travelled to Norway’s Arctic Circle coast with Hurtigruten UK. Many thanks to Marianne and her team for providing the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong ambition to see this exceptional part of our planet in this unique way.

PS I did see the Northern Lights and will be writing about that in the next Norway post so sign up with RSS feed to ensure you don’t miss it!

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