Tag Archives: culture
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!

February 20, 2014

Top 7 reasons to visit the UK in winter

Top 7 reasons to visit the UK in winter

Whilst many people head off for some winter sunshine, why don’t you buck the trend and discover the joys and delights of the UK in winter?  You’re guaranteed not to get too hot (unless you go too close to one of those pub fires) or have to expose more flesh than is absolutely necessary.  As long as you have the right clothes and a positive attitude you are guaranteed to have a great time.  As one of Britain’s most famous walkers, Alfred Wainwright said, “There’s not such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.”  

Winter walk Buttermere in the Lake District - photo Zoe Dawes

Britain is made for ‘changeable’ weather and some of our most traditional attractions come in the form of an oak-beamed inn or a quaint cottage art gallery. Or maybe you feel really brave and will just wrap up warm and go for a bracing walk across a Yorkshire moor or a Northumberland beach.

Bamburgh beach Northumberland - by Zoe Dawes

Here are my top 7 reasons to visit the UK in winter

1.  Our pubs and hotels are at their best in winter.  Imagine arriving in a Cornish village and opening the door of a traditional old country inn, all oak beams and comfy nooks.  A blast of warmth hits you and the smell of wood smoke mingles with locally-brewed real ale.  You find a chair next to the blazing fire and very soon you’re tucking into a plate of freshly-cooked local food.  Winter heaven.

2.  You’ll save time because you won’t have to queue to get into your stately home or theme park of choice.  Restaurants, pubs and cafes will find you a table immediately as there are fewer visitors in the UK in winter.  Whether you’re in Belfast, Cardiff,  Glasgow, Liverpool or London, attractions in the big cities will be less crowded and you may have some of the smaller places completely to yourself.

Piccadilly Circus, London - by Zoe Dawes

3.  You’ll also save money (see #2) because in winter hotels, B&Bs, holiday homes, caravans and other accommodation is MUCH cheaper than in the summer months.  If you see a place you fancy staying in, contact them directly either by phone or email and see what deals they can offer.  Everyone’s becoming an ace bargainer these days so release your inner carpet-seller and get haggling.

4.  You’ll literally see more of the UK in winter.  Many of our trees are deciduous and lose their leaves, revealing more of our fantastic landscape than in leafy spring and summer.  The skies are often clearer and the countryside seems to come into sharper focus in the winter months.  On a grey or wet day, pop on a pair of wellies (wellington boots in case you’re not sure), don your packamac, get a fancy brolly and set off to splash in puddles and sing in the rain.

Winter sun over Windermere in Lake District - by Zoe Dawes

5.  Outdoor light is very different from other seasons of the year.  You can get incredibly clear skies which give an amazing clarity to those mountains in the Lake District in winter. A misty fog swirls evocatively across a Scottish river.  The low-lying sun filters through bleached-out clouds above a deserted moor. Perfect for photography and artists of all kinds.

6.  Many places such as the National Trust properties, are now open during the winter months and even if the houses or attractions are closed their their gardens are open.  You will be able to spend more time looking at that Pre-Rafaelite painting or quirky installation in an art gallery.  You won’t be herded through historic castles past priceless artefacts – you will be able to gaze and absorb every detail.

Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum - by Zoe Dawes

7.  People have more time to chat, to help and show you around. Travel and tourism businesses that are open in the winter rely on visitors like you and really appreciate that you have taken the time to visit their establishment.  Brits are far less reserved than our stereotype would imply!

Lancaster Canal in winter snow at Carnforth, Lancashire - by Zoe Dawes

Make sure you check websites for opening times as they may vary quite a lot – and go make the most of the UK in winter.

February 10, 2014

Insider Travel Tips for Europe

Insider Travel Tips for Europe

Europe has so much to offer the visitor.  Each country is unique and every city different. What they do have in common is a vast range of history and culture.  Travellers often get to the capital cities of Europe and hop on a tour bus to see as many sights as possible. But once the initial sightseeing is over, some people prefer to experience the city as the locals do. But where are the trendy neighbourhoods?  What is the best club, restaurant or live venue in town?

With those questions on mind, Momondo has created an insightful and interactive travel cheat sheet for Europe’s cities. It also contains some very helpful local phrases for cities like London, Amsterdam, Prague, Berlin and Copenhagen.  Please click on the image below to see the full travel cheat sheet. Then click on the different locations on the map or the city names under the header you’re able to discover what each city has to offer in our ‘Insider Travel Tips for Europe’ Cheat Sheet.

Momodo Europe Travel Cheat Sheet -

This travel cheat sheet  has been brought to you by Momondo.

December 31, 2013

10 quirky quotes for the New Year

10 quirky quotes for the New Year

Quirkilicious New Year - Zoe Dawes aka The Quirky Traveller

New Year is a time to look back and forwards, reflecting and reviewing. It’s also a time of drunkeness, frolicks and fireworks.  Here are 10 of my favourite quirky quotes for the New Year – funny, inspiring and true!

1.  ”Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. Middle age is when you’re forced to.” - Bill Vaughan

2.  ”An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the Old Year leaves.” - Billy Vaughn

3. “The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year’s Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you’re married to.” - P. J. O’Rourke

4.  ”A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” - Anonymous

5.  ”It wouldn’t be New Year’s if I didn’t have regrets.” - William Thomas

6.  ”New Year’s Day now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” - Mark Twain

7.  “I would say Happy New Year but it’s not happy; it’s exactly the same as last year except colder. ” - Robert Clark

8.  ”Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. So overweight people are now average, which means you’ve already met your New Year’s resolution.” – Jay Leno

9. “We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” – Edith Lovejoy Pierce

and this is my favourite …

10. “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” -  Ralph Waldo Emerson

December 18, 2013

Brief guide to accessible National Trust sites in England

Brief guide to accessible National Trust sites in England

Britain is home to many historic buildings, gardens, coastlines, forests and villages. The National Trust works hard to preserve these places and spaces, allowing the public to enjoy them in all their glory. The vast majority of National Trust sites have some form of wheelchair access, and with this in mind we have put together a brief guide to some of England’s most accessible National Trust sites.

North East - Souter Lighthouse and The Leas

Souter Lighthouse at dusk - photo by National Trust

Souter Lighthouse at dusk – photo by National Trust

The north east of England is home to some of the best coastline in the country the area is a prime spot for stargazing on a clear night.  The South Shields Astronomical Society holds regular events where visitors can enjoy the wonder of the night sky.

A striking Victorian Lighthouse, Souter was the first in the world designed and built to be powered by electricity. The Leas is a two and a half mile stretch of magnesian limestone cliffs and sweeping coastal grassland where you can catch sight of various local nesting birds, including guillemots, kittiwakes and cormorants. To the north of the lighthouse is Whitburn Coastal Park and Nature Reserve which is home to a variety of wildlife and a great place to visit especially for nature lovers.

Parking: Level access available from the main car park with a drop off point outside the shop entrance.

Accessibility: The building features a ramped entrance, wheelchair access to the tea room and one wheelchair available for temporary use. The grounds are accessible via ramp access at the entrance gates. There is also an accessible coast route from north to south of the property.

The Midlands - Kedleston Hall

Kedleston Hall - photo by National Trust

Kedleston Hall – photo by National Trust

Located in the Derbyshire countryside, Kedleston Hall is a spectacular 18th century mansion framed by historic parkland. The imposing private palace houses an impressive collection of items that will really capture the imagination of all who experience them. From stunning 18th century dresses to grand portraits, extensive book collections and furnishings, the collections at Kedleston Hall help transport you back in time to the 1700s. You’ll witness the kind of sheer opulence that will leave you picking your jaw up from the floor. The mansion was also use as a key location for the Kiera Knightly film ‘The Duchess’, an impressive fact for those of you who are fans of trivia – or Kiera Knightly!

Parking: There are seven designated spaces for blue badge holders in the car park, and 3 additional spaces on collection of a permit from visitor reception.  Accessibility: There is an accessible entrance to the ground floor and accessible picnic tables in the main car park.

London - Eastbury Manor House

Eastbury Manor House - photo National Trust

Eastbury Manor House – photo National Trust

There’s more to the East End than, pie and mash shops, jellied eels and cockney accents! It is also home to plenty of historical sites, one of which is the striking Eastbury Manor House. Located in the heart of East London, Eastbury Manor House is a striking Elizabethan merchant’s house and gardens originally built as an isolated prison. The house has a rich history and several links to the gunpowder plot that are to capture the imagination of those who come to visit.

You can freely explore the many atmospheric rooms and the impressive walled gardens, whilst those visiting with youngsters can enjoy a variety of children’s events and activities on Family Day, the first Saturday of every month. We also highly recommend the garden tea-room where you can enjoy hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, snacks and some pretty tasty sponge cake.

Parking: Parking is available within the grounds.  Accessibility: The grounds are fully accessible with a lift to the upper floors with the exception of the top floor of the turret.

East of England - Blickling Estate

Blickling Estate - photo National Trust

Blickling Estate – photo National Trust

Norfolk - home to Alan Partridge, a stunning coastline and Blickling Estate. This magnificent Jacobean estate is one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions and is only a short drive away from some of the best beaches in the country. A visit to Norfolk wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the coast, where you can also enjoy some of the best fish and chips you’ll ever taste.

The estate itself was once home to Anne Boleyn’s family and it is bursting with history and character. The house features an extensive library, a beautiful garden and expansive grounds to enjoy with the family.  A costumed interpretation group also helps bring history to life with a range of activities, providing entertaining lessons on the 400-year history of the estate that will put a smile on anyone’s face.

Parking: There is separate parking a short distance away from the estate. A drop-off point is available. Accessibility:The building features a ramped entrance making the entire ground floor accessible. A lift is available for reaching the first floor. A map of an accessible route around the grounds is available and there is a two mile circular route around the park suitable for wheelchairs.

Yorkshire - Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden

Fountains Abbey and Studeley Royal Water Garden- photo National Trust

Fountains Abbey and Studeley Royal Water Garden – photo National Trust

Recently named one world’s top places to visit by the Lonely Planet travel guide, Yorkshire has a lot to brag about. Fountains Abbey and Royal Water Garden, the county’s first World Heritage Site, is located in 800 acres of stunning countryside and is home to a Cistercian abbey, an impressive Georgian water garden and a medieval deer park. One of the finest examples of 18th century landscaping, it’s no surprise that many people choose Fountains Abbey as a wedding venue.

The ruins of the magnificent 12th-century abbey will definitely excite the history lovers among you and the hidden passages and amazing views of the Yorkshire countryside make this beautiful, romantic site well worth visiting.

Parking: There is parking at the visitor centre and West Gate.  Accessibility: A wheelchair accessible transfer vehicle takes visitors to all admission points.

Bentley Fielden logoThis post is brought to you by Bentley Fielden, a leading supplier of access ramps and wheelchair lifts for those with mobility issues to individuals and organisations. As a family-run business we pride ourselves on being able to provide an access solution for everyone.



November 11, 2013

Finding peace and quiet in ancient Miletus

Finding peace and quiet in ancient Miletus

The contrast couldn’t be greater. We’d come from the crowded splendour of Ephesus, one of the world’s most visited sites, to the remote tranquillity of Miletus on the Turkish coast.  There, hordes of tourists jostling each other to get the best shot of the elegant Library of Celsus, here a few people testing the echo effect in the enormous theatre or just sitting on one of the marble seats enjoying the panorama laid out in front.

Miletus Theatre, Turkey - by Zoe Dawes

I was on the ‘Ephesus, Miletus and Didyma’ day tour from Celebrity Cruises ’Reflection’ at Kusadasi.   Like many, I’m not a huge fan of organised trips; you’re often shepherded from site to site without time to really see anything and sometimes bombarded with facts that are impossible to take in. However, if you’re on a cruise and have only a day or so to visit a place then tours can be an excellent way to pack a lot in at one go.

Miletus Tour c/o Celebrity Cruises - photo by Zoe Dawes

Our guide Noor had excellent sheep dog skills and yes, she kept up a running commentary of dates, statistics and intriguing tales.  Her audience listened attentively, very few doing what I did which was to keep escaping to explore on my own. My radio headphones ensured I could hear her commentary even when a little distance from the group.

Meander River near Miletus Turkey - photo by Zoe Dawes

Built at the mouth of the Meander River (from where we get the word ‘meander’), Miletus was one of the most important Greek cities established around the Aegean, its maritime empire reaching as far as the Black Sea and Egypt.  It had a reputation as a great centre of learning and was also renowned as the first place to apply the principles of modern town-planning. You can still see the outlines of the grid system of streets designed by Greek architect Hippodamus.  The site encompasses a vast swathe of history from Ancient Greece via the Roman Empire to Byzantine Turkey.

Miletus ruins and mosque, Turkey - photo by Zoe Dawes

Only slightly smaller than the one at Ephesus, Miletus Theatre has a grandeur that is easily assimilated as it is far less visited and very well preserved.  The city was rebuilt a number of times and Noor pointed out the different levels of building clearly visible in the theatre’s construction.  (I got very confused with all the dates but if you want a brief history then here’s Wikipedia on Miletus.)

Miletus Theatre in Turkey - photo by Zoe Dawes

Originally seating up to 15000, it measures 140 m in diameter, which to be honest meant far less to me than the fact that we could sit virtually on our own and enjoy the view in peace and quiet.   In the centre, four pillars mark the ‘Imperial Box’ and on top of the theatre is a square observation tower which was built in the Byzantine era. Turkey’s red flag fluttered over us in the gentle breeze.  Nearby a marble plinth has engravings depicting the gladiators who would have entertained latter day Greeks and Romans.

Miletus gladiators frieze, Turkey - photo by Zoe Dawes

Walking up through a tunnel we emerged to find ourselves overlooking a vast area of ruins, in the centre of which is the Temple of Athena and the Agora, or market place.

Miletus archway, Turkey - photo by Zoe Dawes

Not far away is a stadium and bouletarium or council chamber. To the east are the Baths of Faustina, all worth a wander round, especially if you love archaeology. (The hugely magnificent Market Gate of Miletus is no longer here, having been reconstructed and is in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum.  We didn’t have time to visit this section of Miletus but Noor showed where the harbours would have been and told us how the silting up of the Meander led to the eventual decline of this ancient cosmopolis.

Miletus City ruins, Turkey - photo by Zoe Dawes

The place is littered with fallen columns, engraved pedestals and great chunks of old marble.  Gleaming brightly in the midday sun was a little cluster of yellow crocuses forcing their way through the stony ground.

Miletus crocus, Turkey - by Zoe Dawes

As we took a last look around a man came ambling through the ruins leading a horse.  He turned to look at us as we grabbed our cameras and phones to capture the scene. He seemed quite unfazed by all the attention; maybe used to it, as he probably lives nearby.

Man and horse by Miletus ruins, Turkey - photo by Zoe Dawes

We finished this part of the tour with a quick visit to the excellent Milet Müzesi, home to artefacts from Miletus and surrounding areas.  It’s a delightful museum; not too many things to look at and each one is beautifully presented.  A particular favourite was this splendid reclining statue (maybe Neptune?) with a sketch of how he may have originally been placed.

Miletus Museum - reclining figure, possibly Neptune, Turkey

In another cabinet were tiny pottery heads and a headless goddess, beside which was this marvellously reconstructed figurine.

Miletus Museum figurine

Before leaving, we all made good use of the excellent toilet faculties, always important on a long tour!  As we headed off to Didyma we glimpsed the terracotta domes of the İlyas Bey Mosque, built in 1404; a reminder of more recent Turkish influence in tranquil and fascinating Miletus.

İlyas_Bey_Mosque at Miletus, Turkey - photo by Zoe Dawes

Many thanks to everyone on Celebrity ’Reflection’ for providing a lovely cruise with so many memorable experiences.  Read fellow travel blogger Elle Croft’s excellent article on the Ephesus Tour, my trip to see some of the highlights of Istanbul and getting far from the madding crowd on Mykonos.

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