On This Day – The City of Valletta

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 21st October 2011 I was in the city of Valletta on the island of Malta …

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What A View – Lake Bala, Wales

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On This Day – Castres in South of France

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 18th October 2011 I was in the delightful town of Castres in the South of France…

Lining the river on the right bank were les Maisons sur l’Agout which is the old medieval riverside quarter where the old tanners’ and weavers’ half timbered houses with running balconies overhang the water and their colourful shutters and windows cast reflections on the gentle water of the river. It reminded me of Girona in Catalonia although this was much smaller in scale and rather more attractive.

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On This Day – Iceland and The Northern Lights

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

Actually, I had a couple of flights booked this Autumn but the airline cancelled. I wasn’t at all disappointed about that and delighted to get a full refund.

On 15th October 2013 I was in Iceland looking for the Northern Lights…

Narrow swirls of light would sweep across the great dome of sky, then hang there like vapour trails…. Lights would flicker brightly in the west, then vanish in an instant and reappear a moment later behind me, as if teasing me.” – Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

When we arranged this trip to Iceland we hoped of course that we would see them, Margaret asked us to go with them specifically – “to see the Northern Lights”, we agreed immediately but we were careful to bear in mind that this natural phenomenon is not like the Blackpool Illuminations, they can’t just be turned on and off for the benefit of tourists, no one is guaranteed to see them (unless you happen to be Bill Bryson writing a travel book that is) and many people leave disappointed.

We were among the lucky ones…

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On This Day – Benidorm on The Costa Blanca

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

In October 1977 I was in Benidorm on the Costa Blanca in Spain. I know that it was October but to be honest I cannot be entirely specific about the date so I have just chosen one at random.

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On This Day – Marrakech at Night

Sometime between the end of the afternoon and the early evening the square had been transformed from a market place to an open air theatre with swarms of people and this is something that occurs every single day of the year. The snake charmers and the monkey men had packed up and gone home and had been replaced by a carnival of musicians, storytellers, transvestite dancers and other entertainers.

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On This Day – The Souks of Marrakech

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 8th October 2010 I was in the Moroccan City of Marrakech…

Here was a whole new experience with street after street of shops all overflowing with things for sale that we didn’t need but each with an owner who didn’t understand this and was determined to part us from the cash in our wallets. The place was murderously busy with a stream of people oozing past the shops like a flow of molten human lava and progress was so slow we could only shuffle awkwardly as though our shoe laces were tied together and it was quite impossible to walk with any kind of normal rhythm.

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More About The Titanic – The Museum at Cobh

Yesterday I told you about my visit to the Titanic Experience Museum in Belfast. Two years later I visited another Titanic Museum in Cobh near Cork in Southern Ireland.

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” – Captain Edward Smith

“You could actually walk miles along the decks and passages covering different ground all the time. I was thoroughly familiar with pretty well every type of ship afloat but it took me 14 days before I could, with confidence, find my way from one part of that ship to another.” – Charles Lightoller, Titanic Officer.

The Titanic Experience in Cobh is a small museum housed in the old White Star Line booking office and embarkation jetty. We were keen to do this because in the previous year we had visited the Titanic museum and exhibition in Belfast and we were interested to see how this compared.

It is much smaller of course and instead of rides and reconstructions this is a virtual reality tour which was easily worth the cost of admission but couldn’t possibly compare with Belfast.

Everyone knows the story of the RMS Titanic. When it was launched in 1912 it was the largest ship ever built. It was the biggest thing ever built that moved. It weighed sixty thousand tonnes (modern passenger liners are about three times bigger) and its two thousand one inch thick steel hull plates were held together with three million rivets. It was proudly proclaimed as the safest ship ever built.

It might have been considered unsinkable but on its maiden voyage the unthinkable happened and it sunk after colliding with an unyielding iceberg in the North Atlantic and one thing that became absolutely clear was that Captain Edward Smith was completely hopeless at making maritime predictions.

As it turns out, he may not have been much of a sailor either. In January 1889 approaching New York on her final White Star sailing, he managed to run RMS Republic aground. In 1890 he ran the White Star RMS Coptic aground in Rio De Janeiro and in 1909 he ran another White Star liner, the RMS Adriatic, aground also in New York.

In 1911 as Captain of the White Star ship RMS Olympic he nearly crushed a tug in New York harbour and on the only voyage of the Titanic there was a near collision in Southampton with a steamer which by strange coincidence just happened to be called the New York.

If Captain Smith had been a formula one driver he would have been James Hunt (hunt the Shunt), if he was a pilot he would fly for Aeroflot (the most dangerous airline in the World).

To be fair collisions in the Atlantic Ocean and in the sea ports were quite common at that time because as the cruise author John Maxtone-Graham wrote, “There were many more close calls on the western ocean than passengers ever heard about”. This was the case because the Atlantic Ocean was significantly busier than it is today.

Cruise fans today well might tell you that it is the only way to travel, but in the first half of the twentieth century if you were travelling to the United States, it really was.

Given his unfortunate record of running into things and damaging company property it might seem odd therefore that White Star Line trusted Captain Smith with the biggest and most expensive ship ever to take to the seas. It may also not have escaped readers’ notice that most of these incidents involve New York in one way or another and that was exactly where the Titanic was heading. Even a raging sceptic would have to admit that these were bad omens.

There are many theories about the reason for the sinking. The Captain has been blamed for being reckless for sailing too close to the ice field, the White Star Board for trying to set a speed record despite the danger of sailing at high speed through an ocean full of icebergs but currently the most popular is the rivets. Apparently those used at the bow and the stern were made of iron rather than steel and contained high levels of impurities. They only had a 5 mm tolerance and as a consequence of the collision they shattered on impact and popped their heads and the steel plates of the hull undid like a giant zipper.

“From the very day that she was designed she was almost doomed…this (the use of iron rivets) was the Achilles heel of the Titanic.” – Paul Louden-Brown, White Star Line Archivist.

Entrance Tickets – The Titanic Experience

“Certainly there was no sailor who ever sailed salt water but who smiled – and still smiles – at the idea of the unsinkable ship” – Charles Lightoller (Surviving Officer) in ‘Titanic and Other Ships’

So, everyone knows that the Titanic sank but as we came to the end of the visit I began to think about what if it hadn’t?

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On This Day – Alghero, the Day after the Cyclone

The next morning, the night after the cyclone, we opened the shutters of the room and looked out into the storm battered streets Alghero looked rather damp, drenched, soggy and windswept, forlorn and feeling rather sorry for itself…

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