Grumpy granny travels

Thanks for joining me!

Why my blog?

So, you may be asking yourself why you should check out my travel blog when there are soooo many out there?

Well, for a start, I’m no spring chicken – with a lot of mileage under my belt.  I’ve lived and worked in Europe, South America and Asia, and constantly travel for work and pleasure.  So I know what great looks like, equally I know when I’ve received shoddy service, and am happy to call it out.

Grumpy granny travels?

I suppose you could call this a grumpy granny who travels blog. I’ll be providing you with warts and all coverage of my travel experiences.  This will be from the point of view of someone who is older than your average backpacker travel blogger, likes to have some of life’s creature comforts, but doesn’t have a huge budget to spend.  And yes, as I’m from Yorkshire originally, I do like to be sure I’m getting great value for money.

What do you get?

Although I travel a lot, or maybe because of it, usually something goes wrong.  I have an uncanny knack of falling into  loopholes or breaking poor processes and procedures.  So hopefully you’ll be able to learn from my mistakes and avoid the stress and hassle that I’ve gone through on your behalf!

What do I get?

In my wildest dreams my hope is that by sharing my experiences I encourage someone to have their first real travel experience.  I have friends who have never travelled out of their own town or village.  And others who are nervous about trying things for the first time, such as catching a train in Europe.  From talking to them I realised that I have a lot of experience to share.

What can you do for me?

If reading my blog inspires or helps you take a journey, please let me know.  If you want to know more about a particular journey or destination, then let me know.

I’d also be interested to hear of your experiences, especially where they may differ from mine.

Thanks for sticking with me so far.  Next blog post I might even explain what the capybara obsession is all about!

Bon voyages!

Grumpy Grandma

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

 

2 in a boat

Image by Jessica Caballero

2 in a boat is our podcast that brings you the sailing and travel world of Suzanne and Andrew on their aged yacht Crystelle Venture.

Join us

You’ll join us along the way as we prepare for our longest sail yet, from Dartmouth, UK to St Petersburg, Russia. Our route takes us across the North Sea and around the Baltic this summer, a round trip of about 3000 nautical miles.

With a fab intro music written by our talented nephew, Joseph Turner, and artwork by our equally talented daughter, Jessica Caballero – it’s something of a family affair.

The novice and the old salt

The novice and the old salt. All the gear and no idea? What on earth (or on water) could go wrong…? You’ll have to tune in each week to find out how we’re getting on. It’s available from all good podcast sites, Apple Podcasts, Google podcasts, Anchor, Spotify, Breaker, Pocket casts, Overcast, and Radio Public, so hopefully one of those will do it for you!

Crystelle Venture at Darthaven Marina, Kingswear, Devon

We’ll link to each episode as it goes live here, and if there are any show notes, we’ll include them here too.

We’ve now decided to publish our podcasts on a Sunday and a Wednesday – around 6am. So don’t forget to check for new episodes!

Please let us know which is your favourite episode and if you have any questions you’d like us to answer in podcast.

Episode 1 A week to go

Live date: Sunday 16 June

Recorded: Saturday 10 June

Join us on a wet Saturday drive down to the boat – with a rather reluctant Andrew behind the wheel.

Episode 2 – The night before departure

Live Date: Thursday 20 June

Recorded: Sunday 16 June

Join us on a wet and windy Sunday evening in the saloon of Crystelle Venture – slightly tired after all our preparations, and excited too to be setting off next day.

Episode 3 – Dartmouth to Portland

Live Date: Sunday 23 June

Recorded: Monday 17 June

Finally, we are off! Not to France, but the first leg of our journey along the southern coast of England.

Bonus Episode -3a – In the boat from Dartmouth to Portland

Live Date: Tuesday 25 June

Recorded: Monday 17 June

Warts and all live recording of our time sailing across Lyme Bay to Portland. Ever wondered what goes on during those long hours in a small cockpit on a yacht? Now’s your chance to eavesdrop and find out what Andrew and Suzanne get up to!

Episode 4 – Enroute from Portland

Live Date: Friday 28 June

Recorded: Wednesday 19 June

Join Andrew and Suzanne as they podcast from Crystelle Venture as they sail from Portland towards Dunkirk. 

Episode 5 – Why we dove into Dover

Live Date: Monday 1 July

Recorded: Thursday 20 June

So last episode we were on our way to Dunkirk.  But did we get there? Find out in this episode of Two in a Boat.

Episode 6 – Departing Dover

Live Date: Wednesday 3 July

Recorded: Friday 21 June

Finally ‘Two in a Boat’ are set to sail to France.  Just where will they end up this time? 

Episode 7 – Footfall in France

Live Date: Sunday 7 July

Recorded: Friday 21 June

Finally Suzanne, Andrew and Crystelle Venture make footfall in France.  But how did the channel crossing go?  Was it all plain sailing?  Download this latest podcast to hear how it all went.

Bonus episode – 7a – Deceptive Dunkirk

Live Date: Wednesday 10 July

Recorded: Saturday 22 June

Enjoy this bonus episode with our sailors first morning off on the other side of the channel.  Join them as they discuss the delights of Dunkirk and bothersome Belgians.  

Episode 8 – Adieu Dunkirk

Live date: 14 July

Join Suzanne and Andrew in the cockpit of Crystelle Venture as they motor sail from Dunkirk.  Does what happened in Dunkirk stay in Dunkirk?  Listen in to find out.

Episode 9 – Chatting in Cadzand

Live date: 17 July

A week after setting off from Dartmouth, where have 2 in a Boat found themselves?  Find out as they chat in Cadzand.  

Episode 10 – Decisions, Decisions

Wind shift not in your favour?  You have three options – which one are you going to choose?  Listen in as our 2 in a Boat, Suzanne and Andrew, sail up the Dutch coast.

Live date: 21 July

Episode 11 – Submarines, boarders and concrete sheep

Live date: 24 July

Just where have our 2 in a boat washed up now?  They’ve spotted submarines, been boarded by the Dutch authorities, and now want to buy concrete sheep.  Listen in to find out what on earth/on sea, has been going on.

Episode 12 – Slow is pro

Live date: 28 July

Settled into their island berth Suzanne and Andrew discuss the various tactics to mooring up in a box berth, being the only Brits in the village and other such nonsense.  

Episode 13 – Casting my account to Neptune

Live date: 31 July

A hard day and night’s sail and our 2 in a boat are reliving the tale.  Just who gave their account to Neptune, and just what did it consist of?  Find out in today’s episode of 2 in a boat.

Episode 14 – Beating the boat from Borkum

Live date: 4 August

Learn about beating, VMG, and horny Borkum in today’s new podcast from 2 in a boat.

Episode 15 – Borkum, bikes and boys

Live date: 7 August

At last our 2 intrepid sailors have made their way to the gateway to the river Elbe and the prospect of the Kiel canal looms.  But what are our 2 in a boat talking about?  Borkum, bikes and boys! Listen in to hear about their journey from Borkum to Cuxhaven, and all manner of other discussions.

Episode 16 – Cracking the canal

Live date: 11 August

Today is the day our 2 in a boat face one of their biggest fears, and most anticipated parts of their journey to the Baltic – going into the Keil canal (NOK).  Find out how they got on in today’s episode.

Episode 17 – Happy in Heiligenhafen

Live date: 14 August

Join our two jolly sailors as they celebrate crossing the canal, and their tricky entry into heavenly Heiligenhaven.

Episode 18 – Fingers crossed (we don’t hit the bridge)

Live date: 18 August

Fearless?  I don’t think so.  Hear about Andrew’s fear of bridges and bears as they arrive into Warnemunde, the starting point for their Baltic rally.  

Episode 19 – Blowing old boots to Bornholm

Live date: 21 August

Today we find our 2 in a boat preparing for the first official leg in their Baltic rally – from Warnemunde, Germany to Bornholm, Denmark.  What have they done in the past few days and what are their thoughts on the rally?  Join them on Crystelle Venture to catch up with our 2 in a boat.

Episode 20 – Sunshine on a cloudy day

Live date: 25 August

Join Suzanne and Andrew, newly landed on the island of Bornholm in Denmark after their overnight sail from Germany.

Day 5 – in the big boating house

Cadzand to Den Helder Ijmuiden

Andrew cleaning the cockpit

If there’s one thing we’ve learnt on our trip to far, it’s to be relaxed about where you’ll eventually end up! Aim far, but be prepared to rein it in, as the situation unfolds.

Den Helder on my mind

So it was on 24 June we left Cadzand’s pretty little harbour and beautiful sandy beaches, with our sails up heading up through the Scheldt Estuary, with Den Helder as our ultimate destination in mind.

They call it mellow yellow

We had light south/easterly winds, sunshine and calm seas. Idyllic. So out came our new bimini, which we put on back to front to start with! Easy mistake, believe us! With the new shade above us, we got out our cheese and pickle sandwiches, and then proceeded to fight off the plague of flies, dragonflies, butterflies and all manner of other flying insects that seemed to be attracted to anything yellow on the boat.

Our new bimini

Sunny, hazy, lazy days

The wind reduced, and our slowed pace gave us time to to read chapters aloud of ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, whilst keeping a weather eye on the numerous buoys we needed to follow. The sunny hazy skies cast a dreamlike quality over the horizon and shore line.

Our peace was soon broken, when the wind dropped entirely around 2pm. The engine was on for an hour, until we could sail again. We passed mile upon mile of container ships anchored in a long channel, like a giant lorry park, waiting for their turn to enter Rotterdam.

watching the boats go by

With the sea like a mill pond, Andrew took the opportunity to give the cockpit a good clean, and I had a go at cleaning the toe rail, with some handy face wipes. So much easier to get into those little gaps.

Another Abel and Cole mezze style picnic under the bimini at tea time, with little faces popping up out of the water to watch us go by. The first of a number of brown seal sightings.

Around 6.30pm we radioed ahead on channel 03 to the control area Maas Ent, to let them know that we would be entering the special small craft channel across the entrance to Rotterdam port. We were making 6 knots under sail at this stage, and were able to get across ahead of 2 large container ships exiting the port.

At 8pm, as the temperature dropped, we ate more cheese and pickle sandwiches and drank some tomato soup. Lush. We discussed whether to put into Scheveningen, the port close to Den Hague as we approached it. At this point we were still making 6 knots under sail, so chose to press on.

Around 10pm a sea fret started to come in, and we were back into our cold weather clothes with hats and jackets. The engine was now on to motor sail, and we took the decision that another 5 hours or so in these conditions wasn’t great. So we decided to put into the port of Ijmuedin (pronounced aymudin apparently).

Our night time entry into Ijmuedin was a text book lesson in knowing your lights at night! As we approached the channel to enter the harbour we could see three red lights, indicating the vessel was constrained by its draught, on top of a large container ship exiting, with the white over red lights of the pilot vessel in support. We waited until they were safely clear, and then proceeded in following the leading lights that took us safely into Seaport Marina.

There was no-one to raise by radio at the Marina so we chose a free berth and settled in for the night. And as it was dark, we didn’t take any pictures either, so you’ll just have to imagine it!

We didn’t have time to check out or use any of the facilities at Ijmuedin. What we do know is that there was very little water under the boat in our berth! And we could have downloaded an app to book and pay for the berth – which we’ve now downloaded but haven’t used as yet.

Our daily stats

We were under way for just over 15 hours, covering nautical miles, we motor sailed for around 8 hours, and sailed the rest. Our average speed was 5.6. We used 5 gallons of fuel. You can see our route on the AIS chart below. If you want to find out how you can track our progress live (most of the time), check out the chart on the Crystelle Venture page.

Podcast

Don’t forget you can not only read about our travels, but also listen to them on our podcast – Two in a Boat. We update our blog with details when new episodes are or will be available here. So why not subscribe and see how we are getting on? We’d love to have you on board.


3 countries, one day – Dunkirk to Cadzand

First things first – Day 4

Our first job in the morning was to top up our diesel at the fuel pump. Except it wasn’t.

Our first job was to get a drunk Frenchman out of the water… At about 3am, we were woken by the sound of people in the water in the marina, and then someone trying to climb onto our boat.

Andrew was out like a shot, and realised it was two of the young men from the French boat opposite, who had been partying hard earlier in the evening. Suffice to say they were skinny dipping and were attempting to get out using their own boat ladder, but failing miserably, so thought they’d try ours. It’s a lot harder than it looks. Andrew directed the chap to the marina ladder, strategically placed for just such eventualities, and finally he got himself out. No drama, but not what you’re wanting when you have a tide to catch early the next morning.

So it was that about 10am we finally slipped past that most poignant of breakwaters at Dunkerque.

Everywhere you go always take the weather with you

Have you ever listened to the shipping weather forecast? Heard all those strange sounding names and wondered what on earth or where they are? Well we are now in the shipping weather forecast area of German Bight. The weather we had today was hazy, mainly hazy – not sure that’s a term they use in forecasts. The haze was such that we didn’t really get to see too much of Belgium as we sailed past it. We acknowledged it by raising our Belgian courtesy flag, and then dutifully changing it over to the Dutch courtesy flag when we left their waters.

Another day, another country

It took us about 4 hours to sail the coast of Belgium. Say hello, wave goodbye. Wish we could have dropped in for some dark chocolate… another time maybe. The one bit of excitement it did give us , was the sighting of our first black seal – all shiny and sleek, like a lady in a black rubber dress.

Water, water everywhere

At Zeebrugge we saw a Spanish naval ship turn into port, as we sped past making 8 knots. We monitored channel 71, just in case there was any traffic that we might impede or get taken out by!

The wind and tide were against us, and spray was covering the boat, front, side and back. This is heavy going. With shoals and banks all around, we have to keep a close track of all the buoys to keep us in safe water – and studiously colour them in on our chart as we pass them by.

Andrew went to check the bilges and realised that we had taken on water. One reason being, he’d forgotten to close the hatches, so water was getting in that way into the saloon. He cleared that, but could still hear water sloshing when he came back up to the cockpit. He checked the gas locker and it was full of water. With his arm deep in the locker, he dislodged the blockage with a wire coat hanger. More bailing out ensued – and would continue for sometime to come.

Michelin Star Cadzand

Our British and Moody-owning berthing neighbours at Dunkerque had very kindly recommended Cadzand marina to us. It is small, and new, and very pretty. We arrived around 7pm, and dropped onto a free pontoon. There was no one in the marina office, so Suzanne gave them a call. The very laid-back harbour master came to greet us on his scooter.

The marina was busy with families disembarking and heading back home. We moved berths to be closer to the facilities, which were very swish, with sliding glass doors and unisex showers.

Above the marina office was an achingly beautiful, stylish, hip looking restaurant, Air Republic, which we were reliably informed by the Belgian skipper of the boat in the berth next to us, has a Michelin star and is run by a famous Chef. Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to try it out, as it was closed, and apparently you need to book up three months in advance. Oh well, something to plan for another visit sometime. I rather liked their planting – might need to borrow their pallet plant box idea….

Tired and hungry, we opted for a starry mezze of our own, using our Abel and Cole hummus, tapenade, olive and feta mix and french bread, with some dolmades and greek bean salad, finishing off with some of their brownies.

We watched as couples and families took their evening stroll along the breakwater surrounding the marina. A beautiful spot, which we’ll come back to again.

Our daily stats

We were underway for 9 hours, sailing for only 45 minutes and motor sailing for the remaining time, making 49 nautical miles, at an average speed of 5.4 knots. No wonder we used so much fuel, around 7 gallons.

At one point we had 2 reefs in the mainsail – as the going was that rough. Under sail our best speed was 8 knots.

You can see the course we steered below, taken from our AIS tracker, which you can also follow from the Crystelle Venture page.

Until next time – happy sailing!

France, Belgium and The Netherlands – all in one day

Finally, France

It’s taken a while.. Day 3

Ok, so we’re only a couple of days behind our original plan – but according to Andrew’s clever chart, we are in fact ahead of ourselves… go figure!undefined

So it was that on a bright and breezy Friday 21 June we slipped our berth at Dover Marina, called Port Control on channel 74, gave our intended destination as Dunkirk (Dunkerque) and were given permission to proceed out of the western channel. The entrance was now dominated by a large cruise ship, that towered over us as we tidied away the ropes and fenders.

Storm in a teacup

The exit out of Dover was almost as exciting as our entrance the day before. The wind was up and the sea state confused, added to which we were not alone when trying to hoist our main sail in these tricky conditions. There were other yachts too, who had chosen the same window of opportunity to slip out of Dover to continue their journeys too. Oh, and did we mention the numerous passenger ferries who ploughed their way in and out with monotonous regularity, bearing down on us at speed?

This sea state was soon over, like a storm in a teacup, Suzanne helmed, as Dover and the famous white cliffs slowly receded into the distance, and the far shores of France hove into view. The tide was with us, and the wind too, meaning we were making great progress at a steady 6 – 7 knots. However we did get hit by the occasional spray – the worst of which hit, just was we were tucking into our lunchtime baguettes – extra salt with that?

And so to France

We waved mid channel as we passed first a German and then a Dutch flagged yacht going in the opposite direction, also make fast progress. Clearly we’d all chosen the same waypoints, to make sure we crossed the traffic separation scheme at the right 90 degree angle. Another boat wasn’t and had Dover coast guard issue first a warning and then a penalty, and call them out as a warning to other shipping as they were failing to stick to this most basic of safety measures to avoid collisions at sea. Doh!

Raising our French courtesy flag

At 4pm, having raised our first courtesy flag, we sailed past Calais, and started to pick off the buoys that guided us through the safe water channel towards our destination. As the sun shone down, Andrew took off his sailing gear, and was down to t-shirt and sunscreen (ok and trousers). As we settled into the rhythm of sailing up the coast of France towards Dunkerque, we began to read ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ by Erskine Childers aloud. Clearly a book of its age, hence with some excrutiating sentences – but we still think will be a great read, as we near the coastal area in which it is set. It certainly helped to pass the time.

Arrival into Dunkerque/Dunkirk

In the distance we could see a pall of smog hanging in the air, and as we neared we realised that there was an industrial complex further up the coast, which then transpired was the main port of Dunkirk. This didn’t bode well. However, our minds were soon taken off that, when we realised that the yacht we had been following for several miles, was in fact within our reach, and then unbelievably, we passed – with only our main sail up – and they with both their main and gib up. How smug did we feel! We hadn’t even been trying to catch them up! We made the most of that feeling, as we’re sure that it wont happen again!

We dropped our mainsail outside the entrance to the harbour, and then followed the signs for the La Grande Large marina. There were no visitor berths left, but luckily, although the office was closed, we were pointed in the direction of a free resident’s berth. Although clearly for a smaller boat, we berthed, with the help of a neighbouring Moody 45 ‘Ginger Lily’, also a British couple, but travelling in the opposite direction. We were in and squared away by 1940 – with a dinner of red thai curry already bubbling in the wok!

We checked in the next day at the marina office on the first floor of a bright red building. Great facilities on the ground floor, with key card access. Friendliness and cleanliness can’t be faulted.

Marina office at La Grande Large

Daily stats

We sailed 45 nautical miles, and were underway for 7 hours and 40 minutes, with an average speed of 5.9 knots, with only 1.2 hours of engine, motoring out of and into the harbours, and used a gallon of fuel. You can see our route on the AIS map below.

Our route from Dover to Dunkirk/Dunkerque

Actually it’s alright

The original industrial appearance on our approach to Dunkirk by sea, and discovering that it is twinned with Middlesborough – meant our expectations weren’t too high.

However we spent the next day walking about 8 miles around the area, along the infamous breakwater where British, French and Belgian troops made their escape in 1940, into the old part of town, and out to the beach, to enjoy ice cream and the free music festival. Of course, our very first stop was the nearest boulangerie to buy french bread and pastries for breakfast.

It is a town of many contrasts, that celebrates its past and the future, has an interesting mix of architecture, shops, restaurants and an open and welcoming population. Plus they have free buses, which we took advantage of, when all the walking finally got too much. This would be a great place to bring a bike – but as Andrew’s wouldn’t fit into the car, we’ve only brought mine…. Unlike our berth mate Belgian, who managed to ram into the back of our boat when berthing, without fenders – because he had chosen to put bikes in his locker and had left the fenders behind…. as you do… if you’re Belgian…

Portland to Dunkirk/Dover

Day 2

Little did I think that today’s sail would take up almost two whole pages in our log book – without even getting to our intended destination – Dunkirk.

Starting out

Things started out well. Andrew’s birthday presents and cooked breakfast done, showered and changed, we had a pleasurable and leisurely start to the day. Even the low cloud, muggy air and occasional spot of rain couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm. Finally we were setting off for France.

Our midday departure timed to get us the best out of the east bound tide to get us up the channel. And just as we left the harbour, a big bee came buzzing onto the boat – I’m convinced it was our stowaway come to see us off.

Slowing down

Progress was slow, with little wind. We gave a wide berth to the Lulworth Firing Range. The range safety officers on the radio were kept busy, constantly asking other yachts and boats to move out of the firing area, which was in use that day. As a result we ended up motor sailing for the first 5 hours or so.

Yes – dolphins!

Andrew spotted the dolphin leaping and travelling backwards first – perhaps it was giving him a birthday display! A pod of around 5 dolphins then came and played around the boat for about 5 minutes. We managed to get some footage – and yes, I did the dolphin squeal – and yes we can now say the word dolphin and not ‘d’ as this was one of our best and closest encounters to date.

Dolphin display for Andrew’s birthday

And we are sailing

Finally the wind picked up, around 5.45pm, and we could turn the engine off and sail. Slowly but surely we started to pick off St Albans’ Head, Poole Bay and harbour, the Isle of Wight (in the dark) with St Catherine’s lighthouse shining her light on us as we past, and the lights of Portsmouth in the distance. And the never ending wind farm off Brighton, that took literally hours and hours to pass.

Birthday dinner was cooked on the move, another tasty Abel and Cole receipe of mushroom, pepper and feta fajitas. Andrew took the night shift, while I put in the earplugs and a pillow over my head to get some sleep. Andrew reefed the main, as the wind picked up, and the seas grew bigger. At around 4am he saw the false dawn, and when I joined him at 5am – the sun really had come up!! He then took himself to bed.

Past Brighton, in the early morning daylight, and then Beachy Head around 9am. A weird mirage seemed to appear of a large city in the middle of the sea, an illusion that turned out to be Dungeness nuclear power station. A huge complex which took an age to get to and to recede into the distance. At this point we were up to just under 10 knots and the wind and the seas increased.

From about 2pm the wind and the seas continued to increase, and our speed maxed out around 11.8 knots at 3.15pm. At this point we made the decision to err on the side of caution, and not press on and cross the channel to Dunkirk – which would have been at least another 5 hours and with the wind pushing us dangerously.

Seeking refuge

And so it was that we sought refuge in Dover harbour. With its heavy ferry traffic we had to call ahead from 2 miles out to get clearance to enter, and then again 200 metres out. We struggled to lower the main sail, in a confused sea state outside the harbour entrance. It was the closest we’ve ever come to white water rafting in Crystelle Venture. It reminded me of our white water rafting days in the Ganges, except if I fell out this time, there was no river bank to be washed up onto.

Shelter from the storm

As the near gale raged on outside the harbour walls, we found peace and calm within the inner harbour at Dover marina. After checking in, and having showers, we had a short stroll to the nearest supermarket (in a petrol station). I had forgotten to stock up with brown sauce for Andrew (!) and the orange squash rations also seemed to be running very low very quickly. Strange place Dover.

Our daily stats

We were both so exhausted by the end of our passage, that we couldn’t agree on exactly how far and how long but the following is more or less right. We were under way for just over 28 hours, covering 160 nautical miles, we motor sailed for just under 6 hours, and sailed the rest. Our average speed on the first day was around 5.2 knots and on the second 6.6 knots. We used 4 gallons of fuel. You can see our route on the AIS chart below. If you want to find out how you can track live, check out the chart on the Crystelle Venture page.

Updated AIS image (as it only covered 24 not the full 28 hours) showing our route from Portland to Dover

Podcast

Don’t forget you can not only read about our travels, but also listen to them on our podcast – Two in a Boat. We update our blog with details when new episodes are or will be available here. So why not subscribe and see how we are getting on? We’d love to have you on board.

Dartmouth to Portland

Day 1

With the weather not looking its best, we opted not to leave Dartmouth on Sunday, but to take our chances on the right kind of wind, in the right direction, on a cloudy rather than wet day on Monday 17 June.

Andrew preparing to slip our mooring at Darthaven Marina, Kingswear, Devon, UK

8am sharp

As a stream of 7 naval picket boats entered Dartmouth harbour, we motored past in the opposite direction, hoisting our mainsail by Dartmouth castle at the mouth of the river, and out into the open sea by 8.30 am. With engine turned off, and our genoa hoisted we set our auto pilot to 77 degrees for the 55 or so nautical miles to Portland harbour, across Lyme Bay.

Knots and knots

Our speed at Mewstone was 8.2 knots, with Andrew claiming top speed of the day at 9.1 knots at around 10 am. It was then time for Suzanne to practice her knots, notably the bowline, which is the most useful of knots according to Andrew. With a watch change each hour, our new AIS to play with and get used to -all that beeping when another vessel was within 5 miles range had to be stopped(!) – time passed quickly.

Our first sighting

At around 1130 we had our first sighting of a dolphin or porpoise. As it was on it’s own, swam under the boat and carried on its way – we think it was probably the latter. Dolphins tend to travel in groups and swim alongside the boat. However Suzanne’s theory that sea birds can often be an indicator that a ‘d’ or ‘p’ – our boat code so we don’t jinx the chance of a sighting – is nearby worked again. Watching an elegant lone sea bird, with a slim silhouette similar to a swallow, led us to see the ‘d’ or ‘p’, otherwise we would have missed it. It came and went in the flash of an eye, and far too quick to catch on camera. Next time we hope!

Rounding Portland Bill

Portland Bill has something of fearsome reputation amongst the sailing fraternity. Lyme Bay is littered with wrecks, it has notorious tidal race which is where a fast moving tide is constricted by some kind of land or sea mass. It looks a bit like the sea is bubbling and boiling. The Swinge was the first of these notorious races that we’ve managed to sail, when we visited Alderney. We’ve learnt, give them as wide a berth as possible. And so it was we were safely past and into Portland Harbour.

Berth for a night

By 6.30 pm we had tied up in our berth for the night, Q15, on the outer pontoon at Portland Marina. A fantastic facility, surrounded by numerous sailing and racing facilities, no doubt boosted by them hosting the sailing at the 2012 Olympics (which we were lucky enough to attend). After dinner at The Boat That Rocks, we took a stroll on the incredible Chesil Beach.

A stowaway

As Andrew went to pack away the stay sail, he discovered a large bee resting in the folds. Clearly exhausted, with no energy to fly away, Suzanne fed it sugar water until it revived. Flying and sounding like a B52 bomber, after half an hour our stowaway took its leave.

Our daily stats

We were underway for 10.5 hours, sailed for 42 miles and motor sailed for 12, with around 2 engine hours, using about 3 gallons of fuel. Our noon position was 50degrees 25.5 N, 02 degrees 56.2 W. You can see the course we steered in the screen shot from AIS below.

After a rest day, we’ll be setting sail for France!

Countdown is on


It’s now only a few days away. And there’s so much to do before we leave our tranquil mooring on the River Dart, deep in beautiful Devon.

Packing

First up, we need to finish packing! What do you take when you are going to be away for around 3 months? I guess, being British, we pack clothes for all possible weather – rain, hail, snow, sun, more rain – probably in that order too. Sailing clothes, obviously, but how smart will we need to be for rally dinners in yacht clubs? And will there be fancy dress?

Charting our route

Andrew is in charge of the charts and everything to do with the boat itself. Our Baltic Rally handbook, supplied by the World Cruising Club, has been a great source of information, not only for the charts and books we’ll need, but also safety equipment, information on our route, and even how to apply for our Russian visas.

Sailing on our stomachs

And have we got enough food? An army marches on its stomach, and sailors sail on theirs. Our fridge is small, and our cupboard space restricted, plus it’s going to be difficult to get the right gas bottles for our cooker when we reach the Baltic. So quick, tasty and easy recipes. I’ve been through the Able and Cole recipes we get with our food boxes each week, and picked out some that hopefully will fit the bill. I’ve put in a big food order this week to stock up our larder. We’ll let you know which work.

Preparing Crystelle Venture

We’ve been so busy getting Crystelle Venture in good order for the trip, and the weather having been so poor so far this year, we haven’t actually had chance to take her out for a proper shake down sail. So when we set off this coming Sunday, to make our way to the Baltic – that will be our first time out with our new sails!

Wish us luck!

Cool things to do in La Paz, Bolivia

Cool things to do in La Paz

I love La Paz.  It is like no other city I’ve visited.  It appears to cling higgledy-piggledy across an impossibly steep terrain by sheer determination alone.   Below are a few suggestions of things you might like to do if you’re in La Paz for a day or so.  These are just some of my favourites, that combine architecture, art, vistas and food.  What more could you want?

La Paz is the third-largest city in Bolivia by population, at under a million, but the continuing sprawl across every piece of this mountainous valley suggests it will soon reach that milestone figure.

Despite this urban sprawl, at the heart of the city there are still gems of colonial architecture evident from its early foundation in 1548 by Alonso de Mendoza.

Recommendation: Visit San Francisco church and monastery museum

 

Located in Plaza San Fransisco, a short walk from the main Bus Terminal, or red cable car station Central – 20 bolivianos (Bs) – about £2 – gets you a guided tour around the monastery, including looking down into the church and up to the bell tower, with great views across La Paz.  There are still Franciscan monks living at the monastery so not all parts are accessible.  The monastery and its occupants have played significant roles in various uprising and revolutions in Bolivia, and there are photos and memorabilia from more recent times, as well the colonial era paintings and carvings.

You can enter the San Francisco Church for free – further information can be found here.

Suggested time:  1 – 1.5 hrs

 

Recommendation:  Take the cable car

It’s the world’s longest and highest urban cable car network – so for that reason alone you shouldn’t miss out on the chance to take a ride.

For those of us who are keen skiers, jumping in a cable car to get to the top of a run is a common place activity.  Do not think that taking a cable car in La Paz is in the same league.  The modern cable car stations, the automatic entry barriers, and climbing into the 8 person cable car is familiar territory, albeit much easier without the ski boots and skis – but the vistas and  panormas are extraordinary.

Travelling over a city that never sleeps is something else, and over distances not many ski cable cars cover.  You’ll hear music and look down to see groups practising their local dances, spot wedding parties having their pictures taken at viewpoints, marvel at the gardens in the well-heeled districts, and be challenged by the state of the poorer ones.  And the vistas are something else!  As you roll over each hill or down into the next valley, the mountains, the lunar landscape, the distant views, are all breathtaking.

The cable car network –  Mi Teleferico – is continually growing with new lines being opened in 2018 and 2019.  Launched in 2014 there are now 8 lines open – all known by their colour.  The first colours, of course, were those in the Bolivian flag, green, red and yellow.  There are now also blue, sky blue (Celeste), white, orange and purple, with coffee and platinum due in 2019.  It’s suggested that by 2030 there could be up to 16 lines.

Open Monday – Saturday from 6am to 11pm and on Sunday from 7am to 9pm the cost is reasonable, around 3 bolivianos one way.  That’s roughly 30 pence.  You buy tickets at the station, and then scan the ticket at the barrier gate.   If there’s more than one of you travelling, you’ll all be included on the one ticket, so you rescan it for each person to go through.

Unfortunately the cable car stations aren’t particularly well sign posted, and most tourist maps aren’t to scale.  If you are unsure, ask a local bus or taxi driver, or even better catch one to take you to the nearest station.  You can pick up a teleferico map from the cable car stations – or download a copy from here.

For some of the key places you’ll want to visit below are some of the nearest cable car stations.

For possibly one of the best views in La Paz, head to Parque Mirador Laikakota, Av del Ejercito which is open from 8.20am to 7pm.

Yellow Line

Red Line

Green Line

  • Estación  Irpawi: Gustu, Zona Sur

Purple Line

Celeste (sky blue) Line

  • Estación Chukiya Marka: Brosso

 

Recommendation: Visit a cemetery

It may seem a morbid thing to do, and possibly intrusive to european sensibilities, but a visit to the Cementerio General is an intriguing, moving and uplifting experience.  Unlike the Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, funerals and burials still take place here, although it is now almost full.  This means that the people of La Paz still have current connections with the occupants, and visit on a regular basis, to read, eat, play music, talk and pray with their deceased loved ones.

It’s the largest cemetery in Bolivia, over 3 kms, and was established in 1826.  It contains tombstones, mausoleums, sarcophagi and row upon row of four story concrete blocks.

The cemetery is located close to the red cable car line, Estacion Teleferico Cementerio.

Suggested time:  1 – 1.5 hrs

 

Recommendation: Dine at Gustu and Ali Pacha

La Paz has a thriving gastronomic scene and top of the list should be visits to Gustu and Ali Pacha.   Email or book online before you leave for Bolivia, so as not to be disappointed.

I’ve been lucky enough to eat at Gustu twice and Ali Pacha once.  Both were memorable meals, the quality and service were outstanding. As a vegetarian, who occasionally eats fish, these are fantastic restaurants to visit.  Ali Pacha is vegan and Gustu produce both vegetarian and fish tasting menus on request, as well as a good range of choice for vegetarians on their a la carte menu.

If fine dining isn’t your thing, or you just want somewhere reasonable and centrally located, with decent toilets and charging points, then you can’t go far wrong with a visit to Brosso  It’s great if you’re travelling with children, with an extensive play area on the 3rd floor.  It offers a whole range of hot and cold food, including an extensive range of incredible desserts.

Gustu – ‘Meet Bolivia through its products’

Gustu is number 28 on the top 50 list of restaurants in Latin America in 2017. It’s current head chef is also the current title holder of the best female chef in south america.  The restaurant’s vision is the belief they can change the world through food.

Location: Gustu is in Zona Sud, so will mean a cable car ride on the green line to Irpavi, and then a short walk or a cab ride.  It’s easy to get lost, so a cab may be easiest, but it’s not a long walk, if you want to build up an appetite.

Directions: Turn left out of the cable car station Irpavi on the green line, cross over the small river and walk down Calle 12 for 3 blocks until you get to Julio Patino, where you turn right, then take the first left onto Calle 10.

Gustu is actually on Calle 10 (Google maps is wrong, it isn’t on Avenida Costanera – if you hit that street you’ve gone too far), but you have to cross what feels like a dual carriageway, but is actually two separate roads – Av Los Sauces (appropriate name!) and Los Nardos, to continue on Calle 10.

Gustu is on the right hand side, and you’ll usually see a board outside advertising they sell bread (Hay pan).  You go up a short flight of stairs to enter.

Ambience:  The interior is modern, with dark wood and minimal decorative fixtures or fittings.  The reception desk is straight in front of you as you enter, and there is a long bar along the left hand wall with comfy sofas behind the reception desk and opposite the bar.

As you walk to your table you see the kitchen, which is enclosed by a glass wall on 2 sides- so you can see all that is going on.  It is surprisingly small given the amazingly technical food that is produced.

The toilets are at the back on the left, behind a dark curtain.

Food: I’ve had a tasting menu twice, first a vegetarian tasting menu and the second a fish tasting menu.  Both times we’ve had an accompanying wine flight, and shared one between the two of us, but it’s not expensive (about 180 bolivianos), we just don’t drink that much.  And at altitude it’s probably not a great idea either!

As each course is brought out, your waitress will describe the plants and processes behind each plate.  Everything is made from Bolivian ingredients and products. Ask as many questions as you like.  The second time I visited I went with Bolivian friends, and even they learnt a thing or two!

Similarly with the wine, you’ll be told about the grape, the winery and the people behind the wine.  Most of these are a revelation, although the cloudy Japanese/French wine that tasted of feet, and was made that way – was our least favourite.  Our recommendation would be that Gustu don’t serve that, as it takes away from all the other great wines that they serve.

As you’d expect, presentation is excellent, and flavours are sometimes unique.  Given the vast variety of potatoes grown in Bolivia (in excess of 200 and counting) and huge range in climates, they have developed incredible ways of preserving and cooking potatoes.  For example, Chuno, which is naturally freeze dried by leaving out over night in freezing temperatures, and during the day, and then trampling by foot.

You wouldn’t expect there to be local fish or seaweed at this height above sea level.  But you forget Lake Titikaka, which provides not only fish but a type of lake weed that is used to make a kind of tempura.

Price: Gustu is not a cheap restaurant, but for the quality of the food the prices are reasonable.  For the complete experience tasting menu of roughly 7 courses you pay around 500 bolivanos, about £50 per head.  There are other versions available for lunch and dinner, as well as a la carte.  Prices on a la carte range from 44 bolivianos, about £4 for a starter or dessert, and from around 90 – 120 bolivanos for a main course (£9 – 12).  Supporting alcoholic drink flights cost between 185 – 290 bolivianos, or £18 – £30 approximately.

 

Ali Pacha

Another award winning restaurant, receiving the following awards at the 2017 World Luxury Restaurant awards

  • South American Cuisine Global Winner
  • Best Cocktail Menu Continent Winner
  • Gourmet Vegan Cuisine Continent Winner

Location: Conveniently located in central La Paz on the corner of Calle Colon and Potosi, just a few blocks from both the purple line Obelisco station and Celeste line Chukiay Marika stations.   It has a rather unprepossessing entrance, and you may miss it at first.  The giveaway is that you go down a short flight of stairs to get to the entrance.

Ambience: Despite the slightly off-putting entrance, once downstairs the decor improves, although the premises isn’t large – about half the size of Gustu.  There’s a small reception area as you first enter, and then you weave your way between the tables.  Funky tiles are on the floor, and wood is used throughout to giving the restaurant a rustic and ethnic feel.

Food: This is a vegan restaurant at the highest level, again using the local Bolivian produce and supporting micro producers.  There’s no menu – instead what you get will be a surprise.  All you choose is how many courses you’d like – and then sit back and wait to be delighted.

As with Gustu they expect everyone on the same table to ask for the same menu.

Price: 3 courses -100 Bolivianos – approximately £10; 5 courses – 150 bolivianos – approximately £15, and 7 courses – 200 Bolivanos, approximately £20.  This represents exceptional value for money, as filtered water and sourdough bread is included also.

Accompanying alcoholic and non alcoholic drink flights are also available ranging from 100 – 200 Bolivianos (approximately £10-20)

Suggested time:  1.5 – 2 hours

Finally

I hope this has whetted your appetite for La Paz, it’s sights and sounds and flavours.  If you have your own favourite places in La Paz, I’d love to hear about them.

 

Avoiding altitude sickness

Avoiding altitude sickness

Let’s keep this simple.  I have travelled to La Paz suffering from severe altitude sickness, and I have travelled to La Paz and been fine.  So I can talk from personal experience.

Altitude sickness is extremely unpleasant – your head throbs like it’s going to explode, you vomit and it is way worse than any hangover I’ve ever had.  Your fingers tingle, you can’t catch you breath and walking is exhausting.  Basically it screws up your enjoyment and reduces your ability to join in on any activities you may have planned.

In the Andean mountain range, La Paz is high, at 3640m, and it’s airport, El Alto International, is even higher, at 4,0615m making it the world’s highest international airport.  As my husband loves to tell me, this means it needs a super long runway to take off, extra strong tyres, and the pilots should use oxygen masks.  If you like that kind of thing you can read a pilot’s personal account here.

To put those figures in perspective, the highest mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis at 1,345 metres, and in France Mont Blanc is 4,808 metres.  If this has ‘peaked’ your appetite on the height of mountains in Europe, you can find out more here.

My top tips

  1. Do not travel directly to La Paz from sea level (like I did from Easter Island – doh!)
  2. If you can, arrive at another, lower, location in Boliva e.g. Santa Cruz or Cochabamba, and spend a few days acclimatising before moving on to La Paz
  3. Travel to La Paz by bus, preferably overnight.  This gives your body chance to acclimatise gently and while you sleep.  (I’ll write a separate blog about travelling in Bolivia by bus – which is super cheap and can be super comfy)
  4. Take normal travel sickness pills as you start your journey to La Paz.  This will take the edge off any possible symptoms.
  5. Do not, unless you’ve drunk it regularly before, drink coca tea.  The locals will insist this is the best cure.  It is not, it only makes you worse and increases the amount you vomit – believe me!
  6.  On arrival, take it easy – walk slowly, walk downhill only where possible and avoid climbing up hill – use a bus, cable car or taxi instead.
  7. Listen to your body and respond – don’t soldier on.  Seek medical attention if you’re not sure.  Most hotels, for example, have oxygen available.
  8. Avoid alcohol, and if you must, keep it to small amounts.
  9. Of course check out the latest medical advice

I hope this hasn’t put you off visiting La Paz, as it’s a fabulous place to visit and quite unique. Check out my other posts on cool places to visit in La Paz and La Paz – as high as it gets.

I learnt the hard way, so I hope these tips will help you avoid altitude sickness.  If you have others that have worked for you, and you’d like to share, I’d love to add them to my list – so get in touch via the comments page.

La Paz, Bolivia – as high as it gets?

There’s so much to write about La Paz, but the top three things I think I should cover first are:

Check out my individual blogs as I publish them on each of these topics.

La Paz – a few facts, figures and useful links

La Paz is an amazing city, the seat of government and the defacto capital of Bolivia, although Sucre is actually the constitutional capital.  It is also the highest capital city in the world.  Towering over the city is the impressive mountain Illimani, with triple peaks reaching 6438 metres.

La Paz is the third largest city in Bolivia, and the metropolitan area of La Paz that encompasses La Paz, El Alto and Viacha, is the largest urban population in Bolivia, of around 2.3 million.

The Teleferico, launched in 2014, is the world’s highest cable car network.  Known locally as Mi Teleferico it is currently made up of 8 lines, each given a colour, with a 2 further planned for 2019.  You can read more about this in my blog ‘Cool things to do in La Paz‘.

La Paz is also the gateway to Lake Titikaka and Tiwanaku, both of which are fascinating and unique places to visit, and I’ll cover in my blog on ‘Cool places to visit from La Paz’.  It’s a great place to move onto Peru, or to the other diverse parts of Bolivia, including the salt flats in Uyuni, the silver mines at Potosi, the delights of Sucre and Cochabamba, and the amazonian forest.  I’ll be covering these in later blogs.

So the answer to my headline question, La Paz – as high as it gets? – is a resounding YES!