Strasbourg to Lugano

After that beautiful stopover in Strasbourg we are now burrowing our way through The Alps like a maggot through Swiss cheese, emerging from long, dark tunnels into beautiful vistas of lakes and snow capped mountains. A quick change at Basle and then on to Lugano on the Swiss Italian border.

Hitched a lift on the local bus up into the mountains and was told where to get off by a beautiful young music student who sat next to me. (No, literally: she informed me where to disembark as her stop was a few before mine). This is the Pensione Agra run by Annemiek and Fritz and was my favourite place of the whole tour.

Surrounded on three sides by Lake Lugano it is a magnificent place for hiking through upland meadows and woodland and we have another free day with which to explore. Walking through the village, lizards scurry along the walls through clumps of Ivy-leaved Toadflax.

Butterflies are everywhere, along with a whole host of other inverterbarates while in the woodlands songbirds of ever…

Koblenz to Strasbourg

After last night's debacle at the hotel in Koblenz you'll be pleased to know that I've booked us in to Le Jean-Sebastien Bach in Strasbourg for the next couple of nights. We should be there for lunch. Or would have been if all the trains weren't running up to half an hour late, the connections disconnected and the wheels hadn't fallen off the Vorsprung durch Technik in general. The hotel's a bit swish though; we've even got a trouser press. A freshen up and a walk in the park before dinner is in order I think.

I think that we could recommend Le Parc de l'Orangerie for an evening stroll if only for the magnificent White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) nesting in the carefully pollarded Plane trees. Did you know that these birds gave rise to the ancient Greek Law of Pelargonia, (Pelargos being the Greek for Stork)? Storks were thought to care for their aged parents and Pelargonia enshrined in law that Greek citizens should do the same. Storks don't, by t…

Hook of Holland to Koblenz

An 8am disembarkation at the Hook of Holland and straight into an early morning initiative test. There are four train changes between here and Schiedam and first we have to find the station. But what is this? A bus going to Schiedam – I wonder if they take Interrail tickets? No they don't, they don't take cash either but what a nice lady and such expressive eyes. A quick glance towards an empty seat conveys 'sit down, shut up, and look as though you've got a ticket.' We'll be in Koblenz in time for a late lunch.

And here we are on the banks of the Rhine complete with the world's only horse drawn cable-car. There's no-one at the hotel, just some sort of entry keybad and instructions in German which are beyond my limited ability to order a beer. Thanks to a helpful and bi-lingual neighbour we are now installed. A bit cheap and cheerful but it's only for one night and it's clean. It's also handily placed for a lively looking street cafe so bie…

Harwich and Beyond

Everything packed? Passports to hand? Then let's go. First stage is a bus to Penrith, taking a last look at The Lakes along the way and then a train to Manchester. You'll be pleased to know that we are travelling First Class using an Interrail pass 1.
That's Manchester out of the way and so it's across the Pennines and maybe a last chance to see stations like Carnforth, with its white picket fence, before the Trans-Pennine Express gets built. Change at Doncaster and then down the east side of England to Peterborough where we'll get out and stretch our legs for an hour or two. A complimentary light lucheon and a glass of something to wash it down with will be served on board the train. Don't you just love first class travel?
We have about two and a quarter hours here and there's a wildlife haven about twenty minutes walk away. They also have a model railway there and I'm a sucker for those. Quite nicely laid out foot and cycle paths here i…

The Great British Countryside

Much as I adore living here in Crete with its wall-to-wall sunshine there is something to be said for rain; it does make things green. So come with me if you will, down Simonscales Lane, for a walk in the great British countryside. Notice the difference between the hedgerow on the left and the one on the right. There are far more woody species on the left indicating that it is probably the original field boundary with just a footpath this side. You can estimate the age of a hedgerow by counting the number of woody shrubs in a 100ft stretch and multiplying by 100. This makes the original boundary over 600 years old, whereas the footpath was probably upgraded to a track and the second hedgerow planted within the last 200 years. Besides the woody shrubs there are plenty of herbaceous plants such as Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) and Crosswort (Cruciata laevipes). These are providing food for the local insects as we can see from this Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) sipping nectar from a …

Grand Tour 2: Cumbrian Lakes and Seashore

Let me take you back 500 million years. Crummock Water, now one of fourteen beautiful lakes in The Lake District, was on the sea bed, a bed made up of sand and black, glutinous mud. Since then, that sediment has been squeezed, scunched and uplifted (and continues to be so) to form the fells that surround the lake, in this, the oldest part of the National Park. To the south of this are the eroded outcrops of hard lavas and ashes formed as a result of catastrophic volcanic eruptions 450 million years ago. It is here that you will find the highest peaks including Scafell Pike, England's highest at 3,209 feet (978m). To the south of this lies the gentler sedimentary rocks of southern Lakeland. These mudstones, sandstones, siltstones and limestones made up of billions of crushed seashells were formed upon the sea bed around 420 million years ago. The result is an area of truly outstanding natural beauty.
Let us take a walk around the woodland at the edge of the lake. It feels primaeval …