August 1999

Early in January 1999 a group of 4 of us decided that we really wanted to see the eclipse in August. We bought the Royal Greenwich Observatory guide and checked on the maps to find where was covered. We looked into Cornwall, but after seeing the prices that were being charged and the number of people that they were expecting to arrive there, and the 45% chance of seeing it anyway we decided to look elsewhere. The next place we looked at was Aldernay, and were nearly laughed off the phone when we rang to see if there was any availability. Our friends also were looking around in brochures and suggested Lake Balaton in Hungary as one of them had been there before, it was charging any more at the time for a weeks holiday, and had a 55% chance of seeing totality. So, we booked that up.

We arrived at Budapest off a Malev airlines flight from Heathrow, it wasn’t the best flight I’d ever been on, for one thing we were at the back of the plane in the seats that don’t recline, for another Richard and I were the last people on the plane to get our food, so much so that they were already bringing out the coffee before we had cups to put it in. The plane was also a no-frills plane with no monitors or music or anything. Anyway we arrived about an hour late and went to meet our rep. We waited at the airport and boarded a fairly basic coach to take us the 140 km to Tihany. The coach had no air conditioning and the weather was very warm. Before heading off to Tihany we had to go around Budapest to pick up the people who had been doing two centre holidays, and we seemed to go around the same parts of Budapest 2 or 3 times. Eventually we’d picked everyone up and could move off. The coach didn’t have enough luggage space and so cases and bags were piled at the back of the coach, with at least one blocking the emergency exit.

When we arrived at the hotel, it was worth it as the hotel looked spectacular. It had been a communist owned house and as so was very impressive. The only downside was that we had to eat at the concrete block next door. Over the next few days we did a bit of an explore of the village, and found different restaurants to eat in every day. The main tourism is aimed at the german market although most of the restaurants now have English menus as well. The village is quite pleasant, and the abbey dominates the sky line over the lake. We spent a lot of our time relaxing by the lake, reading, playing with the beach ball and the like. We took the ferry from Tihany to Balatonfured one day and had a look around there. It is a town and is a bit larger and more touristy than Tihany. We bought ourselves some Lilos and a frisbee from one of the shops before discovering the wine festival. Balatonfured has a wine festival for 2 weeks every August and it is an opportunity for local wine producers to offer their produce to tourists and locals alike. We sampled some which cost us 50 forints – about 20 British pence.

Eclipse day was magical. We decided to stay by the lake and watch it from there. The hotel had leased it’s grounds out to Pannon GSM, one of Hungary’s mobile phone networks and construction of tents, stages etc had been going on for two days. We were very worried that this was going to ruin it for us, and so quite a lot of the guests and gone to other places on the peninsular to watch it. As it happened the Pannon people were not intrusive at all, the event only lasted from 11am-3pm and they shut everything off for totality. We watched the eclipse from first contact when there was just the smallest nibble taken out of the sun, and with about 20 minutes to go we opened the first of our 2 bottles of Hungarian champagne (4 British Pounds per bottle). With about 15 minutes to go it got noticably cooler, and the light changed to a sort of floodlight type effect, where it was a paler white blue type of light. The swans and ducks on the lake put their heads in amongst their feathers and the mosquitoes came out. As soon as totality happened everything went mostly very quiet with the exception of the odd scream. The sky over the other side of the lake took on the pink colour off a sunset and lots of flashes from cameras could be seen. Venus and Mercury were visible to the bottom right and bottom left of the Sun. It didn’t go pitch black, it went more like dusk. It was a truly awesome experience and I intend to see another one. Unfortunately the 2 mins 20 secs was over far too quickly and before we knew it the moon was moving on. There then followed about 10 minutes of us, and the other British people around all standing around discussing it and saying “Wow” a lot. It was incredible. We then opened our second bottle of champagne to celebrate. From people we met later in the week, some hotels/bars/restaurants etc had upped their prices for eclipse day, and Lake Balaton was estimated to have crammed 1 million people in for that day.

We decided to go to Budapest for a day whilst in Hungary and had chosen Thursday to do so. The tour company operated a trip on Friday, but as we left on Saturday we didn’t want two long days, and after the coach we’d arrived on we weren’t prepared to trust them when they said luxury air-conditioned coach. We choose our day badly as all of the tourists that had packed into the Balaton area for the eclipse were packed on this train back to Budapest (we’d taken the first train out in the morning). Consequently, we had to stand, or sit on the floor all the way. In Budapest we wandered to look at the houses of parliament, took a boat trip up the Danube to see the city from the river, and also spent some time in Buda looking at the Fisherman’s bastion and the church. The train back was fine, and we all had seats.

The journey back from Tihany to Budapest for the airport although far from enjoyable wasn’t as unpleasant as the journey the week before, and the plane also was better.

Hungary was a very interesting place to visit, and I hope that I might return one day to see some more of the country (probably when there isn’t an eclipse and also when it isn’t so warm that all you can do is doze by the lake). And the eclipse, well that was phenomonal and I’m planning where to be for the 4 minute one in 2001.


April 1999

A group of 4 of us decided that we wanted to spend a weekend somewhere with proper snow. After seeing an advert in a newspaper we decided on Iceland and started looking for a trip. We decided on a 3 night break in Reykjavilk staying at the Hotel leifur eirkison, located near the Halgrimskirja.

The flights were with Icelandair and were great. We were met at Keflafik airport and taken to Reykjavik, about a 50km drive. The scenery is really bleak, lots of rocks and not much trees.

The hotel was great – it was fairly basic with twin beds, tv, ensuite bathroom (with shower no bath) and without a kettle or mini bar but the location was brilliant.

Friday was spent aquainting ourselves with the city, and getting used to the temperature (about -4 deg C). Before leaving England we’d booked a trip for Saturday with Geysir for a skidooing trip. So, we were picked up at 9.30am, taken to collect some warm clothing for our ride, and were then driven in a Toyota 4 wheel drive to Hrauneyar where we had lunch. We then collected our skidoos (none of us had ever been before) and went off to Landmanalaugar. The ride took about 2 hours and was great fun. At Landmanalaugar there is a hot pool in which people were bathing. This was half way through our trip and before very long we were back on the skidoos heading back. All in all we had a 4 hour trip and covered 65 km. It was great fun and I’m planning another skiddoing trip in Iceland next March. Geysir were excellent and took us to see a waterfall before stopping for a coffee in a beautiful coffee shop in Selfoss. We finally arrived back at the hotel at 8.30pm and we were all exhausted. We wandered into town and decided to eat at Caruso, an Italian restaurant. The food was lovely, but we were all too tired to stay out for long so headed back to the hotel for a beer at the bar before bed.

Sunday was a sightseeing day. We headed off up the tower of the Hallgrimskirja which afforded excellent views over the city. We took a walk around the pond and to the harbour. In the afternoon we went to the Volcano Show, two films about the volcanic aspects of Reykjavik. It was quite interesting in a 1970s sort of way. the evening was spent at a restaurant recommended by the hotel owner. A fish restaurant, and it was lovely. Food is expensive in Iceland, but it is of very good quality.

We returned to England early on Monday morning, and were collected from the hotel by the “meet and Greet” service arranged by our tour operators, Regent Tours. Again, the flights were great and we arrived back at Heathrow on time.

Iceland is beautiful, and the plans are to return for a week next March and get some more skidooing in.

Biyadoo, Maldives

December 1998

Biyadoo is a small island, situated about an hour away from the airport on a speedboat. It has a sister island of Villivaru, and a small dhoni ferry boat operates between the two islands as a free passenger ferry (and laundry boat). Biyadoo (and Villivaru) are both full-board resorts and the food on Biyadoo was very good. As with all Maldive resorts alcohol is expensive, but we found that the lager was okay and not too badly priced (wine is very expensive at around $30 per bottle due to it mainly being imported from Europe).

On arrival at Biyadoo one of the pieces of paper in the Welcome pack is a map of the island showing the passages out to the reef. On Biyadoo I think all but one of the passages was very clearly marked with a flag marking the entry points. We snorkeled at 4 of the passages and the fish life was extraordinary. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a “fish guide book” with us and so it was a bit hit and miss identifying them. We did see Parrotfish, Black tip reef sharks, sting rays to name but a few. The visibility was excellent, but the coral wasn’t as vibrant as I had been expecting. As you swim out over the reef, the larger fish can be seen coming to feed from the open sea and the experience of watching shoals of fish being herded along like sheep was excellent.

We took advantage of the ferry to Villivaru one day and snorkelled out of Passage 2 on that island. It wasn’t marked very well at all leading to me getting lost coming back in and finding myself in a coral field. Having said that, again the quality and quantity of fish life was excellent.

We didn’t go on any of the excursions as we were only there for a week, but one of them (Island hopping) does offer the chance to visit an uninhabited island and apparently offers some great snorkeling opportunities.

We took two underwater disposable cameras with us, and the photos have actually come out pretty well. I would recomend them as a cheap way of getting reasonable snaps of your trip.

We will probably be going back to Biyadoo some time.

For a more detailed report see the Maldives Travel Diary


September 1998

When searching the internet for good places to see dolphins I came across the website for Dolphin Ecosse in Cromarty. This started me thinking and we planned a 4 day trip around this.

After considering the various alternatives we decided to travel on the Caledonian Express overnight sleeper train from London Euston to Inverness. The cabin was about 6ft by 4it with two bunk beds on the side, a sink and “overnight packs” containing soap, nail file, face cloth, toothbrush an tooth paste. The lounge car was really busy when we went down to have a look, so we stayed in our cabin with the bottles of pre-mixed Gin & Tonics that we’d brought with us. On the journey to the highlands I had the bottom bunk and didn’t sleep particularly well.

We were woken up by the guard bringing us tea and croissants. We arrived in Inverness at 08:40 and decided that our first task was to get a street map of Inverness. This we found at the newsagent at the station. Armed with our map we then went in search of Alamo car rentals to pick up the car which we’d reserved over the internet. We had the street name but wandered up and down until we noticed that the National Car Rental offices had a tiny Alamo notice in their window. We entered the office and went through the normal admin before driving away in a Renault Clio 1.3.

Our first mission was to drive and find the Brae Ness hotel where we were to stay for the next three nights. We located it but decided that we were probably too early (only just 9am) to check in, so we then took ourselves off for an explore.

We headed off towards Loch Ness and driving along that road was wonderful. We took a break at one of their view points and the water was so flat and calm. After heading off again we stopped at Drumnadrochit at the “Original Loch Ness Museum” and had a rest at their coffee shop. Feeling more human after a cup of tea we decided to head off over to the West Coast of Scotland towards Skye. We were in no rush and so stopped at whatever viewpoints looked interesting. We stopped at a place, in the middle of nowhere, called the “Cuanie Inn” where we had some lunch before heading off the rest of the way. We arrived at the Kyle of Lochalsh and soon discovered that the Bridge to Skye costs £5 per car each way. As we were only out for a day trip we decided not to bother as we didn’t feel we could do justice to the island in a few hours at a cost of £10. Instead we stopped in Lochalsh for a while, visiting the tourist office and buying a map of the Highlands (we’d been using the map the car rental people had given us). During the second world war my Great-Uncle, Geoge Duffield, had died whilst working in the Navy and was buried somewhere in Lochalsh. We decided to investigate and suceeded in locating the grave. The graveyard was really nicely situated and very calm.

Having found that, we decided to take a leisurely ride back towards Inverness. We arrived at the hotel at 5pm and checked into our room. Having checked in, we decided to rest a while and then woke up at 10pm, by which time neither of us could face the idea of going out looking for food, so we just turned in for the evening.

We woke up on Saturday morning feeling refreshed and went down to a much needed breakfast. The weather didn’t look very good but we hoped it would clear up as this was the day for us to go with Dolphin Ecosse out in a boat looking for dolphins. After our breakfast we took a walk into Inverness before we had to move the car (free parking only until 10am Mon- Sat) allowing me to buy some new sunglasses (poor misguided fool).We started the drive towards Cromarty and decided to stop off at Chanonnry point, a good spot for dolphin spotting apparently. The weather was prety grim and we didn’t see any dolphins. We then took ourselves off to Cromarty and decided to track down a cup of tea in the “Country Kitchen”. This was a really nice little tea shop but we couldn’ t stay there all day and os we decided to go for a walk around the town. We then took a break in the Cromarty Arms for a beer before moving off to the “Thistle” for lunch. By now it was time to report to Dolphin Ecosse so that is what we did. There we were shown an introductory video and given time to browse around the shop before going down to the harbour to get onto the boat. The weather had at least dried off so although it was still quite chilly we weren’t going to get soaked. We got on the boat and went for our trip with another 4 people, but unfortunately there were no dolphins to be seen. We drove back to Inverness and ate that night at a bar not far from the hotel “Nico’s bistro”. After that, and a stroll along the river we retired to bed.

On Sunday, we had a walk around Inverness before getting into the car, going to Tescos and then heading back to Channonry Point to see if we could spot any dolphins, unfortunately not but we did see some seals. We then headed of to Nairn, still in the hope of seeing dolphins, and still not seeing any. After Nairn, we headed off to visit Culloden Battlefield, and walked around the exhibitions and into the battlefields themselves. We stopped for a cup of tea and a sticky bun in the visitors centre before heading off down the road just a bit and visiting the clava cairns – a set of ancient stones, which were really interesting. It was starting to get dark by this point so we headed back to Inverness and went out for our tea to Bella pasta.

On Monday, we checked out of the hotel and drove along the other side of Loch Ness, and ended up in Aviemore. We drove up and around the area, up to
We then drove back towards Inverness via loch Garten which was really beautiful. We dropped the car off, having clocked up around 500 miles in the 4 days and then stopped in a pub near the station for a bite to eat and a drink. Then onto the train and straight into the lounge for G&Ts. The train made it’s way back south towards London arriving in Euston at around 8am.


June 1997

Basically this was a beach holiday to recover after a very hassled few months – a car accident being the cause of most of the hassle, and as such it was an okay holiday. We took one of the operators day trips, a jeep safari, which was great fun, although quite dusty as we were driven along small tracks. We hired bikes one day and cycled along to the sand dunes, which was really hard work due to the heat, but it did mean that we got to see a little bit more of the island under our own steam. Corralejo alternated between being really hot, and quite windy, after all the island name means “Heavy Wind”. There were no shortages of restaurants and bars, and although our hotel, the Corralejo Garden wasn’t in the middle of them all, it wasn’t a very long walk, and some of the fish restaurants near the harbour were great. The hotel didn’t have an entrance on to the beach, but did have a swimming pool with water features, although there was no heating to the water and consequently only the very hot or very brave were to be seen in it.

Gran Canaria

September 1996

This was a “between jobs” holiday and as so was booked about a week before we left the UK. The hotel was okay, we were on half board and the food was a selection of hot buffet dishes, it was okay but nothing special.
We spent a lot of time just lazing in the sun, and the there were 2 pools, one for swimming, and one plunge pool, with a slide (great fun). The vilage of Playa del Cura is not very far away
from Puerto Rico, but doesn’t have a huge selection of bars or restaurants.

We went on three trips with the operator. The first was to one of the Water parks, which was great fun. Lots of slides and the like. It was a gorgeous day as well. The second trip was going pony trekking, which again was great. This included a barbeque meal afterwards and the food was okay but nothing really special. The third trip was going on a pub crawl around Puerto Rico, which turned out to be quite a laugh, but we didn’t stay until the end.

Overall opinion: it’s quieter than Puerto Rico, and some of the hotels which the operator were offering in Puerto Rico were at the top of a big hill so more convenient in that way.

Brittany and Normandy

August 1995

This was a “let’s take the car and a tent over to France for two weeks this summer” idea. I arranged the trip across the channel through the Hoverspeed Sea Cat between Dover and Bolougne. We had got a set of information from the French tourist office, which included helpfully enough a set of leaflets detailing the municipal camp sites in the Brittany and Normandy regions of France.

Before leaving the UK we decided that we’d go to Eu for our first night as it didn’t look too far from Boulogne, which should give us a chance to driving on the “wrong side” of the road. We had made no reservations at any campsites as we hadn’t really worked out where we were planning to visit. We arrived at the camp site in Eu, pulled up at the reception desk and I asked for “une emplacement pour une tente et une voiture pour deux nuits s’il vous plait”, which seemed to do the trick. We put the tent up and sorted ourselves out. We spent the two nights in Eu very peacefully, just relaxing and winding down. The campsite was very nice, not too many people there, the showers were free if simple, and all in all it was a very pleasant introduction to French campsites.

After consulting the Rough Guide to Brittany and Normandy, and the camping leaflets our next stop was Arromanche. We stayed there for three nights. Whilst there we ventured to Bayeux for a day trip and of course had to go and see the tapestry. The Arromanche campsite was busier than that at Eu, and the spaces for camping were slightly smaller, and the showers had to paid for. But, the town iteself was busier and did a roaring trade in pancakes and galettes.

From Arromanche, our next trek was down to Carnac Plage on the west coast of Brittany. Carnac Plage was very busy, as it seems to be one of the places that the French go for their holidays. Condsequently we couldn’t get into the first camp site we visited, this was partially because we wanted to stay for 5 nights. We found a campsite in the end which was quite a walk from the town, but was quite near the sea and so all was fine. On our first afternoon we walked into the town and stopped at a cafe/bar place for some food and ordered pizzas, we ordered a forestiere (mushroom pizza) and a hawain pizza – this turned out to be cheese and tomato with a beefburger on the top – strange… So during our 5 days we spent a lot of time on the beach reading and swimming, hired bikes one day and cycled off to the monoliths that are around there, and generally took it easy. We treated ourselves to a meal in a little french bistro, and has “assietes de fruits de mer” as a starter – we hadn’t anticipated the number of shellfish that you can get on a plate, it was a very entertaining experience and I have no doubt that our faces were a picture.

After the 5 days there, we moved on back into Normandy and stayed in Fecamp. Again I strolled up and started off in French asking for a placement for the car, tent etc and was asked if she could speak to me in english as she found it easier. So, we stayed there until we needed to get the crossing back to Dover.

All in all a very pleasant break. The standards of the French campsites are much better than the English ones and it was great to have the freedom to decide where to head to next. We made the holiday cheaper by alternating going out for dinner, with buying things from the Supermarkets and cooking them on the gas stove, or the two disposable bar-be-ques that we’d brought with us. We also discovered a liking for red wine! We left Fecamp and drove to Boulogne stopping at a hypermarket to pick up some wine to take back to England with us, some cheese, and presents the families and then spent a little bit of time wandering around the streets of Boulogne before getting on the sea cat back to England.