DOWN MEXICO WAY- THE NORWEGIAN SUN

Slowly, like a patient coming out of a long term coma, the market for cruises to the Mexican Riviera is beginning to revive. And, in the opinion of many, that’s not before time.

As winter sun destinations go, the seven day ‘Riviera Runs’ that sail round trip from Los Angeles are a pretty compelling alternative to the overcrowded winter hugger mugger of the Caribbean, though the latter certainly has better guaranteed weather. Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas form a pretty compelling troika of ‘greatest hits’ ports of call, ranged against the smoky blue sprawl of the Sierra Madre mountains, that offer a very different experience to their vibrant Caribbean counterparts.

Yes, the beaches are wonderful, and the Margaritas are fantastic, frosty confections found almost everywhere. But the pace is less frenetic- a consequence of it being much, much, less crowded. And, of course, the truly star struck have the pre- cruise option of venturing out on star spotting safaris in La-La Land. Pretty good, eh?

But for something a bit more, well, inclusive, I’m really taken by some of the Mexican Riviera cruise being run by Norwegian Cruise Line this fall. They combine departures from my favourite California city- San Diego- with eleven nights’ aboard my favourite ship in the Norwegian fleet- the always excellent, hugely under rated Norwegian Sun.

The company never promotes this wonderful ship to anything like the same degree as her newer siblings, but she has always been something of a trailblazer. And that reputation is freshly enhanced with these new cruises that really do give you more of Mexico than simply the banner ports of call.

For many years, Acapulco was the gem of the Riviera. In the so called ‘Swinging Sixties’ it was perceived as one of the most glamorous resort cities in the world. Time and tide chipped away at that carefully applied make up, and the city became almost a no go zone by the late nineties.

Now, freshly powdered, tidied up and inherently more appealing than it has been in many a long decade, Acapulco is back on the menu- at least for the Norwegian Sun and her passengers. I suspect this might be the first of many returning vessels over the next few years, as Pacific Mexico begins to aggressively assert itself to the cruise industry once more.

Also on the menu is a call at the beach resort of Ixtapa, and a full, two day call at fun filled, bohemian Cabo San Lucas, a place that feels in parts like a Pacific version of Key West. Also on the menu are both Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, those other two members of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Mexican coastal ports.

Combined with an option to spend a few days getting reacquainted with cool, classy San Diego, these longer, more in depth cruises on the always excellent Norwegian Sun could well be the perfect cure for your looming winter blues.

I know fine well that they may very well be the cure for mine. Anyone else in?

The Norwegian Sun in the Caribbean

The Norwegian Sun in the Caribbean

PANAMA AT 100; SOME CRUISE OPTIONS FOR 2014

Legend Of The Seas is offering Panama Canal cruises in 2014

Legend Of The Seas is offering Panama Canal cruises in 2014

2014 is a big year for anniversary travel, especially bearing in mind the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and, from a land based side, the centenary of the Great War, But it is also the centenary of the opening of the Panama Canal, the waterway that cut the journey time between Atlantic and Pacific from weeks to hours.

Panama was a waterway that literally changed history. One of the most desperate. last ditch Japanese plans for changing the course of the Second World War centered around a submarine launched bombing raid on it that never came to pass. When the passage hewn at such ghastly human cost opened in 1914, the long, perilous voyage around the tip of South America became a thing of the past, and the tempo of east-west trade changed forever.

Literally tens of thousands of lives were lost to malaria and yellow fever in the jungle shrouded killing fields of Panama, but finally the forty eight mile long canal- the brainchild of a French engineer named Ferdinand De Lesseps- was completed by the Americans, and officially opened on August 15th, 1914, by which date Europe was already at war,

There are plenty of indolent sea days en route

There are plenty of indolent sea days en route

Today, the legacy of Panama’s genesis is one of the most amazing travel experiences on offer anywhere today, an astonishing, eight hour passage through a panoply of dense, rolling tracts of jungle that tumbles down to the waters’ edge on both sides. As your ship gradually rises and falls more than eighty feet as it is threaded gingerly through a series of gigantic locks, the air all around you is a live with the sound of chattering, humming and screeching local birds and wildlife; it really is an all out visual and vocal assault on the senses.

Essentially, most Panama transits take place as part of relocating cruises. In spring, many cruise ships relocate from Miami to Los Angeles, from their winter Caribbean cruise grounds to the popular Alaska summer runs. In the autumn, they relocate the other way. Either way, these cruises- which always of necessity involve a full transit of Panama- take between thirteen and fourteen days.

Either way, it’s a pretty exhilarating adventure, swapping the indolent playgrounds of the Caribbean for the sparkling, sun splashed waters of the Pacific, where the sunsets defy belief. Whichever direction you sail in, you’ll stop off at such places as beautiful Huatulco on the Mexican side, as well as famously feisty and fun Cabo San Lucas, with the soaring Los Arcos rock formations, and its internationally famous freewheeling, fun vibe.

On the other side, after that spectacular, stand out transit of Panama proper, you might stop in at breezy, Spanish accented Cartagena, before heading north to either Miami or Fort Lauderdale. In between, reckon on quite a few relaxing sea days to just kick back and soak up that delightful tropical sun.

Parrots of Panama

Parrots of Panama

Typically, Florida to California (westbound) Panama cruises sail in the spring, with eastbound trips running from September onward. With that in mind, here’s my pick of some of the best cruises, running in both directions, over the course of 2014.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN has four transits of Panama announced, all of them on the 70,000 ton, recently revitalised Legend Of The Seas. Eastbound dates: April 1 and November 30.  The two westbound departures are on March 17 and November 15.

More upscale? Sassy CELEBRITY CRUISES has no less than seven Panama transits on its roster. The classically styled Celebrity Century sails westbound on both January 5 and March 6, and eastbound on January 20.

Her larger, more contemporary fleet mate, Celebrity Infinity, also offers a tempting quartet of options. She sails westbound on March 30 and again on November 4, and has eastbound crossings available on April 14 and November 19.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE is the pioneer of Freestyle Cruising, and the line has no less than four ships making Panama transits next year. Here’s how the four ships line up;

Norwegian Pearl: westbound on April 18; eastbound on October 3.

Norwegian Star: westbound on October 20 and November 17. Eastbound on April 20 and November 3.

Norwegian Sun: westbound on April 28; eastbound on November 4.

Norwegian Jewel: westbound (from New Orleans) on April 20. Eastbound (to Houston) on September 25.

Any of these options will provide you with a good, solid cruise experience. The one essential recommendation I would make is that, if you are going to go to all the trouble of embarking on a Panama Canal adventure, then it is definitely worth booking a balcony cabin.

Enjoy!

LEARNING TO LOVE LOS ANGELES?

'Do you remember back in old L.A, where everybody drove a Chevrolet.....'

‘Do you remember back in old L.A, where everybody drove a Chevrolet…..’

Even typing that article title feels strange. Those that know me well would have assured you that there’s more chance of seeing Bob Crowe and Paul Dacre leading a conga line down Piccadilly than ever there was of me admitting to even a shred of affection for Los Angeles. And yet, after a few recent trips, some revised thinking is quite clearly in order. Hmmm- has that California wine- or maybe the sun- finally gotten to me? Maybe it’s both.

Whoa, sunshine. Focus and recap.

Let me count the ways… In the past, I always sneered that LA stood for ‘lacks atmosphere’. It was made of plastic and, if you kicked it hard enough, it would surely fall over. The pouting of simpering, intellectual black holes such as Paris Hilton and the Kardashians, plus all the platinum grade, fawning bullshit that goes with that whole celebrity culture, has always left me more than a touch nauseous. Add in the smog, the endless traffic, and the pathetic pretension of some of the city’s more upscale eateries, and you have enough fodder for a barf-a-thon of incalculable magnitude.

And then, two years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts, when I discovered a whole different side of Los Angeles. A kinder, more benign aspect that does not insist on seeing its name up in lights, Because of that alone, Manhattan Beach boasts considerable style, charm and- dare I say it- stage presence.

The background to the story goes something like this; I had to fly out to LA to pick up a cruise ship down to Mexico. And, being booked on British Airways, I had already spent twelve anxious hours in the air, wondering if my luggage and I would enjoy an emotional reunion at LAX or, for that matter, anywhere else.  Add on the effects of passing through all those east to west time zones, and you’ll understand why I was pretty well fried by the time that we were on final approach to la-la-land.

I had been booked into the LAX Hilton hotel for the night, and that suited me just fine. I had stayed here before, and found the place to be eminently comfortable and businesslike. One of the perks attached to staying here was a free shuttle bus to Manhattan Beach, only some three miles away.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach

That first night, I was ready for nothing more than a shower and a quick meal. Both were achieved in record time, before sleep stole up on me and slugged me with a cosh. It was sayonara for a full eight hours. Truly relieved, my luggage and I enjoyed a wonderful night of welcome, mutual proximity

Next day, with a few hours to kill, I thought about taking the free shuttle bus to the beach. Turned out that it wasn’t free, but instead cost all of three dollars each way. Doh.

Still, that shuttle was a dinky little thing. A fire engine red trolley, filled with wooden benches to perch on, it clattered into life and left the morass of hulking hotels that clustered around LAX in its wake.

First impressions were not at all promising. A string of turnpikes and freeways, and an enormous petrochemical plant of such unremitting ugliness that it resembled nothing so much as a boil on a supermodel’s butt. But then, gradually, foliage began to soften the route, and then we found ourselves running parallel to a huge, honey coloured expanse of immaculate sand, drummed gently by the incoming rollers of the springtime Pacific.

This, then. was Manhattan Beach.

Wide, welcoming and virtually deserted on this spring Tuesday morning, the area around it was awash with all manner of local life. A handful of joggers of various ages, and a doddering old dear walking a pekingese along the flower strewn boardwalk that flanks the beach. There was a pair of lovers strolling hand in hand, and random cyclists, barrelling at a dizzying pace past the date palms. On the roaring Pacific rollers, a battalion of early morning surfers did combat with the sea, weaving in and out of the breakers like scores of veteran fighter pilots.

CNV00009Centre stage, a good sized, almost deserted pier jutted out defiantly into the ocean. At it’s farthest end was a sealed up cafe-cum-aquarium, one reminiscent of any deserted seaside scene back in Britain. But there was no whiff of genteel decay here, no line of vultures doing a conga along the promenade. Instead, it was immaculate, and obviously just waiting for the warmth of the summer to bring it back to life.

Overhead, seabirds wheeled and screeched in an almost cloudless, petrol blue sky. I strolled between lanes of pretty, pastel shaded clapboard houses, their open patios already a riot of hibiscus and wisteria in the early spring sunshine. From here, i walked right onto the main drag of Manhattan Beach proper.

‘Bohemian’ was hardly the word. Here there were ditzy arts and craft shops, and a sweep of pubs, bars and restaurants. There was a kiddie’s toy shop and, most pointedly, not a skyscraper in sight anywhere, This was down at home stuff, right down by the ocean, and it was as charming as it was beguiling. More to the point, it was all completely, diametrically at odds with the LA that we all think that we know.

I treated myself to a succulent roast beef baguette the size of a Good Year blimp at Beckers, a local cafe and deli that has been here since 1942. With a cup of fresh coffee and a soundtrack of gentle Pacific surf kissing the beach, it was an absolute bargain at six bucks. Impressed? Yes, so much that I literally did buy the T-shirt.

Just then, the gentle clang of the approaching trolley bell jolted me out of this dreamy little stupor. It urged upon me the imminence of my appointment with my cruise ship, even then disgorging passengers just a few miles away at the port of San Pedro.

Manhattan Beach aquarium

Manhattan Beach aquarium

I left reluctantly, and in the sure and certain knowledge that I would stay here next time I returned. But the real sea change was in the fact that I knew that, next time, i actually wanted to return a few days early, just to soak up the ethereal, gentle vibe here. Smitten indeed.

So what are the lessons in all this? Well, for me it’s the same as always- that there is always something new to be learned, and often savour, about almost everywhere and, once again, to always try and keep an open mind.

To my friends in LA, I mean no disrespect to either you- or your lifestyles- by illuminating some of the city’s less attractive qualities. To my friends in New York, Boston and Miami- no, I have not gone completely ga-ga; I am, and will always remain, an east coast boy at heart.

LA is not my lady. I remain much more enamoured of cool, classy San Diego to the south. But LA has served me notice that maybe, just maybe, I have been just as brash and instantly judgemental as other people in the past. She has thrown open another door, and a chink of very illuminating light has shone through.

It’s official; my curiosity has been awakened, and my reservations, while not yet buried, have certainly been placed in a state of suspended animation.

A bit like Miss Hilton’s personality, really. But Manhattan Beach- I truly am missing you already…..

In the interests of clarity, I should state that the bulk of this article was written in the summer of 2009. I have been back to Manhattan Beach a few times since, but my original observations- as noted in this article- still hold true.

AMTRAK ACROSS AMERICA- LETTING THE TRAIN TAKE THE STRAIN

Comfort with a capital 'C' is standard on Amtrak

Comfort with a capital ‘C’ is standard on Amtrak

America is possibly the most scenically diverse country in the world. From the stunning national parks of Yosemite and the still, silent, pine clad fjords of Alaska, to the forest of steel and glass that is Manhattan, the landscape is as eclectic and engaging as it is magnificent and monumental.

Trying to see it all is about as practicaL as trying to stuff a cloud into a suitcase. But if you really do want to get up close and personal with this constantly unravelling landscape, then it makes sense to do it by train.

Amtrak is America’s national rail network and, like those of many other countries, it has its share of problems. Big investment is needed in the infrastructure- the rail tracks, bridges and stations- that are it’s backbone. And no, it’s record for punctuality is not the greatest. Key to enjoying the Amtrak experience is time and some flexibility.

But that same, extensive network permits the creation and completion of some truly epic itineraries. You could combine New York with Miami, via an overnight rail journey, or take the short, three hour Surfliner run from Los Angeles to San Diego (see previous blogs). You could enjoy an overnight run from Chicago to New York, or even swagger on into sultry New Orleans. 

So what is the Amtrak experience like, then?

The overnight trains are vast, double deck leviathans several carriages long; the first impression is of a gunmetal coloured conga line of ponderous rolling stock that seems to stretch into infinity. Once on board, you have two options in terms of accommodation.

At the end of a cross USA train journey, to be greeted by this view...

At the end of a cross USA train journey, to be greeted by this view…

Coach class seats are wide, roomy and come complete with leg rests. If you want more privacy and comfort, small and compact roomettes sleep up to two people each. These come complete with twin reclining seats that converts into a lower bed, with a second, pullman berth that pulls down at night. Showers and toilets are located in the same carriage, and the roomette option also includes all meals in the price.

Bigger still are the bedrooms, which also sleep two people. Two of these rooms can can interconnect to accommodate families of up to four. Each comes complete with a large picture window, armchair, and has its own shower and toilet. Again, all meals are included in the cost. If you can go to the expense of one of these, this is definitely the way to go.

Food wise, the dining cars serve breakfast between 6.30 and 10.00. Lunch (reservations required) runs from 11.30 to 15.00, and dinner (again, reservations required) is served up between 17.00- 21.30.  Long distance trains also usually have a lounge car that sells drinks, snacks, and offers panoramic windows for watching the scenery unfold all around you.

All things considered, Amtrak is a very comfortable and evocative way of letting America come to you through a series of amazing vistas. The coaches are also set up for wi-fi, and that naturally increases the options available for diversions on even the longest journeys.

It’s also a unique way to meet and interact with the locals in a relaxed, casual environment that no air travel could ever replicate. And the hassles of flying and airports in general are done away with in a single stroke.

But it’s the sheer, exalted notion of ‘rolling on the rails’ that really pushes all the buttons for anyone possessed of even an ounce of nostalgia. Consider crossing the entire continent. Los Angeles to New York. From sea to shining sea.  This is America, up close and personal, as generations of travellers once discovered her. Close enough to touch, and still vast enough to awe, amaze and enchant.

Nice, eh? Well, go on- get out there!

CAPTIVATING CABO- MEXICO’S PACIFIC GEM

ImageTravel is a series of discoveries wrapped in a package made of equal parts wonder and fickle indifference. Some places move us to tears; others move us to stay on the ship/train/plane until they have disappeared beyond the horizon, and calm returns.

ImageSome places you never want to see again, and that’s OK. But, for each of us, there are certain places that draw you back with a siren’s call; you find yourself either planning to go back, or simply yearning to. And sometimes, it really is incredibly rewarding just to give into that sense of yearning and, as the saying goes, just go with the flow.

ImageCabo San Lucas is certainly one of those places for me; a rugged series of arid rolling hills and rock escarpments that jut up out of the sparkling blue Pacific ocean, at the tip of California’s Baja Penninsula, Cabo has long been famed as a spring break resort. Most cruise ships sailing from either Los Angeles or San Diego will almost invariably wind up anchored in the shadow of those soaring, jagged arches.

ImageBut Cabo is far, far more than a seasonal frat boy central. The fishing here is outstanding- especially for the Marlin- and it draws in seriously intent players from all over the world. Row upon row of fishing boats line the wharves that back onto Cabo’s languid sprawl of lazy, rolling hills and mountains. Seagulls and pelicans dot the sun splashed expanse of the ocean everywhere here.

ImageThe overall vibe is very feel good, with more than subtle hints of Key West thrown in for good measure. There’s no doubt that Cabo is a rollicking good party town, with no shortage of bars, waterfront restaurants and high rolling hotels for those wanting all of that. If fun in an endless summer sun is your thing, then Cabo will deliver in spades.

ImageYet it is never more beautiful than when seen from the deck of an arriving ship. The slowly rising sun turns those hills and rock formations into several shades of deep, dusky brown that changes as the sun climbs in the sky. The seagulls swoop down on the sea like dive bombers as they show the visitors how the real locals catch fish. They are utterly fearless; many of them will perch on the rails outside cruise ship buffets, waiting to pounce on any breakfast scraps that might get dropped. This can be more than a tad intimidating.

ImagePara gliders drift soporifically across a petrol blue sky studded with a conga line of freshly plumped clouds, looking like so many exotic, languid butterflies. Jet skis tears across the sparkling briny like so many maddened wasps; their ear splitting roar competing with the screeching gulls to create an overture almost unique to Cabo. It’s an unforgettable soundtrack, and it will stay with you long after you actually leave the place behind.

ImageAs well as the fishing boats, there are vast flotillas of gleaming white yachts here. They seem to bathe in the sunlight like so many supine, lethargic swans. Fleets of brightly painted excursion boats bumble and chug their way out to the massive rock formations of Los Arcos, and the slivers of blinding white sandy beaches that crouch at their bases, at the edge of the Pacific.

ImageAnd, for all the fun ashore, it is these soaring, sand and surf kissed peaks that give Cabo it’s unique cachet and selling point. Far enough offshore to stand alone against a cobalt sky, they really are a stunning sight; a series of jagged, rugged escarpments jutting up into the sky and dominating the horizon for miles around. Immensely photogenic, and totally unforgettable as the birds soar around and above them and the Pacific surf thumps and pushes endlessly against them.

ImageYes, it can be noisy and rowdy ashore along the waterfront, as with any seafront resort. Yet  from the water, Cabo San Lucas has a quite remarkable stance. There’s a peace and a beauty about it which is almost impossible to quantify. Row upon row of whitewashed stone adobes backing up against the spartan series of rugged, low rolling hills that surround them; the sight of freshly caught Marlins hanging from gibbets like grisly trophies. And, this being Mexico, the all but mandatory Margaritas are sublime, and almost worth the journey on their own.

ImageCabo may lack the sophistication of Portofino or Saint Tropez, but it has no pretensions to go down that route. No one would ever accuse it of being on a par with those highly styled European yacht havens. Part playground, part fisherman’s paradise and a whole lot of fun, the place will draw you back like a magnet. And those sultry, Pacific sunsets are truly mellow, soulful affairs that have few, if any equals in any hemisphere. Enjoy!

ENDLESS SUMMER- CALIFORNIA’S BEACHES

ImageManhattan Beach at sunset. Spindly palms loom black against a blood red sky as the sun sags into the ocean. A glass of cold zinfandel and a Mamas and Papas sound track in the background…

ImageSounds like a cliche? Sure. But only because, like the best cliches, it happens to be true. There’s something almost other worldy, Something subtle and tender about a California sunset. Explaining is like trying to stuff a cloud into a picnic basket; it’s far easier to feel, to understand, than it is to elaborate.

ImageImageAnd the days… surfers cresting the surging, cobalt blue rollers that kiss and crash against that broad, biscuit coloured sweep of sand. The warmth of the breeze and the mild sting of the spray.

ImageImageAnd there is so much more. The buskers filling the air with soft, soulful strumming. Lovers strolling the jasmine fringed boardwalks. Little old ladies walking impossibly small dogs. Clapboard shops and restaurants in a hundred shades, strung out along gaunt, sturdy piers that jut out into the Pacific.

ImageIt’s all evocative, dreamy stuff. And yet, very real. And if this little intro has got you hooked, then please enjoy these photos. Taken at Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles, and Pacific Beach in San Diego.

ImageOh, and if you happen to be anywhere near ‘PB’ late afternoon or early evening, you could do a hell of a lot worse than to rock up to a great beachfront bar called Lahaina, grab a Longboard beer, and drink in the sunset from that great vantage point. You’ll be glad that you did.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

BALBOA PARK PICTORIAL- SAN DIEGO’S SWEET SPOT

ImageI make no apologies for loving San Diego. It has wonderful beaches, warm sunshine, and warm hearted locals by the thousand. It truly is a city with a wonderful vibe.

ImageBut nowhere does this come across more than in the vast, Spanish accented spread of Balboa Park. Beautiful gardens and vast, almost impossibly ornate public buildings frame a fabulous spread of exuberant fountains, placid lakes full of huge, impassive carp, and outdoor theatre that truly brings a warm summer night to vibrant life.

ImageI could go on and on. But I won’t. Just check out these pictures for yourself. You’re smart. And, chances are, you’ll be just as amazed as I am every time I go back to this beautiful, smiling city on the bay.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

SLOW ROLLING DOWN TO SAN DIEGO

ImageThe huge, silver sheathed, double decker Surfliner train lurched out of LA’s Union Station with a deceptively gentle shudder. Sprawled in a huge, business class seat on the upper deck, I savoured the space and comfort, and pondered the advantages of paying a little extra for the upgrade.

The scenery wasn’t one of them. At least not for the first hour. The train rumbled ominously through a vast hinterland of scrub, burnt out cars, ragged, random graffiti and urban decay. Huge chimneys reared against the sky, blighting the sunny January day with belching clouds of smoke that clawed at the heavens like poisonous, grubby fingers.

ImageAnd then, it changed. As completely and dramatically as if someone had switched channels without me seeing it. Suddenly, there were long, rolling swathes of sand drummed by the steely blue rollers of the Pacific. Spanish style towns; villages and haciendas wreathed in swathes of gorgeous, vibrant hibiscus. Date palms and small knots of tiny people, draped across the promenades and walkways as the Surfliner rolled south.

ImageThere was no finer time or place to enjoy the complimentary mini bottle of Sutter Creek Zinfandel that comes with being in business class. It somehow never tastes better than in California. There was also free coffee, tea and pastries laid out at the end of the coach.

Three hours on a train have never passed so pleasurably, or seemingly so quickly. But journey’s end found me breaking into an unstoppable grin, as the Surfliner shuddered to a halt at Santa Fe station, in downtown San Diego.

ImageSan Diego flaunts around seventy miles of sun kissed beaches, all of them garnished with the best, year round temperatures anywhere on the mainland USA. Situated just eight miles from the Mexican border at infamous Tijuana, it is also the southernmost city on the continent. Yet these are just a few of San Diego’s prime bragging points.

ImageThe city is very Spanish accented, open and lush. Balboa Park alone can occupy you for a full day. Here you’ll find a dazzling, ornately sculpted array of incredible, colonial style buildings, churches and museums. There are vast, lush botanical gardens almost awash with flora, fauna and cacti or every kind, colour and texture imaginable. Birds of every species, size and colour screech and caw in the mid day sun.The whole place is a magnificent, sublimely mellow, audio visual assault on the senses.

ImageGiant Koi carp cruise impassively through deep, dimly lit, lily draped pools and lakes. In fact, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that it is worth visiting San Diego simply to see Balboa alone..

ImageBut the city is far more than just it’s gorgeous green lung. The Gaslight District has a whole series of restored blocks of Victorian style architecture, gentrified and converted into shops, restaurants and some fabulous sidewalk bars and cafes, in an area easily reached on foot from both the railway station and Balboa Park. It’s a cool, mellow place to chill out and make the fun, dreamy transition from late afternoon to early evening. I cannot think of anything similar anywhere in the continental USA. It has a magical, unique vibe all it’s own.

ImageBut sunset is a magical, almost mystical time in this jewel on the Pacific coast. I had been advised to check out the show from a bar called Lahaina, located on the dusky sprawl of Pacific Beach.

ImageI fell in love with ‘PB’ at first sight. It seems to go on forever, curving north and south in what could be called a kind of slow, dreamy smile. Surfers breasted the surging, gunmetal tinted rollers, their outlines black against a slowly reddening sky. The sand itself, brushed by the same gently falling sun, had a kind of sharp caramel hue. Lovers walked their dogs along it as the greedy sea lunged towards their feet. From somewhere behind me, a busker was rasping out old Creedence Clearwater Revival stuff for all he was worth.

ImageI made my way to Lahaina, grabbed a Longboard beer (another recommendation from a friendly local), and drank in a fabulous, slowly fading sunset as if it were the finest wine. It unfolded like a series of stunning drum rolls before finally giving up the ghost, and sagging into the waiting arms of the Pacific.

These are just a few snapshots of a city that I have come to love very much. San Diego is hugely under rated, yet it has wonderful people, fabulous architecture and a simple, friendly feel good factor that elevates it way above many far more pretentious places.

ImageBut don’t take my word for it. Go see for yourself. Happy travelling!

Hello, world. Let’s do this in style…

Pool deck of the Balmoral, at anchor in beautiful Flam, Norway.

Pool deck of the Balmoral, at anchor in beautiful Flam, Norway.

Sunrise over Papeete

Sunrise over Papeete

Travel means a lot of different things to many different people. From derring-do back packers to unashamed sybarites, city break fans to nature lovers, nostalgia buffs to armchair wanderers. But the thing we all have in common is that we want to be taken out of the ordinary; moved, amazed, enlightened, engaged…

That’s what this blog is about. I’ll take you to the most beautiful places on earth in the most fabulous of styles. Cruises and voyages to suit every taste and mood. Train journeys that tantalise. But it’s about far more than that…

The enduring legend; Queen Elizabeth 2

The enduring legend; Queen Elizabeth 2

We’ll go back in time, as well. Revisit the heyday of the great ocean liners. Expect some nostalgic musings and, hopefully, a bit of insight that makes you want to look deeper at things for yourself. The beginning of another journey of discovery? Absolutely.

I’d like to share spectacular sunrises and sublime, mellow sunsets with you. From the Norwegian fjords out to French Polynesia, via places too electrifying to ignore. We’ll do springtime in the magnificent Greek Islands, and summer jaunts to Bermuda.

Looking down from Sorrento to the lidos near Marina Piccolo...

Looking down from Sorrento to the lidos near Marina Piccolo…

Come aboard, and enjoy some mellow autumn wine on the amazing lidos of Sorrento. We’ll see the spires of Istanbul, the awe inspiring pagodas of Burma, and the dazzling gem that is the Manhattan skyline.

We’ll go skinny dipping on a surf kissed San Diego beach, and take a languid cruise along the Nile. We’ll drink good beer in wonderful Copenhagen, and margaritas in the sun kissed playgrounds of the Caribbean.

And another thing to bear in mind is that, often as much, it’s not so much about where you go, as how you get there.

If it’s legendary, elegant, beautiful and fun, then we’re all for it. Don’t bring mundane, bland or banal into the mix. Leave that stuff packed away with the bags in the hold. We don’t want that kind of stuff on this fantastic voyage…

Train ride, anyone?

Train ride, anyone?

Most importantly, we’ll do it in style. Because travel can be an art form, too. Quirky and eclectic as a Picasso, or as cake rich as a centuries-old Rubens. The world is a canvas, and these words and pictures are my brush strokes.

Room for two? Only in French Polynesia...

Room for two? Only in French Polynesia…

OK, who ordered the Palace special?

OK, who ordered the Palace special?

Beautiful, beguiling Burma...

Beautiful, beguiling Burma…

Feel free to interpret them as you will. Welcome aboard. It’s going to be one hell of an adventure….