Back in the USSR

St Petersburg Neva RiverSome forty years after my first visit to Russia I arrived in Saint Petersburg today.

This time I’m on a cruise ship which has docked at Английская набережная (English Embankment) on the Neva River in the heart of the city, near Благовещенский мост (Annunciation Bridge).

Last time, when Russia was part of the USSR, we needed a visa and were not permitted to venture outside Moscow. However, we were free to wander around the city at will.

This time, no visa is required for cruise ship visitors but we are not permitted ashore unless escorted by an official tour guide. It feels frustrating to be spending three days here under such restrictions.

Bicycle journey planner

I have just discovered a great app for your iPhone or Android smartphone. It’s a full-featured satnav for cyclists and pedestrians. This means it will navigate a route on cycle paths and quiet roads and use bike-friendly cut-throughs and short-cuts where available. It even avoids hills if possible, and will show you A to A leisure routes from and back to a specified location.

It’s free from Bike Hub thanks to a voluntary bike industry levy.

Highway 61 Revisited …

… and many others, when Shôn and I met up again yesterday to reminisce about our working holiday in USA.

It has been thirty five years, no less, since we last saw each other. Mary Kay from Cleveland had stumbled across my 1976 diary posts and got in touch last week. This prompted me to find Shôn who is now living less than half an hour from me!

It was an almost surreal experience. We were the same people; we shared the same vivid memories of Cleveland and our road trip. Yet we have more than half a lifetime of not knowing each other. Neither of us has entirely escaped the ravages of time, and we are now both clean shaven. So we don’t look the same as those two students way back then.

It was nice – a bit like rediscovering an old pair of shoes at the back of the wardrobe. Shoes which are familiar, easy to slip on, yet which feel strange. Comfortable but different.

Carol from Cleveland is visiting the UK soon. It would be great if there was a way for the three of us to meet up once more.

Gibraltar revisited

How time flies. I returned to Gibraltar today, some 44 years 33 days since my last visit. I was on my way to a university friends reunion in Medina Sidonia, Spain.

The Rock looms majestically as you step off the aeroplane, just as the warmth hits your skin. A heart-lifting double whammy; a confusing, delightful product of air travel. This place is only 2½ hours from gloomy Manchester!

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Health and safety gone mad

I was on the motorway today and passed a car which had stopped on the hard shoulder. Its elderly occupants had got out and were dutifully standing next to the vehicle in the drizzle waiting for assistance.

What kind of unthinking adherence to safety advice results in this absurd risky behaviour from four presumably rational people?

“Quick, get out!”
“Er, but it’s raining.”
“Get out! Get out! It’s not safe.”
“Hmm. I see what you mean. Another vehicle could leave the carriageway and plough into our car.”
“Exactly. So get out and stand next to it. Then you will be invincible.”

Canoeing from Symonds Yat to Redbrook

At 7.30 we went off for a pre-breakfast walk to the top of Symonds Yat Rock. It was a lovely morning and we had the place to ourselves. It’s a steep climb up through the woods, where we bumped into a regular from the White Lion in Ross-on-Wye. There is a walled viewing area at the summit with a perfect view of the rocks where peregrine falcons nest. You can also see the vast sweep of the river as it doubles back on itself – something you are not aware of when canoeing.

Dave and I were ready for breakfast by the time we returned, but once again we were frustrated; breakfast at the Saracen’s Head was served to residents only, and the landlord refused to be persuaded otherwise – even though there were plenty of empty tables.
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Canoeing from Ross to Symonds Yat

Woke to another fine morning with noisy house martins busily flitting back and forth to their nests in the eaves of the White Lion. We had an excellent cooked breakfast there on the terrace, watching swans gliding back and forth along the river before Mark Simons from The River Wye Canoe Hire Company arrived to issue us with our equipment.

He also gave us a safety briefing and instructions for dealing with various hazards and features along the river. It was a lot to take in, and one person in another group was so fazed she changed her mind and decided not to canoe.
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