In Dublin’s Fair City

James Joyce, W. B. Yeats, G. B. Shaw, Iris Murdoch, Oscar Wilde, Maeve Binchy… The list of notable authors associated with Dublin is impressive.

I’ve made several visits to the city, mostly to watch Wales take on Ireland in the Six Nations and once on a cricket tour (yep, cricket). It’s always struck me as a city that revolves around its pubs. And some fine pubs there are, too.

So, literature, pubs and rugby—what better place to spend a long weekend with five old school friends in honour of us all turning fifty-five?

We chose the weekend of 8th February 2020 because that’s when Wales were playing Ireland in Dublin in this year’s Six Nations. (For those who don’t follow rugby, that’s the main annual rugby union championship in the northern hemisphere.) The downside is that to fly from our local airport, Cardiff, means paying outrageously high fares—the operators hike their prices for that weekend because they know how much we Welsh love our rugby and how many of us follow Wales when they play away.

Our solution was to fly from Cardiff with KLM to Amsterdam and spend a few hours in Schiphol airport, before catching a connecting flight to the Emerald Isle. Nobody (least of all me—the older I get, the more I dislike flying) relished the thought of catching two flights in one day and taking seven hours to reach somewhere a little more than an hour’s flight from Cardiff, but a saving of £300 each sealed the deal.

Flying out was fine. The few hours layover in Schiphol we spent in a pub in the huge terminal building. ‘Huge’ is not an exaggeration—it’s the size of a small town, as we were to have painfully brought home to us during the journey home.

By teatime, we had linked up with the final member of our party (who had flown to Dublin from Heathrow), taken photos of the Welsh rugby team (who’d walked past us in Dublin airport), and found our way to our hotel in the city centre, just off O’Connell Street. By six, we were partaking of the weekend’s first pint of Guinness.

 

We arrived in Dublin on the Thursday. The match would occupy Saturday and we were returning home on Sunday. That left Friday to be filled. Since we are fifty-five, not twenty-five, we were keen to avoid a daytime activity that involved excessive amounts of alcohol. When one of our party, who works for the British Museum, suggested a cultural tour of the city, the rest of us were happy to tag along. On our way to the museums and galleries, we passed the house where Bram Stoker once lived. Dracula being one of the novels I loved as a teenager, I had to take some snaps. Here are a few combined.

I won’t bore you with details of the entire weekend—this is a writing blog, after all—but suffice it to say that there was laughter and reminiscing and Guinness aplenty. Much as you’d expect when six lifelong friends get together again after a while apart. That’s the thing with good friends: it doesn’t really matter how long you spend apart; when you all meet up again, you merely pick up where you left off.

Here’s a snap I took of the boys outside St Stephen’s Green in the city centre. They look like an ageing rock band recreating the cover of one of their albums from back in the day.

There is one more writing-related mention. On Sunday morning, we braved Storm Ciara to stroll over to Temple Bar. One of the settings of my Earth Haven novel, The Beacon, is Dublin. One of the characters makes her temporary home in The Quays pub in post-apocalyptic Temple Bar. I chose it because I have some happy memories of the pub from previous trips.

Since we were right there, it would have been a shame not to pop in for a pint.

Travelling home wasn’t dull. Since we had to once more fly via Schiphol, having to take off and land twice in the teeth of Ciara was, um, interesting. Due to inevitable delays caused by the storm, we landed in Schiphol and were deposited by the airport bus in the concourse with barely fifteen minutes before the departure gate closed for our connecting flight to Cardiff. Not much of a problem, perhaps, except that it turned out we were at least a mile from where we needed to be. Have you ever seen a group of unfit fifty-five-year-olds with a few dodgy knees and hips between them, suffering the effects of a long weekend on Guinness, legging it down seemingly endless stretches of corridor? By the time we made it to the departure gate, panting and sweating, we must have looked as if we’d crossed a desert, not an airport.

We made it home only a couple of hours late. Since we’d been expecting to miss our connecting flight and have to spend the night on the floor in Schiphol, I’ve never been so relieved to land back in Cardiff.

Oh, and Wales lost the rugby in a disappointing performance. It only briefly took the shine off a fantastic weekend.

National Heroes Service – Part 2

It has been eight weeks since my last blog post; nine since an aneurysm in my right knee caused my foot to go numb and resulted in my having to undergo emergency surgery.

Before I get to the purpose of this post, a quick update on my leg. It’s been a long old haul, not helped by coming down with an infection in the wound. That required a course of strong antibiotics and set back my recovery at least a week. But I’m relieved to say that, although I still have some way to go before I can claim to be completely recovered, if I ever can, my leg has vastly improved. I can now sleep without waking up with throbbing pain every time I move; I can wear long trousers with only minimal discomfort; I can walk a mile before anything starts to ache.

It’s going to be a beaut of a scar, running from the inside of my thigh almost from my groin to around midway between knee and ankle. I aim to gradually increase the distance of my walks, along with the number and severity of inclines, until I can comfortably walk four miles of mixed terrain in an hour. I am hoping the numbness that makes much of my leg feel like a plank of wood will wear off, at least partially.

Enough about me. The purpose of my last post was to praise the staff of the NHS, after my first-hand experience of what they have to put up with—some of the patients in the wards I was in were, to put it politely, hugely demanding, with one or two taking up a massively disproportionate amount of the nursing resources. And look what the staff have been going through since.

I didn’t feel I could resume my blog and not pay tribute to them again. And not only to those who work in our health service, but carers everywhere, our police and other emergency services, those who work in all aspects of retail (from supply and delivery to checkout), refuse collectors, those keeping our public transport going, the postmen and -women… the list could go on. In short, everyone who has continued to work, at risk to their own health, to keep us fed and warm and safe and informed.

Many—too many—have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many—too many—have flouted government advice and made the situation worse. An example: during the weekend commencing 3rd April, well into the second week of lockdown, it was reported that police in Greater Manchester had to close down 660 house and street parties. That’s a lot of people who don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves.

Mind, there have been some face-palming moments that make me wonder how those making the rules expect the rest of us to obey them when they themselves are cheerfully breaking them. Take, for instance, the Chief Medical Officer in Scotland. She was caught, twice, travelling to her second home, more than an hour’s drive from her main home, once with her entire family in tow, having been busy appearing on television and in press conferences advising the public to remain indoors and not to travel unless essential.

And it apparently goes on. A video is doing the rounds on social media claiming to show Westminster Bridge at 8:00 yesterday evening during the weekly expression of gratitude for the NHS. In a seemingly police-sanctioned display (police cars are pulled up to the kerb and police officers are standing on the pavement with members of the public), people are crowded onto the bridge in blatant disregard for social distancing.

This isn’t the place to get political, but our government has to hold its hands up and admit it got a lot of things wrong, especially early on. From not seeming to know what strategy to adopt to combat the viral threat, to confusion over procuring essential PPE and testing equipment, it has, at times, appeared to be a shambles. At the time of writing, the UK is the fifth-highest ranked country in the world for the number of covid-19 deaths—almost 14,000. Fifth… yet we rank twenty-first for population and we’re an island. There will surely be some serious questions to answer when this is over.

My bestselling books are the Earth Haven trilogy, an apocalyptic tale about a manufactured virus that is spread deliberately and brings humankind to its knees. A friend asked me whether I’d write them in today’s climate. My answer was probably not; it would feel too much like writing non-fiction. I’m reminded of the meme that’s been doing the rounds for the past few years, but that seems particularly apt now: a sign outside a bookshop announcing that the post-apocalyptic section has been moved to current affairs.

But I digress. With my leg on the mend, I’m aiming to resume posting to my blog every two weeks from today. The posts will, as usual, be loosely related to writing, reading, publishing and, when I can’t avoid it, marketing. Starting next time.

Today, it’s all about the amazing staff who run our National Health Service, and the remarkable people who are keeping other essential services in our country running. You’re bloody heroes and heroines, each and every one of you.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

National Heroes Service

A week ago—Valentine’s Day—I awoke with a vague tingling sensation in my right leg. I assumed I’d slept on it awkwardly, ignored it, sat at my desk and got to work. It was only a few hours later, at lunchtime, that I realised the tingling had become more focused, centred on my foot, while my right calf, knee and thigh had developed an ominous dull ache. Then I noticed the colour—or, rather, absence of it—in my foot. It resembled a plucked chicken and had grown icy cold.

My wife took one look and whisked me to our local A & E Department—what Americans would call ER. Over the ensuing hours, the colour gradually returned to my foot, but not fully. After a scan, I was informed that I had an aneurysm (a bulging of the artery) behind my knee, which had filled with clotted material that had interrupted the flow of blood to my foot. The lovely surgeon I spoke to explained that I needed to go to a different hospital where they had a specialist vascular surgical team and warned me to expect surgery that evening. She added that they would arrange an emergency transfer. By teatime, I was in the back of an ambulance being transported—blue lights flashing, sirens blaring—the twenty or so miles to Morriston Hospital in Swansea.

I did have to undergo emergency surgery to bypass the aneurysm, though it didn’t take place until Monday evening. I awoke in the recovery room and glanced down. The surge of relief was almost overwhelming when I could see my right foot and feel the toes wiggling. There had been a risk I would lose the leg.

Here’s a snap I took Monday evening when I was back on the ward—the push button thingy lying on the  bed alongside my bandaged leg is for morphine, though I barely felt the need to press it. I’ve rarely experienced such a sense of exhilaration as I felt that night; it was making the pain bearable. Though I couldn’t have got out of bed for all the drips attached to me, I was ready to party.

I came home on Wednesday and have been excelling in the sheer blissfulness of being in my own bed ever since. The incision in my leg runs from the groin almost to the ankle—my daughter counted at least fifty staples holding it together. They are due to come out next Friday.

It’s going to take a good few weeks for me to recover from the surgery so this blog is going to have to take a break for a month or so. But, as Arnie says, I’ll be back.

In the meantime, I had to post something here to thank the amazing men and women who staff our NHS. They are truly a wonderful bunch of people who do our country great credit. Not going to get all political, but the NHS is something bigger and better than any government can lay credit to. Quite frankly, it serves us well despite the politicians, not because of them.

And, yep, unlike the politicians, the NHS staff are, to a man and woman, heroes and heroines. I owe them my leg, if not my life, and will be grateful for the rest of my days.

Merry Christmas

Well, it’s here again, the time of year when we all drink and eat too much and, in theory at least, make merry.

My regular blog posts have taken a bit of a rest while I wrestle with producing my own audiobooks. I’ve finished one – the audio verion of my festive collection of dark short stories, Ghosts of Christmas Past. Despite uploading the audio tracks to Audible on 11th December and, as far as I can make out (well, I’ve definitely not been notified to the contrary), satisfying their quality standards, the audiobook hasn’t gone live in time for Christmas. Never mind – my main concern was to make sure I could produce audio to Audible’s standards; if I’ve done that, I’ll be happy since I know I can press forward with my other books.

Anyway, I might as well show you the cover. Here it is:

The fifth annual Sam Kates office party took place on 13th December. Much eating and drinking took place (ahem, perhaps a little too much of the latter), but sadly I forgot to take a single photo. Fun was had and hangovers ensued.

And now it’s Christmas Eve, the turkey is in the oven and the Bailey’s is open. All that remains is for me to wish you the merriest of Christmases or holiday of your choice. May all your days be merry and bright.

Nadolig Llawen!

Ho ho ho!

In the Durrells’ Footsteps

One of the books set for study for my English Literature O Level* was My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. At that time—around 1979-80—I must confess to not having heard of the book, its author or his brother Larry, also a writer. Back then, I was reading horror novels by James Herbert and Stephen King, or fantasy by David Gemmell and Tolkien.

As a young teenager I had read and fallen in love with Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee. There was something about Lee’s writing and his reminiscences about life in rural Gloucestershire in the period after the Great War that called to me.


Cider With Rosie

My Family had the same effect. I was instantly captivated by Durrell’s writing—it’s been many years since I last read the book, but I can still recall the wonderfully evocative way he described the cold from which he was suffering (and which partly prompted his mother to uproot the family and transport them almost two thousand miles to Greece). He wrote that the British summer had brought cattarh, ‘pouring it into my skull like cement’.

In case you haven’t read it (or seen one of the TV adaptations), the book and its two sequels are about the family’s sojourn to Corfu in 1935 when Gerry (Gerald) was aged ten. A keen student of natural history at even such a young age, he recounts his many and varied adventures with the Greek wildlife. But the real joy, for me, lies in the anecdotes about his family and the locals they encounter during their four-year stay on the island before war forces them back to Britain. There are also the eccentric guests Gerry’s eldest brother, Larry, invites to stay with them, usually at short to no notice, much to his long-suffering mother’s despair.


My Family and Other Animals

Larry (Lawrence) became an accomplished novelist, best known for The Alexandria Quartet. He provides the impetus for most of the funniest escapades, although Gerry’s bullish older brother Leslie and his flighty sister Margo, as well as their mother, have their share of comic moments.

As soon as we started reading the book in class, I was hooked and there was no way I could wait to read the book at the pace set by our English teacher. I continued reading it at home that evening and had finished it long before the deadline set by the teacher. Re-reading the book two or three times in preparation for the exam was no hardship.

That’s a long-winded way to explain why the island of Corfu has held a fascination for me since my mid-teens. Over the years, I have visited the island four or five times and have just come back from a fortnight in Glyfada on its west coast. The landscape, despite the paucity of summer rain, is surprisingly verdant, the sea is molten aquamarine and wonderfully cooling in the heat of the day, the sunsets are spectacular, and the locals are amongst the friendliest people I have ever encountered.

Although this holiday was intended as a total chill-out, recharge-the-batteries laze around the beach and pool—and was—we did take a couple of trips into the baking heat of the island’s capital, Corfu Town. They have a cricket pitch near the castle and harbour; on a previous trip, I’ve drunk a beer and watched a match taking place. Not far away, is a park dedicated to Lawrence and Gerald Durrell.

In My Family, the Durrells live in three villas during their stay on the island: apparently, two of the three still stand and they’re not far away from Corfu Town. Next time I visit Corfu (there will definitely be a next time), I want to find a trip that takes tourists to view the villas. Sure, they and the surroundings in which they stand probably bear little resemblance to the 1930s versions, but it’s still something I’d love to do. Short of time travel, I can’t imagine a better way of bringing one of my favourite books to life.

( * for those who don’t know, O Levels are the qualifications that teenagers used to sit in the UK at around the age of sixteen. They’ve since been supplanted by GCSEs.)

Living the Dream

I try to avoid talking about purely personal stuff because, unless you happen to know me in real life, I doubt you’d be particularly interested. Well, this is one of those personal posts so feel free to skip it—I won’t take offence.

I can’t place hand on heart and say I’ve wanted to be a writer all of my life. Although I’ve devoured fiction since I first learned to read, and English was comfortably my best subject at school, the notion of becoming a fiction writer didn’t materialise until my mid to late twenties. Then, no sooner had I sat down and started to write the first novel than the urge to become a full-time writer set in and has never left me.

Half of my life, then.

In Taking the Plunge, I wrote about what led to cutting my hours by half in my regular job. That happened in July 2017, after approaching my employers the previous August to request going part-time.

A lot can happen in a year. In my case, for reasons mentioned in that post, my writing output and sales dwindled to virtually nothing. Nevertheless, I was confident I could turn it around once a couple of things had fallen into place.

Now, two years on from going part-time, those things, and more, are in place. The biggies are regaining complete control over my books from the small press publisher, learning how to produce my own covers and paperbacks, designing my own website, and grasping enough about marketing to know how to give my books some sort of visibility. (My struggles with marketing are well documented in the Marketing for Muppets posts.) Apart from using an outside narrator for audio (I did consider narrating myself, but I’m dreadful at accents) and utilising the services of Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, etc to make them available to purchase, I don’t rely on anyone else for any aspect of producing my books.

In short, I have become totally self-sufficient. And I love it.

There is only one fly in my idyllic ointment: for two or three days each week, I have to toddle off to sit in an office and work for someone else. That’s half of each week taken up with doing something I don’t want to do that takes me away from what I love doing.

Despite my writing income having increased steadily over the past year, my wife—the sensible half of our marriage when it comes to financial matters—would not agree to my leaving the regular job because, as she rightly pointed out, book sales could fall away at any time.

I was growing desperate for a way to escape the regular job. Then, in the office a month or two back, a couple of colleagues happened to be discussing pensions, when one of them mentioned we can access our work pension at the age of fifty-five. Guess what age I’m turning in November? It was like a flashbulb going off in my head. My Eureka! moment.

The possibility of taking early retirement hadn’t been on my radar—I feel too young to even think about retiring. I looked into it. Retiring at fifty-five means a fairly drastic reduction in pension entitlement. It’s little more than peanuts, really, but here’s the crucial point: it’s guaranteed peanuts.

Saying my wife was happy about me retiring might be stretching it a little, but she was agreeable, if only, I suspect, to stop me banging on about becoming a full-time writer.

And that’s what I’m going to be. Last week I handed in my notice in my regular job. I’ll be officially leaving in early November. Since I work part-time and have accrued holidays, I only have twenty-two working days remaining. Not that I’m counting…

It’s not going to be retirement in the generally accepted sense. I won’t be taking up golf or gardening. I’ll be working twice as hard at writing, and all that goes with it, as I do now. I intend working my butt off for the next five years and then taking a breath to see where I’m at.

For the first time in my life, I won’t be dancing to anyone else’s tune. There are still almost three months to go so I’m trying to keep a lid on the excitement, but I haven’t looked forward to a birthday as much since my eighteenth.

How to find your way around

I’ve been blogging for a while now and the number of posts has grown. Time to pin a short post here to advise anyone unfamiliar with WordPress sites how to navigate around the blog. Let’s say you’re a writer interested in posts about marketing or grammar, you probably don’t want to be scrolling down oodles of posts you’re not interested in. There’s a search function and previous posts are archived according to month posted, but the simplest way is to use the Categories menu. It’s on the right—you might need to scroll down a little way to find it. Simply click on the category you’re interested in and you’ll be presented with the posts relevant to that subject-matter. The system’s not perfect—there are some posts that come under more than one category—but it’s the easiest method to find your way around.

Oh, and if you want to leave a comment or read existing comments, you have to be on the post’s page (by clicking its title), rather than on a page containing more than one post.

A Very Merry Christmas

It’s that time of year when we wish peace and goodwill to others. When our cups of joy overflow, often in direct proportion to the flow of alcohol. When we give each other presents and spend precious time with our loved ones. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we treated each other as well throughout the year as we do in late December?

Despite the rampant commercialism and the pressures of shopping (I’m a bloke; I hate shopping), it’s my favourite time of year. Imagine winter without Christmas. What a bleak few months they would be.

It’s dreary here in Wales as I write this. The sky has been grey and drizzly for days. The ground is permanently wet—whenever we step in from outside, we bring in mud. Yet we don’t allow it to dampen our festive spirits. My daughters—both now in their twenties—and my wife still grow excited as the big day draws near. So do I. In fact, I’m probably the biggest kid of us all.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you a peaceful and happy time. As we say in Wales, Iechyd da!—Good health!

The 4th Annual Sam Kates Office Party

St Mary Street decorations

Each December I take those of my nearest and dearest who have helped me throughout the year to Cardiff and treat them to a steak dinner, with perchance a bottle of wine and a cocktail or two. The day tends to involve a fair amount of beer and a visit to Winter Wonderland.

This year the guests were my brother (for the invaluable assistance he provides in IT-related matters), my elder daughter (for being my design consultant and managing my Instagram account), and my wife (for putting up with me). If I can get my younger daughter involved in some capacity or other, next year’s party might be a full family affair.

Yours truly and bruv.
In reverse order, Mrs Kates and Miss Kates the Elder.

My wife, daughter and I travelled up to Cardiff to meet my brother in Waterstones. A book shop makes a great place to meet up because, well, books. Then it was off to find a relatively quiet pub, not so easy in the centre of Cardiff on a Friday in December. We were lucky, after only a few false starts managing to find a pub with available seats, no queues at the bar and no loud music blasting. A few relaxed beers later and we made our way to this year’s venue, Steak of the Art. Suffice it to say, good steaks, wine and a few cocktails were dispatched with practised ease. Say what you like about my family, but we’re dab hands at packing away food and drink.

Steak of the Art.

My younger daughter and her boyfriend were in town Christmas shopping so we met up with them after we’d left the restaurant. Sadly, the gusting wind and frequent prolonged showers meant we had to skip Winter Wonderland this year. Never mind—there’s always beer.

Miss Kates the Younger and boyfriend join the gang. Soon there would be singing – well, six is plenty for a choir.

And so we indulged; perhaps it would be more accurate to say over-indulged, but fun was had by all and I felt I had gone a little way towards repaying the help they have given me throughout the year. Thanks, guys—luvs ya!

Yes, the beer is flowing…
St Mary Street again.
And again.

Here are some photos from previous year’s parties that were posted on my old site.

From 2017

Probably St Mary Street, yet again.
Winter Wonderland
It was a big wheel…
Miss Kates the Elder with the Millennium Stadium in background.
One of those blurs is yours truly and bruv.
The beer flowed last year, too.

From 2016

Cardiff Castle and the tree someone in the Council ordered in feet instead of metres – mustn’t snigger.
The deer that dwarfed the tree.
Winter Wonderland again.
As you can see, there was a fair amount of beer involved on this occasion, too.

From the inaugural office party in 2015

And, yep, you guessed it, bloody St Mary Street again.
Didn’t take many photos that first year, but I did snap these rather snazzy urinals.

A Baltic Odyssey

According to our local guide, Alexander Pushkin is to the Russian people what William Shakespeare is to us Brits. Although born in Moscow, he has strong associations with St Petersburg, which happened to be one of the ports of call on our cruise around the Baltic Sea.

We enjoy cruising and usually choose the Mediterranean for the sunshine. Occasionally, though, we opt to go north and have cruised to the Norwegian fjords and the Arctic Circle. This Baltic trip attracted us for the variety of ports in six countries we’d never before visited.

This isn’t going to be a lengthy post; it’s more an excuse to say a little bit about the cruise and show a few photos. But, to obey my self-imposed rules about what I post on this site, I have to include a link, no matter how tenuous, to reading or writing. Thus, Pushkin. I regret to admit that I haven’t read anything by him and, honestly, will probably never do, though at least he is now on my reading radar.

Anyway, the ports. My favourite? Based on what we did there and the sheer beauty of the place, it has to be Tallinn in Estonia. Here’s a view of the city—the black-domed church above is also in Tallinn.

Copenhagen is probably a close second. Once home, of course, to Hans Christian Andersen (another writing link; go, me), whose association is commemorated, amongst other things, by the statue of the Little Mermaid.

Riga (Latvia) is also beautiful; Skagen (Denmark) is chocolate-box quaint; Helsinki (Finland) gave the impression of being unfinished, there was so much construction work going on, though is still lovely; Kiel (Germany) is interesting, though a little strange (they have a park called Hiroshima Park, which contains a statue of Bismark). The port that made the deepest impression, for not necessarily all the right reasons, was St Petersburg, the city of many names.

Our first sight of Russia was underwhelming, sinister almost: row upon row of ugly concrete apartment blocks poking from the mist. We passed many more on our coach ride into the city centre, a lot of them in a state of disrepair. It was grim, a dystopia, Orwell’s vision of the future brought to life.

Then the sun burned away the fog and revealed a city of stunning contrasts. Fairytale churches and cathedrals; glistening gold-domed towers and spires; forbidding, official-looking buildings; imposing monuments. The square behind the Winter Palace, said our guide, is larger than Red Square in Moscow.

If you ever visit St Petersburg, take a tour around the Hermitage Museum. Formerly a palace complex of the Tsars, it has been preserved in much the same state as it was in 1917 when the city was known as Petrograd, the Romanovs held power (until the abdication of Nicholas II in February) and the October Revolution was signalled by a blank shot from the battle cruiser Aurora (coincidentally, the same name as the ship in which we had cruised into St Petersburg). Here are snaps of them both.

Apparently, if you were to spend 30 seconds viewing every single exhibit the museum holds, it would take you around eleven years to see them all.

We spent a few hours there and barely scratched the surface.

It was a jaw-dropping tour, marvelling at the lavish opulence—I’ve never seen so many grand chandeliers and ornately decorated ceilings, so many paintings outside of a specialist gallery by masters like Da Vinci and Rembrandt, more gold (I imagine) than even the Vatican—while privately thinking it was little wonder there was so much discontent among the masses to have such riches in the midst of what must have been at that time severe deprivation.

St Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) is also famous for the failed siege by Germany in World War II. This is the hotel where Hitler planned to host a dinner to celebrate his conquest. He apparently even went as far as having invitations printed with only the date left blank.

We only spent hours at a stretch in these ports, enough to gain a flavour. But, without exception, the places we visited were captivating. If you’re ever wondering whether a trip to the Baltics is worthwhile, I’d say, resoundingly, yes.

To finish, a snap of me supping a stein of locally brewed beer in Kiel. These things have to be done. Cheers!