The Gipson Holiday File

Our holidays are very important to us and represent a vital break from the joys of work. Apart from the relaxation, it also is the only time that I beat Helen at Scrabble with memories such as leading 2-0 at the start of 1999 being particularly important (the fact I had lost the previous 28 games is clearly not important).

Researching all our photographs have shown that we can't remember precisely when we went to some of these places, but hopefully you will get the idea.

We also have not included holidays in the UK, primarily because we want to go back to these places!

Visited country map


1988 - Land of the Midnight Sun Cruise aboard SS Canberra (2 weeks)

Norway (Bergen, Oslo, Narvik), Denmark, Holland (Amsterdam)

This was our honeymoon and we must have been 25 years younger than anyone else on the boat. However we had a wonderful time and everyone was really friendly. The cruise stopped at Bergen (where we had a seaplane tour), Oslo, Narvik (dried reindeer meat is the abiding memory), Legoland (Denmark, great fun) and Amsterdam.

1989 - Yugoslavia

Lake Bled

We had a week's holiday here in a time before the troubles that split Yugoslavia apart. It was a very cheap holiday as their currency was disintegrating on a daily basis - you never changed more money than you needed for the one day. Even then it was clear that there were major tensions between the various groups which erupted a couple of years later.

1990 - Russia and The Bosphorus Cruise aboard SS Canberra (3 weeks)

Gibraltar, Majorca (Palma), Greece (Volos), Turkey (Istanbul), Russia (Odessa, Yalta)

A lovely cruise with the highlight being the cruise through the Bosphorus, which divides Istanbul in half as well as marking the divide between Europe and Asia.

Again, like our honeymoon, this cruise featured bridge as the theme and we returned with most of the trophies.

Upon our return we booked our next cruise the following day !

1991 - Company trip to Hawaii, via Breckenridge, Colorado

Colorado( Breckenridge), Hawaiian islands (Kauai, Honolulu), California (San Francisco)

My employer at this time, FPS, allowed their technical people (well, both of us) to go on Presidents Club and bring our spouses. We extended the trip at the front end and went skiing in Breckenridge, definitely the best place we have ever been on skis. After that we flew to ,Kauai the northern most of the islands of Hawaii, for a few days for the Club, before returning to Honolulu for a couple of days.

On our way back we stopped in San Francisco for a day, the abiding memory of which is traipsing around Chinatown carrying a heavy Mah Jong set.

1991/92 - The Xmas Cruise aboard SS Canberra (2 weeks)

Las Palmas, Dakar - Senegal, Tenerife, Madeira, Lisbon

Our first Xmas away and the first in hot climes. It was a little surreal to spend Xmas day cruising around off the west coast of Africa, drinking cocktails and listening to the band around the pool.

1992 - Skiing in New England


We spent a week skiing and exploring New England at the start of spring. This was unfortunate since it was meant to be end of winter and it was too warm to ski after mid-afternoon, but the lovely countryside and towns in the area more than made up for it. Our hotel was also running a murder mystery break which proved to be an entertaining distraction.

1992 - Trans-Siberian Railway (3 weeks)

Russia (Moscow, Irkutsk), Mongolia (Ulan Bator), China (Beijing)

This still rates as the best holiday we have ever done! Looking at the other holidays (and their 5-star nature), it may seem strange that spending days on a train with no decent food, no hot water, no showers, sleeping on the benches in a noisy railway carriage would be pleasurable but it was a truly amazing experience.

We flew into Moscow and spent 3 days in the Intourist Hotel, just around the corner from Red Square. This was a time before mass tourism had really started but after the initial burst of MacDonald's invading the place - for instance the Gumm store still sold nothing useful (mostly linen, etc.). We did all the usual tourist things: Lenin's tomb, Kremlin, the Moscow underground etc. with the Moscow State Circus being particularly enjoyable.

We then spent five days on the TSR train going to Irkutsk, known to our generation solely due to its place on the Risk! board. The food on the train was not particularly imaginative - lunch was meat, cabbage and potato, followed by vanilla ice cream; dinner was clear soup, then meat, cabbage and potato, followed by vanilla ice cream with jam! It is fair to say that our group survived primarily due to the amount of chocolate and biscuits we had brought, combined with enormous quantities of very cheap pink champagne and vodka we had purchased in Moscow - it's amazing we remember anything about it, but we do have photos of ourselves washing the windows of the train (on each other's shoulders)!

We spent three days exploring Irkutsk, visiting Lake Baikal which is the largest freshwater lake in the world, in terms of volume, with 20% of the world's fresh water. We also went to a mock village showing the buildings that they lived in at the turn of the century - to us these seemed far better (& warmer) than the prefabs that they live in now, which seemed bizarre.

Another few days on the train took us into Mongolia. This was a very cheap place, where $5 allowed four of us to tour the sites of Ulan Bator, the capital. The hotel here had one of the finest foyers we've seen anywhere in the world, however it soon became clear that they had run out of money shortly after finishing it as there was not much in the rest of the hotel - floors 2-5 had no rooms, the lifts behaved in an erratic manner, we had no hot water on floor 8 but there was a report of 15 minutes of hot water in one room on floor 7! We got hot water from an attendant with a samovar who spent the entire day doling it out.

We spent a day out on the Steppes and it's hard to give an impression of the vastness of the area. We visited a family in their yurt, sampling curd and soured mare's milk (more on this later). We saw what was left of some monasteries destroyed by the Russians in times gone by, and refused the offer of riding their camels.

On our last evening we visited the Mongolian theatre, with their acrobats (excellent) and "throat" singing (to hear it once is enough) it was a memorable experience.

We boarded the train once more on our way to Beijing, China. We spent a day travelling across the Gobi desert, seeing only a spectacular storm brewing in the distance, and an aircraft's jet engine lying by the track (we have no idea how it got there).

We arrived at the Mongolian-China border at about 11pm. We knew that there would be some delay here since China has a wider gauge railway and the carriage bogies needed to be changed. This is done by rolling the carriage into a large shed, lifting it while we are still aboard, and rolling new bogies under us. However this is only done after about seven hours of Customs checking the entire train, including ripping up floorboards, taking people off with their rugs and returning them empty-handed, and generally making a lot of noise whilst not allowing us to use the bathroom as the train is not moving!

A day later, in early evening we rolled into Beijing as an electrical storm was lighting the skies which turned into a terrific downpour as soon as we got out into the open. After 2.5 weeks of no decent food, it is impossible to say how enjoyable our first meal in the (5-star) hotel was, especially for the vegetarian in our group!

We had three days in China and did the normal tourist things (wall, Forbidden Palace, Tiannamen Square etc.). I spent the last day in the hotel since I'd picked up a bug somewhere (soured mare's milk is still the common bet) but luckily I only missed Tiannamen Square. We then flew home.

1993 - Alaska with Glacier Bay

Washington State (Seattle), Alaska (Anchorage, Denali National Park, Fairbanks), Canada (Beaver Creek, Whitehorse), Alaska (Skagway, Juneau), Glacier Bay, Sitka, Canada (Vancouver)

During our train journey through Russia we had met some Canadians who said Alaska was the place to visit, and Holland America were good company to do it with. So we planned a full trip and thoroughly enjoyed it.

There were two major highlights of the trip - Denali, where we had a stunning view of Mt McKinley, and the 3-day cruise through Glacier Bay - you really need to see our photo album to appreciate it.

We flew directly to Seattle and had the next morning to explore the city around the hotel. Then we caught the plane to Anchorage to start the holiday properly and start to use the hundreds of vouchers that we had been given - to get on planes, to get off planes/buses/trains, hotel vouchers, meal vouchers - whatever we wanted to do we needed the right voucher!

After a couple of days exploring Anchorage we took the train to Denali. Personally the train trip was a little disappointing since although it was one of those with a glass roof there was not as much to see as hoped. Anyway, we arrived in Denali at about 4pm and decided to go white-water rafting that evening - this vacation was taken at the height of summer so we are talking land of the midnight sun again. So off we disappeared at about 10pm to go and shoot some (very calm) water!

We were up at about 3.30am the next morning to catch an old school bus into Denali National Park with the aim of seeing wildlife and get a decent view of Mt McKinley. When the first caribou was spotted the bus lurched as the battery of cameras swung into action; strangely, a hundred caribou later, they failed to get the same attention. However the bear was another story!

We drove quite a way into the park and did get a magnificent view of the mountain. McKinley is the second tallest mountain, in terms of base camp to peak, in the world and creates its own weather system which means that two days out of three it will be shrouded in cloud, so we were really lucky.

After eventually getting some sleep we boarded a coach for the next few days.

To be continued.

1993 - Rome

A long weekend during November proved not to be the intended relaxing break as we walked ourselves to exhaustion. A city we'd thoroughly recommend for a long weekend like this, but beware of the bag snatchers.

1994 - Jersey

We spent a week exploring the island. Recommended.

1995 - Land of the Midnight Sun Cruise aboard SS Oriana (2.5 weeks)

Norway (Flaam, Bergen, Olden, Trondheim, Geiranger), Iceland (Akureyri, Reykjavik)

Our love of cruising really shows here, doing essentially the same cruise as our honeymoon save for the extension to Iceland (our version of the 7-year itch).

This was the ship's maiden season and only its fourth voyage, but all the teething troubles seemed to be smoothed out by this time. Oriana was very different to the Canberra that we loved - all very modern, spacious, TVs in every room etc. but it lacked the Canberra's warmth and atmosphere. This was for a number of reasons; firstly no one was used to the ship and we were all still exploring, whereas on the Canberra everyone knew their favourite places and routines; secondly the modern design meant that many of the rooms were less accessible for just bumping into people, or people-watching. We have not been back to the Oriana since this tour but we are assured by others that Oriana's atmosphere has improved dramatically.

1996 - Malta

We spent a week in Malta right at the start of the season and discovered that it was not really awake yet! A good place for a quiet week.

1996 - Caribbean Gold Cruise aboard SS Canberra (3 weeks)

Vigo, St Kitts, St Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, Madeira

Wonderful, superb, excellent, indescribable, when can we afford to do it again !

1998 - Morocco


A very interesting place to visit. We went for a week which was possibly just a little too long for the one place, and so we'd recommend visiting one of the other towns or resorts and make it a two-centre holiday.

1998/9 - Caribbean Xmas Cruise aboard SS Arcadia (3 weeks)

Vigo, St Lucia, Martinique, Barbados, Madeira

Wonderful, superb, excellent, indescribable, when can we afford to do it again !

The ship was not as good as Canberra, and missing Martinique would not have worried us, but still a great holiday.

1999 - World Scrabble Championships, Australia

Hong Kong, Australia (Sydney, Blue Mountains, Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Melbourne), Singapore (Singapore, Sentosa Island)

The catalyst for this trip was Helen's participation in the World Scrabble Championships (described here) but we took the opportunity of having a proper holiday.

We flew direct to Hong Kong and spent 3 nights there - if we did the trip again we'd look to spend an additional night here and one less at Singapore. We did all the usual tourist things and thoroughly enjoyed our time here. We have never seen such mobile phone penetration as here, and there were two extreme examples of how prevalent they are: firstly we saw a man walking with his two daughters (both looking under 10) when a phone rings - all three got phones out!; secondly on a trip to Aberdeen to see the floating Chinese Restaurants we haggled with an old woman for a sampan ride around the harbour (this haggling was described as one of the tourist essentials in the guide) and, once a price was agreed, she pulled out her mobile phone to summon her husband and the sampan!

We left Hong Kong on the evening flight to Sydney, where we were staying in the Wyndham Vista in the heart of the business district. This hotel was excellently placed for the harbour and views of the bridge, but the rest of the area was fairly dead in the evenings (like most business districts in the world). However it did prove a good base to explore from.

We spent 5 nights in Sydney doing the tourist thing. We spent one day exploring the less tourist parts with an ex-work colleague who had returned to his roots after ten years in the UK and saw all the places to see when it is pouring with rain in Australia.

We then hired a car to go and explore the Blue Mountains for a couple of days, returning to Sidney again before flying to Alice Springs for a couple of days, where we did 'Take a Camel to Dinner'! We then flew on to Ayers Rock for another couple of nights. We again did the touristy things of watching the sunrise over Ayers Rock, and had an evening meal in the desert watching the sun go down. We did not, however, climb the rock but preferred the guided tour around it, which was excellent. If you are going here we would recommend staying another day and seeing Kings Canyon which although less famous is supposedly more impressive.

We then flew on to Melbourne in time to spend a day at the races on the day of the Melbourne Cup, where we (Helen) actually made money for the first time ever at the races, primarily by backing Frankie Dettori each way in the cup at 50/1 where he came in second. The WSC started the next day.

We flew out the day after the WSC ended to Singapore, where we spent three nights in Sentosa. I wouldn't recommend staying on Sentosa as it is a bit out of the way for a short stay.

2000 - Baltic Treasures Cruise

Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallin, St Petersburg, Gdynia (Gdansk), Warnemunde (Rostock), Bruges

Another P&O cruise. It was the second time that we had been on Oriana and it already starts to feel like home and, like many, we find it a lot more enjoyable than Arcadia. This cruise was the most hectic that we have done with nine ports in two weeks with the highlight being the day in St Petersburg.

2000 - Tuscany

We spent a week in late summer touring Tuscany, staying at a villa in Gaiole in Chianti and visiting Florence, Sienna, Pisa and many of the hill towns in the region. As the (British) tourists had mainly left there was little traffic on the roads which meant a very pleasant pace of life. Thoroughly recommended. Villas are available from many internet sites including

2001 - Nile Cruise

We spent a week in March on the Nile courtesy of Voyage Jule Verne. We took the option of a 7-day cruise starting at Luxor, travelling down to Aswan and back up to Dendera, so saw lots of temples. We also had a 'tomb' day at the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. If you wanted to see pyramids too, then take a shorter cruise and start your holiday at Cairo. For those of you that don't like it too hot we recommend that you do not go later than March as the temperatures were already in the high 20s.

2001 - Canada

Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Whistler, Kamloops, Banff, Lake Louise, Calgary

We spent two weeks in September touring Canada on a fly-drive holiday.

2002 - QE2 Cruise to New York and Bermuda

Southampton, New York, Hamilton (Bermuda), Newport (Rhode Island), New York, Southampton

We spent 19 days on the QE2, our first trip with Cunard. The photos can be found

2003 - Brussels

A four day trip to Belgium in mid-March and the weather was unbelieveable. No clouds in sight as can be seen in the photos. We used Eurostar direct to Brussels from London Waterloo and got a cheap hotel using the Internet. Recommended place for a long weekend.

2003 - Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur (World Scrabble Championship), Kuching, Bako National Park, Miri, Mulu, Miri, Kota Kinabalu, Selingan Island, Sandakan, Sukau, Sepilok, Kota Kinabalu, Bangar Seri Begawan (Brunei)

There is a report on the 7th World Scrabble Championships, together with a Photo Album.

I am writing a full report on the holiday, but the Photo Album already exists.

2004 - Cyprus

It was starting to get cold in the UK so we decided to spend a week in sunnier climes - so onto the Internet and book up a week in Cyprus.

We were based in Pafos (a better prospect than Limassol) and throughly enjoyed our time there. We visited all the main sites with the mozaics (next to Pafos harbour) being particularly memorable.

The weather was warm - this is another way of saying that the Brits were in t-shirts but the locals were wearing sweaters!

Food was good everywhere, but the best meals were had at the Rendezvous, Viva Cyprus and Phivos Cocktails - all on or about Poseidonos Avenue in Pafos.

We also met up with the island's best Scrabble player, Karl, and Alison who retired to Cyprus last year. They took us to an excellent taverna for lunch with a great view of the Mediterrean ... they are already acclimatised and thought it was a little cool for our shorts and t-shirts :-)

Photo Album

2004 - Sorrento

Time for a break so we decided to spend a week in sunnier climes - so onto the Internet and book up a week in Sorrento.

Photo Album

2007 - India

Mumbai(World Scrabble Championship), Delhi, Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park, Agra

Photo Album

After spending a week in Mumbai for the World Scrabble Championships, we took the overnight train to Delhi. After a couple of days there, the rest of the holiday was based on our personal taxi.

This page was last updated on March 23, 2009

© 1999-2009 P S Gipson

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