Sunday, 20 February 2011

ENGLAND – Stratford upon Avon

Day 1 ~ 06/07/2006
The start of our summer holiday was announced with a thunder storm and sheet lightening. This slowed our progress, having left home at 8 am. With the roads awash, we arrived at a small site at Marston Nurseries at around 11 o’clock. Of course, it stopped raining as soon as we had set up and the weather cleared in to baking sunshine. The site was formed by two fields adjacent to a horse paddock.

After lunch, we set off in the car for a walk in The Cotswolds, from Mickleton. The circular route of nine miles took us across undulating fields and tacks of typical Cotswold stone with wonderful views only hampered by the hazy conditions. It was a difficult route to follow, with us setting off down the wrong path from the outset. It did prove to be a pretty walk with some beautiful Cotswold stone houses along the route. Once back at the car at about 3.30, we could not find a pub open so returned to the caravan for a warm beer (having forgotten to stock the fridge).

We had tickets to see Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre in Stratford upon Avon. We had a drink first at Cox’s Yard on the bank of the River Avon, before the play started at 7.30 pm. The performance was a modern interpretation and took us a little by surprise. After, we bought a Chinese takeaway and took it back to the caravan.

Day 2 ~ 07/07/2006
Friday saw a lazy morning with a drive through the countryside to the village of Broadway, anticipated to be a pretty village, but disappointingly over developed in reality. We returned to Stratford upon Avon, enjoying a stroll by the river, crossing to the town via the hand operated chain ferry. We explored on foot, visiting a number of shops and the market, acquiring some books, including two Michael Palin hard back books for the collection.

Our stroll took us to Shakespeare’s birthplace, house and exhibition, in the centre of town and well preserved. Of note, Shakespeare did not have any children and of all the plays he wrote, not one original manuscript exists.

After, we visited the Garrick Arms, a public house dating from the 1600s, before more exploration ending at Cox’s Yard for our last drink.
Later we collected Abigail and Lucy from Ryton on Dunsmore, returning with them to the caravan for an afternoon of games and a BBQ.

Day 3 ~ 08/07/2006
On Saturday after more fun and games in the field, we set off to find a shire horse centre that Jayne had seen, but we were unable to locate it. Instead, at Moreton-in-the-Marsh we found a falconry centre, where we saw many birds of prey and observed two flying sessions, including two owls, a pair of Turkey Vultures, Harris Hawk, Lana Hawk and a Chilean Eagle. This was fascinating to watch and the girls enjoyed it too.

Stopping for a drink enroute back to the caravan, we found it a bit too breezy to sit outside. Later, we had a BBQ.

Day 4 ~ 09/07/2006
Sunday started with showers and blustery weather. We had a lazy morning playing cards before taking the girls home. We then took a cross country route home via Oxford.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

ENGLAND – The Peak District

Day 1 ~ 07/06/2006 ~ Grin Low
This trip had been long awaited, the plan being to do some walking and visit Alton Towers. The drive up took nearly five hours and was quite demanding after working a night shift. At just over two hundred miles, this was also the longest journey towing the caravan. We arrived to find a very unusual but attractive site, situated in an old quarry, now grassed and redeveloped, but still showing the hewn rock faces enclosing the site. As the pitches were all level hard standing, we were away on foot in a very short time, for a 5 mile circular walk. It started with a climb to a small observation tower with great views, before turning into a wood emerging the other side. The route turned into a sweeping long circle, covering several miles of farm land. Sheep were almost everywhere and seemed to be the main type of farming in the area.

During the evening, which was still very warm, we dined outside with a BBQ. It was still twilight at 10pm.

Day 2 ~ 08/06/2006 ~ Alton Towers
An early start to beat the crowds and make the most of the day; we had queue jumper tickets which allowed you to get to the front of the queue on several rides. The first few rides were thoroughly enjoyable or gut wrenching - Oblivion (a vertical fall) and Rita Queen of Speed being my favourites. As it was a warm day, the water rides were also there to be enjoyed and we had two goes on each.
The warm weather held for the evening and another BBQ was in order.

Day 3 ~ 09/06/2006 ~ Edale
We made an early start to get a few miles in before it got too hot. Starting from Edale, we completed a seven mile loop of moderate difficulty but amazing views. The route took us up a gorge, following a stream getting narrower and steeper with a scramble up some rocks on to the moorland top, having climbed about 1200 feet. The path up and over Kinder Scout offered a few miles of breath-taking views and unusual rock formations. The path intersected with the Pennine Way and we turned south descending Jacob’s Ladder and a further two miles to Edale. This was the most impressive walk we had completed to date. Edale itself had a warm feel to it and we relaxed in The Nag’s Head sampling local brew of the same name. Back in the car, we stopped nearby for a picnic. The afternoon was spent exploring the Dark Peak area of the national park.

In the evening, we drove to the nearby village of Chelmorton and ate at the Church Inn pub. This was another hot evening with a pleasant meal in a country pub.

Day 4 ~ 10/06/2006 ~ White Peak and the journey home
Saturday had come too soon. We left at lunch time and took a cross country route to Ashbourne to see more of the White Peak (southern) area of the Peak District. Today was the first England match of the World Cup. The radio commentary passed two hours of the trip and the match seemed to keep the roads clear, however it was also the British Grand Prix this weekend so we were diverted a few miles to avoid Silverstone. The return journey took much the same time as the drive up.

ENGLAND – The Isle of Purbeck

The Isle of Purbeck – Four Days of Walking on the Jurassic Coast

Having seen something of Europe, it occurred to me that I had not seen very much of my own country. A caravan would lend itself to visiting some of the more rural places so while we purchased a cheap but cheerful 1991 two berth caravan and made it homely. It would see quite a lot of use up and down England during 2006. I kept a handwritten diary of our most of our travels during this time and the more interesting trips are reproduced here.

Day 1 ~ 18/04/2006 ~ Swyre Head & Kimmeridge
Only an hour and a half from home, we arrived at Swalland Farm, Kimmeridge, a working farm with a small field for a few caravans. With only a tap on site, we were totally dependent on the caravan. It did offer an amazing view of the sea, with Swyre Head rising steeply behind us as a backdrop.

Once set up for our stay, we set off on our first walk, a six to seven mile walk, starting with a climb to the top of Swyre Head. This was the first of many steep climbs and the view from the top was worth the effort, offering glimpses of Corfe Castle, Poole Harbour, Brownsea Island, the sea and cliffs. We followed the ridge path, eventually dropping down into Kimmeridge, a pleasant small village that we both agreed we could live in. Once down to the bay, we climbed the cliff path, passing Clavell Tower and following the coast path to Rope Lake Head where the foot path led back to the caravan. In the evening we found that both the television and radio had packed up – so we would spend a lot of time reading this trip!

Day 2 ~ 19/04/2006 ~ Tyneham Village to Lulworth Cove
Tyneham is an abandoned village, or rather was seized by the Ministry of Defence during the Second World War. It lies within the Purbeck firing ranges and the residents were forced to leave on a ‘temporary basis’. Sixty years later, the village is still in MOD hands. This day of walking was to be the longest and most difficult of the trip. It was also very foggy so we could hardly see anything. The route took us in a loop from Tyneham back to Kimmeridge, before climbing again to Tyneham, then down to Worbarrow Bat where we stopped for lunch. We then climbed the almost vertical path to Flowers Barrow, before descending again to Arish Mell, a small cove, passing abandoned and rusting tanks, used for target practice. Another steep climb and descent into Mupe Bay followed, leading us along the Jurassic Coast to Lulworth Cove. Another impossibly steep climb up to Bindon Hill was next. The ridge path took us back to Arish Mell where we were to make one our final steep ascent at Flowers Barrow. The ridge path continued all the way back to Tyneham. We explored the remains of the village, heavily shelled except for the small school house and church. This was an exhausting eleven miles.

In the evening, we dined at The New Inn at Church Knowle. We enjoyed a fantastic Poachers Pie and will definitely visit again.

Day 3 ~ 20/04/2006 ~ Corfe Castle & Old Harry

This would be a day of rest, taking in the remains of Corfe Castle, a thousand year old castle, laid to ruins in 1646 during the civil war.

We continued to Studland Bay where we took a short walk of two and a half miles, to Old Harry and back, following the coast path and the Purbeck Way across Ballard Down. We had lunch in The Bankers Arms pub. We then took the scenic route back, stopping for a pint at Kingston at the Scott Arms. With many hours of daylight left, we decided to visit Lulworth Cove again. The cove was very pretty and definitely somewhere to visit by sea, but we endured a downpour. This part of coast demonstrates why it is of such geological importance, with rock formations, twisted arches of strata and Stair Hole, worn through by the sea over millennia.

Day 4 ~ 21/04/2006 ~ Durdle Door
On our last day, we would complete a seven mile loop from Lulworth Cove, heading west by inland footpaths as far as West Bottom and back along the coast path. We had obviously adjusted to the steep climbs because this route seemed much easier despite the steep gradients involved. At a height of 169 metres, we were reminded how close France is to this area – as our mobile phones picked up French networks.

The coast path took in a series of small bays; West Bottom, Middle Bottom then up to Bat’s Head. This cliff top offered views of The Cow and Calf rocks and the small Bat’s Hole, a small soft spot in the headland where the sea has driven a tunnel through.

A little while later, Durdle Door came into view. We paused for a coffee while admiring one of the most remarkable coastal features in the country. Twenty minutes later, the loop was completed. After lunch, we hitched up for the drive home. Four days in the Isle of Purbeck complete immerses you in the wilderness feel of the area.

ENGLAND - Yorkshire

Inspired by the television series, “All Creatures Great and Small”, Jayne and I planned a four day trip to Yorkshire. Jayne had also found a lovely book on James Heriot. We were also taking advantage of an offer from the Travelodge chain of hotels. Given enough notice, rooms could be had for under £20. Clean and functional, we chose the hotel at Scotch Corner due to its central location to the places we wanted to visit.

Day 1 - 19/01/09- Richmond & Harrogate
Our first day also included the long drive up from home. Richmond and Harrogate both featured in the television series as substantial towns and looked to be worthy of a visit. Harrogate promised plenty of 19th century architecture, but on arrival disappointed us a little. The blend of old and new did not feel right. We stopped for coffee before walking around the town. Harrogate is a spa town that was visited as a stopover between London and Scotland. Perhaps we had not regarded the town in context.

Richmond however was just what we had hoped for. Perched on the top of a hill, with tumbling waterfalls at the bottom, Richmond was the North Yorkshire town to visit. The square enclosed by pubs, hotels, shops, a church and the castle, had everything a visitor would want. We whiled away a pleasant few hours before heading to the hotel to check in. The impression of the Dales is of rolling countryside, overlooked by windswept high ground.

The hotel was just what we expected – plain but ideally located. In the evening we strolled the half mile down the lane to the nearest pub, the Shoulder of Mutton. The landlord and lady were very welcoming and we ate well. We also made the most of the local Black Sheep beer. Later in the evening as closing time approached, the locals let us in on their evil ways. The dominoes came out. They take the game very seriously!

Day 2 - 20/01/09 - North York Moors
Setting out cross-country, it was immediately apparent that we were the first car down many of the lanes this morning as the snow lay undisturbed from the overnight fall. The Moors seemed a more rugged place than the Dales, looking much more like mountains than big hills. We passed through some attractive villages, making a loop of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. At Helmsley, we stopped for coffee before heading to Goathland, the fictional village of Aidensfield (Heartbeat TV series) and carried on north-eastwards to Robin Hood’s Bay for a leg stretch and a pint at The Bay Hotel.

Continuing north, we visited the fishing town of Whitby where we ate in a pub overlooking the river. This was a lovely town, bustling with activity.

Day 3 - 21/01/09 - Yorkshire Dales

Following the same theme as the day before, we planned to make a loop of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The scenery in Yorkshire proved why it is a popular choice for film and television production. We visited Aysgarth Falls where scenes of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves were filmed. At Hawes, we stopped for refreshment and made some cheese purchases - Swaledale and Wensleydale. There was also a ropewalk, where we were able to watch machinery weaving twines to make rope.

The Tan Hill Inn is the highest pub in Great Britain, situated on the Pennine Way at an altitude of 1732 feet. Surrounded by snow, it was a welcoming sight. Inside we sat by the fire. It was a very quiet day for them but it was evident that during the summer months, the pub was regularly filled to capacity.

Day 4 - 22/01/09 – York
Our final day would be a visit to the city of York before driving home. It took an hour to drive in to York, but we found a town that was ideally suited to exploration on foot. Our trusty travel book suggested a walking tour of the centre and it took in The Shambles tiny cobbled shopping street, York Castle and finally York Minster which we visited. York Minster is served by its own police force, the smallest warranted force in the country. The route also made for a great pub crawl. We visited Ye Olde Starre Inne (the oldest pub) and the Blue Bell (the smallest pub where the bar was smaller than our lounge). This was a town that you could easily spend more time in, with a number of museums, the river, restaurants and its atmosphere all compelling you to stay longer. Unfortunately, we had to go

PORTUGAL – A Six Day Road Trip

Flying from and to London Gatwick, our trip would start in Faro, returning via Porto, using a hire car and four hotels along the route.

05/02/11 ~ Faro to Tavira and the Spanish Border
Arriving in Faro, with clear blue skies and a pleasant temperature of about 22 degrees in the sun, we both agreed that it had been far too long since we had visited warmer climes. Driving through Faro, we managed to miss the old town centre and it seemed to me that the satnav was not keeping up with us, although of course it was driver error really.

Embarking eastwards towards the Spanish border, we drove through Olhao, hugging the coast. The Ria Formosa natural park was an interesting if unexpected sight. The muddy creeks were very reminiscent of our own harbour and the rivers of the Solent. We stretched our legs at Fuseta and I can confirm that the mud even smells the same as in Langstone Harbour. We had a beer at a waterfront bar, watching a small armada of fishing boats dashing back and forth. A little further east, we stopped at Cabanas where we had a choice of restaurants. We settled at one offering cheese and prawns on toast, at least that is what it turned out to be.

We carried on east to Vila Real de Santo Antonio, the border town. At the river mouth, we admired the watery border between Spain and Portugal. We crossed the suspension bridge, dashing briefly into Spain before crossing back to Tavira, where we would stay the night in a fabulous hotel that was more a holiday apartment. With high ceilings and lots of bare wood, the place was a unique setting for our first night in Portugal. We strolled around a town that spans the river and chose a fish restaurant for the evening meal, “Restaurante Marisqueira”. As our first proper sight of a Portuguese town, we found it to be a mix of attractive architecture, but grubby; perhaps this is a real life town, less exposed to tourism than many of the Spanish towns we have visited.

06/02/11 ~ Tavira to Lagos & the Cabo de Sao Vincente
Today would be spent hopping along the coast, westwards to Cabo de Sao Vincente. We took the motorway as far as Faro and decided to explore the ancient walled town border the sea. Faro is central to the Formosa natural park, making it hard to approach from the sea due to the shallow waters. The town is very well preserved, with an orange tree lined square and white and sandy yellow buildings. I think seeing it out of season was probably the best time to do so as it must be packed in the summer. A crane has made its nest on top of the cathedral tower.
Further west, we drive through Quarteira and stop at Vilamoura marina, a large, fashionable marina complex surrounded by bars and cafes. We sit in the sun and enjoy a coffee and beer at Figo’s Bar.

Determined to see something of the Algarve beaches, we next stop at Albufeira. After struggling to find somewhere to park, we find the beach overlooked by a cliff top balcony. The rocky promontories have shaped a beautiful bay and nearby we dine outdoors on the cliff edge at Ocabaz da Praia, “The Beach Basket”. A large Mediterranean Gull sits on the wall nearby, eying up our lunch. The waiter advises us to be careful, as the gull scampers over the table between us and takes food from the plate.

At Silves, in land and overlooking the Algarve coast, the hill top castle is made from a dark red stone, unlike the lighter stone that other ancient structures are made from. The old town surrounding it is bustling with life, but we carry on westwards, driving through Alvor (unable to find anywhere to park) and on to Cabo Sao Vincente, the most south-western point of mainland Europe. The sun is getting low and we watch the Atlantic swell crashing into the cliff faces, sending spray eighty feet in to the air. The lighthouse is the most powerful in Europe, visible sixty miles.

Keen to get to Lagos before the sunsets, we drive the 20 miles back east and pull up to check for directions, only to find ourselves outside the hotel. Our room has a balcony overlooking the marina and is well furnished. We relax with a bottle of wine and as darkness falls, we walk to the old town walls, through the Moorish archway in to the old town, stopping for a beer before settling on the Restaurante Piri-Piri. Jayne has pork and clams, I have Portuguese style steak, a piece of fillet steak served in a stew of sorts, but very tasty.

07/02/11 ~ Lagos to Lisbon via Monchique and Sintra

Leaving Lagos after allowing ourselves a lay in, we head up into the Serra de Monchique, a low lying range of hills footing the Foia peak, standing at 902 metres. The road climbs steadily through beautiful wooded land until we arrive at the town Monchique. We don’t stop as we know there is a café on the summit, but when we get there, it is closed. The hazy views are stunning though – tree lined gorges descend from the hill top in all directions, but the terrain northwards looks a little more rugged. A precariously narrow lane leads us down from the top, heading east towards the Atlantic coast. The countryside here in the Alentejo region is more reminiscent of France than anywhere else, with lush green fields and typical farm style houses in small clusters. We follow the coats road north, although it offers few glimpses of the sea. Still looking for a coffee stop, we leave the road and head into Vila Nova de Milfontes. We are presented with the most stunning scene so far – a sandy river mouth with huge breaking waves crashing across the entrance. It is very pretty, but again every bar is shut. Further north, we try again at Porto Corvo. More amazing rocky bays, stunning coastal scenery, but all closed for the winter. The next stop visible on the horizon is Sines. The industrial port consumes the area and is a blight on the landscape. We join the motorway and make an error with the toll gate that costs us 37 euros when we leave the motorway near Lisbon. We later find out that it probably did not cost much at all as the Portuguese motorway tolls are all expensive… We cross the enormous 25th April suspension bridge, but dodging Lisbon for now, we drive past to Sintra. This town in the hills has long been the summer home of past kings and contains a number of palaces. After lunch and a beer, we visit the Palacio National de Sintra. It contains some wonderful interior design and furniture, but the whole town feels a bit run down and need of repair. After, we cross the hill top and descend to the coastal resort of Cascais. This seems quite a pleasant place and we stroll the seafront, choosing a bar for a quiet drink in the last of the evening sunshine. The drive that follows takes us east to Lisbon, closely following the Tagus River. The many beaches all offer lots of Atlantic surf and despite the season, each bay is full of surfers bobbing up and down in the waves, waiting for the right one.

In Lisbon, we easily find the Hotel Mundial where we will be staying for two nights. We have already decided that we will eat in the 8th floor panoramic restaurant in the hotel, but take a short stroll afterwards where we find the night time atmosphere to be somewhat sinister and foreboding. There are plenty of police officers around, yet we are openly offered drugs for sale. We are back at the hotel within half an hour, intent on making the most of the next full day exploring Lisbon.

08/02/11 ~ Lisbon

Lisbon surprises us somewhat. It is not the bright and prosperous capital city we expected and we find it quite run down in places and lacking many old buildings and attractions. Perhaps this is in part due to the tragic earth quake in 1755, where 15000 people died in Lisbon and much of the city was laid to ruin.
We start a long day of trekking with a walking tour of the Castelo de Sao Jorge and the Alfama district. The steep climb up the hill included a continuous assent of 122 steps before another climb of 66, just to reach the lower roads below the castle. The walls, keep and grounds are of ancient origins, overhauled by the Moors sometime after; bring back memories of Almeria and Cordoba. The surrounding residential area of Alfama is the oldest in Lisbon. Narrow winding streets are portrayed in a romantic way in the guide book, but the reality is a grotty unkempt neighbourhood with little appeal but lots of potential. The ‘Se’ cathedral is also located in the same area, but again fails to compete with those of Spain. Descending into the lower town area of the Baixa, we find it much improved in the daylight. Pedestrianised streets lack the threatening feel of the evening before and we head north to the Rossio square which has two fountains and a central monument overlooked by the National Theatre building. Further into the Restauradores area, we take the Elevador da Gloria funicular up the steep hill to the Bairro Alto, the upper part of the modern town. The funicular is not a true one, but a tram car, with the floor levelled for the steep incline. It gets us to the top however and we embark on a short circuit of the area, finding 18th and 19th century shops and cafes. Our loop concludes at the Elevador de Santa Justa, a turn of the century cast iron neo-gothic lift stood away from the cliff face. We enjoy a small bottle of Mateus Rose at a bar on the cliff top and then descend to the Baixa on foot. Strolling back south to the Praca de Comercio, we board an electric tram to carry us the few miles west to the Belem area. Our first port of call is the Torre de Belem, a small defensive battery built on the beach. Climbing the tower, the noise of the sea on all sides fills every room and we are buffeted by the wind once on the top, looking out across the Tagus River and northwards to the expansive 25th April Bridge. Walking the short distance along the river promenade, we next arrive at the 17 feet tall ‘Monument to the Discoveries’, a modern stone statue bearing sculptures of famous Portuguese explorers. After another beer stop, we find the darkness descending and the other nearby attractions all closing. We stroll to the train station and catch a local slow train back to the Baixa. Our evening meal is at one of the many street cafes in the Rua Augusta. With the fall of darkness, the unfriendly atmosphere has returned. Again, we are openly offered drugs in the street and most of the restaurants almost drag you in off the street to eat. We play cards and drink in the hotel bar this evening – it feels much safer knowing there is a police officer stood outside the entrance!

09/02/11 ~ Lisbon to Porto
An early starts sees us through the rush hour traffic and on to the A2 motorway heading north towards the border, only 65 miles away. The route runs close to the coast, but with only glimpses of the sea, the road climbs and falls through eucalyptus forests, deep green in colour, with gorges and river valleys almost constantly in view. We stop for coffee at Coimbra, a sizable town a hundred miles north of Lisbon. In the town centre, we find attractive well-kept narrow pedestrianised streets. Every other shop seems to sell rugs of all colours and styles. After a coffee, we stretch our legs around the town centre before returning to the car for another hundred miles of driving.

By lunch time, we are in Porto and homing in on our hotel. We locate the road with ease and are initially concerned that we appear to be staying in a rough area, however the road is very long and quite respectable by the time we arrive at the Hotel Sao Jose. With most of the day still left for exploring, we are shortly out on foot to explore. It is immediately apparent that Porto is a much friendlier town, with many more old buildings. Pride in appearance is also evident, as is a predilection for decorating their buildings with blue and white tiled mosaics. Our circuit included the town hall building followed by lunch at a street café (meat in pastry similar to a sausage roll and pizza). We then climbed the Torre dos Clerigos, offering the best views of the town from the 75 metre high upper level. Continuing downhill to the cathedral, we visited the cloisters and museum; more blue and white tiled pictures but relatively simple stone structures and shapes again, not the ornate cathedrals seen in other countries. Next, the descent to the river steepens with a long flight of steps and narrow streets reminiscent of the Alfama district of Lisbon. An archway opens out on to the Douro river front. At last, there is an abundance of restaurants and bars, however all too far from the hotel to be viable for an evening meal. Nearby, the river is spanned by the two-tier Dom Luis I bridge, an iron bridge built in 1886, carrying traffic across the river on two levels.

Refreshed, we find there is a newly commissioned funicular back to the cathedral level of the town, however the unhelpful man in the kiosk is not interested in getting us on board. We start the long climb up the hill to the Santa Clara church, tucked away behind the police station. Inside, we find the most ornate carved and gilded interior, dimly lit and tranquil.

Heading up hill toward the hotel again, we find the smartest bar we have seen yet in Portugal, the Tribeca Jazz Club. We effectively spend the rest of the evening here, unable to find a restaurant in the area. The food and wine are both excellent, but we retire before the live music starts at 10.30pm.

10/02/11 ~ Porto to the Spanish Border
Our flight is scheduled for the afternoon and we need to return the hire car by 1pm. We set off early again, heading north to complete the coastal journey. The border is only 60 miles north, but with two motorway routes to get there, we are able to make an interesting loop of it. Going north on the A11, we weave up through the mountains again with similar scenery to the drive to Porto. We leave the motorway to visit the small town of Viana do Costelo, however the Tom Tom leads us astray and we find ourselves driving round in circles on dirt tracks, separated from the town. After twenty minutes, we find a tarmac road and head back to the motorway. Closer to the Spanish border, the road becomes the N13 and as we arrive at the bridge across the Minho River, we stop for one last coffee in the small pretty village of Vila Nova de Cerveira. This ancient border post is being regenerated, but the 12th century castle is badly neglected, despite being a national monument. We cross the bridge into Spain to find the same situation on the north side of the river.

We take the A3 inland motorway south to Porto, with no time left to stop anywhere. An hour and a half later, we are sat in the airport drinking our last beers of the holiday. The final taste test settles it; Sagres tastes better than Super Bock. In summary, Portugal is very different from Spain, despite their proximity. The Algarve shares similarities with the Costa del Sol, but that is where it ends. We have fulfilled another long term intention and agree that the Algarve would be visited again and perhaps some of the eastern border area.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

ENGLAND - Chester

Arriving in Chester at about 1pm, we were too early to check in to the hotel so we went into the Pitcher and Piano, the pub next door for some refreshment. The hotel was situated opposite the remains of the largest Roman Amphitheatre in Britain. It actually seemed quite small but I was comparing it to the Coliseum, so I suppose it would be! It had been partially uncovered and use had been made of mock-ups to aid the imagination. The hotel was within fifty metres of the East Gate. We joined the city wall walk here. Chester has the only complete city wall left in the country and measuring nearly two miles long, makes for a good way to see the town centre. The path follows the top of the town wall for most of the way, only descending to street level briefly along the banks of the River Dee. A weir helps keep the water level in the upper stretches and tour boats ply the waters in season. Below the weir, the river was very obviously tidal and not too attractive, but the town walls soon veered away from the bank to the Chester race course. The walls offered an excellent view of the entire circuit. Interrupting the walk, we visited The Pied Bull pub for a sample of some local ales.

Re-joining the wall, the path soon turned parallel to the Shropshire Union Canal and a locked junction with other waterways. An unusual scene opened up, with a rail bridge crossing a road, crossing a canal. An old open top bus was passing by too. It was a good demonstration of transportation through the ages. The canal was in a deep gorge parallel to the city wall as we passed the cathedral. An unusual clock spanned the path as it crossed a bridge over one of the main shopping streets.
With the walk over, we made the most of the day light and wandered the shopping streets deciding where to eat in the evening. Chester is known for the Chester Rows; shops and restaurants situated on two levels along each side of the road. The ancient walk ways date back to the 13th century, though most of the current buildings date back to the 19th century. One of these was the 12th century Victoria Inn and we rested our legs for a bit. Resuming our walk, we continued through the precincts returning to the hotel to check in.

Overcome with hunger, we ate at the Piccolino Italian restaurant. We enjoyed the most delicious olives we have ever had. Afterwards, as it was still early, we ventured through the Rows finding our way back to The Pied Bull again, via the Slug and Lettuce. As the evening drew to a close, we returned to the Pitcher and Piano before turning in for the night.

Heading out promptly at nine o’clock, our plans were to find out more about the history of Chester. We headed to the cathedral, through the upper galleries of the Rows. The heart of the building is nearly 1000 years old and there have been religious buildings on the site for a thousand years before. The cathedral has the most detailed wood carvings to be seen anywhere and it was evident that the cathedral has strong links still with the military, there being a number of remembrance areas within.
After breakfast in a café overlooking the cathedral, we crossed the town to the Grosvenor Museum, a combined natural history / local history museum. It included a 19th century period house, an expansive silver collection and the largest collection of Roman headstones found in the country. Most had been unearthed within the city walls during a repair project in the 1920s. Why they were there, no one can tell but it was done in the Middle Ages and it managed to preserve them from years of weathering.
At midday, we had finished and it seemed the right time to depart for home. Most memorable will be the city wall walk and the Chester Rows.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

WALES – Cardiff & The Brecon Beacons

17/01/11 – Cardiff City
Inspired by our recent travels and keen to fit in another overnight trip before our first visit to Portugal, the capital of Wales looked promising. The city centre seems too compact to contain so many points of interest. Yet it is easily explored on foot. We had chosen The Parc Hotel (Thistle chain) as it was in the heart of the town and made parking easy. I had just finished a night shift so Jayne drove the car. I awoke just as we crossed the border in to Wales at the Severn Bridge toll booths.

Abandoning the car, we strolled through the shopping precincts toward Cardiff Castle where were lucky to have a ‘personal’ guided tour of the castle house. Lucky because due to construction work in the building, guided tours had been made mandatory and equally, because we were the only people on that particular tour. The interior was a demonstration of opulent indulgence. It was no surprise to hear that the Marquis of Bute that made the family fortune was not the same Marquis to spend it on the castle. Nor that the next Marquis gave the castle to the city…
It was a damp day but that would not prevent us from exploring the town. Our walk took in the Millennium Stadium on the bank of the River Taff, the indoor market, more of the town centre culminating in a relaxed tour of some of the pubs, enjoying the local Brains Brewery ale.

18/01/11 – Cardiff Docks
Having checked out, our morning plan was to visit Cardiff Docks. The docks had lost their industrial significance with the closure of the coal mines, however they have undergone regeneration and the area is now a hive of activity being home to the Welsh Assembly, the Welsh National Opera, many bars and restaurants.
It was a much brighter day so far more pleasant for walking. On arrival, we enjoyed a coffee at an authentic French café before circling the docks taking in the mixture of architecture: The Wales Millennium Centre, dock offices, assembly building and a timber church previously used by Norwegian fisherman. We ate our pub lunch outdoors, sampling some other Brain’s beers.

The Brecon Beacons
To make the most of our day, we decided to extend the drive home by venturing north through the Beacons before heading south east back to the Severn Bridge.
On such a clear day, the views of the high ground were fabulous but all over too soon as the need to press on home grew. The relatively quick drive home proved that revisiting the Brecon Beacons to climb some of the peaks was a viable option for a day trip.

THE NETHERLANDS –Leiden & The Hague, via Lincoln

07/12/10 - Lincoln
It has been a number of years since our last trip to The Netherlands. Looking to add a little variety to our winter excursions, Holland seemed the obvious choice now cheap local flights are a thing of the past. Fortunately, P&O still operate the Hull to Rotterdam route at the same bargain price we have paid before.
This time, the journey would be a little different, taking advantage of the late sailing time. If we were to drive to Hull, we would visit somewhere different along the way there. Today it would be Lincoln. Heavy snow fall had threatened the trip, but on the morning of departure, the main routes were again clear. The scenery was spectacular, particularly the heavy morning frost on the trees that line the A43. Once off the M1, the route to Lincoln was much slower. Road works and snow fall are a bad combination, but never the less we arrived in Lincoln at lunch time. Ascending to the top of the hill and surrounded by snow, we wandered the cobbled streets, lunching at a pub and visiting the cathedral. Lincoln was once the fourth most important town in England, its fortune made from cloth and wool. The medieval streets and buildings have a new lease of life as pubs, shops and restaurants.

08/12/10 - Leiden
The drive from Europoort to Leiden was a short one. We had deliberately chosen a destination nearby, to make the most of the day and in case the weather was worse on the continent. It was a bleak and grey day, but the roads were clear and within an hour, we were struggling to find anywhere to park.
Everywhere was pay and display, but the machines only accepted local bank cards. Leiden is an ancient university town, typical of the other Dutch towns we have visited, being criss-crossed by canals and bridges. Our guide book suggested a walking tour that took in the oldest buildings and bridges. The canal side market seemed to be the busiest place and we wandered around trying to choose somewhere to eat. Alas, our command of the Dutch language does not extend to deciphering menus and the guide book was not much help either. Leiden is one of those towns that I am glad to have visited as it is ‘real Holland’, but not one I propose to visit again though. The Hague was a different matter though.

The Hague
If ever there was a town that felt like it was the centre of Europe, it must be The Hague. Despite the splendid Flemish architecture leaving you in no doubt that you are abroad, there is something about it that makes it feel like it is home to all nations.
It is no surprise then that the town is the judicial home of the United Nations. Unlike Leiden, we were away from car and exploring within minutes. Again, our guide book proved excellent, escorting us around the most attractive features, particularly the 13th century Binnenhof parliament building and the shopping streets, including the Passage covered arcade, the only remaining one in The Netherlands, dating from the 19th century.
Now pushed for time, we headed back to the ferry, forced to eat aboard again.

FRANCE - Lille

With an early start, we made good time driving to Dover and were able to catch the ten o’clock Norfolk Line (Now DFDS Seaways) ferry to Dunkerque. Kent bore signs of recent snowfall. The drive into Lille took a little over an hour and we found the Ibis hotel easily. Lille had been spared the snow. We were well prepared for this two night visit, having acquired a Lille tourist office guide book. It was bitterly cold, but the town had a warmth about it. Our timing was perfect – Lille has a Christmas market and is famous for the big wheel that comes to town with it. The guide book suggested a series of self-guided walks to show the different eras that the town has experienced. We followed one route that afternoon, through the St Sauveur district revealing a mixture of architecture, old and new side by side, particularly the 17th century Porte de Paris gate, now encircled by early 20th century buildings.

Later, we walked the short distance into the town centre – Palais Rihour. The Christmas market stalls were lively and the mulled wine certainly helped keep us warm. The town has a very Flemish feel and most of the beer available was Belgian – no bad thing. However, the prices were amongst the highest we have seen - £7 for a 50cl beer. We settled for a bottle of wine with our evening meal at Le Brasserie du Pelican.

The following day, we made a reasonably early start as we had three more walking tours that we wished to follow. Our first stretch took us through the 19th century quarter. Broad tree lined avenues of town houses dominated the area, culminating in the Place de la Republique – a large square between the Palais de Beau Arts and the Prefecture, two fine 19th century buildings. Separating them was a fountain and it was sold cold, much of the water surface was frozen over.
Returning to Place Rihour, we followed the suggested route through ‘old Lille’. Many of these buildings date from 15th century to 17th century, with narrow cobbled streets and alleys. The surprise of all this though was the cathedral in the middle of it all. With 13th century origins, the façade was a disappointing bland addition from 1999.

The final route took us north west to the Canal de la Mayenne Deule and the 17th century Citadelle. This area felt more remote, perhaps because the canal. The buildings mostly appeared to be commercial in origin; storehouses and the like. We did not loiter long, favouring the bustle of the town centre. We ventured to EuraLille – a very large and modern shopping centre, complete with hotel, business facilities etc. Our timing was poor though as it was closed for business. The diversion did yield one benefit though.
We found a micro-brewery opposite the Gare Lille Flandres rail station (only 100 metres from our hotel). Les Trois Brasseurs proved to be the best value / best tasting establishment in town. Its existence was not a surprise as we had been forewarned by friends; however it was by good fortune that we should actually find it. We enjoyed a rack of beer – samples of their different beers produced on-site. After dark, the Place Rihour beckoned. We ate our meal and soaked up some atmosphere. It was not a festive atmosphere, just that which the town itself seemed to possess. We returned to the micro-brewery later in the evening as we felt we had not quite experienced all it had to offer….

Having been surprised by just how much could be bought at a mini-supermarket not fifty metres from the hotel, we departed for home. France was still grey but back in Dover, much of the snow was still present on the cliff tops. Two nights in Lille was just about right.

FRANCE - Calvados Country

Having focused much of our time and travel on sailing, the winter months of 2010 / 2011 were going to be different. We kicked off with a day trip to France, to visit a few familiar Normandy sights, some harbours to include in the 2011 summer cruise and a couple of towns further inland. The area is known as Calvados Country. The night ferry delivered us to Ouistreham and we rolled off the ferry into the darkness.

Dawn was still some time away. We headed slowly westwards hugging the coast roads, with the glow of daybreak gathering behind us. Courseulles was an attractive harbour worthy of revisiting. By Arromanches, dawn had broken but it was to be an overcast day with little hope of it brightening up. Stopping at the Batterie de Longues and the then American cemetery at Colleville sur Mer, brought us reminders of the human sacrifices made in this area 66 years ago.

Having visited the harbours of Port en Bessin, Isigny and Carentan, we turned east to Bayeux. Having been here before, we wanted to see more of the town itself. We found it to be quite a typical French town, with the main street through the centre of town bustling with life. We strolled and lunched, soaking up the atmosphere.

The afternoon passed with a driving tour of the area to Thury-Harcourt and Clecy. The inevitable supermarket visit was squeezed in before a rapid drive back to Ouistreham to catch the ferry home.

FRANCE – North Brittany Cruise -2010

FRANCE – North Brittany Cruise -2010
The club Summer Cruise was to be a mixture of Normandy, Brittany and The Channel Islands, with a number of boats going in the same general direction with different plans in mind.

Friday 30th July
With an afternoon start, a number of Tudor boats descend on the harbour in a move to the down harbour moorings for an early get away. Kadeena, Good Year and Kindred Spirit share a buoy, with Dream On, Saltair, Muffin III and Kristina on another. I gather there were night-caps on both rafts, but all crews retire early to rest as the departure time is very, very early.

Saturday 31st July
All boats are underway by 0315 hours. The '0' stands for 'Oh my God it's early' and we motor-sail into a F4 across to Bembridge Ledge in the darkness. Dawn breaks as the swell sets in down the back of the Isle of Wight and it is apparent that the very lumpy conditions are causing a degree of discomfort on a number of boats. In turn, Good Year, Saltair, Dream On and Kindred Spirit turn back. The crew of Kadeena consider it, but decide that turning back will probably be worse, especially as the tide would ease in an hour or so. As predicted, the conditions ease substantially and the remaining boats enjoy six hours of excellent progress. Some fog is apparent and we try to stay in sight of one another, but Kristina is slightly behind and not answering her radio. Thick banks of bright green seaweed add to the fun and the tide turns again with France in sight. We all arrive in Cherbourg in quick succession after a 14 hour passage. Kristina's radio silence is revealed. A skipper overcome with nausea answered his radio at exactly the wrong moment and rendered it unusable, until it could be thoroughly cleaned and sterilised! A short while after the arrival in Cherbourg, Kebo and Celtic Lady arrived. Those that could get ashore discussed the next day's passage plan.

Sunday 1st August
All five boats depart around midday for St Peter Port. The departure was timed to coincide with the most benign conditions at Cap de la Hague and the Alderney Race. We managed a brief sail before it was apparent we needed to make better progress. Terry and George were proved right and the passage proved to be plain sailing. The Alderney Race was almost flat calm, with just a gentle swell setting in from the west. The usual radio traffic is joined by Atropos, also en route to St Peter Port. After seven hours, we join the raft at St Peter Port and venture ashore in a dinghy for a meal and a stroll. We agree that we will wait another day here as the remainder of the fleet had set off for Cherbourg on Saturday.

Monday 2nd August
The crews of Kadeena, Muffin III and Kristina embark aboard the Travel Trident 5 for a day exploring the paradise island of Herm. With picnics and cameras and the promise of a fine day, we followed the coast path circumnavigating the island. Stopping for lunch in Shell Bay, we watched with amusement as a variety of boats entered the bay only to be put off by the underwater dangers slowly revealing themselves as the tide fell away. The island hostelry provided suitable refreshment in the form a 'Liberty Ale', a Channel Island brew perfect for a sunny day. Later, back in St Peter Port, Good Year, Saltair and Dream On arrive and we all ferry ashore for another meal at the Riva Bistro overlooking the harbour. Dream On report a fouled propeller midway across the channel.

Tuesday 3rd August
No rest for the wicked if we are to get to Brittany; at 0550 hours we all depart and head south west for Paimpol, passing the Roches Douvres light-house. Progress was slower than expected as we did not get as much tidal assistance as expected. Dream On caught themselves another prop nest. Once it was apparent that we could not make Paimpol, we eased off the wind toward St Quay Portrieux, a further 20 miles away. We were able to enjoy a sail though for a few hours in wonderful conditions, arriving in port ten hours after our departure. Three long legs in three days had left all crews a little weary so we were glad that the next few days would be short hops around the Bay de St Brieuc. Resting for two nights, we enjoyed a meal ashore at the marina restaurant and crews settled down for the evening. Kebo arrived too. Kadeena hosted a bit of a games night for Good Year, Saltair and Dream On. Others went to listen to a live band playing nearby with hospitality aboard Kebo after. George does enjoy a tot of Whisky!

Thursday 5th August
With a late morning start, six boats depart with trepidation to Le Legue. Tidal constraints limit our options and all pilot books agree that Le Legue will be a disappointment. In two hours, we enter the river and proceed into a large commercial lock. An hour later, clear of the fishing port, we are alongside an old stone wall nestled amongst yachts in the upper reaches of the navigable river. An enormous bridge spans the gorge high over our heads but we are all very pleasantly surprised to find the pilot books are out of date. We find a friendly, quiet and attractive port with a choice of restaurants and an amendable harbour master. George negotiates a 50% rally rate; the harbour master goes on to book our berths at the next port for us. Another fun meal ashore followed by a night-cap aboard Saltair.

Friday 6th August
In the afternoon, we all depart for Dahouet, just a few miles northwards around the bay. After only two hours, we negotiate the rocky channel and are shown to our berths; a Tudor-only raft in the marina basin and a comfortable spot for two nights. On the second day, the crews of Kristina and Kadeena follow the coast path northward to the main town area, dodging light rain showers. After several pavement cafes, we catch the free bus service back to the marina. Boats are hosting meals for each other. Kebo has found us again!

Sunday 8th August
We all depart together for St Cast, a new marina a few hours eastwards and around Cap Frehal. Only one pilot book even shows the marina as being there. The coast line is somewhat rocky, with a fairy tale castle to boot. St Cast though is a typical modern marina, almost devoid of ambiance. There is a charity event on the quayside for Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer, the French lifeboat service. We walk ashore in to town for some exercise and refreshment, later all meeting up for a meal in one of the quayside restaurants. The main benefit of St Cast is its position and all states of tide access. Kebo has plans to visit St Malo, but generously surrenders a bottle of red for the long awaited wine tasting evening.

Monday 9th August
With some rain forecast for the next day, we depart in beautiful conditions for St Helier, passing west of the Minquiers Plateau. With conditions favourable for a sail, we make a good speed northwards but as the conditions ease and the speed slows, we break out the mackerel feathers, hauling in five fish over the course of an hour. The east-going tide stream now threatens us with the looming rocks of the Minquiers so out comes the spinnaker to gain some speed. After nine hours or so, Good Year, Dream On, Muffin III, Kristina, Saltair and Kadeena are alongside in St Helier for two nights and of course, the rain arrives. The mackerel are devoured aboard Good Year. On Tuesday, Kristina and Kadeena go shopping, with entirely different aims, of course. Liz and Jayne find department stores; George and Neil find Liberty Ale. Later we regroup and find everyone else too. Our evening meal at Hector's Fish and Chip Restaurant is made more interesting by our chatty host.

Wednesday 11th August
A fairly early departure sees all six boats squeezing through a gap between two rafts, only inches wider than the largest boats. Our effort is rewarded by further delays caused by the arrival of two ships in the outer harbour. Eventually, we are underway for Carteret, taking the Violet Channel and passing near the Ecrehou islets. The five hour passage passes without incident and we are guided to our berths in the marina. Most of the crews trudge around the coast path up to the light-house and back, assembling again for refreshment at a beach bar. We take the advice of the St Helier chip shop owner and are not disappointed by the meal we have at La Kalakiki restaurant on the fishing boat quay.

Thursday 12th August

After a two hour hop, we are all alongside in Dielette. Atropos and Celtic Lady are present, but we have just missed Lesser Stint and friends. Kebo is still in St Malo. At last, with as many boats present as we can manage and on the last day of the cruise, all crews are invited aboard Kadeena for the wine tasting event. It was amazing how far we could stretch 7 bottles of wine! Everybody enjoyed themselves. It needed a tie breaker quiz to find the winner as Sandra and Chris Collins had both managed to pick the right wines. Chris was the eventual winner. George proved himself to be a card carrying member of the Campaign for Real Ale, by coming joint last. We all dine ashore at the Moules Tent, now 'upmarket' and in a porta cabin. Great food, great value and great company though.

Friday 13th August
Perhaps not the best date to depart for home, through the Alderney Race, but a necessary one. Spring tides against a northerly wind make for an interesting passage. Radio silence follows as all crews find something solid to hang on to but, 45 minutes later, we are cast out at the other end and normal radio chatter resumes. Carol remarked, "That was the longest 15 minutes I have ever had" but it can't have been too bad as conversation quickly turned to frying up breakfasts! We took advantage of the big lift of tide but the weather became quite squally as the afternoon wore on. We entered the Solent in darkness and picked our way through an outgoing stream of yachts, all flying spinnakers. Within thirty minutes of each other, we were all on moorings in the lower reaches of Langstone Harbour, for a late dinner and well-earned rest.

Saturday 14th August
Most boats return to their moorings, but Good Year and Kadeena fancy a curry in Ryde. Who said the cruise was over? We had logged 381 miles and seen a lot of new places. We now needed a holiday to recover....

Thursday, 28 February 2008

FRANCE - St Malo - Brittany & Normandy


Travelling with Jayne's mum and dad, we travelled overnight with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to St Malo. Over the winter months, the weekend ferry does not return until late allowing a full day ashore - and we crammed in as much as we could.

Arriving in France early in the morning always presents a problem: nothing is open. We drove slowly across the tiny St Malo peninsular to Concale, a notable oyster farming area. After a bracing stroll in the cold morning air (around freezing point) the first cafe to open won our trade. Coffee flowed warming us up a bit, before hap-hazardly picking our way to Mont St Michel, just into Normandy.

Mont St Michel

The early morning mist over the mount had not cleared as we drew closer, proving an unusual view of the islet. Once on to the mount, we parted with Jayne's parents and strolled to the top, taking plenty of photographs and video footage. We met up again for coffee before making tracks.

Our next stop would be Avranche, for supermarket shopping and some food in a local restaurant.

With time to spare, we drove back westwards to St Malo, but carrying onto Dinard for
another stroll and a well earned drink in a bar. Our hunger grew so with time pressing on, our return to St Malo was inevitable.

St Malo
We had never visited the old walled town, which is strange given the number of times we have passed through. A fantastic little place, worthy of a day in its own right. Parking was a problem, but with patience and a stroke of luck, we parked on a side road and meandered through the streets in search of moules frites; just what was needed. Out of time, we then retired to the ferry for a drink and a rest on the overnight passage home.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

FRANCE - St Omer


Our new sailing boat has interupted our travel dramatically. The cost of owning a boat means you have to use it to justify that expense...

The early morning always looks great across the bonnet of a Mercedes....

However, sooner or later the wine cellar (our garage) would be empty so for a pleasant day trip with Jayne's mum and dad, we crossed with P&O from Dover to Calais and spent the day in and around St Omer, about 45 minutes in land.

The main purpose of the trip was to stock up the wine rack, but of course, any day in France would be incomplete without a meal in a typical local French restaurant.
This we did, though it was a challenge to find anywhere open so early. We made it back to the ferry port early and boarded a waiting ferry. The result was that we were home an hour early.

Having taken the camera, I don't know why I did not use it - only two shots enroute to Dover...I can tell the photograper in me is emerging again.

Before drinking....honest.

Saturday, 30 June 2007


Jayne's Birthday ~ Rome & Milan

24/06/07 ~ Rome

Sunday saw an early start for us, with a check-in time at London Gatwick of 5am. I had accidentally let slip that we were going to Italy, but at least had managed to not reveal exactly where we were going. Jayne guessed quite easily though ~ Rome. We flew Easyjet to Rome Ciampino and enjoyed a quick flight. On arrival, the next shuttle bus in to the city centre was at least 40 minutes away. We took a taxi to the nearby train station and were shocked to be charged 20 Euros for a 2 mile journey. The train at least was cheap at 1.30 Euros for 10 miles.

The hotel that I had chosen was convenient for some of the historic attractions as well as the central rail station. After a short walk, we found the Hotel Guibileo. We were too early to check in, but left our back packs in their care and set off on foot to start sight seeing. We got as far as a pavement cafe a few doors along the road and sat in the blistering sunshine downing a few beers, admiring the facade of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Next we set off toward the Roman Forum. Our expectation was a few remains, but instead we found the remains of many temples, arches, streets and houses. It is incredible that so much is still standing after two thousand years. The heat reached 35 degrees Celsius and we kept stopping to refresh ourselves at public drinking fountains. Nearby we could see the Colosseum, but would save that visit for another day.

After seeing all there was to see, we strolled off further across Rome to the Pantheon. This ancient church is 142 feet wide and 142 feet tall and all original except four exterior pillars. It was built by Emperor Hadrian, but the facade is emblazoned

The top of the dome is left open, the circle supporting the rest of the roof.

Next, we walked across town to the Trevi Fountain and sat on the edge of the fountain pool, cooling our feet in the water with about a hundred other people. Unfortunately, the fountain police turned up. Whistles blowing, everyone was ordered to take their feet out of the pool. Having stamped their mark of authority on us, they then continued the whistle blowing until everyone had put their shoes back on too. A very dull job, but they seemed to find it fulfilling...

Another stroll took us to the Spanish Steps. I had hoped that this flight of steps would be as romantic as I had heard, but with scaffolding hiding the building at the top, it was not a very spectacular sight. We climbed to the top and took photos and had a drink.

The walk back to the hotel was punctuated with drink stops, the four fountains cross-roads and our evening meal at a pizza parlour adjacent to St Maria Maggiore. Our waiter bore an uncanny resemblance to one of our friends and provided a source of amusement that lasted the evening.

25/06/07 ~ Rome ~ Vatican City

Our day was to be dedicated to visiting the smallest country in the world, the independent city state of the Vatican. With 550 residents and the lowest birth rate for any state (not a surprise when you think about it) we were yet again to be amazed by the wealth of the Roman Catholic church and the good that all that money could do if it were realised.

It took an hour to walk the three miles across Rome to reach the River Tiber and enter the badly named St Peter's Square, which is very much an ellipse. It was however an amazing feeling, with the columns reaching around the square, in an embrace as it were. The queue to get into St Peters Basilica was enormous though and it took 40 minutes or so to clear the security check point, only to be refused entry to the Basilica as Jayne's top was too revealing (for them anyway). Not to be beaten, my trousers had removable legs, so I unzipped them and carefully positioned a 'leg' under the front and back of Jayne's top suitably covering her up. This did the job nicely and we were admitted! Another queue saw us climb 330 steps to reach the roof top of the Basilica and we admired the view in all directions. Descending took us into the Basilica itself and we found that it was truly enormous, although still second to the cathedral in Seville in terms of size. We ventured in to the crypt beneath where numerous former Popes are buried, including the late John Paul II.

Back outside, we stopped for an ice cream and a beer before following the outside of the city walls to gain the entrance to the Vatican Museum. The heat today reached 36 degrees and more in the sun. It was now quite late in the afternoon and if we had left it 15 minutes later, we would not have been admitted. The gardens and statues, paintings and ceilings were amazing. The route through the rooms and corridors lead to the Sistine Chapel, where alongside several hundred other people, we strained our necks to admire Michael Angelo's painting. This was incredible and far larger than I had thought it would be. The word 'chapel' suggests a small place of worship - not in this case.

Our route back into central Rome took us through Piazza Navona, where we stopped for a beer or two and watched the street painters and performers. We carried on, passing the Pantheon again and stopped at a nice looking restaurant for Jayne's birthday meal. We enjoyed primi and secondi plates and three bottles of Pinot Grigio. A couple on the next table were good conversation and having paid our bills, accompanied us to the Trevi Fountain where we were treated to gelato and coffee. They were very pleasant company and like-minded travellers. We walked back to our respective hotels, parting company in Via Nazional. We don't even know their names.

26/06/07 ~ Rome

Our last day in Rome, we were to spend most of it at the Colosseum. After queuing for an eternity we were admitted to one of the most spectacular sights we have ever seen. I did expect to see more restoration, but it had been almost entirely left as it was a thousand or more years ago. A lot of stone had been removed over the years though for building efforts elsewhere. The structure and scale of everything though was very impressive. The floor of the arena was wooden and the under floor passages are all visible. It was not hard to imagine the wild animals and gladiators waiting beneath for their time in the arena.

After, we again strolled though the adjacent Roman Forum and stopped for a drink.

As we were starting to run out of time, we headed back to our hotel, visiting St Maria Maggiore at last. The church was just as impressive inside as out and seemed pleasantly simple in design and appearance. We checked out and caught the train back to Ciampino rail station, sharing a taxi the last two miles with two young guys who were travelling overseas for several months.

Our Ryanair flight to Milan was the grottiest plane we had been on, with chewing gum on the seats and cabin crew that were neither interested in the passengers or pleasant in their demeanour. The only amusement was the bumpy ride. The captain kept turning the seat belt sign on and off and the cabin attendant lost track of whether it was on or off. The captain would turn the sign off and the attendant would tell everyone to return to their seats... At least it was a short flight.
We landed at Milan Bergamo, having been treated to spectacular aerial views of some of the Italian Lakes. We caught the airport shuttle coach into town and walked the mile or so into the town centre. We stayed at the Hotel Star, which was very pleasant and efficient, although the decor was a little tired. We promptly went out to see the Duomo (cathedral) in the evening light and ate at Restaurant Al Mercanti, recommended in a guide book. The food was excellent, but the service was deplorable. Locals were very obviously preferred over tourists.
27/06/07 ~ Milan

Milan was such a contrast to ancient Rome. Most buildings either dated from the 1800s or the 1920s. The town was a maze of tram routes and shops. We visited the Duomo, the third largest in the world and were impressed by its Gothic style and many spires. We followed a self-guided walk through the city centre, taking in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the Scala opera house. Jayne selected some very Milanese silver jewellery at Berlesconi's for her birthday present. We continued northwards to see the Napoleonic castle. The castle had been built over many centuries, but had been completed by Napoleon. With a threatening sky, we retreated to a restaurant and enjoyed a very nice pizza for lunch. The clouds passed without any rain falling and we settled at a cafe in front of the Duomo where we shared a bottle of wine before catching the metro back to the central rail station. Unable to take a train for some reason, we took an airport shuttle bus, this time to Milan Malpensa, where later we flew back to Gatwick.

We had spent four days away in baking sunshine, where the lowest temperature we experienced was 28 and the highest 36 degrees. At home, England had experienced torrential rain for four days with many towns completely flooded. Great Britain finally had a new Prime Minister and we were glad to have missed both events!

Sunday, 22 April 2007


A four day trip visiting Denmark (Copenhagen), Norway (Oslo) and Sweden (Malmo)


Early start this morning, driving to Stansted Airport for our Easyjet flight to Copenhagen. This was a very quick flight and we were soon in the terminal looking for the rail station.
About £7 bought two tickets in to Copenhagen centre, where we looked for our first bar. We had not really planned to see anything in particular so decided to stop as and when we were tempted by something. We had a good walk about the town centre, along the Stroget - the main shopping street until we reached Nyhaven - the fashionable port area. This short road / canal spur was lined with street cafes and bars. We took an hour long canal boat tour of the town centre, taking in sights such as the Danish Royal Yacht that was in port, the enormous opera theatre, several churches and the royal palace. We were very tired and dozed a bit, but the multilingual tour guide kept us amused with her translations. "These twelve statues, made of danish people...."

Once back at Nyhaven, we tried a bar or two and found that beer really was quite dear in northern Europe. About £10 bought two beers - 100DKK.
We strolled back through the town to our hotel - the Hotel Nebo, which I had carefully chosen as it had en suite facilities. It didn't and if I had read the small print at the time of booking, I would have known our room didn't.

In the evening, we ventured back out looking for a meal and to visit Tivoli - Copenhagen's popular meeting spot and fair ground. In the dark, it was magical. We stopped briefly to listen to an orchestra before walking further into the park. We settled on an Italian restaurant - one of about 30 inside the park. We enjoyed our meal and carried on exploring the park. The rides were comparable with many in the UK theme parks, though very pricey. We strolled, listening to the tones of a live jazz band playing somewhere nearby. After another half hour or so, we both agreed it was time to head back to the hotel and some well earned rest.


Checking out fairly early, we walked back across town to Nyhaven. We had wanted to visit the Carlsberg brewery but it was closed today. After another hot dog breakfast (there are so many polser stands everywhere), we decided to just walk around the other parts of the town that we had not seen. We stopped for refreshments a few times and strolled through a large park area, having bought some beer in a corner shop - much cheaper than the bars.
As the afternoon drew on, we made our way to the ferry port to board our DFDS ferry to Oslo.

Once checked in, we settled down on the rear sun deck to read the newspaper and watch Denmark slip past us as the ferry made its way northwards. The ship, the Pearl of Scandinavia, had several different bars and restaurants, but as we had no 'formal' dress, we ate in the buffet restaurant. The food was amazingly good, much better than any other ferry operator we have used but also pricey. Later we watched the live band and drunk our smuggled red wine that we had bought in the duty free shop.


We awoke and quickly went out on deck to make the most of the morning sunshine and scenery. The fjords were just as we imagined they would be, pine tree lined, rocky and reaching down to the sea. The channel to Oslo was quite narrow with several turns, but before long we were alongside in Oslo port. We disembarked and walked to the main street which contained all of the major buildings in Oslo. At the lower end was the main rail station. We arrived at the main street near the cathedral. We stopped for coffee before continuing. The cathedral was completely shrouded in scaffolding and plastic sheeting. We walked slowly up the road. The street slowly climbs to the royal palace at the top, passing the parliament building, opera house and university. The street was lined with long red and white flags. At the university buildings, we stopped to buy brunch. As we sat on a wall and ate (more polser) a marching band could be heard, getting closer. Back on the main street, we could see hundreds of soldiers marching towards us and then maneuvering to line both sides of the street in a cordon. Some of them (and the band) marched up to the palace. Another band could be heard further along he road. After a while, we walked up to the palace, which surprisingly is not fenced off from the road and watched the King of Norway inspecting the troops. Their uniform consisted of a navy blue tunic and a black bowler hat with a black plume of feathers on the side.

When we had had enough of the ceremony, we walked down the harbour side where there were several trendy bars and an indoor shopping centre renovated from old warehouse buildings. We sat and enjoyed the sunshine, watching the various ferry boats come and go.

The city hall overlooks the port, but it was quite an ordinary brick built affair, quite anonymous compared with all of the other buildings. We returned to catch our ferry back to Denmark. We found a particularly stubborn and unhelpful girl on the check-in desk and were made to wait an hour. More or less as soon as she had gone, we tried again and were allowed to board; less than an hour had passed.

The evening ferry back showed the surroundings off in an even better light, but as the temperature dropped, we retreated indoors again to eat at the buffet and watch the band again. They played exactly the same numbers...


Once back in at Copenhagen, we walked along the harbour side, passing the mermaid statue again and stopped for coffee at Nyhaven. We then walked the rest of the way back to the rail station where we caught a train across the Oresund bridge to Malmo, Sweden. The train track is suspended underneath the road bridge. The train first passes through a tunnel under the water, then emerges onto a man-made island before traversing the bridge. The Twisted Torso tower block is distinctive on the approach as the train circles around the southern side of the city. Once on foot in Malmo, we wandered the cobbled streets of the town centre, before deciding to have a curry for lunch in one of the restaurants on the main square. This was exceptionally good value and very tasty. We walked through the city centre park and sat for a while in the sunshine next to the canal that passes through. We both dozed in the sun before walking down to the sea to see the Twisted Torso up close. The wind was biting, but we found some shelter to rest and enjoy the views.
Back in the town, we drank at two bars until our money was gone before catching the train back to Copenhagen where before long, we were airborne and enroute to London.

This trip had been an amazing travel experience, particularly using the over night ferry between two capital cities.


Another bargain Ryanair flight from Bournemouth; our plan was for a two(ish) night trip to Madrid. It seemed strange returning to Spain, less than a month after leaving it earlier in the year.

The flight was brisk with us arriving at a sensible time during the morning. We had some reservations about the connections from the airport to the city centre, but the under ground network turned out to be simplicity itself. One Euro each to travel anywhere we wanted.

We took the underground in the direction of the three major art museums and walked the last half mile to get a flavour of the town atmosphere.

We toured the Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza galleries and decided that was enough art for one day. We walked back toward the centre of town to find the "Hotel Moderno-Puerta del Sol, where we were staying." Stopping several times to enjoy beers and tapas, we located the hotel with ease and were pleased to find that it was conveniently located right in the middle of town, yet quiet with the windows closed.

The remainder of the day was spent exploring the central area and Plaza Mayor, where we ate that evening. We strolled up to Grand Via where we found lots of people gathering outside a cinema. There was a large display of Harley Davidson motorcycles. It was the premier of Wild Hogs. We had a debate as to whether any of the cast would be there and sure enough, Tim Allen and John Travolta arrived!


Checking out early, we walked to the nearby Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales which is a convent and museum at the same time. Although the tour was in Spanish, the eyes told us enough - there were fantastic ceiling frescoes and tapestries.

After, we strolled down to the Palacio Real where we stopped for coffee before visiting the palace, quite a bit of which is open to the public. We were lucky in that the day we visited was a free entry day for European Union citizens.

Next, we walked next door the Madrid Cathedral, which was much more unusual than any other we have seen in Spain - a recent building with modern stained glass.

We found that we had covered the ground very quickly again today so walked back into town where we stopped for more refreshments, before carrying on to visit the last of the three art museums, the Reina Sofia. The art here was much more unusual, such as a room full of old television sets. We strolled through Parc del Retiro which was very large and almost a village in it's own right. The central boat lake was in use by a few rowers and some canoe polo players. As the evening drew in, we set off again back toward Plaza Mayor, stopping for beer and tapas along the way before eating in another restaurant at Plaza Mayor. We stayed late into the night, to about one a.m.


Just in to the 28th, we caught the under ground train back to the airport where we settled in for a few hours until our flight home.

Friday, 16 March 2007

ITALY - Honeymoon in Sardinia

This was our first flight with Easyjet, from London Luton. Cagliari is only two and a half hours from London, but stepping off the plane we knew we were in the Mediterranean. The weather was pleasantly warm and having picked up our car, we followed the directions to our hotel, a luxury 5 star hotel, which we had paid for in advance, half board.
We drove from Cagliari centre to the Quartu Sant Elena suburb. We found the correct road quickly enough but found it hard to believe that this largely residential street would contain our luxurious hotel.
After driving the length of the road a couple of times, we called in to a dubious looking prefabricated concrete hotel from the Best Western chain. The reception staff were very helpful and this turned out to be a good travel tip – hoteliers know their area, have maps and often speak English…
The receptionist immediately understood our problem, because he had seen it before. Easy Hotels had made an error on their web site. The hotel we had reserved was in fact two hundred miles away on the north east coast of the island. We were at the address they had supplied – the Best Western. With no other choice, we checked in here, determined to rectify the problem when we returned home. The hotel staff were very understanding and gave us their best suite. It was not much of a consolation, but things could have been worse. The receptionist recommended a good restaurant and even helped us by ordering our dinner over the telephone, on our behalf.
We strolled to the restaurant and were not disappointed. The food was excellent and we ate our meal in several small courses. We were given an after dinner sweet drink called Mirto, a smooth fruity liqueur, which was great.

Departing Quartu Sant Elena in the south of Sardinia, our next destination was Arbatax, an east coast town almost half way up the island. The mountainous route offered fantastic views and lush green scenery, very different from southern Spain which is on a similar latitude. The drive took a couple of hours, but the views and wonderful country made it worth while. Finding our hotel in Arbatax was not straight forward as the map was not right. The Hotel Poisedonia was about half a mile from the beach. The hotel was extremely attractive, in typical Mediterranean red and cream colours. Our terrace was very large, with views of the mountains behind and the Gennargentu National Park opposite . The bed had the most ornate stone marine depiction for a headboard. We sat outside and enjoyed a beer before heading down to the small cove that was the beach at Arbatax. The multicoloured pink, grey and white stones were very memorable and we swam in the sea and bathed on the sandy beach.

Our next visit was to be Nuoro, a provincial capital town near to the centre of the island. Our information about the town indicated that it was not going to be a tourist destination. The drive across the mountains, was fantastic. We passed near to La Punta Mamora, the highest peak on the island at 1834 metres and visited the Fumendosa Lake high up in the hills. The hills were home to olive trees almost in every direction and we frequently saw prickly pears by the road side, although they were noticeably absent on the higher roads. We stopped at the highest church on the island, Nostra Signora di Gonare, perched literally on the rocky summit of the hill. The road to it was very steep and the last hundred metres of the climb was on foot, on steps hewn from the rock. Jayne had worn wooden sandals just to make it more challenging. The views were breathtaking - an amazing 360 degree panorama as far as the eye could see. The church doors appeared to open on to the vertical hill side and the rock that the church was built on protruded through the floor of the church in places. This was one of the most memorable views of the trip. When we arrived in Nuoro, we found that the guide book had been as kind as possible to the town. It really was uninspiring. The hotel was very tired (it had been the only one we could find on the internet). The town was very plain, the only interesting feature being the tall tree covered hill that overlooked it, with an enormous crucifix on the top. When we followed the road up to the top, we found a gift shop or two (where we bought a typical Sardinian rug). The evening meal in the hotel topped off the anticlimax to the day.

In the morning, we eagerly checked-out and set off for a busy day, where we planned to visit several towns. Our first destination, was the fishing town of Bosa. Situated on the west coast, we drove across country for an a couple of hours. The mountainous country became very flat and expansive. The land was laid out in large fields. Every now and then, we saw the ancient remains of Nuraghi - stone built conical fortress houses, that were built before the Phoenicians and Romans invaded the island. Most of the road signs were peppered with bullet holes - we had noticed this the day before as well.
We arrived in Bosa, parked the car and walked the river side and narrow cobbled streets until we found a cafe and stopped for coffee. Bosa was a very attractive town, overlooked by a castle high up on a hill in the middle of the town. Following the river westwards (which is the only navigable river in Sardinia) we found the entrance and saw fishing boats coming and going, old and new side by side. We stayed with the rocky coast southwards until we came across large expanses of salt flats, home to thousands of flamingos in the winter months.
By mid afternoon, we arrived at Tharros, the remains of a remote coastal town built by the Phoenicians, adapted by the Romans and finished by the Spanish. It was eventually abandoned due to pirate raids. The remaining stone and excavations were almost inexplicable without the aid of information boards. The cove though was one of the most attractive blue water anchorages I have seen, over looking the town remains on the hill side, with Corinthian columns at the foot.
Later, we arrived at Oristano where we would stay the night. We walked the town centre, looking at the cathedral with an unusually tiled domed tower. In the square opposite, a band were setting up for a live performance. We sat and enjoyed a beer before continuing our stroll. We found that most of Oristano had been destroyed and redeveloped but it was a pleasant town. Back at the hotel, we swam fifty lengths of the (very cold) swimming pool. Later, we could not find any restaurants open. The meal we had at the hotel though was fantastic.

Our final day involved a short drive to Cagliari where we parked in the port and walked up the hill, through the new town. We stopped for morning coffee before carrying on up the hill the walls of the old town. We strolled the narrow cobbled streets along the town walls, looked inside the cathedral which had fantastic frescoes painted on the ceiling. The cathedral was undergoing major work though and there was a lot of scaffolding inside the building. We continued up to the northern town gates before heading back to the southern end, overlooking the port. We stopped for a beer in the sunshine, before walking back down the hill through the new town. One shop that we looked in provided us with a traditional style Sardinia mask. The drive back to the airport was brief and we were not ready to go home. It had been a great honeymoon.