Archive | October 2015

A roof over your head…

I’ve noticed a few comments on forums recently from people who are either in favour of going for four-five star luxury accommodation or who are totally against it.

With caravans, flats in attics or out of the way cottages being parental choices whilst I was at school (along with tents, youth hostels, converted village halls or huts when I was doing my Duke Of Edinburgh’s Award), the thought of staying in a four or five star hotel was never on the agenda.

Until the mid-1990’s that is when a magazine owner put all of the main freelancers or staffers from his trade and consumer publications up in The Majestic Hotel in Harrogate.

Luxury? Oh, yes, even though I had to be up early in order to drive back to Sunderland for a 9am lecture, the subsequent seminar and then drive back to Harrogate to cover the rest of the outdoor trade show I’d been attending.

After that brush with how the other half have nights away., it was back to guest houses, B&B’s, hostels, Travel Inns, Travelodges, bothies, tents, Gore-Tex bivvy bags or bright orange survival bags as a means of spending a night out.

Whilst Caroline and I have stayed in some good places in the UK, Norway, Austria and Portugal, there’s also been a few places where you needed to wipe your feet as you leave the premises…

Not saying that such places were grotty, but they were (and then some!).

We did have a little bit of luxury for one night only a couple of years ago when we stayed in a hotel back in my old stamping ground of the North East.

Big room, big bed, pricey drinks beside an open log fire – you get the drift.

Enjoyable? Yeah, not bad as it took the mind off going to a family funeral the following morning.

Since then it’s been back to guest houses, cottages, hostels and the tents for weeks or weekends away (apart from two nights in a Portuguese Pousada in Sagres back in 2013).

Things have changed a bit this year though…

Yes, we’ve stayed in hostels and guest houses with ‘character’, but we’ve also had nights in boutique B&B’s, Hampton by Hilton Hotels along with small hotels and the rather decent Aveiro Rossio Hostel in Aveiro, Portugal that put quite a few other gaffs to shame thanks to its comfort, facilities, location and lack of pretentiousness.

Have these experiences upped the ante on what we’re going to be doing over the next year or so? Might do..

Will they be encouraging us to head to posher places on a regular basis? Could do…

And may such places be making a dent in the trip budgets? Not necessarily…

Surprised? So were we when I put together a few suggested itineraries and costings recently for trips here in the UK and elsewhere.

By using sites such as http://www.booking.com, http://www.expedia.co.uk and http://www.skyscanner.net I’ve been able to come up with budgets for trips and then compare them with what’s on offer from holiday companies or those airlines that offer holiday packages alongside their budget flights.

Yes, there’s been a fair amount of tracking going on to see what the various sites have to offer on any given day, but it’s been worth it as the research has ensure that I’ve looked and booked when the price is right. It’s also become apparent that you can holiday cheaper in Europe than you can in the UK!

In some cases it’s been cheaper to book rooms via booking.com than it has to use the hotel in question’s own website whilst in other cases it’s been cheaper to use a flight and hotel ‘package’ combination from the likes of expedia.com and get a few extra Nectar points to help reduce the food bills at Sainsbury’s (other supermarkets are available folks!).

Yes, I’ve checked the prices out for anything involving flights by looking at what the costs are by using a different airport or taking an early flight that has no supplement rather than one later in the day that does have a supplementary cost.

I’ve also cleared the cookies and the websites visited history off the computer before I’ve moved onto another site to do some price checking.

It could be seen as a pain in the neck by some, but if I’m looking for the best deal that I can for a trip then I’ll do it in order to save some money that could be spent on another part of the trip.

Once recent search showed that by flying later in the day, there was a £43 per person supplement to be added to the cost of the trip.

By taking the earlier flight that doesn’t have a supplement, we’ve gone for a posher place to stay, even though the chances of having any meals there other than provided breakfasts are less than zero.

We’ve looked at the hotel’s menu, seen the prices and decided to eat out in the evening.

Why? Because we’ve visited the town before and know that there’s a few good eating places to choose from (we’ve also spotted said eating places names in the hotel review section on expedia.com so we reckon that others have done the same thing).

It’s going to be good to have some luxury on our travels, but we know that there’s also going to have to be a balancing act too.

Fortunately we have a good set of camping gear and a list of potential destinations to visit here in the UK that should give us time away at a reasonable cost – providing of course that the 10 day BBC weather forecast isn’t a bad one.

This happened to us a while ago and we ended up swapping a week in what turned out to be a very wet Wales for a week of sun, alfresco dining and more sun in downtown Paphos. The decision to head for Cyprus was made just three days before the flight out…

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D’oh!

It should have been oh so simple…

Give Caroline a lift to her sister’s house and then head off to take a look around for a new desk.

Simples? You might think so – but…

I forgot Keith’s Rule 51a (the rules aren’t written down anywhere so I do keep forgetting them from time to time).

And what does Rule 51a state?

Don’t even think about going to IKEA when it’s the half-term school holidays!

I did manage to get into the car park, but couldn’t find a space.

One thing did spring to mind though – why do the drivers of 4×4/SUV vehicles insist on trying to get them into gaps that aren’t there?

Mind you, when I went to the supermarket after finally exiting IKEA’s car park, I did see one bloke trying to park a gunmetal grey Aston Martin in one of the supermarket’s parking spaces.

My little hatchback got into its parking space in one move – the Aston took a few more.

Now if the driver had been called Bond, he may have done it at the first try!

Time travelling…

Well, there’s been a lot in the media recently about the subject of time travelling and most of it has been prompted by the date Marty McFly ended up in during the course of Back To The Future II.

Whilst the news crews have featured this story and the trilogy has been back in cinemas for one night only or screened back to back on TV here in the UK, the subject of time travel also came up in another film screened over here on Film 4 during the last week.

I’ll let you know what it is at the end of this post, but the concept of time travel mentioned in the film is so simple that you have to roll the dice and try it out!

How many of us have taken a flight from our home country and ended up in a different time zone?

See – time travel!!!

Okay, it doesn’t work if you’re going from the UK to say Portugal as it’s in the same time zone, but if you’re heading into other parts of Europe for instance, then yes, you’re a time traveller.

It even works if you’re crossing time zones in the States (which is the cinematic criteria highlighted in that film I’m going to mention…).

So, you can time travel in a silver 1980’s sports car or in a plane, train, bus, ferry or even by hopping from one side of a time zone to another – unless you’re going from the UK to Portugal. Go from Portugal to Spain though and yes, time travel!

It’s daft, it’s frivolous and it’s Monday morning,but what the heck – anytime is good to be silly and hopefully put a smile on someone’s face! And looking at the places mentioned in the wisepacking.me stats list, we’re being checked out by people in several different time zones.

And the name of that film – Paul.

Written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it’s a road trip movie with a difference – there’s an alien that’s phoned home, curses like crazy and likes the odd smoke too. Yes, you can spend a lot of time spotting the cameos, the voices and the references to other sci-fi movies or you can leave the brain at the door and simply enjoy a film that takes the mickey out of life, society and the establishment.

Passport 2 anywhere!

Yes, it arrived on the doormat this morning – just one week after the paperwork and photos were handed over and checked at the local main Post Office here in the UK.

It’s a biometric one too, so it’s going to be interesting to see how things go with it.

Although there are separate lanes at some airports for biometric passports, there is still the option of standing in the main queue to get checked into a country – which is good as Caroline doesn’t have a biometric passport yet (and also because the longest queues at Lisbon Airport in mid-September were at the biometric lanes!).

Now then there’s only one thing to do…

Bring me that horizon!

Passport II somewhere

I only applied for my passport to be renewed on Friday 16th October and guess what?

I got a text this morning to say that the new one is on its way to me and will be with me in the next few days!

Already waiting for it as there’s a destination and a specific hotel that are waiting in the wings for a potential visit in early 2016.

Passport to somewhere…

Yes, it’s that time again – time to renew the passport.

It doesn’t actually expire until January, but it’s a bit battered after being stashed in my pocket during the three weeks we’ve spent in Portugal this year (there’s a need to keep ID or a passport on you at all times when out and about).

So, I looked everything up on the appropriate website, got an application form that covers renewal proceedings and asked about photos. I got the answers I needed, filled the form in last night and went to do the deed today.

Eventually! Went to get photos and wasn’t happy with what I was being told about them. Gave up and went to another town (well city actually) and was told the same thing – that I shouldn’t wear my specs when having the photos taken.

Which was news to me, especially as I’ve been wearing specs for around 52 years… Apparently it’s to do with the eyes.

Got the shot taken and approved by the photo shop doing the deed and went up the road a bit to get the renewal form processed.

Everything was done and dusted, checked over and paid for.

Then it was pointed out to me that the background used by the photographer may not be appropriate as it’s a white one.

So I may get my new passport in three weeks time – or a letter asking me to submit some photos without a white background.

Time will tell whether the eyes have it or someone decides to do a background check!

Big bags? Where we’re going, we don’t need big bags…

So, how big a bag do you need for a couple of nights away?

If your accommodation is a hostel, guest house or a hotel, then the answer is definitely a small one, even when your chosen transport is a five door small hatchback that can take enough stuff for a week’s camping in the boot area alone.

Last weekend wasn’t the warmest one or the driest one that Caroline and I have encountered over the last six weeks.

It was also a weekend of two halves – one night and some time on the Northumbrian coast and then one night and some time in one of my old stamping grounds for both work and play. Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The whole trip was a bit of a mad idea really that was formulated at very short notice – i.e. last Thursday. The initial idea was a one night only hit and run exercise to the Northumbrian coast to see whether we could see The Northern Lights. Things changed though on Friday when Caroline’s schedule unexpectedly changed and we could have another night away – hence the visit to Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

As the dress code for the weekend was destined to be a relaxed casual one, there was no need for either of us to have a big bag full of clothes to cover all eventualities.

In Caroline’s case, her bag was a large size Healthy Back Bag (15 litre) whilst mine was a 10 litre man bag bought when I was staying at Imperial College in London back in August.

Were they the right bags given that we were in was to be a reasonably posh guest house in Seahouses and a Hampton by Hilton hotel in Newcastle-upon-Tyne? Oh, yes, they were right.

As ever, the heaviest stuff was worn. The Peter Storm soft shell trousers that were too warm for storms in Portugal were perfect for daytime and nighttime (we spent around 3 hours outside on Saturday night waiting for those pesky Northern Lights to appear) as were the t-shirt, Craghoppers Corvus zip neck fleece and The North Face Nuptse Vest (down filled).

Caroline’s weapons of choice included a Rohan Ultra Silver Camisole, a Rohan Stria crew neck long sleeved shirt, a Rohan Pathway Cardi fleece cardigan, a Tog 24 down vest and a pair of Rohan Troggings.

Respective footwear choices? Salomon ventilated approach shoes in my case and a pair of The North Face Hedgehog GTX approach shoes in Caroline’s.

And in the bags? Rohan Progress polo and the wardrobe’s latest addition (a Rohan Stratum Polo Long Sleeve) plus a pair of Rohan Goa trousers, a couple of pairs of Rohan Cool Silver Trunks, a couple of pairs of M&S trainer socks plus the usual wash kit and a Snugpak travel towel, just in case.

Caroline’s bag was also Rohan filled – couple of long sleeved tops, another Ultra Silver Camisole plus her wash kit and her Ecco Blom Lite Ballerina Pump shoes.

Did everything work? Yes, it did. Not everything was from Rohan this time around, but the items that didn’t carry that brand name were chosen because we know they work and they have been repeatedly used over the last five years or so.

The choices were also useful in both the coastal and urban situations and allowed us to layer according to the prevailing weather conditions, so whilst some items have been used out in warm climes, they also proved their worth as part of a subtle layering system for a couple of Autumn days out.

Had we used public transport as we do on some of our travels, the choices of clothing, shoes and bags would have been ideal.

Did we need anything else? Well Caroline had her umbrella with her to combat the rain showers on Monday morning.

As my pound shop umbrella had popped its clogs in Portugal, it was time to head into Poundstretcher and bite the bullet as the replacement brolly cost the princely sum of £1.99.

Did packing light work once more? Oh yes and it was worth it to see the look on the face of the receptionist at Hampton by Hilton in Newcastle-upon-Tyne when we checked out and I said ‘Yes, this is all of my luggage…’.