Archive | July 2016

Home thoughts…

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Wells-next-the-sea, North Norfolk

One prediction from those in the know is that there’s likely to be a rise in staycations here in the UK as travellers shun foreign holidays in the wake of Brexit, exchange rates and various events around Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Will it happen? Quite possibly, even though holiday companies are running TV advertising regarding seven day breaks in Turkey with starting prices at £199 per person – a figure that’s less than one or two night’s stay here in the UK if the test searches I’ve run on various accommodation websites over the last couple of days are anything to go by.

We’ve seen footage of how quiet various beach resorts in were before the recent coup attempt, but if media reports are anything to go by, the beach resorts in Turkey for example weren’t really affected by events in Istanbul or Ankara (both places we’d still like to visit).

Whilst there are still places that travellers are avoiding, there are also those which have been affected by widely reported events that are very much open for business and tourism.

People are still heading to Paris, Madrid, London, Nice and Oslo after they’ve seen or at least heard about the various events that took place in those cities in recent years.

Caroline and I still head to London and we’d go back to Oslo tomorrow, even after the events that brought chaos to Norway in July 2011.

If it had happened a week earlier, we’d have been caught up in that chaos as we were staying just a few hundred metres away from the Parliament buildings in central Oslo and had walked past the end of the road a few times on that Friday…

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All the signs are there – and on a sunny day too!

Will UK staycations numbers rise? Yes, but a few things need to be examined.

The weather for one. Yes, we’ve had some high temperatures over the last month and it looks like they’re going to hover around the 20C/72F mark for the next ten days or so, but rain came with it and whilst we’ve missed most of it here in Yorkshire, there are no guarantees as to whether it will miss us again over the next month!

We may not have to deal with exchange rates, but there are matters relating to pricing, service levels and ambience in cafes, bars, restaurants, hotels, guest houses or shops.

It’s not really a problem in places such as Blackpool for instance as there’s Greggs, Wetherspoons and even Marks & Spencer in the centre that help keep costs down.

There are places though where some businesses really take the p*ss with their pricing. Fortunately we’re not foodies, and that works for us as a foodie and their money are soon parted…

Our local baker charges 75p for a decent sausage roll, but two shops in Norfolk were charging around £3 a couple of years ago, a price that I’ve only seen matched on my only visit to Fortnum & Masons in London.

We also try to avoid places where the name of a ‘celebrity’ chef is prominent or where the establishment has been starred for anything more than their hygiene standards (although we did see one place back in May that proudly displayed their one star hygiene rating sticker in their front window…).

There’s also places that overcharge for accommodation. It’s a problem that will never go away because some have more money than sense (see the earlier comment re; foodies).

Yes, we’ve stayed in a couple of good hotels here in the UK or in Portugal, but we’ve never paid the full rate as we’ve either booked in advance or taken advantage of discounts from booking site loyalty programmes.

Caroline and I have discussed taking a last minute UK break this week. Now we’re never going to go for Claridges (we saw the BBC4 documentary about that establishment a couple of nights ago and it is definitely way out our price range), but the places we thought were affordable at various places in UK on booking sites had reviews that included the  words ‘Avoid’ or ‘Don’t do it!’.

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Langdale, Cumbria

We could go camping, but it’s high season, school holidays and everything else that goes with those eventualities.

The last time I stayed in the Lake District in August I had two very sleepless nights, even though I’d changed campsites when I heard my new neighbours on the first one discussing the number of bottles of Jack and other spirits they were going to buy from the local offie… The second campsite ended up being just as bad…

Something will turn up. It always does… and yes, the fingers are crossed!

Phew!

There’s been some work going on at wisepacking’s humble abode over the last few weeks and one of the last bits has been completed this morning.

After a week of virtual camping without a bathroom in early June, the landing and stairs have just been remade/remodelled over the last fortnight.

So there’s a few finishing touches to be made by adding pictures picked up at local art shops, a cafe in Glastonbury and a Lisbon street market .

There’s also a new picture frame which requires a suitable shot to fill it. The possibilities are endless, but this is one contender…

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The harbour at Viana do Castelo, September 2015.

With the internals almost finished, it’s time to get blogging once more.

The next post is on Friday, but the latest One year posts will start popping up on Monday morning!

Lazy sods…

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Your starter for ten… every time!

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Or you don’t find out where you can see sights like this… *

My biggest gripe about travel forums is the number of people making posts that are almost asking those on the forums to organise their trips for them.

It’s not just newbies either – some have their own blogs and even they’re asking whether someone has been to X and what they should go and see.

If someone has done a little bit of research then I’ll help them out by suggesting relevant guidebooks, websites or places and occasionally link to wisepacking as a means of further helping the poster.

If they haven’t hit the research trail then there’s a suggestion made to look up how many guidebooks are available about City X or Country Y and I also prompt the poster to look at the suggested itineraries printed in guidebooks that can be followed, adapted or ditched.

We live in a technological age and have information at our fingertips thanks to the Internet and search engines such as Yahoo. Bing and that really big one, there are still those who can’t be arsed to look things up for themselves.

And then there are those who have the cheek to post more questions about where to go, what to do and what to see in the adjoining country or countries on their tick list!

Some are trolls, some are lazy and others are just thick as whatever…

Although I’ve been heading off for years, there is one resource that I use first before I even think of turning to the Internet and websites or search engines.

Guidebooks, printed guidebooks.

The photo at the top of this post shows a few of the books in our collection. Yes, there are two or more editions of particular country guides on that shot and the eagle-eyed may also spot that there’s some countries that I have both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet variations on a country theme.

We believe in due diligence and research before we head off, even when we are going to mostly wing it whilst on our travels. There are places or items in RG‘s that don’t appear in the equivalent LP guide and vice versa. The latest edition of one may have been released after the latest edition of the other and may therefore be more up to date.

Once Caroline and I have read both books, we’ll hit the Internet to check out latest costings, availabilities and opening times or (as a last resort) post questions on forums.

If memory serves me right, the last question I asked on a forum was about the date of the General Election in Portugal.

The reason? We’d been caught up in demos in Lisbon before…

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Lisbon city centre, September  2013

My question was answered promptly and accurately – the election was the week after we were due to fly home!

Rant over!

Aveiro, Portugal is the answer to the * by the way…

One year – August 2015

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Not just pictures at an exhibition either…

London calling – not just at the top of the dial, but plenty of other places too!

The full story behind my three days in London in August 2015 can be found by clicking on London to the right of this copy box, but I didn’t include any photos in those three posts, so here’s a few from that trip.

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Imperial College residence hall

This was a great place to have as a base whilst I was down in London.

It wasn’t cheap (£68 per night), but I had a comfortable ensuite room with a substantial breakfast and access to a student bar that served reasonably priced pints of Irish nectar (Guinness) and good bar meals too.

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Pottering around Kings Cross

Yes, it’s an excuse to pose for photos and quite a few people were standing in line to do just that. Some got their friends to do the camera work, whilst others made use of the stills photographer on the right of this pic.

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Kings Cross station

The last time Caroline and I were in Kings Cross it was in the middle of the makeover you see above. Pigeons were perfecting synchronised fly-bys before the Olympics and the facilities were more basic because of the work.

As I mentioned earlier, the pen portraits of the trip are in the wisepacking archives by clicking on London to the right of the screen.

It’s a city that I’ve visited many times. Some have been for business, some have been for pleasure and some have been down to involvement in the music business for a few years.

It was cheaper to take demos down to London on an overnight coach and distribute them to record companies by using a day pass on the Underground than it was to post them.

There and back trips in a car or a van took up occasional weekends as a couple of bands played at Dingwall’s in Camden Town or at the Rock Garden in Covent Garden.

There were also visits to the Dominion on Tottenham Court Road to see Al Stewart or to the Town & Country Club and The Royal Albert Hall to see Fish, the former Marillion vocalist.

Fun gigs were those by The Skiff Skats at either The Dublin Castle in Camden Town or the Caledonian Road Fun Day. The latter saw the band play a set by the canal and then head off and play a set on a barge.

I’d met a couple of members of the band before in their office and recording studio , but things were spoilt by a pushy photographer going a little too far in getting shots of these members of a name band just having a fun day out by playing music that was completely different to that which had seen them in the Top 5 and on TOTP on many occasions.

Why?

There were plans to do a long post today, but events in Nice led me to thinking that it wouldn’t be appropriate.

I’ll ask two questions instead.

Why do the media think that it’s okay to show footage of the truck on news bulletins given that we know what the outcome was?

And the other is simple – Why?

More friends in the North…

Yes, we’ve got box-set fever!

As last night’s TV wasn’t wonderful here in the UK, the second disc of Our Friends In The North was fed into the DVD machine.

Yes, it was cracking stuff, so much so that last night’s post-meal washing up wasn’t done until this morning, something that Caroline decided to tease me about an hour or so ago (in my own defence, I usually do the washing up when there’s an ad break on C4, More 4, 4/7, 5USA or Dave…).

The 1970, 1974 and 1979 episodes were cracking and I can see why the actors and series garnered so many award nominations twenty years ago.

These latest episodes covered a period that I can remember from my time up in the North-East, so the last ones should be even more memorable as the dramatisations relate to fairly recent history from the time I was working in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and then living/studying in Sunderland.

Once tonight’s session is over, then it’s time to find something new to watch (unless of course we keep something back for viewing during the Olympics).

New stuff to us includes Spaced, the Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources double pack, The Bridge Series 1, Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads series of monologues and a couple of Italian travelogues.

There are of course other things that could be pulled off the shelf to watch.

The box set of the original Top Cat cartoons, The Flashing Blade (the original, not the Saturday morning TV re-voiced version!),  The Singing Ringing Tree (in full rather than the BBC 1960’s edits shown in ‘Tales From Europe‘ tea time slot) and the likes of High Fidelity, Cinema Paradiso, Amelie, Run Lola Run, Belleville Rendezvous, The Illusionist and MicMacs. And The West Wing.

Yes, there’s a whole lot of subtitles going on, but unlike some people we know, Caroline and I don’t mind watching movies with subtitles.

They think it’s all over…

It is now!

Yes, Part One of  ‘The Great Summer Of Sport’ has left the building.

Problem is, Part Two is almost upon us…

The Tour De France is working its way through France at the moment with Froome getting the yellow jersey (and a fine for his troubles regarding an over-enthusiastic Colombian a day or so ago) and Mark Cavendish holding onto the green jersey for his sprint efforts and stage wins.

Are we watching it? Only when it’s meal time and there’s naff all on the other channels apart from episodes of NCIS that we’ve seen at least once!

Next up is the Olympics.

When I was doing my degree in 1996, a Media Studies lecturer asked myself and fellow students whether we’d watched any of the Olympics. It turned out that I was the only one!.

Needless to say the seminar went kind of flat at that point and our lecturer had to fill out the rest of the hour with something we could relate to given that I was the only one who had seen anything (and that was 10 minutes of mountain biking…).

Fortunately we have some DVD’s to fill in time we have when there’s so much sport on TV and so little inclination to watch it.

Mr. Holmes was Saturday night’s viewing and whilst it was slow, I found Ian McKellen to be an engaging HolmesCaroline likes Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on the detective, but I saw the first episode and have avoided it since then.

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And yes, this was shot on a Stormy Monday!

Sunday night saw us going back in time to a 1990’s series and not seen by either of us until last night. Our Friends In The North has a good ensemble cast and it’s been interesting to spot the locations used in and around Newcastle-upon-Tyne, an area I know quite well.

We’ve watched the first DVD of the three in the box and we’re going to finish it off over the next couple of nights by watching the remaining two.

As I know nothing about what’s coming in Our Friends In The North, but a little bit about what was going on in the area thanks to years of reading the papers and watching local news bulletins on either BBC Look North or Tyne Tees Television in the seventies, eighties and nineties, watching the rest of the series could be interesting.

One nice touch though was a homage to another DVD in our collection – Stormy Monday.

This was shot in familiar places on Tyneside and one scene featuring Sting and Tommy Lee Jones’ characters in Stormy Monday walking across the High Level Bridge (the middle one in the moody shot above) may have been used as a template for a scene in Our Friends In The North.

It could be that Spaced comes out during the Olympics – along with six seasons of The West Wing or the second of Young Montalbano!

Sparky, boilers, decorating and alarms that go off in the middle of the night!

The sparky’s been, sorted out and replaced the  switch that was causing problems earlier in the week and plans have been made for another switch and a socket to be replaced too.

Well that’s what we thought until Caroline started to do some washing up…

No hot water. One call later to our boiler installer and the matter was almost sorted as we had hot water again once various stages had been gone through over the phone.

Twelve hours later and the boiler was serviced and AOK – the problem had been with the local water pressure and not the boiler.

In between these two, we had a trip to our local B&Q to get the items needed for some decorating. And a new bulb for the light in my workspace.

One brighter bulb was bought, fitted and is doing the job, even though the stylish wire lampshade had to be removed to get the bulb into the light fitting.

It may be a bare bulb in there, but it’s still stylish and the future’s brighter than it was!

B&Q‘s staff did a great job in answering our questions and pointing us in the right direction for the items needed and also came up with a couple of suggestions as to how other things could be sorted out.

And then…

The alarm sensor on the landing went off at 3am this morning.

Nobody was making toast or cooking kippers, but we were woken up by the screech and I suspect that the neighbours also had a disturbed night’s sleep.

Then it dawned on me. I’d had this happen a few years ago when I had a flat in Skipton – it was a warm night and whilst windows were open, there wasn’t much airflow. The house was stuffy and the alarm went off. Loudly…

Other windows were opened up and the air started to flow. The alarm box eventually shut up, but that may have been the result of my silencing the box when the push button reset refused to work! Keith 1, Alarm Sensor 0.

I somehow suspect that it may be an early night tonight to catch up on lost sleep and that a glass from a bottle of carefully chosen Tawny Port might just help matters!

New books and sparkies…

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Yes, it’s Tavira again – one of the first pics to appear on wisepacking.

Most of the morning has been taken up in going back for the future.

No, I haven’t taken delivery of a DeLorean, but I have been going back to the roots of wisepacking and looking at early posts from 2014.

Little did I know how it would develop. There have been a few hiccups, but I wouldn’t have guessed that visitors would come from all over the globe.

I expected views from the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and others from the usual suspects, but I didn’t expect views from Nepal, Turks & Caicos, Trinidad & Tobago, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Ecuador, Qatar, American Samoa and South Sudan.

The reason I’m going back to wisepacking’s roots is simple – there’s a work in progress which involves taking a look at what I’ve written over the last two years, updating it, editing and ensuring that the spelling is in English English rather than the American English that my word processing software keeps trying to correct it to…

Some 15,000 words are in the document file and I suspect that the end result may be around three times that word count.

The plan is to publish a Kindle book when the backpacker travel season kicks in and to update/upgrade or remake/remodel when necessary.

It’s just a short posting today as there’s a sparky (electrician to the uninitiated) coming along to look at the house lights after a problem occurred on Saturday afternoon.

We’re not dancing in the dark, but wandering around upstairs is being done carefully pace the sun’s gone down. Fortunately we have a street light out the front, so leaving the blind open on the landing helps overnight.

We’re not going to have power or indeed Wi-Fi later on, so the writing is done for now, the email needs to be checked and the Kindle pulled out when the power goes off.

One year – err…

You may recall that yesterday’s post mentioned quite a few likes that have been used on our travels, but there are also a few (and I mean a few) that haven’t quite worked for us.

Some people love Crocs, others hate them and will happily take the mickey out of anyone who wears them. I have some, love the comfort offered by them and appreciate the ability to just wash them in a sink or to wash them in a shower whilst you’re still wearing them.

They don’t take up that much room  in a pack, particularly if you stash them carefully and pad them out with pairs or socks or whatever. Choose a plain navy or black pair and by heck, you’ve also got footwear that will go with quite a few outfits in a capsule travel wardrobe.

I used mine extensively last year, but there was a problem that couldn’t be denied. Naturally sweaty feet (like mine!) and Crocs don’t always mix, no matter how often you wash your feet or your Crocs.

So a replacement had to be found and I ended up rewinding twenty years for the solution. A pair of Clark’s ATL leather sandals. I had a pair back in the mid-nineties that were sent in for magazine-related testing.

If memory serves me right, the advertising for the sandals was headed up by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. The sandals were smart, comfortable and wore well. The leather uppers and leather inner section of the sole units did their job and while they did take a little while longer to dry out than normal sports sandals from that time, I didn’t mind because they were so comfortable.

The latest versions on the ATL theme are just as good. Comfortable from the off and they’ve been worn extensively over the last year, so much so that I’ve been seen wearing them without socks in supermarkets and takeaways in the depths of winter (I’ll hasten to add that I was using the car to get around and not walking to said establishments).

There’s still one pair of Crocs doing the rounds though and a modified pair in the boot of the car too. Only one out of the original three pairs bought in 2013 have bitten the dust, and that’s because the cushioning was rather crushed after so much wear and the sole units had been holed in a couple of places after close encounters with tent pegs.

The small packable Rohan day bag I bought last year is still around, but it’s not used that much now. The idea was great, but when I used it, I realised that it needed a bit more compression potential to make it work properly.

It was good when it was almost full, but when it wasn’t, it was a bit of a pain. I ended up leaving it in our room on our Lisbon trip and used my shoe bag.

This simple nylon drawstring bag did the job, coped with loads large or small and ensured that if someone tried to get in the bag whilst I was using it, then I’d know about it because the cinched closed entrance hole on the bag was usually nestling in my armpit, a ticklish area at the best of times!

Anything else? Well I’ve been using Salomon shoes and boots for years, but the couple of pairs of ventilated shoes that I bought last year weren’t as good as I thought they were going to be.

One pair’s shock absorption wasn’t wonderful after three months and when one of the lacing loops came away whilst in Coimbra last year, I gave them to a good cause and lightened an already light travel pack.