Archive | September 2016

TV or not TV, that is the question…

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Just coast to show…

Now that most of the wall to wall sports coverage is out of the way, television in the UK is getting back to what passes for normal over here.

There’s no chance of me watching either Strictly or Bake Off, but a few old favourites have materialised on BBC2 and the Travel Channel recently.

The Travel Channel has been showing a selection of classic Palin travels and I’ve ended up re-watching episodes of Himalaya and Around The World In Eighty Days, even though I’ve seen them before and have both the books and the DVDs of each series too.

Both were rather watchable, as was the first episode of the Michael Portillo vehicle Great Continental Railway Journeys that was on BBC2 last night.

Whilst Portillo is still a political commentator, to my mind he’s made his mark as the presenter of his programmes on the joys of travelling by train in various parts of the world.

Yes, his choice of jackets can be rather flamboyant, but his love of rail travel shines through. Last night’s show involved travelling around Switzerland, something that I did back in the 1980’s.

After a night or two in Geneva, the rail passes were pressed into action to get us to Interlaken where a tent was pitched to use as or Swiss base.

When the sun was out, it was time to head into the mountains. When it wasn’t, it was time to hit the cities.

Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Zermatt and the Jungfrau were stops on sunny days, whilst Zurich, Basel and Berne were stops on our city days.

Portillo also visited Montreux, one stop that we didn’t make on that 80’s trip, but I did stop off on the Lake Geneva shoreline a few years later although there was no smoke on the water during that visit…

Portillo’s next stop? Morocco, but whether he calls in at Rick’s Cafe American is yet to be revealed!

And finally we have Coast.

There are a few boxed sets of this on the shelves downstairs, but I must admit to being a little disappointed when the new series started last week.

The reason? The mix of new footage was good, but there were too many clips from previous series for my liking. I will take a look at tonight’s instalment to see whether things improve, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for a new segment to appear and to appeal to regular viewers…

Mind you, I gather that Neil Oliver has also made Coast New Zealand, so hopefully that will be coming our way soon.

On a different note, watching the footage of Geneva on Great Continental Railway Journeys brought back memories of wandering around that city.

Most of it was written up for a travel piece in The Northern Echo newspaper back in the day.

What did surprise me was that one line stayed in the article and was published in all its glory.

It referred to an observation made whilst walking from our digs to the railway station for the train to Geneva Airport

The ladies of the night working the day shift.

London calling…

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Kings Cross Station, London

Just spotted what’s being shown as part of the Keith Richards’ Lost Weekend thread on BBC 4 here in the UK tomorrow night (Saturday 24th September) at 9.15pm.

It’s Julien Temple’s ‘London – The Modern Babylon’, a fascinating documentary about London since the beginning of the 20th Century. It’s a mix of archive material from the BFI (British Film Institute)library, interview footage and clips from various films too. And it has a cracking soundtrack too… starting with The Clash and London Calling.

Will be watching it as it goes out, even though there’s a DVD copy on the shelf in the lounge.

No brainers…

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Sometimes you just have to roll the dice to see this…

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Or this…

One of the ‘joys’ of looking at travel forums on a regular basis is spotting the number of posters who have done their research using guidebooks, Google, Yahoo, Bing or even travelogues to plan, loosely plan or even not plan their break, holiday or journey.

There are some who want fellow forum users to suggest where they should go or even plan out their trip for them.

Others want so much validation for their plans that by the time they’ve made multiple posts on a similar theme that forum members either ignore them or become sarcastic after offering the same advice again and again and again.

Those who haven’t done their research are easy to spot because they’re so vague in their requests for places to go or for someone to do their planning for them that they can’t even be bothered to include basic information such as their budget, their time frame, their interests or passions or whether they have specific dietary needs or accommodation preferences.

And the usual answer to this lot?

Suggestions to buy at least one guidebook for where they’re going – my response is normally to get hold of both a Lonely Planet guidebook AND a Rough Guide book to whatever country or area they’re visiting or to point them in the direction of either the forum’s own search function or the search engines mentioned above.

There isn’t any excuse for such laziness when you’re heading off somewhere. It’s your trip and I take the view that it’s up to you to do due diligence and do your own research into where you’re going.

Do the research and you have a good idea about what to expect.

Don’t do the research or let others point you towards sights, places, areas or countries and there’s a fairly good probability that the brown stuff could hit the fan, leaving you to scream and scream and scream when in fact there’s only one person to blame…

You!

At the other end of the scale are those who plan everything to the nth degree and want so much validation that they become a pain in the butt…

Even when they’ve been told by several posters that the weather may not be in their favour, that their choice of clothing for walking is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard, or that they should loosen up, relax and go with the flow rather than ticking off every box on their long list of things to see and do.

Then there’s the lot who want to see as much of an area, country or even Europe in a few days rather than taking time to immerse oneself in one area or just one country as a means of exploring what’s on offer.

To those posters, I’ll invoke memories of a popular 1980’s t-shirt slogan:

“Frankie says RELAX!”

Don’t do it…

No fog on the Tyne…

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And none of these grey clouds either!

“What time is it?”

“About six…”

“Sugar…”

As Sunday mornings go, this was an early start.

Two cups of coffee and a shower later, it was 6.50am and we were in the car and heading up to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to see Caroline’s daughter take part in The Great North Run.

The Mission were on the car’s CD player – ideal driving music as we headed up the road for two hours and took the quiet roads into Newcastle, found a car park and went for second breakfasts.

Greggs bacon butty and coffee deal for me plus a doughnut & coffee combo for Caroline and then we hit the Tyne Bridge for a longish wait.

Some guy called Mo Farah came along on a warm-up session, then the wheelchair racers, visually impaired runners, the women’s elite and then the men’s elites – including that man (and now three times winner) Mo

And then came the pack – around 57,000 runners, all heading for South Shields. I spotted The Red Arrows before the red, white and blue smoke was activated for their flypast as the masses ran past with at least one Paddington Bear as part of the proceedings!

Caroline’s daughter found us, took the suncream and headed off. We stayed on the bridge until the last runners came along and then tried to get the Metro to the finish line.

The emphasis here was on the word tried. The first train was full and whilst we did get on the train, it was packed and standing room only so not even Jeremy could have sat on the floor to read Private Eye! Allegedly…

Whilst we boarded this train after a few stops it was packed and I’d had enough of playing sardines. So we got off the train at Pelaw and headed back into Newcastle in search of lunch at a pub I hadn’t been into for over thirty years – The Northumberland Arms, just off Northumberland Street.

With two Sunday roasts, a pint of bitter shandy and a half of cider coming to just over £13, this was a result, especially as the beef was cooked properly, unlike some pubs we could mention where it’s served pink and bloody.

Pink and bloody awful is my view on that!

Now that we were fed and watered, the going got tough as the tough went – shopping! I’ve had a £5 John Lewis gift card in my wallet for six months and this came in useful for a couple of small purchases that came to £5.20…

We didn’t find anything we needed in Lush this time around, but I did get some useful info in the Apple Store as to what was happening about imminent operating system upgrades on my iPad Mini 2 – wait for a few days or a week, see what’s being said on the forums and then make the decision to upgrade, because once it’s done, you can’t restore the old one!

After rattling around the M&S Food Hall for a while, we settled on the stuff for our Sunday night evening meal.

This wasn’t any old reduced price food, this was Marks & Spencer’s reduced price food as we’d hit the time of day when the price changes were done on food coming up to its due date. Two packs of bakes and a two for £2.50 deal on packs of cheese scones and we were sorted…

Our coffee in the upstairs restaurant was also cost effective as my customer loyalty card had a freebie loaded onto it for a free cup of coffee after 2.30pm. Two medium Americanos for £2.30? That’ll do nicely!

Once we’d retrieved the car and negotiated our way back onto the A1M for the journey back to Yorkshire, we reflected on the cost of this grand day out.

Petrol used came to around £20, car parking was £3 for the full day, first breakfast for me was £2.25 at a motorway service area, second breakfasts for two was a total of £4, Sunday lunch was a total of £13.50, a pen and pair of scissors cost me 20p once the gift card was used, our M&S food hall bill was £5.65 and that last round of coffees was £2.30.

With the total bill for the day out coming in @ £50, we reckon that that was a result, so much so that we may do the same thing again shortly!

A-A packing – Part Two

May to August 2016

Now, where were we?

Ah yes, we’d been to Blackpool and the Yorkshire Dales (hence the pics of Caroline at Tan Hill Inn and her study of the cake menu at Dales Cycle Centre’s cafe) and we’d dived back home for one night only.

First up on the Saturday morning was a weather check to get a ten day forecast for the Fishguard area. Yes, that was our base for five nights as we’d bagged the double ensuite at Hamilton Backpackers Lodge.

With a favourable forecast, our bags contained virtually the same items we’d had in Swaledale. Caroline’s bike kit and a few other items had been washed and had dried overnight, as had my two pairs of Rohan Goas, my Rohan polo shirts and travel towels. The bags? Yes, a brace of Ospreys

As this was meant to be a relaxed break, Caroline hadn’t taken a lot of bike kit as she was hiring a bike rather than taking her road bike to Fishguard.

The relaxed nature of the few days down there were only matched by the relaxed nature of the plans we had for our time in the area – loose ones!

We had planned to have a Sunday lunch out and for Caroline to have a day on a bike, but that was it. With rain keeping at bay for all of the time out of Hamilton Backpackers Lodge, the clothing selection was ideal – casual for the day time and smarter casual for any nights wandering around town or heading into a pub for a bar meal.

Smarter casual attire also came into play in St. David’s, especially as Caroline was planning on wandering around the Cathedral and I headed for the cathedral’s cafe to do a spot of reading.

Our five days of bumbling around worked a treat as we took a look around museums dedicated to the Sunderland Flying Boat, wandered on quiet beaches, watched a rowing regatta and pondered a £10 each day trip to Ireland from the Fishguard ferry terminal.

Caroline got her ride in and whilst we donned smart casual kit for a last night pub meal, we have to say that our dress sense was much better than the items on the couple of plates placed in front of us when we found a pub that wasn’t having a giraffe with their pricing policy.

Did we hit the pub with the worst bar meals in the area? You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment, but I will say that it was the wurst sausage and mash I’ve ever had.

If we hadn’t been so hungry by the time the plates arrived, we’d have sent them back. We had a meal out with Caroline’s youngest son a couple of nights ago in a pub near Leeds United‘s football ground and we all agreed that the food on offer was pretty decent, even though it was fairly standard pub fodder. My choice – sausage and mash of course!!

With June and July being turned over to a bit of refurbishment and decorating of Wisepacking Towers, Our next break wasn’t until August – a three night hit and run to one of our regular get away from it all spots – North Norfolk.

Whilst it was overcast at times, North Norfolk was rather warm. As the temperatures were high, I ended up taking double the usual amount of t-shirts and polo shirts with me so one could be worn during the day and another following the pre-evening meal shower taken as part of the freshening up process.

Yes, we were back at Deepdale Backpackers once more, but as this was a last minute and almost spur of the moment thing, it was a casual affair as we weren’t eating out on an evening and the poshest place we were going to hit was the cafe at Holkham Hall where Caroline had gone to for bike hire.

Caroline did the wash and wear thing with some of her stuff – Rohan Ultra Silver Camisoles & Briefs, I did something that was quite radical given the usual nature of our travelling.

My worn stuff went into a nylon clothes bag picked up at Waterstone’s book shop in Leeds earlier in the year and was washed when we got home. No smelly socks in the bag though as the North Norfolk trip was done in sports sandals – Clark’s ATL leather for me and Merrell’s for Caroline.

It may have been a more sensible move to use ventilated approach shoes over these few days, but as temperatures were high, it was simple a matter of donning the sandals and slathering an appropriate amount of Nivea Factor 50 as sun protection.

The other factor to consider is that I rarely wear socks or footwear at home as I pad around in bare feet most of the time and have been spotted in sandals sans socks in the local chippy or Co-Op in December and January up here in deepest Yorkshire!

So, what else went along for the ride on these trips? The ever present Kindle, Nikon digital compact camera, Lifeventure and Eurohike travel towels plus Lush shampoo bars and shower gel, my Via Sonic electric toothbrush and my dumbass phone on the trips where driving was required.

Although I took the iPad Mini 2 along on the Swaledale and North Norfolk trips, it wasn’t used that much. Cinema Paradiso was viewed in Swaledale and a couple of pre-prepared wisepacking posts went live thanks to the iPad when we were in North Norfolk.

The artillery also went along to North Norfolk – my Sony A100 DSLR. This was used alongside the usual Nikon S3100 digital compact camera and it gave me the chance to remember and use some old shooting skills over those few days…

The next trips? All in the mix at the moment…

The first part – https://wisepacking.me/2016/09/07/a-a-packing-part-one/

A-A packing… Part One

April to August 2016, the places, the packing

April 2016 saw us hit Blackpool in a big way. Yes, it was just before the May Day Bank Holiday, but even so, one would have expected warmth and sunshine rather than the biting winds and rain we encountered.

We did find some warmth, but that happened as Status Quo kicked off what’s been touted as their last electric tour.

So, what did we take with us for the two days/one night?

In my case it was a ten litre bag that I picked up at Imperial College, London last year whilst Caroline had a fifteen litre Healthy Back Bag.

I had my TNF hooded soft shell and was wearing a TNF microfleece zip neck over a Rohan tech tee plus Peter Storm Soft Shell trousers and Salomon Gore-Tex lined approach shoes.

Inside the bag was a travel towel, basic wash kit, my meds, socks, underwear, Rohan merino wool mix t-shirt, Rohan Microgrid Stowaway zip neck fleece, Kindle and travel tickets plus the all important concert tickets…

Inside the soft shell pockets were a merino wool Edz beanie and the trusty Nikon Coolpix S3100 digital compact camera.

Caroline was similarly attired, only she’d chosen her TNF Windwall fleece jacket, her Berghaus PacLite jacket and Rohan jeans. She did however hit Primani for some leggings as she was feeling the cold and Millets didn’t have any base layer leggings left in stock.

Her bag also contained a Rohan Microgrid Stowaway zip neck – it’s not often that we wear almost matching tops, but as we both wore them for the pre-show meal and whilst waiting around in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, we didn’t much care about matching!

The mix proved to be ideal for the mooching around we did before heading to the B&B. The choice of t-shirts and fleeces for the walk back into town, our meal, the show and the walk back to the B&B was a similar success.

Friday saw more rain and we were pleased that we’d had good conversation with the B&B owners before grabbing our bags and checking out. It was cold, windy and miserable!

We sheltered for a while in the RNLI shop before braving the beach, but it didn’t take long for us to hit The Albert & Lion on the seafront for a coffee in this Wetherspoons pub.

The coffee prepared us for the walk along the prom and then back around town before we headed to Harry Ramsden’s for a fish & chip lunch. It’s not often that I have a beer with lunch, but I was pleased we were inside as some of those looked as if they’d arrived for the bank holiday weekend appeared to be underdressed and blooming freezing as they walked on by.

As we headed back to Blackpool North Station for our train, a strange apparition appeared in the sky. Yes, the sun had come out – too late for us, but right on time for the couple of hundred people we saw leaving the station in search of a Bank Holiday break.

Ten days later and we were in the car heading for a holiday of two halves.

There had been a tentative plan to try and get a week to ten days in somewhere like Rhodes or Zante for a relaxing break, but it didn’t happen, so we thought laterally and came up with a plan.

Yes, we have Internet access via desktop, tablet and Caroline’s smartphone, but the idea for the first part of our break came from a paperback book – The Independent Hostel Guide.

I’d spotted Dales Bike Centre at Fremlington near Reeth, made the call and booked ourselves in for four nights in a room at their hostel accommodation (there’s also a bike shop, bike hire and cafe on site – along with 24 hour cake supply via honesty box for those  staying at the centre).

Swaledale was part of my old stamping ground as an instructor and whilst living in Darlington. Caroline knew it of old, but hadn’t been there for years.

As Caroline was taking her road bike with her to do some cycling, I was the Skoda driving equivalent of Thunderbird 2 – ready to offer assistance and with the hatchback available to be Pod 5… providing of course that both of us had a signal on our respective mobile phones.

Clothing choices for this trip were easy to sort out. The ten day forecast was set fair for both this and the next section, so in my case it was a mix of Rohan Core Silver t-shirts, Element t-shirts and the same company’s polo shirts to cover casual and smart casual situations. Trousers? Two pairs of 2015 Rohan Goas covered all eventualities.

The bag? The trusty Osprey Farpoint 40 that took all of the above plus jacket, camera, books, iPad, chargers and a bag of food too.

As Caroline was cycling, her clothing included Endura cycle pants, a Tenn cycle shirt plus a couple of Peter Storm pocketed tech t-shirts.

Tenn Ladies Sprint Short Sleeve Cycling Jersey  

Rohan Essence t-shirts and vest tops plus her Rohan jeans were worn off the bike and a Rohan fleece cardigan came in useful on the nights we hit local pubs for a meal and a drop of Guinness for me and cider for Caroline.

Now I said that this trip was a break of two halves as we had a cunning plan.

It did get changed though as we had to head for home sooner than expected to sort out two tyres for the Skoda – one was punctured and replaced, but once we got to Kwik Fit, it became apparent that we needed two new tyres.

Our overnight at home had been planned as we’d already packed stuff for the next part of the trip. But it did give us a chance to have a curry and do some washing, safe in the knowledge that it would be dry in readiness for the next morning…

More on Friday!

http://www.rohan.co.uk

http://www.tenn-outdoors.co.uk

Where to next?

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Some clues are in there…

Yes, we’re still going to head back to Portugal at some point in the future, largely because we missed out on a fair bit of what Porto had to offer because of the storms and a feeling that we should have spent more time along the Douro.

There are a few clues as to where we’d like to be heading over the next two or three years, especially as both of us have significant birthdays coming up that may provide a good excuse for journeys to places a bit further afield (travel funds permitting of course!).

We’ve already talked about heading back to a couple of areas we’ve already visited here in the UK over the last six years that have a connection with a popular drink made from apples. Yes, it’s cider time again and we’ve already got the Cider Route map for Herefordshire and have printed off some details of what’s on offer in Somerset too.

One or two museums may also be visited – the National Cycle Museum for instance and at least one film location – Lyme Regis – has been discussed (if only for Caroline to do her best Meryl Streep impression on The Cobb).

Andalucia is on the agenda, as are a couple of countries that we’ve discussed over the last week or so. Will television choices being so poor, we’ve fed the DVD player with a couple of travelogues featuring Francesco da Mosto Italy Top To Toe and Francesco’s Mediterranean Voyage.

Which have led to a few ideas being bandered about…

The first is one or two explorations of Italy by train (and no, we’re not going all Michael Portillo with this idea!) and a potential visit to Sicily too (but not to Vigata as it is a made-up for TV drama location).

The second is to possibly take a package deal to one of the Greek Islands and explore whichever that destination is either on foot, by public transport or by an organised trip such as the one we had in the Troodos mountains of Cyprus a few years ago.

Favourite for this one at the moment is Rhodes Old Town on Rhodes. Yes, there will be the likes of tour buses to contend with or those coming off cruise ships, but there should also be the opportunity to explore in quieter surroundings once the buses have gone and the cruise ship passengers have gone back onboard to further partake in their tin can bubble experience.

The third is to do some island hopping – have bag, will travel style. Get a plane, get a ferry, find some digs, explore, roll the dice and then move on to our next stop. Yes, it’s seen as a young person’s style of travelling, but why shouldn’t a couple of fiftysomethings do the same?

We’ve met quite a few people on our travels who have taken the safe and easy option of going on escorted coach tours looking at art, historical sites or doing the foodie thing.

Or taking to the high seas on unimpressively large cruise ships and having to dress for dinner rather than hitting a less pretentious eating place in either a t-shirt and trousers or in the lower end of the smart casual dress scale.

The fourth is Istanbul and off the beaten track Turkey. Yes, the country has had problems recently and these may impact on what can and can’t be done in the future, but I’ve met people who have been going over for years and are about to do so again.

The mix of eastern and western cultures interests me and that’s why I’d bought a couple of books on Istanbul long before the recent alleged coup attempt or the targeting of tourist spots.

Morocco still fascinates, as does the thought of return trips to Iceland and Norway or two weeks in a tent in Switzerland with a view of the Alps freely available every morning when you open the tent door. Then there’s India, France and Cuba plus a coast to coast rail trip from west to east in the USA.

Some places don’t appeal though – Rome, Athens, Las Vegas, NYC, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China haven’t really been on our radar and I somehow suspect that they will never appear on it.

Especially as I still haven’t been to Northern Ireland, Isle of Man or Malta/Gozoyet!