Archive | August 2017

Northumberland

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Alnmouth

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Tractor on a very sunny day

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Druridge Bay

Northumberland is a place that Caroline and I keep returning to.

We’ve spent weeks up there before and made fleeting unsuccessful visits to try and see those pesky Northern Lights too.

This time was a little different though as we were staying about a mile away from each other – Caroline in a caravan with her son, daughter, son-in-law and her two grandsons while I was occupying a bunk in Calico Barn, an independent hostel a smidgen nearer the Northumberland coast.

The original plan was for Caroline to head up there on her own to spend time with her family whilst I stayed home to sort out some bits and pieces. That plan was soon ditched when Caroline tried to book herself and her bike onto the trains needed to get her there and back again.

Booking the tickets for herself was easy, but for the bike? Er, no…

A phone call was made to the railway company to find out what the actual procedure was. Despite Caroline specifying a very Yorkshire point of departure, the chap on the other end of the line insisted that she had to get the train from there and then change at Vauxhall Bridge station.

When she pointed out that she was departing from Yorkshire and that Vauxhall Bridge is in London, the guy didn’t budge, so she thanked him politely, put the phone down, saw my face and we both burst into fits of laughter at the same time.

Which is why I was in Northumberland. Plan B was for me to take Caroline up to Cresswell, head back home and then go back for her.

We then went for Plan C – I would take her up there, find somewhere to stay, do the stuff I needed to do and then pick her up and head home…

Our paths did cross a couple of times during the week. I spent most mornings doing what I had to do in the way of paperwork and research using books and iPad and then headed off with my camera to explore and take some shots along the way.

The first foray out saw me trying to get into and park up in Amble – no chance as it was half term with fine weather and the car parks were full.

So I headed up to Alnmouth instead. Now I’ve been heading going up to Alnmouth for over forty years and know my way around the place well. Or so I thought, because someone, somewhere has decided to implement a one way system around the village.

With no parking there either, I headed off in the direction of Seahouses and Bamburgh. As I was about to head towards North Sunderland, I spotted familiar figures on bikes heading in a different direction.

Caroline and Luke were also heading to Seahouses to meet up with the other family members who were using Mazda power rather than bikes. After a quick chat, Caroline and Luke headed off one way and me in another.

Seahouses was packed, so I wasn’t even going to try and find a parking space. Bamburgh beckoned and as I headed up to where I thought I could get parked, Caroline and Luke came down the road I was heading up…

Parking turned out to be dead easy as it was on the road near the hotel Caroline and I had used on our last visit to the village. And it was free too, handy as it was lunchtime and I was getting hungry.

Pub and hotel food in Bamburgh is rather good, but that wasn’t the food I was looking for. A couple of Scotch pies hit the spot, as did an unexpected find – pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) – and good ones too!

With most of the village taken up by fellow day trippers, there was a place to go in one of the quieter parts of Bambugh. The Grace Darling Museum, which has a very good RNLI shop on the ground floor level.

The RNLI’s 2018 diary wasn’t available as it was still May, but five bags of the RNLI fudge did leap off the display and were duly purchased. It’s good stuff, but it gets rationed now to having a few pieces at a time rather than downing a whole bag in one go (been there, done that!).

Once back in the car, there was more food shopping to be done, but of the supermarket kind as I needed to get some milk, bread, butter and something to go with rice for an evening meal.

Alnwick beckoned…

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London calling again!

img_0131Yes, it’s the Food Hall at Harrods…

You may remember that Caroline and I had a grand day out in London back in February…

A condensed piece about the trip heads up a feature on Wanderlust Magazine’s website.

http://www.wanderlust.co.uk/planatrip/inspire-me/lists/readers-tips-london-insider-knowledge

Enjoy!

Aylesbury II and still no pics!

So, day two in Aylesbury and breakfast time at Holiday Inn.

Which was okay, apart from the fact that we weren’t offered coffee tops ups as we were expected to find the unmarked filling station and the couple of vacuum jugs on a tray.

Caroline headed off whilst I tried to find out what was up with the car as a light had made it’s presence known on the dashboard, had gone off and then illuminated itself once more when I headed off on Friday night.

I didn’t sort it, but it was fixed later in the day by someone who did know what they were doing and had the gizmo to rectify the problem…

So after that and more coffee, I headed out for a bus that would take me into Aylesbury town centre. I missed one, but caught the next and was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable the return bus fare was.

I’d only visited Aylesbury once before, to attend a show at Aylesbury Civic Centre by former Marillion singer Fish. It was an interesting way to spend Independence Day 1990, but another good night out was had by all, despite getting a bit flummoxed by Fish’s announcement that he was going to sing a song inspired by Aylesbury’s Market Square.

I wasn’t the only one expecting him to sing fan favourite Market Square Heroes, but that wasn’t the song he was looking for. The song that was sung was one by David BowieFive Years – a version of which eventually appeared on Fish’s Songs From The Mirror covers album.

But I digress. Wandering aimlessly around Aylesbury without a plan seemed like a good idea and that’s what happened. It didn’t take too long either as retail’s usual suspects were all present and correct and didn’t need exploring.

A couple of magazines and a paper were bought for research purposes at WH Smith  and that was almost about it as far as non-food purchases went. Lunch came courtesy of Greggs, but the prospect of a lunchtime pint on a sunny day wasn’t going to be passed up, especially as I wasn’t planning on driving for a few hours.

And that was about it for Aylesbury. Three hours including lunch and beer stops. The bus station was nearby and there was a bus in, so it was back to Holiday Inn to read the paper and magazines and to do some internet surfing on the iPad.

Once Caroline arrived back, we headed off to The Five Bells for an evening meal before having drinks at the hotel and calling it a night.

Breakfast came and went on Sunday morning, but yours truly was starting to feel rather rough. No, it wasn’t down to the affluence of incohol, but a gum pain of the throbbing kind – three or four days after a dental check-up.

We hadn’t any paracetemol in the car or our respective bags, but we managed to acquire some in the hotel, so I took these and then applied a liberal coating of Bonjela over the gum area.

With Caroline heading off once more, I stayed put for the day, took more painkillers, used more Bonjela and managed to get to solve the problem a few hours latter by applying some pressure on the gum which popped the offending item, got rid of the goo and brought almost instant relief.

By breakfast the following morning, everything was almost back to normal. The emergency we’d travelled down about was over, I was feeling a lot better and we had to vacate our room anyway.

So it was time to go home, but not without a small side trip – to the wilds of Milton Keynes.

Why Milton Keynes? There’s a Rohan shop there with a clearance department. It took a little bit of finding, but find it we did with a little help from an app on Caroline’s phone.

Some delving around saw us leave the shop with a bag of clothing – a jacket and a dress for Caroline and a couple of pairs of socks for me. Next stop was the nearby Shell filling station for petrol before we aimed the car in the direction of the motorway and home.

So, what did we learn from this?

Keep some paracetemol in the car for potential use, remember to pack the couple of travel coffee presses we have plus some decent ground coffee and some biscuits (the Holiday Inn coffee in the room wasn’t wonderful and guess what? No biscuits either!).

And that there are times when you have to forget about planning stuff and just go with the flow…. and have the phone number handy for the local curry house so you can order a meal to be delivered when you do get back home!

Next week – Northumberland!

More Aylesbury on Saturday…

Yes, it should have been posted at 8am this morning, but as our broadband provider left us without service for around 22 hours, the rest of the Aylesbury post will be along tomorrow.

Providing of course that we don’t get disconnected once more.

That would be verging on the ridiculous. Allegedly!

Aylesbury… and no pics!

Our weekend in Aylesbury wasn’t planned – the phone rang at 8am and we were on the road just after 10.30am.

We’d got up, had breakfast, found a hotel for three nights on booking.com, got the route cards off the AA’s Classic Route Planner, packed, filled the petrol tank and hit the road.

Yes, it was a last minute thing, but when emergencies come along, you just have to do it, no matter what was already planned.

We’d booked into a Holiday Inn, so there were some things we didn’t take (big bottles of shower gel, towels, coffee press, ground coffee etc), but clothes were packed along with wash kits, footwear and Kindles/iPads with the Kindle app and that was about it.

Although it was a Friday morning, the motorways weren’t busy and neither were those roads leading to the hotel. A stop at a motorway services saw lunch bought and demolished thanks to M&S and we were on our way again.

The Holiday Inn at Aylesbury is an out of towner, but easily found. Check in wasn’t problematical and we found our room in a quiet part of the hotel.

Caroline did freshen up before organising a taxi to where she was off too. I crashed out for a while, did some reading and then thought that it could be a good idea to find some food.

Although we had a B&B deal at Holiday Inn, the dining prices put me off, so I got in the car and headed into the town centre. I found Tesco, but their cafe had closed, so a pack of sparkling water was bought and I moved on.

Yes, I did get fed up with driving around, but after drawing a blank, I started looking for the nearest takeaway. One was spotted, but there was no parking place outside, so I ended up driving on and found an inn further up the road.

The name sounded familiar and it didn’t take long to realised why. It was one of the places that I’d spotted and discounted on booking,com as it was too far out of Aylesbury.

The decor was also rather familiar, but the reason for that was because it was part of the same small chain as the pub Caroline and I frequent which does good food and is a short walk away from wisepacking towers

No drinks for me as I was driving, but water went well with the pretty good pizza that made its way to the table at The Five Bells in Weston Turville. I decided against a dessert, but made a mental note to head back there on Saturday night.

With Caroline and I getting back to the hotel within a few minutes of each other, we had a catch up session and decided to have an early night, a wise move considering the day we’d had…

Spainpacking

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Choosing what we took with us on our road trip around Andalucia was determined by several factors.

There was the little matter of the size of hand luggage bags on Ryanair… some 5cm less on the depth of the bag compared to other airlines we’ve flown with since we bought our Osprey Farpoint 40 packs.

There were other considerations – the differing types of accommodation, the need to cover up in some of the places visited (Seville’s Cathedral and Mezequita in Cordoba) and expected weather conditions after looking at ten day forecasts (warm to hot during the day, cool on a night were among our expectations).

Pack size rules were adhered to as we chose items that could be washed and worn, used as layering pieces for cooler nights and we also packed long sleeved shirts for when we  visited places that required arms to covered.

So, how did we stick to around 7.5kg each in the hand luggage?

My North Face hooded soft shell has now bitten the dust, but it was worn on the plane rather than packed. It looked a bit worse for wear, but it has seen some action and has been proofed a few times to provide extra protection.

It had deep zipped pockets that took an iPad Mini, the Lonely Planet guidebook, my Nikon camera and the old Samsung dumbass phone when going through security, passport control and checks at the boarding gate.

The power adaptors for the tech mentioned above were in an IKEA pouch that, along with my wash bag, could be easily pulled out of the Farpoint for security checking and then pushed back in with the clothes, travel towels, booking printouts, bus tickets and meds.

Clothing included the usual mix of Rohan items – two pairs of Goa trousers, a Microgrid Crew Jumper, three Progress polos, two long sleeved polos, a few pairs of Cool Silver Trunks and some M&S Freshfeet trainer socks.

Worn items included that TNF soft shell, a Rohan Stronghold shirt, a Rohan Merino wool based t-shirt and another pair of Goa trousers. On the feet were ventilated Salomon trainers, the only footwear I decided to take.

Caroline’s choices also included a mix of rapid wash/dry and wear items such as Rohan Ultra Silver Camisole tops and briefs, a couple of their vest tops, two Stria long sleeved tops, Rohan Travel Jeans, Travel Linen trousers plus a Pathway Cardigan and a Royal Robbins shirt/jacket.

Her footwear comprised a pair of Ecco pumps and Ecco Mary Jane shoes.

Did it all work? Yes is the answer because most items had been used on a few travel trips now or even on a day to day basis. Respective day bags were from Rohan’s Stowaway line-up (a pack for me, a handbag for Caroline)

And in the wash bags? Well both Caroline and I use shower gels by Lush on our travels and she’s also using their shampoo bars.

I also packed a small bottle of tea tree oil that was used when I shaved with a disposable razor whilst sample size toothpastes from our dentist came in handy. The ViaSonic battery toothbrush stayed the course, even though I’d forgotten to put a new AAA in it!

Other items in the wash bag included some travel wash to do the clothing wash and wear thing, a small Nivea SPF30 suncream, a bottle of clove oil and a tube of Bonjela (both in case of dental problems…).

With two out of the four choices of accommodations providing shower gel and shampoo in the bathroom/shower areas, the above choices only needed to be complemented by the local purchases of Axe (aka Lynx) body spray and packs of baby wipes to cope with the after effects of street food on the hands or melting ice cream hitting clothing.

Other things? My iPad Mini has the Kindle App on it and loads of books, so the iPad was used for reading rather than surfing whilst Caroline had her classic Kindle. Both of us had mobile phones too.

Mine was hardly used, whilst Caroline’s did see some action as family members called or sent texts to her.

Did our packing choices work? Yes has to be the answer, even though there was more rain than we anticipated in Malaga. We sat that out in a hotel foyer until it was almost time to get a cab and head down to the bus station for our journey to Seville.

The coolest nights were those in Granada, but the layering choices worked to keep us warm as we wandered around in search of food. My only regret was not having another pair of shoes, but as plans to buy an extra pair failed due to cost issues, I didn’t worry too much about that.

Malaga and home…

When we left White Nest Hostel in Granada, we were already discussing where we would go to on our next Andalucian next road trip.

With flights more likely to be in and out of Malaga than Seville, the likelihood is that our destinations will include Ronda, Cadiz, Jerez and Seville.

We’d probably also top up on the places we visited in Malaga too.

Some were closed on our first full day there whilst the morning after was a complete wash out thanks to the rain storm that hit the city and lingered until after we’d got our bus to Seville.

When we reached Malaga, returned to the Ibis for another night, found our room, the bags hit the floor and we sat down, put the television on and started flicking.

As one might expect, the Spanish channels were first up on the menu, but the pictures onscreen were very familiar to us as we’d been in Westminster a month beforehand and had taken photographs around the Houses Of Parliament and that end of Westminster Bridge.

The news about the Westminster incident had obviously broken as it was on all of the Andalucia channels. We found CNN and heard what had happened from both the news anchor in the States and a reporter on the ground in London.

As repetition set in as it always does on rolling news channels, we flicked once more and were surprised to find one of the channels we’d viewed a few minutes beforehand broadcasting some very raw images of what had happened on Westminster Bridge.

Should that footage have been shown? Probably not (in the UK at least) unless some pixellation had been applied to protect the injured person’s identity (our suspicion though was that images being shown were of a body rather than and injured person).

So, there was a bit of a dampener put on the end of what had been a rather enjoyable road trip around Andalucia. We decided to do some pavement pounding in search of coffee and a handbag that Caroline had seen on that first day in Malaga.

Malaga was in festival mode as it was the Malaga Film Festival. We walked the red carpet laid along one of the main streets, dodged displays of an Audi SUV and tried to work out which of the films we’d actually seen.

We didn’t see the local boy made good who was picking up an award (clues to his identity – he’s played a Mariachi, an animated cat with hat, claws, swordplay and the ability to sing Living La Vida Loca alongside a walking, talking donkey plus a few other roles too).

After coffee etc, it was back to the hotel for a shower, change and out in search of food. One place that wasn’t trying to pull people off the street was Ciao, an Italian place that had its menu outside and quite a few people eating inside and outside.

Yes, it was full, but if w’ed care to wait for a while, we’d have the next available table was the gist of the conversation we had with a member of staff. We wandered off in search of somewhere else, but went back, had another chat, took a couple of seats and received as complimentary glass of wine to help ease our waiting time.

Eating at an Italian restaurant has become of a bit of a last night thing for us as we’ve ended up having pasta or pizza on several last nights now in Malaga, Lisbon, Oslo, London and Glasgow.

Ciao was definitely on a par with our favourite Italian eating place in LisbonRestaurante da Vinci. Fine pasta for Caroline, a larger than expected calzone for me plus wine, coffee and a dessert ensured that we needed to walk some of the meal off before heading back to the hotel. So we did.

And got temporarily misplaced (or lost if you prefer that term!). The street map was back at the hotel, but after twenty minutes of wandering, I spotted the cafe we’d had a meal in on that first day in Malaga.

We backtracked a bit, headed up one of the side streets and spotted other cafes or shops that we’d passed before. After about fifteen minutes, we spotted the sign on the Ibis hotel and headed in that direction for one last drink before bedtime.

The following morning ticked all the usual boxes – breakfast, pack, check out of the hotel and walk to the station to get a train to the airport. Getting through security didn’t take long and neither did finding an overpriced sandwich and drink for lunch.

The airport shopping bill was a small one – one bottle and a pack pocket size black bull. Caroline rolled her eyes once more, but the bull stayed in the basket, was paid for and has a new home on my desk… And why not?

The best part was about to come though. We’d booked priority boarding with Ryanair and were ushered through the boarding gate with several other priority bookers.

There did appear to be something missing as we waited to board the plane.

I’d spotted that you could see a fair bit of the airport through the windows by the ramp we were waiting on, so it wasn’t a total surprise when one of the check-in crew announced that we would have to come back up into the gate area because the plane had been told to park up by a totally different gate…

We eventually boarded, got to Manchester and then got the train and a cab home from what had been a very enjoyable trip…

We’ll be back, but where did we go to next – that will be revealed next week once we’d covered the wisepacking angles from this trip!