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Back – again

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Now, where were we?

Right, back again after the combined effects of the lurgy, coughing fits as a result of the lurgy, hotter than normal temperatures here in the UK, internet outages and a break from it all…

Yes, a break – and during the half term holiday too!

Booked a bed in an independent hostel in Northumberland, a couple of miles away from where Caroline was sharing a caravan with daughter, son-in-law, eldest son and Caroline’s grandchildren.

Had the whole hostel to myself on one night out of the four I was there and was one of just a few people walking on the beach between Cresswell and Druridge Bay on Thursday morning.

Got back home yesterday and there’s stuff to put away, wash and photos to download too.

And an election to vote in next Thursday!

Hola Seville!

Some of the many faces of Seville – which is why we’re going back!

Our wish list for Seville was a short one – see the Metropol Parasol, visit the Real Alcazar, have tapas for the first time, take in at least one flamenco performance and (in Caroline’s case) pay a visit to the Cathedral.

Our bus from Malaga reached Seville in late afternoon and it should have theoretically a half hour walk to our digs for the next four nights.

We checked in sixty minutes later and were shown to our first floor room. Simple? Yes. Basic? Yes? Budget friendly? Yes.

Following a brief siesta,we  scrubbed up and then hit Seville. The district we were staying in – Barrio Santa Cruz – had a few roads through it, but the more interesting parts were linked by narrow footpaths flanked by shops, bars, restaurants and hotels.

So we wandered and did more of the same as a means of getting our bearings and trying to find a place to eat later on. After investigating a few places, we settled on a tapas bar just a few hundred metres from our digs.

Ordering beer and wine was easy, but choosing which tapas was a different matter. Sea food was out as neither of us partake, but it wasn’t that hard to find seven tapas choices.

Ratatouile was one, spinach topped with an egg and small ham chunks was another, but as the dishes kept on coming, we weren’t all that worried as we’d only had a snack lunch on the bus from Malaga. Seven empty bowls later, we were done. Or were we?

Although I’d had a couple of beers and Caroline had had a large glass of wine, I decided that we should have a glass of manzanilla to round off the evening instead of coffee.

We were fed and watered later than we would normally be at home, but we were still a couple of lightweights compared to locals who were just heading out as we headed back.

After a side visit to a small shop for some bottles of water and chocolate we started to unlock the room door, but were stopped by the pension owner.

He explained in broken English that the room above us was getting some emergency work done on it and that this was starting early on the next morning. We could have the downstairs en-suite instead, so we collected our barely unpacked bags and accoutrements and headed downstairs.

A bit of clothes washing was done before we turned in for the night, but fortunately most of the stuff had dried when we noticed the ‘No clothes washing‘ sign on the back of the room door. Oops…

With just washing and dressing to do the next morning, we got an early start.

Which is just as well as we needed to find somewhere to have breakfast and the first coffees of the day. Help was at hand though as a guy doing some touting for a walking tour tried to do his thing and tempt us onto the tour.

When we explained that we were looking for breakfasts, he pointed us in the direction of the place he had his breakfast every day – Taberna El Papelon (see the pic above). “Look for the red canopy” were his parting words as we headed off after thanking him.

We were the only Brits in the place, but we got our fresh orange juice, coffee and toasted croissants and jam without any difficulties and ended up with a sub-€8 bill for everything. And it was a pretty good way to start the day.

Although we weren’t heading anywhere in particular, we found ourselves outside a civic building that was the scene of a worker’s protest. We never found out what the gripe was, but we did get approached by a couple of Americans who were eager to talk to us and find out some opinions from us.

Yes, you’ve guessed it – Southern Baptists on a mission from God…

After answering their questions and Caroline commenting on the deck of cards they were using to help them in their quest, they realised that we’d got thoughts on religion that didn’t tally with theirs (both of us have been there, seen it, done it and walked away from different religious backgrounds) and we agreed to disagree.

With that settled in a very friendly way, we continued on our meanderings and then realised that we were almost upon the Metropol Parasol. After crossing the road to it and exploring the structure from the ground and the market at that level, only one question remained – how the hell did we get up to the walkways on the top?

More on Monday!

To Malaga – and beyond!

Malaga – not what you might expect!

“Why are you spending so much time in Malaga?’ was the comment Caroline’s eldest made when he found out that we were spending three nights in the city – two at the beginning and one at the end of our recent trip to Andalucia

The answer was simple – we’d spotted comments years ago that Malaga was an interesting place to visit and to wander around.

There are arty connections, museums to visits and sights to see – providing that a) you’re not planning on going on a Monday and b) it’s not raining….

Although we’d left the house and started our journey around 9am, we didn’t actually check into the Ibis in Malaga until after 10pm Spanish time.

Our plane was leaving Manchester Airport in the afternoon, but by the time we’d factored in getting a bus to the railway station, getting to Manchester Piccadilly and then transferring to the replacement bus service to Manchester Airport, we thought we’d better leave early, just in case.

The RyanAir flight went smoothly on the way out as we’d reserved seats on the plane and had opted for Priority Boarding so we knew where we were heading towards once we’d boarded the 737 and that we could have our packs in the locker and be sat down and resting way before the rest of the passengers got onboard.

At the Malaga end though, we had to wait until we could actually get off the plane, hit passport control and then find the railway station to get a train into Malaga – to the end of the line as that was apparently about ten minutes walk from the Ibis.

Getting the tickets was easy. Getting the train was easy. Using the printouts from Apple Maps wasn’t, but fortunately Caroline spotted the Ibis lights and that put us in the right direction – almost.

Pavement works meant that there was a detour to take rather than using the direct option, but we got there in the end, checked in, dropped the bags in our room and headed down to the bar for drinks and a snack or two.

Getting the breakfast option in the hotel did save some time (but not money!) the following morning before we headed out to explore Malaga on foot.

I’d booked the Sunday flights before I’d looked closely at the opening times for the places we wanted to explore  – big mistake as most of our potential destinations were closed on a Monday according to both of the guidebooks we’d used to plan the trip.

So we wandered around, aimlessly at first and then with a little more purpose as we found Teatro Roma, spotted the Alcazaba, famed tapas bar El Pimpi and stumbled across the Museo Picasso as we strolled up a side street.

What was unexpected was the fact the the guidebooks were wrong and the Museo Picasso was open. The other surprise was that the admission charge was less than that quoted in the guides as the number of works on display had been reduced.

With Caroline taking two spins around the museum, I headed to the cafe after one to sort out where to go next and to partake in a coffee and the second beer of the day.

One thing we didn’t use on our strolls around Malaga was our map. Yes, we were misplaced a few times, but it all added to the fun as we explored!

We’d found a cafe for lunch, a couple of places for coffee or orange juice and had bought one or two things too – Caroline had bought a leather belt and had had extra holes punched into it whilst I’d bought some Axe deodorant (aka Lynx in the U.K.) plus some bottled water (we’d heard about the quality of the tap water in Malaga – allegedly!) and some wipes for those times when finger food beckoned and there wasn’t a wash basin in sight.

The other place we’d stumbled across was the Mercado Central – a market the likes of which I haven’t seen for years.

Bread, cheese, cooked meat, fish, fruit, olives, raw meat, seafood and food of all kinds to go (along with drinks too) made for a wish that we’d booked into a hostel rather than a hotel.

Our evening meal also led to furthering that thought. After mooching around looking at menus, we settled on a small place where we were the only Brits among the customers.

The menu was in English though and whilst I picked a favourite meat dish, Caroline went for the tuna option. The pork & veg and accompanying beer went down well , but Caroline and I hadn’t realised that the tuna was going to be served raw.

It was well presented though and it went down the same way as the wine, even though Caroline would rather have had it cooked than raw – her youngest son is the sushi fan, not her! Or me…

The walk back to the hotel was interesting, because we ended up walking for more than we we needed to in order to get back to the Ibis.

A stop was made to stock up on bottled water and to get a bar of chocolate, before we spotted the Ibis once more and headed back, but not before taking a look in the window of the local KTM dealer.

I’m not a biker, but Caroline’s youngest is and whilst he’s expressed a few interests in KTM motorbikes in recent months, he’s still got his 650cc Suzuki.

As I’ve mentioned before, the following morning was a washout for wandering around as the heavens opened and we ended up killing time in the hotel lobby before getting a taxi to the bus station in readiness for our bus to Seville and tapas, breakfasts in a local cafe plus flamenco, time on the Parasol, chats with religious types from the state of Georgia and possibly the best ice cream, sorry – Gelato – we’ve ever had.

Hola – plans v reality III

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Yes, normal service has resumed….

Where were we?

Ah yes, Seville. After booking into our digs and going out for our first meal in the city, we returned to our room and a request to move into a room downstairs as some last minute work was going to take place above us.

So we found ourselves in a ground floor en-suite – which was good as we needed to do our first set of washing our wash and wear clothing.

After doing the wash, wringing it out and rolling it up in travel towels and hanging it up to dry, we then noticed the sign on the back of the room door forbidding clothes washing in the room. Mmm…

Everything was dry come Wednesday morning though, which was a good thing as we headed out in search of places to see and things to do. When we got back though, we were pleased that everything had dried out, because we returned to a room devoid of all of our stuff.

We thought the worst at first, but some broken English came from above to tell us that we’d be back in the room that we’d originally been allocated and that all of our stuff was up there. Relief in one respect, but neither of us were too happy about our stuff being moved when we weren’t there!

Come Thursday and Caroline headed into the Cathedral after first checking the times for the roof tour she wanted to go on. After she’d paid and headed in, I headed off to do some exploring of my own, get a coffee or a beer and then return to our pre-arranged meeting place next to the Real Alcazar.

We met up again two hours later, swapped stories about our exploits and headed for lunch. As we finished, Caroline looked at her ticket and realised that she hadn’t been booked in for the roof tour at 16.30, but the 12.00 one…

Oops – she’d been booked onto the tour that a Cathedral guide had said was full. No matter though as we just decided to wander around some more, go for a beer and tapas mid-afternoon break and then head back for a siesta and some more clandestine clothes washing.

And that was about it for the small problems we encountered in Seville. The entrance to the flamenco club had moved, but that was about it.

We did have more problems with Apple Maps printouts in Cordoba, but we eventually found our hotel after much scratching of heads. Whilst we’d had good Wi-Fi at the basic guest house in Seville, in Cordoba the iPad got a signal in the hotel lobby or when we opened our room door…

When it came to Granada we took no prisoners in getting to or from the bus station to White Nest Hostel – we got a cab in both directions! It did however take us a while to find the ticket booth at The Alhambra the following day, but we got there and started to make our way around.

The site was busy and we weren’t the only ones who had difficulties with the vending machines dispensing coffee, sandwiches or snacks. The coffee one was interesting, the sandwich one dispensed not one, but two packs of sandwiches whilst the snack one behaved itself.

Best laugh of the day came when I headed downstairs to the gents toilets. As I was leaving, a whole party of Oriental ladies were heading into the gents.

They were rather surprised when I pointed out that it was the men’s toilets they were trying to get into and they soon scurried back upstairs.

Yes, I’ve been in rock or student clubs when ladies have invaded the blokes toilets (the queues were shortly and it wasn’t uncommon to hear the words ‘It’s alright guys, we’re not looking!‘ as the invasion took place….

Anything else? Not really as the rest of the visit to Granada was as planned.

In Malaga though, one problem arose after we checked into the hotel and switched the TV on.

One of the local channels was showing live footage of an event that had happened in London. The only English channel was CNN and their reporting was about an incident at Westminster.

With no signal for the iPad or for Caroline’s Android phone, it was lobby computer time to find out what had happened where we’d been back in February. BBC, The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Independent websites told the story about what had happened.

Which almost brought us to the end of such aspects of our road-trip…

Friday’s posting will be about the stuff we took with us to deal with RyanAir’s luggage restrictions, the weather conditions we were expecting, the places we were heading to and their respective dress codes.

The story of the trip proper starts next Monday…

TTFN!

Hola – plans v reality…

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We knew there would be rain in Spain one day… Just not this much!

The planning for our trip to Andalucia started a while ago.

The initial thinking was to head over there in October 2016, but thoughts changed and we ended up visiting Herefordshire and Somerset.

The thinking started again back in November 2016 and a simple plan was drawn up – fly in and out of Malaga from either Leeds/Bradford or Manchester airports and take a look at the Picasso and other art connections in Malaga before heading to Seville, Cordoba and Granada and then head back to Malaga for the flight home.

This was expanded upon by getting hold of both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide paper guidebooks to Andalucia. Although I’d already taken a read through the LP and RG books on Spain, the area specific guides provided more insights to the cities we were intent on visiting and useful snippets regarding travelling times between cities by bus or train, eating out, flamenco and a few tips on speaking Spanish.

Flights and our hotel in Malaga were booked via Expedia whilst digs in Seville, Cordoba and Granada were booked via booking.com.

All of this happened back in November 2016, as did upgrades to the basic flights as we chose to pre-book seats on the plane in both directions and opt for priority boarding.

Yes, this put the price of the flights up, but we reckoned it was worth it as a means of getting settled in to our seats and as a means of ensuring that our hand luggage wasn’t stashed in the hold instead…

The decision to use buses rather than trains in Spain came down to two factors – cost and journey times (which in one or two cases quoted in the guidebooks were shorter on the bus rather than the train…).

Booking the buses was left until January and it has to be said that booking buses between Malaga and Seville, Seville and Cordoba along with Cordoba to Granada was pretty easy via the http://www.alsa.es website.

A problem did arise when it came to book the journey between Granada and Malaga. My UK bank card had been used for the first three transactions, but wasn’t being accepted for the one that would take us back to Malaga in readiness for the flight home.

Technology being what it is, a web chat was established with Alsa and it transpired that I should have used a Spanish bank card or PayPal for all of my ticket buying transactions!

As the first three sales had gone through without any difficulties and I had both printed off the online tickets and the ones sent to my email address, I decided to press on for the fourth transaction and book it via PayPal.

The problem being that I hadn’t used PayPal for years and couldn’t remember what my password was. That took a bit of time to resolve, but hey presto! That last set of tickets was bought, paid for and printed off…

With all of the flight, accommodation and almost all of the internal travel sorted out, there was a couple of things left to do – book tickets for our visit to The Alhambra in Granada and sort out transport to Manchester Airport.

Tickets were easily booked and paid for via The Alhambra’s website and that was almost it.

Next up was the booking of rail tickets and we almost came unstuck.

We were travelling on a weekend when there was planned maintenance on the railway line. Although the website showed this, it didn’t tell us the full nature of the replacement bus service operating on our day of travel.

After three attempts at finding out, it was time to jump in the car, head to a mainline station and ask questions. Once answered and the printouts handed over, the tickets were bought and paid for and that was it for two months.

When March came around, all we had to do was get some notes, check the mid-range weather forecast and go…

There was however one small problem left – neither of us speak Spanish!

One year – the shorter trips…

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Seahouses, Northumberland

October 2015 saw us make the first of four visits to Northern England.

This one was a hit and run exercise – there had been sightings of the Northern Lights on the Northumberland coast, so that’s where we headed.

A quick delve into the realms of booking.com and we came up with a guest house in Seahouses for Saturday night and a cut-price deal at the Hampton by Hilton in the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne for Sunday.

After a fish supper, we headed to the beach path between Seahouses and the guest house and spent an hour or so on a bench staring out to sea in a northerly direction.

Guess what? No Northern Lights for us!

The following day saw us having a hearty breakfast and walking back into Seahouses for a spot of photography and a general mooch around. The National Trust shop came up with some goodies, as did the RNLI shop.

Lunch came and went and it was time to head for Newcastle.

After working in Newcastle for years, I thought that I knew the way to the hotel, especially as it was around 300 metres away from where I worked.

What I didn’t realise was the the road layouts had changed in a big way, so all of the shortcuts I used to use were closed off or open to buses only.

Still, we found the hotel, parked the car in a nearby car park (£12 a day…), went for a walk, had a coffee and then changed for a night on the town.

Not into the type of garb favoured by those wandering around the Quayside or Bigg Market you understand. No, we chose more sensible clothing to combat the colder weather being encountered…

Monday was a shopping day around Northumberland Street, Eldon Square and in the Baltic Art Centre shop. Lunch came from M&S and by then it was time to head home…

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Life’s a beach…

But not for long as we were back in the North East three weeks later.

We’d got a good deal at Redworth Hall Hotel for a couple of nights, had a pretty decent Sunday lunch at a pub on the outskirts of Darlington and then headed into that town for a mooch around my old stamping ground.

Once at Redworth Hall, the bar and log fire beckoned, as did the following morning’s visit to the National Railway Museum‘s outpost Locomotion in nearby Shildon.

That was followed by a weather beating visit to the local multiplex to catch up with The Lady In The Van before a pre-pack salad plus accompaniments was bought as an BYOB evening meal back at the hotel.

Alnmouth beckoned next – one of our joint favourites in Northumberland because of the village and the beach. The B&B wasn’t wonderful, but the pub meal a few doors away was.

After a drive up the coast to Seahouses, lunch was declared and taken, but a couple of the places we’d been into before were closed for redecorating or just closed due to lack of volunteers. So it was time to hit Bamburgh.

The car park was almost empty, as was the beach which proved tempting enough to inspire a wander and provided a bit of inspiration to use a couple of my camera’s not often used functions such as the black and white mode…

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Bamburgh Castle – hand held in black & white

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Same castle, same day, different side, but as the sun goes down…

A nearby pub provided a good excuse to go inside to warm up as it had coffee on tap and an open fire too. Our digs for the night were thankfully chintz free, but unstaffed after check-in, so we were left to our own devices until the following morning.

Which ensured that there was just one thing to do – head to the pub!

Steak and ale pice plus cider for Caroline, Lamb Cutlets and Guinness for me plus coffees were a great way to almost end the day. The warmth in the pub and the walk back to the room along with a full day of fresh sea air ensured that our respective night’s sleep were long and undisturbed until the alarm went off the following morning.

When the Grace Darling Museum and RNLI shop were visited, along with the local butchers who did a very fine line in pies, pasties and sausage roll. So lunch was bought, drinks purchased at a mini-market/petrol station on the A1 and then it was time to head home via Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

John Lewis sold us an iPad Mini 2 and case, Lush got some more travel size shower gel and shampoo bar sales and M&S sold us a couple of ready meals to have at home.

Was that it for the year?

Nope, because rock and roll got in the way and ensured that there were a couple of good nights out.

The first was to see prog rocker Fish on his Farewell to Childhood tour at Sheffield City Hall. Tickets were booked, as was rail travel and a night in the Holiday Inn Express.

Although this was originally billed and booked as a standing gig, ticket sales had been so good that the concert had been moved into the main hall – a seated venue.

After checking into the hotel and getting a cab into town, fodder had to be tracked down. Posh nosh in a pub? Fine stuff in a restaurant?

Nope. we hit Yates instead… and it pretty good too!

As we were now fed and watered, we decided to join the queue to get into City Hall, and ended up in prime seats about four rows back from the stage.

French band Lazuli impressed with their support slot, but would Fish?

It wasn’t the best show I’ve seen him do, but that was down to a cold apparently as his between song banter revealed.

The older solo stuff was mixed with more recent songs, but the main course was the playing in full of his old band’s Misplaced Childhood album.

A sense of deja vu kicked in as I’d last heard the whole of it played live back in the 1980’s and some of the solo stuff was heard in the 1990’s on a week following Fish around on his Highlands and Islands tour.

Mind you, a week later there was an even bigger sense of deja vu in Last Of The Summer Wine country – Holmfirth.

This was a good night out seeing a guy that’s been around so long that there’s calls being made for him to do the Legends slot at next year’s GlastonburyRoy Wood

He’s back at Picturedrome in Holmfirth in a couple of weeks and it’s very tempting to get tickets for the show, especially as they’re just £20 each.

All the hits and more from a pretty long career were delivered with aplomb and I surprised myself when I realised how many of the lyrics I actually knew. The band were as tight as they come and the show was only marred by the pillocks trying to video it on their mobile phones…

Given the amount of Christmas jumpers being worn in Picturedrome, there was one song that just had to be played – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day. And it was.

So a good night out to round off the 2015 year of travelling.

The 2016 year of travelling wasn’t as hectic, but plans are already afoot for the 2017 travel year as the first trip is already booked and largely paid for!

Deals, or no deals?

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Somewhere in Europe… but we’re going to the country next door!

It’s Black Friday and despite all of the emails, television coverage and advertising, we have proved that resistance isn’t futile.

Yes, there is money to be spent today, but that’s going to be at the farm shop, newsagent, supermarket and petrol station.

I’ve had deal information on hotel bookings, electrical stuff and a load of other gubbins, but most of it has come in far too late for yours truly.

And that because the deed is done – the next trip has been planned, largely booked and paid for because I found our own deals for our visit to Andalucia by delving into the search engines of Skyscanner, Expedia and Booking.com last week.

The end result is a trip that’s a day longer than originally planned so we can make full use of our time in Spain and one that is currently running under budget, despite that extra day!.

Although a fair bit of research had been carried out using both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet books on Andalucia and Spain, the time taken to book the flights, overnights and the bus travel between the destinations on our trip took a little over 24 hours.

Whilst that 24 hours also includes sleeping, eating and the other things that make up a day, it also reflects that there’s been some due diligence in checking out the various elements being used to put the trip together.

The flights we’ve chosen aren’t at silly times of the day or night (but there was a £46 premium paid for choosing our own seats and taking advantage of an ‘offer’ on priority boarding).

The hotels, guest houses and hostels we’re using are all highly rated whilst the bus travel is more cost effective than using trains – the only time we’ve paid full price for a bus ride is for our travel between Seville and Cordoba, largely because that journey is on a Saturday and no discounts are available.

With airport transfers being paid on the ground when we get to Spain, all we have left to book in advance now are the rail tickets to Manchester Airport (cheaper to get to by rail than it is to drive and park the car for the duration) and for two tickets for the Alhambra in Granada.

Will we do these bookings on Cyber Monday?

Might do…