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Three legged race…

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Laxey Wheel

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One of the little trains that helped inspire a certain tank engine…

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Sea, sun and a sandwich by the beach – Port Erin

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And the last day in Douglas

The term Three Legged Race was our name for the basic plan for our recent visit to Isle Of Man.

The decision to head there was made at relatively short notice as Caroline and I had a two week break coming up, but hadn’t planned anything.

I’d held up a road book with a circle indicating four hours driving time from Wisepacking Towers, but wasn’t expecting Caroline picking out Isle Of Man as a destination for this upcoming trip.

By close of play two days later, we’d got return train travel booked to Liverpool, a night in Liverpool before the outward ferry trip, two return seats on the fast cat running between Liverpool and Douglas, , seven nights in Douglas, found out about smart cards for use on our travels and made sure that travel insurance was also in place.

With no motor sport or other festivals taking place over our visit, we did have to amuse ourselves, but we’d got a few things sussed.

Some came from the only guidebook we could find, some of it came from the Tourist Board’s brochure and website, but there was also some prior knowledge coming into play too as Caroline had made two visits to Isle Of Man about thirty five years ago.

More to come over the next month or so!

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North Norfolk II

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Ready to roll – Caroline on a pretty good hire bike

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Just part of the beach at Wells-next-the-Sea

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The tide is low – and then some…

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Wash and go. Or wash and boldly go?

It’s Tuesday on a hot week in June and Caroline and I are heading off in different directions. Although Caroline had taken her cycling kit, she hadn’t brought a bike.

Fortunately we knew that there was bike hire available at Deepdale Backpackers and that the bikes in question were all very much on the new side. After making her choice of steeds and gearing up, we arranged to meet at the beach cafe at Wells-next-the-Sea.

One plus point of having visited Wells so often is that I’ve sussed out where the free car parking is. Yes, it’s a few minutes to get into the centre, but it’s also the difference between giving the local council money or local traders.

Which is what we do when we’re in the area – at Whin Hill Cider, a couple of preferred coffee stops, local fruit & veg shops or bakers or the locally owned mini-market.

After a couple of stops to make small purchases, I made my way down to the harbour and then along the footpath that follows the road down to the beach. The last time I was down here there were some serious television vans down there making a commercial for Lloyds Bank.

Not today though. The car park was filling up and there was a stream of people heading to the beach and in some cases coming back again because of the restrictions placed on walking dogs on that nearby stretch of beach.

It wasn’t long before Caroline appeared, a good move on her part because it wasn’t long after that a cycling club turned up and filled the rest of the bike racks outside the cafe.

This had had a makeover since out last visit and was now apparently being run by the Holkham Estate. Although tidied up, it hadn’t gone all hipster beardie on us and the prices were still quite affordable, hence the numbers sheltering from the sun in the cafe and the greater numbers sitting outside and slapping on SPF 30.

Once lunch was over, we hit the beach. Well I did for a few minutes and Caroline did for a lot longer. I still have problems walking on soft sand following that stroke a few years ago, but I was also conscious that there were a heck of a lot of people around, so the beach wasn’t as quiet as the ones I’d been walking on in Northumberland a few weeks beforehand.

Ice cream was the order of the day when Caroline returned and we were both rather intrigued by the Wash ‘n’ Wag device pictured above.

Wet and sandy dogs go in, very wet and clean dogs come out, much to amusement of those gathered around, especially when the dogs came out and start the usual rigmarole associated with shaking themselves dry.

With Caroline heading back to Deepdale on the bike, I was put in charge of finding food for the evening meal. Well two evening meals actually as I ended up buying stuff for both  Tuesday and Wednesday night’s cooking sessions.

When it came to Wednesday, Caroline was back on the hire bike, heading this time in the direction of Holkham Hall. As I’d had a sleepless night because of the heat (despite the fan in the room being on all night), I drove down, bought some coffee and started to read a couple of short books on the iPad’s Kindle app.

Not only does the cafe do good coffee, they also do a very good sausage baguette. Coffee and one of those came and went for lunch whilst Caroline chose something with a rather more healthy attitude to go with her coffee.

Once done, we made arrangements to meet up for coffee and cake at the cafe near Creake Abbey. This has also had a makeover, but the coffee and cake were first class and not out of the way expensive either.

With time running out on the bike hire, it was time to head back to Deepdale. Whilst there were thoughts of staying on another night, we decided not to.

Which was a good move as we awoke to find that it was throwing it down. A brief respite gave us the chance to make a dash to Deepdale Cafe for breakfast and then head back to pack our bags and head for home.

We’d enjoyed the break and the changes at Deepdale will ensure that we’ll return for more of the same… And to take photos of the revamp!

http://www.deepdalebackpackers.co.uk

Next up  – Two days, hostel and hotel, a new tyre and lots of rain!

Northumberland II

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On the beach…

Where were we?

Ah yes, heading into Alnwick for some fodder for an evening meal.

I’ve made quite a few visits to the town over the years. Some for work, but most have been for pleasure. My best friend from University lived a few miles away and even had her wedding reception at Alnwick Castle, but there were quite a few nights out on pub crawls or single bar nights, usually at Oscars.

Which appeared to have closed down when I drove past it a couple of times. Parking in the town centre was a problem, but a bit of local knowledge came in handy as I headed out of town in the direction of Barter Books and turned right into Lidl’s car park.

With shopping for a couple of meals and breakfasts done, it was time to head back to Calico Barn for coffee, food and a snooze before catching up with email and then switching the iPad to Kindle mode for the rest of the night.

Wednesday wasn’t quite a repeat of Tuesday’s meanderings. Yes, I did some more work and then tried to get into Amble again afterwards, but that mission failed thanks to parking issues once more, so I just ended up mooching towards Alnmouth again and then headed to Newbiggin-by-the Sea.

After getting back to Cresswell, I drove past the hostel and turned onto a side track that led to the car park at Druridge Bay. It was busy and there had been a load of builder’s waste dumped near the footpath to the beach.

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Druridge Bay

Although I’ve visited Northumberland many times, this was the first time I’d been to Druridge Bay. It may have been half term, but the beach itself was pretty empty.

The above photo doesn’t do it justice, because it is a great beach and I’d only wished that the lighting conditions had been better from a photographer’s point of view.

One thing was blindingly obvious. I’m pleased that environmentalists stood up to the powers that be over thirty years ago and fought a successful campaign against plans to build a nuclear power station at Druridge Bay.

Little did I know that there was a public enquiry taking place down the road which was discussing plans for opencast coal mining near Cresswell. BBC’s Look North covered it in their 6.30pm news bulletin that night and whilst the public enquiry is over, the verdict isn’t due to be released just yet…

After a while on the beach, it was back to Calico Barn to freshen up, have a meal and relax for a while. I was due to be the only one staying in the hostel for a couple of nights, so I could spread out, take the best seat in front of the TV and have a beer or two.

There was a knock on the door though as two Dutch cyclists who were heading onto the adjacent campsite were wanting somewhere to buy food or get a meal. Caroline and Luke rode past and whilst I shouted to them in the hope of catching their attention, the wind took my words elsewhere and they didn’t hear me hollering!

I suggested that they try Cresswell village to see what was available in the pub or indeed at the caravan site shop, so off they went. When Caroline and I spoke later on, it transpired that she had heard something, but had dismissed it as she rode back after another long bike ride.

Thursday saw a bit more work going on until about lunchtime so lunch was taken at The Drift cafe just along the road from Calico Barn.

Which was rather busy. A bacon and haggis roll was ordered along with a Coke Zero and both went down well, especially that bacon and haggis combo… The two Dutch cyclists were also in there and the steady stream of customers suggested that The Drift is a rather popular feeding station.

After a drive around, I ended up in a couple of places I remembered the names of from news bulletins during my days of living in both mining communities and towns or cities in the North East of England.

Ellington and Lynemouth had been proud mining communities, but those days were over. When I asked locally what had happened to those people who had worked at the collieries, I didn’t get that much information apart from the mention of a mental health facility opening up in the area.

On returning to Calico Barn, it was time for an early meal and a plan for another relaxing evening. Then a couple of large cars pulled up containing two families who had booking in at the last minute. Peace and quiet did go out of the window, so I retreated to my room and promptly fell asleep.

When I woke up, all was quieter than New Year’s Day. After a snack, a beer and a phone conversation with Caroline, I turned in for the night, only to be woken up by those two families returning at 11.30pm. I was not amused…

Friday was departure day, so my stuff was packed up and left until I headed up to the caravan park to pick up Caroline, her bike and her couple of bags. Once done, it was time to get my bags and then let Caroline look around Calico Barn for a potential weekend base for her cycling club.

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Calico Barn Independent Hostel, near Cresswell, Northumberland

After that, it was time to go home. On relatively quiet roads and motorways for once!

Next week – North Norfolk in June…

Granada II

Where were we? Oh yes…

Caroline headed off towards the Generalife and Summer Palace and I got more and more engrossed in the book I was reading on my iPad’s Kindleapp. My phone was off as usual, but on checking my watch, I realised that I hadn’t seen Caroline for quite a while.

So the phone was booted up and I found that there’d been a missed call, a voicemail message and several texts in the last quarter of an hour…

Caroline had taken a wrong turn and had ended up outside the entrance to the Alhambra complex. She’d also misplaced her ticket too, so she couldn’t get back in to come and find me.

We did find each other once I’d booted up my phone and a spot of shopping in the Alhambra souvenir shop was called for and then a coffee and cake stop back down in the city centre.

We’d spotted Cafe Lisboa earlier in the day, our order was taken and coffee and some rather cake was delivered to our table. As we’d been out for nine hours, we headed back up to White Nest for a siesta, shower and change and then a search for an evening meal.

There were a few places open on our last night in Granada, but we wanted a change from tapas or even shared dishes like those served in the Moroccan place the night before.

An Italian restaurant was spotted and food and drink was duly ordered. I’d love to tell you the name of the place, but the receipt was misplaced and it wasn’t in a guidebook, but the food, drink, desserts and coffee all hit the spot.

There was once place left to go though on our way back to our room. I’d misplaced the bag containing the things I’d bought at the Alhambra shop and there was only once place it could be – Cafe Lisboa.

It took a while to get myself understood, but it was there and was handed over. As we left, a pact was made with Caroline. If we needed second breakfasts the following morning, I was buying and we’d have our second breakfasts down at Cafe Lisboa.

The mini market around the corner provided us with some soft drinks, bottled water and a bar of chocolate before we headed back to do some reading and then chase some zzzzs.

Although we were up early and packed, we didn’t have to check out until much later, so we wandered down to White Nest’s dining room and found that yes, the breakfast choices were limited again (White Nest to their credit did post a reply to my review on booking.com which apologised for the limited breakfast fodder due to the school group).

So there was only one thing for it – down to Cafe Lisboa for second breakfasts! Coffee and croissants were ordered and duly arrived – but the croissants were huge, and just as good in their own way as the pieces of cake we’d had the day before.

It wasn’t just the croissants that were huge. An American family with a father who looked like he went to the same barber as Gibbs from NCIS had ordered a cooked breakfast and it looked like the size of that cooked breakfast had defeated them.

As we still had time on our hands, some shopping time was called for, but we also needed a cash machine as the two of us needed a few more € to cover any purchases in Granada, in Malaga the following day and any final snacks or drinks in the airport before the flight home.

As Caroline wandered around one shop looking for things to take home for her grandchildren, I picked up one item and could hear Caroline groan in the distances as I walked to the cash desk with a blue and white plush bull.

The groan turned to a longer groan and an extended eye roll when I pushed the plush in the right place and a bull sound came from within the toy’s innards… Nothing was said though, either by Caroline or the lady taking my cash to pay for the blue and white bull.

It was now approaching check-out time, so we headed back, picked up our bags and wandered down to the nearest taxi rank to get a cab back to the bus station.

Yes, it wasn’t something we’d normally do, but as we’d noticed that it wasn’t a straightforward route to the bus station, it would save us a whole lot of time.

Lunch that day came courtesy of Aldi. Their store was just a few hundred metres away from the bus station, so that was the stop of choice for both food and drinks for both lunch and the bus ride to Malaga.

Coffee levels were topped up in the bus station cafe though, but when I bought a beer too, there was a small tapas plate as part of the deal. We’d heard about the free tapas plates in Granada, but this was the one and only time we’d experienced the custom.

Apparently it’s the thing to do in Granada – buy a beer in a bar and you get free food. For those without beer intake limits, it’s a bonus, especially if you’re on a bar crawl, but for those like myself who are on beer intake limits, it’s an interesting snack attack.

When the bus arrived and we headed inside, we swapped notes and agreed that we’d use buses again on our next trip around Andalucia.

Yes, the bookings had been done a few months before we travelled as a means of saving money, but we’d been impressed by the comfort levels and the on time nature of the journeys, even though we hadn’t been on the best buses on the fleet or had paid full whack for the four bus rides we’d been on.

On Saturday – Malaga in festival mode and time to go home…

Mezquita

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Mezquita on the right, and a few potential visitors too

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Yes, you’ve guessed it, another queue!

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The outer walls of Mezquita – and a couple of horse drawn carriages too.

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Puente Romano with Torre de la Calahorra over the bridge

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Down the alley

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And into the main square

After the Alcazar and a spot of lunch, it was time to head in the direction of Mezquita to have a seat, relax, buy some tickets and head inside.

With the ticket machines out of order when we looked, it was join the queue time again as I mentioned in yesterday’s post. The ticket seller was grumpier than one of the Seven Dwarves, but we thanked him anyway and headed in the direction of the Mezquita’s main entrance.

Whilst there’s photos on here of scenes around the Mezquita, there are no shots of the interior, largely because of the No Photography sign that I’d seen on the way in.

Caroline and I adhered to this, unlike quite a few others who were using cameras and  phones to take shots inside the building. Not only that, but there were also those who were sending and receiving texts or even calls inside Cordoba’s Mosque/Cathedral.

Now you may have realised by now that I’m not a fan of visiting churches etc and it’s usually Caroline who heads inside whilst I take a wander around the local area either taking photos or reading/chilling out with a coffee or beer as the case may be.

I was intrigued by Mezquita though, especially as it’s a former mosque that’s been expanded since becoming a cathedral.

Yes, it was busy, but we decided to look around Mezquita in an organised way rather than heading off in the haphazard manner that some were heading off in. We were surprised by the amount of noise and vacuous conversations that some were indulging in as they wandered around looking at their mobile screens rather than at the building’s historic surroundings.

Although there were many aspects of Mezquita that I found fascinating, there were others that I just couldn’t relate to at all, even though there were plenty of people looking at these Christian elements of the interior.

As it turned out when we swapped thoughts later on, Caroline hadn’t really related to these elements either, just as she hadn’t with some aspects of the Cathedral in Seville when she’d visited that building a few days earlier.

I decided to take a seat while Caroline wandered back to an area that she hadn’t been able to look at a few minutes before and I could’t help noticing how many were glued to their phones or making/taking calls inside the building rather than waiting until they got outside.

As a non-believer, even I know that there is a time and a place for using a phone and that a Sunday afternoon inside of Mezquita was neither the time nor the place…

When Caroline arrived back, we decided to have a seat somewhere and relax for a while before heading back to the hotel for a siesta, shower, change and evening meal.

We ended up in a bar/restaurant that I’d been into a couple of hours before and I was rather surprised to find that the barman was already pumping up a glass of beer for me. A second was ordered and paid for so Caroline and I swapped notes on Mezquita and did a spot of people watching too.

One thing that Caroline and I both agreed on was that if we do go back to Cordoba, a night visit to Mezquita is definitely the way to go as a means of having a quieter, less intrusive experience.

Although we headed out for an evening meal, everywhere was busy with it being Father’s Day, so we ended up in once of the few places with room to spare at the tables in their courtyards.

It wasn’t the best meal we’d had on the trip so far and it was a good job we’d got a large bottle of water with our first drinks as service for both food and drinks was a little on the slow side.

Desserts didn’t come into play that night and neither did a drink at the Irish bar just around the corner from our hotel. Although there was a rather large display in one of the windows of the bar, it wasn’t possible to get one of my favourite Irish beers or one of Caroline’s favoured whiskeys, despite their brands being heavily promoted in that display!

So it was to be an early night rather than the one that we’d planned. Bags and clothes were prepped instead for the next day’s bus ride to Granada

More on Monday!

Bye, bye Seville, hello Cordoba!

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After one last tapas meal at The Seven Bull’s Heads

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Queuing for the Alcazar? That was so yesterday!

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Time for breakfast…

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We’ll be back…

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Seville’s bullring – we gave it a miss

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Cordoba by night, and yes, that’s Mezquita in the floodlights

If it’s Saturday, it must be the day to move on.

We’d enjoyed our few days in Seville and another good night in a tapas bar, but it was time to find breakfast and then the bus station so we could make our way to Cordoba.

One of the topics discussed during our previous night’s meal was whether we’d go back to Seville on another trip. As ‘Yes’ was the answer to that one, I suspect that we’ll have another night or more in Bar Pelayo (the real name of The Seven Bull’s Heads), more time wandering around the Alcazar and more of those posh ice creams we had on our first full day in Seville.

And more breakfasts in Taberna El Papelon.

We will however look for another place to stay as we weren’t overly keen on the pension that I’d booked us into. Where will we go? I suspect that there may be some consulting of guidebooks and asking questions on travel forums as well as a closer perusal of the comments made on various accommodation finding sites.

The walk to the bus station gave us a chance to stretch our legs before hitting the bus station and getting the bus to Cordoba. This was the most expensive bus ride on the road trip, but as it was a Saturday and we’d got bargain tickets for other journeys we had, we weren’t complaining.

Until we got to Cordoba. Exiting the bus station and finding our way out onto the main road via the railway station was the easy part.

Following the printouts from Apple Maps wasn’t…

We’d got into the right street, but could we heck as like find the street that Hotel Serrano was on. We walked, we looked and we walked some more, but it wasn’t until around 30 minutes later did we realise that we’d missed it, so we backtracked, found it and headed in.

After getting up to our room, there a plan was hatched. Shower and change, do the clothes washing that we needed to do and then head out to stretch our legs once more and find a drink or two.

That set us up quite nicely for the evening. Once the siesta was out of the way, it was time to head out and see what was out there.

Darkness had fallen, and as we headed out, we decided that we were just going to go with the flow, so we did as a steady stream of people headed down towards the river.

Whilst we spotted a few likely places to eat, we headed down to and over Puente Romano. Whilst there was no luck finding an eating place on the other side of the river, we headed back into the centre, took a few photos and then spotted a sign regarding night tours of Mezquita.

We hadn’t heard about these, but a door opened to let some people in so we asked the lady at the door about the night tours, but this one was full.

We did find a restaurant eventually (at one point there was a running joke about having a romantic Saturday night meal in the branch of Burger King that we passed a couple of times), but we hit gold.

No notes were made and I’ve misplaced the receipt that bears the name of the restaurant we ate in, but it was cool (in more ways than one!), the food was good and so was the ambience – apart from the rather frosty faced couple we’d been seated next to…

Once fed and watered, it was back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep in readiness for what was going to be a fairly busy Sunday wandering around Cordoba, another Alcazar and the Mezquita.

On the Spanish version of Father’s Day

More tomorrow!

Alcazar…

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The Alcazar of Seville

The Alcazar of Seville was one of those places that sprang out from the pages of the guidebooks as we planned this particular road trip.

We’d put off visiting for a couple of days, largely because every time we passed the entrance, there were queues.

As Friday was our last full day in Seville, we couldn’t put off visiting any longer, so it was up early, shower, dress and head for breakfast before joining the queue to get in.

When we reached the front, we realised why there was a queue to get into this World Heritage Site – airport style security with both walk-through body scanners and x-ray machines to examine the contents of day bags, hand bags and camera pouches.

There’s plenty of buildings to wander around, but there are also some impressive gardens to walk around. I’m not a gardener by any stretch of the imagination, but even I was impressed but the way in which the gardens were planted, laid out and kept spick and span as people entered and gradually dispersed themselves around the numerous arrays of plants, lawns, ornaments and fountains.

Words can’t really do justice to what we saw during our time in the Alcazar (Lonely Planet’s Andalusia guide devotes almost two pages to describing the complex), so here’s a few pictures selected at random from those taken as we wandered around…

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After a few hours in the Alcazar, it was time for refreshment and a chance to rest our feet. The cafe was rather busy and customers were being treated to grand displays of feathers from an obliging local peacock. Who stopped when I got my camera ready….

If you are every in Seville, you really must bite the bullet and join that queue at the Alcazar. Words can’t really describe it as there is so much to take in as you wander around the buildings and the grounds.

Although the complex is right in the centre of Seville and is bordered by main roads, it’s very peaceful and the only audible intrusions came from the sounds of sirens on a couple of emergency service vehicles as they headed off to do their stuff.

Yes, there were quite a few people visiting the Alcazar on the day of our visit, but once we’d left the buildings and the start of the garden area behind, we had sections of the gardens to ourselves and weren’t being bothered by selfie stick toting phone owners.

We’ve already said that we are going to go back to Seville for another visit and that will be including return visits to the Alcazar because this was one enjoyable way of spending a day just wandering around on our own and exploring the site without a guide or a guidebook.

And without a tour guide marching us around in record breaking time in order to get the party back on the bus to get to the next stop along the way!

Next up – Cordoba!