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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!

One year – September 2015 part IX

Postcard from Coimbra II

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It’s another Coimbra balcony moment

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One way into the city centre…

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And the way back…

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Caroline down by Rio Mondego

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Now that’s what I call a bear!

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The sky is blue…

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The other way back to the digs…

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The morning after the night before…

Just a few pics today as the sun is out and the temperatures are high here in Yorkshire – more pics and words about Coimbra will be on here tomorrow!

One year – September 2015 part V

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Pinhao station in the Douro Valley

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Tranquil – and then some… from on land

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Or from onboard a river boat…

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Warm outside…

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And on the inside for hot dogs…

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More tranquility…

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With port producers along the way

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Just one of many famous names seen on the hillsides above the Douro

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All quiet on the station

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Until the train arrives…

A day along the Douro is a trip worth taking by train from Porto.

It’s a long day out, but having taken it, I can see why most recommendations are to split it over two days and have a night in a hotel or guest house.

Like most great train journeys, it’s one to take home in the memory rather than on a camera’s memory card.

The journey to Pinhao from Porto was a smooth one. We’d taken a couple of snacks and bottles of water with us for the journey, but once we’d got to Pinhao, taken a look around and bought the t-shirt I’d wanted to buy during the previous day’s visit to Sandeman’s wine lodge in Porto, it was time for a leisurely lunch down by the river and the area where the river boats pulled in.

In among the small boats of the kind we boarded later on in the day, the river cruise boats pull in to allow passengers time ashore to explore and then board again for another night and day of the same old, same old.

We took a two hour trip up the Douro on a small boat with a covered area and the added attraction of a port tasting session whilst we were afloat. As we’d been out in the sun and had coated ourselves with Factor 50 rather than Factor 30, I stayed undercover on the boat, as did the captain’s dog (who obviously knows a good thing when he sees it!).

The ride was a smooth one (as was the port), but once over, it was time to find a cold drink and an ice cream before taking another wander around Pinhao and then the short stroll to the station and the train back to Porto.

Although Pinhao had appeared to be a quiet place, the station platform suddenly filled up with people wanting the train down the valley.

When the train arrived, we found seats, emptied the water bottles, thought about the day, pondered another meal at the restaurant we’d found the day before and placed bets  as to how long it would take us to pack our bags before heading off on the next part of our road trip the following morning…

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A local restaurant for local people and those in the know…

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And a good place to chill out…

One year – September 2015 part IV

A grand day out on a sunny day in Porto

Yes, the sun started to shine on our fourth day in Porto, so t-shirts, SPF trousers, sun cream and walking shoes were donned as we wandered towards the banks of the Douro.

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View from Ponte Dom Luis I

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Yes, it’s that bridge!

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Heading to that port wine lodge – by cable car…

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Down by the lazy river…

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Ribeira from Vila Nova de Gaia

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Sandeman’s Don – an early marketing success story

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One barrel to rule them all?

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Or many?

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Ribeira from the middle of the Douro

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Street life, Ribeira style…

Thursday was a grand day out. Yes, we wandered aimlessly, took a mode of transport that neither of us are fond of (that cable car), had a few coffees, booked a tour/tasting session around and in Sandeman’s port lodge, had an Italian lunch, that tour around Sandeman, tasted a couple of fine port wines and then headed out on a boat trip on the Douro.

Once back on dry land, we wondered whether the teenagers clinging to the bridge had what it takes to live up to their bravado in getting onto the bridge and part of the way across it or whether they’d bottle it rather than jumping or diving into the Douro.

Whilst it was tempting to try and find a cafe in Riberia for a coffee or a beer, seats were at a premium so we headed away from the riverside and found a bar with nice cold beers in both standard and redcurrant flavour varieties.

As we’d been out for a while and had sampled both port and beer, we headed back to Rivoli Cinema Hostel via Sao Bento railway station and a fodder stop. With the weather finally in our favour, we’d decided to make the most of it by spending Friday exploring the Douro Valley by train, feet and another river boat trip.

Yes, there was a queue for tickets at Sao Bento and some potential customers were getting a bit shirty because they didn’t understand the queueing arrangements. We held our place, made ourselves understood, got our tickets and then headed to a local restaurant for a well deserved evening meal at a nearby restaurant…

Tomorrow’s post? To Pinhao – and beyond!

One year – July 2015 IV

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Does my flag look big on this?

Friday in Lisbon and the flags were flying as we ventured on foot in search of Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and Centro Arte Moderna. We negotiated Parque Eduardo VII with ease and having found the viewpoint seen above, we were confident that we were on the right track.

Or so we thought. A nearby map directed us on our way and after about half an hour, we decided that yes, that was the wrong way, so we retraced our steps, cooled off with a couple of glasses of a very fine mint flavoured iced drink and found the right way to the museum and art gallery.

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Same flag, different view…

Yes, I know what I said yesterday about museums and galleries, but having read up on both places, I reckoned that even I could find something of interest in one or both sites,  especially as there’s a connection between Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and my home city of Durham here in the U.K.

The prospect of seeing fine Oriental and Western art was intriguing, but in the end I ended up finding a seat as Caroline made her way around the apparent one-way system in the museum. Was I disappointed by the items on display? Not really, it was just that there was so much of it and I found myself slowly, but surely losing interest in what was laid out before me…

As my day bag had been left in the cloak room, my Kindle wasn’t on me so I ended up pondering some ideas for our next big trip. Yes, it was back to Portugal in the last couple of weeks of September 2015, but it was probably going to be a road trip with Porto and Coimbra as two of the stopping off points as we made our way around part of Northern Portugal.

Once reunited, we had a rather decent lunch in the cafe at Museu Calouste Gulbenkian before we made our way over to Centro Arte Moderna. Most of the artwork here is by Portuguese artists, but as the guidebooks also promised the potential to view works by Hockney and Gormley, I was game for a good look around.

One or two pieces caught my attention, but that was about it. I did take in every part of the viewing spaces and looked at the items on display, but it was no use. There didn’t appear to be any kind of connection forming and if there were works by either Hockney or Gormley on display then I well and truly missed them!

Coffee and cake in the cafe partly made up for the disappointment, as did the wander around the gardens outside.

Two of life’s great mysteries were also pondered – why were the aircraft heading into Lisbon Airport always flying so low over this part of the city and what were the chances of a frozen crapsicle hitting something or someone if it left the confines of an aircraft’s toilet (I thank the writers of CSI New York for putting that thought into my head by the way!).

Given that we’d had trouble finding our way there, we decided on a different strategy for the way back to Lisbon Dreams. A visit to the major department store wasn’t wonderful and whilst there was a multiplex cinema downstairs, there was nothing showing that we fancied. So it was time to hit the Metro once more to head into Lisbon centre to find some coffee and have a siesta.

Our meal for the night was another vegetarian one. Not at Terra this time, but in the interesting surroundings of Os Tibetanos, part of a Buddhism school in the Rato area.

We didn’t have a booking, but that didn’t matter, even though the restaurant was rather busy. We’d both had meat courses as part of our lunchtime meal, so going veggie wasn’t a problem. Misplacing the receipt means that I can’t let you know what our menu choices were, but I do recall that the two of us ate well, had desserts and good coffee to round off the night…

And so to Saturday and our final full day in Lisbon.

We’d not seen much in the way of beaches on this trip, so we decided to get the train from Lisbon to Estoril, walk from Estoril to Cascais and then get the train back to Lisbon from Cascais.

Sounds easy and it was. The Viva Viagem cards worked a treat at Cais do Sodre station and passed the ticket inspector’s examination too (always a good sign) and it wasn’t that long before we reached Estoril.

Now I know Estoril as being the former home of the Portuguese Grand Prix from my days as a fan of Formula 1, but it’s got a literary connection too.

Writers Graham Greene and Ian Fleming were stationed in Estoril during World War II. The latter apparently spent time observing double agents frequenting the local casino in Estoril and this gave him an idea to write a book – Casino Royale. The rest is history…

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The sign says it all!

The walk from Estoril to Cascais isn’t a long one and easily done, even on hot summer Saturdays when it’s not just mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun.

Factor 50 proved useful once more, as did the bar selling cold Coke Zero colas and equally welcome Magnum ice creams. A taste of home? Almost in both cases.

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The beaches were starting to get busy as we approached Cascais, but some were already showering themselves and their rather disgruntled Yorkshire Terrier as a means of flushing the salt water away and freshening up before heading home.

On reaching Cascais, we wandered for a while before we noticed a ceremony taking place involving quite a few people in different outfits and gowns in the main square. It looked like a university graduation ceremony, but it was in fact a ceremony to celebrate the local wine producers and their respective products.

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Mmm… wine…

The gentleman who informed us of the meaning behind the ceremony not only allowed us to sample a couple of different wines, but he also gave is a small insight into the Portuguese wine industry.

Although we’d sampled a couple of diffferent wines in the two visits we’d had to Portugal at that time, our main introduction to the country’s wine had come in the 1970’s thanks to the wine that ended up as a major source of home made table lamps amongst certain consumers of the product at that time – Mateus Rose

Although we’d looked at menus at both an Irish pub and a local curry house, Jardim de Frangos came up with quite a decent piri piri chicken lunch and a bottle or so of beer to wash it down with.

At the time I was wearing a decent pair of Transitions lensed spectacles that had gone dark thanks to the strong sunlight, but that didn’t stop a street hawker who came inside the dining area from offering to sell me a pair of cheap sunglasses.

The waiters chased him away, but my somewhat direct comments afterwards appeared to amuse the two German ladies sitting at an adjacent table…

With the heat still rising, we took a look around a small festival in an adjacent park before heading back to the station for the train back to Lisbon. Packing the bags didn’t take long and neither did the discussion concerning where we were going to eat that night.

We’d discovered Ristorante da Vinci on our first trip to Lisbon. It’s not in the guidebooks as far as I’m aware, but it’s always been busy whenever we’ve either eaten there or walked past at any time of the day.

The clientele is also usually a good mix of locals and tourists from both sides of the Atlantic and whilst most are anonymous, at least one Hollywood actor has been spotted in there when Caroline and I have been customers.

Pizza for me, pasta for Caroline, desserts and either beer or wine then coffee usually round off the meal quite nicely. This was our second meal there, but since that night, we’ve made two return visits as Lisbon ended up being our in and out point on our road trip in September 2015…

After checking out of Lisbon Dreams on Sunday morning, our Viva Viagem cards saved us money once more as we used the Metro rather than a taxi to get us to the airport.

When we’d made the same journey in September 2013, it was on the night before our flight home as we ended up sleeping in the Lisbon Airport terminal as we couldn’t find a place to stay for that last night. Not a mistake we were going to make twice!

http://www.lisbondreamsguesthouse.com

http://www.easyjet.com

One year – July 2015 III

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It’s Wednesday and it’s a rest day around Lisbon

Now we couldn’t just do nothing, but we had a lie in, a chat with fellow Brits about Lisbon and then we headed out for a wander around nowhere in particular.

The Botanical Gardens appeared to be a good place to start this day of wandering aimlessly. We paid our money, headed in and I decided to indulge in a spot of photography whilst Caroline explored the gardens.

Which was a nice idea, but my Nikon had other ideas. Fortunately my camera hadn’t died a death (which was the fate of my Lumix in 2013 and the reason why I’d bought the current Nikon Coolpix S3100 digital compact camera in Lisbon a few days later).

I’d checked the battery on Tuesday, but it was now as dead as a dodo so that potential hour of photography became another chance to read from the Kindle as I waited for Caroline to show up. The slow day was a good idea as it gave us the chance to just see what took our fancy as we headed through Principe Real, through Baixa & Chiado and onwards to Rio Tejo.

Nothing was planned. We wandered in and out of shops, had coffee, had lunch and just relaxed rather than haring off like Roadrunner or Speedy Gonzales. The information centre shop sold me some stationery items and a cotton shopping bag that could be stuffed into my day bag – Portugal had adopted plastic carrier bag charges, unlike England at that moment in time…

There were several drinks stops as we combatted the high temperatures with fruit juices, Coke Zero and Sagres Radler beer plus the obligatory bottle of water in our day bags.

After a relaxing day, we had a plan for Thursday as we’d decided to head to Sintra. An enquiry at the ticket office revealed that we could use our Viva Viagem rechargeable travel cards on trains to Sintra, something that we weren’t aware of at that time…

Siestas were declared on return to Lisbon Dreams then showers and a quick change happened before we went to The 39 Steps for our evening meal. The outdoor eating option was taken once more, drinks arrived and food was ordered, but unfortunately we didn’t expect an unexpected cinematic reference to occur.

I’d had a very good pasta and salmon main on our first visit to The 39 Steps, so Caroline ordered this for her main this time whilst I went for something completely different.

When the meals arrived, it looked like Caroline‘s order had been lost in translation. Instead of pasta with salmon, pasta with shellfish was placed in front of her.

Our waitress was very, very apologetic about the error, but Caroline decided to tackle the staring shellfish head on as it were rather than having to watch me eat my meal as she was waiting for her ordered meal to arrive. C’est la vie as the French say…

Thursday saw an early start and boy were we pleased when we got to Rossio Station and zapped our Viva Viagem cards at the barriers in front of the platform for the Sintra train. There were queues at both the ticket machines and manned ticket windows – long queues.

Once in Sintra, there was a choice to make of where to go first. We walked down to the Palacio Nacional, had coffee and Caroline paid a return visit this palace and then Quinto da Regaleira with its main building and impressive gardens complete with terraces, grottoes, fountains and the Initiation Well (which comes complete with its own entrance via a revolving stone door).

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Palacio Nacional, Sintra

Whilst Caroline took a look at both of these impressive sights, I wandered around with a fully charged camera. The Toy Museum had closed its doors, so I took to the streets, explored the various alleyways and tried to avoid the midday sun….

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Two views of Sintra…

As you may have guessed, I’m not one for museums, palaces or elaborate gardens. Caroline is and we have a mutual understanding that I’ll find something else to do whilst she’s off exploring historical places or galleries.

If there’s a museum dedicated to cars, flight or an exhibition on music or rock photography, I’m there like a shot, but if it’s historical, I’m with Rudge’s view on history as expounded in a memorable scene from The History Boys.

The quote’s a good one, but given that this is a free site without age restrictions, it can’t be quoted here!

Yes, I have an O level in History, but that’s from 42 years ago and my views on the subject have changed somewhat and I’m more interested in more modern history rather than what went on in days of yore…

Caroline enjoyed both Palacio Nacional and Quinto da Regaleira and was full of enthusiasm for both when we visited a very quiet outdoor cafe cum art shop on the way back into the centre. The town was quiet as we walked back to the station and so was the train, a welcome experience as the train had been crowded on the way to Sintra.

The return to Lisbon Dreams was equally quiet and as we’d had rather a good lunch in Sintra, we raided the mini market for bread, cheese and a bottle of wine for our evening meal. Rustic? Yes, but a fine way to end a grand day out.

And finally – Part IV. Museums, Os Tibetanos, the inspiration for Casino Royale and wine tasting in Cascais…

One year – July 2015 II

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All quiet in Praca do Comercio, but not for long…

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Wheelie good way to get around Lisbon?

If it’s Monday, it must be Lisbon without a plan.

Although we’d booked flights, accommodation and had Viva Viagem rechargeable travel cards to get around, we hadn’t come up with a cunning plan as to what to do during the week we were in Lisbon. Yes, we had had a few thoughts about where we wanted to go, but nothing had been set in stone as to what to do on any particular day.

Our first problem came within a few metres of Lisbon Dreams. As the temperatures were high and we’d already slathered Nivea Factor 50 suncream over any exposed skin (the rest was covered by SPF protective clothing) to combat the sun and the high UV levels, we decided to get a couple of bottles of water to stash in our day bags.

Problem was a) we’d forgotten how cheap bottled water was in Portugal and b) we’d put all of our loose change into the tips bowl at Terra on Sunday night, leaving us with €10 notes as the smallest type of local currency in our respective travel wallets or pockets.

Big mistake as we were to find out for the first time on that not so manic Monday. We were armed with two bottles of water and a €10 note at a mini market check-out early in the morning and faced with an operator who didn’t speak much English who had very little loose change in his till. He made it, but it wasn’t an easy task.

As we wandered into Lisbon city centre on what was to become a familiar route, we noticed a couple of things. There were more armed police around than there were during our last visit and they appeared to be stationed outside banks and high end jewellery shops or on street corners near such establishments.

The other was that there appeared to be a protest of sorts happening as signs and small crosses were placed on the pavement outside one of the larger bank branches.

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As we found out later, there had been a banking crisis in Portugal that we didn’t know about and the crosses and signs alleged more than we could gather from a short conversation later in the day.

Once in the city centre around Rossio Station, a decision was made to head down to Praca do Municipo for a coffee at Cafe Tulipa, a favourite haunt on our last visit to Lisbon. We’d visited the square before Michael Portillo (on one of his Continental Railway Journeys), but noticed that a set of alien-like sculptures had landed since our visit in September 2013…

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Where’s the packet of Smash? (an old joke relating to an old UK advert)

Once refreshed, it was time to revisit a surprisingly empty Praca do Comercio. Segways came and left and we decided to take a wander around an area we’d missed out on during our first visit – Alafama. Now you can head up the easy way on Tram 28, but we took the hard way by using our feet.

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Caroline took in the Se (pictured above) as we headed towards Alafama and then Castelo de Sao Jorge. The streets, gardens and rooftop views along the way had us stopping to take photo after photo and also sidestepping various street hawkers with hands full of sunglasses or selfie sticks.

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As it was lunchtime as we approached Castelo de Sao Jorge, we decided to have lunch as the castle appeared to be getting rather busy. Now we’re used to having curry dishes as we live in Yorkshire, but this was the first time that we’d had curry dishes for a lunchtime meal.

Arco do Castelo turned up trumps, even though their dishes were a few degrees milder than the curries we’re used to around home. What did impress us was that quality of their freshly cooked naan breads – probably the best naan breads that we’ve ever tasted in any of our visits into curry houses in Yorkshire, Tyne & Wear, Durham and Somerset.

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And so to Castelo de Sao Jorge (above). We paid, we wandered and wondered why there were so many young people in there wearing Minions t-shirts. It turned out that it was all part of an international summer school outing and the best way for those in charge to keep tabs on their charges was to look for those Minions t-shirts.

With the heat kind of getting to me, Caroline wandered around more than I did as I found some shade, drank some water and then tried finding an ice cream. I found one, but I didn’t expect such a palaver surrounding the purchase of just one Cornetto.

Yes, the curse of no change struck again, even though I’d tendered a €5 note this time!

One of the reasons why we like Lisbon is that it’s a relaxed and laid back capital city. There’s no rushing around like ants as there is in London for instance. Although it was now mid-afternoon, there was still plenty to see and do in a quietly relaxed manner.

Museu de Design e da Moda (Museum of Design and Fashion) is set in a former bank, is free to visit and plays host to loads of design classics of all kinds and has guest exhibitions down in the former bank vaults too.

After that, it was time to head back to Praca do Comercio and down to the edge of Rio Tejo to board a sightseeing boat as a means of getting a different view of some of the place we’d by now decided to visit the next day – Belem.

It was cooler too as we were under the shelter at the stern of the boat and the breeze on the river was a welcome relief from the heat we’d encountered so far. We did’t hear too much of the commentary coming from the speakers, but that wasn’t important as we used our eyes to view and made sparing use of our cameras.

The images captured on memory cards were of those sights that we were to see the following day, but the shots were taken from a totally different perspective and that alone made the river trip worth it…

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Once back on dry land, we headed back to Lisbon Dreams for a late siesta, shower and a wander out for an evening meal. We’ve eaten out at cinema cafes before, but The 39 Steps cafe bar at Cinemateca Portuguesa is probably one of the best we’ve eaten in.

The cinema itself had shown one of our favourite films a few days before – Casablanca – as part of a Bergman retrospective, but The 39 Steps was worth the visit on its own terms. Mains, desserts, fruit juice, beer and coffee went down well, so much so that we decided to visit the same venue again later in the week.

Tuesday was a one stop day – Belem. Tram 15 to Belem was crowded, so much so that both of us paid close attention to bags and wallets, especially after the pickpocketing warnings. First up was the Centro Cultural de Belem and the Berarado Collection contained within the Centro Cultural.

Whilst I visited the former and had lunch too, I gave the latter a miss thanks to the officious staff member who wanted to take my day bag off me. Caroline wandered in whilst I read a book on my Kindle and watched as several people wandered into the Collection with bags that were much larger than mine and infinitely more capable of hiding any potentially stolen pieces of artwork.

There had been mention made of depositing bags at reception, but it was near the ceiling on a left hand side wall near the entrance rather than being on a graphic as one entered the reception area!

The three other places to go in Belem are the Padro dos Discobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) as seen above in the top photo of the two just above this piece of copy and Torre de Belem.

As we were there after lunch, both places were very busy with tourists wanting to see the view from the top of each site or to take both proper shots or selfies with their phones. The lesson learned? Get there early before the tour buses or crowded trams as a means of getting the place almost to yourself – that’s what we’ll be doing on our next visit!

And the third place in Belem? Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, a consumer temple to pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and their customary dusting of cinnamon.

They’re great with coffee, but one each just isn’t enough. Yes, you can get them over the summer in the Co-op here in the UK, but they’re not quite the same as those from Belem, even when you do the cinnamon sprinkling thing…

After catching Tram 15 back to Lisbon, a decision was made to eat early, so we went in search of a budgetary gem –  full-on chicken dinner at Bon Jardim, Rei dos Frangos in Rua Barros Querios near Rossio Station.

The establishment runs from three sites in the same street and there’s chicken, fries and salad galore plus a host of other choices too. There may have been three crabs in the tank inside the restaurant window when we arrived, but there were still three when we left after generous portions of piri piri chicken and one or two beers too.

A long post this one, but tomorrow’s about gardens & galleries in Lisbon plus a return visit to Sintra.

One year – June 2015

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Deepdale Backpackers, Burnham Deepdale, North Norfolk

There are times when we just pack a bag and head off at short notice for a few days r & r to a place where there’s almost no mobile phone reception.

Which is exactly what we did in early June last year. Caroline had a few days between shifts and once a couple of things were rearranged, we headed pointed the car towards one of our favourite haunts – North Norfolk.

Our place of choice on all bar one of our visits to the area has been Deepdale Backpackers, a hostel with both dorms and en-suites plus a campsite, tipis, yurts and shepherd’s huts. There’s a supermarket and petrol station next door, a cafe, a few retail outlets and a couple of decent pubs in walking distance.

Holkham Hall is just down the road, as is Holkham Beach (as seen at the end of Shakespeare in Love) along with Burnham Market (if you can find a parking space and successfully negotiate other road users who make you remember a memorable Bruce Willis line from Die Hard (“Who’s driving this car? Stevie Wonder?”).

National Trust has several properties in the area and whilst we’ve been to Fellbrigg Hall and Blickling Estate before, Oxburgh Hall was a new one on us and visited as we’d just renewed our National Trust membership just before our visit.

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Oxburgh Hall near Swaffham – a National Trust property

Also in the area is Holt. Bakers and Larners department store. It’s always worth a visit as it has a food hall that caters for all tastes, especially if you’re a foodie.

We’re not, but we can usually find something in the food hall for a snack, evening meal or a top up on sweet stuff such as nougat or Turkish Delight.

The kitchen department has also had some trade from us too as we had some difficulty a couple of years ago in finding decent potato peelers.

Did we stock up on three of these? Yes, even though they were flagged up as Lancashire Potato Peelers (we’re from Yorkshire!).

On the outskirts of Holt is one of the end stations on North Norfolk Railway, the other being Sheringham on the coast. Steam and classic diesel trains run between the two, giving passengers a hint at what rail travel used to be like before before Beeching’s axe fell on so many rail lines around the UK.

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The beach at Sheringham, plus granite blocks to prevent erosion..

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Guess why there’s rope near the slipway in Sheringham

Sheringham is another place we try to visit when we’re down there, either to wander along the promenade or do the odd bit of shopping for bags of fudge at the RNLI shop in the town.

Thankfully this was a sunny day so we could wander around without wearing two down garments (one down jacket, one down vest) each or ponder what steps to take when we spotted the Amy Bomb Disposal Team taping off the beach (the answer to the steps question was easy – bloody big ones!).

Yes, both of these had happened during a past visit – on the same day!

Caroline also likes to get out and do some cycling when we’re in North Norfolk, either on her own charger or on a hire bike. Coffee stop is usually at Holkham Hall or Wells-Next-The-Sea and lunch is wherever we find that’s worth stopping off at.

On this occasion it was a pub we’d driven past, but had never visited. It was pleasant enough place, but there were a couple of perceived problems with my meal…

When did it become almost compulsory to serve decent burgers in Brioche Buns? And when it did it become almost compulsory to slather salad with a salad dressing?

After this experience, it’s now compulsory for ask for a standard bun on a decent burger and for any salad to not be coated in salad dressing. Any that don’t comply get sent back, no messing!

Just don’t get me started on places serving roast beef or lamb which is pink, bloody or both. You wouldn’t like it when I’m angry!

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Wells-Next-The-Sea

Next stop? Liverpool John Lennon Airport & Lisbon!

http://www.deepdalebackpackers.co.uk

http://www.bakersandlarners.co.uk

http://www.nnrailway.co.uk

One year – May 2015 III

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Glastonbury – before the festival crowds arrive…

As we were in Somerset, we deemed it appropriate that we should visit Glastonbury to see what all the fuss was about. The town, not the festival as that had sold out months ago.

With Caroline heading off on Betty Bike, I pointed the car in the right direction to ensure that the Skoda version of Thunderbird 2 could be used for a rescue job if my mobile rang.

Caroline and I are used to heading into towns with reputations as being favourable with those seeking alternative lifestyles. We’ve visited Totness in Devon and we could see where people were coming from when they argued that Totness had been twinned with Narnia.

Closer to home though is Hebden Bridge, a town with several strings to its bow, although most will normally associate the town with the damage caused to shops, housing and infrastructure by flooding in recent years.

Getting to Glastonbury was easy, but it was interesting to note that several big name outlets are clustered together in a development on the edge of the town, leaving the centre almost free from the usual suspects found on the average UK high street.

Caroline and I had reached Glastonbury at virtually the same time, but we’d parked up about half a mile apart so it was I that had the first stroll around the streets as a means of getting our bearings.

Gift shops were tasteful, New Age shops interesting and cafes were spot on with coffee and food that didn’t rely on the meat factor. Our wander around took us into a well-stocked green supermarket with good lines in food, alternative cleaning products, competitively priced tea tree & lavender oils and a fine selection of chocolate and snacks.

One toy shop had a sale – for the gold/black/sparkly dragon that now sits on the top of the bookshelf in the lounge and The Lazy Gecko Cafe came up with a fine line in non-alcholic drinks, food and coffee plus a small piece of artwork for display on the landing at home.

Now we were aware of the Glastonbury associations with hippies and a few of the cafe’s clientele appeared to back that up. So much so that we reckoned that they were original models who had found their niche back in the day and had stayed there!

Another customer though was of a more recent time – a former MP who made a name for himself whilst in Westminster. He’s not been seen or heard of for a while, but somehow I guess that he will be back in the limelight eventually. The name? That would be telling!

Once the lazy Lazy Gecko lunch was out of the way, Caroline wandered around Glastonbury Abbey whilst I hit the shop (no purchases made) and took in some more of the book I was reading on my Kindle.

Once back, Caroline took to the saddley thing once more and we both headed back to Dragonfly for coffee, showers, food and sleep – in that order. Although we had both come to the conclusion that Glastonbury was like Hebden Bridge on steroids!

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The Haynes Motor Museum near Brookhampton

Friday was a lazy day as we knew that we had an early exit and a long drive on Saturday. I’d been keen to visit The Haynes Motor Museum on our previous visit to the area, but it wasn’t to be as we ran out of time and some development work was taking place at the museum.

It’s big, it’s well stocked and the cars on display are kept in immaculate condition. It’s like a history of motoring in there with classic cars from well before I was even born to more modern cars that I either recognised from fleeting glances as they passed my dad’s car on the motorway or from photos in papers or magazines in my schooldays.

Although I’ve had cars such as the Mini, VW Golf Mk 1, Ford Fiesta and others, it was more exotic machinery that caught my eye – the Jensen Interceptor, Aston Martin Lagonda plus cars by Alfa-Romeo, Lotus, M.G. and others.

Schoolboy dreams of owning at least one of the above – the Jensen Interceptor – never materialised, but hey, was it wrong to dream? Forty years later, I’ve learned that practicality in a car is worth a lot more than the potential to pose and pose and pose…

A good museum is always worth a visit (if only to revisit Amnesia Alley) and there’s a fine and reasonably priced cafe plus a gift shop to appeal to petrolheads and those of a more sensible nature.

By Saturday morning, home was beckoning and more travel plans were formulated and distilled as we made our way back up to Yorkshire

The first two destinations will be highlighted on here next week!