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Top 10… travel hates!

Accomodation

Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. have been to a few places that were rated by guidebooks or websites that were not as good as described.

Now tend to lump descriptions such asArt Deco’, ‘Cosy’ and ‘Quaint’ into other categories – In need of renovation’ or ‘Requires redecoration’.

Chuggers, lavender/selfie stick/sunglasses sellers, timeshare touts 

Usually have an avoidance mechanism that’s more nimble than a rugby player heading for the touchline in order to score a try.

Always amuses me when sunglasses sellers approach those already wearing sunglasses – either specs that have Transitions lenses (i.e. mine) or those wearing Ray Bans

Coffee

How hard is it for accomodation to provide good coffee at breakfast time?

We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve had bad coffee at guest houses, hostels and hotels – even at U.S. based name chain hotels or five stars!

Mind you, a few cafes that have had business from us following bad coffee mornings, usually just after we’ve left our accommodation.

Duff information

Or when guidebooks get it wrong. We’d checked two guidebooks about the opening times  for a leading museum earlier in the year and both said that it was closed on a Monday.

It wasn’t, as we found out when we walked past it and found an open door and a full set of opening times that looked like it had been there for a while…

Fast track

We’ve found that this usually means you go a shorter way around into security to find that there’s a long queue at security because other passengers haven’t bothered to read the does and don’ts of what they can or can’t take in their hand luggage.

Note to self – stop booking Fast Track and use the money to get a coffee or a meal deal at either WH Smith or Boots when airside and in need of something to eat that doesn’t cost the earth at airport bars/cafes/restaurants or cost twice as much as it does on the plane.

Officialdom

Yes, it’s those jobsworths who are determined to put a spanner in the works when it comes to shopping, visiting a museum or wanting to put your bags in left luggage lockers.

Step forward that supermarket in Paphos and the museum in Belem who wanted me to deposit my day bag and the bloke who didn’t know what had happened to the luggage lockers, even when we were at the office that a sign on the wall had pointed us to!

Phone users

Yes, those irritating people who walk along the street glued to their phones who are oblivious to everything else that’s going on around them.

Blocking the pavement or other walkway is one irritation, trying to sent a text whilst pulling a wheelie bag along is another and then there’s those who insist on taking selfies or photograph their food before eating it.

One phone user did come unstuck earlier in the year whilst visiting the Alhambra in Granada. She was so intent on taking a photo whilst walking forward that she didn’t notice the step down.

Cue scream and a badly damaged/potentially broken ankle… Ouch!

Rain

It rained four days out of seven whilst on Isle of Man last week.

We’d gone prepared as we’d taken decent rain jackets, but it did put a dampener on proceedings. Had the same problem in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Portugal and Spain too!

Restaurant rip offs

Step forward the place in Cordoba that tried to charge us for bread, even though we hadn’t asked for a bread basket and hadn’t eaten anything from it.

Same place claimed that they weren’t doing tapas, even though there was a rather well done set of tiles outside with the word tapas at the centre.

Restaurant or tour touts

Those who try standing in front of you as a means of getting you into their cafe, restaurant or onto a tuk-tuk.

Answer is always ‘No’ and if they don’t take the hint then it’s ‘No, no, no, no, no and no!’.

Which really brassed off one bloke in Malaga in March this year.

We walked passed that establishment later on and there weren’t many in it.

Wonder why?

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Top 10… albums for the car

Abba Gold

One of the most successful acts of all time and this CD/DVD collection has all of the hits that you either heard at the time or reminded of the last time you watched Mamma Mia the movie or had a night at the stage show…

Dark Side Of The Moon – Pink Floyd

One of the best selling albums of all time that still sounds innovative more than forty years after it was first released.

One suspects that there’s a few successful albums from the last decade that won’t be held in such high regard in forty years time!

Hits Collection – Dusty Springfield

There’s a documentary that keeps reappearing on BBC4 that tells the story of Dusty Springfield and it makes for interesting viewing.

Almost all of Dusty’s hits are on this CD (the ones with Pet Shop Boys are missing), but it makes for a fine reminder of a singer that didn’t need Autotune or other modern recording techniques to commit a great song to analogue tape.

Hotel California – The Eagles

Yes, it’s that 1970’s classic album – the one you either like or hate (one of my University house mates hated it with a vengeance).

Can go a couple of years without playing it and then put it in the CD player and sing along with it all over again.

Live And Dangerous – Thin Lizzy

Thin Lizzy in fine fettle a few years before I blagged my way in to photograph the band.

I have both the CD and DVD versions of this album and it’s interesting to hear the stories regarding the finished album that are related by band members in interviews on the DVD.

No Sleep ‘Till Hamersmith – Motorhead

One of heavy metal’s heaviest bands caught live with the bomber lighting rig on the cover and their best tracks on the CD.

We Are The Road Crew was recorded at Newcastle City Hall – I know, because I was there!

I also know what the dedication was for the song No Class on that night….

Real To Real – Marillion

This is the Fish era live album from the 1980’s that sounds good thirty years on from its original release.

Garden Party and Market Square Heroes still hit the spot, especially when the car stereo is turned up to eleven!

The Essential Nina Simone

Name checked at least once in an episode of CSI Vegas and featured and mentioned in the Bridget Fonda film The Assassin, Nina Simone has one of those voices that pre-dated modern recording techniques.

The Collection is a three CD box set that mixes studio and live recordings that showcase one of the best singing voices of all time.

Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors – Fish

This was the former Marillion singer’s first solo album and I’d still rate it as his best so far.

All of the songs were heard first live in a mix of club, town hall, village halls and small cinemas in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland a couple of weeks before Vigil was released and there’s still memories of that rather hectic week lingering years later.

(What’s The Story) Morning Glory – Oasis

One of the few albums that really caught my attention when I was a student writing for a student newspaper back in the mid-1990s.

Others may disagree, but it is still Oasis’ finest album to date…

Top 10… Travel TV programmes

America Unchained

Dave Gorman and companions buy a car and all go to look for America.

Around The World In Eighty Days

Michael Palin may not have been the first choice to present this, but it works and is still an enjoyable series to watch so many years later.

Coast

Still prefer the original format rather than the new programmes or Coast AustraliaCoast New Zealand due soon apparently.

Francesco’s Mediterranean Voyage

Francesco Da Mosto sailing around to visit Croatia, Greece and Turkey.

The Hairy Bikers

Baking, cooking and motorcycles in the UK, Europe and elsewhere too.

Inspector Montalbano

Sicily looking good in the Young/Classic versions of the detective series…

Italy From Top To Toe

Francesco da Mosto leaves Venice behind and drives in search of Italy.

Rick Stein’s Weekend In…

Rick’s an affable host as he hits Lisbon or Cadiz and more before recreating dishes in his kitchen. I usually make a cup of tea when he’s cooking seafood.

Time Team

An unusual choice? Think about where they’ve been and what they’ve seen along the way as they dig up the countryside, islands and city spaces.

World’s Greatest Motorcycle Rides

Henry Cole explores the world on a variety of classic motorbikes.

Ryanair make changes

The BBC have just posted this news item on their website concerning Ryanair making changes to their hand luggage and hold luggage policies.

Should be interesting to see how this pans out when implemented in the not-too-distant future.

That link…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41171871

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…

Spainpacking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malaga and home…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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