Laxey Wheel – just one of many great sights on the Isle of Man
Yes, I know that it’s quite a while since Caroline and I visited Isle of Man, but there’s been quite a few adverts and programmes on television over the last couple of weeks here in the UK highlighting the island and its many charms.
As well as coverage of the iconic TT Races over the last fortnight – the build-up, the classic races of recent and not-so-recent years, profiles of current riders and legends such as Carl Fogarty and Steve Hislop, there’s been segments shot on the island in programmes fronted by bike nut Henry Cole – Find It, Fix It, Drive It on More 4 and The Motorbike Show on ITV4.
It’s been a while since I last rode a motorbike (1975 to be exact, around the back lanes near Glenridding in the Lake District), but I suspect that now would not be a good time to give it another go thanks to some small balance problems after having that stroke in 2004…
Our journey to Isle of Man started with a train ride to Liverpool and a wander down to the Hampton By Hilton hotel once we arrived. After checking in, we headed out to explore the area surrounding the hotel.
There had been a small festival taking place on that Sunday, but it was winding down as it was nearing 6pm, so we contented ourselves by just strolling around and seeing what was out there. As we’d not had lunch we were on a mission as we were beginning to feel the need – the need to feed!
The pub we’d spotted earlier in the day had already stopped serving food, so a nearby group of restaurants looked very, very tempting. Yes, they were chains, but by that time we were passed caring…
No tables were available at our preferred choice, so we ended up going to another pizza place a few metres away. Calamari was tried for the first time, but after polishing off the bowl, Caroline and I came to the same conclusion – what was all the fuss about?
Our respective pasta and pizza courses were more impressive, as were the desserts and the coffee that rounded the meal off. Yes, it was a budget busting bill, but hey, we were hungry and that’s all that counted at the time we ordered the food, wine and beer.
After a good night’s sleep, breakfast really set us up for the day, but not in the way we expected. Yes, Caroline went for the light option and I opted for the full English, but we ended up making different coffee choices.
I’m not a fan of machine coffee, but I tried a black coffee with some cold milk and it didn’t impress. The next cup though did hit the spot, largely because I hit the Espresso button three times before adding a smidgen of milk. Not perfection, but a distinct improvement on that first cup!
As we were getting ready to head back upstairs for our bags before checking out, one of the restaurant staff invited us to help ourselves to croissants to take away with us. Whilst we grasped a couple each for lunch, the lady offered us a couple of paper bags and napkins to stash the croissants in.
So there is something to the concept of getting a free lunch!
Once we’d retrieved our bags and checked out, it was time to head towards the sea cat Manannan for our shortish hop across the Irish Sea.
One of the first things we noticed after landing at Douglas was the friendliness on Isle Of Man, starting at the aptly named Welcome Centre when we sought and bought our travel and heritage smart cards.
This friendliness continued as people stopped to ask whether they could help us as we made our way to our hotel, searched for eating places and started to use those smart cards. It was our own politeness though that bagged us the last two seats on the Manx Electric Railway between Douglas and Laxey the following morning.
We’d normally leave such an impressive sight such as Laxey Wheel until near the end of our trip, but we had seen the ten day weather forecast for the island and it did not look good. So Laxey it was for the first part of the day out and the summit of Snaefell the rest.
Caroline had seen Laxey Wheel before on a previous visit to the island thirty years before our visit, but I’d only seen it on Coast, World’s Greatest Motorcycle Rides (that man Henry Cole again…) or in photographs.
Once seen, Caroline’s insistence we head there was fully justified.
You can see the wheel just from the entrance gate and there were many people who did just that, but got not further than the gate. Once inside the gate, you get the feeling for the scale of the wheel known as Lady Isabella and for the site beyond the impressive water feature.
After a coffee in a nearby cafe and lunch in the Laxey station cafe, the next phase of the day kicked in – a ride to the summit of Snaefell and back on the Snaefell Mountain Railway via The Bungalow, just one of the many notable places on the TT Mountain Course.
Walking around on the summit brought some impressive views as were luckier with the weather than Julia Bradbury and a film crew had been whilst filming a programme segment on Snaefell for ITV.
We had been lucky with the weather, but had come prepared with mountain jackets in our day sacks and by wearing fleeces and walking trousers rather than the t-shirts and shorts favoured by some fellow explorers.
We weren’t that lucky the following day though when we visited Peel – those waterproofs did come out of the packs. Caroline made good use of the heritage aspect of those smart cards whilst I hit the motorcycle museum, had a kipper bap for lunch and sheltered in cafes so I could rest my left leg that was complaining after being cramped on the trams the previous day.
Thursday’s visit to Port Erin on the steam railway was a delight. Fine weather, a good lunch next to the beach and plenty of fresh air made the day, which was just as well as the weather closed in for the rest of the week.
We did make it to Castletown and Ramsey, but the rain gods had the final word on those days. Saving grace? Crossing the TT finishing line – on a service bus to Douglas rather than on a high powered motorcycle!
This is just a taster about Isle Of Man. There will be more over the next couple of weeks when I have days off. We will be returning to Isle Of Man, but in the summer months and we will take the car so we can do the whole of the Mountain Course and explore the parts we didn’t get to…
It won’t be over the TT weeks or when there’s other racing taking place. These will be watched at home if for no other reason than we’ve seen what the hotel rates are for those particular times when fans head to Isle Of Man to watch the racing and their heroes at play…
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.
Still prefer the original format rather than the new programmes or Coast Australia. Coast 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.
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.
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.
Tractor on a very sunny day
Northumberland is a place that Caroline and I keep returning to.
We’ve spent weeks up there before and made fleeting unsuccessful visits to try and see those pesky Northern Lights too.
This time was a little different though as we were staying about a mile away from each other – Caroline in a caravan with her son, daughter, son-in-law and her two grandsons while I was occupying a bunk in Calico Barn, an independent hostel a smidgen nearer the Northumberland coast.
The original plan was for Caroline to head up there on her own to spend time with her family whilst I stayed home to sort out some bits and pieces. That plan was soon ditched when Caroline tried to book herself and her bike onto the trains needed to get her there and back again.
Booking the tickets for herself was easy, but for the bike? Er, no…
A phone call was made to the railway company to find out what the actual procedure was. Despite Caroline specifying a very Yorkshire point of departure, the chap on the other end of the line insisted that she had to get the train from there and then change at Vauxhall Bridge station.
When she pointed out that she was departing from Yorkshire and that Vauxhall Bridge is in London, the guy didn’t budge, so she thanked him politely, put the phone down, saw my face and we both burst into fits of laughter at the same time.
Which is why I was in Northumberland. Plan B was for me to take Caroline up to Cresswell, head back home and then go back for her.
We then went for Plan C – I would take her up there, find somewhere to stay, do the stuff I needed to do and then pick her up and head home…
Our paths did cross a couple of times during the week. I spent most mornings doing what I had to do in the way of paperwork and research using books and iPad and then headed off with my camera to explore and take some shots along the way.
The first foray out saw me trying to get into and park up in Amble – no chance as it was half term with fine weather and the car parks were full.
So I headed up to Alnmouth instead. Now I’ve been heading going up to Alnmouth for over forty years and know my way around the place well. Or so I thought, because someone, somewhere has decided to implement a one way system around the village.
With no parking there either, I headed off in the direction of Seahouses and Bamburgh. As I was about to head towards North Sunderland, I spotted familiar figures on bikes heading in a different direction.
Caroline and Luke were also heading to Seahouses to meet up with the other family members who were using Mazda power rather than bikes. After a quick chat, Caroline and Luke headed off one way and me in another.
Seahouses was packed, so I wasn’t even going to try and find a parking space. Bamburgh beckoned and as I headed up to where I thought I could get parked, Caroline and Luke came down the road I was heading up…
Parking turned out to be dead easy as it was on the road near the hotel Caroline and I had used on our last visit to the village. And it was free too, handy as it was lunchtime and I was getting hungry.
Pub and hotel food in Bamburgh is rather good, but that wasn’t the food I was looking for. A couple of Scotch pies hit the spot, as did an unexpected find – pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) – and good ones too!
With most of the village taken up by fellow day trippers, there was a place to go in one of the quieter parts of Bambugh. The Grace Darling Museum, which has a very good RNLI shop on the ground floor level.
The RNLI’s 2018 diary wasn’t available as it was still May, but five bags of the RNLI fudge did leap off the display and were duly purchased. It’s good stuff, but it gets rationed now to having a few pieces at a time rather than downing a whole bag in one go (been there, done that!).
Once back in the car, there was more food shopping to be done, but of the supermarket kind as I needed to get some milk, bread, butter and something to go with rice for an evening meal.
Our weekend in Aylesbury wasn’t planned – the phone rang at 8am and we were on the road just after 10.30am.
We’d got up, had breakfast, found a hotel for three nights on booking.com, got the route cards off the AA’s Classic Route Planner, packed, filled the petrol tank and hit the road.
Yes, it was a last minute thing, but when emergencies come along, you just have to do it, no matter what was already planned.
We’d booked into a Holiday Inn, so there were some things we didn’t take (big bottles of shower gel, towels, coffee press, ground coffee etc), but clothes were packed along with wash kits, footwear and Kindles/iPads with the Kindle app and that was about it.
Although it was a Friday morning, the motorways weren’t busy and neither were those roads leading to the hotel. A stop at a motorway services saw lunch bought and demolished thanks to M&S and we were on our way again.
The Holiday Inn at Aylesbury is an out of towner, but easily found. Check in wasn’t problematical and we found our room in a quiet part of the hotel.
Caroline did freshen up before organising a taxi to where she was off too. I crashed out for a while, did some reading and then thought that it could be a good idea to find some food.
Although we had a B&B deal at Holiday Inn, the dining prices put me off, so I got in the car and headed into the town centre. I found Tesco, but their cafe had closed, so a pack of sparkling water was bought and I moved on.
Yes, I did get fed up with driving around, but after drawing a blank, I started looking for the nearest takeaway. One was spotted, but there was no parking place outside, so I ended up driving on and found an inn further up the road.
The name sounded familiar and it didn’t take long to realised why. It was one of the places that I’d spotted and discounted on booking,com as it was too far out of Aylesbury.
The decor was also rather familiar, but the reason for that was because it was part of the same small chain as the pub Caroline and I frequent which does good food and is a short walk away from wisepacking towers…
No drinks for me as I was driving, but water went well with the pretty good pizza that made its way to the table at The Five Bells in Weston Turville. I decided against a dessert, but made a mental note to head back there on Saturday night.
With Caroline and I getting back to the hotel within a few minutes of each other, we had a catch up session and decided to have an early night, a wise move considering the day we’d had…
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…
Another day, another queue!
It did fill up, honest!
No, not a queue, just a party heading for the gardens
One of many vistas in those gardens
Columbus, Fernando and Isabel. Fernando wasn’t hearing the drums…
More of the gardens.
After finding our way around Cordoba without an Apple Map on Saturday night, we had a fair idea of where we were going on Sunday morning.
The breakfast at Hotel Serrano was OK, but the coffee and non-serrano ham left a bit to be desired.
Something Caroline noticed though was a couple of blokes adding four sugar sachets to their glasses of orange juice. Yes, we like sweets and chocolate, but neither of us have taken sugar in tea or coffee for years (it’s over forty since I last put sugar in tea or coffee).
I can still remember my reaction when I’d been given the wrong cup of tea at work a few years ago (Hi Carole!) and a cup of sugared Nescafe in Cyprus ten years ago, so putting sugar in orange juice was definitely a no-no!
Anyway, the coffee in the hotel ensured that we had a cafe stop on our way to the historic part of Cordoba. Mezquita was open for services on a Sunday morning, so we decided to head there in the afternoon once we’d been to Cordoba’s Alcazar and had lunch.
Yes there was a queue to get into Alcazar de los Reynes Cristianos (to give it its full name) and guess who was in that queue? The couple who had been decidedly frosty in the restaurant we’d eaten in on Saturday night…
Although there were rooms to see in Fortress of Christian Monarchs, the main attractions on this bright and sunny day were the gardens.
Which were busy as families were out to celebrate Father’s Day.
Once away from the entrance to the garden complex, there were ample opportunities to just wander around and admire the gardens, fountains, flowers, shaped trees and what looked like giant stone chess pieces placed on top of plinths. They were in fact depicting the Spanish Royals meeting Christopher Columbus at the Fortress back in 1486.
Our wanderings were tempered by a few opportunities to sit down, top up the fluid levels from our water bottles and top up the sun protection from pocket packs of Nivea SPF 30 sun cream.
After a while though, our thoughts turned to Sunday lunch. No, not roast and veg style, just something more in keeping with the surroundings.
The Father’s Day crowds ensured that most places were full – even Burger King. A short beer stop quenched the thirst and we headed off and found a place that looked inviting and had plenty of covered seating.
We sat down at one table and were promptly moved to another. Choices were made from the menu, but a brusque waiter made it plain that we couldn’t have tapas, so I made do with a bowl of gazpacho soup and pondered the word on the wall outside the restaurant’s front entrance.
With food and drinks consumed, we asked for the bill. The requested bottle of water hadn’t turned up and wasn’t on the bill, but the unasked for (and not consumed) bread basket was.
Given the brusqueness of the waiter, I ended up querying the bill with just one word using the inflection of Manuel from Fawlty Towers…
I reverted to English to explain that we hadn’t ordered or eaten any bread, so the waitress went inside and brought us a new bill that was bread-free and a few € less than the original.
As Mezquita didn’t open until 3pm on a Sunday, we still had plenty of time to wander around some more, so a beer break was called and followed by an ice cream break. With the electronic ticket machines labelled as being out of action, we had to join the queue to get tickets. Once bought, the law of sod was invoked once more as guess what happened?
Those out of action labels were taken off those ticket machines…
As we made our way to the entrance queue proper, we did notice an interesting example of Girl Power as a couple of armed police officers were stationed nearby.
And it wasn’t the bloke who was toting the machine gun…
After one last tapas meal at The Seven Bull’s Heads
Queuing for the Alcazar? That was so yesterday!
Time for breakfast…
We’ll be back…
Seville’s bullring – we gave it a miss
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…