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…
A very fine day on Isle of Man, but we were heading home!
The packing for our visit to Isle of Man was definitely a last minute affair.
I’d been tracking the 10 day forecast for Douglas and surrounding area for a week or so and as the departure date loomed, so did the prospect of rain (and plenty of it!).
Things did look good for the first three days of the nine day break, so we had to balance the packing between clothes for sunny days, clothes for overcast days and clothes for days when there was the potential for heavy rain.
We’d also caught the tail end of a TV programme about walking on Isle of Man and had seen Julia Bradbury sheltering besides the trig point on the summit of Snaefell and trying to do a piece to camera about the weather conditions being experienced.
Words weren’t actually needed, because the visuals provided enough evidence of what she and the television crew were experiencing!
Now this wouldn’t have been a problem if we were pointing the car towards Liverpool or Heysham to catch the ferry to Douglas, but we weren’t.
We’d booked rail tickets to Liverpool, seats on the Manannan sea cat to Douglas and were then heading around the island using a mix of a five day Heritage Travel Card and feet.
We were also using a hotel/guest house mix of accommodation and were eating out rather than using hostels and self catering facilities, so there was a need to take some smarter clothes as well of those that could be used as a layering system during the more inclement weather conditions.
There was also one more thing to consider – after reading up on the reviews of the guest house we were using as our base in Douglas, the potential for washing and wearing was going to be restricted to undies rather than shirts, t-shirts or fleeces.
The main bags were our usual weapons of choice – 2013 vintage Osprey Farpoint 40 travel packs, but as these were packed to capacity, second bags were brought into play.
In Caroline’s case the second bag was her handbag for the trip, a brightly coloured small size Healthy Back Bag. In my case, it was my Rohan Stowaway 20, a packable day sack that normally is packed into the Osprey and brought into play as and when it’s needed.
We did get creative with our choice of clothing and footwear for the trip and whilst we would have busted any size and weight restrictions on a budget airline for instance, we took a good look at our travel and outdoor clothing and kit and put together a mix that covered all eventualities.
Both my jacket and my windproof fleece gilet came from The North Face. The jacket is a longer length HyVent waterproof one with a hood that goes into the collar, has pit zips for ventilation and the kind of pockets that will take guidebooks, bus timetables, camera, iPad Mini and my reading specs too.
The gilet is a ten year old TNF Windwall with a chest pocket for the phone and handwarmer pockets that will take the camera and specs case.
Tops came from a couple of sources. Crew neck fleeces and zip necks came from Rohan, as did a couple of Core Silver t-shirts, Stratum long sleeved polo shirts and a couple of merino wool based t-shirts.
These, coupled with a Peter Storm merino wool long sleeved zip neck formed the basis of the layering system employed on the trip to combat the expected bad weather.
A Rohan Stronghold shirt also came into play as a wind shirt and a secure place for my passport that may have been required for ID purposes.
Two out of the four pairs of trousers were the usual suspects – Rohan Goas – and these were complemented by a couple of pairs of Craghoppers Kiwi style cargo pants.
Socks and underwear were largely Rohan, but sock choices also included a couple of pairs of M&S trainer socks with a silver content and a couple of pairs of Bridgedale Light Hikers for the days when boots were needed rather than trainers.
And footwear? One pair of Merrell Mesa Ventilator shoes were packed whilst a five year old pair of Hi Tec casual/hiking boots were worn en-route and on various days out.
Whilst the mix of clothing and footwear was much more than I would normally pack for a week to ten days away, it worked and coped with all that was thrown at it – sunshine, wind, rain, squalls and downright filthy weather.
The wash kit and meds combo was the usual one with Lush shower gel, tea tree oil (good as a shaving oil IMHO), sample size toothpaste (courtesy of the help yourself boxes in my dentist’s) along with a disposable razor and my ViaSonic battery powered toothbrush.
With a Sanex roll-on anti-perspirant thrown in for good measure, all I needed to buy locally was a can of Lynx body spray and some baby wipes.
Not convinced about the need for the baby wipes? Trying eating a freshly cooked kipper bap from the kiosk down by the pier in Peel or a bacon buttie down by the beach in Port Erin and you will be convinced about how useful these things can be!
My main bag also had the paperwork – rail tickets, ferry tickets, hotel booking info, the paper only guidebook and travel insurance documents.
Why travel insurance documents for Isle of Man?
Although there’s an agreement regarding health care between the Isle of Man and mainland Britain, there’s no repatriation agreement between the two, so any repatriation after a medical emergency or an accident, has to be covered by travel insurance.
The other thing that needs to be taken into account is that the EHIC card isn’t valid on Isle of Man. Why? Because the Isle of Man isn’t in the EU…
But what about Caroline’s bag? By and large, the contents of her bag reflected my choices, even though we hadn’t really talked about what should be taken.
Her Nike Pac-Lite Gore-tex came into play along with her TNF Windwall jacket, a recently purchases lightweight Rohan hoodie, a zip neck fleece from the same brand and another zip neck fleece from Craghoppers.
A couple of Rohan Stria tops were also packed along with merino base layers, Ultra Silver camisoles, a few pairs of M&S socks,two pairs of Endura cycling socks, her Rohan Trailblazer trousers and a pair of their travel jeans. Footwear? Merrell trainers and two pairs of Ecco Biom shoes.
Did everything work? Yes, is the answer to that one.
We both had more clothing than we would normally have on a break when we’re not using the car to get around, but that was down to the potential weather conditions we were due to face. Out of the six full days we had on the island, only two were rain free.
Was everything used? Just about…
I had one t-shirt that wasn’t worn and a bit of washing to do once we got home, but that was a thankfully minimal task given the properties of the items taken with us and the decision to stick with a couple of colour pallets in the clothing choices.
We did forget one thing though. Weighing those bags!
April to August 2016, the places, the packing
April 2016 saw us hit Blackpool in a big way. Yes, it was just before the May Day Bank Holiday, but even so, one would have expected warmth and sunshine rather than the biting winds and rain we encountered.
We did find some warmth, but that happened as Status Quo kicked off what’s been touted as their last electric tour.
So, what did we take with us for the two days/one night?
In my case it was a ten litre bag that I picked up at Imperial College, London last year whilst Caroline had a fifteen litre Healthy Back Bag.
I had my TNF hooded soft shell and was wearing a TNF microfleece zip neck over a Rohan tech tee plus Peter Storm Soft Shell trousers and Salomon Gore-Tex lined approach shoes.
Inside the bag was a travel towel, basic wash kit, my meds, socks, underwear, Rohan merino wool mix t-shirt, Rohan Microgrid Stowaway zip neck fleece, Kindle and travel tickets plus the all important concert tickets…
Inside the soft shell pockets were a merino wool Edz beanie and the trusty Nikon Coolpix S3100 digital compact camera.
Caroline was similarly attired, only she’d chosen her TNF Windwall fleece jacket, her Berghaus PacLite jacket and Rohan jeans. She did however hit Primani for some leggings as she was feeling the cold and Millets didn’t have any base layer leggings left in stock.
Her bag also contained a Rohan Microgrid Stowaway zip neck – it’s not often that we wear almost matching tops, but as we both wore them for the pre-show meal and whilst waiting around in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, we didn’t much care about matching!
The mix proved to be ideal for the mooching around we did before heading to the B&B. The choice of t-shirts and fleeces for the walk back into town, our meal, the show and the walk back to the B&B was a similar success.
Friday saw more rain and we were pleased that we’d had good conversation with the B&B owners before grabbing our bags and checking out. It was cold, windy and miserable!
We sheltered for a while in the RNLI shop before braving the beach, but it didn’t take long for us to hit The Albert & Lion on the seafront for a coffee in this Wetherspoons pub.
The coffee prepared us for the walk along the prom and then back around town before we headed to Harry Ramsden’s for a fish & chip lunch. It’s not often that I have a beer with lunch, but I was pleased we were inside as some of those looked as if they’d arrived for the bank holiday weekend appeared to be underdressed and blooming freezing as they walked on by.
As we headed back to Blackpool North Station for our train, a strange apparition appeared in the sky. Yes, the sun had come out – too late for us, but right on time for the couple of hundred people we saw leaving the station in search of a Bank Holiday break.
Ten days later and we were in the car heading for a holiday of two halves.
There had been a tentative plan to try and get a week to ten days in somewhere like Rhodes or Zante for a relaxing break, but it didn’t happen, so we thought laterally and came up with a plan.
Yes, we have Internet access via desktop, tablet and Caroline’s smartphone, but the idea for the first part of our break came from a paperback book – The Independent Hostel Guide.
I’d spotted Dales Bike Centre at Fremlington near Reeth, made the call and booked ourselves in for four nights in a room at their hostel accommodation (there’s also a bike shop, bike hire and cafe on site – along with 24 hour cake supply via honesty box for those staying at the centre).
Swaledale was part of my old stamping ground as an instructor and whilst living in Darlington. Caroline knew it of old, but hadn’t been there for years.
As Caroline was taking her road bike with her to do some cycling, I was the Skoda driving equivalent of Thunderbird 2 – ready to offer assistance and with the hatchback available to be Pod 5… providing of course that both of us had a signal on our respective mobile phones.
Clothing choices for this trip were easy to sort out. The ten day forecast was set fair for both this and the next section, so in my case it was a mix of Rohan Core Silver t-shirts, Element t-shirts and the same company’s polo shirts to cover casual and smart casual situations. Trousers? Two pairs of 2015 Rohan Goas covered all eventualities.
The bag? The trusty Osprey Farpoint 40 that took all of the above plus jacket, camera, books, iPad, chargers and a bag of food too.
As Caroline was cycling, her clothing included Endura cycle pants, a Tenn cycle shirt plus a couple of Peter Storm pocketed tech t-shirts.
Tenn Ladies Sprint Short Sleeve Cycling Jersey
Rohan Essence t-shirts and vest tops plus her Rohan jeans were worn off the bike and a Rohan fleece cardigan came in useful on the nights we hit local pubs for a meal and a drop of Guinness for me and cider for Caroline.
Now I said that this trip was a break of two halves as we had a cunning plan.
It did get changed though as we had to head for home sooner than expected to sort out two tyres for the Skoda – one was punctured and replaced, but once we got to Kwik Fit, it became apparent that we needed two new tyres.
Our overnight at home had been planned as we’d already packed stuff for the next part of the trip. But it did give us a chance to have a curry and do some washing, safe in the knowledge that it would be dry in readiness for the next morning…
More on Friday!
Yes, this was the calm after the storm in Porto…
We’d got a good deal on our rail tickets from Lisbon to Porto by booking in advance on http://www.cp.pt, but that wasn’t the only deal we’d taken up.
The price quoted in Lonely Planet Portugal for standard class tickets between Lisbon and Porto was €24, but we travelled in First Class for €22. Yes, we were tied to one train and one train only, but given the quieter nature of the carriage, the comfy reclining chairs and the close proximity of the bar, we weren’t complaining.
The air-con was also appreciated as we headed out of Lisbon. Airfields, towns and farms were all visible through the carriage windows too as the seats hadn’t been crammed in, so we sat back, relaxed, dozed off, ate or read over the course of the three hour trip to Porto.
Once in Porto, the route from Sao Bento station to Rivoli Cinema Hostel was an easy one, so much so that I didn’t bother keeping the guidebook to hand as we wandered up there.
Caroline and I had been allocated the Blade Runner themed room. The framed film poster on the wall was familiar as I’d had the same poster on the wall in my student digs back in the 1990’s.
The Blade Runner room was minimalist, a feature that we also saw as we passed other theme rooms which were being cleaned or vacated over the few days we were in Porto.
We had the use of the kitchen/dining/breakfast room, a roomy lounge complete with one of the biggest TV screens I’ve ever seen, a very comprehensive choice of DVDs to watch plus a row of Internet connected computers for you could check your email on, watch football matches or find out what the latest weather forecast was.
This was something that we were quite interested in as we’d spotted that the weather had the potential to be somewhat inclement for the first few days of our stay in Portugal. So much so that we’d both brought very good waterproofs with us, just in case.
When I’d checked out what the latest BBC forecast was for Porto, I turned to Caroline and let her know what the prognosis was – a red weather warning for rain and plenty of it.
At this point, one of the cinema buffs who owned Rivoli Cinema Hostel chipped in with a comment about the fact that he’d never heard or seen a red weather warning before, so it sounded like things were going to be bad…
Once this was done, we headed out to stock up on food, beer, wine and fruit juice. There may have been plenty of salted cod in the shop’s freezers, but we didn’t see any wabbits (or putty tats…).
Bread, salad, cheese, cooked chicken, fruit, local fizzy pop and a couple of bottles of mineral water hit the basket and we found out the hard way that we should have packed a couple of shopping bags as yes, we were charged for plastic carrier bags…
We did have an early night after our evening meal, but sleep wasn’t an option for the whole of the night as a nearby dance club cranked up the volume after midnight and stopped around 4am.
Was I like a bear with a sore head the following morning? Oh yes!
Fortunately I had some sachets of the old student hangover cure in my meds bag and one sachet plus a few cups of coffee helped to resolve the situation. As did the yoghurt, bread, cheese, hazelnut spread and orange juice that was served up for the hostel breakfast.
Did I mention that it had started to rain? It had and boy, did we know about it!
After a couple of hours of mooching around in the hostel lounge, Caroline and I decided to make a break for it rather than being indoors all day.
Wallets and loose change was stuffed into pockets as our cameras and day bags were left behind, jackets were zipped up and hoods pulled in tight as we went in search of Centro Portugues de Fotographia.
Given that maps were useless, it took longer than we thought to find the Centro Portugues de Fotographia, a former prison that’s now dedicated to exhibitions of photographs and camera equipment.
As we were now soaked from the waist down, it was a good thing that there was a cloakroom for our jackets and that we’d both decided to wear quick drying travel trousers.
Once we’d made our way around, had hot chocolate and retrieved our coats, these trousers and the rest of our clothing were much drier, but we were squelching as neither of us were wearing shoes with a Gore-Tex or other waterproof lining given the weather we’d experienced before in Portugal.
The rain had eased off a bit, but only like a racing car does as it goes into a corner before a flat-out straight. It was well past lunchtime and we were hungry, so we hit the first cafe we saw and became their only customers for the next hour or so.
Caroline had a chicken salad, but I tried one of Porto’s specialities.
Middlesbrough has the parmo, Scotland the deep fried chocolate bar, France has the joy of frogs legs, but Porto has the Francesinha, a hefty sandwich containing steak, sausage and ham which is covered in melted cheese and given a slurp of peppery tomato and beer sauce over the top…
Tasty? Yes. Filling? Definitely! Did I have another? Yes, but two days later as a means of keeping any cholesterol at a sensible level!
Once lunch was over, we pledged back to Rivoli Cinema Hostel for showers, dry clothes, reading, a light tea and another early night.
Or so we thought as that bloody club started up at midnight again!!!
More about this on Friday!
Yes, it’s that Rohan Cool Silver t-shirt again!
As we’ve made several trips over the last year, there are a few items which have earned their stripes.
Such as 100ml bottles of Lifeventure Fabric Wash, 50ml packs of Nivea UVA/UVB Sun Lotion (SPF 30 or SPF 50 depending on the advance forecast for the places we’re visiting), 100ml bottles of Lush Shower Gel (original choice was Flying Fox, but I’ve now swapped to using Rain On My Parade), Lush solid shampoo bars and battery toothbrushes…
I bought a Slim Sonic AAA powered toothbrush, liked it, am still using it and haven’t as yet replaced the battery that came with it. I’ve got spare brush heads, so on the current performance, I should be using it for a while yet.
Caroline picked up a similar device from Clas Ohlson’s store in Newcastle-upon-Tyne last year. While the sign said it was £4.99, the item came up as being £2.99 when it was rung through the till. It’s worked, but Caroline has switched to a Colgate 360 battery powered toothbrush and has found that to be a better buy.
Clothing with a silver content has worked well. I’ve gone on about the Rohan range of t-shirts and underwear for years, but I’ve found that trainer and dress socks from Marks & Spencer have also been worth investing in. Nasty riffs from sweaty feet are a thing of the past!
Caroline tried Rohan’s Ultra Silver camisoles and briefs last year and has gone on to buy another couple of sets as they’ve proved to be quite useful. The fine fabric is comfortable to wear, even in hot climates and each item has been washed at the end of the day and either packed or worn the following day depending on what we’ve been up to.
Rohan’s Travel Linen clothing has also been a useful addition to her wardrobe, as have the three pairs of Goa trousers that I bought last year. Whilst I spent a great deal of time in t-shirts when we were in Lisbon, there were times when I felt slightly underdressed whilst having evening meals.
So I invested in some short and long sleeved shirts in last summer’s Rohan sale and added a couple of polo shirts to my travel collection. The latter can also be washed on a night and worn the following morning and I have gone out and bought another three because I’ve started wearing them at home.
Merino wool t-shirts have also been added to the wardrobe and these are also home and away items. I’ve used them as base layers when heading to the airport at 3am in below freezing conditions and on their own at rock concerts, wandering around town and whilst walking on coastal boardwalks on sunny days.
Anything else? Giant size Lifeventure travel towels have been useful in hostels or guest houses when towels or bathrobes haven’t been available and as part of the wash and wear processes.
Wash the item, squeeze the water out and then roll it up in the towel to get rid of any excess water before hanging the clothing and the towel up to dry.
The last items help to keep my pack organised and at a hand-luggage gauge friendly size.
A collection of Rohan lightweight storage cubes have been bought and used. One large one contains a mix of t-shirts, polo shirts and long sleeves, another is used for spare trousers, a micro fleece pullover and a fleece gilet and then two smaller cubes respectively contain underwear and socks.
Any chargers and adaptors are in a small wash bag pouch from IKEA, any paperwork is in a plastic wallet from WHS Smith and the guidebook goes in a small plastic carrier bag. Meds are in a clear plastic bag along with any necessary paperwork whilst the wash kit goes into one of the clear zipped pouches used to contain the Gillette travel kits I mentioned yesterday.
The Kindle, Nikon, passport, wallet and loose change go in my jacket or trouser pockets along with my reading specs and my spare pair of specs that double up as sunglasses thanks to Transitions lenses.
And tomorrow? What didn’t keep on keeping on!
If you were reading yesterday’s piece about the stuff we packed on our travels between May and July 2015, you may be surprise to learn that despite the age of the Internet and the opportunities it presents to make purchases from the comfort of the sofa, your office chair or whilst supping an overpriced milky coffee in a chain cafe, most of our purchases are still made in shops rather than transactions made via Firefox or Safari browsers (other browsers are available folks, but I still remember Netscape!).
The reasons are simple. We like to support local businesses or retail chains that do give a monkey’s about what they sell and how it’s sold. Some items are also no-brainers as packs, footwear and cycle helmets are the categories that I’d always try to buy from physical stores rather than online as all should be tried and fitted before you buy.
It’s not usually in a salesperson’s best interests to advise and recommend items that have the ‘in’ brand label on them or the highest price tag. It’s also worth taking note of a salesperson’s recommendations are as they may have knowledge that could swing your thoughts in a more useful direction.
I’ve had a couple of people go into huff mode when I’ve mentioned that they don’t need an 80 litre pack for a visit to Thailand (40 litres is the usual recommendation from those who have headed off in that direction).
One aspect of world travel is that yes, you can usually get what you need in most countries so you don’t need to take large bottles of shampoo, conditioner or shower gel with you.
Think light and it’s a case of having travel sizes for your first few days, by which time you have probably passed a few stores that stock just about everything you need for your stay in the country/countries you’re visiting.
There’s also the school of though that thinks it’s best to travel as light as possible to avoid baggage charges either from the airline you’re travelling with or the bag in the boot charges levied by taxi companies.
One of the best exchanges Caroline and I have had was with a taxi driver in Arendal, Norway about five years ago. We needed to get to Arendal railway station in order to get a train to Stavanger and as it was a few kilometres away and uphill, we got a cab.
Once in, we started talking to the driver who was dumbfounded when we answered his question ‘Have you left your main bags at a hotel?’.
‘No’ was my reply. “They are our main bags….” He couldn’t believe that we were in Norway for almost two weeks and were only using a holdall each.
By going for a smaller bag, there’s another point to consider – you will probably be able to pick it up and run in the event of any last minute dash for a bus, cab or train.
One person I was advising was insisting on a 90 litre bag to hold everything for their travels until I out that if that bag was filled to the brim with what was perceived to be needed for the trip, then the potential owner of said bag probably wouldn’t be able to lift it, let alone sling it over their shoulders and run with it…
Footwear is another area that shop purchases rather than online buys pay dividends. Visit a decent shoe shop or outdoor store mid-afternoon and try the boot, sandals or shoes on and wander around in them to your heart’s content until you’re happy with them and always, but always, insist on taking the pair that you’ve tried on rather than another pair from the stockroom that you haven’t tried on.
Why wait until mid-afternoon to try on? Unless you’re just off a night shift, then mid-afternoon is the time to try on as your feet can expand between half and a full size as the day progresses.
And cycle helmets? It’s a case of getting the best advice and listening to it. Be honest with the type of biking you’re doing and listen to what’s being said regarding the care, aftercare and way to wear a helmet (I’m still amazed at the number of cycle helmets that are being worn in such a way that severe damage will be inflicted to the wearer’s skull as it’s not being worn properly).
Caroline and I do buy clothing from trusted online retailers from time to time, but that’s usually because we know the company’s size blocking and can be pretty sure that the items we order fit and fit well.
For the most part though, we still buy from shops. Some are local to us whilst others are part of the same chain in another area of the country.
The main chains we deal with are Rohan and Cotswold Outdoor, largely because we’ve had good service from their staff and we’ve been happy with the purchases we’ve made from both companies over the last few years.
With Caroline needing some new shoes for her cycling and potentially some new sandals too, it could well be that we’re heading to their Leeds outlets soon to take advantage of Cycling UK or sale discounts at Cotswold Outdoor and sale discounts at Rohan as their sale starts tomorrow.
So, how did things go with the items listed on Portugal Packing v3.0?
Very well actually (and everything bar the worn stuff did go into our respective Osprey Farpoint 40 packs). Virtually all of the clothing taken along earned their place in the pack or on me in the case of the items worn on the plane.
The only mistake I made was in taking along my pair of Peter Storm Soft Shell trousers.
They’ve been worth their weight in gold since I bought them last year, but they were too heavy an item to take along and wear in Portugal, especially given the temperatures encountered (even on the couple of wet, windy and generally stormy days).
When the storm hit Porto on the Tuesday of our trip, I ended up wearing one of my Rohan Cool Silver t-shirts, Rohan Goa trousers and the same brand’s Silver containing socks and trunks. The top layer was my HyVent jacket from The North Face. On my feet were one of the two pairs of Salomon ventilated shoes that I’d taken along.
Despite the conditions, everything worked well. Yes, I was wet from the bottom of the waterproof to the pavement and the inside of the jacket’s sleeves were damp, despite the pit zips being opened to provide some ventilation.
The rain was teeming down though and as it was still relatively warm, I’d expected some condensation in the sleeves as the linings were solid rather than mesh and also because I was wearing a t-shirt rather than a long sleeved shirt so my bare arms were helping raise those condensation levels.
Now the Goa trousers may be lightweights and meant for tropical use, but this combination worked in their favour once I got out of the rain and into the photography museum we were aiming for during the storm.
They were soaked when I entered the museum, but as I wandered around, they dried out.
So much so that I was able to sit down and partake in one of the many espressos imbibed over the course of the trip. The vending machine coffee was fine, but it wasn’t going to stop the rain, so after a while it was time to get back out there and try and find some lunch.
And yes, the Goas got soaked once more, then dried out again whilst waiting and eating fodder and then got soaked once more as we left the cafe, went to do some food shopping and headed back to the hostel we were staying in at Porto.
End result? Worn/soaked/dried/soaked/dried/soaked and you get the picture by now. Not only did they perform well under the challenging conditions, they also coped well with the heat encountered later in the week and over the time we were in Coimbra plus the lower temperatures and breezes when we were on the Atlantic Coast.
Washing and drying wasn’t a problem with the Goas either. Once we had a decent sink and places to dry kit out, then there weren’t any problems with the washing and wearing of any of the kit we’d taken along.
Caroline’s storm days kit worked as well as my own – the Rohan Thai trousers worked well as did the selection of tops used on the days and her somewhat elderly Berghaus PacLite Gore-Tex jacket. Her Ecco Blom Lite Mary Jane shoes did get a soaking, as did my Salomons, but they did dry out relatively quickly and were usable a couple of days later (something we’d anticipated, hence the decision to take two pairs of shoes each rather than lighter or flimsier items).
All of our tops performed as expected, especially the Rohan Stratum Polo Long Sleeved which came into its own on the nights when we could sit outside restaurants to have a meal.
Caroline was also more than happy with the couple of Ultra Silver Camisoles and the matching briefs that she’s taken along. These were used on their own or as part of a low-key layering system on cooler days, but washed and dried like crazy every couple of days, as did her Serene vest tops.
One thing that we did forget (okay, one thing that I forgot!) was our Lifeventure travel sink plug.
The sinks in three out of our five different lodgings in Portugal didn’t come with sink plugs, so necessity was the mother of invention. I plugged some sinks with socks whilst Caroline found that the top from her Nivea roll-on deodorant did the job in one place.
Other than that, it was make do and mend with the plastic top off a Pringles tube or the plastic top from a small tub of Hagen Daaz ice cream. Needless to say, a small amount of food consumption went on before these tops were used in the sinks…
Anything else? Yep, the tea tree oil worked well on the insect bites, as did the tube of gel that was bought in Porto to help combat the results of unexpected encounters with mosquitos.
The lavender oil had helped to keep the flying nasties at bay, but some had got through, resulting in 10 bites on my back, legs, arms and face, even though I had kept myself under the bed sheets on even the warmest nights in Portugal.
What I wasn’t expecting was for one of my pairs of shoes to deteriorate. One of the fabric lace retainers came away and as the two weeks wore on, it became apparent that the shock absorbing materials were breaking down inside the sole unit.
Although the shoes weren’t that old, they had done around 400 miles or so. Given that I have gait problems and also have trouble with my left leg as a result of that stroke a few years ago, I knew that it wasn’t something that I could put down as a problem with the shoes as I’ve been wearing Salomon shoes and boots for years now and not had any problems.
As a result, they were left in Portugal – not in a bin, but with someone who was going to repair the lace retainer and hand the shoes over to a local homeless charity.
On a lighter note, the umbrella that I’d taken along didn’t last either. It went inside out a few times in Porto and ended up being left in a guest house somewhere in Portugal.
It had served its purpose though in Somerset, London and Porto and as it had cost me the princely sum of £1, I wasn’t going to complain about being ripped off by a pound shop…
Odd title I know, but as far as I know it’s not infringing any potential trade marks surrounding a certain film franchise!
It’s been an odd month off – little bit of heading to here and there, several visits to a certain Swedish retailer, a few one-off visits to DIY warehouses, a few technical drawings (for the first time since getting my O Level in that subject back in the 1970s) and a mega clearout before the builder arrived two hours ago to strip the old kitchen out and install a new one in its place.
One thing we noticed whilst heading out to find a kitchen option that we liked was how bland some of the options we were looking at were. The kitchen we’ve plumped for is classically styled, but we’ve added a few personal touches to ensure that it will be anything but bland – hence the visit to B&Q on Thursday and to IKEA last Friday morning!
Bland is something that couldn’t be applied to some of the colours going into the latest Rohan clothing collection – red and gold coloured trousers for instance.
Visits to other outdoor clothing retailers recently and I’ve noticed how limited the choice of colours is, which is somewhat ironic when I remember how well red and electric blue coloured jackets were selling in the store I managed until around eighteen months ago. Yes, I’ve got a few black jackets on the rack in the hall, but there’s also red, electric blue and orange ones hanging either on the same rack or in the wardrobe upstairs.
So, what’s coming up on wisepacking?
Pieces about Bronte Country, a local-ish air museum, the Lake District, some more kit reviews and a little bit more about planning (but not overplanning) trips in the wake of several posts on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum that have been made by people who haven’t bothered to buy a guide book to their potential destination who expect readers of the Forum to make up their minds for them as to where to go!
And a few mentions about books I’ve been reading too.
One Kindle Book I’ve been looking at recently is Money Saving Tips for Travel In Portugal by Julie Dawn Fox.
If you’re heading to Portugal, then it’s well worth tracking down as there’s some good advice in there and a few tips that I wished we’d known about when Caroline and I headed over there.
Yes, we picked one or two points up along the way that saved us money, but Julie’s book takes things a few stages further so we will be saving more money the next time we aim in that direction.
More details about the book and Julie’s travels on http://www.juliedawnfox.com
Or head to Amazon, do not pass go and do not collect £200…
Greetings from a partially snow covered Yorkshire.
It’s bright, it’s sunny and there’s snow on the ground – just a light cover mind, but snow nevertheless.
It’s not going to last though.
The brisk walk up to the local shop an hour ago wasn’t through a full covering of snow and a quick glance out of the window now I’m back indoors has revealed that the multicoloured gnomes in the back garden have lost their frosty coating.
There is a breeze though and the temperatures are low, hence the choice of layers for that walk.
Which were pretty much the same as what I’d have chosen had I been heading out for a wander through the woods to the pub or for a day out with a pack in the country or on the hill.
First up was an Icebreaker merino base layer, then a Patagonia Snap Neck fleece pullover and then a North Face Nuptse 900 LTD down jacket. On the legs were a pair of Peter Storm soft shell trousers, a pair of Bridgedale socks and a pair of Salomon boots.
Result? Warm and toasty all the way there and back…
If I had been in the country or on the hill, then the chances are that the Nuptse would be in my pack and used when lunch or coffee breaks were declared.
I’d probably be wearing a fleece gilet and a soft shell instead (the old faithful TNF hooded soft shell has just been reproofed with Nikwax Soft Shell proofing) and have a pair of gloves and a mountain cap in the pockets, just in case. Oh, and a pair of base layer leggings too.
The choices aren’t too far removed from what Caroline was wearing earlier when she took Frosty The Snowbike out for its first spin. Frosty is her old Dawes hybrid bike that’s had winter tyres fitted and works a treat (especially now that the brakes have been fixed – the tyre fitter [not me or Caroline!] forgot to reconnect the brake cables)…
A base layer, bike shirt, fleece and reflective waterproof jacket do the job in virtually all weathers on both her leisure rides and her early morning/late evening commutes to and from work.
But layering doesn’t have to be used solely outdoors. We both wear layers around the house over the winter months – they keep us warm and comfortable and help keep the bills down so we’re not laying down the foundations for big gas bills later in the year.
Does it work? Yes, as it was a tactic I first used thirty-odd years ago as the first house I had after leaving home was an exposed, not very insulated farmhouse with single glazing.
We’ve also used the same techniques elsewhere too, most recently in a place that had a wood burner in the lounge.
Not saying it was cold, but we were both in there wearing merino base layers, fleece pullovers and down vests and were just about warm!
Mind you, it was even colder down on the beach the following day – thank goodness for high quality down jackets!
I’ll be going into more layering next week as there’s a round-up of base layer principles and some product reviews too happening on wisepacking.
The snow may be melting now here in Yorkshire, but it’s going to be back…
And we’re prepared for it – right down to the home baked cheese scones that are being baked this afternoon and a good bit of comfort food for tea.
Beef stew with dumplings and mashed potatoes. Cooked from scratch, not from a tin or a supermarket freezer section!
Templo Romano (Temple of Diana) in Evora
And so to Sintra. We’d heard good things about Sintra, an apparently mystical town that’s surrounded by palaces which has attracted many (including Lord Byron) over the years. The attractions are spread out over a wide area in and around the older quarter. As we were staying at Piela‘s in the more modern part near the railway and bus stations, the palaces and other attractions were a good walk or bus ride away.
There is however a circular bus route from the centre that offers a day ticket which allows you to travel between the main palace attractions. With Caroline doing the visiting and me doing some reading, it made sense to get a ticket each, so whilst she was exploring, I was reading and having an espresso nearby and we could talk and eat afterwards rather than meeting up at a specific time or place. In case you hadn’t guessed it, Caroline’s the one for history, older buildings and historical culture whilst I’m more for Horrible Histories, more recent events and museums relating to aircraft, cars, exploration and the like.
As one might expect from a destination that’s a World Heritage Site and Sintra being high on the destinations list of many tourists, the likes of Palaciao Nacional de Sintra, Castelo dos Mouros, Parque da Pena and Palacio Nacional da Pena were very, very busy.
Heading around the sights didn’t take us as long as we thought though and it was agreed that if we paid another visit to Sintra, it would be as a side trip from a longer stay in Lisbon rather than a separate destination for two nights. That’s also been the opinion of others who have joined in on discussions about Sintra on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum over the couple of days before this was posted.
One thing we did learn though is there’s a very good treat available for the princely sum of one euro in Sintra and a few other places besides. It’s a cherry liqueur called ginjinha that can be served in glasses with cherries, in glasses without cherries or without cherries in small chocolate cups. Which version did we go for? That last one on the list of course!
As meals weren’t part of the deal at Piela’s in Sintra, eating out was done at a mix of cafes, former bakeries or tourist restaurants around town. Place of choice for breakfast? Casa da Piriquita – good coffee, good cakes and pastries and a popular venue with both tourists and locals too.
We also discovered a useful treat at the local mini-market – servings of red wine in the kind of cartons you’d normally associate with child size doses of orange or apple juice. No need for a bottle opener – just tear off the corner of the carton and pour… A good move? Oh yes, especially as we’d had a few goes trying to open a bottle of wine the night before using a specially bought cork remover that wasn’t playing ball.
After exhausting Sintra and having a late afternoon train booked for Evora, it was back to Lisbon for a bit of shopping and some lunch.
The shopping was supposed to be for nibbles and drinks for the train, but a camera shop was spotted, a trial run undertaken and a purchase made. A Nikon Coolpix 3100 with case, 4GB memory card plus a charger that would work with a shaver adaptor at home and all for the around £65. One bargain and I was a happy photographic bunny again.
As the train to Evora was from a station that was out of the city centre, the bus ride to it gave us an idea of what suburban Lisbon was like. A bit like parts of Sunderland in fact – I’d lived in that city whilst doing my degree back in the mid-1990’s and some of the flat complexes we passed in the bus were very reminiscent of those back on Wearside.
The snooze on the train was a good idea, as were the snacks as it looked like it was going to be a late evening meal. With Evora being a walled town, the rail and bus stations are away from the centre, so we were glad that we could just shoulder our packs and walk, rather than taking a taxi to our hotel. Taxi or drinks? Drinks or taxi? Easy decision!
Residencial Riviera was just off the main square in Evora and we’d booked our stay just as the prices went down after the main holiday season. The first night was quiet, but as Friday nights are Friday nights, a couple of rowdies came back to their room at about 2am. Revenge was a dish best served cold… or was that loud because for some reason, I really, really had to slam our room door shut twice before breakfast on Saturday morning!
But I digress. Evora is a magical place and one we’d go back to tomorrow. It’s relaxed, it’s friendly and it’s compact. All of the attractions are in easy walking distance of each other and there’s a good mix of bars, cafes and ice cream shops for those times when you just have to sit down, relax and unwind that little bit more. Resting place of choice? Cafe Arcada on the main square, a venue that was popular with both locals and tourists alike.
There’s museums or the remains of a Roman temple (see the lead photo…) to visit and walls to climb or walk around. The main square may be peaceful now, but it has historical associations with the execution of at least one duke and the Inquisition-led public burnings of several unfortunate souls. Which is the last thing we were thinking about whilst having coffee on the square on Friday night or when talking to Brits on a coach tour on a Saturday morning.
If it’s Friday, it must be Evora…
Caroline also visited Ingreja de Sao Francisco, a church adjacent to the Mercado Municipal (the local market hall). Ingreja de Sao Francisco has a side chapel in Cappella des Ossos (the Chapel of the Bones) which comprises the skulls and bones of around five thousand former monks. Apparently it’s not uncommon to hear the song ‘Dem Bones, Dem Bones’ being sung as people wander around the chapel according to one guide book we read!
Yes, I’d given it a miss in favour of another Kindle session, but I did find a bar that served a nice cold Radler low alcohol beer to sup in the sun which also sold cider, a type of refreshment that Caroline’s quite fond of. The cider wasn’t by Aspall’s or Weston, but it went down well once Caroline exited the Chapel and found me relaxing.
The relaxation of Evora carried on as we had a five hour bus ride to Tavira on that Saturday. The coach wasn’t even half full, so there was plenty of room to spread out and read or snooze.
Legs were stretched and comfort stops made at the bus change-over point in Faro and when we got to Tavira, we were glad of our small bags, unlike a Hawaiian lady we’d met on the bus who was trundling a very large wheelie bag around plus her matching hand luggage too. Over kerbs, pavements and then cobbles when the pavements were taken up by various outdoor dining areas outside restaurants. She’d been on the road for three months and for some reason, she was wishing she’d packed less stuff…
Like Evora, Tavira was a place to savour. Yes, it was a busy Saturday night down by Residencial Mares, but it was also the last night of a local youth festival. With live music. As we didn’t get to Tavira and book into our hotel until late, that evening’s meal venue was rather close to said hotel.
Now Caroline and I do like our curries, but the ones we had that night were supposed to be of medium heat – hey, we usually eat curries in or around the Bradford area!). These ones however, were not Bradford curries, We’ve eaten curries in the home counties here in the UK that were more potent than the Tavira curries we tried – they were more mild than medium!
Sunday was given over to strolling around the town, looking at the tiled buildings across the river, finding a very good (and well recommended) place to eat called Bica for lunch plus a couple of other meals later during our stay and finding an English newspaper to read over coffees and servings of cake or ice cream. Just another relaxing day in paradise? Oh yes…
Sunday night wasn’t as noisy as Saturday had been, but our plans for an early night were interrupted by a local troubadour that we’d seen and unfortunately heard near another bar earlier on. The temptation was for the two of us to do ‘Doo whops’ from our balcony or to do impressions of baying hounds as he sang/murdered a few classics. But we didn’t…
Monday was train and room booking time. We were moving on on Tuesday and we needed tickets to get to Lagos and then tickets for a train on Friday to get us from Lagos back to Lisbon in readiness for our flight home on Saturday morning.
We also booked a night at Lagos Youth Hostel for Thursday night by going into the Tavira Youth Hostel and doing the deed. There was however one problem remaining – we’d drawn a blank on finding somewhere to stay on Friday night in Lisbon so it looked like there was only one option left open to us – sleeping in the airport.
Monday was also the day to take a boat trip to the much-vaunted Ilha de Tavira. We didn’t have that far to go for the boat as the landing was just across the road from our hotel.
That boatload soon dispersed when we got onto Ilha de Tavira. Some headed to restaurants, some headed for the campsite whilst others turned right onto the nearest beach and others (including us) headed for the main beach. Which was red flagged…
So a bit of photography was called for on my part and Caroline headed along the beach on foot before finding me again (I have mobility problems on soft sand or snow thanks to that stroke ten years ago) and the two of us headed back to the beach near the boat landing. As there were no restrictions on swimming here, Caroline took the plunge for a while as I tried to make some plans for the potential of Friday night in Lisbon airport.
With Bica providing the last of our meals in Tavira and some fine wine too, a late night stroll was called for before we headed back to the hotel and partly packed our bags in readiness for the next stage of the trip – and a couple of nights in a very posh hotel in Sagres….
To be continued…