Thursday, 19 December 2013

Bussing round the town

A young cousin is visiting from South Africa and has been staying with us for a couple of days.  December is not the nicest time to be visiting London, and it can be a bit daunting if you don't know where to start, so I suggested we do a round trip on the buses, so he could see some of the main sights.

We started off on a 35, which you can catch from outside my block of flats.  This took us via Camberwell and Walworth to the Elephant, and then to London Bridge station, crossing London Bridge and then up Bishopsgate, passing the Monument and the far side of the Bank of England, to Liverpool Street Station, where we got off.  We walked through the station to the bus station at the other side, and got on a no 11 - now a Boris-bus - at the start of its route.

I have to say, I wasn't very impressed by the Boris bus.  The interior is all dark red, mimicking the original Routemasters before they were refurbished, and the lights pretend to be like them, too, only of course they are modern halogen bulbs, not the incandescent bulbs of days gone by.  If you get on at the front, it just feels like an ordinary bus, only it is less comfortable, I thought.  The ride quality was good, but the seats were hard and not nearly as comfortable as the 35 we had just left.  Of course, when you want to get off you can do so at the back, or you can, I believe, get on that way, too.  But that doesn't impinge - it's not an obvious thing to do with it, although I suppose it is different if you are catching it along the course of its route.

Which, of course, is ideal for tourists.  The bus goes back down to Bank, this time passing the front of the Bank of England, and then along past St Paul's Cathedral, down Ludgate Hill, along Fleet Street and the Strand  passing King's College and Somerset House.  I kept expecting it to turn left over Waterloo Bridge, but of course it was not a 59 so it didn't!  It went straight on, past Charing Cross Station with its eponymous cross, to Trafalgar Square, and then down Whitehall, passing Horse Guards, Downing Street, the Banqueting House, the Cenotaph and so on, to Parliament Square, where you can see the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St Margaret's Westminster and so on (including Central Hall and the Middlesex Guildhall which is now Westminster Crown Court).  The bus then goes up Victoria Street on its way to Chelsea and Fulham, but we got off at Victoria, and caught a no 2 back to Brixton.

The 2 goes over Vauxhall Bridge, and then down South Lambeth Road to Stockwell and thence to Brixton, but it was dark by then, and one couldn't see a great deal.  And then it was raining, so we got a P5 home.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Inter-faith evening

This evening, instead of a Fellowship meeting, some of us went to a local Mosque, the Hyderi Islamic Centre, who were staging a play about Wahab, a Christian who had been killed while fighting on behalf of Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala.  I had never been to a Mosque before while it was "in use", and never to one in this country.

It was interesting.  We went with another couple from Church, and I remembered to wear a hijab (I do have several scarves that can be worn that way) - it was a bit brightly-coloured, as most people wore black, but nobody minded that.  My friend had also brought a scarf, but we noticed they had a tactful supply of spares out in the lobby in case anybody hadn't one.  We were made very welcome, and given doughnuts and tea, and there was also a bright pink lassi type of drink being served.  Then the menfolk went off in one direction, and we went in another, to a large cloakroom where one could leave one's coat and shoes, and then into the "women's hall".

As we were there to watch a play, we were led into the main "men's hall", where 1/3 had been coned off for the women by a divider made of low benches, and everybody crowded together.  It wasn't as stuffy as you might think, because there were fans and some were switched on.  Chairs were provided for us visitors, so we had a good view.  It took forever for everybody to get settled and ready to start, but eventually it did. 

The play itself was put on by a youth group from Leicester, and it was presented as a very radical way of presenting the story.  It wasn't desperately well done, as you would expect from an amateur group, and the play itself was interspersed with scenes of a film from the same story.  However, it was very interesting, as the story was new to us.

When it was over, there was a "rubbing-in" sermon, basically saying that Husayn-ibn-Ali stood for justice and equality for all, and this standard was something that people of all faiths and none should aspire to.

I suppose we Christians have always had our tradition of Mystery plays and so on - probably because we were a LOT less literate than the Muslims ever were!  So we slightly take for granted that our stories can be presented in this sort of way, whereas it's new to them.  In the film, it was noticeable that the face of Husayne ibn Ali was blanked out as Muslims don't "do" representations of their holy saints. 

After it was over, we were led back to the women's hall and fed chicken and rice, and then we decided we had to go, and went out to the lobby where our menfolk - who had NOT eaten - were waiting for us!

Apparently the Mosque also does inter-faith meetings during Ramadan, when Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders all get together and talk about their faith and its practices.  This sounds as though it would be very interesting indeed, and I hope we get asked.

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Brixton Chocolate Museum

Yesterday afternoon, my daughter, her sons and I visited the Brixton chocolate museum in Ferndale Road.

First of all, Google maps is misleading - when you ask it where it is, it says it's about where St Paul's Church is, but in fact it's right down practically next door to the Bon Marché offices, so only a few minutes walk from Brixton Tube.

The upper part is a shop and café, with the museum downstairs.  Not desperately interesting; there is a short video about the production of chocolate playing on a continuous loop, some posters, and some display cases containing things like miniature cars with chocolate themes, chocolate drinking cups from the ages, a "Poulain" school lunchbox and so on.  Worth ten minutes, but I wouldn't go there again unless I were going for a chocolate tasting or a workshop.  I rather wish I'd booked in for the special event tomorrow!

We could have had a cup of tea there, but as the Boy is at the age where you never know what he will say next, and the place only had a couple of people in there and was very quiet, we thought better of it and went to Costa instead, which was noisier!  But we did buy a bar of very expensive raw chocolate with salt and cocoa nibs, which is absolutely delicious, not sweet at all.... sadly, you get what you pay for when it's chocolate and theirs, though utterly delicious, is very expensive! 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Overnight booze-cruise

As we hadn't been to France yet this year, we had run out of all sorts of things that we normally buy there, either because they are cheaper (coffee, wine) or difficult/imposisble to get here.  And when I discovered that I could use my Tesco vouchers to get up to £30 off a Shuttle crossing, it was a bit of a no-brainer.  You can stay overnight for the same price as a day-return, so we decided to do that and have a mini-break.

Due entirely to my own innumeracy, we left slightly later than we meant.  The drive was not very pleasant, as it had been raining, and then the sun came out, which was in exactly the wrong place as it dazzled up from the wet road, and cars and lorries were sending up clouds of spray and the sun was catching them, too.  We were thankful when it went behind a cloud again!  We just made it to the crossing we were booked on - no time to go into the terminal, or even to stop in the loading queue!  The train left earlier than we expected and we arrived in France at about 11:45 local time.

First stop was at the garage just off the exit, as we wanted to buy yet another holder for our satnav, the one that the Swan Whisperer bought to replace the broken original had, in its turn, broken on our way to Folkestone (yes, we do know the way; the satnav in this instance is mainly for traffic purposes - it knows when there is a mega hold-up and will send you round a quicker way, if possible).  That  duly bought, plus coffee, we set off cross-country to St-Omer, where we found a random restaurant to have lunch in.  The SW had pork, chips and salad, and I had an omelette with chips and salad - massive amounts of chips and almost no salad, but never mind!

We drove to Arras and parked in the town square, which was very beautiful.  It was, I think, rebuilt after the first war, but not sure what was destroyed in the 2nd.  We were beginning to need petrol, so I cleverly programmed the Satnav to take us to a petrol station in a shopping centre en route to our hotel - last time I'd asked it where the nearest petrol station was, it had taken us to one in the opposite direction to where we had wanted to go, which was totally my fault, not its.  But I thought there must be a way, and there is - you click on "Browse maps", and then "Find" and one of the options is POI en route, so you click on that to find petrol or hotels or whatever that you want.  It also cleverly tells you how much of a detour, if any, it is, and then you click on "Navigate to" and it takes you there!

The hotel, however, turned out to have been a mistake.  It was a Campanile - we had so loved the one we stayed at in Luxembourg last year, we thought it would be nice to stay in one again, and given the price I was able to get, it was just about worth it.  But we were greeted by a very unfriendly young man at the check-in, who grunted something in French - I can usually follow well enough, but he mumbled!  Eventually realised that the reception and restaurant were in a separate building from the rest of the hotel, which was a kind of barrack-block across the car park. 

There was a kettle, which was nice, but no tea-bags, only sachets of instant coffee and tisanes of various kinds, and disposable cups so you could only use them once.  Fortunately I had brought my own stash of teabags and our travel cups!  In the bathroom there were no hand-towels, and nowhere to put your used towels - there was one hook, but it was obscured by the notice telling you to hang up your towels if you wanted to re-use them.  There was no hair-dryer, either.  There were no heavy curtains, only net ones and shutters (I hate shutters), and although we were not overlooked, people probably walked past.  And being on the ground floor your couldn't have the window open overnight, either, and I couldn't see if there was air-conditioning or how to make it work.  Not doing that again!

We ate in the hotel restaurant; the starter buffet looked a bit meh, so we ordered the plat du jour, which was blanquette de veau.  Quite nice.  Then we had the dessert buffet, which was lovely, and the SW had coffee. 

Breakfast next morning was good, although I could have wished for a hard-boiled egg with mine. Still, bread and cheese and ham and stuff like that.... not bad! 

We set off at about 09:00 and first went into the centre of Douai, being amused by how very quiet everywhere was once people had gone to work or school or wherever.  The centre was okay, but we didn't linger.  Instead, we drove to Cambrai.

Now, that is a lovely town!  I should have liked to have done more of the tourist-walk they provide (we picked up guides from the tourist-office), but my leg isn't up to much walking.  We did see the old belfry, one of the city gates and the cathedral, though.  The cathedral is not the original cathedral, not built as such, so it is as small as Southwark cathedral.  Apparently the original was torn down during the French revolution!  And the present building was all but destroyed in both wars.  Sigh....

We discovered too late, too late that it is free parking on a Monday morning!  Still, that came in handy when, just as we pulled away, we saw signs for a public loo, so we were able to park again and use it before heading off to Lens.

Lens was a very disappointing town after Cambrai, so we didn't bother to linger but headed to the nearest commercial centre for shopping purposes.  And bought up most of Cora.... which didn't have any harissa or buckwheat flour, so we had to go to Carrefour in Cité Europe to get those, what a hardship!

We had a rather late lunch in the local Flunch (mistake, really, as lunch was obviously Over, and they had very few choices left, although we had a very nice steak), and then it was time to head back to the coast.  As I said, we popped into Carrefour and bought the last few things (and some more wine!).  We had wanted to go to the Tesco there to get some wine, but it had changed hands and is now a fairly posh wine place.

We had half an hour to spare in the Eurotunnel terminal before our shuttle, which we spent eating ice-cream and relaxing, and then home.

But, tragically (well, not really, but sad, anyway) when we got there we found that somehow the rhubarb tart the SW had bought for himself, and the strawberry tarts he'd bought for me, hadn't come with us!  Nor, alas, had the cream cheese.... oh well, don't know what happened, they must have been left at the checkout.  But what a waste, and what a sad ending to a pleasant weekend!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Out and about with a 3-year-old

The Daughter goes on maternity leave after tomorrow, so needed to be in the office today for handover purposes.  And playgroup is on holiday, so we agreed to meet at Russell Square Tube Station and I would take custody of my grandson, known to Blogland as the Boy.  Just as I arrived, I had a text from the Daughter to say they were going into Prets, where she bought a sandwich and a can of soft drink for her lunch, and we decided we had time for coffee - Prets do the best babycinos I've ever seen, and they are free!  The Boy loved his.  And I love Pret's coffee; if I am going to buy coffee when I am out, I do like it to be Pret's.

Once we had drunk our coffee/babycinos and visited the necessary facilities, we set off.  A bus down to Aldwych, a quick sit on the collapsible potty over a drain grating (him, not me, I hasten to add!), and then another bus towards Liverpool Street, but we got off just past Bank, and went wandering, down all sorts of little side streets, finding hidden gardens (useful to sit on collapsible potties on flower-beds!), statues, and all sorts of exciting ornamental railings to look at.  Eventually we fetched up at Liverpool Street, and I asked the Boy whether he wanted to go straight home, or whether he would like to go to a museum.  He wanted to go to the museum, so we got a bus down to the Museum of London - only two stops, but I thought we had walked quite far enough.  Then we actually found a lift going up to the entrance level of the Museum, and the yellow brick road (a yellow stripe on the tarmac) led us to the entrance. 

The Boy was fascinated by several very surprising things - flint hand-axes, although I'm not sure he quite understood what their purpose was.  And a couple of models of Roman London; he loved the farms and the horses and "carriages" and the cows and sheep in the fields.  I am not sure what he made of it all!  I would have liked to have seen a display about the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens for work purposes, but it was a bit dark in there and the Boy balked.  So we came out and looked at floor displays of broken crockery - even a spoon!  He liked that.  And quite the best was at the end, when we found a place where you could run cars and a tram on fixed lines on a road (and horse-drawn traffic, too), and you could press a button and a Tube train would go round and round, and other buttons did different things.   We spent a very long time there! 

Then we were hungry, so we went to Prets (a different one) and he had most of a cheese and pickle sandwich, having removed all the poisonous lettuce and tomato and onion and I had a chicken and avocado one and what was left of the Boy's, and we both drank orange juice.  The Boy had very cleverly found the exit down to ground level when I couldn't see one: "Gran, Gran, there it is!  I can see it!  I found it!", so when he said "Can we have lunch there?" and pointed into Prets, I let him.

It isn't that far back to Liverpool Street, but I thought he was getting tired and I knew I was!  So we caught a bus, and then had to queue for ages as I needed cash and there appeared to be only one working cash machine in the entire station.  Anyway, we got on a train and I asked if he wanted to go all the way to Chingford and get a bus back, or go home from Walthamstow Central.  He naturally wanted to go on to Chingford, and as the collapsible potty's disposable lining had to be brought into use in the train loo, it was probably just as well.  The loo was lovely and clean, but no hand-washing water.

A 212 bus brought us tiredly home from Chingford, and it was lovely to collapse for an hour before the Daughter came home.  Mind you, it would have been even lovelier if the Boy hadn't pooed himself - he is very good at staying dry but a lot less good at getting to the potty in time when he needs to poo.  Still, once I had told him what I thought of him and cleaned him up rather more thoroughly than gently, all was forgiven and we went back downstairs and ate biscuits!  He did, I didn't....

Thursday, 1 August 2013

More than I intended!

I was not on grandmother duty today, as the Boy is on holiday, but I needed to get out of the flat, and I also needed to go to Lakeland.  Our nearest Lakeland is in Westfield Stratford City, which seems quite a long way to go, but as I have free travel now, it is cheaper than shopping by post.  And I never mind an excuse to buy myself some lunch.

The obvious way to go to Stratford from here - the quick way - is to get the Northern Line to London Bridge and then the Jubilee Line, but that's no fun!  So I caught a 35 bus all the way to Liverpool Street station and then a "proper" train (as my grandson calls them) to Stratford. 

My errand at Lakeland was quickly done, and I then treated myself to a falafel wrap at the Lebanese place, which I think has changed hands and is more expensive than it used to be, but still very nice.  And then I made a mistake by going to Bubbleology and ordering a strawberry tea.  I had first had a bubble tea in Hameln, which was lovely - it was a yoghurt-based drink and the "bubbles" sort of popped in your mouth, but these were huge, slimy, chewy, nasty bits of tapioca.  Yuck!  Not doing that again!

Because I hadn't done it last time, I  decided to go on the Emirates Royal Airways cable-car across the river, so I took the DLR to Royal Victoria Docks station and went over the river on the cable-car, which was great fun, only I think I'd have liked to have been with someone.  Beautiful views, only rather high.... Still, I would certainly take a visitor there, another time.

The cable-car drops you at the O2, so the next decision was how to get home from there.  I could have been boring and got the Tube, but it was hot and I didn't feel like going underground, so I got a 188 bus to Surrey Quays, and then the London Underground.  BIG MISTAKE - the train came at once, no waiting.  I should have got off at Peckham Rye, but was actually planning to go all the way to Clapham High Street and then walk.  BIG MISTAKE.  No sooner had the train pulled out of Peckham Rye station than it stopped at a signal, and stayed stopped.  Eventually, the driver came on the pa to tell us that there had been something dropped on the rails at Denmark Hill Station - a concrete beam, he thought - and we would have to wait while it was fixed.  So we waited, and waited, and waited.  Finally he came back to say the damage was more serious than had been thought, and we would have to go on to where we could reverse back to Peckham Rye.  So we went about ½ mile further, and sat for another fifteen minutes or so, while the train ahead of us was brought back and joined on to ours (they must have been waiting even longer than we were, as the trains only run every 15 or 20 minutes). 

Eventually we crawled back into Peckham Rye station and got out.  My first port of call was McDonald's for some cold bottled water - I had had a bottle with me but it was tepid and not very refreshing - and then I decided to do my errands in the 99p shop, which didn't take long.  Then a 37 bus came and took me rather slowly home, popped into Lidl (which has delicious Belgian cheese this week!) and home a good hour or more later than I would otherwise have been!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Bodies and roses

Last night we headed down to Brixton Village to eat; goodness, the place was heaving.  There were, predictably, enormous queues at both Franco Manca and Honest Burgers, and we ended up in the Colombian café, which was less crowded.  What Colombians like to eat, it appears is meat, meat and more meat - I ordered a steak which was huge, but in fact not too enormous when you got down to it, as it was very thin.  And delicious!  With rice and potatoes (why?) and salad which included a slice of beetroot, yuck, and avocado (yum) and fried plantain (also yum).  Dr Sauvage had the veggie option, which was a huge plate of beans with salad and all the possible sides, and the Swan Whisperer had another kind of steak that had a fried egg on it and came with a tomatoey sauce.  We all drank beer, and when we had finished we went to the gelato opposite for ice-cream.  I've never seen that gelato without a mile long queue, and certainly there was a steady stream of people in and out while we were eating our main course.  I had salted caramel ice-cream which was delicious, but was also tempted by the nocciatella and/or the pistachio, which was the dull green colour one associates with proper pistachio ice-cream, as opposed to the bright green of fake.

This morning we did not hurry to go out!  However, once we were ready to go, we caught a 35 bus that takes us up through Camberwell, Walworth, the Elephant and Borough, over London Bridge and to Liverpool Street (and on to Shoreditch).  We got off just after Liverpool Street and headed towards the Spitalfields Charnel House, which was open to the public today (I had found out through the splendid Ian Visits website).  This was fascinating - an ancient hospital church (the 2nd in London after Barts) founded in the 11th century and persisting until dissolved by Henry VIII.  The Charnel House had been built in the graveyard as a repository for bones, mostly of people who died in the famine years of the early 13th century, before the Black Death took hold.  It survived because it had been lived in after the dissolution of the monasteries, and because rubble from (I think?) the Blitz and earlier redevelopment had been piled up there.  Anyway, it was fascinating.

After that, Dr Sauvage said she would like to visit The George Inn, which we had passed on our way, so we caught a bus back to London Bridge station and had lunch at the George. I had a rather dry, but tasty burger and a pint,  and she had fish and chips and cider.  Then we walked.  We wandered round Borough Market, which gets bigger and bigger, and then retraced our steps very slightly to see the remaining wall of the Bishop of Winchester's Palace.  Then we walked along Bankside and found the remains of the Rose Theatre, also open to the public today, so we went in and enjoyed a film about the theatre and the modern excavations and campaign to save the remains, which I remember from when it happened (a shot of a very young Judi Dench amused me, but I probably looked that young then, too).  Dr Sauvage's day was made by one of the audience apparently being someone from Downton Abbey, but I don't watch that so wouldn't know.

Anyway, we then headed back to the river and walked on past Shakespeare's Globe, the Tate Modern, the Oxo Tower, the new Blackfriars Station, the South Bank Centre (never seen it so crowded!) and nearly to the London Eye (and I am not going to link to all these places - if you don't know them, google them for yourself!), and finally ended up walking past the former County Hall to catch a 159 home from Westminster Bridge.  And a much-needed cup of tea when we got in.

I don't know where the afternoon went, it seemed no time at all but it was well past 5:00 pm when we got home.

Friday, 19 July 2013

A Tourist at Home

I have a house guest - she whose blog name is Nicole Sauvage - all the way from Macon, Georgia (which I learn that, unlike its French counterpart, is pronounced to rhyme with bacon) by way of Paris.

So last night we had a very traditional English supper: cold trout with salad, followed by summer pudding and all washed down with Pimms.  Sadly the Swan Whisperer couldn't join us as he had a nasty fall at Dance Club (fuelled, I suspect, by having drunk all the Tinto de Verano before he went), and had to spend the evening in A&E having a badly cut knee dressed.  He didn't reappear until nearly midnight.

And this morning after breakfast Dr Sauvage and I headed on out.  We walked down into Brixton and then caught a 159 outside Lambeth Town Hall, and sat on it all the way to Paddington Basin. I wasn't very sure how we could get where we were going from there, but a very kind bus driver said that What We Needed was a no 7 from outside Paddington Station, so we walked there, and our walk took us via St Mary's Hospital which is full of paparazzi waiting for the Royal Birth.  No sign of TRH, of course - if I were her, I'd have it in the wilds of Welsh Wales and tell people afterwards; after all, they no longer need the Home Secretary to come and check that it wasn't a changeling smuggled in in a warming-pan like whoever it was meant to have been.  Anyway, no sign of any excitement, so we headed on to the bus stop and got on a no 7 to Russell Square.

We were a little early to meet the Daughter, so ensconced ourselves comfortably on a bench in the shade and then texted her, and she texted back in about 5 minutes to say come on over, so we did and she met us downstairs and showed us round various bits of Senate House. As Dr Sauvage so rightly commented, it looks exactly like a Fascist or Communist headquarters - wasn't it used as one in some television programme or other?  I know it was used for The Day of the Triffids.

After this, we had lunch in the local Prets, which has quadrupled in size since I used to work upstairs from it, and then the Daughter had to rush back to work, so we finished our fizzy water and then caught a 91 bus down to Trafalgar Square, only we sat downstairs which was a Big Mistake as we couldn't see the entrance to the Aldwych Tram Tunnel properly, nor Bush House.  We could see Somerset House, though.

We got off the bus at Charing Cross and made our way to the National Gallery.  Dr Sauvage had two things she wanted to see, which were luckily almost at opposite ends of the gallery - Hogarth's Marriage a la Mode, and the Marriage at Arnolfi.  So we went to the one and then wandered slowly to the other, stopping to look at whatever caught our fancy - and a great deal did!  Then we wandered back by a slightly different route, and so to the gift shops where postcards were bought.

And then a potter around Trafalgar Square before heading underground again to Tooting Bec, as Dr Sauvage wanted to buy a shalwar kameez, which she duly did.  I was very tempted, but persuaded myself I didn't really need one.  Sadly, the sari shop is closing down soon - I bought my set there, so did my mother, and Sasha0407....

Then we caught a 355 bus home, and are now relaxing with a cup of tea before heading out to Brixton Village to get some supper.  Tomorrow is another day.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Day 18: Antwerpen-home

We were fairly lazy this morning and didn't go down to breakfast until about 09:00; it seemed odd to hear so many British voices in the dining-room, and we realised we simply hadn't encountered many other English-speaking travellers during the holiday.  The breakfast was good, except the juice was nasty and the coffee was so weak it couldn't crawl out of the cup.  If a coffee machine says "Expresso" on it, it's a fair bet the regular coffee will be weaker than weak.

I discovered that my black cardigan was missing, and realised I must have left it in the restaurant the previous evening.  This was locked, but the kind receptionist said he would look for it as soon as someone came in with the key, which was due to happen around 12:00.  We were not leaving Antwerpen until about 3:00 so we left our luggage at the hotel, and set off to explore.

We bought day tickets for public transport, but were foiled as we couldn't see where the tram we wanted left from, only to discover that it was, in fact, a metro!  Once we sorted that out, we got to the Groene Markt, and had a lovely walk round the old centre of the town.  Including, quite accidentally, the red light area where the poor women sit in the windows and parade their charms.... I felt rather sorry for them. The Swan Whisperer was most embarrassed, as he hadn't realised that was why that particular street was pedestrianised....

Then we decided to go for a tram ride there and back again, which was a mistake as a child was sick, which reduced me to curled up in foetal position with my eyes screwed shut and my fingers in my ears.  But I was able to move to the back of the tram and carry on looking out of the window.  We ended up in a very Moslem/Turkish area - I was tempted to go and buy some flatbreads and/or hummus to take home, but there wasn't time. 

We found somewhere to have lunch, and then took a final tram back to the hotel, got our luggage and the next train to Brussels.  Only we nearly failed to get out at the right station as I had dozed off and the Swan Whisperer assumed I'd say when it was time to get off!

And so on to the Eurostar - and I slept the entire way through the tunnel and was very confused as I'd heard them say they were going to stop briefly in Calais Fréthun, and the next thing I knew they were stopping at Ashford instead!  And so to St Pancras, and the Victoria Line, and a 355 bus, and home.

It was a really lovely holiday!  I wish it were all to do over again!

Day 17; Train Day 10: Hamburg to Antwerpen

The train was on time when it got to Hamburg, thankfully, so we got in, were shown to our sleeper, and went straight to bed. I was on the bottom bunk, and turned myself round so that me head was by the window, as that way I could get out left side first, which is what I'm used to - it's way easier to brace yourself if you are lying the right way round. Plus I could lie there and look out of the window, which was lovely.

The train was due to spend 3 hours in Hannover, splitting up and joining together again, but something must have gone wrong, as it was well over an hour late when we woke up. Not that we had slept terribly well with all the bumps and bashes as carriages were split off and joined together, but once the train started moving again it was lovely and I, for one, slept very soundly but not long enough.

We had a private shower and loo, but our shower was broken. The SW went to one further down that was empty, but I decided I wouldn't actually reek if I made do with wipes for once, so I did. Breakfast was provided, but not desperately satisfactory, so when we arrived in Utrecht we headed to the nearest Starbucks (I know, but maybe it's different, abroad) for coffee. We would have liked to have explored, but the SW looked outside and said that he was sure Utrecht was a very nice city, but all he could see was a building-site! So we got the next train south, decided we were too tired to explore Rotterdam, or Roosedaal, where we also had to change trains, and came straight to Antwerpen.

I regret to say we spent the afternoon watching the British Grand Prix and the Tour de France, but we did go out to stretch our legs before supper.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Day 16; Train day 9: Stralsund to Hamburg

We thought that, because today was a train day and we could, we would take the train right out to the end of the line, to a place called Ostbadsee Binz on Rügen Island. This was a lovely journey, across causeways and bridges, at one place with the sea on both sides. However, what we really would have liked to have seen - and I think we did see a bit, from the train, was the extraordinary resort barracks Hitler caused to have built at Prora, just down the line. Ostbadsee Binz looked as though the only really good thing was the beach, and it wasn't really beach weather, so we got on the train to Hamburg. Actually, the train was to go all the way to Stuttgart, but we were only going as far as Hamburg.

When we got here, we found the station full of very shouty people in fancy dress, which was rather disconcerting of it! So we put our luggage in a locker, and then caught a tourist bus to see the sights.  Which were mostly water - lakes and canals and so on.  After which, we were both hot and sleepy, so we went into a coffee shop and I had something called a frozen orange green tea, which seemed to be mostly orange juice with ice and mint; most refreshing. The SW had a milkshake.

We then walked down the main shopping drag - stopping for a pee at a random department store - to the Rathaus, and pottered around there for awhile, watching a boat come through the lock and so on. Then we walked up the lake or canal or whatever it was back to the station, and after a bit more pottering round the station, we had a very leisurely meal in a random restaurant, and are now sitting in the waiting-room on platform 14 waiting for the night train to Utrecht, which will probably be late! 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Day 15: Stralsund in the rain

Actually, it only rained in the afternoon, and for a holiday where we must spend a great deal of time out-of-doors, we have been very lucky with the weather.

After breakfast, we caught a bus up to a very large shopping mall called Strelapark, where we had been told we could buy a suitcase, which we duly did. The two anchor stores of the mall are a MediaMarkt and a Citti hypermarket.  The Swan Whisperer went off to look round the former, while I bought milk and butter in the latter. Don't let anybody tell you that the Germans don't do hypermarkets n they jolly well do in Stralsund!

We dropped our purchases back in the hotel, and went off to explore the harbour area, and incidentally eat a delicious lunch of fried herring and salad; at which point the heavens opened. So we hopped on a sightseeing tour, which was not very good, and I fell asleep, but it was a chance to see more of the town and the ancient fortifications.

Then we bought ice-creams; the SW enjoyed his, but mine was rather sweet nothing, so we walked back to.the hotel to eat tea and watermelon and peaches and strawberries. Then the SW was just about to.go out for another walk when the heavens REALLY opened, thunder and everything, so he didn't go out until we both went to find some supper. The first place we tried was full and the waiter blithely wished us a pleasant evening, which made me cross, but we ended a nice little place that did us duck.or chicken, and then back to the hotel.

Day 14; Train day 8: Magdeburg-Berlin-Stralsund

Wouldn't you think German trains could run on time? One has this fantasy that they do, but in reality they are far, far worse than British ones. I don't think we've been on a single train run by Deutsche Bahn that has been on time, and they have mostly been st least 15 minutes late, if not more!

Yesterday's trains were no exception. The first train, to Berlin, was late, and the slow train got there first!  We went all the way to the Ostbahnhof, as I had remembered a supermarket that sold sweet sprinkles like they sell herbs. But it was a Rewe, which are ubiquitous, and the sprinkles are now all available in the UK, which they weren't 5 years ago. Did buy some salads for lunch, though.

We then took the S-bahn back to the Hauptbahnhof, which had only just opened last time we were there, and had been in the middle of a building site. It still is, rather, but there has been a lot of development.  We looked at the sightseeing boats on the river and wished we had more time.

Then down to wait for our train to Stralsund and to be very tempted be the Berlin-Warsaw express on the next platform, but eventually our train arrived, 20 minutes late of course, and we went to Stralsund, eating lunch en route.

The hotel here is very nice but I must remember, in future, to ask for rooms on a lower floor if there is no lift, as it is a 3rd floor walk-up and my knees do not like stairs. And although there is, allegedly, free WiFi, it doesn't really work. So I have bought roaming, which is EE and just as fast, and very little more expensive than what I paid for it in Magdeburg. But why are the prices coming down on Monday? 

The SW's suitcase has disintegrated big-time, so we need to go and buy another. I had suggested he use my old one, as I bought myself a lightweight one for this trip, but he took his own. Big mistake!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Day 13: Train day 7: Hameln

"Hamelin's town in Brunswick"
- actually Lower Saxony
"By famous Hanover city"
- 45 minutes away by S-bahn
"The river Weser, deep and wide"
- not very either compared with some rivers
"washes its walls on the southern side" - um, no, western, I'm afraid!

Browning's errors of fact notwithstanding, Hamelin, or Hameln, is worth a visit.  Especially the museum, which costs €5.00, but worth it. Right now they have a special exhibition on the Pied Piper, in addition to their normal one, but there is also a lot about the history of the town and lots of early tools, and a mammoth skull, they found in the Weser.

The town makes much of the events of 1284, and there are rats everywhere - statues, images on paving-stones and, of course, souvenirs!  Wooden ones, mostly, but I saw some soft toy versions, too.

Coming back was a bit trying, as German trains are no more reliable than English trains are - less, in many ways - and the S-bahn had fallen over, so we had to wait ages in the cold -and it is cold; it doesn't seem possible that a week ago we were sweltering in >30 heat. But the train came in the end, and we just made our connection back to Magdeburg. Which was also >15 minutes late. I don't think we've been on a single train in Germany that hasn't been, except the Harz-Elbe express, and that is run by Connex, who have, I think, learned something since they lost their UK franchises!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Day 12: Magdeburg

Another rest day, and I, for one, really needed it. Went back to bed, and to sleep after breakfast and dozed on and off all morning and most of the afternoon. The SW went out for a walk in the morning, but I think he was just as happy to rest in the afternoon, too.

About 4:30, though, I got my second wind and we went out and had a very quick look at the weekly market that was just coming to an end outside the Rathaus; we then bought a day pass for the trams and spent a very happy hour going round and round and finding where they went.

Then we had an early supper at a local resto that Google Maps said was good - it was!  I had zanderfilet again. The back through the showing mall, stopping off for an ice-cream en route, and buying some more cheese in the supermarket. Earlier we had replaced our Melamine cups, which were getting very stained.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Day 11; train day 6, Quedlinburg

We had been going to stay in Magdeburg today and go to Quedlinburg tomorrow, but the line was run by Veolia, not DB, and we weren't sure they accepted inter-Rail, so if we had to pay, we would have a spare train day. However, there was no problem, and we arrived in this beautiful town at about 10:30.  The actual journey was lovely, too, through vast swathes of arable land, and I saw herons, at least one stork and several birds of prey of various kinds.

Quedlinburg is really lovely; dates back to the 10th century. Lots of half-timbered buildings and a very old town hall. The market square is being dug up, which rather spoilt photos, but I got some lovely shots anyway. The market church was open and we visited it, but the main museum isn't open on Mondays.

We had an enormous lunch in the local brewery, and drank of the local brew (yum!), and then wandered back to the station to see if we could find out about the local narrow-gauge railway. There had been a steam train in the station when we arrived, but at 14:20 there were no signs of life. The train we had arrived on, as it were, was there, though, so we got on and travelled to Thale at the end of the line.

It was, however, pouring with rain - the first time we have really been rained on all holiday - so we got back on the train and fell asleep (I did; I don't know about the Swan Whisperer!) until we were back in Magdeburg.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Day 10; train day 5; Dresden-Leipzig-Magdeburg

We were not sorry to leave the hotel this morning; we took the S-bahn to the Hauptbahnhof and then a train to Leipzig; the journey enlivened by a New Zealand farmer who talked our hind legs off all the way. Quite sweet, though.

We had hoped to be able to look round Leipzig but, alas, the left-luggage lockers were too small! And there was no staffed one. But there was a steam engine although not in steam! So we got the next train and arrived in Magdeburg too early for the hotel, which looked very empty and forlorn. After a sandwich lunch in the station, and a pee which cost €1 and the loos weren't even very nice, we finally roused someone and were able to check in. Hotel itself very nice; large room and decent-sized bathroom. They rip you off by charging for Internet access, though, but once you know the password, you know it, so between two of us not so bad.

After a rest we walked round the town to see what was to be seen, and then had a leisurely supper in some random café, including a pudding, for once. They offered a chocolate cake with rhubarb ice-cream and strawberry-rhubarb compote, which was Swan Whisperer heaven, and I had something with tinned peaches and strawberry ice-cream, which was ok but a bit sweet. Now back at the hotel for an early night. It is conveniently situated between the railway station and the bus station.

And, like Dresden, Magdeburg has very wide roads and a very dense tram network. We think this must be an East Germany thing. Looks very different and strange, but we rather like it.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Day 9; Train Day 4; Marienbad-Dresden

We were sad to say goodbye to Miroslav, the proprietor of the Villa Art, and promised to recommend the place to all and sundry. He said that, despite Marienbad's having practically been founded by Edward VII, they get very few English visitors.

We had ordered the car for 10:30 (doesn't that sound grand!), but nearly made a nonsense with the trains, as the fast train was late, then they wouldn't let us on as it was reservation-only, and the train we had planned to catch was on another platform than advertised, but we just caught it by the skin of our teeth.

And so to Cheb, which has the most gloriously unreconstructed station, straight out of the Communist era, with an ultra-modern bus station outside. And then a little diesel rail-bus to Marktredwitz; it was not run by DB, so we weren't sure our tickets were valid, but nobody asked us to show them, so it didn't matter.

I was surprised to find that we were in Bavaria; I had thought we were too far north. However, we didn't stay there, we almost at once got on another train to Dresden. A taxi took us to the hotel, which is part of the BB chain and such a comedown after the Villa Art.

Tea was necessary, and then we set out to explore the city. I had fallen down the steps of the railbus and jarred my leg, and walking is, not painful, exactly, but uncomfortable. So we decided to be trippers and take a sightseeing bus round the city, which was fun. Dresden is an odd mix - the old centre reconstructed, lots of buildings left over from the Communist era, and lots of modern ones, too. And this extraordinary former cigarette factory that looks rather like a mosque.

We ate dinner in a random restaurant which was the best steak I've had for a very long time, and then walked back to the hotel.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Day 8: Marienbad

Today was very much a rest day, and what a glorious place to do it in! Thanks partly to overnight rain and partly to altitude (only 632 metres, but still), the temperature was at least 10 degrees cooler than yesterday, which was absolutely perfect, except that I think not wearing sunscreen may have been a mistake.

After a lovely breakfast - the Czechs have wonderful breakfasts - we didn't hurry out, but pottered around, and the SW washed out his T-shirts.  However, we eventually set out to explore. Most of the town appears to be parkland, and is beautiful. However, our first port of call was actually Tesco's for milk and cheese - they had a shocking selection of fruit. There was a Lidl, too...could have been at home!

The SW dropped me at a convenient pub and I ordered the beers while he put the groceries in the fridge here, and then we decided to have lunch out as we have been able to refreeze the ice blocks and our flannels so they will keep cool even if it is hot again tomorrow.

After lunch we walked and walked round the springs, duly tasting the waters (vile!) although not out of the traditional cups, which incorporate a drinking-straw in the handle, as you had to pay a deposit on those and most people were using plastic bottles! We found a spa and debated using the baths, but weren't quite sure what to ask for, so didn't.

Language has been a bit of a problem as almost nobody speaks English, but luckily they all speak German, and I.can cope in that. The default attitude to foreigners here is that they must be, or at least speak, German!

Once we were walked out, we came back to the hotel for a cup of tea and a nap, and the SW decided to go back to the singing fountain to hear the performance, which he said was basically the fountains being played in time to recorded music.  Then we went out and had a delicious meal in one of the many local restaurants, and back to the hotel.

Slight change of plan for tomorrow; we are not now going to Carlsbad, despite the lure of the eponymous plums, but straight to Dresden as that way we go via what our inter-rail maps tell us is a scenic route. We shall see!

Day 7. Train day 3. Plzen and Marianske Lasne

A final huge breakfast at the guest house - one of the few things they did well - and then we caught a bus to the station and then the 10:01 to Plzen.

Czech trains are like British ones of 25 years ago; bliss! Not quite slam-door, but very nearly; windows that open, and even compartments in some carriages. And nice clickety-click motion, so I don't have to wear seabands.

We arrived in Plzen, left our luggage in the consigne, and picked up a local map in the tourist office, then went out to see what we could see. Which turned out to be a huge Tesco's, so we popped in and I bought myself new sandals - my trusty Clark's have finally demised, more or less - and a very large Sun-hat which gave far more protection than the old one.

Then we bought bus tickets - it was far too hot to walk anywhere and I was wilting after 5 minutes - and caught the next bus to the town square. There was a fabulous cathedral which did have a small entry fee, but we got the senior citizen reduction! And a beautiful town hall. And a very nice restaurant where we ate salad and shared a honey-cake ("a luscious confection of honey and nuts with a feather-bed of whipped cream.").

Soon it was time to head back to the station, by tram this time, and profit from 15 minutes' free wifi in the waiting-room, and the second train, to Marienbad, or Marianske Lasne, as it is now called, with a few accents in odd places.

The hotel meets one at the station, and the place itself is lovely! Room not huge, but adequate, bathroom is huge, and you share a kitchen. But although it has all mod cons, it looks charmingly old-fashioned. We like it! 

The rain arrived just as we did, and there were grumbles of thunder all evening. The SW went out for a walk and to try to find a food-shop, but I was too limp from the heat. We had a picnic supper, and I think I was asleep by nine! Awake now, of course, but will go.back to sleep when I have posted this!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Day 6: Ceske Budejowice and Bavorov

Right, let's try this one more time.

We were very unimpressed on Tuesday evening as we decided to ear in the restaurant which is part of the hotel. Unfortunately, we can't read Czech, and the only dish we recognised was Goulash, which we had had for lunch. So we asked for an English menu, which they didn't have, but they did have a German one.

Unfortunately, the two bore no relation to each other in any shape or form, and the German menu was twice the price. So we drank our beers and went round the corner to another restaurant whose menu was bilingual to start with. It was dearer, nut not expensive, and I had delicious zanderfilet with potatoes and vegetables and the SW had pork with potato salad.

Yesterday morning, after an enormous breakfast, ee made friends with the local trolley-buses and went up to the Budweiser brewery.  Sadly, they only offered tours to individuals, as opposed to pre-booked groups, st 2:00 pm, which was too late for us. So we came away and looked for a supermarket near the hotel to buy fruit. We had trouble finding one, but I remembered seeing a Billa not far away, so we went there. "What do you bet," said the Swan Whisperer, "that we find s supermarket much nearer the hotel now?" Well, we didn't then, but that evening we found a Tesco Express literally round the corner...  and we've been told there is a Norma in the town square, although we didn't find it.

Anyway, that was later. After lunch, we went by bus to the village of Bavorov, home to Cestina and her dolls house museum.  This was fabulous, and well worth a visit if you are ever in the Czech Republic. The houses were so cleverly arranged, the more you looked, the more you saw. There was also one in the local museum that reminded us of Brixton Village - artists upstairs and a posh coffee shop downstairs!

I think my absolute favourite thing, though, was an office made inside an old floppy-disk case, complete with computer, mouse, photocopier, fat machine... Wonderful. And a Japanese house as carefully researched as "Miss Happiness and Miss Flower". I have taken loads of photos.

Cestina very kindly gave us supper, and showed us her lovely house, and then drove us back to catch the bus back to the hotel. Where I spent 90 minutes trying to wrote a blog post on my tablet, but its auxiliary keyboard has broken and then the post didn't save, for some reason. Grr. So with much swearing, I gave it up as a bad job and went to bed!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Day 5 - Cesky Krumlov

Started the day badly by not being down to breakfast punctually at 08:00 - oops!  Still, it was copious and delicious, and the coffee was lovely, too.  Then we tidie up on the off-chance that they would do our rooms - they didn't; this is defi itely a guest-house, not a hotel - and then set off to find the bus station and our bus to Cesky Krumlov, which we had been told was unmissable if you were in the area.  Indeed, it was absolutely lovely, but incredibly hot!  I also developed a blister, which did not please me!  The place was full of tourists.  We had elevenses in one cafe, actually fizzy water for me and iced tea for the Swan Whisperer, and lunch in another. With beer!  Then we wandered slowly back to the bus station and there was a bus in ten minutes. I think we both fell asleep on the bus - I know I did.

The bus station is on top of a huge shopping mall, so we stopped for a much-needed and most refreshing cup of tea, and then bought more blister plasters and some more water and headed back to the guest house, where we both flaked out for a bit.  The SW, who is quite better now, has gone out for an explore, and later we will probably have dinner in the restaurant downstairs or else eat bread and cheese upstairs.  There is satellite tv but of course the only English-language channels are news and current affairs ones.  Sigh....

Monday, 17 June 2013

Day 4; train day 2; Munich-Linz-Ceske Budejovice

The Swan Whisperer has gradually got better all day as his antibiotics have kicked in.  But imagine being in Ceska and not able to drink beer!

We were up fairly early and at the station in good time for our train, which was a Railjet to Linz.  I must say, after the Man in Seat 61 raved about the train, I was not very impressed by the quality of the ride or the speed.  But lovely scenery which we tried, vainly for the most part, to photograph. And surprisingly nice coffee!

On arrival in Linz, we put most of our luggage in a locker and set out to explore.  The SW wanted to go to the Donau, which was about 20 minutes walk away, so we wandered off in that direction, but en route encountered a beer garden offering a lunch-time menu of grilled chicken breast fillets with asparagus and herbed rice, followed by apfelkuchen, for 7.90, with beer/apple juice and I had coffee which was not very nice.  We then walked on to the Donau and on to the bridge - it was looking very grey and not very beautiful.  We took a tram back to the station just because we could, and then I did a bit of shopping and we went up to our next train, which was utterly different - compartments, and speed was not a factor!  But it got us to Ceske Bujedowice.  But we had no idea where the hotel was, and there were no taxis!  And my satnav refused to acknowledge the existence of the pension, and in any case had run out of battery!  But the station bookstall supplied us with a town map, and we set off on a very hot and sweaty walk to the pension.

We got there eventually.  The room is lovely and large, but there are no bedside tables and there were no reading lights until we complained, whereupon they found us one.  We showered, then had a beer downstairs in the restaurant and then a picnic supper in the room.  There is free wifi but neither my ipod nor this machine recognises it up here, although my phone does.  I am going to take this down to nearer the router to try to post it.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Day 3: Munich

Dear oh my, what a day!  We woke up early, and the Swan Whisperer said he felt a lot better.  Nina and her family came to pick us up shortly after 10:30, and we went out and saw lots of the sights of Munich, including a trip up the Tower of the Town Hall, from which you had a terrifric view all over Munich.  We also visited the Hofbrauhaus, but only to have a look and spend a penny as it is expensive and I'm told the food is not very good.  We went across the road to eat Weisswurst!

The SW had some dental work done on Wednesday before we left - he had lost a filling and there was an abcess under it, which he didn't know was there.  The dentist cleaned it out and put on a temporary filling, but obviously didn't do a very good job, as first it was very sore and then this last two days his cheek swelled up to the point he could barely open his mouth.  So Nina kindly found a 24-hour emergency dentist and we spent an hour there waiting while he had it seen to - the dentist removed the filling and has prescribed antibiotics.  They gave us a list of open-on-Sunday chemists where we got the prescription filled - he had to pay for that, but the dental treatment was covered by the EHIC card - thank goodness I got them renewed before this holiday! 

After this, we went to the Olympic Park and walked round there - the weather, I should have said, is simply glorious - and then out to a castle in the suburbs where there was a beer garden, but you could take your own food.  But it was fairly obvious that the SW had Had Enough by then, so Nina drove us back to the hotel.  Nevertheless, it has been a lovely day, and we can stop worrying about the SW, I think.  The bug is all but gone, and now we know the tooth will be all right... we can head on towards the Czech Republic with light hearts.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Day 2: Liege to Munich

I am typing the first part of this on the train to Munich, actually the first leg, which is as far as Frankfurt.  We could have changed in Cologne, but had already entered our travel details on our pass, so decided not to. 

Well, last night was a bit of a bust, as the poor Swan Whisperer felt rotten - I think he has the bug I had about ten days ago, which knocks you flat for about 36 hours.  So once we got to the hotel, all he could do was sleep.  I did go out for picnic stuff and found an Aldi, but didn't venture further.  There were buses into the city centre and, had the SW been fit, we would have undoubtedly enquired about the ticketing system and used them, but I really didn't feel it was worth it on my own.  I did explore the station, though, which is a fantastic modern edifice only finished in 2009.  I have taken some photos, but have no way of uploading them until I get home, I'm afraid; I can't quite see how to upload them to the tablet.  They will follow!

Anyway, I took myself out for a forlorn birthday dinner in a local brasserie, and made the mistake of ordering something called Boules de Liege.  All I can say is, don't bother.  Yuck.  So I left most of that, but ate the chips and enjoyed a small beer, and then went back to the hotel and had an early night.  Oh well, even if he doesn't feel up to going out tonight, I can go out with Nina and her family.

Will finish this later.

Later: Have arrived at the hotel but big mnistake as it is in the red light district!  Oh well, the room is clean, quiet and pleasant, what more can you ask?  Tried to Skype with the Boy, but to no avail.  Signal too poor.  More tomorrow.

Actually, it is not yet tomorrow, but this wouldn't post earlier.  We are just in from a lovely meal with Nina and her family at the Augustin  bierkeller, where they only sell beer by the litre... I didn't actually mean to drink all of it, but it sort of disappeared.  I did eat -  sausages and kartoffelsalat!  Yummy.  The SW had fizzy apple juice (apfelschorle) and pork with a dumpling and red cabbage - I had a taste and it was lovely.  Now home quite early, and we are all hopin g the SW will b e better in the morning!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Day 1 - Home to Liege

Up at a relatively civilised hour this morning as our train was not until 08:59.  Got to St Pancras with no problems, and mnanaged to get coffee and text my mother before it was time to board the train.  This was pleasantly half-empty and on time, and we decided to get the next available train to Liege.  This was a slow train and, when it arrived in the station, promptly broke down!  So we then got the next train from the older part of the station, and it too was late. 

However, we arrived eventually, and checked in to our hotel, only to find that the roomn they had given us was not yet made up, so we asked for another and got a very nice big one, with three huge beds, and separate bathroom and loo!  I have made us a cup of tea and am catching up; the Swan Whisperer is fast asleep!  I expect I shall have a nap soon, too, and then we must go out and find a supermarket to get the makings of a picnic lunch for tomorrow.  Our trip today was to "any Belgian station", so our inter-rail adventure really begins tomorrow.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


Right!  I have spent today sorting travel times and booking hotels and we have it all set up.  We spend one night in Dresden, on the middle Saturday, and then head off to Magdeburg, where we have booked four nights.  We plan to spend one day looking round Magdeburg, one going to Hannover, and one going to Quedlinburg.  Then we head up north to Stralsund, where we spend two nights.  On the Saturday we head south to Lübeck, and then over to Hamburg - not that we'll have much chance to do more than have dinner there. At midnight, we get a sleeper train - I've booked us a deluxe sleeper as the economy was no cheaper, and I don't fancy couchettes with strangers, thank you.  I'd rather pay the extra for privacy - to Utrecht, and from there we spend our last night in Antwerp.   And then on the Monday our "Any Belgian Station" ticket will take us to Brussels and back home!  It should be a great fortnight.  I will keep a journal on here, but as I don't think I'm taking my netbook, only my tablet, I won't be able to upload photos, but will make up for that on Facebook when we get back!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Test post

I am trying to decide whether this little tablet will do to take away rather than having to take the laptop with me. I am hoping that it will; I always thought that it was so slow as to be unusable, but it actually seems fairly ok.

Saturday, 25 May 2013


We are busy making plans for our Inter-Rail holiday, which starts in three weeks' time!  Wonderful - except that it means that I shall be 60!  I am very lucky that both my parents are alive, relatively well, and totally of sound mind.

We set off on the morning of my birthday, the 14th, but only go as far as Liège - we have bought tickets to "Any Belgian station", which means we don't have to use up a "travelling day". 

From Liege we are heading to Munich, probably going via Frankfurt-am-Main as most of the trains we could take are Thalys, and they are the one train you can't take with an Inter-Rail - well, you can, but you have to pay a supplement of about €36, so we aren't going to!  So we take a train in the morning to Frankfurt, then almost immediately get on another train to Munich, were we are spending the first Sunday - we have friends there, and it will be great to see them. 

On the Monday morning - the 17th, I think - we head of on a Railjet train to Linz, where we break our journey for a few hours, and then head up to České Budějovice (Budweis), for three nights.  We plan to spend one day going to Český Krumlov, which I gather is well worth seeing (this can be done on local buses), and the other day we will look round České Budějovice itself in the morning, and in the afternoon we will go to a little village called Baranov to visit Cestina's "Small Worlds" museum which will be properly open by then. 

On the Thursday we set off again, this time to Mariánské Lázně (Marianbad), this time spending the day in Plzeň (Pilsen).  Friday will be spent in Mariánské Lázně, and then we will be off again, probably to Dresden via Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad). 

And that is basically as far as we have got.  I haven't booked anywhere in Dresden yet.  I know the basic idea of Inter-Railing is that one can go as the Spirit moves one, but the Swan Whisperer will, I think, be a lot happier if we plan everything in advance. 

I am thinking that from Dresden we will probably go to Berlin, or even further, depending on train times, to the far North of Germany, and we also want to visit Lübeck, Hameln, maybe Hannover, maybe Hamburg, and end up at the Belgian border on the final day! 

Should be fun....

Monday, 22 April 2013

A Weekend in Paris - Sunday

Neither of us wanted to get up on Sunday morning, but we had booked practice ice for 08:30, so we had to!  It felt like an ordinary patch, as I grabbed some coffee from the hotel before we left, and then we were there with bananas, coffee and our music!  Not too many of us on the patch, which was nice, and Hana found out how to use the music, so we were able to have one run-through to the music and then practice bits that weren't working too well.

Then back to the hotel for breakfast, after which the Swan Whisperer went down to the rink to watch the first half-hour of competition, and I stayed in the hotel to bling up and dress.  He then came back and we checked out of the hotel, and went down to the rink.  Emma won her free dance class, deservedly, although she didn't feel she'd skated very well.  We didn't have any opposition, so it was a performance, and despite missing the spin - we can DO that bloody spin, why can't we do it in competition???? - we were gratified with a season's best.   If only we'd got another 1/2 revolution on the spin it might even have been a PB.  Ah well.  The step sequence wasn't called, but they never are at Bronze.  And looking at the video, I am horrified by how wide apart my feet tend to be, and how straight my knees - you can tell how badly I skate compared to the Swan Whisperer, who is very good these days.  But oh dear, quote of the century from him: "It's all that work we do on edges!  You would think a straight line would be faster, but actually, it's faster if you're on an edge!"  It's only taken him eighteen years of skating to learn that..... !

Anyway, after the Silver and Gold free dances, always a treat to watch, it was time for the "Creation", highlight of which was Axel's rendition of "Gangnam-style", which was a hoot!  There were some good performances in the women, too, notably Lisa's air-hostess.

Once everything was over, and we had changed back into street clothes, it was nearly 3:00 pm, and our train wasn't until 19:13, so we went back to the café and had the simply enormous brunch they serve at weekends for €20 a head - coffee and fruit juice and bread and jam or croissant, followed by a huge plate of scrambled eggs with a muffin or bagel, cheese, vegetables, salad, plus either smoked salmon and taramasalata or (our choice) bacon and sausages.  As if that wasn't enough, you then got fruit salad, carrot cake and a chocolate cake - we couldn't face the latter, so the Swan Whisperer wrapped them up and we had them later.

Then we took the Metro into the city centre and sat in the sun on Pont Neuf for about half an hour until the quais underneath reopened to traffic and the peace and quiet was over, whereupon we got a bus from Chatelet up to the Gare du Nord, and it wasn't too early to check in.  Train home not as nice as it could have been due to a stag party coming home - honestly, if they wanted to spend the whole weekend getting and being drunk, as they obviously did, why bother to go to Paris?  They could have done that just as well at home!  Anyway, they were relatively harmless, and I fell asleep so they didn't intrude!  Then an uneventful trip home on the metro and bus.  And unpacking, a bite to eat, and so to bed after a lovely weekend.

I don't think we'll be going away now until our big trip in June, but you never know....

A weekend in Paris - Saturday

Today was the first day of the Trophée Hauts de Seine.  We weren't skating, so we got up slowly, and had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, and then wandered down to the rink in time to see the lower-level solo compulsory dances.  Our friend Emma was doing the Bronze solos, and did quite beautifully - a good 14-step that put her in the lead, and then an absolutely superb Foxtrot, a real masterclass in how to do it, which confirmed her victory. Another friend, Nina, from Germany, was having her first go at dance (she has been a free skater up to now) in the same class, which was not a great success, but she had fun trying - and should continue!

We enjoyed watching all the dance, and then cheered Emma on her podium, after which she and her family went off to explore Paris, and we too went for a walk.  I had slipped out and got us a sandwich and a cake from the local bakery - you know it's a good one when there is a queue going round the block - and we walked down to the Ile Ségur, which in my day housed the Renault factory, but that has long since gone, although Renault's head offices are still in the area.  The Swan Whisperer had explored two years ago, but this time we found a great transformation, as the whole island is being transformed into a public space.  Renault have a site where you can test drive their zero emission cars, but we declined to do that, and explored the rest of the site, where there is a museum, a restaurant, a children's play area and a great deal of what looks like stuff planted for bio-fuel, which gave me serious hay-fever (luckily I had some stuff with me).  We were astonished though, that on a lovely Saturday afternoon (the weather was infinitely better than it had been on the previous day, which wouldn't have been difficult, frankly!), we were almost the only people there!  Where were all the local hordes?

As I was feeling a bit rotten with the hay-fever, we walked back towards the rink, and I sat in the square while the SW went and got my bag for me from the hotel, and we went back to the rink to watch various friends free skates and the pairs.  Then we went off to a local restaurant and had a meal - we both chose salads; I had a Salade Landaise, which has giblets, hard-boiled eggs, pate de foie gras and beans as well as the usual salad stuff.  And beer, of course.  Neither of us wanted any pudding, so we came away, and went back to the hotel for 20 minutes or so, before going back to the patinoire for the tour of Paris by Night.  This was quite fun, but the usual irritating courier rather detracted from it - as did the fact that the bus got lost and couldn't find the rink!  Ah well.... we got there in the end, and then got back to the hotel just before midnight.

A Weekend in Paris - Friday

Up far too early, and out of the house by 06:00 to catch the 07:31 to Paris.  We arrived at St Pancras in good time, and bought ourselves coffee and a sandwich at the Café Nero there.  The train was on time, and we arrived in Paris, as scheduled, shortly before 11:00 local time.  We decided to go straight to the hotel, as even if we were too early to check in, they would doubtless allow us to leave our luggage there and go out again; however, they kindly allowed us to check in even though we were a good 15 minutes before 12:00!  We took longer than we need have going, as we went to the wrong ticket-hall; if we had gone on to the one on the line we wanted, there was no queue at all!  We bought Mobilis tickets - the local equivalent of the one-day Travelcard - as we were planning to travel all afternoon.

We settled in, and then headed out to the local creperie for lunch - I had one with mushroom, egg, ham and cheese, followed by ice-cream and washed down with beer, and the Swan Whisperer had one with mushroom, egg, bacon (lardons) and cheese, followed by one with stewed apple, and washed down with cider.  Then we ventured forth into Paris.  The Swan Whisperer fancied going on the T3 Tramway again, only we made a mistake getting there - we should have got off at Porte de St-Cloud and got a bus across the bridge, but we ended up at Charles-Michels and it was pouring with rain and I needed a loo, so we went into Monoprix, but they said there that the nearest were in McDonald's, so we went there to find they were locked out of service, by which time I was desperate, so we ducked into a random café and ordered a coffee!  Phew, relief!  And the coffee was heaven - I'd forgotten how much I liked expresso on occasion!

We then ended up waiting ages for a bus, but got on one eventually and found the start of the tramway.  We discovered that it now went all the way to the Porte de Vincennes, so stayed on it the entire route; there is also a 3B that goes from Porte de Vincennes round to Porte de la Chapelle.  So we got on that.  Fortunately, I think, the Swan Whisperer got bored of trams by the time we got to Porte des Lilas (I had got bored of them rather earlier, but men and their toys...), so we got off.  There was a direct bus to the centre of town - forget exactly where - which went via the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, and that sort of area.  We got off on the Grands Boulevards, and walked for a bit until we got to Havre-Caumartin métro station, at which point the road forked and I wasn't sure which road we should use to get to the next métro, so we called it a walk and went back to the hotel for a cup of tea.

After a rest, we went back into Paris, to the Café du Commerce which I do rather love, and had reserved a table at.  The Swan Whisperer had oeufs dur mayonnaise - oeufs plural, as there must have been at least 2½ eggs - followed by boeuf bourguinon, which he did not like as he said it was too salty.  Basically we had made the mistake of ordering pints of beer, so we didn't want anything more to drink, but it would have been nicer accompanied by wine!  I had snails and then kidneys, both of which were gorgeous, but again, the kidneys would have been nicer with red wine than they were with beer.  I didn't want a pudding, so drank a Courvoisier while the Swan Whisperer ate lemon meringue pie, which he said was lovely.

After which we went back to the hotel and slept!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Days of Discovery

Although we are at home, and going no further than my parents' for the long weekend, I have had a couple of very different and interesting days.

Yesterday, I had arranged to have my grandson, known to Blogland as The Boy, to spend the night as his parents wanted to go out to dinner and his bedroom is currently uninhabitable due to being re-plastered.  So my daughter suggested we met at the Horniman museum in Forest Hill which, despite living in the area for over 30 years, I had never visited.  I always thought it was awkward to get to, but in fact it is on a direct bus route from Brixton.  For my daughter, it is a fairly direct journey on the Overground, although it takes quite a long time.  In fact, it took longer than she thought, and I ended up drinking coffee in the café there and rather wishing I hadn't had lunch as the "Healthy Eating" dishes - mostly falafel, hummus and salad - sounded so delicious. 

The Horniman Museum is very splendid.  There are a couple of wonderfully old-fashioned nature galleries, full of stuffed animals and birds, and wonderful for small boys to run around in.  Then there is a music gallery, and a room designed for "hands on" music-making, also lovely for small boys.  The gardens, too, looked as if they would be glorious, but, alas, it was far too cold to want to walk around in them.  So we came home on the bus.

Today was, if anything, even more interesting.  My daughter had scored free tickets to the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the odd sculpture in the middle of the Olympic Park, so the Swan Whisperer, the Boy and I set out fairly early, braving the overcrowded northbound Northern Line and changing at Bank to the DLR, and then changing again at Poplar.  I do like the DLR, and we were lucky enough to get front seats on both trains - the Boy loved this, needless to say.  When we arrived at Pudding Mill Lane, it was only a short walk to the site office, where we picked up our tickets and waited for the Daughter to join us.  She was a few minutes late as it was a longer walk from the centre of Stratford than she'd realised, but that didn't matter. 

The tour was a preview of what the public will be able to pay quite a lot of money to see from tomorrow!  A bus tour takes you around what will eventually be the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and then you go up the ArcelorMittal Orbit.  You start off on the ground, and then a high-speed lift whisks you up to the top of it.  Where there are splendid views all over London.  Then you were supposed to go outside, but it was bitterly cold, and the floor was the kind I hate, with little holes in it so you could see the immense drop below.  Thanks, but no thanks.  So the Boy and I went down in the lift- we should really have stopped off on the floor below, where I gather there are fun things to do - and the other two WALKED all the way down. My knee would not have survived that.

The Boy and I caught a bus into Stratford, while the other two walked, and we were happily ensconced with our coffee and babycino in Costa when they arrived.  After a couple of errands, my daughter and the Boy went off, the Swan Whisperer having already left, and I did a bit of shopping, and then treated myself to lunch in the Moroccan place in Westfield - falafel wrap, yum - and a kulfi ice-cream in the Indian sweetshop opposite.  I then walked to Stratford International DLR station - I had some thought of treating myself to a ride on the Javelin to St Pancras, but I was just about to miss one and then next was not for another half an hour, so not worth it - and got the DLR to Canning Town, then the Jubilee Line to Canada Water, the Overground to Peckham Rye and the 37 bus home! Which took a long time, but was fun.  What I ought to have done was to have stayed on the DLR one more stop, to Royal Victoria and then the Emirates to North Greenwich, but I didn't think of that in time!

Then home, and 30 minutes' work, and then out again in the early evening to a pamper evening at l'Occitane en Provence, where I was VERY strong-minded and managed not to buy anything, but had champagne, a hand massage (which would have been much nicer if she'd taken off her ring), chocolates and a facial, and came away with some free samples! 

All in all, I shall be glad of a few days' break in Sussex over the Easter weekend.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

What this is all about

Yet another blog?  Well, yes.  The Swan Whisperer and I enjoy travelling, and I enjoy writing a travel journal while we are doing this, and, extraordinarily, it seems people sometimes enjoy reading what I write.  So I decided to create this blog to enable a wider audience to read it, should they wish.

Of necessity, it will only be updated sporadically.  We are planning a weekend in Paris for a skating competition 19-21 April, but our main holiday this year will be in June, when we are going Inter-Railing for just over two weeks to celebrate my 60th birthday.