Wedding anniversary

I drove over to Near Sawrey, it’s near to Hawkshead. I stayed in Belle Green B&B. Carol and I had stayed there I think 4 times before, definitely 3 times. The last time was the day the EU referendum was announced. Ann and Steve were very welcoming and I felt safe. I went and had a meal in the Tower Bank Arms, it was nice being out in the very dark.

Over breakfast I had a chat with Sally, a visitor from Wisconsin. We hit it off instantly, she’s a photographer with a keen Beatrix Potter interest. I told her about the “behind the scenes” tour I’d booked at Hill Top in the afternoon.

I walked down to Esthwaite Water and selected a spot for Carol’s ashes that didn’t have much obvious footfall but was still overlooking the water. She and I loved this place, we never saw anyone there when we went, it’s such a beautiful spot. I buried the ashes and spoke these words, feeling slightly foolish so did it quietly.

Give me a drink. You know I have always wanted to get married, not for always, but just for once in my life I wanted to live out my love for a man like they did. I suppose you think I mean I want to walk down the aisle in white with my friends watching, but that’s not it, that’s not what this feeling is to do with. Or not all of it, because of course I would love to do that. But that’s easy to laugh at. What I want is to hold his hand in public. And what I want then is to hold his hand in front of the television for several evenings a week, and if you don’t understand that, if you don’t know what that feeling is, if you don’t know why it’s like that then you know nothing, nothing, nothing.

Neil Bartlett, from Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall

Our wedding was just right for us. We didn’t go mad. Our clothes were a bit odd, it was one of those times fashion wise when there wasn’t much around for gender queers, it was all a bit baggy trousers.

Those ruddy broken pots!!

I know I grinned all day long, so much my face hurt. In the morning, Carol gave me a card and these tickets that she’d kept for 14 years.

So when it came to her funeral, I knew exactly which poem to read (W. H. Auden’s Funeral Blues). We managed 10 years of marriage and 26 of being together.

After my own private ritual, I walked to Far Sawrey along the road and then cut up through an old wood and across some fields. Then back to Near Sawrey in a circuit. Sally and I met up again at Hill Top for the tour which was nice because it wasn’t as madly crowded as when Chris and I went there a few years ago.

I headed for home, stopping briefly for a scone at Claife Viewing Station, then over on the Windermere Ferry. The last time I did the ferry, they’d taken off the man who collected the money and replaced him with ticket machines that were completely incomprehensible and slowed down the whole process so much it created enormous queues and frustration. I wrote a letter of protest it made me so cross. Now the machines have gone and the man has returned to take the money off the passengers. Win!!

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Switzerland August 2019 Pt 2

Wednesday

Train from Wengen to Kleine Scheidigg. From Kleine Scheidigg to the Jungfraujoch (the col below the summit). Nice new train. The train stopped at Eismeer station (3159m) in the tunnel so everyone could get out and look through the viewing windows to the Ischmeer glacier. This station is one up from Eigerwand which was the one connected with the 1936 tragedy. Since 2016 Eigerwand is no longer in use.

At the top, 3454m at Jungfraujoch you walk round on a signposted route. It was ok and we were lucky to see the views before the weather came in and obliterated everything. I didn’t go in the ice palace or out on the snow as I am still wary of slipping. I stamped my Jungfrau passport and had a horrible and expensive sandwich. Decided to go back down. The train does not stop for viewing on the way down but the ticket person gives you a small bar of chocolate, clearly something UK train operators need to adopt. I looked around Kleine Scheidigg. Cheapest postcards! Then I walked down to Wengernalp station, nice to leave the crowds and the selfie sticks. Caught the next train down from Wengernalp. Bought an almond croissant from the nice bakery in Wengen to make up for the sandwich and ate it near the church. Dinner of salads, vegetable (spinach) roll and veg, cheese and bread. The boys (Adrian and Mark) and I are going to eat out in a Swiss resto tomorrow but W the bigot asked if he could tag along and it was not easy to say no although I was very tempted. We have recruited some more to the party so I should be able to avoid the nasty old git. Why he wants to eat with 3 queers is beyond me. I have failed to shake him off at meals.

Fluffy the Alpine chough
Aletsch glacier

Thursday

Today involved a great many types and changes of transport. Train to Lauterbrunnen, cable car to Grütschalp, train to Mürren. Mürren was delightful, traffic free, high. I fancy a holiday there. Walked through the village to the cable car to the Schilthorn (2970m). You go up most of the way to Birg and switch for the final 500m. Misty. I was 11 when On Her Majesty’s Secret Service came out and I’ve wanted to go to Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn ever since so this was a dream come true for me. It’s all very silly but I loved it. Had a ristretto in the revolving restaurant. We stayed about an hour but it was much more relaxed than the Jungfrau so a pleasant visit. Back down in the cable cars to Mürren, ate my very nice cheese and tomato on whole-wheat sourdough sandwich from the baker’s in Wengen then a cable car to Stechelberg. Onto a bus to the Trümmelbach falls which is a touristy thing. I walked up the 140m of the falls. Ok but back with the pushing and shoving so not as enjoyable. Falls were pretty amazing, all inside the mountain. Took the lift some of the way back down. Onto bus then train to Wengen. Out to local restaurant with Adrian, Mark, Jim, Tony, Janet and Phil. I had a dark beer, rõsti, crème caramel. Janet and Tony shared fondue and Janet had a flaming ice cream. Good company and good fun. W the bigot had changed his mind about coming with us after all. Perhaps 3 really is 3 too many queers. He had to make a dig at me of course and referred to my “ostentatious hat”. When I haven’t got anything to do I’ll consider how to pimp my cap. Or not.

These get used to great effect by Diana Rigg
I should really just let James get on with sorting out Blofeld
Piz Gloria
Quite a long way up
Inside the Trümmelbach Falls
Fluffy the Alpine Chough

Friday

Cable car to Männlichen. Walked to Kleine Scheidigg, bumped into Chris and Linda going the other way round. Arrived at Kleine Scheidigg, sat in cafe and Jo and Mark pitched up going the same way round as me. I had an ice cream and some juice, back to no sugar on Sunday. Chatted with some Australians but they wanted to talk about Brexit and I just want to put my head in a bucket. Looked through the telescope at the north Face of the Eiger. I can’t imagine how Uli Steck climbed it in 2 hours and 22 minutes. Caught the train to Wengen with Jo and Mark. Shopping in co-op. Packing. A free farewell drink from the hotel (small beer for me, you can get beer in 20, 30 or 50 cl. amounts). A dinner with cheese in everything including cheese soup, reports of this were not great. I had salad starter, salad is just cold food really, nearly always cold omelette or quiche. Then further carb overload of cheesy pasta, potato, cheesy quiche, sauerkraut. Apfelstrudel and small choc meringue. Sat by the church with Jude and Chris. I have now walked the whole of the route between Männlichen and Wengen.

Eiger from Kleine Scheidegg
Toothy rocks of Männlichen

Saturday

I woke at 2.37 which was rubbish because the alarm was set for 4.30 and of course I couldn’t get back to sleep. Switzerland is an hour ahead to make matters worse. I went down just before 5.30 to find members of the group sitting in the Poirot entrance hall in the dark waiting for the call to breakfast. It really looked like we were waiting for the dénouement. I didn’t think I’d want to eat but managed my usual breakfast and made a large cheese sandwich for later in the day. We trotted off to the station in the dark, the luggage and Olive went by milk float. Train to Lauterbrunnen, train to Interlaken, train to Basel, train to Gare de Lyon. On this train we had 32 reserved seats but some people had already sat in them and didn’t want to move, however we managed to sort this out without any fighting! The train did not have any guidance as to where the seat numbers were located on the outside of the carriage so unfortunately most of us were at the wrong end of the carriage which meant we had to do a lot of passing suitcases over people’s heads as basically the selfish seat stealers had created a total log jam. We all eventually got our seats. Bus to Gare du Nord, passing Place de la Bastille and Place de la République. Very hot in Paris, over 30 degrees. Eurostar to St. Pancras, at one point there was a call for a doctor, farewell to fellow travellers (I shook W the bigot’s hand very formally). Got onto train to Leeds at King’s Cross by a whisker to find Ruchi and her mother travelling to Peterborough. They were being helped by a Millwall fan, who also helped me with my bag, He was keen to demonstrate that not all Millwall fans are racists or homophobes and actually he was a nice man! Got to Leeds, straight into M&S to get a salad as part of reverting to my high veg diet. There was a large woman who was totally off her face struggling to adjust her bra. She asked the checkout guy to help her, so he tried to but unfortunately her large breasts escaped, all mightily unnecessary. Leeds station full of very drunk people, but also quite a lot of coppers. Got onto my train to Halifax, with only a few drunks on it. Arrived Halifax and got into my taxi and home just after 9.30. I had been awake for a very long time. I was looking forward to my lovely bed but I knew it would be hard to walk in the door to the empty house but actually it was even harder than I had imagined, just wanting Carol to be here. There is nothing I can do that makes it any better, the double grief is shit. I’ve fallen back to earth.

Place de la République
Gare du Nord
Welcoming us to Eurostar

Switzerland August 2019 Pt 1

Friday

It took me hours to pack my bags. It felt very strange to be setting off for a holiday with no Carol to see me off. No-one to give the contact details to.

I went on the Grand Central train from Halifax to King’s Cross. I sat with a couple of actively retired vicars from Halifax. They told me about their 4 sons. The wife vicar was Swiss and delighted that I was travelling to Switzerland!

I walked to my hotel on the edge of Russell Square in the heat. My room was on the top, 7th floor and was even hotter than outside, no air con but noisy from lots of huge air con units in the courtyard below. Also smelly from frying in the kitchen.

The first thing I noticed in the room was that a person could climb out of the window. Not a good way to go.

I got on the bed and promptly fell fast asleep.

Then I went to Waitrose in the Brunswick centre to buy breakfast. I have to leave too early to get the hotel breakfast.

Back for more dozing then out to Carluccio’s for beer, cheese and pea salad and veggie balls with hummous, broccoli, tomato and a very thin crispy bread thing. All very nice. This ended up as the best dinner of the holiday. They asked me if I had any allergies. Guess this is after the Pret mess.

If I ever do anything like this again I’ll book my own hotel, a Premier Inn would have been fine.

Opposite the President hotel off Russell Square
Delicious!

Saturday

I was too hot to sleep well. Got up at 5 and took a taxi to St. Pancreas. The driver was way too chatty for so early.

Met the tour leader, Philip and some of the party of 31. First of several reminders to be vigilant, a lesson from being gay for 40 years is that you always have eyes in the back of your head and assess situations quickly, at least I do, survival.

Sat next to Jim from Kansas. Ate my fresh fruit and yoghurt.

Once at the Gare du Nord we walked round to the Gare de l’Est. I bought a salad in M&S which I had on the TGV, still sitting next to Jim.

Arrived mid afternoon in Strasbourg. Nice clean and cool hotel Mercure opposite station. The room was on the 4th floor and was even easier to fall out of than the President in London.

I went and looked at the cathedral which was heaving. Got told off for not taking my cap off. I suspect God has better things to worry about but of course I apologised and took it off. I find people taking selfies more bothersome. Some people had gone in just to sit and fiddle with their phones.

We went to a restaurant very near to the hotel called Le Dix. I sat at the wrong table with an 80 year old bigot. What fun. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one who found his opinions didn’t go down well. He was anti vegetarians and vegans. Kept repeating the same “joke” endlessly, about 10 times. Made unsatisfactory comments about queers.

For my dinner I had veggie quiche, aubergine tomato cheese thing, would be great on cold winter day! Fruit tart. Small glass of beer courtesy of my new Welsh friend Adrian.

On Eurostar
Never forget

Strasbourg

Strasbourg cathedral

Sunday

Nice buffet breakfast. Fruit, yoghurt, rye bread, cheese, tomato, juice, coffee. This turned out to be the best breakfast of the holiday.

Trotted off to Les Ponts Couverts which I expected to be enclosed but they were not. Perhaps they had been in the past. It was nice walking before it got too hot. I tagged onto a random tour group briefly. At a bakery the leader said this is where I buy my bread, it’s very good, there was a queue out the door so I got a sandwich from them which was ok.

Returned to hotel to reconvene. We got on a very comfortable train to Basel, then crossed on foot into Switzerland at last, got stern looks from the frontier guards.

Train 2 took us Interlaken Ost. From there train 3 to Lauterbrunnen and then the smallest train up up up to Wengen. No vehicles are allowed in the village except for the electric truck that took all the bags and some of the less mobile people up to the Grand Hotel Belvedere which is grand to look at. They let a few small vans in but no private vehicles.

My room is on the top floor, fabulous views, top notch for cleanliness, lovely clean air, smell of woodsmoke. I actually felt something like happy. The first time. The windows are the worst yet for safety.

Dinner was a help yourself buffet, I had salad, pasta and creamy veg, cheese and dark bread. Ok but not haut cuisine.

Monday

Breakfast buffet, I had fruit (tinned, WTF?!) and yoghurt, cheese and bread and coffee.

I walked through the village, getting cash on the way. The co-op for salad and a nectarine.

I set off for Wengernalp but it was hot so I got halfway and hopped on the train at Allmend. Had a conversation entirely in German giving some directions to an elderly woman. At Wengernalp (1880 m) I wandered about until I found a quiet bench to eat my salad. The salad was very boring, needed a dressing. I found the dressing sachet at the bottom of the box, so the last third was ok. I started to walk back down and chatted to a Swiss woman keen to practise her English. Then I met a young Canadian who was an absolute delight. We took photos for each other. She restored my faith in humanity. I got back to Allmend and got the train back from there.

Bimbled about. Lipton’s apple and cinnamon tea in my room.

Dinner: salads, quiche and gnocchi and green beans, fruit mousse.

Went with Jude and Chris to sit near the church and watch the sun go down on the mountain. Popped in church, immediate feeling of calm and peace. Watched hang glider come down off mountain in rapidly failing light, bit scary to watch but we think they landed ok.

Enormous fireplace in the hotel

Allmend station

Tuesday

After breakfast of fruit and yoghurt and a boiled egg, we went up to Männlichen by big cable car from Wengen. I then walked another 100m of ascent to the peak at 2345m. Back down to the village to catch the train to Lauterbrunnen. From Lauterbrunnen to Zweilütschinen, from Zweilütschinen to Grindelwald. I popped in the co-op for another salad and then through the village to the small but very long cable car rising from 1034m to 2168m. I had my picnic at the top, did a bit of the “cliff walk” a metal path dangling over precipitous drops and then back down, getting a car to myself. As I got into the car an alarm went off and a man ran across to the controls. The alarm stopped and I went off down the mountain. A car coming up contained Tony and we waved at each other. He later told me that on his descent, there was an announcement about a problem and that passengers were to remain calm in the cars. The upshot of this story is that nothing further happened and he was safely brought to land without having to dangle. However this is one of my worst nightmares!

Back in Grindelwald I had my first ever iced coffee, it was ok, not sure if I want lots more of them but it worked well in the heat.

Too hot so I, and others from our party, took the train to Kleine Scheidigg and then another back to Wengen.

Salad, goulash, mousse. Sat with Adrian and Mark outside.

Indeed!

Snow shoes Mercantour, February 2017

Fri 10th

It’s exactly 3 years since Chris and I took her last holiday to Finland where amongst lots of other things we went snow shoeing. She was so happy on that trip and we had a lovely quite magical time.
I’m still in bits and not really coping that well as yet.
I stayed last night in the Hilton at Liverpool airport and did actually sleep well. That’s something that’s slowly starting to improve as in I do sleep through sometimes now.
I’m writing this on the plane and just met my 3 companions for the week, Bridget, Pat and Graeme who are all in the row behind me.
A smooth painless flight with EasyJet. Only 2 hours. Arrived Nice at 10a.m. To be met by Mel who drove us to Berthemont which is an hour up the road.
Lovely to see him and Liz again. Pat and I are in the top gite and Bridget and Graeme in the bottom one.
Unpacked then baguette lunch with beer.
Mel showed us how to adjust the snow shoes to fit our boots and how to fit a Pogu mini crampon.
Bridget took us for a stroll round the village to warm us up. Nice in the sun.
Dinner with Mel and Liz. They showed us round the house.
Dinner – cheese twists with chilli, mozzarella salad, soup, daube (beef with orange) with polenta, roast spuds, broccoli and creamed mushrooms, custard and meringue pud. All amazingly good. Wine.
Sleep.

Sat 11th

My mum’s 100th birthday today.
Breakfast in the lower gite. Croissants coffee toast muesli yogurt.
Out to Le Boreon. Walked up to the Col de Salese at 2100m. Climb of about 600m. Hard work and felt v tired and out of breath as did others. Stunningly pretty and lovely.
Lunch – salad, cheese, ham, bread.
Back down with some practice at going down slopes. Dig heels in, back straight and knees bent!
About 6km or so.
Back to Berthemont. Rugby – Wales got beaten by England so Mel not a happy bunny.
Dinner – chilli popcorn, hummus, big cooked cheeses, gnocchi with fried cabbage and onion, cooked fruits with cream.

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Graeme and Pat
Graeme and Pat

Bridget and Mel
Bridget and Mel

Sun 12th

Drive south for 45 mins. Walk up to the Cime de Roccassiera then to the ruined village of Rocca-Sparviera, looked into little chapel right up the mountain which had Templar crosses inside. Back up to the col and back down to the van.
Lunch – pasta tuna salad, boiled egg, bread, cheese.
About 13 km of distance plus 1300m of up and down. I did this walk with Liz and Mel but without the old village last time I was here in 2008. Lovely walk.
Dinner – crispy pastry things with beany inside, French onion soup, couscous with meatballs and tomato fresh sauce, choc nut fruit cream dessert. Delicious.

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Pat having a little rest

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Old village high up the mountain

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From doorway of chapel

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Genuine wolf poo

Mon 13th

Out in minibus to Rimplas near Valdeblore passing ski station. Maginot line fort. Walked to La Couletta and stopped for lunch at 1400m.
Lunch – potato salad, ham, cheese, peanuts and hot apple juice in effort to reduce my post lunch heartburn. No plantar fasciitis today as on feet for much shorter time. Only 600m of up and down today. Lovely walk. Stopped in St. Martin Vesubie for Pelforth lager and small shopping.
Dinner – tapenade on crispy toast, spinach tarte, fish stew with roast potatoes, oranges with lavender. Yum.

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Maginot fort

Roof in Rimplas
Roof in Rimplas

Tues 14th

To Le Boreon. Snow shoed up to Le Refuge Cougarde at 2100m. 1200m of up and down. Lunch inside refuge which was shut. Beany artichoke salad.
Graeme lost a snow shoe on way back down however Mel located it and fixed it back on.
Got a bit better at the snow shoe shuffle and the heels down descent techniques. Used the heel lifts to go uphill and the rear clips so as not to trip on steep descent.
Saw a chamois and some wolves in the wolf park just their tales.
Songs in my head
Climie Fisher – Love Changes Everything
Be Good Tanyas – Lakes of Pontchartrain
Dinner with Liz and Mel in their house – heart shaped pastry puffs, beetroot and goats cheese, pasta and sauce with beef strips, creamy fruity pudding. All fab.

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Bridget, Graeme, JR and Pat

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The big courgette
The big courgette

Weds 15th

Mel took us to the Tinee valley, another very steep sided valley about an hour and a quarter away. Up and up and up to Col de la Couillole at 1680m. Snow shoes to Sommet de Countent at  1990m.
Saw a black squirrel.
Back down, very hot and sunny, sloppy snow.
Tip: put pole through hole in snow basket in order to keep poles joined together and easier to use when needed comme ca.
Stopped at La Colmiane ski station at Valdeblore for Leffe beer for Mel, Graeme and me and hot choc for Bridget and Pat.
Dinner – dips, chard soup, butter chicken, basmati rice, chana dhal, lentil and potato curry with pitta. Home made coconut ice cream with melon liqueur. Yum yum.
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Thurs 16th

Utelle. Gorgeous walk up to the Sanctuaire de la Madone d’Utelle. 380m up. Quite steep on last 150m to reach plateau.
Went round the church. No quality control re the art in the cloister. Heard some singing/chanting.
Stopped in Lantosque for a St. Thomas beer. Good beer.
Back at the ranch, Bridget went for a horse ride with Liz.
Final meal upstairs with Liz and Mel.
Blue cheese and walnut (their own) on toast. Pasta with truffles. Big salad with eggs, ham a la Nicoise. Pineapples with booze on. Freixenet. Stayed up late with Liz and Mel.

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Band of travellers

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Fossil

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The bells of Utelle

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Lintel in Utelle

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Door in Utelle
Door in Utelle

Fri 17th

Up at 6.30. Breakfast at 7. Left at 7.45. Had to take mountain route diversion because of landslide on main road. It was very high with vertiginous drops, OMG! Then raced along the motorway to the airport. Seemed fast after a week of pootling along.
Easy flight. Slow on motorway getting home.
How lovely it was not driving or cooking and being in a beautiful and dry place with good company!
Videos from the trip.
The holiday was run by Mel and Liz from SpaceBetween.
Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

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Shropshire December 2016

This trip was booked back at the beginning of the year. We didn’t then know that it would be such a necessary time away.

Mon 5th
We were late setting off from home which meant we had quite a chunk of driving along the M6 in the dark and then Google Maps took us along lots of country roads, all gradually getting smaller and smaller.
Bush Cottage is down the end of a mile of rough track. We had to stop several times to get out and clear branches that had fallen down, then we came to the ford which luckily was low enough for us to drive across.
It’s a lovely little Landmark Trust property, tucked away and feels very remote, although in actual fact the nearest neighbours are less than half a kilometre away, and they sell logs and kindling. The ground was frozen so these may well be needed.
We unpacked quickly and then had a Spanish omelette prepared by yours truly.
Sat drinking wine next to the open fire.

Tues 6th
Got up slowly and decided to walk from the cottage to Kinlet church, about 2 and a bit kilometres away through woodland and across fields. It took a little over an hour to reach the church in the fog. A very dull day, the fog barely lifting.
We explored the church and its wildly ornate Tudor effigies. Then we had our sandwiches in the church near the organ with the heater on! We left some money for the electricity.
Returned on the same route, collecting some wood for the fire although we’re not supposed to do this. I really can’t think a small bag of old windfall wood is going to be noticed. I drove about 200m to the farm next door and bought a bag of dry logs for £4, money in the honesty box.
Later we drove up the track in thick fog and through very very thick sloppy mud to The Pheasant at Neenton. In places the fog was so thick I could only just see the road.
I had a very good tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms and peas. Carol had a big beef pie with chips and veg. We sampled some local pale ales.
Back through the fog and then a slide down the muddy track. Mud has been a big feature on trips this year.

Weds 7th
Drove across to Ludlow in a weak wintry sun but actually much warmer today, double figures and very little mist.
We spent a good time checking out all the nice shops and had lunch at The Green Cafe which is near to the hydro electric bit of the River Neme. It’s named for the green and isn’t an eco cafe. Carol had beef brisket with watercress, cauliflower piccalilli and mustard mayo. The bits I tried were very good. I had butternut squash gnocchi with deep fried sage leaves and taleggio cheese and leeks. This was simply excellent and good value too.

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Thurs 8th
A driving around day. First to Claverley which has 3 pubs, quite a lot for the size of the place but only one operative, to look at the church which has some ancient wall paintings. And effigies of a chap with 2 wives.
Then to Cleobury Mortimer for a look but not much happening there although the ironmongers was good. Then to Bewdley for not a lot but nice clean loos in the Medical Centre which is right by the car park, if you were in need of a hairdo then this is the place to come as you will be spoilt for choice. Home to Bush Cottage via Highly which is a long sprawly village.
It’s chicken pasta chez nous tonight.

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House near the church in Claverley

Fri 9th

Home again.

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Bush Cottage

 

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Bush Cottage

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

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Gothenburg and Bruce July 2016

Thurs 21st

Easy travelling to Gatwick airport. Seemed much less hassle than getting to Heathrow by train.

At the airport I just followed the signs and the Bloc hotel is actually inside the terminal. The room is small with no window. The wet room is also small but all good fittings. The lack of a window means that it’s like a cell albeit a comfy one.
Ate my samosa and salad from M&S and settled in.
Popped down to the Wetherspoons for a bottle of craft lager from Hog’s Back brewery, very good beer but a shame about the Wetherspoons as it’s the only bar in the south terminal. I guess I could have stepped outside and gone to a hotel bar but I was too tired and didn’t.
Cath and I usually start our navigation courses at a Wetherspoons because it’s open, quiet and cheap however we want to boycott them after their Brexit campaign support so we will now be going to the Bear cafe in Todmorden instead to do the first bit with our clients.
Went to M&S again to buy my breakfast and a mini bottle of wine. This made me suddenly overwhelmed and almost sick with sadness as I’d last been in this same M&S doing much the same with Chris before we went on our holiday to Finland. I returned to my room and got a message from Gary from the Romania trip who was in the Wetherspoons (!) so we had a message chat and then I popped down for a chat with him. Nice to see him and his fingers have recovered (see Romania blog post). He works near the airport and was there because he’d worked late and missed a bus. Funny because I’d seen someone earlier who reminded me of Gary and had been thinking also about coincidental meetings.

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Sunset over Gatwick

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Cell Bloc

Fri 22nd
Up at 7, Bircher muesli in my cell and straight to check in. Didn’t even get patted down at security! Free double espresso from Pret a Manger and a bit of a wait. Chatted to an American medievalist as we both tried not to be assaulted by 2 plump puffins who were “amusing” the kids. She was a nice 3 minute interlude! Amazing what you can learn in a short time.
On the plane I had a window seat next to Simon who did a lot of talking but was nice and funny and clever. So 2 nice, sensible people to amuse me!
Smooth flight, met Simon’s partner and friend who were seated further along. They were nice too!
The luggage took a while to come and mine was almost last off the conveyor belt.
Got some money with my Revolut card, bought a travel ticket for the city not a City Card and got on the bus.
About half an hour to the city. The stop is just a big bus park. A few minutes to orientate myself. I’d worked out I needed a number 3 tram so was pleased to see one straight away. I got on and followed my map, getting off about 6 mins walk from Tidbloms hotel. It’s in a quiet residential area. The hotel is on a hill so although the room was first floor it was actually the ground floor at the back. This meant that with the windows open (very hot here) it felt a bit exposed. Also a dark gloomy room.
Set out to the official alcohol shop to buy some beer for while I’m here. Not too expensive. 3 cans for £3.50.
Then supermarket for bottles of water. Back to hotel thinking about asking for a new room. Hungry so got a tram to go to the Haga area. It passed the Elite Plaza hotel and Steven van Zandt was outside with a few fans. I got off at the next stop but just missed him by 30 secs. Talked to a couple of Finnish women. Bruce is travelling back from Dublin where he’s been with daughter Jessica and a horse competition (she is top horse person) in his own jet, not Ryanair! I got back on the tram to Jarntorget which was a bit rough (old winos) so moved on to Haga which is an old, quiet nice area. Found a lovely restaurant, En Deli Haga and sat outside with a selection of salads. Less than £10 but the beer was £7. Walked to a better tram stop to return to Tidbloms hotel.
I asked for a different room so now on 3rd floor at front. It’s a better room, lighter, some road noise. Although the rooms are non smoking there is a lot of smoking going on on next door’s balcony but at least I can leave the windows open and mostly the wind wafts it away.

Haga
Haga

Haga
Haga

Haga
Haga

Haga
Haga

If it helps!
If it helps!

Sat 23rd
Excellent breakfast. Strong coffee, fresh orange juice, home made granolas and mueslis with pouring yoghurt and berry compote. Cold cuts, cheeses, hard boiled eggs with mayo and dill, lots of different breads, salads, hot food. I didn’t have the egg or the hot food.
Out on tram to Botanical Gardens, these are lovely. The city has lots of trees and suffers from litter as do most cities but the gardens were fine as is the area my hotel is in, mostly residential. On the way I stopped at Stevie’s hotel but no sign of him or anyone else.
Through the gardens via the scenic viewpoint route. Met English couple who have FOS (front of stage) tickets so they don’t have to queue all day in roasting sun for the pit. Bet they cost a packet. Then into nature reserve which is the forest and lakes and heathland in the city. Extraordinarily quiet, not loads of people. Walked around for a couple of hours then back to Botanical Gardens for an open cheese sandwich on rye with salad on top and an espresso. Excellent. Then an ice cream before heading back to prep for Bruce.
Tram to the Ullevi stadium a few stops away. The ticket I bought on Greasy Lake from Josef Mahmood got me into the lounge. This is a posh restaurant where you pay more for strong drinks because the ordinary folk are only allowed to have 3% beer. Despite this one man had managed to drink so much he couldn’t stand and he dropped one of his £7 beers all over the poor man in front of me. I’ve met some very nice Bruce fans but I often seem to end up at the gig with one or two total knobs nearby. Pissed up git was with man with enormously long arms which spoilt the view when he was clapping. He was well over 6′ tall so his arms stretched out that far too.
Before the gig I had a veggie wrap but it wasn’t very nice.
When you go in the lounge you get a wristband to show you can have strong liquor but you’re not allowed out again (can’t imagine why this could be a problem seeing as you clearly have the wristband) however I sweet talked several staff in my vain search for a 23rd July t shirt. Went on the pitch and out of stadium and got let back in!
Bruce started with Meet me in the city then did the whole of The River and then another hour and a half of solid R&R, not many ballads. No Patti. It was perhaps a good thing it wasn’t too emotional a show. I’m quite capable of doing that without Bruce. It’s still very odd doing something like this without Chris who is with me in my heart all the time. It’s just not the same, my love.
My favourites were:
She’s the one, my video on YouTube

The crowd were crazy even before the band came on. Bruce didn’t do any requests, no Sunny Day with kid thank god, but got several people up for Dancing in the Dark. Finished with Twist and Shout, no quiet solo last song for us. Bruce clearly nowhere near retirement! It was VERY LOUD. They were selling ear plugs and rain ponchos!

After buying a shirt I walked back to the hotel about half an hour away. At first a little unsure about doing this on my own but kept usual eyes in back of head and kept to lit streets. Lots of people around. Late to bed!

Nature reserve
Nature reserve

Nature reserve
Nature reserve

Botanical Gardens
Botanical Gardens

From Botanical Gardens
From Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens
Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens
Botanical Gardens

Hotel stairs
Hotel stairs

Nature reserve
Nature reserve

Nature reserve
Nature reserve

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Bruce and Stevie
Bruce and Stevie

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Soozie
Soozie

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One side said "Welcome Home" and my side said "Bruce and E Street". The people in front of me are holding up the papers to make the sign.
One side said “Welcome Home” and my side said “Bruce and E Street”. The people in front of me are holding up the papers to make the sign.

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Panorama Ullevi

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Fireflies phones

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Nature reserve
Nature reserve

Goteborg by night
Goteborg by night

 

Sun 24th

Got up just in time for a shower and breakfast.

Out on tram for about half an hour to Saltholmen for the ferry to Vrango. Straight into big queue for boat but no trouble getting on. Direct boat no stops. Lovely sea breeze. Just under an hour. Island is small and has surprising number of houses. No cars allowed so people are on foot, on bikes with trailers in front or behind, electric golf carts and 2 stroke bikes with trailers behind or in front.

There are 2 cafes, one is entirely fish and the other ok but not brilliant. I walked a circuit of the island through a naturist area which was lovely and not a naked person in sight! Bought an ice cream from a man selling them from his garden.  Used a compost loo, not as nice as the Finnish one we went to. Found a bit of sea all to myself so had a paddle.

The land on the island and in the nature reserve in the town is largely glacial. Lots of big humpy bits (roche moutonees).

Back to village and harbour. Saw the fishermen’s sheds I nearly stayed in (until I realised I might not get back there after Bruce). Went to cafe, had not very good blueberry cheesecake.

Back on stopping ferry. Trams. Very very hot. Hotel.  shower. Walked to nearby pub Olstugan Tullen. Had vegan chick pea patty with roasted parsnips and carrots and salad. And soya mayo. Big glass of lager!

Hotel. Ice. Beer. Fan.

There are lots of bikes, they look quite heavy, step through and old fashioned. Some have kids in front of them in a sort of motorbike sidecar thing except in front.

There are a lot of very tiny dogs I guess chihuahuas. They have a fenced off poo park to go in and no poo on the streets and the dog area is clean too.

Man buns. Oh no! A lot of beards. And some face tattoos, they make the man buns look good.

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Slow boat

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Fast boat

The Stena boat kept popping out from behind little islands
Big boat! The Stena boat kept popping out from behind little islands

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A life on the ocean wave

 

House on Vrango
House on Vrango

Vrango
Vrango

Boat for Chris
Boat for Chris

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Vrango
Vrango

Not a naturist to be found!
Not a naturist to be found!

Vrango
Vrango

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Vrango
Vrango

Vrango
Vrango

Vrango
Vrango

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Vrango
Vrango

Vrango
Vrango

Vrango
Vrango

Vrango
Vrango

Vrango
Vrango

Entrance to cemetery on Vrango
Entrance to cemetery on Vrango

Vrango
Vrango

Donkey bikes!!
Donkey bikes!!

Mon 25th

Got up late only just in time for breakfast. I’m going to try making my own granola as so much nicer.

Packed up and checked out. Tram to central station and managed to heft my suitcase into a locker above my head height so not easy as now seems to be twice as heavy and full although what with I can’t think. Not really bought anything.

Went on ye olde fashioned Liseberg tram for a round trip (free on my travel card). Took half an hour. Rammed all the way to Liseberg funfair then just me all the way back.

Another tram to Haga area where I wandered. A bit more open and busy than Fri evening. Nice shops, nice cafes. Stopped for a while at one. Resisted the famous cinnamon roll because it’s massive, the size of a dinner plate. People next to me shared 2 between 5 but didn’t eat them all. Smelled amazing though. There was a big dalecarlian horse.

Back on my last tram to central station. I loved the trams! The travel pass is very good value, I went everywhere including the return trip on the boat for under £15 on the 3 day pass. Collected bags and chatted to man who has seen Bruce 167 times. How is that possible in time to take, in money? He is self employed. His partner has only seen Bruce 3 times because they’ve been together 2 years and she only goes to nice places!

Bus to airport. Check in and security all fine. Small amount of shopping. Long queue for passports. Wait to get on bus. 15 min wait on bus not moving. Drive to plane 10 more minutes not moving. Onto plane more time waiting. Smooth flight. Bobbie the bear films. Plane in holding pattern prior to landing.

All easy at Gatwick. Checked into room with window. No extra cost and all because I said I didn’t like the lack of window when they asked for my feedback. M&S for supper wine and breakfast.

On ye olde tram
On ye olde tram

Ye olde tram
Ye olde tram

Something very similar to these in Nice
Something very similar to these in Nice

On ye olde tram
On ye olde tram

Window view!
Window view!

Bloc hotel with window
Bloc hotel with window

Big dala horse
Big dala horse

Even when it didn't have a line through, I still found this the most baffling sign
Even when it didn’t have a line through, I still found this the most baffling sign

Tues 26th

Granola yoghurt and berry compote. Nowhere near as nice as Tidbloms Hotel’s. Going to try making my own granola.

Problem with fire at place controlling electrics for all trains from and to airport. Got onto first one. Crowded so standing and v uncomfortable. More people got on at Croyden so even worse hell. I hate being in contact with people and they probably do too. One woman was closer than my optician or dentist and accidentally touched my face as she got off. Totally hideous and I’m fit and healthy, would be awful if not. I feel a complaint coming on.

Had a cheese and tomato croissant with my espresso from Patisserie Valerie at King’s Cross to recover. Could do better but the coffee was fine.

Rest of journey all to plan. Home again, jiggety jig.

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

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Romania 2016

Fri/Sat 13th/14th May

Travelling

All the trains behaved well. Sowerby Bridge to Leeds to King’s Cross to Hatton Cross tube about 4.5 hours.  A woman on train talked to me whilst she sewed crocheted flowers onto a large white bra! Walked 6 mins to Hilton Garden hotel. It has very little garden. My room was surprisingly spacious but no free slippers!
I had some M&S salad, drank some beer and some wine. You can buy food and drink in the little shop at regular prices and put them in the ex-minibar fridge. Slept ok but the room only had air con and no opening windows so I was either too hot or too cold.
Despite my booking saying no breakfast I got a free one including real coffee. Walked back to the tube and got on a free bus to Terminal 4. Had a free coffee and then rather a lot of waiting. My trip through Security was extensive as usual. I did the walk through then a 360 degree all over body scanner then a full body pat down and lastly a footwear scan and bio sample, at least I think it was. You’ll be glad to know I was then in the clear.
Pootled about the shops and had a good goat’s cheese and beetroot salad in Carluccio’s as had spent no money up to that point!
At last I got on the Tarom plane, sitting with other Exodus passengers, Camilla and Julie and a Romanian woman, Adriana who works for the British Embassy. Talked with them all, didn’t even read my book. Smooth flight. I had the “special” meal which was a surprise as I’d forgotten I’d ordered veggie food. It was pasta in a white sauce and fruit washed down with Romanian bear beer.
Reached Bucharest at 6pm UK time. They are 2 hours ahead so we reached Villa Hermani in Magura at nearly midnight. Thomas the Exodus guide is ex German army. We got into a big minibus and drove for 3 hours. Felt terribly tired on arrival. but Herman gave us all a shot of fiery plum schnapps.
C and J and I have rooms in the annexe. There was an initial mix up with keys. They are now in the room with 2 beds and I am in one with one bed, I also have a balcony. At night there is a lot of dog barking because in the mountains every one keeps a dog and they all live outdoors. I will find out if they have kennels as it’s quite cold here. Lovely clean air.

Little Ted and the Hungarian bear beer
Little Ted and the Hungarian bear beer

Waiting
Waiting

Tarom plane
Tarom plane

Carluccio salad
Carluccio salad

 

Sun 15th May
Woke early when the sun came up. Read a bit then a lovely hot shower. The dogs live in kennels, unfortunately right outside my window! Villa Hermani has 4 dogs, I think.
Breakfast. Some slightly fizzy pale juice. Lots of coffee. Cinnamonny lemony dense porridge with fruit and yoghurt. Rye bread with very good butter straight from the churn. Lots of cheeses, cured meats and sweet things. Also houmous, fishy spread and salmon.
Made up sandwiches for lunch. Houmous and cheese on rye, separate.
Katherina did intros. She is German and Herman is Romanian. She is also an expert on large carnivores and previously did lots of research into them.
The group is:
Camilla and Julie who are in the annexe with me
Anne and George from Macclesfield
Marion from HK
Nick
Karin from Vancouver
Julia from London
Katy from Oz
Jackie from Dartford
Sue from E. Yorkshire
Gary
John from Glasgow
We set off. It was chilly in the wind and hot in the sun so quite a bit of on and off. Walked to Pestera along rutted roads and across meadows with Alpine flowers.
Stopped for lunch at the pub in Pestera. This was a large empty room with only one customer, very basic, more like a village hall. We ate outside. Some brave souls used the loo at the rear. Thomas warned us to be careful around wild dogs i.e. Those that work with shepherds.
We then went to the bat cave. This was a foul place because of the human detritus and we didn’t see any bats!
Bimbled our way back to the Villa Hermani. Passed a house from which some frantic folk music was coming out. Boot cleaning under the outdoor tap.
Having a little lie down. Can just hear the music of the cow bells.
Bucegi Beer.
Dinner of parsnip soup, celeriac fritter, braised carrots and rice. Had taste of chicken sauce but strong and heavy. I’m glad I opted veggie as simply not in the mood to eat meat every day. Pudding of stewed apple and set cold custard.
Palinca shot (strong plum schnapps).
Dog chorus.

View from my balcony
View from my balcony

Hay stack
Hay stack

Typical village house
Typical village house

P1040814

It's a bear!
It’s a bear!

The bane of my nights
The bane of my nights

P1040815

Mon 16th May
Wet wet wet.
In the minibuses to the National Park info centre which was shut, as was the cafe opposite. I’d worked it up as an espresso possibility. Addiction denied.
We walked up to the orthodox monastery of Coitul Chilulor at 1134m. We were accompanied by a large shaggy brown dog for most of the walk. At the monastery we had herbal tea and marble cake. We continued up to a small shrine set in the rock. Back down to the monastery for our sandwich lunch. On the walk back down there were wild dogs roaming so we stayed together. Thomas spoke to them and they stayed away. Our shaggy friend helped to protect us.
Back to the road to be picked up by Katherina and Herman.
My room still had no heat despite the fact that everyone else was warm but finally it got sorted and I was able to warm up and dry off.
Early dinner at 3.30! Celeriac soup. Beef tomatoes stuffed with polenta. Apple cake.
4.30 into buses for drive to bear hide. Seems longer than an hour. A robust discussion about Rob and Helen in The Archers. Eventually stop and walk across the teeming, spouting stream to the hide.
Immediately we see a bear and over the course of 2 hours another 7 or so, possibly some repeats. Several young ones and some large. We are quite good at keeping quiet. The bears linger over the lure (biscuits and corn) for quite some time. Two cubs came along and one was a delight trying to get up onto a rock and falling back down like a toddler.
Very cold, damp and uncomfortable in the hide. Glad to be back in the warmth of the bus.
Neustadt beer and a shot of plum schnapps. The dogs are noisy tonight.

Shaggy dog
Shaggy dog

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First bear, window still a bit steamed up
First bear, window still a bit steamed up

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Tues 17th May
Fabulous day of Karst scenery on circular route. A bit over 14km. First part in buses then walked through the gorge passing where a scene from Cold Mountain was shot then up onto a plateau. Snow on the big tops. Lunch at La Table. Through mountain meadows. A bit damp at first and cold with a few snow flakes. Then warm in the sun on the way back to Magura. Lovely day on good paths. Height about 1450m.
Typical Romanian dinner of nettle soup, stuffed cabbage leaves with polenta and sliced tomatoes and sour cream, cake made with courgette and a little choc, very good.
Katherina showed us a 2001 BBC documentary about Transylvania and Living with Predators. She then talked about her work on the large carnivores research project and how things have changed since the film was made. She is responsible for the introduction of bear hides as responsible tourism and improving the welfare of the bears and the people of Brasov. All most impressive.
A couple of beers. Neumarkt and Bucegi.
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Villa Hermani
Villa Hermani

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It be pirate day!
It be pirate day!

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Magura church
Magura church

So pretty!
So pretty!

Weds 18th May
Too much snow for the very high mountain. In buses to Poaina Brasov ski resort. Cable car to Postavanu at 1799m. Snowy and v cold. Down the path to Cabana Postavanu for fab choc and rum cake and an espresso at last! Nice old Alpine pub. Down a bit more to a flattish bit at Sub Teleferic for lunch (very short intervals between feeds!)
Down the red ski slope a bit more (this is a medium rating for skiers and steep enough for feet on grass) to another pub, the Rossignol. Home made lemonade very delicious. Back to the buses and home.
Dinner
Vegetable soup
Cauli in batter with garlic sauce
Creamed potato
Green salad
Shortbread cake with plum purée therein.
2 Bucegi.

Hoar frost on top of Poaina Brasov
Hoar frost on top of  Postavanu

In the pub
In the pub

Inside the pub
Inside the pub

Thurs 19th May
No sleep because of bloody dogs barking all night. The bugger had the cheek to be asleep when I got up. And then a very long day.
Left at 9.30 in the buses to Brasov. Thomas gave us a very informative tour of the town. Black church, Orthodox Church, synagogue, bullet holes from 1989 revolution.
Coffee with Thomas and Nick and Marion.
Got money with my prepaid card. Ate my lunch on a bench in the square. To market which was just a supermarket. Back to synagogue which was shut but not supposed to be.
To Art Nouveau cafe for a drink. George and Anne turned up. Had lovely lemonade. Thomas arrived.
Got more money.
Then it was 5.15 so we went to the buses, met Udo. Off to man made lakes to look at birds with Dan from Transylvania University. He is expert in ornithology amongst other things. Saw a marsh harrier and several types of heron.
Back to Brasov to Roata Norocului  (Wheel of Fortune) restaurant. Too noisy the minute we walked in. Loud and modern. The live music was dire.
Karin had an amusing time in the loos. No need for signs on the doors here! Couple that with a wayward cleaner confusing the protocols!
Small creamed veg soup and bread.
Pork schnitzel with ham, cheese and mushroom. Cabbage salad. Chips. Ciuc beer. Light Silva beer. All for less than £9.
Too full and headachey from the awful racket. Bloody dogs better be quiet.
Some lovely singing on the way back with Udo from Julie and the girls!

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At the birdy place

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These looked fun

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Art Nouveau cafe

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Bird watching

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Bullets from the revolution

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Banca Transylvania

Fri 20th May
Up early. In buses to Libearty the bear sanctuary. A rather short whiz round with guide. Terrible stories of cruelty.
Nice walk through the meadows to Vulcan where the priest gave us tea, coffee, schnapps and a sort of pancake made by putting the cake mix round a piece of wood and turning it slowly so it didn’t burn.
As we got back in the bus I slammed the door shut on Gary’s finger. A bit of blood but seemingly no bones broken or lasting damage. I couldn’t possibly have seen from where I was that there was a digit in the door.
Drive to Bran and went round castle. Nice castle but full of tourists and masses of tourist tat. Not very relaxing.
Into the horse drawn carriages to ride for just over an hour to the bottom of the long hill. It rained towards the end. Pleasant way to travel, even over the bumps.
In the buses to get up the hill.
Dinner of barbecued meats and salads. Asparagus for veggies. Ice cream. Thomas shocked to see me eating meat. He wore his full traditional gear, hand made by his grandmother.  Very smart.
Settle up bills. I didn’t have enough money and got subs from Jackie and Sue.

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Karin and her new friend

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Carting about

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Bran castle

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Thomas

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Church dog posing

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Thomas in full regalia

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Uwe the priest

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Camera man

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Ready for the off

Sat 21st May
Woke at 5.30, bugger, too early.
On the minibus seeing further half finished but occupied buildings. Communist buildings, even a power plant returning to nature, not demolished.
We got to the airport and then had to get on with check in. Farewells to Karin, Anne and George and John who are all doing slightly different things.
No problems with security this time.
Not much time left to do any shopping after passport control so onto the plane, smooth flight but a somewhat bumpy landing.
Got straight onto the tube, remembered just at the right time that I had to go via Manchester on my ticket. Empty train from Euston but a bit chilly. Crossed Manc on the tram and home from Victoria. Carol had ordered me a taxi from Elland Cabs but stupid driver took me a really long and expensive way home so I won’t be using them again.
Nice to be home.

 

Villa Hermani
Villa Hermani

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Mountains over Magura

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Magura church

Camilla and Herman
Camilla and Herman

Link to Julia’s photos on Flickr:
Romania 14-21 May 2016//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Top 3 Tips for hiking
1 Footwear is as important as the tyres on a car, keep your boots clean and proofed and carry a spare pair of laces.
2 Water is more vital than food, think clean maybe use a filter bottle like Water2Go or a bladder. Keep bladder clean between trips by sterilising using e.g. Steradent tablets or Milton solution, rinse out thoroughly and keep in the freezer.
3 If it moves, tie it down. I’ve lost maps and poles by not having them properly attached. Fix your compass and map to your body/clothing using whatever works best for you, mini carabiner clips and bootlaces are good.
Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

MAPandCOMPASS