Wednesday 23 December 2009

Wound Spotting V

Continuing my unpleasant roundup of which injuries are “in” in Europe.

Nuremberg appears to be home to the non-specific minor face injury with at least four people walking around with surgical tape on parts of their faces mostly around the eyes.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

UK Government: “All European Children will grow up to be evil drunks”

OK, so it’s a bit of an overstatement, added with, perhaps, a bit of malicious misinterpretation of the facts, though it’s no different to the shaky evidence that this government report is based on, so I think I can be allowed the exaggeration.

To distil it down to the nub of the Governments feeling, giving even a drop of alcohol to anyone under the age of 15 *will* turn them into the raging uncontrollable drunk yobs in later life that continue to plague the streets of Britain.

So, what has this to do with Nuremberg at Christmas? Well, dotted liberally around the Christmas Market are stall after stall selling gluhwein, hot mulled wine drunk by almost everyone at the markets. Whilst all the stalls were offering Kinderpunsch (no it’s not child abuse) a non-alcoholic version, it was pretty obvious that a very large number of the Children had been allowed by their parents to have the full-alcohol version.

Given that the Christmas markets have a tradition dating back at least to the end of the 19th century in their current form, if not significantly older, this isn’t a new thing, German children have been happily gulping down gluhwein for a long time, and on that basis one would suspect they are also allowed the occasional drink at home with a meal, much like their Italian or French counterparts.

Yet, there doesn’t appear to be crowds of drunken hooded yobs hanging around on street corners yelling obscenities at passers-by in Nuremberg (or Munich, Berlin, Rome, Florence or Paris either). Those few occasions that you do see a congregation of drunks (outside of Bremen Hauptbahnhof for some strange reason), they are almost exclusively people in their thirties or forties, not gangs of “feral youth” (as the right-wing British press like to demonise them as), and lets face it, following reunification, Germany has enough social problems of its own to deserve a “feral youth”, yet it doesn’t appear to have happened, despite all the youngsters drinking.

Is it just possible, that the real message that the Government is sending out is it thinks all Brits are bad parents and everything they do is wrong. That’s pretty much the message from every other announcement.

Perhaps the real message is that all Politicians should stop taking knee-jerk reactions to every Daily Mail and Daily Express hate-filled campaign against young people. Find things for them to do, give them a bit of respect and dignity, and perhaps they won’t feel the need to hang around getting drunk as it’s the only thing to do. Perhaps, God forbid (and the Daily Mail, which thinks it speaks for God, does forbid it), we should look towards the continent for some ideas.

Monday 21 December 2009

The British Disease continues

Today, wandering back to the hotel through the station, I noticed that again the trains were all running with massive delays (actually what I first noticed was the massive long queue to the information kiosk which alerted me to the fact that something might have been up).

I really wasn’t expecting there still to be problems, I would have thought that they could have got it sorted out, but obviously no.

The idea of Privatising the railways in the UK was to make them more responsive and more like the German railways, Deutscher Bahn now even own a couple of the companies that run trains in the UK. Sadly, it looks as though the process is working in the wrong way, and the UK’s inability to cope is now spreading through Deutscher Bahn and back into Germany itself.

Sunday 20 December 2009

The British disease is spreading

It’s heartening to know that it’s not just the Brits who can be crippled by some wintry weather in, well winter.

Normally I would have thought that snow is so common in Germany that they would have the infrastructure in place to be able to deal with even relatively heavy snowfall.

So it was somewhat surprising to see that Dusseldorf Airport had been closed for the whole of the day, and when I got to Nuremberg, that most of the trains were running with delays in excess of 30 minutes, in some cases up to two hours late (yes, that’s right, a German train running spectacularly late!)

Of course, the UK grinds to a halt when there is 2.4mm of snow, it was almost 24cm of snow that had fallen on Dusseldorf.

Glad I chose Southern Germany

For the last two years I have been going to Belgium for my pre-Christmas trip. I had originally been planning to go again this year, but back in February I got an email from Air Berlin with a spectacular offer on flights to Nuremberg just before Christmas, so I changed my plans and decided to go there instead.

And now, as I sit in the departures lounge at Stansted Airport I am feeling very fortunate that I did make that decision

If I had gone to Belgium I wouldn’t have been on one of the trains that got stuck for 16 hours, but I would have been caught up in the ensuing chaos, if not on my journey out, on my return.

And if that didn’t vindicate Nuremberg as a destination the fact that all the airlines are merrily cancelling flights to Dusseldorf and Cologne because the runways are closed (and there were people in the queue as I checked in trying to get there to get trains back into Belgium!).

My flight, on the other hand, is currently running 7 minutes late on its arrival into Stansted, so I’m hopeful of a, as close as possible, on time departure. Of course, this could be massive hubris and I am about to spend the night camping in Essex rather then in Bavaria!

Sunday 25 October 2009

I might have fibbed when I was 17

But I didn’t actually Lie, so why, when I go to Bath, does it always rain on me?

Earlier this week I had to go to Bath for a work meeting.

This is the first time I have stayed overnight in Bath since my fateful visit in 2002 when the online booking site had got a mix up between BA2 (the postcode for just outside the centre of Bath) and BS2 (the postcode for the outskirts of Bristol) and ended up with me trudging through the streets of Bath late on a Friday evening trying to find a hotel.

Thankfully, on this occasion the hotel not only existed, but they also had a note of my reservation.

What they couldn’t change was the fact it was raining, drizzly slightly on the evening, but still damp.

By the following morning it was bucketing it down, and for a few patches where it eased down to a drizzle (which thankfully coincided when I had to leave the hotel to go to the meeting and then again when I left the meeting for the station) it did it for the whole day.

It rained all the time when I was in Bath in 2002.

It rained for the 20 minutes I visited Bath whilst changing buses on my way back to Bristol in 2007.

I am obviously destined to only ever experience rain in Bath.

Though thinking about it, there might have been a couple of lies...

Tuesday 29 September 2009

CathDaq trading statement for Milan

After a slow start the CathDaq took off towards the end of the trading period.

Five monks from three different order (or at least three different types of robes) taking the index higher.

Priest in a sports car in Bergamo took the index lower for a while before a flotilla of Gucci Nuns by the Duomo sent stocks soaring.

Milan trading closed up over 100 points.

If it wasn’t for the internet

As I was leaving Santa Maria delle Grazie having taken in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, it struck me how much of a leveller the internet has been to enable people to see things they otherwise might not have been able to.

To get to see the mural you have to book in advance (the signs out today showed that it was fully booked until November!). Prior to the real take off of the Internet you would have had to have phoned up the booking line to book tickets. This requires two important things

1 – the ability to make (or pay for) a long international call, or make a call whilst in Italy
2 – a firm grasp of the Italian language to make the booking in (making sure you don’t get dates and times muddled up)

Alternatively, you could have booked a guide, or paid one of the tour companies through the nose (€50 I saw being advertised in a lot of places) to get you in on an organised tour.

Now, you can go online in advance, in a choice of languages, and book your ticket in advance for a time and date that you stipulate, not a tour company.

It’s the same with the Hypogeum in Malta, again booked on line in advance (though there the language barrier as an English speaker wouldn’t have existed)

Access to the sites has to be limited to prevent damage (The Last Supper only allows around 850 people a day in, in groups no larger than 25, thought that’s positively heaving compared to The Hypogeum’s maximum of 80 per day), and the internet allows the sites protectors to balance the needs to protect the site with the needs to get the tourists money to pay for its upkeep.

It might only be a small way, but the internet is helping to preserve these sites, and create a level playing field for access.

Monday 28 September 2009

Monday saw two major events taking place in Milan.

The prime minister, gaff-proneSilvio (as I believe his first name is now pronounced) Berlusconi was in town to speak to his followers.

There was also an exhibition on at the fair ground that appeared (by the posters) to have something to do with scantily clad young ladies (though in Italy it could have been an accountants fair and they would still have advertised it with scantily clad young ladies, there not quite there yet with the Gender Equality.)

Now it would be very wrong (and likely to lead to a law writ being issued) to suggest that the timing of the two events, or that Silvios decision to visit Milan this week, was anything other than coincidental, and that Mr Berlusconi is anything other than a thoroughly respectable statesman

See for example BBC News

More thoughts on the police – an update

A minor correction to my comments regarding police vehicles.

Of course the Italian government would never allow their police to drive around in German Audi’s. The police were, of course, in an Italian Alfa Romeo.

Sunday 27 September 2009

Things you wish you hadn’t seen

Milan is a vibrant city, the powerhouse of Italy’s economy; it’s a modern Finance driven city. Perhaps not in the same league as London, Tokyo, New York and Frankfurt. But it’s up there in the next league with the Hong Kong’s, Brussels’ and Shanghai’s.

Which makes it all the more surprising in a city that combines the best of Northern European capitalism with Southern European style and elegance they have decided, in places, to take their queues from the very wrong area.

I would like to bring you attention, as every must do eventually, to the issue of toilets.

Milan, home of style, elegance, and the point where the hole in the floor starts, and in the case of one particularly unpleasant version in a visitor attraction which will remain nameless, last used by someone who was very ill, and didn’t know how to flush (or aim!)

Of course, they also go in the opposite direction.

My hotel room has, as one would expect, a bidet.

Now these are a contraption that I’ve never really been able to get my head around. But the hotel has added a whole extra level of complexity and bewilderment into the mix.

Next to the bidet, is a little, what can only be described as, soap dish. And resting on this soap dish is a small bottle of shampoo.

It’s not that it’s been misplaced, no there is one of those small bottles of shampoo on the vanity unit by the sink, it genuinely appears to be a bottle of shampoo available for use whilst you are making use of the bidet.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand the Milanese

Wound Spotting IV

Another edition of the informative guide to what injuries are “in” this season.

Bergamo (and Milan as well) appear to have had a spate of lower arm/wrist injuries, with at least four people seen wandering around sporting slings.

Given the cobble stones everywhere part of me suspects that it’s the leathal combination of marble cobles and rain, but it could just be that everyone wants to show of their Louis Vuitton sling.

Saturday 26 September 2009

More thoughts on the Police

This topic is giving me a rich vein of thought and observation.

Walking through the Piazza Duomo this evening I noticed that there were three separate police cars parked up.

There was a very smart modern 4 by 4 with Carabinieri painted down the side. Inside the officer was preening himself in his rear view mirror. I do have to wander are the Carabinieri actually the fashion police, because all they appear to ever do is strut around in their smart uniforms looking at themselves in windows!

Next to that was a modern Audi painted in a not particularly pleasent shade of blue with Polizia painted in big letters down the side. One officer was sitting on the bonnet talking to his female colleague, whilst they scanned the crowd.

Finally parked up at the end, in a garish Green and White paint scheme with Polizia di Milano painted on it was a pretty elderly looking beaten up fiat.

I think I know where all the money goes...

Oh no, there’s more

Before I had even gotten onto the tram this morning I had already seen my sixth type of police, these were the Polizia di Milano, who were in a completely different uniform to all the other ones I had seen yesterday.

The sublime finally gave way to the ridiculous though when I walked into the main courtyard of the castle.

There, laid out as a family open day, were the tents of at least 20 different “Emergency Services”, there were fire brigade divers, police divers, mountain rescue (probably mountain rescue police divers, but I didn’t spot them).

It did leave me to wonder, how the Italian version of the AA markets itself, “were the 29th emergency service?”

Friday 25 September 2009

Italian Police Bingo

How many different types of police does one country need.

In the space of a couple of minutes this evening, I think I saw the full set, but I could be wrong, there could be more types floating around.

First to be spotted were the Milan Vigilantes, or at least that’s how my very dodgy Italian translated what was painted on their cars.

Then walking in front of me, in full regalia, including massive swords, were two Carabinieri, looking very smart (and preening themselves in a shop window.)

Walking past them were two city police who appeared to be completely Carabinieri blind, neither group acknowledged each other existence, I was starting to get worried that a turf war between police forces was about to break out, so I hurried on.

Just around the corner, having stern words with someone touting “real” D&G bags for €5, were the grey uniformed scare division, the Financial Police.

By now I was starting to think I was walking through some kind of recruitment video – Italy’s police force, a uniform for all tastes – when I walked past the final set of police, dressed in what looked like riot gear.

Except they were congregating around the outside of La Scala opera house – obviously Italian Opera lovers are a more boisterous bunch than their English counterparts (I don’t go past the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden that often, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single policeman outside.)

So that’s five different types of police, can there be any more (probably, but it doesn’t do your brain any good to think about it!)

If it all appears to be going to well

A massive queue at checkin, but through in 10 minutes.
Another big queue for security, but again through quite quickly.
Before you’ve even had time to grab more than the bare essentials your flight is showing a gate number.
You walk to your gate, the closest gate there is to the departures lounge.
The plane is already on stand and has off-loaded all the inbound passengers.
A couple of minutes later you are all boarding, nearly 30 minutes before you are due to leave.

It’s at this point that it all starts to go wrong.

Sadly, four people hadn’t been paying attention to the screens, and as the time ticked down to our scheduled push back moment they were still nowhere to be seen.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if they just had hand luggage, shut the door and send the plane on its way.

It is a problem when they have two bags in the hold that have to be located and off-loaded as well.

It had all been going so smoothly, it’s just a shame we were over 20 minutes late leaving!

Friday 14 August 2009

It never normally happens

It should have been a relatively straight forward journey home from Kings Cross, especially as National Express East Coast had gotten me in 5 minutes early.

A quick scamper to St Pancras, pick up the train to London Bridge and then I’d have nearly 10 minutes to make my train home.

And everything was going fine until Farringdon (the first stop after St Pancras, so it didn’t get that far!)

A bag of rubbish had fallen onto the tracks and the driver had to check the train to make sure their was no damage before setting off. No problem with this, but it did mean that I would miss the connection at London Bridge.

Still no problem as I could move onto plan B, which was to get off and get the stopping train behind to Tulse Hill where the First Capital Connect train always leaves before my Southern train from London Bridge.

I leapt off at Blackfriars, and sure enough a minute later, running just two minutes late, was the stopping train.

Everything went well to Herne Hill (three stops down the line, so still not great), where the train decided, for no real reason to stop for a couple of minutes.

But still no problem, we would arrive at the next stop, Tulse Hill, where the two lines met at the same time as the Southern train, and we would then pull out in front of it and I could get off at Streatham and pick it up.

Every time I have caught the train from London Bridge it has always ended up waiting at Tulse Hill for the delayed First Capital Connect service, it has never, ever, ever, ever, gone out before hand.

I bet you can guess where this is going.

Correct, as soon as the FCC train pulled into the platform at Tulse Hill, the Southern train pulled out. On time to the minute, not wanting to be delayed by the FCC train.

Why is it every time I’m on the Southern train it always ends up waiting for up to five minutes for the FCC train to come in late, leave and clear the signals, yet the one time this would have worked to my advantage I’m left standing on Streatham station with a 28 minute wait, or the bus.

To whichever signalman was on duty, thank you so much, perhaps you could always do that when I’m waiting on the Southern train?

Thursday 13 August 2009

Things not included in your Travelodge room

To be turned out of your bed by a fire alarm is bad enough, especially at gone 11pm.

But it’s really taking the biscuit when it happens again at 8am the following morning, when you were intending on having a lie-in to make up for last nights disruption.

Last night it was someone smoking, they obviously ignored the signs in all the corridors, lifts and rooms that said “No Smoking”, but I don’t think they were expecting the full Travelodge fury of a £200 fine and being kicked out of the hotel.

With that having taken place so publically, you would have thought that nobody would have risked anything setting the smoke alarms off again.

But no, this morning off go the alarms, and the reason – someone burning their breakfast.

This would be just about reasonable if it had been in the cafe bar, but no, they were attempting to cook breakfast in their room.

Travelodge is a hotel chain, not self-catering apartments.

All the duty manager could do was shake their head, expect signs shortly letting you know that you can’t cook in the lifts, corridors or rooms of any Travelodge hotel.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

When the rot set in

At last, an explanation as to why it takes so long to get things done and built in England.

It’s not just a recent phenomenon, we have been getting slower for centuries.

Take the example given on the Hadrians Wall bus today:

It took the Romans approximately eight years to build the 75 or so miles of Hadrians wall.

It took the Normans and their successors nearly 100 years to build the two miles of city walls in Newcastle.

At this rate it’s unlikely that modern Britons will get even a garden wall built before the end of the millennium

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Minding the Manners in Manors

The Newcastle Metro is nearly 30 years old, so I wasn’t expecting the most high-tech of ticket buying experiences when I walked the short distance from my hotel to Manors station yesterday evening.

I was pretty certain that the machines wouldn’t take cards, after all my local station which is in the top 25% of most used stations in the country has only been accepting cards in the ticket machines for the last three years.

However, given that the cost of a day ticket is £3.90, and you can buy even more expensive tickets, I did kind of expect that the machine would take my five pound note.

I was proved to be very wrong. The only thing the machines take is coins, and at Manors station there are no change machines, no ticket offices, no staff.

I did feel like omitting an expletive, given that there are also no shops any where nearby to get change from.

Though if I had done I would probably have gotten in trouble as there was a very large poster next to the machine stating that the metro operator would not tolerate abuse or foul language in its stations.

Perhaps one cause of this might be forcing all their customers to carry around a couple of kilos of small change.

Monday 10 August 2009

Jobs I wouldn’t want to do

I work in a situation where I have to deal with angry customers, and occasionally have to give them the answer they don’t want, so I know how angry people can get.

However, the poor station staff at Kings Cross this morning were getting far worse than I have ever experienced and they were trying to only give out good information.

Trains had been severely delayed due to “Overhead wire damage in the Doncaster area”, and by the time I arrived at Kings Cross at 10:30 arrivals due at 08:00 had still not arrived, in fact there were no trains in the station at all.

Over the course of the next 60 minutes a number of trains did arrive and eventually start departing.

It was quite obvious that what had happened was beyond the control of the staff at Kings Cross station, who along with trying to let passengers know what was happening, were also trying to keep an increasingly dangerously full station safe.

Some people though, were still hurling abuse at the poor station staff and accusing them of deliberately delaying their journey (despite the fact there were no trains for them to be travelling on.)

This included one particularly unpleasant person who had been queuing up near platform 2 for over an hour only for his train to then leave from platform 7 (despite all the announcements telling everyone to remain on the concourse as platforms would be subject to change), shouting at a member of staff that it was his personal fault that the train had arrived on a different platform.

I did wonder how he would have reacted if the member of staff had said it had done it on purpose just to spite him, though I think he would have been detailed with cleaning up the bloody remains of a self-exploding passenger.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Wound Spotting 3 - Ireland

Granda was knees, Munich was heads, Torbay was pregnancy (not a wound I know, depending on your views on babies)

Ireland has been arms, or more importantly the lower parts of arms, the number of people sporting casts and slings with either their wrists or lower arms damaged is quite alarming.

Of course, they could have an excuse.

The Irish do go in for particularly violent sports - Rugby and the worst Hurling

Though I don't think the couple of elderly ladies I saw with slings have been participating, but I could be wrong on that front!

Saturday 1 August 2009

Aboard the Enterprise

The Enterprise, is not a star-ship seeking out new life and exploring new galaxies (or whatever the opening lines are)

It is, in real life, the rail service from Dublin to Belfast.

During the darkest days of the troubles it was seen as a beacon of hope, that communities could work together, Iarnród Éireann and Northern Ireland Railways working across the border where politicians may not have done.

However, in it’s past it served another function.

My parents spent a couple of years living and working in Ireland in the 1960s, and Irish they knew called it the Pill Express.

The train’s main purpose (at least from a northbound point of view) was to pop across the border and pick up those items you couldn’t get in the Republic, namely contraceptives and Marks and Spencer’s undies (Though I don’t think the latter were actually banned, just not available – You had to have Dunn’s St Bernard range)

Today M&S have branches all over the Republic, and last night I had the horrific experience of watching an Irish health board contraceptives advert on the Irish channel 3

It must be a bank holiday weekend

My journey from the hotel to the station this morning took longer than it should have done.

The reason, would lead me to conclude that Ireland looks to the UK for inspiration on ways to deal with its public transport.

On a bank holiday weekend you could:
a. provide a full service for the population on the move
b. shut down chunks of it to make it difficult

Needles to say in the UK we always choose option B, because nobody ever wants to travel on a Bank Holiday weekend.

I didn’t think that Ireland would have done the same, but I was wrong. For the whole of the bank holiday weekend there are no trams from Connolly station (the one where trains to Sligo, Belfast and the local trains all stop at) or Busaras (the most important bus station in the country), instead they start a further stop down the line with a good five to ten minute walk, and no signage.

Admittedly they are installing a whole new extension over the weekend putting in a complex junction to enable the new extension to work, compare this with my home town where the whole of the central section of the tram network has been out of action for nearly a fortnight whilst they get round to finally fixing some traffic lights which they first installed three years ago.

On this basis it would look like the Irish still have much to learn on the annoying bank holiday weekend travellers front, but a good start nether-the-less, particularly liked the lack of on street signage, I knew where I was going, but I ended up with a train of Japanese tourists as they didn’t

Friday 31 July 2009

Red Cow Roundabout – No Cows, No Roundabout

My hotel claims that it is ideally suited for a break in Dublin as it’s “Conveniently located for the tram” without being in the city centre (i.e. it’s cheap).

And to be fair to them, it is relatively conveniently located for the tram, with the stop being less than five minutes walk away, at the quaintly sounding Red Cow Roundabout.

It’s only having arrived at the tram stop that I realised that the name is wrong on at least two counts.

There are no cows, it is on the red tram line, it’s not a roundabout.

It’s a massive motorway interchange at junction 1 of the M50 with multiple lanes of motorway, slip road, access ramps, park and ride schemes and the tram depot, a quaint country roundabout it isn’t!

Provide the service and people will use it

When I was travelling around Ireland in 2004 I didn’t really make much use of the trains.

I had looked at getting the train from Cork to Dublin (and after the six hours it took me because of traffic on the outskirts of the Capital I wished I had), but the train back then were infrequent, elderly and sparsely used. They were also achingly slow as the whole network was in a state of semi-dereliction.

What a difference five years (and many many many billions of Euros) makes.

Today Cork station is bright and light, the grime having been cleaned away. The service to Dublin now runs every hour, and it was busy.

Yesterday, when I was going to pick up my ticket there were queues of people waiting to catch the first trains in over 40 years to Middleton, with lots of people mentioning how it was going to make getting in and out of Cork so much easier than the bus.

Proof, I think, if proof were needed, that if you make the service accessible, useable and modern (the nice shiney new trains do help), then people will use them.

Even if you were driving, it would still be over four hours to get to Dublin by car, the bus closer to five. The train now takes less than three, and I managed to get a ticket for €10 just two weeks before travelling. The £10 tickets from London to Birmingham or Bristol (comparable distances) are sold out more than a month in advance.

The only issue now is, it’s still so difficult to get anywhere else by rail in Ireland, unless you want to go via Dublin!

Thursday 30 July 2009

Evidence of the endangered Celtic Tiger

Ireland has been one of the worst affected nations by the economic downturn. It was one of the success stories of the EU, an economy that, in not much over 20 years, went from one of the poorest nations in Western Europe to Dublin becoming the most expensive city for accommodation in the whole of the EU.

But its economy is shrinking fast and the jobs are disappearing quickly.

However, there is still evidence of the money, and credit, which poured into the economy.

I had a 30 minute wait for the bus from Cashel back to Cork, and as there was nothing else to do I kept looking at all the cars going past.

In Ireland all the number plates show not only the county but also the year of registration. In all that time, excluding trucks, the oldest date that went past was 94.

There was an older car, but that had British plates.

Given how many old bangers there are running around where I live, I was quite amazed that there were none in Cashel, and it made me realise that I don’t think I’ve seen any old cars since I left Derry.

It could just be that Ireland has a very successful old car scrapage scheme.

It could be that I’ve just missed them all.

Limerick – Shopping for the brave, or hairy

On the way to the bus station I walked up the street from the hotel and was amazed by the sheer number of hairdressers that there were, it appeared that every other shop was offering hair styling, I counted at least five and there were probably a few I had ignored before realising there were so many of them.

Given that the city and region only has a population of around 80,000 I have to wonder how they all stay in business,

Then I noticed the local pharmacy. In it’s display in the window was a display of all the usual things you would expect, cough medicine, indigestion relief pills, antiseptic cream, cow worming tablets

Yes, I did a double take as well, but there stacked along side the “human” medicine was a wide variety of potions (and lotions, you really don’t want to know) for our four footed friends.

Perhaps there is a link between the cow worming pills and the hairdressers?

Wednesday 29 July 2009

A face only a mother could love

I admit I have been spoilt over the last few days. Derry has its city walls, compact heart and hills. Galway has its medieval city centre and its stunning setting on Galway bay.

So it was always going to be hard for Limerick to compete.

I tried to come with an open mind, but from the first site as you arrive in from the direction of Galway (which is also the direction from the airport); you are greeted with a couple of mini sky-scrapers, some drab 1960s office blocks and a city made up almost exclusively of shopping centres.

It’s like holidaying in Croydon.

Maybe that’s a little harsh; it does have its pluses, the castle, and the riverside location
But the river is very fast flowing and too far away from the sea to be attractive, and to get to the castle you have a choice of routes either via drab office blocks or a housing estate.

Croydon doesn’t have a castle (though the local council would probably like to live in one, with barrels of boiling oil to pour over the locals), it isn’t situated by a large river (except when there is a massive downpour and the centre floods), and it isn’t a city (though again the council is trying on that one, at the same time as trying to become the "New Barcelona" – don’t ask!)

But, with the office blocks, the rapidly increasing glass sky scrapers and the abundance of shopping centres, Limerick does leave itself open to a painful label – The Croydon of Ireland.

Perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve only been in the city for 24 hours, and I’m leaving tomorrow morning. Maybe I haven’t given it enough time to grow on me, but I’ve been living near Croydon all my life and the best I can achieve is apathy.

Sorry Limerick, You just can’t compete with Galway

Tuesday 28 July 2009

The Irish Moral Compass

I wanted to share this with you, without passing any judgment, comment or personal opinion, I will leave you to make your own comments (which you are more than welcome to share below using the comments option)

Bus Eireann have a policy (I assume) that on all their vehicles the radio should be on in the background. On every bus I’ve ever been on in Ireland the radio has been on usually either a general pop station or a radio phone in.

This morning, on the bus into town from the B&B it was a radio phone in.

The discussion was about dealing with teenagers and some of the more difficult "discussions" that need to be had between a parent and a child. At the end of the conversation the bus, which had fallen deathly quiet listening to this, was left open mouthed, yet amused.

Mother – I’m having an issue with my youngest son regarding sex
DJ – Go on
Mother – Well, you see, he is having sex with his girlfriend in his bedroom
DJ – Right, and how old is your son
Mother – 18
DJ – Right, and how old is his girlfriend
Mother – Oh she’s 18 as well
DJ – So technically they are both over the age of consent, what exactly do you see as the problem
Mother – Well they are not married, and I don’t think it’s morally right of them
DJ – Have you spoken to your son about this?
Mother – Yes, but he says it’s going to continue
DJ – If you really object morally, have you considered asking him to move out?
Mother – I have, but there is a problem with that
DJ – Go on
Mother – It’s his house and I’m staying with him whilst my place is repaired from a flood.

Monday 27 July 2009

Advanced Meteorology

Not much to blog today, I’m trying to dry myself out after another day of getting soaked.

Some important facts learnt today:
  • The top deck of an open top bus does not provide much protection when the heavens open, and in the time it takes to run from the back of the bus to the stairs and down them you can still get soaked.
  • The sun deck of a river cruise boat does not provide much protection when the heavens open...

You get the drift.

On the plus side though, I have started to be come very good at spotting when a shower is brewing up, looking at the clouds to see how they are forming and, more importantly, seeing when the local start diving for shop doorways and other cover.

You can tell the tourists who have only just arrived, they are the ones in the shorts and t-shirts who look at you strangely as everyone dives for shelter moments before a cloudburst.

You become an expert by day two.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Meteorology for beginners

Water evaporating from the sea rises into the atmosphere and condenses back into clouds. As these clouds move from being over a cool ocean to warm land the cloud becomes unstable and releases its water content in the form of either Rain, Hail or Snow.

When you have a large body of water (picking something entirely at random, lets say the Atlantic), and it hasn’t met any land for a long time it’s likely to have built up into quite large clouds.

So with this knowledge, why did I come to Galway, about the most westerly city in Europe (ignoring Iceland as its so much closer to North America there isn’t nearly as much ocean) without either a rain coat or an umbrella.

In the space of 5 minutes it went from clear blue sky to torrential downpour (the only saving grace being the conveniently positioned bus shelter and the sense as I walked past it to look up and think, this probably isn’t just a few spots).

And it keeps happening. In the less than five hours I’ve been in Galway I’ve had to dive for cover from half a dozen hefty showers, and delayed leaving the hotel because it was coming down so heavily that I could barely see the other side of the car park.

Still it is my own fault; I did know it would probably be a little damp...

Saturday 25 July 2009

I was a bit wrong about the tourists

Back in November I posted about my visit to the Giants Causeway and how nice it was that it wasn’t spoilt by lots of tourists and tourist gimmicks.

Having now been through the place to change busses whilst going along the coast road in the height of summer I would like to withdraw those comments.

The place was absolutely heaving with tourists, coaches everywhere, car parks overflowing and screaming kids everywhere (lets fact it a geological marvel isn’t the world’s greatest family attraction!)

To be fair there still isn’t any Disynification or Visitors experience, but that may have more to do with the space constraints of getting people through (the gift shop).

Still, it’s left me with a valuable piece of advice.

If you want to see the Giants Causeway, go off season.

Friday 24 July 2009

The winners in Peace

Derry was the cradle of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland. The Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday helped to bring an attention to the city for all the wrong reasons.

Derry itself fell away from the limelight in the later years of the troubles with much of the focus moving to Belfast, and the recent blip in the peace process with three murders in November and rioting in early July have focused on the Northern part of Belfast.

Meanwhile in Derry they have been quietly picking up the pieces, rebuilding the city, and community relations and dismantling some of the more obvious signs of the troubles.

Namely the massive police/army stations in the centre of the city, with their high walls, watchtowers and banks of cameras trained on the Catholic Bogside and the Loyalist Fountain areas.

And whilst this is all good, there has been one unexpected winner, because what do you do with a space that has previously housed an army barracks or a fortified police station...

...You turn them into car parks of course, to help pull in the money!

So, in peace, the real winners are the car park owners (though I don’t recall that ever being mentioned in either a great speech or a movie)

Thursday 23 July 2009

What do you call it?

Even in posing the question there are egg shells to be walked on so I’ll offer the same question in two versions, bearing in mind that with each question it gives its own, different answer.

What do you call the second city of Northern Ireland?
What do you call the fourth largest city in Ireland?

In the first instance the likely response would be Londonderry, in the second Derry, but again it would depend on who you spoke to (though I wouldn’t suggest posing the second question in areas where there are a propensity for union flags and red, white and blue lamp posts and kerb stones).

Doire was the original name of the town, which over time was anglicised into Derry. It was only with the creation of a new city on the opposite bank of the Foyle to Doire in the early 1600’s that the name issue was created.

The city was built to be filled by "British tenants" from England and Scotland, planted in the country to try and prevent further uprisings from the native Irish against British rule (leap forward 400 years and have we really progressed that much further!)

As the building of the city was funded by the livery companies of London they wanted to put their mark on it, so they bolted their city name onto the front end of the anglicised version to create Londonderry.

Today there are a variety of options that you can choose from for the name.

There is of course the one that the Loyalist community, and the UK government, would like you to use – Londonderry.

Then there is the version that the nationalist community and, to be honest, most people outside of the British Isles would use – Derry

You could cheat, like the railway company does on some of its literature and call it L’Derry (making it sound like a French town, I think possibly a seaside resort)

Or there is the “Politically Correct” Derry/Londonderry, and the alternative it’s spawned of “Stroke City” avoiding the whole need to mention either of the words but focus on the punctuation.

However, as I queued up for my ticket this morning I was feeling lazy so I couldn’t be bothered with the extra two syllables and just asked for a single to Derry.

When I got here it looked like I chose correctly. The local authority is “City of Derry”, all the bins, bus stops and town signs say Derry and none of the tours on offer call it anything other than that.

So the question perhaps is not what should you call it, but what to the locals call it and call it that.

Though you then have to consider the make up of the city...

Wednesday 22 July 2009

The hell that isn’t Gatwick

It’s the first week of the school holidays, the gloomy predictions that not very many people would be travelling this summer have been disproven by a combination of aggressively cheap flights and the promise of a barbecue summer, which instantly condemned it to rain for most of July (which it has proceeded to do!)

Consequently, the thought of going through Gatwick has been filling me with dread, and to begin with today I had every reason to believe my worst fears, of a heaving terminal full of stresses parents and restless children, would be fulfilled. The train was heaving, there was luggage stacked in every corner, and when I saw the queue for the lift off of the platform into the terminal building (at least 10 lift loads deep) I thought it was going to be bad.

It looked even worse when I got to the easyJet checkin area where the queue was massive, but then my preconceptions and fears were proved wrong.

Despite a queue which could have been measured in fractions of a kilometre, it moved at a speed which could have been measured in kilometres. In less than 5 minutes I was through the queue, at a desk and checked in onto my flight.

Even more to my surprise was the virtually non-existent queues for security, which was operating with a level of efficiency I would normally expect from Munich airport, not Gatwick.

So, having left myself nearly three hours to get checked in and through security I find myself in the busy, but by no means packed, departures lounge, with ages to wait for my flight to board.

Lucky I didn’t book that place in the Business lounge that I was thinking about but never got round to. I’d be plastered by the time I boarded if I had!

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Riding the bandwagons

Almost a year ago I jumped on the Web 2.0 bandwagon by starting up this blog. Now I’m going to jump on another bandwagon and I’m setting up a twitter feed on the account.

You can follow me as toms_travels or follow the feed on the website.

Sunday 28 June 2009

Book early, Travel first

I always try and book my trips nice and early so that I can get the best deals on train fares.

When you book as early I as occasionally do the difference between standard class and first class can be only a couple of pounds (Coming back from Barnstaple today the standard fare I was quoted was £26.50, First was £31.00, that’s one visit to the buffet and you have saved money, and believe me I can visit the buffet a lot!)

The other advantage, when you merrily book and have no concept that it is actually the Glastonbury Weekend you are booking for, is that nobody else looks to book first (lets face it the festival is so expensive already saving a bit of money on the travel is one way of making it just about affordable)

Which would explain why, when the train pulled into Castle Carey station, most of the people on the platform (who didn’t look as muddy as the newspapers and TV had lead everyone to believe) were down by the standard carriages, which, from the plaintive messages over the PA system about not blocking aisles, I think have just become very, very busy

Meanwhile, up here in first, I still have a table to myself (and I probably paid less than some of the people in Standard who booked last minute)

First Great Western has a heart

I’m sitting typing this on the train as it wends its merry way between Taunton and Castle Cary.

Technically I shouldn’t be, as I’m not supposed to be on this train.

I should still be standing on Exeter station awaiting my (heavily) delayed service to London which was going to take over three hours and get me into London at just after Monday.

But the train from Penzance had been delayed by 15 minutes, and it arrived only a few minutes after I got off the train from Barnstaple.

With some trepidation, waiting for the negative response, I approached the train manager and asked, as my train was over 30 minutes late, wouldn’t be here for nearly another hour and wouldn’t now get me into London until nearly 1am, Could I jump on his train.

Without even batting an eyelid he, very kindly, agreed.

Not only does it get me out of Exeter earlier, my train was scheduled to run via Bristol, Bath and I think with the timings Inverness as well, the train I’m on was running direct.

Only one possible problem.

It’s next stop is Castle Cary. The nearest station to Glastonbury. The (very muddy, and swine flu infected) festival finished not that long ago. This could be interesting...

They grow them big in Exeter

In, what turned out to be a much shorter stop than I was expecting, see next post for more, I quickly popped to the Gents on Exeter St David’s station.

On thing struck me quite quickly. All the men of Exeter must be giants.

I’ve been to countries where the population are generally taller (Norway, Sweden etc), but I’ve never had to stand on tip-toes to be able to use the facilities.

However, Exeter, I had to virtually perform acrobatic manoeuvres to be able to relieve myself.

Of course, it could just have been an incompetent plumber...

Saturday 27 June 2009

The perils of small islands

I’ve learnt a valuable lesson today, one which I will probably have forgotten in a few weeks time, but one that is now etched into my arms and the end of my legs.

When you are on a small island in the Atlantic, where the seas are crystal clear and the grey white rock on the island glimmers in the beating sun, reapplying sun tan cream every 90 minutes is not frequent enough!

I kept slapping it on, and I though it was working, I couldn’t feel anything burning, but no, by the time I got off the boat back in Biddeford, Lundy had left a mark on my skin which will take at least a couple of days to (hopefully) fade to a well deserved tan.

I’m not even quite certain why I burnt. As I said I was reapplying the sun tan cream liberally every 90 minutes, or even more frequent at some points, It was a highish strength cream.

I don’t think it can be anything to do with walking around an island for seven hours during the main part of the day, as the Met office officially warn of the start of a heatwave, that would have nothing to do with it...

Friday 26 June 2009

Getting things into perspective

To say I nearly missed my train because of it would be a massive and unfair overstatement (I had the best part of 25 minutes wait in the end anyway), but I would have been in Paignton quite a bit earlier if the “discussion” with the driver had taken less time.

As I boarded the bus to go onto Paignton to get the fast train up to Exeter I was immediately behind a lady with a dog.

The lady produced her free bus pass (entitling the holder to unlimited free travel on any bus, in any town in England after the rush hour, not a bad deal when you think about it, and when you see what the standard single fares are), and went to get her ticket when the driver pointed out that there is a small charge for the dog.

The massive, outrageous, unbelievable and utterly unacceptable charge of 50p for the dog for the whole day, unlimited, anywhere on a Stagecoach bus in South West England.

The lady had a lengthy debate about how she thought this was unacceptable and wasn’t going to pay it, until the bus driver pointed out that she would have to get off the bus if she didn’t.

She grudgingly, and very childishly, slammed down a £2 coin (note here not fishing around scrabbling for small change) ripped the ticket out of the machine and stormed off down the bus.

Now to put this in a little perspective. The cost of a day ticket for the whole of Devon, on Stagecoach only, cost me £6.50, and I consider that to be pretty good value considering a single from Paignton back to Torre on Tuesday evening was £2.80

I don’t begrudge the free bus travel afforded to anyone over the age of 60, however, kicking up a fuss for a 50p dog ticket does appear a little churlish when you get so much free travel!

Thursday 25 June 2009

Not wound spotting

Continuing my (unpleasant) habit of spotting what the wound of the location is. This time, it’s not a wound, more a condition.

Torbay has a, perhaps unfair, image of an area of more interest to a mature population.

The locals, appear to be fighting back.

Rather than an injury, the most common condition was the sheer number of women who were clearly in the final stages of pregnancy.

The question has to be, are Torbay council taking any account of this. There is already little for the younger citizens of the area to do, other than hang around the arcades and car parks (which I witnessed this evening), bored out of their skulls, not that the kids were anything other than just bored, no violence, no real swearing, just boredom. In less than 16 years time this could be a whole load worse.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Introducing SpideeLodge

After my experiences in the London Liverpool Street Traveldoge, I’ve become a little cautious about the chain.

Since then I have stayed in a couple of other Travelodges (both on Holiday and for work), and haven’t had anything to complain about.

This morning, after having my shower I stepped out of the shower area and went to grab the towel.

On picking it up my first reaction was, urghhh, that’s a bit dirty, it looks as though its still got some hair on it from the last time it was used.

I was about to go and brush the “hair” off when I noticed it move slightly, up over the fold of the towel to reveal a large spindley legged spider.

It’s not what you want to see at 8 in the morning when you are dripping wet. I suppressed the urge to let out a scream (I’m not a fan of spiders, I’m not scared of them, it’s just I don’t like coming across them unexpectedly), and very carefully took the towel out into the room and let the spider down onto the carpet, where it immediately headed for the skirting board in the corner.

You can’t really hold Travelodge liable for the spider, but I do wonder, as I have several more bookings with the chain, what other wildlife I will experience in their rooms in the future. Look out perhaps for ParrotLodge in Newcastle, or maybe ScorpionLodge in Hollyhead?


“And what did you expect to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically over the plains ...?"

It’s a classic line, and I did resolve myself not to mention it when I checked into the hotel (either the member of staff wouldn’t get the reference, or they would have heard it so many times that they had ceased to find it funny.)

What I wasn’t expecting was to be woken at 7:30 by the sound of a herd of Wildebeest sweeping majestically down the Newton Road in the direction of Torre station.

As it transpired they weren’t wildebeest, just school kids with far too much energy for that early in the morning.

I'll just have to see if I can locate the Hanging Gardens as there is quite a bit of greenery when I look out of my rooms window...

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Grumpy Status, an Update

I was starting to weaken, my inbuilt rage was starting to overcome my inbuilt Britishness, I had given him another two minutes to stop opening and closing the door before I would have to say something.

Thankfully, before I did the un-British think and complained the man wandered into the toilet to continue his conversation.

Obviously this leads to the one statement – Urghhh

Application for Grumpy Status

I don’t know at which point you officially become a “Grumpy Old Man”, I doubt very much it’s in your early thirties, but I could be wrong.

Unfortunately, I’ve just realised that is exactly what I have become.

I’m currently sitting on the train heading towards Exeter. The next carriage is the Quiet car, and quite correctly a man has wandered out of that carriage to take his phone call in the vestibule.

This is good; this is the correct thing to do.

However, he keeps wandering around the vestibule making the door between my carriage and the vestibule open and closes all the time, bringing the noise and wind into the carriage.

I’m finding myself slowly getting more and more annoyed by this, but because of my inbuilt “Britishness setting” I’m not going to complain or tell him off.

I’m just going to carry on sitting here getting more wound up, and grumpy.

Thursday 28 May 2009

And by Brits I do mean all of us

Earlier this week I commented on the British habit of going to a beauty spot, parking up in the car and then not actually bothering to leave the car park.

At the time I wrote it at the back of my mind was a little voice going “Isn’t it more an English trait rather than a British trait”

Well, having been for a beautiful walk along the seafront at Ayr, southern Scotland, with the warmth of a strong late spring sun shining down I can confidently say the habit extends to the Scots too.

All along the seafront were cars parked up with people sitting in the front seats staring out to the sea.

It’s beautifully warm outside, there is a lovely gentle breeze, the sand is enticing, but no, we’ll sit in the car thank you very much!

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Money vs Environment

The government wants everyone to be greener. I’m in agreement with this, but sadly, economics does play a part in being green.

I could have caught a train back from Carlisle to London, which would have been environmentally much friendlier than flying back from Glasgow (ignoring the fact that an electric train still creates a pocket of pollution wherever the electricity to power it is being generated, but in any instance this is significantly less than the output of a plane)

However, the economics don’t stack up. It’s the half term holiday, and despite checking every couple of days from thirteen weeks out no cheap tickets were ever released. At eight weeks out I had to give up looking and make a decision. Do I pay £133 for the cheapest ticket I can find for the train, or do I look at alternatives.

So in the words of the MasterCard adverts
Train from Carlisle to Glasgow (First class) - £11
Night in a hotel in Glasgow - £50
Flight Glasgow to London City - £39
Saving £33 on the train fare, do you still wonder why people fly!

And the worst thing is that could have been even cheaper if I had gone standard (though I wouldn’t have got the very pleasant Breakfast from Transpennine Express), booked the hotel earlier and flown back into Gatwick with easyJet rather than city with BA.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

You can’t all be the most beautiful – an update

The Settle to Carlisle line winds hands down, though I would still like to put forward the Buddleia forest that the trains sit in waiting to get into East Croydon.

Doing the tourist thing

I’m going to put my hands up to doing the most stupid touristy thing I have done for a long time.

I made an assumption, which is never a good thing.

The largest body of water in the Lake District is called Windermere. There is a town in the Lake District called Windermere and it has a station in it. The station itself, shock, horror for a lot of English towns, is actually almost in the centre of the town.

Now it’s a natural conclusion to draw that therefore Windermere the town must be on the banks of Windermere the body of water.

It is from these same assumptions that people arrive at the Bodleian library in Oxford looking for Selfridges, and at the site of the 2012 Olympics looking for Shakespeare’s birth place.

No, Windermere, the town is nowhere near Windermere, the body of water. In fact it’s about two blooming miles away, which is a bit of a hefty walk when you only have an hour to get there and back to the station in.

Perhaps in future I should look at the guidebooks before making these rash decisions.

Monday 25 May 2009

You can’t all be the most beautiful

I’m starting to get a little confused by the descriptions of some of the railway lines around Carlisle.

Along with the West Coast Main Line, there are four other lines coming out of Carlisle. One heads into Scotland and can therefore be discounted from the discussion of “The most beautiful line in England”.

All three of the remaining lines, depending on where you look share this accolade.

The Tyne Valley (or as it’s now known Hadrian’s Wall) line runs across the top of the country, roughly following the line of the wall, though you can never see it.

The Cumbrian coast line runs, as it’s name suggests, down the coast of Cumbria taking in the beautiful scenery, including Europe’s largest nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield (which has never had an accident unlike that other site Windscale which it use to be called!)

The Settle to Carlisle line runs, imaginatively, from Settle to Carlisle and includes traversing the Ribblehead viaduct. (I can’t comment on any negatives at present as I haven’t been along this line yet, that’s the trip for tomorrow)

Now, there is the slight possibility that they could all be the most beautiful line as they all share a common starting point and run parallel to each other for about a quarter of a mile.

However, if the run into Carlisle station is the most beautiful train ride in England then I think my morning commute into East Croydon could be a contender to replace it.

On the other-hand, it could all be marketing spiel to try and persuade tourists to travel on lines which the train company has to run as a social service, but otherwise wouldn’t make much in the way of money, but that would just be cynical wouldn’t it.

No, perhaps beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Derelict freight yards are obviously the new beauty.

Sunday 24 May 2009

British Bank (Car Park) Holidays

I didn’t think it actually happened, I thought it was just people exaggerating; I thought it was just a comic devise used to self-mock the Brits.

But today, I experienced the very peculiar habit of people driving to a beauty spot, parking up, getting out the camping chairs and having a cup of tea, in the car park, by their car.

Just 20 yards away was a little visitor’s centre with a tea room attached, but several couples were more than happy with their boot party.

The views from the visitors centre were stunning, with Hadrian’s wall climbing over the ridges into the distance, but they weren’t taking in these views. They were looking at the car park, and the ticket machine. They had their backs to the stunning scenery!

Perhaps it’s just me. Not having a driving licence I obviously haven’t got a drivers mind, I’m not focused on the car.

Or perhaps it was a troop that specialise in acting out the peculiar habits people joke about.

I hope its the latter, but I think it’s probably the former.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Where the Romans Succeed, Network Rail fails

Carlisle is the last English city before the Scottish border, in truth it’s one of the last settlements before the border. It’s been a key site on the road north for millennia. Even today it’s a major stop on the West Coast Main-Line.

So you would have thought that on the first proper summer bank holiday of the year that everything would be smooth and settled.

That’s what I thought when I booked to go to Carlisle back in the depths of December.

Then, twelve weeks ago, when the cheap tickets should have been release, I got a surprise. I couldn’t find any tickets for trains to Carlisle that didn’t involve changing. Even more surprising was that the change was in Newcastle and the journey involved travelling up the East, rather than West coast of the UK.

At the time I had an inkling as to what the issue might be, but thought that even Network Rail wouldn’t be stupid enough to close a chunk of the West Coast Main-Line during a major bank holiday weekend.

But, I wanted a cheap ticket, so I booked to go via Newcastle, and didn’t think much of it.

Then a couple of weeks ago the engineering works for the Bank Holiday Weekend were announced, and despite all logic and sense dictating that people would probably want to travel more on this weekend than any other around it, the line was partly closed.

Instead of a speedy journey of just over three hours from Euston to Carlisle direct (or other locations on the Western side of the UK), there was a not so speedy journey from Euston to Milton Keynes, then a very slow bus journey from Milton Keynes to Birmingham, before rejoining the slightly faster train journey to the North.

I was quite glad that I was going the scenic route. Though possibly not the people who booked late and didn’t have a seat reservation from Kings Cross and were still standing when the train pulled into Newcastle three hours later!

Friday 1 May 2009

Mouselodge - An Update

Back in March I had the misfortune to stay in a mouse infested room in a Travelodge near Liverpool Street Station.

Now to give fair dues to Travelodge they did, eventually, get back to me to apologise and offer a refund.

With their recent sale the refund for one night equated into three nights in November in Coventry.

The hotel only opened a couple of days ago

Will there be enough time before November for the mice to move in?

Will I regret this comment when I am kept awake by the elephant infestation?

Sunday 19 April 2009

Wound Spotting - Germany

In Warsaw it was knees.

In Granada it was arms

Munich its heads, in particular foreheads and eyes

Several places I have been recently I’ve discovered a peculiarly local outbreak of a particular injury, with many of the locals sporting matching wounds.

In Munich it’s been plasters on the head, or eye patches.

Is it just the laws of averages, or do I bring some kind of horrific accident jinx with me?

Though, of course, based on the last couple of days, they could all be the victims of drunken tourists on bikes, sorry Munich!

Saturday 18 April 2009

And which form covers that...

If you thought the Bavarian attitude to drunk walking tours was liberal, you haven’t experienced the bike tour of Munich.

The essence of the tour shortened into a single (long) sentence. Get bike, tour Munich, stop in Englischer Garten and drink lots of beer, cycle back through Munich without killing yourself whilst “tipsy”

The tour was excellent, the beer ditto, the experience of cycling while technically several times over the legal drink drive limit, strangely invigorating, the thought of explaining all this on the Health insurance claim should I need to make one didn’t cross my mind, until I got back to the hotel!

Friday 17 April 2009

Pisched tours loves you, your my best mate

If this was Britain the company would have been shut down by now (and the Daily Mail and Express would have launched campaigns to have the proprietor flogged).

If this was Britain it would all end in A&E

If this was Britain the Health and Safety Executive would have stopped it long ago.

But, here in Bavaria, they have no problem with people drinking (partly because, on the whole, the locals don’t appear to have too much of a problem with drink. They might drink a lot, and be in possession of what would constitute a lethal weapon – if you have ever picked up a glass stein you would know what I mean! – but you don’t see people slumped in doorways or passed out in pools of their own vomit)

Consequently, they have no problem with a walking tour that starts in a beer hall, proceeds to a brewery to sample more beer, and then ends in the Hofbrauhaus.

In reality, I didn’t feel that drunk by the time I got back to the hotel, but then we were a quiet tour...

Thursday 16 April 2009

It’s childish I know...

The thing that really got me interested in going back to Munich was watching a programme on DW-TV about the Zugspitze, the highest point in Germany.

The scenery was so spectacular, the mountains so beautiful that my mind was kind of made up to go back to Bavaria, and a few months later when easyJet was having a sale I managed to get really cheap flights.

Then I started planning what to do. I’ve already been to Munich twice so I wanted to get out of the city, certainly to visit the Zugspitze, but was that enough to fill the day.

Then I looked at the website for the Zugspitzebahn, the railway that gets you to the summit. Something struck me on the front page of their site. In the top right hand corner was a rude word. Had someone sabotaged the site, was someone having a joke, or, could there really be a place in Germany named after the English slang for an (excuse the Catholic euphemism) act of selfishness liable to damage your sight.

But no, just outside Garmisch-Partenkirchen, overlooking the town in fact is a mountain that rhymes with Bank, just pronounced with a Germanic “W”. (for the obvious reason of not wanting to get my blog blacklisted on every piece of filter software I’m not going to actually spell out the name of this perfectly innocuous mountain!)

And, because I’m the kind of person who has a collection of visits to Hell (or Hel), I couldn’t resist but divert via the mountain and the [Name of Mountain]haus at the summit – queue as many innuendoes as you like.

In truth, the mountain is more than just a curiosity to the English speakers (how many pictures of the mountain name, or the summit house must there be in the world?) The views from the summit are some of the most spectacular I have seen, with the town of Garmish-Partenkirchen at the foot of the mountain laid out on a valley floor, and a small corridor of valley tapering to a point at the foot of the mighty Zugspitze. If anything the views from here at just a little over 9,000 feet are better than those from the Zugspitze 9,700+ feet.

So, Like Hel in Poland, come for the name, stay for the stunning scenery.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

"Something spectacular is about to go wrong..."

At the end of my last diary entry (link here) I said that “I’m fearing the worst for my next trip, it’s never been that smooth before, something spectacular is about to go wrong!”

Well, this morning I had to go into work as we were having major network changes taking place and I needed to be there just in case something went wrong. The guys were supposed to be in and all of our PCs down between 8 and 10am, which would have left me with a very tight window if something had gone wrong.

By the time I got into work at 8:30 everything had been done and there were no problems.

I got to Gatwick just after checkin opened to find a massive queue, which promptly moved at such a rate that the people who were waiting in the Speedy Boarding Plus queue to supposedly avoid having to join the big queue, ended up waiting longer than I did.

I walked through security, no problems, into departures which wasn’t particularly busy to see my flight listed as being on-time and with a note saying the gate would be announced at 12:10.

At 12:10 the gate number flashed up and I wandered down, sat at the back of the gate room and awaited the hoards as I was in boarding group B I was going to be one of the last to board, so I was preparing for a cramped flight in between a warring couple (see the Ryanair flight back from Verona last May!).

They announced boarding I looked up and there was virtually nobody there, I got onto the plane and, as nobody was sitting there, bagged seat 1A

The plane pushed back on time, had a quick taxi and a smooth flight

10 minutes early I was off the plane, through passport control and my bags were already on the belt.

Straight onto a waiting train at the airport station, a quick change onto a tram in the city centre and then into my hotel.

The only possible thing that could be considered a problem is that the room is shared facilities rather than the ensuite I thought I had booked, but that’s hardly a spectacular failure.

Of course, I could have spoken all too soon...

Monday 16 March 2009

Ryanair in on-time arrival shock

For all my scorn poured on Ryanair recently (you might have noticed one or two comments in previous postings that indicate they may not be my most favoured of travel companied), I have to eat a small (and probably seriously overpriced) piece of humble pie.

For the first time that I can remember my flight landed at Stansted on-time (it was actually a couple of minutes early), and by the time I got to the baggage belt my bag was coming round (I’ve previously got to the belt speedily only to wait 45 minutes for the bags)

Because my bags were round so quickly I made the early train from the airport, which meant I made it to the bus stop outside Liverpool Street before the start of the evening rush, and onto a train at London Bridge before the service becomes less frequent.

From the wheels of the plane hitting the tarmac at Stansted to walking through the door at home took less than two and a half hours, half what it has taken on a bad flight (which if I remember rightly was with Ryanair...)

Still, on this occasion they came up trumps, so congratulations Ryanair...

But I still won’t fly with them out of choice!

Sunday 15 March 2009

My good Spanish better get no!

Despite knowing no more than a handful of words in Spanish I have managed over the last couple of days to successfully purchase (in increasing difficulty)

  • Stamps for some postcards back to the UK
  • Train tickets for a day trip to Almeria
  • Coach tickets through an automated ticket machine at the bus station

I would like to claim this is because of a fast mastery of the language, but it isn’t.

The stamps were got by taking my postcards to the counter, stumbling through a phrase from the phrase book and being reduced to a polite Si, when asked, in flawless English, if I wanted stamps for these three postcards back to the UK

The train tickets were purchased through the judicious use of making a note of the train times and service numbers in both directions, the date of travel and then a combination of bad stumbling through phrase book and the use of small slip of paper with aforementioned times and dates on it (along with an arrow in both directions to show that I wanted to come back as well).

The coach tickets I was most impressed with myself, as I didn’t see any English, and didn’t use the phrasebook. Instead I copied exactly what the previous three people in the queue had done and hoped.

I made it all the way to Jaén and back, with my tickets being inspected, so I either did it correctly, or got it so spectacularly wrong that everyone decided to take pity on me (and then have a dam good laugh about it later!)

So to all the people of Andalucía that I have caught up in my bumbling, apologies and thank you, and to all those Brits who wonder why they are disliked for talking slowly and loudly in English to be understood, you don’t need to. Just a bit of prime Boris Johnson bumbling and you can get by just fine!

Saturday 14 March 2009

When Spanish Stereotypes let you down

It is a widely held belief that the Spanish eat late. The guide books all go on about being able to get a meal until gone midnight, that the kitchen never closes, and that only the tourists are eating at 8pm.

So far, in both Seville last year, and Granada this year, I have either managed to find a slight hole in this theory.

Last night I left it quite late to go out for dinner, aiming to eat about 9, only to discover that several of the restaurants had already packed up for the evening, and a couple of others were about to close.

Yes, when I was in Madrid a couple of years ago you could get a meal at gone midnight, but here is Andalucía in March that appears not to work.

Not to cast aspersions on the fine writes of the guide books, but could it be possible that some of the research was done in Madrid, without actually venturing out of the Capital.

But nobody would do that surely...

Thursday 12 March 2009

Spain, where we can all enjoy the EU bandwagon

There are a lot of people who have a very negative view towards the European Union (mostly they are called Brits), but there are a lot of advantages of being a member. The unfettered travel between member stated (unless you are British or Irish who haven’t joined the Schengen agreement and therefore still need their passports to get into the continent), the relatively strong currency (unless you are a Brit), the maximum 48 hour week (unless you are a Brit), the sense of a continent in Harmony (unless you are a Brit and read the Daily Mail).

One of the biggest advantages, at least when in Spain, is the amount of culture you can get for free.

Sure the really big sights like the Alhambra charge, but lots of the other museums and historical attractions don’t.

Walking around the city today I’ve been into two museums, the remains of a Moorish bath house, and a couple of churches. Total spend, just over a euro for one of the Churches.

Most municipal museums are free if you can produce evidence of your membership of the EU, that small burgundy document saves you cash. Whilst this may not off set all the ills of the EU, even the most die-hard Daily Mail reader would agree that saving money is, at least, a partial advantage of membership

Wednesday 11 March 2009


After the lousy start to the day I didn’t expect the check-in process for a RyanAir flight to be much better, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Having used the checkin terminals (no desks, despite having paid for an airport check-in!) I wandered, as instructed to zone J for the fast bag drop, queued up, got to the front of the queue and was then told I should read the screen more clearly as it said Zone F. I mentioned that it had actually said Zone J but the person on bag drop insisted that I was an idiot who couldn’t read simple English, until the person at the next desk started saying the same thing to another Granada passenger, at which point both check-in staff shrugged their shoulders and said we had to go to F, no apology (though I’m sure I could probably get one if I paid the £7.99 apology fee!)

Over to zone F where there was an even longer queue, partly made up of people who hadn’t read the screen when they were at home and were disputing why for their 99p flight they now had to pay £9.99 to checkin and another £18 for the bags they had with them as they thought RyanAir would let them on if they just turned up.

I can sort of understand why the people in Zone J must have originally thought I had read the screen wrong, but an apology whouldn’t have hurt would it?

Introducing Mouselodge

5:10 and on a train far earlier that I was intending to be. I had spent the night in the Travelodge at Liverpool street so that I could get up at 5:30 and wander leisurely over to the station to pick up the train to Stansted, rather than having to get up at 3:30 to get the night bus.

In the end I shouldn’t have bothered. My room had a mouse in it, except I didn’t discover this until about 3am, until then I’d been kept awake by strange noises and rustlings which at first I thought was me hearing things.

By 3am, having got no sleep I spotted a small brown rodent running along the skirting board behind the bin. I waited a while to make sure I got a photo of the offending beast, as I was certain that Travelodge wouldn’t believe me if I said there was a mouse in my room.
I finally got a decent photo about 4am, by which point I decided to get up, have a long shower and then check out of the hotel via a formal complaint.

So here I am, on a virtually deserted Stansted Express, heading through the Lee valley as dawn breaks over Southern England, more knackered (and near £40 lighter) than if I had just stayed at home at got up at 3:30.

Someone is supposed to be calling me today regarding my complaint, lets see what Travelodge’s excuse is!

Saturday 28 February 2009

Perhaps I’ll keep quiet from now on

Back in September (27th September – shop till you drop) I jokingly suggested that as Ryanair were trying to squeeze more money out of the passengers perhaps they should try charging £1 to use the toilets.

Now Michael O’Leary, the Panto style villan of the airline industry (boo, hiss etc) has openly suggested charging £1 to use the toilets on his flights.

I won’t make any more suggestions on things the budget airlines could do to save even more money, they appear to be already coming true. Speedy Evac anyone?

Full story on the BBC News Website - Ryanair mulls charge for toilets

Monday 23 February 2009

Burying bad news

With their usual level of contempt for their customers, Ryanair have managed to slide out one piece of troublesome news covered by a bigger and noisier, literally, story.

Whilst most people have been discussing the horrific plans to allow mobile phones to be used on Ryanair flights (can’t people be out of contact for just a couple of hours, can’t everyone else be spare their inane chatter for the length of the flight!), another piece of news was release.

By the end of 2009, Ryanair will do away with the checkin desks at all their airports. All passengers will have to checkin online prior to leaving their home, or their hotel for the return leg. Which begs the question, what happens if you don’t have access to a printer at your campsite. Do you have to find an internet café and pay there to checkin? Are Ryanair thinking of setting up rip-off priced internet stalls in place of their checkin desks at airports for those whose relaxing beach break doesn’t involve visiting an internet café?

This naturally leads to the question, what next – you can only print your boarding pass on special Ryanair branded paper which you have to buy in advance, perhaps a final and complete ban on luggage (which is the subtext of what they are trying to achieve) so that they can cut their costs even further?

Those cheap Ryanair flights really aren’t what they once were.

The following is from Reuters 21/02/2009:
LONDON, Feb 21 (Reuters)
- Europe's largest low-fare airline Ryanair said on Saturday it planned to save costs by closing all its airport check-in desks by the end of the year and have passengers check in online instead.

"All we will have is a bag drop where passengers can drop off their luggage, otherwise everything will be done online," Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary told the Daily Telegraph.

He said the savings would be passed on to passengers in the form of lower fares.

Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara told Reuters that 75 percent of the airline's passenger already used its online check-in services.

"We are trying to encourage the remaining 25 percent to do the same," he said.

"Hopefully by the end of the year we will have bag drop-in areas instead, which will be manned."

The airline would continue to have staff running ticket desks at airports, he said.

The change would lead to layoffs but the airline used many third-party staff at airports and would attempt to limit the effect of the reduction.

"We are hoping the job cuts will be minor," McNamara said.

(Additional reporting by Carmel Crimmins in Dublin)
(Reporting by Tim Castle; editing by Chris Pizzey)

Tuesday 27 January 2009

At least take an interest in the display.

As I was wandering around the exhibition on Scotland’s Crown Jewels in the castle I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by a comment that another visitor made to their partner.

“So what’s the big stone got to do with all this”, pointing to the large stone next to the Crown, Sceptre and Sword.

I could have forgiven them if there had not been five rooms of information boards and displays prior to getting to the Crown Jewels which explained all of this.

I could almost have forgiven them if they had spoken in an accent which didn’t make them clearly English.

But no, despite all the boards, despite all the information and despite all the controversy that it has caused they didn’t appear to have the faintest idea what “the big stone” had to do with the Crown Jewels.

For those who haven’t visited the exhibition, or who don’t have a bit of knowledge of the “Rocky” relationship between England and Scotland here goes.

The stone, the Stone of Scone AKA Stone of Destiny AKA The Coronation Stone, was used to crown Scottish kings from around the 9th century up until 1296 when King Edward I of England, having beaten the Scots into submission, took the stone back to Westminster on the assumption that no King of Scotland could be crowned without it, and it was a pretty big sore point on Scottish/English relations right up until it was returned, in quite a shower of publicity, to Edinburgh in 1996 (Ignoring a short period in the early 1950’s when it was stolen by a group of Scottish students and taken back up north).

Perhaps it's just me then who actually takes in any of the information on the display boards or pays any attention to important things that have happened in my lifetime.

To misquote words put into a famous Scots mouth by Hollywood.

"You can take our lives, but you'll never take our ignorance"

Weather to agree...

Last night I caught the weather forecast at the end of the local news programme for the “BBC in NE and Cumbria”. The forecast appeared to be relatively OK, except for the massive rain belt that was hanging over southern Scotland, making Edinburgh look like it was in for a very wet day. Not what I really wanted to see, but as the regional news programme stopped at the border, nothing north of the border is discussed, especially not on the weather, I just resigned myself to getting wet.

Straight after the regional news and weather the BBC have a national weather forecast. At which point I started to get very confused.

The national weather forecast for the NE region was the same as the one on the regional news, but the massive downpours which had been deposited across southern Scotland on the local forecast had disappeared on the national. Instead it was going to be grey and overcast, with the odd spot of rain, but not the torrential downpours forecast just moments earlier.

I can only assume that in the NE region they get quite protective of their good weather and try and make it look like nobody else is having any.

That or the weather presenter had let the Work Experience trainee plot the graphics for them.

Monday 26 January 2009

Bathroom Design, 14th century style

There is a very funny sketch in the 1980’s series “Not the Nine O’clock News” where a character played by Rowan Atkinson is designing his new bathroom with the help of a character played by Mel Smith.

Smith’s character is trying to help Atkinson’s lay out his bathroom with all the mod-cons, but Atkinson appears to develop a toilet obsession. What starts as a single toilet rapidly ends up with seven toilets arranged around the edge of the bathroom, with another toilet in the shower cubical (the bath being got rid off to create space for some more toilets).

The sketch is hilarious, and I though the workings of an insane, or at least twisted, mind.

But today, I discovered that it was not, the person who wrote the script must have, like me, visited Direlton castle in southern Scotland and seen the obsession that the families that built the castle had for guardrobes. I lost count at the half dozen mark, and everywhere you turned there appeared to be another one in the corner.

I know castles needed a few for all the guests and staff, but the frequency of toilets here outstripped anything I have seen before!

Sunday 25 January 2009

Public Transport as a Public Service

Being a Londoner I am pretty used to crowded public transport, even on a Sunday.

I know that once you get out of London the frequency and coverage of public transport is hit and miss, given that a lot of it has to be done for a profit, and if the local council doesn’t support it, it doesn’t run.

However, I was pleasantly surprised as to how easy it was to get from Berwick to Warkworth on a Sunday, quick connections and a service every two hours.

I was even more surprised by how empty the buses were. On the first leg of the journey to Alnwick I was the only person on the bus for virtually the whole way, and from Alnwick onto Warkworth there were only a handful of other people.

Virtually the same back, less than half a dozen people on the bus from Warkworth and only me and one other person for most of the way from Alnwick to Berwick.

Whilst the tickets may have been quite expensive (only just the right side of £10 in total), it still couldn’t possibly have paid for the trip, and if I hadn’t been out today one of the legs would have had nobody on it.

So a thank-you.

To the people of Northumberland, thanks for subsidising my journey today. Your council taxes enabled me to go and visit a castle that I couldn’t have otherwise reached.