In Bruges Without Punching a Dwarf in the Face!

25 08 2011

H and I had a couple of days off this week, so pre-empting a washed out camping trip to Swanage, we booked some cheap ferry tickets from Dover to Dunkirk and headed to the quaint Belgian city of Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage site and throughly lovely place to have a beer.

We arrived at about midday and had a walk through the city to our hotel in the North of the City, to find our room overlooking one of the cities canals.  The Hotel Ter Brughe is lovely, but has terribly thin walls (more of which later) but for the amount it cost it should have been.

After dumping our bags we headed out into the city, where the first stop on our agenda was the Haalve Maan (Half Moon brewery) home of Bruge Zot (Bruges Fool) and Strafee Hendrik (Strong Hendrick) beers for the tour.  Full of many interesting facts, and some oddities (4% beer is for children) our guide was excellent and obviously enjoyed her job.  Once the tour was over we got a free sample of Bruges Zot (6%) and not the 11% Straffe Hendrik, which was probably lucky as I would have fallen asleep soon afterwards.

From there we had another mooch about the city and its waterways before heading back to the hotel to get changed before going out for dinner in the evening.  After the thickest piece of Sirloin steak ever we headed back to our hotel for a well deserved sleep (we had been up since 4am).

At 2am, the Spaniards in the next room arrived back, and started talking.  To say that they were loud was an understatement, and they had woken both H and I up.  After nearly an hour this got too much for me and my over tired self just shouted through the wall for them to “shut the hell up!”, which seemed to work, but scared the hell out of the dozing H.

The next morning brought drizzle, so we had a leisurely breakfast waiting for the rain to pass, before heading to the Belfry tower to climb its 366 steps.  I have never been particularly brilliant with heights, but the view was good but what made it worth the 8 Euros was seeing the mechanism ring the 46 bells.  A brilliant piece of engineering.

Back at ground level we headed off on a half hour boat tour around the cities waterways.  A lot of which consisted of the age of the bridges, but it was a great way to see this city. Before we headed home we had enough time to go to the cathedral hand have a look around before we had a meal of Moule et Frite (Mussles and Chips.  MMMmmm!) and a mooch around a Convent grounds and the park before our 26 hours in Bruges came to an end.

If you go to Bruges in the future by car, park in the train station, it cost us £3 Euros for 26 hours of parking, where as if we had got parking through the hotel it would have cost £30.  You can even get a free bus to the centre of the city.



24 05 2011

I have just come back from a week in France, but to be honest, I don’t really have that much to repot.  It was nice and relaxing, apart from the first day (after a night on a ferry with no sleep) where we rushed around the D-Day beaches, to give H a brief over-view of what happened.  To be honest, touring those sites is emotionally draining, especially after no sleep. 

After that we went down to our farmhouse in Hirel on the Baie de Mont St Michel.  Just across the road from the beach, the house was large enough to sleep about 20, and incredibly comfortable.  We went to Mont St Michel on one of the days, but the main thing was the food and wine.  We ate far too much (mainly seafood) and drank too much too, but we were also quite active, going for long walks on the beach and bike rides.

We had oysters straight from the quayside at Cancale, and mussles from the bay, as well as the best piece of Pork that I have ever had (the cheek, cooked in local cider). 

All of my Photo’s are on Flickr, and I will add some to my photo blog in the next week.

Good stuff.  I did add another couple of books to my reading list though:

Cant be Arsed by Richard Wilson

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell

2050 Miles to Scotland and Back Pt. 3

26 07 2010
Waking up on another rainy morning we headed to Skye where we were throughly soaked and miserable on the first morning.  We decided to still make the best of it and see what would happen later in the day, so we headed off to Dunvegan Castle, which is the seat of the Clan Macleod, and is the oldest continuously inhabited Castle in Scotland.
After mooching about for a while in the damp the sun came out, and came out strongly so we headed off to the Coral beaches to the North of the island.  We parked the car up and wlaked about a mile an a half, to be met by a spectacular view that could almost be Carribbean.  The white coral sand and the sun making everything look incredibly good.  We sat for a while in the sun regaining our constitutions, before decidintg that it might actually be a good idea to go and put up a tent. 
We woke up in brilliant sunshie on the Saturday, which was just as well because we had a Seal watching trip to Loch Coriusk booked.  The entrance to the loch has a colony of Harbour Seals and you are almost guaranteed to see them, however it was beginning to look like they were all out hunting until we turned a corner to see tens of them basking on the rocks enjoying the sun, many of the mothers had young pups that will only stay with them for 6 weeks before making their own way in life.
We also had an hour and a half to explore the shores of the Loch in one of the most peaceful and spectacular places I have ever been.  This Land locked Loch is truly spectacular, surrounded by 12 peaks of the Cuillin ridge.
The afternoon took us to another castle, Armadale this time, the home of the clan Donald, where we had a lovely look around the grounds and museum, before heading for a Fish and Chip meal in Portree before the rain set in, and set in it did, causing us to take the decision to head across the country to Fortrose on the Black Isle.
Stopping off at Castle Urqhart and the Loch Ness visitor centre on the way.  I knew that Loch ness was big, but didn’t realise quite how big.  There is more water in the Loch than in the whole of England and Wales put together and it is big enough to drown every single person in the world.  There is also very little life in the loch, certainly not enough to sustain a giant monster.
We pressed onwards towards Fortrose where there was an outside chance that we could see Dolphins from the Beach.  How lucky we were then that we did see them, not only in the evening, but when we went back in the morning as well.  A Pod of about 15 were playing about in the entrance to the Moray Firth leaping about and throwing fish to each other.  It is quite spectacular to see this wildlife so close to the shore (about 15-20m away) and in the end I decided to put my camera down as I wouldn’t actually get to see them apart from through a view finder.  We left Fortrose very happy, but sad to be leaving.
We had a B&B booked for the evening, but H and I decided to do something that I had wanted to do since I was a small child.  We went to see Ospreys.  Sadly we didn’t see them hunting for fish, but we saw their nest and chicks thanks to the RSPB centre at Loch Garten.  I was totally thrilled to be able to see my favourite birds in the wild. 
Our time in Scotland was coming to an end and after a quick trip to Stirling Castle we headed home. 
I loved Scotland, and I really want to go again, hopefully in the dry next time.  There is some spectacular scenery and amazing places to go, not all of the foods is deep fried either.
All of my photo’s are available on Flickr.

2050 Miles to Scotland and Back Pt. 2

23 07 2010

The journey to Applecross was one that I was looking forward to.  Not only would we be travelling past Eilean Donnan Castle but we would have to travel over Bealach nam Bo (Cattle Pass), the only true Alpine Pass in the country according to the Applecross website which rises over 2000ft within 6 miles.  As someone that loves driving it was an exciting prospect especially as we had been warned against doing it.

We left Oban early to avoid the rain and stopped a few times on the way, once so that I could take some photo’s of the Balachullish Bridge and another time so that we could look at Castle Stalker, a tower based castle on its own island, that you can only visit 4 days of the year.

We travelled onwards down Glen Sheill past waterfalls, peaceful Lochs and towering mountains until we came to Eilean Donnan castle, situated on a small island at the meeting point of 3 Lochs and accessible only by footbridge.  The castle was partially destroyed by the Jacobite Uprising in 1719 and lay in ruins until it was rebuilt by Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap who restored it to its former glory.  After taking lots of photos (I would say too many, but I don’t think that there is such a thing)of the outside we went about touring the castle.  It led me to ask the question, ‘How do I become a Laird and live somewhere like this?’

Still day dreaming about living in a castle, we headed for the dreaded “Cattle Pass”, which I have to say I loved driving over.  Even though I dislike H’s car it did very well on this road proving nimble and lively round the hairpin bends, even allowing me to catch and overtake a few people while they stopped in passing places.  The weather was grey and foggy which meant that there was no view, but what little glimpses you could get were spectacular.

 We arrived at Applecross in the sunshine and set up our tent before having a walk down to the beach and a couple of pints in the Applecross in before deciding that we would eat there.  Once we had decided to eat the food was excellent, well worth the awards for its seafood.  I have never had oysters before, but these were good, as were the Applecross Prawns. 

The following day the rain was torrential, but we still decided that a walk would be a good idea, so we had a walk around the Applecross estate and sat by a lovely waterfall for a while as the rain stopped.  We were in good spirits though as in the afternoon we had a camping pod booked and we could be dry for the evening.

Once the sun had come out we decided to go for a drive around the peninsula where we saw the Mesolithic cave dwellings, a Druids stone and some spectacular scenery. 

I really do recommend Applecross, but only if you can guarantee some good weather.

Off to Skye next, but you will have to wait for Pt. 3

2050 Miles to Scotland and Back Pt.1

20 07 2010

I have just returned from 11 days in Scotland which is beautiful, but rainy (as everyone told us, the week before was lovely). We started out on the Sunday morning and drove the 860 miles to Drymen by Loch Lomond. We arrived in a torrential downpour, which soon subsided and gave way to a force 10 gale. This didn’t put us off though, we put up our tent and then had a look around part of the lake, even in the wind and the rain, it’s rugged beauty shone through. We had a pint in the Oldest Licenced pub in Scotland, and headed to bed shattered from the early morning and the driving.

Due to the weather we had decided to move on the next day, just as the sun came out and we headed towards Oban, stopping at the pretty little village of Luss, on the shores of the Loch.

From here we headed up towards Oban, stopping at Loch Fyne to try and go to the Oyster shed, which turned out to be closed. Instead we had to make do with going to the Brewery and purchased some of the local ale, Pipers Gold, which was very nice.

Getting to Oban we managed to find our campsite quite easily and pitched up before heading into the town. We visited McHaigs tower a strange folly built on the top of the hill overlooking Oban, which from a distance looks the size of the Colesseum in Rome. Being interested in the Local Food and Drink as we were we had to take a tour around the Oban Whisky Distillery, where we received the low down on how to make the stuff. I must say that I am not a fan, of any Whisky, so the taster we got came as a bit of a surprise when I actually liked it. The 10 year old goes quite well with a piece of crystalised ginger. Later that evening H also tried Haggis for the first time and we both enjoyed the starter of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties.

We must have picke a comfortable pitch as we both slept well, which was just as well as we were headed for a longish walk around the small Island of Kerrara. To get there you have to take the small ferry. We were told that there was a Castle and a Seal Colony there, so it was quite exciting. We saw the ruined castle on its rocky outcrop and had a look around it, which was rather fabulous, we didn’t see any seals though.

The next day we moved on to Applecross, but that will be in Part 2.

To the North

29 06 2010
I am off to Scotland at the weekend for 10 days, and I am really rather looking forward to it.  H and I intend to drive straight up to Loch Lomond on Sunday, which we are able to do because Germany knocked England out of the World Cup, so now we can go out for my Mums birthday.
Anyway, our plan is to go to the highlands and the Isle of sky, I have seen a really good boat trip that I want to go on where you can see Seals.  We also have a Pod booked in Applecross, meaning that we can have at least one night inside, although, hopefully the weather will not be bad.  I will be monitoring it for the next week or so, but once we are there I guess it doesn’t matter.
We also want to head to Loch Fyne so that we can have Oysters, and H really wants to try Haggis, having had it before I am not overly keen, but when in Rome and all that.
I think that we will try and head over to a place by Inverness to see some Dolphins, but we also have a night booked in a 5* guesthouse, near Loch Ness.  Our room is massive and it has a 4 poster bed in it.
I am getting more and more excited the more I think about it.

Riga Pt 2.

19 05 2010

Thursday in Riga was cause for celebration.  It was my 30th Birthday, a day that I cannot believe has come around so quickly.  In fact the whole reason I was in Riga was because my Parents had paid for mine and H’s flights (thank you) and the hotel (Hanza Hotel by the way is very nice, and fairly cheap.  I would recommend it).

Hannah had bought me an amazingly cool Watch to add to my growing collection.  Dev, KP and May-Z had found me a spectacularly crap commemorative Prince William and Harry mug.  Bimbo and Fat Bob bought an oil burner to help me sleep, which I am a bit scared of trying incase I set fire to my curtains.

After a leisurely breakfast we made a plan to walk to the TV tower which is on it’s own separate island.  This meant that we had to walk over one of the massive bridges.  Which built during the Communist era is now crumbling and doesn’t look particularly safe, but it has some brilliant graffitti on it.  

The tower started looming large as we walked towards it and only got bigger.  It is the tallest structure in the Baltics at 328m.  We paid our money and travelled up in the weird slopey lift to a height of 92m where we got a great view and a tour in German.  I think that we understood a lot of it and found out the Riga has a population of One Million, that the windows are covered in Rust and that the tower is on Rabbit Island.  Exciting stuff.

After scaling the tower we headed towards the old town for a drink and a look around the Occupation Museum, which despite being incredibly interesting also throughly depressed me.  It depressed me so much in fact that had to go and have cocktails in the Cuban Bar.  Followed by more, posher cocktails in the Skyline bar on the 26th floor of a hotel, with fantastic views over the whole of Riga.

Dinner that night was a medieval feast in a 12 century cellar restaurant called Rozengrals.  All of the recipes that they use can be traced back to the 12th or 13th century.  The wine comes in Goblets and the beer in tankards, and your bread comes in a hessian sack.  I partook in the French Onion soup and then the Rabbit Stew.  Both were amazing and well worth the money that we spent on them.

Friday was slightly sad as none of us actually wanted to leave the un-seasonably warm city, and we had a slow mooch around the old town and ended up in the Sun museum, which is a collection of images of the sun from around the World.  This was made better by the fact that we had a great guide who talked us through the whole collection and afterwards we could go and paint our own suns. Mine was terrible, as I have no artistic talent what so ever, but we all had fun designing ours.

I loved Riga, and although I try and go somewhere different every time I go away I would go back there.  I suspect though that this will become more and more touristy as cheap flights go there.  This was already evident as we saw a couple of Stag and Hen parties there, letting the country down with their drunken behaviour (you shouldn’t be falling in a ditch at 2 in the afternoon).

I am putting more photo’s up on my photo Blog and as always there are more on Flickr.

Riga Pt 1.

18 05 2010

Waking up at the crack of dawn last Tuesday the 5 of us, H, Bimbo, Dev, KP and I headed to Stanstead airport and boarded an as usual crowded plane. We did appear to be the only English passengers on the plane, with the rest being Latvians returning home to Riga. This may explain why that, when we landed a round of applause broke out… It wasn’t actually that bad a flight and I have definitely had worse landings.

After a crowded bus ride from hell we got to Riga old town and tried to find our hotel using two of the worst maps ever produced. We didn’t actually have too much trouble and dropped our bags off before we went in search of some food. We eventually decided on a little place near a church and has a superb meal for a few quid.

Feeling full we had a look around the town and got our bearings before we headed back to the hotel to check in, have a bit of a snooze and then go to the restaurant for a few beers and some food. This turned out to be a mistake, as we discovered Riga Black Balsam, a 45% proof beverage made of 24 different herbs, including Wormwood which gives Absinthe its weirdness.

This led to 2 things, the first being KP getting into an argument with a Finnish racist and Me proposing to H. What is even more surprising is that H said yeas, and so now I am getting married, which is really awesome (I won’t write any more about that here).

The next day with hangovers and in my case, a slightly wobbly stomach we headed out to go up the tower of St Peter’s Church where we would get a great view of the city. We also headed around to the Powder Tower and Arms museum and had a walk around some of the art-deco style streets and had a sit in the park.

We went to look at the Freedom monument, a potent symbol for Latvians who have had a horrible time at the hands of larger neighbours. Feeling incredibly tired from our walk around the city we went to the Riga Black Magic bar, where everything is Black Balsam based. I can recommend the cocktails and cake.

Going back into town in the evening we at a nice meal and a few beers before turning in for the night.

I will post more about Riga and my Birthday tomorrow.

Random Diary

17 05 2010
This is a bit of a catch up Blog, as I have been on Holiday and got lots to tell you, about all sorts of different things.  I am going to do it diary style.
Saturday 8th of May – Celebration of Steam at the Historic Dockyard.
H and I decided that we would go down to the Celebration of Steam, not sure what it would entail, but we had a great day.   Our £12 ticket, got us entry to HMS Warrior, which I had wanted to go on for ages, a Harbour tour on a

Traction Engine

boat, where we got to see part of the British Navy that is docked in Portsmouth.  As well as this there was a collection of traction engines and steam powered memorabelia including the world record holding fastest steam car in the world, which took the record by going nearly 150 mph.

There was also an Ale and Sausage Festival where we had a local tipple and an Ostrich burger.  Which I can say is very nice.
Monday 10th May – Natural History Museum – London
As we were flying to Riga Early on Tuesday we had decided to stay at Stanstead the night before which gave us the opportunity to go to London.

The Natural History Museum Dinosaur

  We had wanted to get to the Natural History Museum for ages and it didn’t disappoint.  It is spectacular but we could have done with having more time. 

After a swift meal in China Town we headed to Wimbledon to meet with May-Z who unfortunately wouldn’t be there for my birthday.  We had some great conversations about professional quiz-masters among others.
Tuesday 11th May – Riga
We flew to Riga from Stanstead on Ryan Air.  It was ok.  It was also my Dad’s birthday, so happy birthday to him.  I will write more about Riga in another Blog, but it was great fun.
Saturday 15th May- FA Cup Final
Pompey were in the FA Cup final, after a turbulent season with Relegation administration, numerous owners and players jumping ship, we had battled our way to Wembley. 
We defended brilliantly in the first half and were saved by the woodwork on 6 occasions and went in at half time 0-0.
Daring to dream in the second half, we had a penalty, which Kevin Prince Boateng scuffed and was saved, and then Didier Drogba scored the winner.  Not what the fairytale deserved.
Sunday 16th May – World Twenty-20 and Gigs.
Well done to England, World T-20 champions.  It was a brilliant final, with all parts of our team on fire.  Bowling was economical, Craig Kieswetter and KP were on fire, and we were finally steered home by Paul Collingwood and Eion Morgan with 3 overs to go, a huge margin in this form of the game.  To beat the Aussies was the icing on the cake.
As soon as this had finished I rushed out the door to go and see North Atlantic Oscilation at the Joiners. The Sarah Griffin Band were great, the Rebs were average and NAO were probably the best band that I had seen this year.
There you go, brief, but good.  I will catch you up on Riga later.  

Chock’s Away

17 03 2010

Yesterday afternoon I was taken up in a 2 seater aeroplane (an Ikarus C45 for those of you who care) by one of my colleagues.  After a brief overview of the plane and our pre-flight checks we left from Popham and headed on a bearing towards Four Marks before heading to Petersfield.  At this turn we radioed Air Traffic Control to see if we could transit the Southampton airport Airspace.

Brief note here, something that I learnt yesterday, a small plane can fly pretty much anywhere it likes as long as it is under 2000ft.  Over this you get into the Airspace of Airports and you have to ask for permission to cross them.

Unfortunately as it was heavy traffice we had to stay low over Portsmouth, but as a result I got some Photo’s of my parents house, my flat and some great ones of Fratton Park.  As we headed out to sea we turned again and headed west along the Isle of Wight, turning at the Needles and coming back Eastwards past Shanklin and Sandown.  I was allowed to take the controls and do a figure of 8 over H’s mum’s place.  After messing about for a bit we headed for a landing at Bembridge where Mike had to adjust quite a lot because he had come in a bit too high.  Touch down was pretty soft and we had to do a few checks  before we had a cup of tea and a sandwich and then headed back up again.

After a straight run back to Popham we landed after watching the 1950’s Antonov do a loop of the airfield.  All in all this is a brilliant way to spend an afternoon.  Massive thanks to Mike for taking me up.

There are more photo’s on Flickr, so click on the link over there.