Ieper (or Ypres)

Ieper (or Ypres)

The first day of our holiday, and a convenient location en-route to our intended proper first destination of Le Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

An early-ish start and a long drive from the far end of England saw us arrive at the UK tunnel terminal with more than an hour before our crossing, but the tunnel was a bit chaotic so there was no chance of an earlier crossing. This in turn meant that we got to our apartment in Ypres barely in time to head out again.

(Side note: four of us, in an apartment that could comfortably sleep nine. We weren’t short of space, but it seemed odd that it had just one toilet and one bathroom, which became the bottlenecks.)

We intended to watch the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate; we hadn’t realised that 30th June is when the Irish (or maybe just Ulster?) regiments traditionally congregate there, and there also seemed to be a lot of Canadians, probably related to it being the eve of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. You could barely turn around for bumping in to somebody with a pipe or a drum.

As you can probably imagine, a very moving ceremony, although the laying of wreaths went on for a long time.

Once the ceremony was complete, we went to the centre of town to find some food, almost being chased by a full marching band, and there were groups of pipers and drummers around every corner. We didn’t see much of the town itself, but it certainly looks like it’s worth a longer visit.

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Posted by on Tuesday 5 July 2016 in Travel


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Simonside Fell Race / Thropton Show

Nice write-up of last year’s Simonside Fell Race here.

Looks like today’s is going to be a warm one. Warm? In Northumberland? I don’t believe it.

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Posted by on Saturday 19 September 2015 in Running


Let’s Hit the Beach!

The only thing we knew we had to do on Saturday was to be at Gruž port for 4pm ready to board the fast ferry to Korčula. Somehow we had to get our bags there first; our host had suggested that he’d leave a note for his sister to ask if she could give us lift down when we left our apartment, but nothing was mentioned when we said goodbye to his mother on Saturday morning… anyway, it was all downhill, and two of the three bags had wheels, so Shanks’s pony it was. A route was carefully chosen to minimise the number of steps, and overall it wasn’t too painful to get to where we could leave our bags for the day.

Whilst recuperating over refreshments, we came up with a vague plan which involved making use of our 24-hour bus pass to check a couple of potential beaches, one of which (Bellevue) was conveniently close to where we would have to change buses to get to the second one (Lapad Bay).

After some confusion over the bus map (conveniently colour-coded… using different colours on each slightly different version), we figured out how to get to Bellevue, and a bit of navigating by instinct soon found us overlooking the beach, which was a long way down. We could see a set of steps on the far side, but weren’t sure how to get to them, so checked at the hotel that used part of the beach; they pointed us round the ‘public’ way, rather than letting us use their lift; no surprise. From where we were, we couldn’t see what facilities would be at the bottom, so we stocked up with lunch at a convenient pekarnica (bakery), then followed the directions round to what seemed like a back entrance to a different hotel, then suddenly found ourselves at the top of the steps we’d seen earlier, with a nice clear view of the beach.

Bellevue Beach

Bellevue Beach (and hotel above)

Not too crowded, very sheltered, even a little cave if you were feeling brave and wanted to do a bit of exploring while swimming. It looks like it sometimes has (or had) more facilities, apart from the hotel bar and restaurant, but those didn’t seem to be in operation when we were there. We did what you’d expect on a beach: cooled off (much needed!) in the sea, dried out in the sun, ate lunch, and repeat until it was time to head off and make sure we caught the ferry.

Our 24-hour bus pass had expired, but we knew it was only a 15 minute walk to the port, mostly downhill, and that made it easy to stop for some supplies for on the ferry. We got to the port in plenty of time, collected our bags, and found that the nearest cafe was full of people with luggage, looking like they were all waiting for the same ferry. Fortunately, we had some good timing and managed to grab a free table. and eventually managed to get the one member of staff on duty to serve us some beer while we figured out how to rearrange our shopping into our luggage. Just before the scheduled boarding time, we noticed a flurry of activity so decided we should go and join the queue; none too soon!

Waiting for the Ferry

You wouldn’t know, but this is near the front of the queue…

Once we got on board and stashed our larger items of luggage, we found some seats right at the front so we could see where we were going, and settled in for the two hour journey to Korčula.

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Posted by on Wednesday 19 August 2015 in Croatia, Travel


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Just like “Game of Thrones” …

Just like “Game of Thrones” …

… but nobody died.

Once we’d got ourselves sorted on Friday morning, we figured out the bus system and got ourselves to the nearest Libertas office to buy some 24-hour passes, then got the bus along to Dubrovnik Old Town; so much easier than walking!

We’d already explored a lot of the Old Town on the previous night, so we decided to head off the main street and explore some of the back alleys. The real “tourist tat” was seemingly kept to a minimum, but there were a lot of jewellery shops (featuring the local red coral), art galleries, plus the usual selection of bars and cafes. We found one that we’d read about that did fancy wine and local craft beer; as we ‘accidentally’ found ourselves wandering past it, we had to go in…

San Servolo craft beer (his 'n' hers)

San Servolo craft beer (his ‘n’ hers)

Our host had recommended a restaurant away from the main street (Stradun), telling us that the fish was very good, and the prices were much more reasonable; he wasn’t wrong. Plus, the view was pretty good too…

While eating lunch we’d noticed a lot of people appearing from round the back of Tvrđava sv. Ivana, looking like they’d just been swimming, so after we’d finished stuffing ourselves we waddled round the old harbour to have a look at where they’d been. A groyne and the path round the back of the tower formed a swimming area, complete with water polo ‘pitch’, covered in people both in and out of the water, and great views of the coast south-east of Dubrovnik, the nature reserve of Lokrum island, and the huge variety of passing large and small boats. We naively didn’t have our swimming costumes, but managed to find ourselves a spot on the edge that was close enough to the water that we could sit and splash our feet whilst soaking up the sun and doing some digesting.

Once we felt capable of walking properly, we heading out around the outside of the old town, and up to the cable car that leads up Srđ and provides easy access to Utvrda Imperial (Fort Imperial), built during the Napoleonic Wars. The mountain was the main site of fighting in the Siege of Dubrovnik during the 1991-1995 Croatian War of Independence; the fort itself now houses an exhibition detailing its events. Possibly slightly one-sided, but still very thought-provoking.

After exploring the fort (including access to the roof, which would contravene all sorts of H&S regulations in the UK), and having an unexpected encounter in the car park, we decided to treat ourselves to a drink at the imaginatively-named Restaurant Panorama, which has absolutely amazing views over Dubrovnik Old Town and the Adriatic Sea. This left us perfectly-timed for catching the sunset from the viewpoint near the cable car station, watching it sink into the sea over Dubrovnik, Koločep and Lopud.

We had a cunning plan for getting back to our apartment after this: the number 8 bus runs in a big loop, from the Old Town Gate, though ‘lower’ Dubrovnik to the port, then turning and heading back along the higher road (at the bottom of the steps to our apartment), past the cable car station, out east to Viktorija, then back to the Old Town Gate. Just get on at the cable car station and ride round the loop, we thought… well, almost. What we didn’t realise was the bus got to Viktorija and stopped for 20 minutes! We had to get off and stand around; couldn’t even admire the view, since it was dark by this point. Eventually we were allowed back on, and things proceeded as planned, including being smug at having seats when the crowds got on at the Old Town Gate. Little things…

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Posted by on Wednesday 19 August 2015 in Croatia, Travel


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The Old Town by Night

After spending our first morning local to the apartment, and having a nice siesta to recover from the heat and a morning of walking down then up countless steps (a theme which is to be repeated), it was time to get down to the business of why we have made this trip: to tick Dubrovnik Old Town off our (OK, MY) seemingly endless must-see list.  Our host had already given us some tips on what to see, where to avoid (overpriced bars in particular) and how to get there and back (downhill, so walk there; uphill, so get the No. 8 bus back). After about 15 minutes walking, we finally started descending steps which seemed never ending. “Thanks goodness we’ll be getting the bus back!” I remarked.

We finally emerged from the steps just outside the Pile Gate, on the eastern edge of the walled city. Despite the time of day it was still heaving, though apparently less so than during the day as all the cruise ship day trippers had now left and would be back on board their ships. We walked past the various stands touting their ‘Game of Thrones’ walking tours (Paul had already been warned this was NOT an option), contemplated then decided against buying a tourist card, and set about battling with and against the crowds to get into the old town.

Perhaps it was because it was somewhere I’ve wanted to go for so long, or perhaps it was real, but I noticed a change in the atmosphere almost immediately. I felt I was somewhere very special. The walls and buildings were so well lit they seemed to shine against the dark sky. It was a strange feeling, almost like I had entered film set, or some other make-believe location. Or maybe I was just dehydrated and had come over all weird. Anyway, it felt good to be there. We walked down the wide main street, Stradun, which was teaming with people ranging from those who looked like they had just come from the beach to those all dressed up in designer gear ready to hit the bars. The pavement is made of limestone and is famed for its high shine finish which has been polished by hundreds of years of use. For some reason I couldn’t help but think it must be very slippy in the rain!

Stradun by night

After the tourist shops at the start of the street, the restaurants and bars take over and the pavement becomes a mass of tables and chairs. It certainly was a great place to people watch, but at the same time it seemed lots of the people there wanted to be watched! In between were lots of side streets which were themselves lined with more restaurants and diners eating outside. We resisted the temptation to join them as we were more interested in exploring.

We kept wandering, having little to no idea where we were, but figuring we couldn’t get that lost. Despite it still being stiflingly hot, it was so lovely checking out little alleyways and sweeping staircases leading to small chapels and beautiful old doorways. We found ourselves in more of a residential part of town and seemed to have left all the bars, restaurants and most of the tourists behind. We noticed ahead of us that a group has turned into a hole in the outside city wall, followed by others coming out. On investigation it was a bar on several levels, carved out of the rock face outside the city walls. It was about time for a sit-down, so we followed. Due, I assume to the difficulties they must have getting drinks to the bar and that there appears not to be running water, it is a bottles-only bar with everything served out of plastic glasses. Fair enough.

We ordered a beer and mini bottle of sparkling wine. It turns out the bar, Buža is rather famous for its stunning views of the Elafitia Islands and was recommended in our guide book. I’m quite sure the view was indeed stunning, so we sat back drinking the most expensive round of the holiday so far, and stared out into the blackness, trying to imagine what it would have been like had we sensibly visited in day time instead.

Old Town Port

After more wandering around, we thought it was time to head off for the bus. After all, we were coming back the next day and could see more then. Although we knew what bus to get from where, we hadn’t figured on the huge queues and chaos of the bus stops back outside the Pile Gate. We realised buses were leaving, full, still with long queues left, the one we needed being only half-hourly at that time of night, and the next one being the last of the night at 12.30am. Hmm, what to do? Then the inevitable happened. The words I have been dreading. “Why don’t we just walk back? We’ll be there before the next bus gets here.” Of course I knew he was right (annoyingly), so off I trudged up the steps, loosing count somewhere in the early 200’s.

Tomorrow we would return. By bus.

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Posted by on Tuesday 18 August 2015 in Croatia, Travel


“It’s hot. Damn hot! Real hot!”

“It’s hot. Damn hot! Real hot!”

We made it safely to Dubrovnik on Wednesday evening, and noticed that standing outside the airport was a little warm… but that was nothing compared to today. Today (Thursday), it was 34°C; it’s now gone 6:30pm, 31°C, and I can barely stop drinking water for long enough to have a beer. That’s how serious it is.

Anyway, back to our arrival. Arriving slightly early at Dubrovnik airport, we were met by our host who drove us back to Dubrovnik itself, enjoying the stunning red sunset over the old town on our way. Arrival at our guesthouse was via a maze of windy steep little streets, which we were warned we should not try to walk down; use the steps! After a quick tour of our mini-apartment, our host sat with us on our private balcony to give us some orientation on a map of Dubrovnik, including the nearest supermarket and pizza place, both of which would still be open.

The nearest supermarket wasn’t so “super”, as is usually the way, but it was big enough to buy essentials (beer, wine, nibbles). The pizza place was just down the street, where we were probably overcharged for beer (25kn for a pint, about £2.50), but certainly weren’t overcharged for the pizza: 50kn each, for their “medium” that turned out to be more “large”…

We treated ourselves to a lie-in on Thursday morning. Having not thought to check what equipment was in the kitchen, we hadn’t even bought coffee in the supermarket, deciding that it would be good motivation to get out and find breakfast. Not so easy, as it seemed like we were too late for breakfast, too early for lunch, so we settled for coffee and Diet Coke near the main port in Gruž, before buying our ferry tickets for our journey to Korčula on Saturday.

At lunch, we discovered that eating out generally is quite cheap (as long as you stay away from the prime tourist areas), and we definitely overpaid for our beer the previous night. A huge plate of squid for Clare, with homemade gnocchi, and a big tuna steak with croquettes for me, and a couple of beers, for only 20 quid.

We found a slightly-bigger supermarket after lunch; they called it a hypermarket, but it was smaller than Prudhoe Co-op. We had to be very restrained with what we bought, because we knew there were a lot of steps to get back up, and it was getting hotter by this stage. That done, we tried however we could to stay cool (lying in the bedroom with the AC running), until it was time for some dinner and watching the sunset over the port. We were hoping to walk down to the old town this evening, but it’s started raining…

Wine by sunset

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Posted by on Thursday 13 August 2015 in Croatia, Travel


nail (mailx) certificates

This is mostly just to remind myself what to do the next time this problem happens, but it might be useful for somebody else. If you normally read this blog for our travel adventures, you probably want to stop right now…

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Posted by on Tuesday 24 March 2015 in Geeky stuff


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Indianapolis, Day 0

Indianapolis, Day 0

We left Willoughby to head to our ‘primary’ destination for this trip: Indianapolis, for the MotoGP.

There were a few minutes of slight concern when we arrived at the hotel that had been booked for months and months: they didn’t have a room for us! Apparently Expedia had been trying to contact Clare regarding an alternative, but had only sent an email through when we were about an hour away from Indianapolis, with a contact telephone number that went through to the wrong department…

Fortunately, the hotel realised they could find us a room, one which just had some maintenance done, as long as we could wait an hour or so for the duty manager to prepare it for us. That suited us: we went and did our shopping (sandwich supplies and beer), then checked in.

The first motorcycle-related activity of the weekend was a trip to the local Ducati dealers (the imaginatively-named Ducati Indianapolis), where they were having an open day, and there were rumours of a visit from the Ducati Corse team…

Our sat-nav decided to take use some ‘imaginative’ routing to get to the store, through what seemed like the car park for some industrial units, but we knew we were in the right place when we spotted a very obvious big red truck.

Of course, there were a load of motorbikes parked up around the store, including something that might be suitable for my Mam if she wants a change from big 4WDs. We couldn’t take advantage of the various test rides that were on offer, so had to make do with wondering around the store being quite amazed at how cheap the motorbikes were, compared to UK prices. Of course, I had to buy a couple of Ducati T-shirts that were on offer while I was there, and a 1:18-scale model of a Multistrada somehow accidentally got added to my bill.

It wasn’t long until one of the store managers took a phone call and told everybody that “they” were 10 minutes away; “they” being the Ducati Corse team, of course. We expected them to turn up in limos, or at least Ducati-branded cars, but a couple of nondescript 4x4s turned up and pulled round the back of the store, one of them being driven by Cal himself!

The team were lead out of the store to a round of applause, and the riders (Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso) very quickly got down to the business of signing posters and posing for photos. Clare had a quick chat with Cal, told him we’d come from Newcastle just to see him (he asked where the translator was), and that we’d been in Brno last year to see his pole position qualifying (he pointed out that he’d crashed out of the race…) Also in attendance were Paolo Ciabatti (Ducati Corse Sporting Director) and Julian Thomas (MotoGP Press Manager), probably making sure that nobody said anything that they weren’t supposed to. Somebody in the crowd had a Mini done up in Union Jack wrap and Cal-style number 35, so there was more opportunities for photos, and for Cal to autograph the car.

With the excitement over, it was time for the quickest Japanese meal we’ve ever had (trying to take my bowl away while I was still eating), then back to the hotel to prepare for three days of racing.

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Posted by on Thursday 14 August 2014 in Travel


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“The List”

A few years ago, shortly after joining Facebook (I know, I know), I saw a number of friends had completed something called a Travel List Challenge, ticking off the countries they had been to. It suggested that “most people will have been to fewer than four countries”. Really? Given they must live in one of them, I was surprised by the notion that “most” people may only have visited two others!

I did the challenge and got 26, slightly above the actual user average of 24, and more than any of the friends who had taken the quiz. I felt quietly smug with myself by how well-travelled I must be. Then I thought about all the countries I HADN’T crossed off. Hmmm, there were lots, like REALLY lots. Damn. Then I didn’t feel so smug. I knew I needed to get myself travelling.

“The List” has now become an obsession. I’ve been to some fabulous places that I’d love to revisit and countries that I’d like to explore more, but I now have this little voice inside me, telling me that doing so would be wasting opportunities to see even more of the world. I love going to new places, enjoying the local food and drink, trying to speak a few words of the local lingo and experiencing the culture of the area. I really do want to see more of the world in order to see what’s on offer, challenge myself and expand my mind, though I am starting to worry that more than that, I just want to tick countries off a list!

There is of course the matter of time and money to consider. I’m a teacher so have lots of holidays, but only at given times of the year. My husband however isn’t a teacher so is far more limited to how long he can be away for. And travel isn’t cheap, especially at the times of year when I am able to go. Whilst I love a fancy hotel room, I simply don’t earn the money to pay for them. I realise that there is a compromise to make and so I’m ever more happy these days to stay in a cheap and cheerful motel room, and actually thoroughly enjoy camping when travelling around. I really don’t think I could do a hostel though; I never did the backpacking thing when I was younger and think it’s too late to start now.

I’m also learning to live without some of the creature comforts I would at one point have insisted on: I am actually writing this on holiday in Canada where I have come away for THREE WHOLE WEEKS without my straighteners. I know, I can almost hear the gasps from the girls reading this! Other things I’ve learned to cope with are nasty toilets (I thank China for that one), difficulties communicating (ditto!), not showering every day, and long, sweaty bus journeys (cheers to Kenya on both counts!). I’ve never been that bothered by unpleasant smells, unusual insect life or strange animal noises at night thanks to a childhood in Nigeria.

So….. for the past three years, all my holiday planning has been based on how many new countries I can visit (and spend quality time in; it’s not just a case of quickly passing through). Last year we managed a 3,000 mile road trip around Europe, crossing off Austria and the Czech Republic (as well as revisiting Switzerland, Germany and France). As followers of the MotoGP racing series, the idea of heading to the round in Brno, Czech Republic, seemed the perfect excuse to make the trip.

The idea for our current trip was mooted whilst in Brno: a quick check of the racing calender showed that the Indianapolis round is also during the summer holidays. Of course, I’ve been to the USA before, but another quick check of a map showed its relative proximity to Canada which I hadn’t visited.

Until now…

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Posted by on Wednesday 6 August 2014 in Travel


Expecting Something Taller


We had a very nice little (if a little twee) B&B booked for Niagara, about a mile up the road from the falls (and the main hotels). As we discovered later, this was a very good move: the centre of Niaraga Falls is pretty grim. The big hotels seemed to be just plonked in the middle of run-down residential areas; the restaurants and bars all look dirty and tacky.

Nice house (small car) Hmmm, classy

On first sight, the falls didn’t seem as impressive as I expected. I thought they were going to be much, much taller. It’s hard to get an idea of how much water is going over them… until you get up close to them on the boat, or see how wide the river is above them.

imageWet Water, lots of water

Since Monday was the Canadian “Civic Holiday” (yes, that’s what it’s officially called), there were fireworks over the illuminated falls on Sunday evening.


On Monday, in between doing the White Water Walk and the Niagara Falls Boat Ride, we went for a drive, following the river north towards Niagara-on-the-Lake. The original plan was to find a winery, but by the time we got parked up in the town, we decided to just find some lunch and have a wander around. Apparently the town was modelled on Stratford-upon-Avon, and it shows… it’s even more twee than our B&B.

Obligatory cow photo…

 Obligatory cow picture

A little reminder of our wedding:

Wedding reminder

And finally, that’s what you call a sandwich:

Proper sandwich

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Posted by on Monday 4 August 2014 in Travel


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