Archive for Travel

Wine blogging news

Exciting news on two fronts.

My first article has been published on the Majestic Wine blog: Kebab Shops Are Bad To Enter.

Secondly I have signed up to attend the 2009 European Wine Bloggers Conference in Lisbon at the end of October. The programme of discussions, tastings and visits looks very exciting and it’ll be my first visit to Lisbon since I was 15 months old.

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Puente Colgante

Day two in Bilbao started with a stroll through the university where Jorge has been doing his masters: la Universidad de Deusto. Crossing the river we had a whistle-stop tour of the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao which merits a much longer look, but at least is free on Wednesdays.

We caught the metro out to Portugalete and popped in to the impressive Basílica de Santa María before descending to river level to our target: the industrial age’s first transporter bridge.

Puente Colgante

We explored this amazing structure from above via the high-level walkways before crossing on the transporter. The bridge was designed to allow tall ships to pass unimpeded and is still the only crossing between the city and the sea.

Puente Colgante from above

Ending up in the posh seaside suburb of Getxo, we lunched in a smart little bar full of locals having a glass of something, and then we slept it off on Getxo’s lovely beach. I was a little sparing with the suncream and ended up with a strip of sunburn as a result. Some people never learn…

On the way home we picked up some extra supplies in the Eroski supermarket in Deusto. After a little snack to keep us going we headed back out onto the streets, taking the Funicular de Artxanda up the side of the hill to get a view of the city from above. Bilbao is surrounded by hills which have limited its growth and lend it some of its charm.

We returned to river level briefly, waling to the Casco Viejo to take a lift up to the Parque Etxebarria, site of a former steel foundry but now an open space and today the site of a funfair. We declined to try any of the rides but it was fun watching the crowds of families and teenagers.

Descending by foot once more to river level we watched some excellent street theatre in the Plaza Arriega: a French circus group, Cirque Hirsute, staged a mini-drama full of humour and invention – Bal Caustique. Time for a wee drink, although as the week progressed the streets got busier and busier every evening (look in the background):

This evening’s fireworks were part of the annual Bilbao firework competition and were 20 minutes of simply stunning (and deafening) spectacle.

Jorge brought the day to a nourishing close with his excellent baked chicken, washed down with a bottle of lovely Albariño from the supermarket.

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A nastily early start to catch the 05:10 bus to Stansted, which was already busy. The flight was delayed by the crowds at the airport, but arrived into Bilbao only fifteen minutes late. It’s only a ten minute bus ride into the city, where Jorge met me at the first stop after the impressive puente Príncipes de España from which I’d had my first of many glimpses of the Guggenheim.
Puente Príncipes de España & Guggenheim
To reach Jorge’s apartment we had only to re-cross the bridge on foot and take the lift down to street level, and walk half a block up the hill. Excellent location!

Having left my not-very-big bag, Jorge proceeded to give me a whistle-stop tour of the very walkable city on foot: el museo Guggenheim, la Plaza de Moyúa, la Gran Vía, el Parque Doña Casilda and la Plaza del Sagrado Corazón. We stopped for lunch in a typical local bar serving pinchos or little bites on a skewer or cocktail stick. We shared rabas (squid) and picos de carne (lovely little meat skewers).

The tour continued after lunch, taking in a bus ride to la Plaza Circular, a stroll through the Casco Viejo (old town) and a look at the temporary bars set up along the banks of Bilbao’s defining river (known both as El Nervión or La Ría de Bilbao). The bars were part of Bilbao’s annual fiesta: Aste Nagusia which is Euskera for Big Week. In fact nine days of celebrations, fireworks, free concerts and theatre.

After a well-needed siesta we headed back into town for a drink before finding our spot for the excellent nightly fireworks viewed above the river. Then a mad dash along the river to the temporary stage next to the Guggenheim to enjoy a simply excellent – and entirely free – concert from Rosario and her superb band. The trumpeter and bassist were especially good. She performed from 11:30pm through to 12:45am, what stamina!

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Yesterday I got the train to Birmingham for YAPC::Europe. There was a rainstormRainbow as I got to Cambridge station.

I’m staying at nitenite which is pretty comfortable but the floor area is tiny and (as described) there’s no outside window, just an enormous flat-screen telly. The conference was quite good today, though the Catalyst session was a bit free-form.

A pleasant evening including curry at Manzil’s and beer at The Anchor, walking back via the completely OTT new Bull Ring.Selfridge's @ Bull Ring Birmingham

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Bluetooth push

Just got Ubuntu (Dapper) to accept file transfers from my Nokia N70, by installing the obexserver package. Nick’s Playing with Series 60 Phones and Linux page pointed me in the right direction. Here are a couple of pics from Scarborough.

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I’ve just got back from Bruno’s funeral in Nancy, France. It was very moving and I’m glad that I was there.

Bruno was a super person. The words from the funeral service which stick in my mind – assuming I understood the French correcty – were: “To remember Bruno’s smile, all we need to do is close our eyes”. All my sympathies go out to his family and to Dan, who has shown amazing strength over the last week,

I travelled out on Thursday evening, meeting up with Mark, Tak and Nicholas at Stansted and flying to Karlsruhe/Baden airport (Baden Airpark), a lovely modern airport which looks very much as if it used to be a military airfield, possibly American. We hired a car from Hertz and drove through freezing fog to the Etap hotel on the outskirts of Haguenau. Unfortunately we arrived too late for food at the neighbouring Ibis, and the McDonalds driver-thru (or walk-thru in our case) closed seconds before we got there.

On Friday morning we departed at 9.30 after a basic breakfast, and I drove us through a magical frosted landscape to Nancy with Nicholas navigating and admirably coping with the Michelin directions which assumed that the unopened new road was in fact open. We found the SNCF station for Tak to leave his bags, and then spent a short while doing little loops onto the one-way Rue de la Désert attempting to find the Eglise Saint Joseph before discovering that it was almost where we’d started. We had time for a light lunch in a nearby bar (merguez, frites, salade).

The church is a large parish church and it was full, despite being bitterly cold. The service was a full funeral mass, and the parish priest invited Nicholas to concelebrate, although an Anglican, since he was Bruno’s friend. The burial at the Cimetière du Sud was short but very moving, all the more so for being the first I have attended. Finally there was a reception at a church hall elsewhere in Nancy, with hot coffee very welcome, yummy homemade cakes, and some super pictures of Bruno on the tables. There was a strong contingent of Cambridge friends at service, burial and reception.

A smooth journey back today, apart from putting (some of) the wrong kind of petrol in the hire car. We even arrived at Stansted early, and I caught a train home by the skin of my teeth (and a sprint up the platform), in by 11.30am.

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Vela en las Islas Canarias

Graham has written a great log of our Christmas and New Year sailing trip to Tenerife and La Gomera over at Leaving on a jet plane, so I’m not going to recount the whole lot here, but rather jot down some highlights.

A great crew:

Skipper, engine repairer and scotch-drinker supremo
Dinghy helmsman of distinction
Co-organiser and imparter of German: bade handtuch
Watch leader and culinary maestro
Our New Statesman on every level
Watch leader, purser and reluctant translator
Co-organiser, impervious to sea-sickness but not to the cold

A lardy old tub: the Bavaria 44 actually did us proud and was very comfortable and spacious below decks, but wouldn’t be my boat of choice. She sailed okay once she got going, but cornered like a bathtub and was not really equipped for comfortable long passages: hand-holds few and far between; awkward seats in the cockpit; no lee-cloths nor straps for the galley. The chart table was decent, though, and best of all, I could stand up straight in the center of the saloon!

Not quite an ideal cruising ground: the long distances between ports and islands, the Atlantic swell and strong prevailing northerlies, and the highly limited space for visitors in the marinas all count against an easy and relaxing cruise. On the other hand, some of the destinations are well worth the effort, and the sailing is very exciting. Crossing a line in the water and going from 5 knots to 40 knots of wind over about 20 metres certainly keeps you on your toes.

La Gomera: a beautiful, relaxed island to which I’d love to return to explore further, probably on foot and in the rather lovely Parador next time.

Sailing skills: I’m not so worried about a big boat now. Lessons learned include: the genoa’s big so shorten it first before worrying about reefing the main; everyone must know to spill the main as the first reaction when things get hairy; when you first think about putting in a reef is probably the right time to actually do so; keep light tension on the lazy sheets: it may not matter in a light breeze, but Alex has the bruises to prove what happens in a bigger blow.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife: a lovely and lively Spanish city in the middle of the Atlantic, with more going for it than its pleasant but touristic namesake, Puerto Cruz. And the New Year fireworks were breathtaking. Apparently they’re even better for Carnival.

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Hamburg Hop

Saturday: a smooth journey to the airport (Central Trains on time for once), easy check-in and on-time flight to Lübeck. I nearly missed the Hamburg bus at Lübeck because there was no sight of my bag on the carousel. Finally I did a circuit and spied it in the center of the carousel, abandoned and unloved having been knocked off by a big bruiser of a suitcase, no douBt. Risking Teutonic wrath, I hopped over the belt and back again to effect a rescue, and was about third last onto the bus.

The Novum Hotel was easy to find, just 5 minutes from the ZOB, and right in one of the red light districts. The hotel was very respectable, though, with 24 hour reception and video entryphone for the front door. My single was just off reception, and was modern and clean and comfortable – and basic! I dropped my things and went off to find Baumann’s Bierbar for a plate of Gruenkohl groaning with smoked sausage and ham and 0.4 litre of local Pilsner. I thought I should make the most of my first night so took the S-Bahn to Reeperbahn and strolled (well dashed – it was bitterly bitterly cold all weekend) along the eponymous street to St Pauli. Um, yes. Well the hookers dragging at my coat merely increased the rate of my dash! Neon signs, hookers, freezing cold. Reeperbahn done.

There followed the first of two broken, sweaty, horrible nights as my cold broke with a fever. I think I shoud probably have stayed at home. 🙁

Determined to make the most of it, on Sunday after a late breakfast (a decent German buffet) I wandered through the Christmas markets to the Rathaus. All very pretty, and at least 50% of the stalls were selling seasonal foodstuffs for consumption on the spot or over the festive season. But the stuff on the remaining stalls really didn’t get my juices flowing, not that I’m very good at shopping to start with.

Next stop the photography musem, Deichtorhallen – Haus der Photographie where the main attraction was a great exhibition of works and writings by Hubert Fichte and photographs by Leonore Mau. A side exhibition of portraits by Barbara Klem, including wonderful black-and-white shots of Simone de Beauvoir, Andy Warhol, Madonna, Simon Rattle and Alfred Hitchcock amongst many others, was also very good.

I took lunch in the very smart Fillet of Soul café / restaurant attached to the museum, plumping for Schwarzwurzelsuppe after establishing that Schwarzwurzel is something like dirty asparagus! I now discover that the English translation is black salsify – I don’t know if that helps!

Back to the hotel for a rest, before sampling the delights of the Dragon Sauna, details omitted! Finally a reasonable Italian Dinner before a ridiculously early bedtime, which didn’t do me as much good as I hoped since I was so restless.

Monday: A free harbour tour by hopping on and of the river busses, included in my Hamburg Card. The port is really busy, with barges, container ships small and large, and floating dry docks directly opposite the Landungsbrücken. En route to lunch I passed the St Nikolai Spire, Hamburg’s equivalent of Coventry’s old cathedral. Very stark and moving in the winter light. For lunch I found the Brauhaus Joh. Albrecht, and had a lovely glass of dark beer to accompany a plate of grünkohl with much better sausage and gammon than Saturday’s.

A little more shopping completed my Hamburg highlights before taking the train to Lübeck for a half hour. The city looks worthy of more attention than I could give it, but at least I had time to buy some marzipan before taking the bus out to the airport. Which is basic. The staff at the bar in the waiting lounge were having an argument about the float, and managed to cash up about four times without acknowledging the presence of a single customer. Sigh. Ah well, it was soon be time to board my flight home. As usual I missed a train at Stansted by the skin of my teeth, especially annoying as I would have caught it if I’d made the right choice (instead of the left one) and taken the escalators rather than the ramp!

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We had a super weekend with our friends Danny & Malcolm. They picked us up just before six on Friday and we headed north, stopping at the Ram Jam for dinner. I’ve driven past countless times, but never stopped. It turns out that they do good bistro food with reasonably rapid service, serving up smoked haddock on a bed of spinach with hollandais and pan fried new potatoes, spoiled only by the gallon of melted butter in the bottom of the plate. We found our way through Sheffield and reached The Rambler Inn in Edale by 10pm. The barman was a little sniffy about two male couples booking in to two double rooms, but perhaps he was just being cautious as in his words, he didn’t want us “to kick off when we saw the double beds”. Time for a pint at the Nag’s Head and one back at the Rambler before bed.

Saturday morning was very cold, but with blue skies and frost everywhere, very beautiful and excellent walking weather. We spent the day walking a wonderful 14 mile circuit (see Graham’s fab map):

  • Up Grinds Brook onto Kinder Scout
  • Along the ridge past Crowden Tower and Edale Head
  • A quick diversion (and brief passage on the Pennine Way) to Edale Cross
  • Over Brown Knoll and Horsehill Tor
  • Along Rushup Edge, stopping at Lord’s Seat for lunch with fabulous views over Edale
  • Down into Mam Nick and up Mam Tor, where there were paragliders finding some lift
  • Via Hollins Cross and the lone pine on Back Tor to Lose Hill
  • And finally backtracking to Hollins Cross before descending to Edale

Graham took some wonderful pictures. The only dark cloud, figuratively and literally, was Danny’s encounter with a boghole almost to one hip, which caused him to wrench his other knee. Fortunately he was fine to continue the walk.

The next trick was to combine a well-earned drink with not falling asleep before dinner, managed by taking a quick nap inbetween! Food was plentiful but not startling and rather expensive.

On Sunday morning Danny’s knee was quite sore, so we abandoned plans for a morning walk. Graham and I nipped up the first mile of the Pennine Way while Danny & Malcolm packed, and we drove off via Mam Tor to the Blue John Caverns, arriving at opening time only to be told that ‘electrical problems’ would delay opening for an hour. So onwards via Winnats Pass to Matlock Bath for a trip up the cable car to the Heights of Abraham. Or so we thought. Closed until February. We sought solace in coffee, hot choclate and Bakewell Puddings, and headed gently home.

It was lovely to get out into some real countryside for some real walking, and to revisit my old stomping ground from when I lived in Derby. Many thanks to Malcolm and Danny for organising a great weekend.

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Out of sight

Another late night so another late start and a leisurely final Big Dutch Breakfast. We packed our bags and headed over to De Appel to see an excellent exhibition of installation and video art by contemporary Chinese artists: Out Of Sight. It’s worth exploring the web site, or visiting if you get the chance.

Our journey home was smooth as far as Stansted, where we just missed one of the rail replacement buses and had to wait 70 minutes for the next one.

During our stay I read The Warlock In Spite Of Himself by Christopher Stasheff. Very trashy but very entertaining fantasy science fiction from 1969.

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