We have booked a three bedroom woodland lodge from Friday until Monday for the princely sum of £750. Seems a bit expensive
Guests are allowed to use the facilities of the park from 10am, so we aimed to get there round about 1pm. The lodge will be available from 3pm.
Everything was going great until we got to the entrance of CenterParcs. The car queue must have ‘snaked’ about 300 cars. All eager to do as we are and use the facilities to maximum effect. To be fair it didn’t take long for the queue to go down. Armed with our rubber ID/Front door/ Swimming Poll locker wristbands we were parked at the main car park.
You suddenly become aware of the huge size of the parc/park. There is ample parking, albeit the early ‘arrivees’ got to park close to the main facilities. On your last day you can use the facilities throughout the day so there may have been more cars than usual where people have stayed on.
It is now about 1.30pm so the idea is to have a quick familiarisation around the Plaza, and sub tropical swimming paradise (Their description not mine) and then drive to our lodge.
First impressions are important, and I was impressed! I did wonder if the supermarket, Parcmarket, would be overpriced, but not at all. Yes the prices were slightly higher but then CenterParcs are aiming at a certain level of customer. Not sure what I was doing there! There were burger bars, bars, restaurants, shops, and an amusement arcade to keep everyone amused throughout the weekend.
3 O’Clock came and I, together with about 7,000 other cars joined up as a ‘snake’ and drove to our apartments. That was when I really appreciated how big the complex is. We were staying at the Firs complex, on the left hand side as you view the map. We were about 1.5 miles from the Plaza (See above, the main area of entertainment). I was concerned how we would get back to the plaza, however my worries were lifted later that evening when I realised there was a train/bus.
The lodge we had was a three bed, 2 toilet/1 bathroom unit. The kitchen area had everything you need to manage family meals. There was good central heating, washing machine, ironing board (And iron), even a blackboard that the children or adults can draw on. TV and subdued lighting completed the lodge.
The main communal area was a good size with even an eight seating dining table. Perfect.
The idea is that once you have off loaded the luggage, you park in the main car park, and collect shortly before departure several days later. We took the decision as it was cold and rainy to go swimming, then drop the children off and later take the car back.
The sub tropical swimming paradise was really everything a young family could ask for. It was heated in the pool, but to be fair it was a bit cold when you were walking around. There are a number of individual pool areas, a baby pool with slides and fountains, a young child pool with spurt fountains and slides, adult area with wave machine. Also slides for all ages, and an excellent outside heated wild water rapids.
The changing rooms were a bit chaotic at times due to the amount of people and some changing room doors not locking.
Later that afternoon we returned to the lodge, fed the children and then a couple of adults took the cars back to the main car park. This gave us the opportunity to research the bar area! The bar we went to was situated on the lower level of the Plaza. Within the bar area was a 10 pin type bowling area for all ages. It looked great fun. The bar was very much a ‘plastic corporate’type bar selling an array of lagers, but decent bitter was not available. I had a bottle of Doom bar which was fine. I suspect the bar is presented this way, ie lots of lager, as perhaps the turnover of staff means no one can look after the ale pipes as in a normal pub. But I appreciate that, and there is a good selection of beers available in the supermarket. Even some local beers from the ‘steam company.’ Of course this is a family theme place and emphasis is probably put more on looking after people who retire to their lodges each evening with products form the supermarket.
Also within the Plaza is a very busy ‘Bella Italia’ Italian Restaurant and a Cafe Rouge.
To get back the 1.5 miles to the lodge is easy in that you take the shuttle train/bus which runs every 20 minutes. There are ample, well placed, train stops near all the accommodation.
Saturday morning brings sunshine, but still very cold, and a trip on the train. Today we are going to hire bicycles from the main cycle centre. This is not a cheap pastime. I hired a mountain bike for the weekend and this cost £33. Helmet and lock was included. We also hired a bike with a child trailer, which just about accommodated a 4 year and a 1 year old child together, this was £66 for the weekend. All the bikes were of good quality. There is facility to hire an electric bike, but these were all pre booked, so be aware if you are thinking of an electric bike.
Along with the bikes are maps showing the trails. Although CenterParcs Longleat is hilly, the paths meander around the areas on a longer route with slight inclines.
The weekend pretty much involved cycling and swimming, with the occasional visit to the Plaza bar.
The weather was dreadful so more swimming than cycling.
Lake, sports plaza and spa
Close to the Firs accommodation is the lake, sports plaza and spa.
In better weather you can hire a small dingy, but not this weekend. The sports plaza has badminton and tennis courts, sports complex, etc. Also further bars, and even an Rajinda Paresh Indian Restaurant. There is a climbing wall if you feel adventurous.
I did come here with reservations that we may get ‘ripped off’ but not at all. One of the adults in the party went for a spa costing £50, expecting not a lot, but was pampered throughout and was pleased with the price.
I would go again, but perhaps when the storms are not going through the area.
OK, so this weeks silly idea is to go for a walk around the wine region of Central France and then drop into some friends on the way home. We will drive to Bergerac France through Chateauroux and L’Absie France. Drive to Bergerac, France. October 2019
Gites La Colombiere is situated at 24500 Sainte-Innocence, France.
The Gite is a distance of about 900 kms (about a 9 hour drive with no stops) from Calais Ferry port.
Obviously the first thing we need to do is book the ferry. The trick here is to go on a comparison website, find the ferry we want and then book directly through the ferry company (Supposing of course that the price is the same!). The rationale for this is that by booking direct if there are any subsequent problems you can go directly to the company and not get ‘passed back’ to the comparison site in the event of a problem. On some occasions you will get enhanced loyalty points.
We searched through Aferry.com https://www.aferry.com/ and found the cheapest to be with DFDS Ferries. https://www.dfds.com/ and booked DFDS, for £90 return, one car 2 adults. The ferry left Dover at 5.50am for the 90 minutes crossing.
Navigating your way through France can be ‘fun’ at the best of times. We used both Google maps https://www.google.co.uk/maps and Sygic maps https://www.sygic.com. Whilst google maps gives up to date traffic news the requirement is to be ‘signed into’ the internet all the time for the traffic news. Sometimes this is not possible. However over the years I have used Sygic in non internet areas and been able to navigate all the way to The Gambia, through Mauritania and other remote areas. Sygic costs around £27 or 29 Euros for a lifetime package.
You really need to decide if it is cheaper to fly down to Bergerac and not have a car, or hire of course, or drive. In total we drove about 2,000 Kms and the fuel was about £150 and Motorway Tolls over £100. That is before wear and tear, food on route, hotels etc.
Sue and I have not really explored too much of France so we booked to stop overnight on route in a small town named Chateauroux, about 600 kms from Calais, about 6 hours. We took a route through the ring road of Paris. Whilst not a disaster, it was slow around Paris. We came back a different route, which is discussed later.
So far we are enjoying a great drive to Bergerac France through Chateauroux and L’Absie France
So our first stop was at Chateauroux, France, on route. We stayed at Hotel Restaurant Maurice, ‘Chez Maurice’ 7, Rue Ampere, 36000, Chateauroux, Tele Number +33 2 54 22 02 53. https://chezmaurice-chateauroux.fr This cost 55 Euros, without breakfast for one night. Booked through Booking.com https://www.booking.com.
Lets be honest you pay for what you get, but the Hotel Maurice is a family hotel. There is secure parking on the complex. The rooms are clean and tidy and the hotel is based within a very short walk of town. A short walk from the hotel is a Carrefour supermarket http://www.carrefour.com where you can buy essential supplies such as beer and wine for the room, oh and also breakfast can be got at Carrefour. Would we stay there again? Yes!
Although Chateauroux is a large town, in keeping with a lot of France it closes quite early. We found ourselves walking along a very quiet main road at about 10pm, when we thought it could be around 3am, such was the deserted street.
We walked into the town centre, near the large church, Église Saint-André. Situated between the church and the railway station are several restaurants. We chose a
A great place. If you like trying the local beers then have a few in here. I had one that was a honey beer, about 7%.
Gites La Colombiere
Following day we set off to the Gites La Colombiere, a distance of about 350 Kms, roughly 3.5 hours.
We were aware that as we left the motorway and approached the Gite through small villages the traffic was a lot slower. It appears that you must obey the speed limits in the rural areas as the cameras or police will capture you. Far more use is made of ‘average speed cameras.’
As you drive up the long driveway the Gite La Colombiere https://giteslacolombiere.com opens in front of you. Wow, what a place is the first impression, this is an old building lovingly restored and now run by an English couple from Manchester, Eileen and Richard.
The walking club we were with had hired the entire building for the weekend. Most had flown in on the RyanAir flight into Bergerac Airport, a short 20 minute journey. They were collected in a couple of minibuses which, with drivers, were at our disposal all weekend.
The gite can hold up to a party of 20. All the rooms appear different with a ‘French Countryside’ feel. Some are en suite, some not.
We were being catered for all weekend. Food was substantial, and the wine flowed.
The first evening we were taken to the local supermarket for essential supplies of beer and wine.
The next morning we were taken on a great road walk to Eymet Town (1.5 hr walk).
This is an historic town full of charm, and also ‘Trotters Independent Traders.’ You can see there is a British Ex Pat influence!
In the afternoon we drove for about 20 minutes to the local Chateau Duras. http://uk.chateau-de-duras.com. We are not into history but it is worth the few Euros to go in. ‘The whispering wall’ is fun. A great view from the top of the tower, which fortunately has recently been renovated.
Returning to the Gite, in the evening we made use of the indoor cinema, where there is a huge collection of films to watch. Just remember to save some beer and popcorn for the show!
The following day was a minibus transfer to Monestier (15 minute transfer) for a trek through the vineyards and some road walking in a circular route back to the town centre, where we took lunch in Le Relais de Monestier. Le Bourg, 24240 Monestier, Aquitaine, France +33 5 53 58 13 90. A great ‘mystery food’ lunch with cuts of meat from not sure where, but tasted great. A few drinks and all for around 25 Euros per person. Which set us up for the afternoon of wine tasting at a local winery, Chateau Lestevenie http://www.chateau-lestevenie.com in their very pleasant garden and surroundings.
We left the Gite the following day and drove to the small village of L’Absie, about 300 Kms 3 hours, from the Gite. We stayed at Hotel L’Etoile, 17, Rue de la Republique, 79240, L’Absie. +33 5 49 95 80 27. In all cheapish hotels you get what you pay for, however it was very tidy, the staff were friendly. This hotel is family run, and the hotel is located above a bar, however the bar was closed when we got back from visiting friends nearby.
The room cost 62 Euros, without breakfast. There is a Carrefour nearby for ‘supplies.’ Booked through Booking.com https://www.booking.com
Next day we drove via Rouen, to Calais. A distance of about 650 Kms. 6.5 Hours. Try to avoid Paris by going the ‘Rouen’ route which is easier and more pleasant.
A great drive to Bergerac France through Chateauroux and L’Absie France
Things to do in Fuengirola 2019. Why go there I hear you cry! Indeed I went there about 5 years ago, we drove through the outskirts, we were lost! The whole street resembled that scene out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video where the zombies, or walking dead, are ambling around. Some chap was topless in the road waving onto all the oncoming traffic as though high on drugs and his girlfriend didn’t look a lot better.
Oh, but how 5 years have turned things around. There are now lots of things to do in Fuengirola 2019.
We decided, in Mid July 2019, to spend a few days in Fuengirola to see how it had improved.
We flew from London City Airport to Malaga, Flight BAW 8487 and returned on Flight BAW8474. The good thing about these flights are they are 4 across with a single aisle so 2 seats either side.
Once you to to Malaga, take the Renfe metro train from outside the airport, direct to Fuengirola. The cost is E2.70each, single. The journey takes approx. 30 mins and you stop in the heart of Fuengirola.
We booked through Booking.com and got the Hostal Cuevas, Calle Capitan, Fuengirola, for about 70 Euros a night. We went for the triple room, although there are only 2 of us the rooms allow more space for luggage etc. There is no breakfast included, but this was not a problem.
The area of Fuengirola appears to be split into 3 sections. Firstly away from the beach area are the shopping centres, and residential part. Then the beach areas. These are split into 2 distinct parts, East and West of the harbour. They meet in the middle adjacent to the harbour. We stayed on the West side. The East side appeared to take non UK Europeans. Both ends are fantastic.
West end of beach, Fuengirola
I shall deal with the West side. The beach front is about a kilometre long with plenty of sunbeds, restaurants, bars, even a exercise area, which doubles as a bouncy castle built into the sea. Adults and Children are encouraged to participate. Although we didn’t go on it, it did look fun. This was called the Costa Water Park.
Calle De La Cruz
I found most of the Irish and other bars in Calle De La Cruz. The bars in the area were both cheap and family friendly. There was no signs of any trouble whatsoever. One way they appear to have stopped trouble is that you are unable to buy any alcohol from a supermarket after 10pm. However if you look ok, as we did, you can buy alcohol Fuengirola but put in a back pack until you get home.
Another great area is the Plaza De La Constitucion, about 300 metres from the beach. There is a great Gin bar there!
Hotel El Puerto
Opposite the harbour is a huge circular building. This is the Hotel El Puerto. There is a sky bar with a swimming pool on the 10th floor, open to non residents. Be aware it does get busy during the day. On a Thursday and Saturday evening there is live music from 9.30 to 11.30pm. The drinks are reasonably priced and the views are Fantastic.
If getting a Wally bus, or tour bus, along the beach is your thing, then there is one directly outside the Hotel El Puerto, see above, that will whisk you along the front.
All the beach is very well maintained with an element of the unusual art, in this case a hand coming out of the ground.
Right so today’s silly idea is to finish our circumnavigation of the world by land and sea. We are missing the bit between Seoul, South Korea, and Boston, USA. So the plan is to stay in Seoul for a couple of days, then train it down to Busan in South Korea, and catch the ‘vomit comet’ fast ferry to Fukorama, or something like that, in Japan. Bullet train to Tokyo and eventually catch a cruise liner going from Tokyo to Vancouver, Canada. 14 days of nothing but sea, sea and more sea.
Catch a greyhound bus to Seattle and then fly to LA (We have done the drive previously). In LA we catch an AmTrak train to New Orleans, stay there a few days then catch an Amtrak train to New York, then Boston. When we reach NYC we have done it!
Back on 27th May, about 6 weeks. What can possibly go wrong!!
Holiday Inn, Bath Road, London
The adventure starts with a night at Holiday Inn Heathrow Ariel 118 Bath Road UB3 5AJ London just a few miles from Heathrow Terminal 3. Thanks to my membership of IHG we get a room upgrade, with a fridge! Plus 20% off food and drink, just as well really as I was having a hot flush with the high prices. Get tickets for Hoppa bus to take to terminal 3 tomorrow at 0636, with the alarm set for 0515 ……..
Todays Hotel view.
Saturday 20/04/19 – Sunday 21/04/19
A very smooth start to the day. The bus arrived early, traffic was light and the sun is shining. We are to fly Premium Economy with Japan Airlines to Tokyo, then transfer to a flight to Seoul, South Korea. Apparently our flight is not very busy according to the check in staff, so we changed our seats for extra leg room. Good old Japan Airlnes (JAL). Flight JL042 (JL42). They also give us a voucher for the BA lounge and as we managed to get through security and Duty Free in quick time we’re in there before 0730. Gate info at 0840. We get to our Premium Economy seats but no champagne is offered! Indeed it is not offered until the food arrives. The ice cream was good. A 12 hour flight to Tokyo.
The flight was interesting. Although we were premium economy, the food options were minced chicken with onion and pickled gherkin, or ‘spot the body organ’ in gravy. Sue being a veggie went hungry.
The onion with pickled gherkin washed down with japanese real ale were ‘interesting’ on fellow passengers on the 12 hour flight. The films were fantastic, if you understand Japanese. Couple of movies, a bit of iPlayer and then land at Tokyo 0515 Sunday.
On the plane
I particularly liked the film about about a pork omelette. Also the one about the teacher with Tourat’s was a classic. Oh how how we laughed!
Our connecting flight is 0825 to Seoul. Tokyo departure lounge proves to be entertaining with the musical passenger carts ……
Our flight to Seoul is uneventful, very busy but the cabin crew manage to serve everyone with food and drink. Again nothing for me but as jet lag has kicked in I try and doze through the hour and fifty minute flight.
After a quick ish passport control we collect our bags, are met by our taxi and are deposited at the CenterMark hotel, Seoul, by 1200. http://centermarkhotel.com/en/
I’m asleep by 1300. As we’ve been to this part of town, and this hotel, before we just go to our usual local haunts for food and drink. Found craft ale bars so Dick is happy. Back to the hotel by 2300’ish and asleep by 0030.
Sightseeing in Seoul
The sun is shining and we set off to find the railway station for tomorrow’s journey to Bushan. En route we stop for brunch, at Myeongdong Shopping Street Seoul and have a local dish – clear soup with rice on the side. Beef seems to be the meat of choice, even if it is every bit of the cow that is used! Grilled Rectum! WTF! Other choices of food include ‘Hangover soup’ Stir Fried Cartilage’ and an olde favourite ‘The eldest Grandson of the hangover soup.’
Have a Starbucks coffee before returning to the hotel for a short snooze. Find the local post office so manage to get rid of the postcards. Onto an ale bar. Dick enjoys the happy hour prices and I sample grapefruit-ade. Very nice but couldn’t do too many. Eat close to hotel with a seafood pancake, also given what I think was a chicken see through soup. One last bar before returning to hotel and bed.
Travel to Busan
Up at 0630 and efficiently in cab to Seoul train station for 0800.Oh Dear! My Korean is not what it used to be.
From Seoul you can take the train via KoRail They have an Englaish langusgae site. We booked the train tickets in advance. The main train station in Seoul is Seoul Station. We are taking the KTX express train. Today we are going by train (Hopefully, if we get the right one!) to Busan and then getting a 3 hour ‘Vomit Comet’ ferry to Japan. Then 2 nights in Fukuoka, Fuk-U-OKA, before a train to Tokyo.
Time for a coffee before boarding the 0900 train to Busan. Marvellous train service and we arrive a couple of hours later. It is a short walk to the ferry port where we await the 1530 jet ferry to Hakaka, Japan.
Busan Ferry Terminal
There had been all sorts of horror stories about this service and it’s high speeds in rough water. The safety demonstration tells you to keep your seatbelt on throughout the journey (We move at 40 MPH) as we sometimes need to swerve suddenly to miss Whales!
We took the Beetle Fast ferry across the Sea of Japan to Fukuoka We booked through website AFerry, https://www.aferry.co.uk/ as the Beetle Ferry website is all in Japanese so AFerry was the way forward. 2 single tickets booked in advance were £113 for the pair. Food and drink are available at the ferry terminal. Check in is on the 3rd floor.
You carry your luggage on board with you and place at the back of the boat in a special storage area.
Beetle Ferry Busan to Fukuoka Japan
My command of Japanese is a bit iffy so when I ordered a beer I got the ‘happy meal’ by mistake, this comprises of 2 beers, a package of some sort of mystery food, and a shrimp Fish cake. Trouble was the fishcake was partially frozen (I assume because no local ever bought one of these). It was disgusting. I thought it would be funny to suck it like an ice lolly.
Food Beetle Ferry Busan
Apparently it wasn’t funny!
Well it was a breeze. No bouncing around so all good. Low cloud didn’t allow for much sightseeing or enjoying the views. Immigration and Customs at both ends of this journey were a dream.
Map Busan to Fukuoka
There were taxis outside and a cab into town was about 1000 Yen, around £6 or $US9.
Hakata Nakasu Inn.
Taxi to our hotel, Hakata Nakasu Inn.https://www.hakata-nakasu.com/ As expected, the room is very small but comes with all mod cons and plenty of complementary bits in the bathroom. We pop out to find many restaurants and places of entertainment. We go to an Italian for food and return to hotel by 2200 for a quiet night in. We are now at Fukuoka Ken Kurume Shi Japan. Or Fuk-U as the locals call it for 2 nights.
Dreadful sleep again. Consequently we’re both knackered. Pop down to a breakfast of fried noodles, cabbage, a bit of omelette and a bit of mackerel. We need to buy the bullet train tickets today so that is our mission for the day. A short walk finds us Hakata railway station and we get the two tickets for about £150, which is half what we thought we’d have to pay.
Hakata Railway Station Fukuoka
Then on to the hop on hop off bus trip. Not one of the best. The audio channel didn’t work so we were none the wiser at the end of the drive. Back to the hotel as we are both knackered and we managed to sleep for four hours. Absolute bliss. We venture out to a couple of beer bars that were spotted on our bus trip. One bar we went to was the Crafty Bear, Sumiyoshi, Hakata – Ku, Fukuoka City. Some great cocktails and dodgy looking beer. This was an orange beer and very, very, nice. www.morris-pub.com
Crafty Bear Bar, Hakata
Crafty Bear Bar, Fukuoka City
Wandering around by the canal is really quite relaxing and peaceful despite the locals who have had half a shandy too many. Oh, found a Desigual outlet but didn’t venture inside. Maybe there’ll be one in a Tokyo our next stop. Back to hotel for more sleep and local Tv. Excellent time.
Hakata Nakasu Inn Hakata TV
Hakata Nakasu Inn Fukuoka City TV
Shenkensen fast bullet train to Tokyo
Quite an uneventful but productive day. Leave the hotel by taxi to get to Hakata train station for our 1010 Shenkensen fast bullet train to Tokyo.We should be grateful for the small things in life. Prior to boarding we decide to eat some food, Well at least we now know it is a food menu. Number 4 looks nice, but without the cheese topping.
El Escondite Hakata
The plan is to take a train from Hakata, Fukuoka to Tokyo. I did a bit of research and it was not very clear, so let me explain. The fast, Shinkansen bullet train, is the best option, and even at high speed the journey still takes about 5 hours, at about 170 MPH. You have to book the train tickets when you are in Fukuoka. I did enquire at a number of internet sites, all of whom told me we had to book the ticket in Japan. The JR rail pass is not valid on the fast, Shinkansen bullet train.
Shinkansen bullet train board
There are direct Shinkansen trains which go from Hakata station. You can walk to Hakata Station from the centre of Fukuoka in about 30 minutes or take a taxi, which will cost roughly 1000 Yen. We tried to buy the tickets from the ticket machine the day before we travelled. It is not a problem, the ticket machine is in English. But ensure you get the correct ticket, we bought the ticket without the express part, and when we tried to go through the barrier on the day we were blocked until we bought an express addition to the ticket.
Each complete ticket was about £150. Book a reserved seat otherwise it is a 5 hour stand! Everything at the station, and on board the Shinkansen bullet train, is written both in Japanese and English. Get some food and drink prior to boarding as choice is very limited on board. There is a trolley that goes up and down the train.
Not much to see en-route.
On Shinkansen bullet train
Once in Tokyo station everything is as expected in Japan. All very quiet and organised. Getting a taxi was a bit of a chore, try to get out of the station on the ‘west’ side as the queue is much shorter and there is no cover in the event of rain.Whilst queuing for a taxi outside the train station we chat with a Canadian chap and his wife who are also going on the cruise. So we have some new friends already!
Shiba Park Hotel
We stay at the hotel Shiba Park https://en.shibaparkhotel.com/ which was booked by the cruise company. On this note I need to recommend our cruise company arranger, www.cruise.co.uk/holly and firstname.lastname@example.org . She has arranged a couple of trips in the past for me, and she is very good. The hotel is great. Our room is four times the size of those to date with all of the required toiletries in the bathroom. There is even BBC News on the tv so Dick is happy. We’re still not over this jet lag thing so have a two hour kip. I present a show on SFM radio, https://www.sfmradio.com/ in the UK, so I did a live interview by phone to the UK about the trip. All worked well.
We pop out later in the evening for food and find an Indian restaurant not too far from the hotel, and my sag paneer hits the spot. New Namaste India Restaurant. 5-34-6, Eagle Shimbashi Bldg. B1, Shimbashi 105-0004 Telephone number 03 3431 7147. They had some Nepalese lager which was very strong, but makes you sleep well. Return to the hotel bar at the rear of the property for a nightcap. You forget how annoying it is to have smokers in a public area, but overall the bar is very relaxing. Reminded me a little bit of the Commodore’s Bar on the Queen Mary 2.
Relatively good sleep so ready for a sightseeing day. First though we make use of the washing machine and dryer at the hotel in order that we can have a full complement of clothing for the boat trip. The weather is a bit drizzly but we make our way on foot to the train station to pick up the sightseeing bus, although we have been there before we had not taken a tour bus. There is a very good hop on hop off bus service. There is a blue and a red route. Be aware there is no covered seating area, so wrap up warm.
Tokyo Sightseeing bus in the cold.
Cagoules are provided and you all look like giant condoms on the top of the bus.
There is no ‘downstairs.’
Not the best of tours but it was 90 Minutes driving around town.
Observation Tower Tokyo
National Diet Building Tokyo
Japanese Building Tokyo
Eating in Tokyo
We stop for lunch at one of the restaurants at the station.
I was quite cold as there was not an option to sit inside, however, we immediately went onto the one one hour tour which was even less informative than the first. We spot an Irish bar on our walk back to the hotel. It is not far from the hotel so the plan is to go back to the pub for pre dinner drinks, have a pizza and then return to the hotel bar for a nightcap. Mission successful. Did some people watching in the hotel bar – spot the cruisers ….. One thing that I will miss upon leaving Japan is the sophisticated toilets: the warm seat, the variety of flush modes. Wonderful.
Gift Also we were promised a ‘fantastic cultural free gift’ if we took the open top tourist bus.
Japanese Sushi gift
Well here it is. What is it? The hotel receptionist looked at me as though I was a bit weird, and didn’t know either, perhaps sushi with rice on top? Tomorrow we start the Pacific Ocean Cruise.
We’re being picked up at 1100 so just pack and potter about until then. It took about half an hour to get to the port where there were lots and lots of taxis queuing to get to the Celebrity Millennium boarding point.
Our driver passes the queue to drop us off at the front! Our luggage is briskly taken care of and after a short wait we check in and are given our State Room key. We’re told our room is not ready yet so we pass the first hour in the Cellar Masters bar. Two vodkas on next to no food leads to a siesta later in the day. In the meantime we move in to State room 8151 Celebrity Millennium our home for the next two weeks.
State room 8151 Celebrity Millennium
The ship has been recently refurbished so everything looks very clean and smart. We just squeeze into the Oceanview Café before 1500 for lunch. Lots of choices. It is all too easy to overeat …. before the ship moves off we have our muster station drill and then we’re off.
Celebrity Millennium leaving Tokyo
We’ve decided to use the Oceanview Café for most of our eating experiences rather than limit ourselves to specific meal sittings in the silver service restaurant. Our entertainment starts with a four piece band, mainly for dancing but jazzy as well. Very nice. After eating we are entertained by a female soloist and guitar player, and we finish off listening to Bryan James, guitarist/singer. Singalong’ish. As long as it doesn’t turn into karaoke it’s fine by me.
Unfortunately the jet lag has caught up with me and I wake up about 0400. I do doze but at 0600 I give up on sleep. Early breakfast and then a talk in the theatre about our various ports of call. I then go to the gym for an hour. Great facilities in the gym. Then lunch. Absolutely rammed so we’ll certainly lunch at a later time in future. A talk on Buddhism follows. I found it very interesting. I had to have a siesta and it would seem that there was a medical emergency on board and a helicopter dropped off some personnel. I was awake though to see the patient being airlifted into a helicopter. This could be viewed by the internal tv channel. Not much privacy for the people concerned but marvellous to see how a medical helicopter works.
Medical evacuation Celebrity Millennium
Out to one of the many bars before going to an informal buffet for dinner. Our entertainment for the evening was the Oz Boys. Not bad, got the toes tapping with their easy to listen to style and songs.
The Celebrity Millennium was completely renovated 3 months earlier, so we were able to sample the almost new facilities. We were not disappointed. We had a balcony stateroom on the 8th floor. Ideal location for the activities on the 4th and 10th floor. I have sailed with Celebrity before and never found a fault with anything on board. Be aware that it will severely dent your wallet. The ‘middle’ alcoholic drinks package we had was about £45 each per day. Additionally there is a £14 a day each standard gratuity charge. This is on top of whatever you have already paid for accommodation, food and services. You can ask not to pay the gratuity. I Think £14 a day for tips is taking the mick a bit. I know it is a US boat and that is how they do it, but I am not paying. So there, rant over.
Food on board
There is a choice of silver service or buffet, whichever suits you (For the same price), a number of bars with entertainment, a huge theatre with guest stars, guest speakers through the day, activities, gym, pools (Both indoors and out). A walking track on the top floor, spa, casino, the list is endless.
Guest speakers of note during the trip were Ronald Bowers, retired Los Angeles District Attorney, Doctor Gary Kramer and Christopher Luard who dealt with all aspects of Buddhism. Could be a good 14 or 15 nights. Still not sure how long as we cross the dateline and go back a day.
We are at sea for 36 hours, in calm seas heading for Northern Japan.
View from Stateroom 8151 Celebrity Millennium
After 2 days we docked in the northern Japanese port of Hakodate. Early arrival at Hakodate, an island at the tip of Japan. The view is nice. A metal scrap yard!
Scrap yard Hakodate
As you get off the boat you are met by the locals who all smile, bow, nod, grin, and generally want to make you feel welcome. There is a huge banner, which I think is a welcome in Japanese. I do my ‘where’s Wally’ impression! Lots of confused Japanese and off we go to the bus.
Where’s Wally Hakodate Celebrity Millennium
We get the shuttle bus into town, primarily in search of WiFi but also to look for postcards.I should mention at this point that WIFI on the Celebrity Millennium is very expensive, $319 dollars for 1 device for the trip for 14/15 nights.
It’s a lovely day, blue sky, sunshine and a general good feeling. Our need for WiFi had been met before we got off the bus as there was an overall free WiFi throughout the town. Very forward thinking. I am glad to report that the courtesy bus drops you off at the Hakodate train station in the centre of Hakodate.
Bank Holiday in Hakodate
We arrived there on a Japanese Bank Holiday and only the overpriced tourist shops were open. Hakodate is a nice town and worth the visit. We trundled around town, found the Hakodate brewery which didn’t open until 1100 so we didn’t visit and went into a café instead. In one of the many tourist shops we found some postcards, so job done. This town is well known for its ‘hairy’ crabs and many were on display at local food stalls and markets. Huge things. They’d certainly give you a fright if seen walking along a beach. I love the taste of crab but, like lobsters, I have yet to achieve the expertise to eat the things properly.
Anyway, back to the boat and a walk around deck 11.
Celebrity Millennium Hakodate
Strictly Come Dancing
Oh, this was after our Japan immigration departure admin in the Cosmos bar. All very official and well organised. Afternoon spent on lunch, watching an episode of Game of Thrones and listening to podcasts. Evening as before, drinks before supper but this time with the Bristol Fashion House Band this time. Clearly this is going to be groundhog day for the next 14 nights. We could be in worse places. More displays of Strictly Come Dancing from fellow South Korean/Japanese passengers (How do you tell the difference?). After our buffet supper it’s off to the theatre for a violin virtuoso concert by a Ukrainian lady.
Very pretty, very slim and very talented. Crumpet! I said to Sue that she keeps looking at me, I suppose she is only human after all. Having said that, I did find myself nearly dropping off a couple of times during the performance. Must have been the two glasses of champagne. Anyway I toddle off to bed after the show. The clocks go forward one hour so 2300 seemed fairly respectable.
Now 2 days by boat to Petropavlovsk, Russia
All day and night sailing.
Sue’s day starts with a meditation with Chris Luard, www.suchsweetthunder.org, a practising Buddhist. It was very much along the lines of Yoga Nidra. We meet for a very quick breakfast before a talk by Chris about the life of the Buddha. This talk was followed by retired Assistant DA Ronald Bowers, who was retelling a couple of court stories. Interesting but I found his presentation skills to be stilted and felt a little cheated that we weren’t told any real details. The afternoon slipped by in a long doze . Went back to the stateroom after lunch and that was it until gone 1900. Whoops…. down to the Rendezvous Bar for some music, then buffet supper, back to Café al Bacio for nightcap and music. The clocks go forward again tonight. Ground hog day.
Of course cruising along all day and night you do tend to miss some of the sights. Albeit, yesterday, I think, was just a lot of sea, or ocean. For instance this morning at 0700 whilst waiting for the kettle I spotted a snow-covered mountain. It’s somewhere on the coast of Russia but who knows where.
Clear sky today.
At 0900 I go to the Assistant DA chat and meet up again for a coffee later. Decide to have a lazy day so just watch the snow covered islands that we are passing en route to mainland Russia. Clear skies and not much else to be seen on the sea, the occasional fishing vessel and a few birds. As we get closer to mainland Russia there are many more of these snow covered islands. It makes you wonder if any man made footsteps have ever been made. I was talking to someone who has a balcony on the other side of the boat who said he’s been watching whales! But then he didn’t see our landscape.
Bristol Fashion House
Entertained by the Bristol Fashion House band, buffet dinner and then back to the stateroom for me for an episode of Game of Thrones, put the clocks forward another hour and then sleep. I did try sitting on my balcony one night but the artic southerly wind was a bit fresh.
Tomorrow we arrive at Petropavlovsk, Russia.
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky celebrity Millennium.
After 2 days at sea we arrive in Petropavlovsk, Russia about 0615. I assume we only stop there to break up the long 7 day sea voyage ahead. A very welcome break even after 2 days.Petropavlovsk doubles up as the nuclear submarine base across the bay.
Celebrity Millennium Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
This is the far end of the world! The far end of Siberia, The town is set on a peninsula that in order to get to you need to drive, what was this place like in the 1800s?
I have travelled through Siberia before and I wasn’t disappointed with how poor and grim this place was.
In an effort to vary my walking exercise I walk up the stairs from floor 1 – 11, twice. As we’re still waiting for our passports to enter into this Russian town at 1230 I guess I could have done quite a few more laps. We eventually leave the boat 1330’ish and have a short walk into town.
Sightseeing in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
Celebrity Millennium Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
BE AWARE that although the Celebrity head office won’t give you a straight answer, you CAN go ashore independently and don’t need to purchase one of their very expensive shore excursions. There is only one way out to the town, and you have to exit through the security area where there are free maps and an ad hoc tourist office. Everyone is very helpful. Take a walk into town, keeping the sea to your left, about 15 minutes, and you find a huge square with one or 2 very local, and basic bars.
The houses on the hills look quite poor with corrugated roofs. I do wonder how they cope with the weight of the heavy winter snowfall.
Celebrity Millennium Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
Looking for Wifi Looking around I think there might be a ski run in view. There is not a great deal of colour around but there is a beach, pebbles, and lots of the locals are enjoying the sunshine. I wonder if it is a holiday. There is no advertising as to what is behind the shop doorways and the one we ventured into was a supermarket with beer taps behind the till for a carry out draft beer service. What a great idea.Carry on walking with the sea to your left and you will come to the Baker Street cafe, Petropavlovsk. That is the free internet cafe. There were about 40 passengers from the Celebrity Millennium there and the wifi still worked. Wifi Petropavlovsk.
So we did a bit of admin before returning to the boat.To be honest apart from the wifi, (obviously no food is required) and expensive souvenirs there wasn’t an awful lot there.
Back on the boat.
Entertained by Sailing Mood Quartet before dinner. We went into the formal dining area this evening on a table of six. All nice people and it was good to have a conversation with people other than each other! Ate too much though. Went back to the Rendezvous bar for Bryan’s guitar and singing and, of course, to watch all of the budding ‘Strictly’ contestants. It’s great for people watching. In bed by midnight.
Next stop in about 8 days is Victoria in Canada. Then Vancouver the day after.
The first of seven days and nights at sea. Sue’s day starts with the 0900 meditation. Always nice. It’s got quite cold now. 4 degrees, apparently. Not bikini weather at all. Gosh but the wind is strong on deck 11 but Sue managed to struggle through for the meditation. Followed by breakfast and we meet for a quick cuppa before the 1115 talk by Chris Lourd. The food on here is incredible, albeit some of it is mystery food. They cater extensively for gluten intolerant needs.
Gluten Free Food
Gluten Free Celebrity Millennium.
Gluten Free Celebrity cruises.
The next talk was the DA guy about the OJ Simpson case. Afternoon passed by watching a Game of a Thrones, only series 7 to go now, a short yoga session and a quick kip before going out at 1900 to listen again to the Sailing Mood Quartet. I think it’s the Bristol Fashion House band at 2200. Meet some nice people at dinner, another six-some. Clocks go forward again one hour. A groundhog day.
Nearly oversleep for Sue’s 0900 meditation session, then some of the Mythologies of Buddhism before lunch. Never really wake up so watch a couple of tv episodes before a 30 minute doze, and then our 1900 schedule kicks in with a trip to the bar. I’m getting a bit stir crazy not being able to go outside – it’s just too cold and too windy for an outside walk. In fact, some of the upper decks are closed due to harsh weather conditions. We saw an Island today, wow. Land. But only for a short while as we pass between the Andreanof Islands.
Another Saturday 04.05.19.
As we crossed the International Dateline on an easterly course we gain a day, so as Saturday was so good we get to do it twice. This Saturday finds me a lot livelier, meditation, then yoga, then a noon lunch as breakfast didn’t happen. Watched a bit of tv before doing my CV workout of walking up and down the stairs – floors 1-11. I then went into the solarium and had a quick dip in the mineral pool and a sprawl on a sun lounger. It’s still too windy for me to walk outside and again some of the upper outside decks are closed.
Out at 1900 for pre-dinner drinks and watching the ‘Strictly wannabes’ strut their stuff. Joined two ladies for dinner in the formal dining restaurant, on to the café to be entertained by Bryan and then back to the Sailing Mood quartet for the last set of the evening. Clocks go forward again by one hour. The general sea state is now getting rougher.
If I thought we had a groundhog day everyday on here, to do the same day again is a bonus groundhog day.
Yoga Zen and cocktails
Sue starts the day with meditation and then an hour’s self yoga practice. Cappuccino in the café before meeting up for another early lunch. A talk with Chris on Zen Buddhism at 1330. Sea a bit calmer today. Watched a bit of tv then went for a walk on deck 11. It was lovely to be outside. Espresso martini as a pre-dinner/pre show drink. Nick Page Les Miserables was the entertainer.
Theatre Theater Celebrity Millennium
A marvellous singer, apparently had lead role in Les Mis in the West End. Then buffet dinner. Bristol Fashion House band and then Bryan until 2300.
I was grateful to see the snow capped mountains of Canada, and my liver was glad of the rest as well from sitting around the bar.
Awoke to a very misty morning, off to meditation and then a talk on the Tibetan book of the dead! Coffee, lunch and then a walk around deck 11 with the poles. An episode of Game of Thrones, followed by Bryan at 1500 in the café. Show at 1900 with Antonio Salci a very talented pianist, dinner in the formal dining restaurant. After dinner entertainment was the Blue Moon duo in the Café al Bacio.
Café al Bacio Celebrity Millennium
Café al Bacio Celebrity Millennium
Sue exits at 2300
and I go for a nightcap. Clocks go forward one hour.
The boat is not like a scene out of the Agatha Christie story, death on the Nile, where we all sit around drinking gin and playing cards, there is a lot to do for most of the day, just a bit cold if you go out on deck. There is a huge theatre that holds around 800 people and some great acts were put on for us.
Quite posh at dinner, and you are sitting with people you have never met. It is fair to say that UK and American humour don’t really mix. There were a few awkward silences after some of my great jokes were told.
Got Told Off
I got told off by the my cabin steward, I liked to refer to him as the butler, or cabin boy, depending on my mood. Anyway he told me I couldn’t wash my pants in the sink and then hang on them on a washing line in my cabin. I thought he was done for the day but forgot he comes in around 6 pm to turn down the bed and put the chocolates on the pillow. He caught me with my washing line I bought from the pound shop in Sittingbourne and all my stuff hanging up. You can take the boy out of South London but can’t take south London out of the boy.
Dirty washing Celebrity Millennium
Being posh I had a balcony but it was so cold out there my pants would have frozen and been more crispy than normal. To be fair I was invited to use their laundry service at $50 a bag. I stayed dirty!
Still a bit of mist about. Sue off to meditation at 0900, we meet for coffee before the presentation by Dr Gary Kramer. My first taste of this man, albeit I have seen him and his wife about the ship most evenings strutting their stuff on the dance floor. Later I see Retired District Attorney Ronald Bowers.
District Attorney Ronald Bowers
More talks and singing
As a personal aside it’s on these sea days that you realise what a very small speck we are. Days and days of sailing, rarely passing land or seeing any other vessels. Amazing. Very good presentation by Chris on loving kindness- Metta Sutta ( I need to look this up when I get home). A yoga practice dedicated to my back followed. I realise that I need to do a lot more work on my abs/core to assist my lower back weakness. Our evening entertainment starts with Bryan and a set of Eagles songs, buffet dinner and then the theatre for Nick Page.
Back to the Rendezvous Bar
for Sailing Mood quartet with Bryan, again, at 2300 for the last bit of singing and ‘Strictly’ dancing. Clocks go forward one hour for the last time on this voyage. Apparently we are now on Pacific time …. whatever that means.
This particular cruise ship was on a repositioning trip, leaving the monsoon and wet weather of Asia for the relative calm of the west coast of the US.
Set the alarm for 0800. Feel really tired this morning. All of this drinking and entertainment is taking its toll. I am even saying I could do with a quiet night! How spoilt are we? Anyway Sue goes to the last meditation of the cruise with Chris and I go along for the last presentation from the DA. A quick lunch is followed by a walk around deck 11 where I see quite a few people sprawled out on the sun loungers and in the pools and Jacuzzis. As the sky is blue and the sun is shining I join them
The water in the pool is bath hot and very salty so it was lovely to just float with the warm water on my back and the warmth of the sun on my face.
swimming pool Celebrity Millennium
Celebrity Millennium swimming pool
What a marvellous way to spend my time. We meet up, by chance, with a couple we met earlier on the cruise before dinner and so we grab a table for four and just gossip or the next couple hours. Bryan entertains us until 2300 when I collect another glass of wine to take to bed whilst watching another episode of Game of Thrones.
Arrive at Victoria, looks lovely as we cruise in. Good weather too. We are next to an even bigger cruise liner.
Victoria Town Hall Victoria Canada
Actually have breakfast this morning and off the ship by 0900. We walk through a residential area to the downtown area. All houses are detached, mostly different designs with quite a few blocks of flats. We find the harbour and a few government buildings en route to a WiFi coffee shop.
Chinatown Victoria Canada
Sightseeing Victoria Canada
Get all the admin done there, have a little look in some shops and decide to get the hop on hop off bus at 1230. It’s a 90 minute run through busy city streets, Chinatown, the coastal routes, Beacon Hill park and lots more.
The sun is warm and it is a very pleasant diversion. One of the city’s refurbishment plans is to maintain the old facades of buildings and just replace and modernise the inside, so there were quite a few building sites populated with cranes causing some traffic chaos.
There was also remnants
of a fire which happened on Monday, apparently, and they are still dampening down the debris. Fantastic Fisherman’s Harbour.
Harbour Ferry Victoria Canada
Find a craft beer bar just outside the cruise ship terminal before getting back on board about 1630. Watch a few of the seaplanes taking off as we wait for the ship to push back and head to Vancouver.
Victoria Harbour Victoria Canada
Victoria Harbour Victoria Canada
Café al Bacio.
The evening’s entertainment is provided by Sailing Mood quartet before supper, The Uptown boys in the theatre, finishing up with Bryan in Café al Bacio. Very nice night.
Today we say goodbye to the Celebrity Millennium and in particular Stateroom 8151.
Celebrity Millennium Stateroom 8151
Stateroom 8151 Celebrity Millennium
Docked at Vancouver terminal by 0700, off the ship and at the Pacific Central train and bus station by 0830. No passport control, no customs. Super.
Approach to Vancouver Island
We were in Vancouver last September and took a pedal cycle out for the day, an unforgettable experience, for all the right reasons. The cycle paths around Stanley Park, watching all the huge boats come in, the sea food, and not forgetting the gas clock makes an excellent couple of days.
Greyhound Bus Vancouver to Seattle
Our bus to Seattle leaves at 1100 so I guess I’ll be having a few coffees. Have decided to have a couple of booze free days. We took a coach to Seattle, across the US border. The greyhound bus journey was uneventful, thankfully. Got through the US immigration without too much trouble but I did have to leave an apple behind as it was not declared on the customs form! Bureaucracy, love it.
Those US border guards are miserable people, and I did have a bit of a run in with one of them over ‘The apple,’ however a local chap on the coach afterwards tried to calm me down by pointing out that the guards are only allowed to operate on a black or white aspect there is no grey.
Greyhound coach Vancouver to Seattle
Arrived in Seattle
a bit before 1700. I’d forgotten about the river/lake/waterways that make up Seattle. Beautiful. After checking in to Hotel Executive Pacific, downtown Seattle we find a bar on the ground floor that sells real ale, so I try the wares. Sue, Diet Coke.
Hotel Executive Pacific Seattle
We have been in Seattle before so went to the wharf area where it is pricey but nice and have a fish and hamburger supper.
Another healthy Seattle meal.
Fairly early night. Tomorrow is another travel day.
Wake up to a sunny and warm Seattle. We do a recce to find our route to the airport using the metro/tram service, get a coffee and a bun whilst strolling around. Take a photo of Starbucks first coffee shop, buy the statutory tourist Starbucks mug and then it’s time to rescue our luggage at the hotel.
Original Starbucks Seattle
Seattle to Los Angeles
The trip to Seattle Seatac International airport is cheap, $3 each, and we’re able to offload our bags for our BA/American Airlines codeshare flight to LA. The frustrating thing with the train was that had we known about it before we could have taken the train from the bus terminal to the nearby station to the hotel yesterday and not had to get the cab. We have taken this part of the journey by land before so to save time we flew. Usual airport activity whilst waiting for the flight and the two hours or so soon passed.
American Airlines AA 6046
Saw some lovely sights from the plane window – blue sky, sunshine and snow covered mountains, one looked more volcano shaped.
American Airlines Seattle to LAX
LA Mirage Inn, LAX Airport
$30 cab ride to LA Mirage Inn, LAX Airport motel Suites and Spa. This ‘airport’ motel is in fact about 9 miles from terminal 5 at LAX. But we do have a microwave. We’re miles away from anywhere.There is not an awful lot around there unless you have a car. The staff were very friendly and helpful. As is the case at these types of hotels you can order a takeawy/delivery of pizza and wings etc. Not the most healthy of lifestyles, but it is what it is.
Food for less
About 100 metres from the hotel is a huge ‘Food 4 Less’ supermarket which has just about everything you need including all the dregs of society, and is reminiscent of a scene out of Michael Jackson’s thriller. Having said that, all the people were friendly and we got what we needed. We watch an episode of Midsomer Murder of one of their tv channels and before you know it the clock is showing 2300, so time to listen to part of a play before sleep.
It’s Mother’s Day here. That would explain why we saw so many bunches of flowers being walked around the streets of Seattle yesterday. I did wonder who had died! Sunday morning was my initiation into Uber. What a great service, where has that been for all my life! A quick Uber into Union Station, Los Angeles where we’ll board the bus to Ontario near Chino airport for my fighter jet flight on Tuesday.Chino is about 40 minutes east of LA. Very suburban.
Apparently our hotel there has an outside pool so let’s hope for sunshine. There was a slight delay on our bus departure as the driver was unable to operate a ramp to allow wheelchair access for one of the passengers. After a number of phone calls and another helper it was all sorted and we were on our way. The final destination of the bus was Las Vegas. We were the first stop in a place called Ontario in a shopping mall. Thank goodness for Uber as we used that app again to call for a cab to get us to Hotel Seville in Chino. Seville Hotel, Chino.https://www.hotelsevilleontario.com/
The cab arrived within about two minutes. Very good service. The hotel is very much based on the motel shape with ground floor and first floor rooms, lots of parking places and a very, very small swimming pool. They used a wide angle lens!
Hotel Seville Chino
Colombo type hotel
The hotel is similar to the type of motel that Colombo used to investigate murders in, in the 80s. However it is a clean, bright, and very nice motel, except for the pool. The photo certainly overplayed it’s hand showing the pool. It is barely bigger than a plunge pool. Never mind! Our room, though, is spacious with the all important fridge and microwave.The locals here look at us like we have just fallen out of a tree as we don’t have a car and therefore walk everywhere. Something the locals here don’t do. It is great, you walk somewhere and the path ends and there are huge signs telling you no pedestrians allowed.
Eating in Chino
Around the area are 2 supermarkets, a 7/11, McDonalds and Taco restaurant. My favourite was Michael Angelo’s, a pizza, pasta, beer restaurant. If you want a taste of ‘local’ then this is the place to go. Looking at the restaurant from the outside, you may be forgiven for thinking it a small rundown, possibly closed, establishment. There is even a handwritten sign in the window saying ‘open.’ However once you enter it is a massive, fun, family friendly restaurant serving an all American menu.
Michael Angelo’s, 2467, S. Euclid Ave, Ontario, CA.The pizza place turned out to be a bit of a find as it sells draught beer so we pop in there for a 34oz dark beer for me (a litre I think) and a Diet Coke for Sue before having a picnic in the room.
When ever I come to the states it always amazes me how unhealthy the food is. Loads of fast food joints, unlimited fizzy pop, and now the new one is the craft ales and beers they produce which are slightly stronger than rocket fuels. No more buds lights here.
Watched some nonsense on tv then bed.
There are loads of adverts for medical products, tablets and lotions, that sort of thing. Well the advert itself lasts for about 15 seconds then for another 30 seconds they run through all the side effects the medicine can have, ranging from spots on your bottom to all sorts of horrible cancer. Then generally the advert after that there is the local lawyer calling on everyone to support a class action against someone or other, presumably for the medicine that has just been advertised.
Live on UK Radio
One of my side lines is to present a radio program and a consequent is that when we travel I often call in and conduct a interview of what I am up to in the world. Today is no exception and in order to speak to my lunchtime audience, who are about 8 hours in front, I get up at 5am. My alarm goes at 0500 for my interview. I think the time delay spoils it a little bit but at least I have kept in touch with my listening public! A much slower start to the day for Sue.
Porridge is made in the microwave and we then set off on the 4 mile walk to Chino airport to get an idea of what goes on tomorrow. Sue has arranged a 1 hour flight in an L39, L-39 Jet. This was arranged through MiGFlug, I think they are based in Zurich and arrange flight sites around the globe. https://migflug.com/
Sue will have to fly out of Chino Airport. Fortunately the road is straight, albeit, long to our destination. They don’t like walking out here, at several places there is no pavement / sidewalk and we have to walk on the road or through bushes. Only one left turn and we’re there.
Chino Airport MigFlug
Istan the pilot
After a bit of a stroll around we find hangar 50 on B140 but the doors are closed, so we go for a bit of a stroll and when we return to the hangar we find Istvan, the pilot, and the plane. We introduce ourselves and all is set for tomorrow’s adventure and we bid him goodbye. On our way out a car pulls up and the driver asks if we’re lost. We tell him we’re looking for a café and he invites us to hop into the car and he gives us a tour of the little airport.
Apparently he is a retired fighter pilot and was enjoying telling us about all of the old planes on the airport. Very informative for those in the know! Anyway it was very kind of him to show us around. The lorries and their loads are huge, we find a lorry carrying giant tyres. You wouldn’t get one of them at KwikFit!
It’s close to 1500 when we get back to the hotel so I have a McDonalds and Sue returns to the room for hummus and avocado. Although the sun is shining by now, after a very cloudy start, there really is nowhere to go here to enjoy it so we remain in the room doing admin, and IT things.
It would seem that Sue has broken the memory stick and the Apple Mac no longer recognises the device so Sue may have to buy the last few episodes of Series 7 that she has yet to see. I guess the lesson here is that Sue needs to go to IT school. It would help if she had an interest in this technology but I don’t so it will be hard. But if that is my greatest worry I’m not doing too bad.
Sue’s on the wagon for 24 hours before her flight tomorrow. I am not, give me beer!
Tuesday is flight day, another 4 mile walk, via Starbucks to Chino airport. Bit of a cloudy start to the big day but by the time we leave the room the clouds are disappearing and the sun coming through.
We get to Chino airport 1330’ish and Steve, the pilot, is already there, so he gets right on to the briefing.
Captain Sue having a look. Captain Steve having a ‘look.’
I have to say all the health and safety bits gave Sue a few heart thumps, especially when he’s talking about throwing yourself out of the plane if they have to bale out. Once briefed and kitted out its time to head to the runway.
Preparing for MigFlug
Fortunately that didn’t happen and the flight was all kinds of amazing.
It’s flight time
In one of the acrobatic manoeuvres Sue reached about 5 G’s, doing the loop, which was a do-able weight on her chest. Bit scary first time round though. Sue did a loop, a Cuban 8, going straight up, straight down, many spins when you don’t know if you’re upside down or the right way up, another loopy, banking move that she can’t remember the name of, some low flying stints with lots of banking left and right along the valleys. The sky was clear and the whole experience was absolutely amazing. Sue would certainly do it again. Me? No!
MigFlug flight over
Sue has the time of her life doing a loop the loop, and flying upside down in the jet fighter over the desert close to Los Angeles.
Michael Angelo’s pizza restaurant Chino
The adrenaline boost of the flight left Sue feeling a bit tired, so after our four mile walk back to the hotel Sue had an hour’s doze before we returned to dinner in Michael Angelo’s pizza restaurant. We over ordered and left almost a whole pizza. Great beer and great Margaritas.
So the majority of both pizzas was put into a box and taken back to the room. I’m knackered and am asleep soon after supper. Sue probably had a smile on my face as she dropped off. Wonderful day
Wednesday we travel back to the centre of Los Angeles. There is a number 83 bus that stops outside the hotel, and drops you off at the local town of Upland, about 10 miles north of Chino.. The bus takes exact fare only, and 2 tickets were $3.50 the pair. At Upland take the 100 metre walk to the Metro link train station. Tickets were $15 the pair to Union Street Railway station. Approx 30 miles away.
Whilst waiting for a bus I asume this is a dentist’s company car!
Precision ceramics dental lab
Need a big mouth for this implant.
The train was a double decker so we went upstairs, albeit there wasn’t much of a view.
Metro link train station Upland
A local taxi ride from outside the Los Angeles Union Street station is a set $10 flat fare.
Los Angeles Union Street station
Kawada Hotel, LA.
We stayed at the Kawada Hotel, on 2nd and Hill. Very nice place. I have incorporated the corner of the bed in order that you can see it is a real hotel view.
Kawada Hotel Los Angeles
Kawada Hotel Los Angeles
One day, if we spend some more money, we will have a good view. Nice room, a tad small but still very nice. 2 nights here then take an Amtrak train to New Orleans.
Next door is the Cherry Pick Café where we enjoy a late lunch. Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel for me with beet and orange juice. My sort of food.
Union Street Station
Do a reccy to Union Station to find out a few things about our Amtrak train on Friday. A very helpful chap tells us that our ticket entitles us to go to a lounge where our luggage will be sorted and we can help ourselves to the hospitality there. We pop up to the lounge and it will certainly be better than sitting with the ‘poor people’ in the public seating area! Having said that the public seats do look comfy, they’re like armchairs not hard benches.
Eating and drinking, LA
Anyway we then go to a bar called Down and Out LOs Angeles and that about summed it up. The national smell of Spain is everywhere. Cannabis must be given away on every sidewalk as you get wafts of the stuff as you walk along the streets. Popped into a pharmacy/grocery store. Full of weirdos! Got involved with a netball/basketball match on tv – Toronto vs Milwaukee. Eventually Milwaukee won.
In the evening there is a local market nearby which has been turned into a trendy food hall. Any hope of saving money by eating and drinking here are sadly dashed when I find a small glass of white wine is $16. The food was better value with a burrito coming in at about $6. There was a huge selection of craft beers.
We walked back to the Grand Central market area for a quick supper to learn that they stop serving food about 2000 so we find a bar called Bernadette’s which sells real ale, wine and a veggie burger so everyone is happy. There is a do playing jazz type stuff from vinyl records. How quaint. Back to the hotel by 2200, watch tv, do a bit of admin.
The subway system is easy to use and we took the opportunity to go to the Chinese theatre.
Raining in LA
Although we knew about the change in weather from the forecast I certainly didn’t plan for it. I thought it would be sun tan lotion, shorts and t-shirts from the moment we got off the boat. We’re only having a lazy day so it really doesn’t matter.
Cherry Pick Cafe
We pop next door to the Cherry Pick café for breakfast and eventually venture outside and whilst looking for the hop on hop off bus decide to get a metro train to the Dolby theatre, the Chinese theatre and all the stars on the sidewalk. The subway is very easy to use. There are some sights on the subway, this chap had a French fries backpack.
French fries backpack
I buy a baseball cap and we return to Pershing Square and our hotel by metro train. We pop out to Bernadette’s bar Los Angeles, which serves good vodka and beer then a bar which was spotted last night to get an espresso martini. It also sells an IPA beer for me.
If you come out of bernadettes and turn left towards the market there is a great cocktail bar that serves a really nice Martini Expresso. It was so nice that Sue had 2 of them.
Not sure if it was a gay bar, but the barman was very kind to act in our mixing a cocktail video!
Bless …. Then onto the Grand Central Market for dinner/supper. Sue had a salmon and rice concoction. Me, a meat and rice burrito thing.
Grand Central Market LA
Grand Central Market Los Angeles
There is an enjoyable buzz about this place. A food hall with a difference. Wine at $16 dollars ( London City airport prices), whilst beer is about $8.
No drive by shootings
Been here for 24 hours and no drive by shootings! No car chases and no sight of the Kardashians! But we do have rain and a cannabis guide map.
California Cannabis guide and map Kush
Well that should come in handy, not! Return to hotel when supper venue closes. Watch nonsense on tv, then sleep.
Lovely, sunny day. Pack our big bags and then put overnight essentials in backpacks for our two nights on the Amtrak train. As the train doesn’t leave until 2200 we leave the luggage at the hotel and get the local metro trains to Downtown Santa Monica. It’s about an hour from our hotel at a cost of $1.75 one way. Golden sand, sort of blue sea but very blowy so quite a few waves.
Santa Monica Beach
Beach Santa Monica
We walk along Santa Monica beach all along to Venice beach, past Muscle beach where quite a few people were putting themselves through their paces. Santa Monica is the home of muscle beach and weirdos.
Santa Monica Pier
Pier Santa Monica
Santa Monica Pier
As you walk along the promenade from Santa Monica Pier to Venice beach there are live bands featuring the oldest swingers in town, who play really well, to people talking themselves, trying to dance completely spaced out, one man was even dancing with a dog.
Surrender your baby Santa Monica
Everyone is good humoured, just a bit spaced out. Lots of bikes, electric bikes and electric scooters are available for hire but we stick to our goal of at least 10,000 steps.
Electric Scooter Santa Monica
There are some weird people ‘chilling out’ the closer you get to Venice beach, lots of over the hill musicians ply their trade. All very entertaining. The smell of this area is one of cannabis.
Santa Monica Police
Saw three mounted police strolling around.
Miss ELASTIC and Mr MANTASTIC on Muscle beach.
Muscle Beach Santa Monica
Muscle Beach Santa Monica
We pop into the restaurant at the end of Santa Monica pier for a coffee. Once again I have to supplement the kitty as Dick has run out of money. Memories of my 50th birthday treat, in this restaurant, when Dick left all his cash and cards in the room at the hostel. Some things never change.
Amtrak LA to NY
We get back to the hotel a little after 1800, do a bit of WiFi admin before heading off to the Amtrak lounge at Union Street railway station. Have a spot of supper and it’s soon time to board our train.
We will have a couple of nights stop over then make our way to New York where we will have completed the trip.
Amtrak Union Street Los Angeles LA
We took the sleeper carriage. If you have the money, and there is space available, then take first class Amtrak as the sleeper is very cosy for 2 people. You would be advised to check in your luggage, there is no space whatsoever in the sleeper. Be warned!! If you ever get an Amtrak train ensure you chop about 2 feet off of your height. I am 6 feet tall and trying to wind myself into a top bunk bed with only about 18 inches of head room is not fun.
I suffer from a serious medical disorder called snoring, especially after a couple of local beers, and was told that all the compartments were only separated by a vanity curtain. Fortunately they have now fitted doors so I didn’t keep too many people awake. The good news is that staying in a sleeper all your meals are provided, and they are of good quality.Our sleeper is small but adequate.
We do find that there is a slightly larger version but they are all booked. We sit in the observation car for a while until Sue gives in to sleep and throw herself on the bottom bunk, leaving me to enjoy more beer in the observation car. The distance of our train journey to New Orleans is 1670 miles, over 2 nights.
Overnight on Amtrak
Sleep relatively well considering the movement of the train. I am up a tad before 0600 for my coffee fix. I then change our bunk bedroom into our day room. The bottom bunk changes into two armchairs, one facing forward the other back with a big window for the views.
Sleeper day cabin Amtrak
At the moment there is a lot of brown earth, a few short trees and bushes, 8-10’ cacti and mountains.
Amtrak LA to New Orleans
Amtrak Los Angeles to New Orleans
We’re travelling through Arizona and our first stop, where we can get off, is Tucson. Don’t venture too far just in case the train leaves without us.
Rialto cinema Tucson
Whilst there a police car arrives and shortly afterwards a female is handcuffed and removed from the train. I’d seen her earlier in the observation car and wondered how long she would last.
Observation car Amtrak
Obviously having a wonderful time in her little world, slurping from a bottle of white wine at just before 0700 …. but they do seem to be strict on this train with regard to behaviour and safety. I go for a light breakfast of fruit and yogurt. Next stop, Benson.
Doesn’t even seem to have a proper station so we stay on the train. Clocks go forward as we enter New Mexico. Very dry ground, little vegetation, mountains in the distance otherwise flat. Just before 1500 we get to El Paso, Texas.
El Paso Amtrak Station
Amtrak El Paso Texas Station
Shortly before we see THE WALL, or a bit of it between USA and Mexico.
The Wall between USA and Mexico
I don’t think it will keep many people out ….. the Mexican side looks very poor. Able to have a little stroll at this station as some of the crew are changing. A couple more stops at very small towns, not even a proper station to speak of. Still dry landscape, a little more cattle but not much more. The food on board the train is surprisingly good so enjoy salmon for dinner. Follow this with an episode of Sherlock Holmes and it’s time for bed.
Sunday 19th May 2019.Considering it was nearly 11pm when I went to bed I was shocked to wake up when it was still dark and only 245AM. That was the start of it, awake and asleep all night. We stopped overnight at one stop for an hour and a half, between 4 and 5.30, if Sue had been awake I might have got off and had a look around, albeit there wasn’t much infrastructure there. Very low cloud today, not the desert weather we have been use to. The clock go forward another hour. Now very green and green fields.
First stop of the day
Houston Texas was the first stop of the day. An Amtrak only station so very little to do there for the one hour stop over.
Houston Texas from Amtrak
Amtrak station Houston Texas
85 degrees at 1130, my kind of town. Have been passing lots of swamp type ground with large lakes and rivers. After Huston there are not a lot of passengers left so no rush for the dining car or observation car. About 1530 we hit the rain, very heavy with thunder, or is it just the wind blowing over the carriages. Mind you there has been forecast of heavy weather in the New Orleans area over the last few days.
Other stations of note that we visited were Lafayette in Louisiana and, of course, our final stop New Orleans in Louisiana. The de-training went smoothly and we were in a cab in no time at all to the Wyndham Garden hotelhttps://www.wyndhamhotels.com/wyndham-garden/new-orleans-louisiana/on Baronne and Common. Our room looks over the corridor so Dick got a good ‘view from our room’ shot.
The in-house bar was not the best. Drinks served in plastic glasses and closes at 2200. We pop out to the local 24 hr pharmacy for water and ginger ale for me. All of the weirdos were in there buying their cheap beers and packets of chips. Popped into Mike’s Cajun food and pub. Again full of strange people. Lots of ‘effing’ and blinding in everyday language, but they all seemed happy enough and welcoming. Back to the hotel , watch a bit of tv then lights out for me about midnight.
Monday 20th May 2019.
We have travelled for 3 days on a train and now find ourselves in the beautiful New Orleans.
Wake up at 0800, visit the bathroom, return to bed and wake up again at 1045! Slow start to the day, obviously. Get a coffee from the ‘in-house’ café. Won’t be doing that again. The customer service around here seems to follow the Spanish training ..Rubbish!…. After a while we set out to find the Amtrak train station again to see if we can get an upgrade to our next train on Thursday. We’re told there are no vacant sleepers. We’ll try again Thursday just in case there are any no shows. We then amble down to the French quarter.
Bourbon Street New Orleans
French Quarter New Orleans
Sightseeing in New Orleans
Lots of bars, with or without music. The clothes shops are lovely, vintage and designer, so expensive.
Certainly not for wearing but beautiful.
Creole Queen New Orleans
Do a bit of people watching on the Mississippi river. There is a fantastic paddle steamer named Creole Queen that leaves New Orleans every couple of hours.
There is a very old Tram system in place.
Tram New Orleans
Bourbon Street, New Orleans
We spend the evening in Bourbon Street. Lots of bars with live bands and pianists, all very good.
Spirits on Bourbon
Spirits on Bourbon live music New Orleans
Lots of happy, drunk people. I have a Po Boy for supper.
This is basically a French breadstick sandwich. Have a nightcap at Cajun Mike’s.
More sightseeing New Orleans
A slightly fidgety night so I’m surprised it is 1030 when I eventually wake up. An even slower start to this day … then walk to the Sheraton in Canal Street for Starbucks and the hop on hop off bus. We discover the Garden district, the art district, St Charles Avenue, aka millionaire row, where Beyoncé has a home, and even more parts to the French Quarter.
Very good couple of hours. Lunch is taken in a sports bar, a spot of cholesterol infused Nacos which a pint of dodgy Real Ale. Excellent.
Decide to explore Frenchmen Street for this evening’s entertainment. Again lots of nice house and bars, all with music. We stop at Boudoulas, or something like that. Very good band, the singer even added tap dancing to his routine and played the washboard-thing. Excellent. Had blue cheese omelette at 2300 before returning to the two piano bar. Not quite as good, but ok. Got home about 0100.
Another very slow start to the day. I leave the hotel about 1145 to go to Starbucks at the Sheraton hotel, Canal Street. We then stroll to the Riverwalk outlet centre and I buy two pairs of Levis. Sue nearly buys some Burberry sunglasses. We get to the market area close to Bourbon Street and not too far from the Mississippi and have a light lunch whilst listening to a good jazz band.
Regroup at the hotel before returning to Bourbon Street for more musical entertainment on our last night in New Orleans.
A bag of Doritos takes care of supper just before 2300. Another bad eating day. Set alarm for 0445 as we’re booked on the 0700 Amtrak train to New York tomorrow.
AmTrak 2nd Part
As expected the alarm went off all too soon and we begin the process of final packing and checking out of the hotel. We arrive at Amtrak station before 0600 and check in our bags and go to the lounge. Not much more than comfy seats. The toilet is very, er, umm, personal!!
Cabin Toilet Amtrak
We do enquire about an upgrade but at a cost of over $400 we decide to stick with our ‘cosy’ roomette! The distance of this journey from New Orleans to New York is 1169 miles. On time departure for New York at 0700. Tom is our sleeping car supervisor. Lovely expanse of water as we leave New Orleans, about 30 minutes into the journey, absolutely huge lake/inlet/outlet ……
Amtrak New Orleans
As our sleeping car is at the back of the train I’m not getting to see the station names as we stop, so I don’t really know where we are. About 1430 we stopped at Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In the meantime we’re going through quite a few towns, all appear very small. There are swathes of forests with tall green trees, some areas look quite swampy too.
Swampland New Orleans
One bit of excitement. We had to go onto some sidings in order to let a freight train through, and then reverse for a while so that we could re-join the main track. Things don’t get much better than that! Managed to get off at Birmingham, Alabama for a quick leg stretch. Nothing to see from the platform though, not even the name of the station.
Heard a story from one of the staff. On one journey there was an elderly husband and wife travelling. The husband got off to have a smoke. All people were told not to wander too far as the train would be leaving soon. The train leaves the station and a short while afterwards it is discovered that the husband is no longer on the train. It appears that the husband had had enough of his wife and decided to delay the rest of his trip by one day in order to get some peace and quiet and had left the station. Love is …..
Lovely scenery. Not!
Sloss Furnaces, Alabama was particularly nice.
Sloss Furnaces, Alabama
Start passing through Georgia 1900’ish. Rest of the evening was spent watching Netflix and BBC IPlayer. I’m in the top bunk tonight. Not the most comfortable. Still awake at close on 0200.
Get up about 0700. Not sure where we are. Atlanta was the last recognised stop about 2300 last night. Blue sky and sunshine. Passing tall trees, river inlets all very picturesque.
I think we’re going through Virgina, just passed through Culpepper VA station. Because of having to wait for the freight train yesterday we’re running about two hours late. Our friend in New York we are meeting is contacted regarding a new meet time. Lots of stations visited. Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington DC and many more before our final station on this train of New York Penn Station. Baltimore does appear to be a toilet, well at least the bit I see from the train, I am assured it is nice.
Baltimore from Amtrak Train
During the couple of days on this trip I got chatting to some new potential step mothers for my daughters, I think their undercarriages may be faulty, so quick photo and they leave us at Washington.
Another love lost.
Quick photo of Washington skyline from Amtrak
Washington from Amtrak Train
and we are off again to New York, OUR FINAL DESTINATION.
Finally the skyline of New York, NYC comes into view,
New York from Amtrak Train
we have done it, circumnavigated the globe by land and sea.
Cracked it. NYC.
We get in just before 1600, rush to meet our friend at a nearby Irish pub. In total we have travelled 2839 miles on the trains. I celebrate our circumnavigation with a glass of beer, and Sue, a glass of champagne. Whoopee. A quick snack of hummus, an even quicker catch-up with our friend and then we’re back to Penn Street station to get the 1738 to Boston Bay Back. Due to arrive 2208.
The train is rammed as it is a long weekend here, Memorial Day, so you have lots of people clogging up the roads, trains and planes. Anyway we get a seat so we’re looking good. It got dark fairly quickly so not much to see on our journey to Boston Back Bay, arriving at just gone 2200.
We pop into the bar for supper, a couple of drinks and then bed. Saturday 25th May 2019
Boston A very slow start to the day. Gone twelve before we head down to the lobby for a Starbucks coffee. We are then advised the best way to get into Boston Proper is to take a free shuttle ride from the airport to South Station and then you’re there. We do that, find the hop on hop off stop and are told we need to buy a ticket at Stop one. So, the very nice lady driver takes without tickets to Stop one giving the commentary of her route as we go.
At Stop one we’re told that the buses stop running at 1700 so we don’t have enough time to complete all of the routes and to come back tomorrow at 1200. There is a delayed start tomorrow to the tours as there are two road races taking place.
We wander around the harbour area, view the pop up beer and wine spaces and the Starbucks outlets as we need to get Sam a Boston mug.
All done and we wander towards China Town to find the Corner pub which sells real ale! Stay there for a couple of drinks and make our way back to South Station on foot to get the silver line bus back to the hotel. We’re like locals now …… back at the hotel we have supper in Connoly’s bar, again, and get back to the room for some more rubbish tv.
Sunday 26th May 2019
We watch the Monaco F1 before we head into town for the bus trip. Fortunately we know where were going and buy our tickets with no problem. Very good tour, not too much ribbing over the Boston tea party. Not much history, either, but then we are in America which is still a young country.
It’s a lovely day so I enjoy the sunshine as we’re shown all the sights. I enjoy a couple of beers in a pub called Bostonia, https://bostoniapublichouse.com/ A very nice place to have a few beers. Sue is on Diet Coke Then we head back to the hotel to pack our bags and enjoy yet another good but expensive supper at the hotel. The alarm will be set for 0415 tomorrow as our flight leaves 0730.
Too early to be up but we are greeted by a wonderful sunrise which makes it worth it.
Sunrise Logan Airport Boston
No dramas leaving the hotel for the short walk to a Terminal 5 and our BA checkin. They wanted the best part of $300 for upgrade to Premium Economy so we’re stuck at the back. Row 27 for Dick and 29 for me, both aisle seats.
I get lucky with no-one in the middle of the three seats. It is cramped, you don’t get any service for about 90 minutes then it is all rushed. You get what you pay for. The flight is just under 6 hours so we’re at Heathrow by 1900 picking up our bags. Adrian our cab driver is there and we walk through the front door by 9pm. Trip over. Globe now circumnavigated over land and sea. A job well done over 9 years, too many laughs and experiences.
What will be next? …….My favourite place on this trip has to be Japan, and some of the cities outside of Tokyo. The people are really hospitable, eating mystery food is fun (Unless you are a vegetarian as you never know what you will get) and just the whole lifestyle, unless you are in business which I understand is still very draconian.
Sue and I flew via Virgin Atlantic www.virginatlantic.com into The Jose Marti International Airport, www.airportcuba.net/havana
We had been told not to expect too much in the way of facilities and we were not disappointed.
Immigration was fine, they put a lot of staff on, so no queue.
However make sure you have your Health Insurance certificate with you as there are reports of people not being allowed in without the certificate or pay a huge supplement at the immigration desk.
The first hurdle at the airport when 400 passengers land there is the collection of the luggage. After leaving the aircraft you are told which luggage belt to attend. What they dont tell you is that because of the sheer number of bags, they are using an additional luggage belt. We, and a about 200 other passengers stood there for about 30 minutes before realising our luggage was quite happily going around the other belt.
We were meeting some friends at the airport, ‘land side’ so found a very nice bar, off the internet, on the 3rd floor.
There are authorised money changers there.
Dealing quickly with the return journey, there was a huge queue for checking in as you cant do it on line. Take some water. Once through immigration there is one main food cafeteria in the centre and the queue is about 30 minutes long. However if you retrace your steps back to the bag and cigar shops, ‘air side’ go down the stairs and there is a quicker and quieter cafe with toilets down there.
Transfer from the airport
Transfer from the airport, The Jose Marti International Airport, www.airportcuba.net/havana. There is NO designated shuttle bus. There are loads of taxis, and the fare into Havana is 30 CUC (One CUC equals roughly 1 Euro). If you are going to Playa Del Este the price jumps to about 50CUC.
Cuba has 2 currencies, a local CUP, and tourist CUC.
You dont need to get involved with the local CUP currency, so I shall deal solely with CUC.
1 CUC = roughly, 1 Euro.
You cant buy the Cuban currency outside of Cuba, and you need to spend it all before leaving as it will be worthless.
The worst bank notes to take with you are US Dollars as you will be automatically charged 10% admin fee. Take Euros or GBP Pound Sterling. There are lots of official places to change
into local currency. My friends used the ATMs but be aware you are restricted to 150 CUC per withdrawal.
ATM machines are few and far between, so be warned. I didnt see any ATMs in the town of Viñales.
Cost of living.
I found it to be roughly UK prices. It is NOT cheap.
We took £750 each for the 2 weeks and this just about covered food and drink.
If you decide to drive a car in Cuba, book the car prior to leaving the UK. We have Cuban friends who struggled to get a hire car. The car was about 600 Euros for 7 days. This was a small Suzuki Jimmy so luggage storage was fun. It should be pointed out that the smallest book in the world is the Cuban Highway Code, so you need to keep your wits about you when driving. Keep an eye on then petrol gauge as when you get into rural areas the petrol stations are sparse. we hired from Novelacuba Car Hire.
Contrary to popular belief there is internet in Cuba. HOWEVER! In Havana go into any large hotel, (We used the Sevillia Hotel) and buy the internet voucher, for between 1 and 3 CUC for the hour. Price is dependent upon if you are a resident or not.
Some bars out of Havana do offer free wifi, but be aware some of them mean you can log into the internet with a card, whilst others do free wifi with their password.
The card may not last for the hour so be aware. One card, one device. You have to scratch the card to access the code. The card is marked (In Spanish) ‘Take caution when scratching off as you may take off the code as well. We did several times, and lost the card use.Some hotels will scratch it off for you.
You cannot do anything financial wise on the internet, ie pay for flights, hotels, etc. I tried changing the VPN with no joy. So make all your arrangements before you get to Cuba.
Food and drink
The locals have to queue up for food, you will be ok at restaurants and bars, etc, but getting supplies for breakfast or a picnic could prove difficult. I didn’t see many supermarkets out there, and the ones they do have are small and with limited groceries. Rum is freely available as is beer.
Power is 110 Volt and slow. Two types of plugs are accepted. The 2 pin round Euro plug, and the 2 pin flat US plug.
Hints for travelling to Cuba March 2019 Part 2.
I never saw any trouble and we stayed in a very poor part of Havana.
Playa Del Este.
Before leaving the UK we were going to book a hotel out of town for
a few days. I am glad we didn’t.
The area we were going to was Playa Del Este. However we went there
by car and it was very isolated.
So consider where you stay.
Playa Del Este area is a bit remote. You may be stuck.
We opted for cheaper accommodation in Havana and use hotel pools.
We stayed in the Centrico apartments,
262 San Nicolás, Apto. 4 e/ Neptuno y Concordia, Havana Center, 10200 Havana, Cuba
booked on Booking.com
Car ride in 57 Chevy.
A trip to Havana would not be complete without a ride in one of the
old cars in Havana for an hour. There are a number of pick up points
and you just go there and bater. For the 4 of us, for an hour, with the
driver/guide it started off at 70 CUC but we got it down to 50 CUC.
Yes a ‘tourist’ rip off but that is the price. We had a huge open top
pink ‘57 Chevy.’
Another option is to walk about 100 metres out of the centre and
hail down one of the old cars that operates as a taxi. Not as much
fun, possibly only Spanish spoken, also they have roofs, but far
If you are in Havana and not at a hotel you may want to use the
various pool passes that are on offer from hotels in the centre of
town. We used the Hotel
Sevillia. It is a nice pool with not many people there. The price is
20CUC each, and with that you get credit of 15 CUC each to spend
on drink and food.
With the Suzuki Jimny, 4 people, and luggage tied to the roof, we
went off for a road trip. First stop was about a 4 hour drive from
Havana to the old Historic town of Trinidad. If you don’t go anywhere
else make sure you go there. Cobbled street, live music, old cars,
cheaper food and drink. There is a huge main square where dancing,
drinking, and lots of fun can be had every night. There are lots of guest
houses, but not many hotels. Some bars even offer free wifi
(Without the card).
There is a lovely beach with hotel about 10 Kms out of town at the
Peninsular, access can be made by both car and bus. There are beach
bars and beach activities. The beach is idyllic and very friendly.
We stayed at Hostel Casa Del Lara, Trinidad,booked through Air BnB.
Just out of town there is a zip wire which looks fun.
3 nights was enough and we made the 6 hour journey (Back to
Havana and back out again) to Viñales.
Viñales is a small town in the countryside. It seems that up to about 2
years ago there was no tourist trade in the area. The place appears to
be mainly Tobacco and Agricultural farms.
I didnt see an ATM there
but that dosent mean there isnt one. We couldnt get any fuel for the
Jimney until we got back on the National Route road, so be aware.
Try and get to a Tobacco farm, it is interesting and of course the cigars
are very cheap. We found free wifi at Oscars bar. Great Daiquiris as well.
The Hotels are a bit basic
Restaurant of note in old town, Havana.
I dont usually recommend restaurants but this one in the old Town was
exceptional. The staff were great, and the food and drink magnificent.
Below is a lovely Daiquiri served up. You can find the Lo De Monik
on the junction of Chacon and Compostela, Havana, Cuba.
If you are in need of coffee first thing then there is a small kiosk at the side
of the Hotel Sevillia that sells coffee and milk.
Diet coke is available but only from restaurants, they will sell as take away.
There are limited toiletries. Take paper with you if staying in an apartment.
There is a lack of medicines, Ibuprofen etc. Also sun tan lotion When you do
find a pharmacy you will inevitably find a queue. Usually there is a separate
door for the tourists.
There does not appear to be any spicy food.To see part 3 that deals with Cuban Visas, click on ‘older posts’, below and to the right.
It was necessary for us to get a Cuba visa from the the UK. This is a fairly painless affair, and if you are flying with Virgin Atlantic, https://www.virginatlantic.com/ it is even easier.
The bottom line is you need a Cuban Visa to enter the country, without being able to display the visa you wont get as afar as the plane to start the journey.
We booked premium Economy and flew to Cuba with Virgin Atlantic. We then approached a company recommended to us called Cubaism Ltd, https://www.cubavisas.com based in the UK. Applied online and the visa was sent through to our home adress in a couple of days. However a few weeks before the flight Virgin Atlantic sent us a free visa. So it maybe that you are given a free visa from Virgin.
Well, today’s stupid idea is to fly to Vancouver, Canada, and get an ocean going, and hopefully warm, cruiser to sail up the West coast of Canada through Alaska. Sue bought me this wonderful present for my 60th. So here we find ourselves at Gatwick about to board the 10.30am Transat Airlines flight, and we are going posh class and seated in row 1. Very posh, best I don’t speak throughout the entire journey. Having had recent training in the use of a knife and fork I feel prepared for the 10 hour flight that awaits us.
Our host Mark
Mark is our host on the flight. Apparently due to the jet stream we will be in the air for an hour longer than planned. Should arrive just after 1300. Big Sue enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine before takeoff. I only had orange juice, because no beer was ready! Flight good, food good, watched a few films and got through the ten hours. We are welcomed by rain. Immigration was nearly fully automated and the queues went quickly.
Century Plaza hotel
Cab to Century Plaza hotel, the rooms are a bit tired, but there is plenty of space with a settee and a little kitchenette area. Nice view!
We find an area called Davie Village where there are lots of bars and restaurants. First bar we go into is a gay bar. We move on to another for a couple of drinks then on to a Persian restaurant. It is now 8.15 Canada time, which means it is 0415 the following day in U.K. No wonder I’m tired. Get back to the hotel after finding a liquor store for my beer, then bed. Sweet dreams .
Very grey, drizzly day. Cab to ferry terminal with another couple from the hotel and started queuing. There was a queue to get a baggage tag, a queue to check in and a very long queue for passport control, in that although we are in Canada we have to go through the USA and therefore have to get the passport stamped first. The mission statement of the American border guards, the ‘first line of defence’ was a laugh. Very patriotic, very ‘America saves the world’. God bless America. I sound like Trump. Yuck ….
Eventually we got on board the Celebrity Infinity and to our stateroom, ie cabin, 7th floor. All very nice. Great balcony.
Evacuation practice at 1515 and depart at 1630. Thing is we didn’t get very far. After half an hour there was a medical emergency. All stop whilst said person was taken from the ship for treatment. I think it was about 1900 when we set off again.
It would seem the majority of the passengers have a much more liberal interpretation of ‘informal chic’. Jeans and shirts or leggings and over the bum tops seem to fit the dress code. Go to the Rendezvous Bar for Sue’s pomegranate mojito. Nice but it seems Cunard, and in particular the Queen Mary 2 make better cocktails. Band playing in the background. Go to Ice Martini Bar for espresso martini. Not bad but, once again, I have a very good Queen Mary 2 drink with which to compare it. Dinner at the Trellos restaurant at 2030 all very civilised. Back to the Rendezvous Bar for the guitarist/vocalist. All in tune but wrist slitting stuff.
Cruising all through the night. We’re sailing through the North Pacific Ocean. We’re passing a few very small islands with fir trees and then just water and a distant fog.
According to my navigation we have gone about 70 miles of the required 500 to get to our first call at Icy Strait tomorrow where we do the zip wire ride. Spend some of the morning in the therapy pool and then on to listen to a lady playing the piano and singing some of the old favourites.
Very relaxing. Gym in the afternoon for 30 minutes walking and 30 minutes looking at crumpet. Return to Rendezvous Bar to listen to the lady and the piano early evening and shortly after that another band perform until we go into dinner. Shared a table with six others. Wilson was our main waiter for the evening. A jazz band are playing for our last drinks of the evening. Clocks go back an hour overnight as we enter Alaska.
Better sleep. Wake up to a cloudy sky and outlines of mountains. Due to arrive at Icy Strait Point about 1600. Breakfast, gym then adjourn to the Café for piano and vocal entertainment as yesterday. We are now seeing fir tree islands and ranges of mountains as we go along. It is still quite cloudy but the sun strives to get through. We arrive at Icy Strait Point about 1500’ish.
Icy Strait Point
What a beautiful location. Very remote. Apparently we are the 1000th cruise ship to arrive and receive a traditional welcome of singing and banging of drums. Whilst up on deck 11 I see something glinting and moving through the water, then a puff of water, it’s a whale. Possibly two. Wow. As if that isn’t enough as we get off the ship there is a wonderful rainbow. It would seem Hoona, the name of the island, has 760 inhabitants and is home to brown bears, deer and is part of the salmon run. Some passengers saw the bears fishing down stream.
Icy Strait Point ZipWire Ride
Sue and I did the zip wire ride. It was great fun, well worth the overpriced excursion. We get to meet Woody the coach driver who was born and bred here, and I don’t think ever went anywhere else. A really nice bloke, without appearing rude, has a very simple way of life. The bar on the edge of the bay sold real ale so we stayed there for a while and had supper in the Oceanview Cafe as I couldn’t be bothered to get changed.
Early’ish breakfast so that we can enjoy all of the Hubbard glacier. Saw a couple of seals on some floating ice. Beautiful blues make up the glacier. Lots of bits falling off, calving I think it is called.
You hear a crack then a short while later you see the ice falling into the sea and then you hear the crash. Amazing. Lovely bay where there are mountains with snowfall on the top. It was a little cold but I braved it!
Café al Bacio
Café al Bacio for coffee and the pianist. We decided to give the talk about Celebrity cruises a miss but did go to a talk about Juneau which was very informative, and we’re told about a hike we can do. So that is tomorrow sorted. Down to Rendzvous bar where they are just starting a quiz, so quickly exit and go to Cellar Masters where two young girls are playing a keyboard and singing. Very pleasant. We go to the Constellation bar to meet the Captain and crew but the queue was too long so we returned to the Cellar Masters for another drink before dinner. Back to Rendezvous Bar for pianist and a band. Leave about 2330.
Arrive Juneau about 0700.
The ship leaves at 1930 so we have a full day to explore. Hike the Mount Roberts trail to the cable car stop. There is another trail beyond that is called Perseverance trail but that was another 90 or so minutes to the summit. We stayed put and were able to watch the sudden downpour of rain which would have made an already muddy, slippy path even worse. The walk was lovely through the national forest with not too many people on the path. The ride in the cable car took about 4 minutes for the descent.
Mount Roberts Trail, Juneau
Quick walk around town, find some coffee and some WiFi and return to the ship for a short while before heading back into town for a late lunch – sock eye salmon, whatever that is, and chips. Back to the ship and just dawdle between the Cellar Masters bar to the Rendezvous Bar for entertainment.
Whilst waiting for the kettle to boil I saw a whale, in fact, it was the first of two spottings from our balcony. As we were going for breakfast saw another one, even the tail splash! Whoopee …. since leaving Juneau we have been en route to Ketchikan, the most south east town in Alaska. When we leave Ketchikan we head back to Canada/British Columbia.
Approach to the town is through a narrow water channel. Lots of take offs and landings of seaplanes as we approach, dock and remain until 8pm this evening. Ketchikan is a little town still surviving in a 50’s way of life.
Sightseeing in Ketchikan
We walk to the old brothel and decline the $10 dollar tour. We follow the creek where the salmon go on their journey to the spawning ground. Never seen anything like it, lots of fish swimming against a torrent of water rushing against them over rocks and uphill sections of the river. Dead salmon abound as testament to the harshness of their journey. Nature seems to be very fickle. Got a glimpse of a seal in the river too. Adjourned to Annabelle’s bar/restaurant. The idea was to have a late lunch but as neither of us were hungry we just used the WiFi and had a lazy hour or so.
There were a few proper beers. We returned to the ship about 630 and just lounged about listening to various musical entertainment until bed at about 2300. Clocks go forward overnight.
Inside Passage returning to Vancouver
Today we cruise back through the Inside Passage returning to Vancouver. Went to a talk about climate change. The speaker was very informative and put things in layman’s language. Apparently the big solution is population control through education. Gym and then a session in the therapy pool. Last night, so the packing has to be done. We go to the pre dinner show which was really quite good – songs from Broadway hits. After dinner entertained in Rendezvous Bar by Svetlana and her piano. Lots of lights now along both sides of the water, so bye bye to the fir trees and little islands that we were passing earlier in the day.
Disembarked from the Celebrity Infinity by 0930, taxi to Georgian Court Hotel, Vancouver. Very nice. Not much of a hotel view though!
Sightseeing in Vancouver
Hop on hop off bus, two lines take us through the City and Park areas. Am particularly impressed with Stanley Park. Dine in Gastown area at an Indian restaurant after a couple of drinks in a local bar. Took photo of the Gas clock, a sightseeing must!
I am surprised at the amount of homeless sleeping on the street, some of whom seem to have built little tarpaulin cities with the aid of shopping trolleys. Walk back to hotel and local bar for a nightcap.
Late breakfast, hire bicycles and after about ten minutes Sue fell off – tried to go up a pavement sideways. Another graze on her knee. Stanley Park is very pretty, hugs the water, small beaches and rugged coastline. The cogs on the back wheel of Sue’s bike seized up en route and some very helpful locals coax it back to life and we continue the ride.Wow!
I wanted a tandem and sit at the back and not pedal. But The Duchess said I would touch her bottom as well. So I shall just look great.
Bicycle tour Vancouver
After an ice cream stop we set off again on the return journey when the bike seizes up again. Another local comes to our rescue and he declares that the ‘derailer needs to be replaced! He contacts Simons Bikes, who we hired the bikes from, and they send out a member of staff for some on the road repairs. He turned up on some weird electric bike.
Managed to cycle back. Go to another local bar! As we have an early start we return to the hotel for an early night. I found this sign in Stanley Park on the toilet door, am I reading this wrong?
Up at 0515 for Rocky Mountaineer. Very efficient, there is a large hall for the 785 passengers, tea and coffee stations and stalls to buy the train merchandise. There is even a pianist to entertain us. We board at 0730 with the bag pipes being played. We’re in coach J5, seats 49 and 50. We are ‘Gold Class’ Goldleaf service, or whatever first class is on the Rocky Mountaineer. The glass roof certainly makes it special and the downstairs of the carriage is the dining hall. Very comfy seats, a sumptuous choice of breakfast and lunch and free flowing drinks of all denominations.
Gold Class, Goldleaf Service Rocky mountaineer
The scenery is stunning. Lots of fast flowing rivers and lakes. The trees change from fir trees to ponderosa pine, to a more desert backdrop of bare rock. Pass through Hell’s Gate where the gorge is only 35 meters wide. Lots of little ghost towns which grew during the gold rush. This apparently didn’t last long and folks moved on.Something to help you sleep. I made a video of this freight train going in the other direction. The video is about 8 minutes long, then I turned it off. I am not going to post the video.
The last few miles are along the Kamloops lake. Absolutely beautiful. Saw osprey and eagle nests and some big horn sheep (looked like deers to me).
Wingate hotel is very nice, room spacious with two big beds. Lovely view from Hotel.
Dinner is taken up the road at some ‘redneck’ bar full of TV sport, beer, nachos and er ‘Red Necks’! A great evening.
Off to Jasper
Pick up at hotel is 0715. Second day on the train. The posh people sitting opposite us for breakfast on the train start to tell us about a ‘dreadful’ bar they went to last night. It appears to be the one we went to which we thought was good! To be fair this couple live in Devon and ‘open’ their gardens (Plural) to the general public.
More sunny, blue sky days. Scenery changes from semi arid desert to pine/spruce forests, rivers and lakes. There was a big forest fire in 2003 which wiped out a load of trees and due to lack of rain they have not regrown. Looks really eerie, like lots of matchsticks coming out of the ground.
Another sightseeing spot was the site of a train crash which killed hundreds. Lovely! Nice sightseeing spots of rushing rivers, different rock formations and the changing forests. Another sad story is that there is a beetle affecting the pine trees which eventually kills them off. The fir and spruce trees don’t seem to be affected. At the moment about 53% of the trees are dying as a result of this. Saw some more eagle and osprey nests, a badger lodge, a few big birds circling high above our train.
Cheese and wine pre lunch
The service on this train journey is superb resulting in me making the decision that the diet starts another day!. I need more exercise, and less booze. Having said that the food provided on the train was superb. As there are 2 sittings for lunch, we are the second sitting today, having just had breakfast and mid morning snacks, we are given a cheese and wine tasting session prior to lunch.
Spend the night at Marmot Lodge in Jasper. Pretty little town but we don’t have the time to explore. No dinner for either of us tonight.
Drive to Banff
0750 pickup for glacier adventure. It is a lot colder here and we’ve lost the blue sky for cloud, albeit the sun did continue to fight through the cloud. First wildlife spot of the day was an elk. Huge creature. Through the day we visited the Icefield Parkway thru’ Jasper and Banff National parks.
Banff National park
This meant stunning scenery, very high mountains way above tree lines, glaciers, ice fields, waterfalls and forests. Some of the forests bore the scars of previous forest fires. Apparently we have been really lucky with the weather and visibility during our trip as there have been massive forest fires where the smoke obliterated views of the mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers. This was also mentioned when we were on the cruise that visibility had been dreadful for weeks before our cruise. Another part of our day was the Columbia Icefield skywalk- a glass walkway 918 feet above the canyon! How brave were we?
We travelled on a special, huge wheeled vehicle on the Athabasca glacier and had a short walkabout on the glacier.
Visited lake Louise which surrounds the Fairmont hotel. Dropped off at the Buffalo Mountain Lodge, Banff. Lovely room with our own fireplace with logs provided.
Obviously I didn’t book or pay for it!
The town of Banff is very busy, the houses look very expensive.
Found a local brewery for supper. Got a free shuttle back to the hotel for a nightcap in the room. Wonderful day.
Sightseeing around Banff
Friday 7th September 2018
Very lazy start to the day. Go to cafe in hotel complex for cappuccino and parfait with granola. It’s a lovely day so we walk into town, find the post office and decide that $64 each is too much for the gondola ride.
I notice the destination on the front of the bus and remember that the local Red Indians use to call it ‘Lake Little Idiot’ but it got changed for political correctness purposes.
Buffalo Mountain Lodge Banff
Explore some more of the shops, and then just sit watching the world go by – on the Canada ales. Walk back to the hotel. Walk back into town and find a bar with an outside terrace so we can watch the people, vehicles and more importantly the views. I’m going to miss the mountains, amazing backdrops everywhere. Enjoy dinner in a Greek restaurant, Balkan. Very good seafood dish. Get the free shuttle back to the hotel and finish the day with a large glass of beer on the balcony. Nice place this Buffalo Mountain Lodge Banff.
Air Transat to Gatwick
Up at 0700 to pack and transfer to Calgary airport. All very painless and arrive at the airport just before 1200. After check-in we treat ourselves to the Aspire lounge for a few hours before boarding the plane, seats 2 A & C. Take off about 1600 and 8 hours 26 minutes later we arrive at Gatwick. Lovely food and service on Air Transat.
Well today’s stupid idea, agreed over too many beers, is to take some olde camper van to Venice so my sister Karen and her husband Graham can drive it back.
1975 VW Camper Van
Anyone that knows my hatred of driving will realise it took a lot of beer to convince me to do it. Hopefully the Duchess will drive and I will navigate. What can possibly go wrong? Well apart from my gps has just broken and the car alarm keeps going off. Oh and everything overtakes us.
The van was built in 1975, goes about 30 miles an hour, and has a steering wheel the size of a dustbin lid. Turning a corner is a bit like doing a hoola hoop exercise. Well the Duchess needs to loose a bit of weight.
Channel tunnel to France
We set off from Maidstone, Kent, on a sunny Friday morning, the world is a happy place, we are happy bunny rabbits, looking forward to lots of red French wine later. Through the tunnel and off to a sleepy village about 30Kms down the road. The main drive begins tomorrow. Ah smell those flowers, look at the lovely birds and animals in the fields.
Slow on Motorway
On the motorway we get overtaken by everything and people wave at us. I thought they were having a go at us for driving so slow, so I was giving them the middle finger (And other rude stuff) and swearing at them (As you do in Souff London), until I was told they are acknowledging and embracing the classic cultural of the VW camper. Whoops.
First stop on our way to Venice is a sleepy village named Helfaut, (Hell is prob a good word for the place!) just outside Saint Omer. Nice campsite, albeit we are the only people there camping as all the others are the semi resident, caravan owners.
Helfaut Saint Omer France
Quick walk around, nothing there. Quick walk into local village, all appears not only shut but shut down. Even the supermarket has closed its doors for the last time. We find a ‘hello hello’ type bar, then look for food.
After about an hour of everything being shut we find a patisserie and there is a cheese and tomato pizza. Back to site, couple of pre-dinner drinks in the campsite bar with the toothless locals, and back to our van to tuck into the pizza, that being the only food available. Luckily for me, unlucky for The Duchess, the tree hugging veggie, it also has ham in it. Fantastic. She had 2 tins of tuna we brought with us.
I think on this trip, instead of hotel views I will take photos of campsite toilets. The ones here are fairly open, and er, dirty.
Tomorrow, Saturday we shall drive all day in order to miss the UK Royal wedding!
VW for midgets
I am not sure if in 1975 people were built smaller! I know I was smaller but that was me growing up. I say this because the bed is built for midgets, possibly due to the current owners (And midgets) Karen and Graham. Either way dangling my toes in the chemical toilet, whilst good for my nails, is not a pleasant thing. Both me and The Duchess wake at various times of the night. My back hurts, and The Duchess has the hump, I assume because, not only is it Friday night domestic violence night, but also her ‘special night’ (The 2 are not connected!) and nothing can happen in the midget camper van.
Off we go
We are now awake and get up, and after a while of back stretching exercises, off on the road.
Changing gear in the bus is a bit like stirring a bucket of worms. To change into reverse unless you have arms about 7 feet long is difficult.
All is good until we stop the car in the petrol station.
And we stop!
We try to start the car, nothing! The locals are saying hello with their horns. Again nothing. We have an ignition light. I get the assistance of 5 dutch motor bike riders and the bumping procedure is undertaken, we start. We park up again, then nothing! More motorcyclists, more bumping, and we are off. Decision taken to get as far as we can, and stay in a hotel tonight, all whilst keeping the engine running. Even when re-fuelling. If in the event we stall or turn the engine off we shall be in bother.
Then the VW Camper Van gear stick top knob falls off in the heat.
At this rate I will be banned from the VW camper owners association. Oh dear what a shame!
Yet again everything is overtaking us, and giving us the real finger this time, as we hold everyone up going up the mountains.
We sometimes achieve 35 miles an hour going down hill (The whole trip is ‘going downhill’).
We get almost to the Swiss border and find a lovely looking hotel on a website. Oh how they lie! It appears to be an asylum centre for children. We debate about sleeping in the van for a millisecond.
Stop near Swiss Border
We stall the van across the entrance of the hotel. Cue 17 asylum seekers to help push the van into position. However we did find a nice restaurant. The room was ‘cosy’ and the toilet smelt of sick.
It is also about 10 feet from the local airport, at least The Duchess had the earth move that night, every 90 seconds!
We initially let ourselves into ‘our’ room and there are startled Dutch people already in it. I did note there were 4 of them in a 2 person room, swinging party perhaps? I am told by The Duchess to behave, and no, she doesn’t want to go swinging! We change rooms.
Stunning hotel views as normal.
Close to Switzerland
Just to recap, in a drunken evening The Duchess and I agreed to take the 1975 VW Camper Van to Treviso Airport, Venice where my sister Karen and husband Graham can fly in, and drive home.
But the starter does not work.
I call Graham and he tells me there was a problem before with both starter motor and ignition switch.Now he tells me!! Just leave it for 2 hours and all will be ok.
We awaken and to be fair the hotel was awash with children on a football tour, not asylum seekers, but the hotel was still a toilet.
We pack, get into van, turn switch. Nothing, ningun, zilch!
Graham tells me to get underneath and hit the starter motor with a hammer. Even he thought this a bad idea for me.
DIY = Don’t Involve Yourself.
We call RAC European cover. I ring and they tell me the car has not been taxed since 1982. Therefore no cover! Various emails fly around and we have cover. Cue, Philpe the French Mechanic, and VW enthusiast.
French Mechanic, and VW enthusiast
He was all over the car taking photos, and loving it. I was going to give the blooming thing to him. He gets underneath, avec wire, it starts. Gives me the wire and tries to go home. I point out that if I turn it off it wont start. Answer is, “dont turn it off”. I turn it off, he realises it is the ignition switch. He then hot wires the car, shows me how to do it, takes a few more photos of the interior and he is off.
Hot wiring VW Camper van
We set off to the Swiss border. There is still a Swiss police presence at the Swiss/French border. We stop to get a motorway pass and stall the engine. We get the pass.
Swiss Border police
Swiss police are hovering around admiring the VW, (Which of course I told them I restored). I get the ‘hot wire’ out and work under the dashboard. Armed Swiss police are now showing an unhealthy interest in me ‘hot wiring’ a car that I don’t own. A few questions are asked, The Duchess shows off her legs and talks about when she had one of those big guns, they smile and ask if we want a push to the side to sort the engine out. I suggest a bump start. Result being we have 3 armed Swiss police officers bump starting the VW across the border. Engine starts, we wave, they wave. Happy days!
Through Switzerland we go. Even did the 17KM Gotthard Tunnel, through The Alps. Although we were worried we might stall in the middle of it. We did have the indignity of a car and caravan overtaking us!
Stopped at a lovely hotel just outside of Milan. We had a view of what looked like Chernobyl outside.
Pizza, red wine, bed. Fantastic. Nearly there.
Well here we are in Milan, stayed at a right posh hotel, and now we need to move on.
The thought of hot wiring any further cars in the near future is not on the agenda. Therefore we have decided that what was going to be a few days around Lake Garda has lost all it’s appeal and we need to go straight to the long term car park at Treviso Airport. The van has only been turned off twice in the last 2 days.
Whilst The Duchess is doing ‘girlie cleaning’ stuff in the back of the van, I am trying to remember which wire I have to cross to start it. Assuming if I get the wrong wire the classic VW will be a pile of old metal after the fire brigade have been (Oh how I wish, at this moment). The van starts, we are off. Normal rules apply, don’t turn engine off until we get there.
The Duchess tells me she is disappointed that after being brought up in Souff London, and going to Catford Boys School (Leaving with no qualifications, not even hot wiring) I should be great at starting other people’s cars without a key. Good point!
Treviso Airport Long term parking
The trip to the airport car park is uneventful. However, we get to the car park and to my horror it is one of those ones where you leave the key, and the attendant drives the car/van to its space on the complex. Can you see a problem here? This could be fun, everyone I have spoken to on this trip has spoken limited English. I wonder what ” Can you hot wire a car?” is in Italian. What is Hot wire in foreign?
Lets get Google translate out. I type in, “To use this van you have to hot wire it” get the Italian, then google translate into English to check the translation. It tells me, I quote ” To use this van you have to understand hot” Oh great!
Once the staff realise there is a problem they wheel out the 12 year old assistant. Fantastic he speaks English. I explain what has happened, “Just now outside the car park the ignition switch broke, I am so sorry, but it has just happened!” If I tell him it happened 600 miles ago, 3 countries away, they may not take it. As I am not allowed to drive the van to the final parking place I accompany the 12 year old. After telling me he has never driven such a van, especially as the steering wheel is the wrong side and the pedals are back to front, off we go. This could be fun. He stalls the car about 15 times, me hot wiring it whilst he drives. Eventually get into place and all is good.
Made it to Venice!
We are here in Venice until Sunday, on the beach, enjoy! They have an odd brand of red wine here.
Hitler Red Wine.
I just hope Karen and Graham don,t get ill and we have to drive the thing back!
Trabzon, Turkey to Baku, Azerbaijan by land. April 2018.
This trip was changed quite substantially at the last minute. The plan was to travel with Madventure,https://madventure.co.uk/ an overland expedition company that we have used in the past, and are very, very, good. The initial plan was to fly to Trabzon and pick up one of their tours from Trabzon, through Turkey, Georgia, etc to Almaty, Kazakhstan. This trip had to be cancelled by the company due to lack of interest. Sue and I had already bought the tickets to Trabzon so we decided to travel to Baku, Azerbaijan under our own ‘steam’. This proved an easy task and the trip is set out below.
London to Trabzon
So today’s stupid idea is to fly to the back end of Turkey, and get a bus, horse and cart, donkey, Sue carrying me, etc, through Georgia to Baku in Azerbaijan (Where?). Then fly to Kiev, Ukraine, for a few relaxing days of eating cabbage, then to the UK. The bonus is that Formula One is in Baku when we get there, so a chance to see the race and catch up on a few old work colleagues. So fully equipped with visas, weird money, and a map the size of a postage stamp, off we go. Will keep you informed. First over night stop today is the East Ham Bull, in Turkey.
What can possibly go wrong?
Flying from Stansted with Pegasus airlines. Pegasus ticked all the boxes, not quite Ryanair, definitely not Emirates but we arrived safely in Istanbul, Turkey. We got a taxi to Miracle Paradise Asia Hotel https://www.miracleistanbulasia.com/ close to Istanbul airport. We were to be there for one night and having been to Istanbul a number of times before we didn’t want to trek too far from the airport. Staying at the Miracle Paradise Hotel in one of their little suites was nice. This hotel is clearly a stop over type hotel, and although the staff are nice and helpful there is an air of a transit hotel, a restaurant and bar without much personality. As is the case we went for a wander. You leave the hotel, turning right, go up the hill to signs of civilisation. I wanted a beer, but alas I had to wait until I got back to the hotel. We found a very Smokey café, yes it is still allowed in Turkey, plus smoking the apple tobacco on the Hookah pipes. Great food but no alcohol. There is a building site at the top of the hill where wild dogs roam, and one took an instant dislike to Sue and bit her trousers on her bum. Fortunately their teeth didn’t go through the trousers, but just be aware of the local dogs. Back to the hotel for Efes beer and White wine!
Awake to grey sky and spots of rain. When we arrived here it was dark, but I look out of the hotel this morning to be greeted by a green pool. I won’t be swimming in there today!
Swimming pool Miracle Paradise Hotel Istanbul
Mid afternoon we make our way to the airport and a second Air Pegasus flight to Trabzon. About 2 months earlier Trabzon Airport was the site where an Air Pegasus flight slipped off the edge of the runway and hung precariously on a hill. This could be fun.
In Tabzon we stayed in Hotel Horon for a couple of nights, which is located on a busy cobbled street in the heart of the town.
Hotel Horon view
Lots of bakeries, coffee and smoking cafes, eateries of all sorts and a few bars selling beer.Food is very cheap in Trabzon, it is not really a tourist area. The plan is to travel to Batumi in Georgia so we started to ask around the best way to get there. It appears the best way to get Batumi is by coach. We leave tomorrow so have a few beers in a local bar. Mistake number 1 of the holiday!
A bar we went to got raided by Trabzons finest. The Trabzon Police! I said to the Duchess “look they are searching those ruffians.” Trouble was they searched me as well. No women got searched, well I think with the Turkish culture there weren’t too many women in the bar. They then wanted all our ID cards, we said we don’t have any, both policemen looked at each other confused, shrugged their shoulders and walked to the next table. They stayed there for ages interviewing people, not us though. Then I needed a wee. I indicated I was going to the toilet and the man with the big gun indicated he was coming with me! I said “in London if I invite a man into the public toilets I usually buy him a drink first” he smiled, fortunately didn’t have a clue what I was saying and in we went. Have you ever tried having a wee with a man you don’t know standing at the side of you, watching, whilst rubbing his gun? I hope it was a gun! Anyway after a few minutes I started and all was good.
Next we travel to Batumi, Georgia. Yes there is a country called Georgia for my American readers!
Now we have said goodbye to Mrs Donna Kebab and her Shishter, Koftee, and now we are in a land, full of happy people, cheap beer, and Brussels sprouts. Xx
Leave hotel and enjoy coffee before getting picked up for our trip to Batumi. It is always reassuring to see cracked windscreens on all the public service vehicles, but no bullet holes on this occasion. After an uneventful journey, hugging the coast road for three hours. All very painless until we get to the border of Georgia, which is about 20 Kms from Batumi. In my broken (Very broken) Turkish with the aid of Google Translate I find out that the bus, although it say Batumi on the front, is wrong, and this is the end of the journey! Well I am just glad we didn’t leave our stuff on the bus whilst we attended to Georgian Turkish Customs. Be aware of this little difficulty. Welcome to Georgia. I just hope all the signs are not this confusing!
Many men in leather jackets surround us at the border exit, “want Taxi?.” We eventually find a man with a badge so hopefully he is a taxi driver. Yes he is a taxi driver and is a very nice man. His family come from North London so we have to talk about Arsenal, Totten Ham Spurs and Cameroon (I think he meant Prime Minister Cameron) Off to the Hotel Divan we go, which is our home for the next three nights. Spotted a few Thai massage parlours so I shall try to leave Sue behind!! Wandered around a few cobbled streets.
Cobbled Batumi Georgia
Sightseeing Batumi, Georgia
Some of the shops seem to be very poor just like charity shops in content and then you find an expensive boutique. Both Sheraton and Marriott hotels are spending a lot of money on refurbishment. There is one tall building with a Ferris wheel 3/4 of the way up.
Ferris wheel Batumi
Eventually found a ‘pub museum’ which sold real ales or sort of, and then we went to a very nice restaurant, El Canapé, Batumi for dinner. Entertained by male singer or was he just doing a bit of karaoke? I just wish I knew what the bill comprised of. Even Google Translate cant help me on this one!
Le Canope Batumi
Duchess for Sale!
FOR SALE The Duchess! Very good condition, 63K, own teeth, been around the block a few times hence dodgy undercarriage, test drive available. No reasonable offer refused. Buyer collects from Georgia.
Why! I hear you cry, well quite simply her eyesight is going. She likes to have a weekly shower and today, besides being domestic violence Friday, is also Big Sue shower day. She had only been in there about 30 seconds when the phone rang, it was hotel reception asking me if everything was ok. It seems that there is a shower cord in the shower cubicle (My shower day being Sunday I hadn’t seen it) which apart from being red, with a big red knob on the end marked ’emergency assist cord’ was not noticeable at all. The Duchess thought it was to turn the shower on. Whoops.
I did point out to the receptionist that my Grandmother was getting olde, and should have gone to Spec Savers. They didn’t get my joke!
Tree Hugging food
Her Highness, being a tree hugging veggie, ordered a plate of vegetables which helpfully came with beef, I told her it was from the ‘beef plant’ similar to the ‘egg plant.’ She didn’t believe me, and another plate of food for me. No wonder she is skinny.
Railway Station, Batumi,
Off for a long walk to railway station, as we want to travel to Tbilisi on Sunday. It was not the most scenic of hikes but at least the sun struggled through the clouds for some of it. Having eventually found the ticket office we were unable to buy the tickets without passports. We go back to the hotel and buy tickets online. First class 46 GEL’s, about £15 for what will be nearly a 5 hour journey. More exploration in the evening to an Irish pub. Very unimpressive. Bit more of a stroll into the unknown to get to curry shop. It seemed that every time we asked for something someone then popped out to do some shopping, ie bottle of beer, bottle of water and other groceries required to make up a curry sauce. The wait was worth it and the food was very nice. Couldn’t find anywhere else to pop into for a nightcap so straight to hotel for wine, water and internet.
Zedazeni Georgian Beer
Beer here, Zedazeni Georgian Beer is lovely, proper lager. It’s about 6% proof and very, very, nice.
Sightseeing in Batumi, Georgia
Yuk an even greyer day than yesterday. Very low cloud. At least we’re in time for breakfast! Waste a couple of hours at the hotel due to rain and then take the ten minute cable car ride to Argo mountain for a panoramic view of Batumi. The view from the cable car can be best described as ‘adequate’ if you want to fly over the top of Tower blocks.
Cable Car Batumi Argo Mountain
Not the best view in the world but hey ho! Decide to walk back passing some charismatic cemetery plots en route.
As we start to walk down we meet what we think is impending doom. We can hear howling, and see wild dogs running around. This may not have been such a great idea.I decided that I would arm myself with bricks in case the little loves attack us.
They didn’t and I looked very silly walking down the road, armed like Rambo which is now crowded with families about to visit Granny in the cemetery. I meant well.
Back in town we find a very nice square and manage to have our first people watching experience whilst drinking beer and coke. Wonderful. Thai massage later. She certainly managed to get a few things clicked back into place! Quick meal and off to bed.
In the morning we travel to Tbilisi, Georgia.
Early start for the 730 train to Tbilisi. Arrived in style at the station, in the hotel London Black/Maroon cab. Georgia railway takes us to Tbilisi. Nothing much to report except the onboard toilet was overflowing two hours into the five hour journey. Lovely!
Rolling hills, green fields, a few cows and goats made up the scenery. All topped off by a fast flowing river which we seemed to follow for the duration. Many of the stations we passed reminded me of the Trans-Siberia train journey.
By taxi to Hotel Renaissance,Viktor Gabiskiria Street 5, Tbilisi, Georgia . As the crow flies it’s very close to the few sights but up hill.
View from Hotel Renaissance Tbilisi
Hotel Renaissance, Tbilisi
We’re virtually opposite the biggest church/cathedral in Tbilisi. This hotel has excellent views but is a long way up if you are disabled. We walk down the path close to the hotel and find the open top bus and go on the eleven stop ride with not a lot to see, but we did discover a funicular railway to a high point and a fortress which we climbed after the bus ride.
View from Tbilisi Fortress Tbilisi
Potatoes, onions, mushrooms and bread make up a very late lunch. We stay for a sunset drink and get taxi back up the hill as the route by foot is not the most direct or well lit! Lots of traffic and police greet us and we have to leave the taxi as the road has been closed. Don’t know why. Into hotel via local corner shop for essential supplies of beer, wine and crisps.
Today’s view. Well at least we can see the aerial. Where do we find these hotel Views!
View from Hotel Renaissance Tbilisi
Today the Bird took me up the ‘Funicular’.Ooh Matron!Me being scared of heights I could have more fun at a FUNeral than a TbilisiFUNicular. It was terrible. Apparently great views, I don’t know I had my eyes shut!
Lagodekhi, Georgia Tomorrow we are off to the border town of Lagodekhi. First thing is we need to find out how to get to Lagodekhi, or ‘LegoLand’ as the locals call it.We are told there is a bus that goes to Legoland from the main Tbilisi bus terminus. We eventually find the minibus depot for our proposed journey to Lagodekhi in the morning. No ticket office, no information, no English writing to indicate destinations of the vehicles. No good. We are approached by taxi driver, Tamasn, who offers to do the journey for 80 local. We take his number to possibly liaise later. We continue our walk back to the tourist side of town and I speak to numerous taxi drivers who offer varying tariffs for the journey from 150-250 GEL’s.
More Tbilisi sightseeing
I thought the rest of Georgia was boring, then I had a look at the Wikipedia write up for Lagodekhi. Known for its variety of tree species! 2 nights there WOOD be long enough.
Off we go on the funicular to the National Park where all rides are closed for winter repair and refurbishment. We also sample wine ice creams. Very nice. After a short break for beer and wine we return to hotel and ask staff to call our taxi driver, Tamasn, to book him for the drive in the morning. All done. ‘Mad Max’ is our cab driver back to the hotel. We walk back into town to new area that we found in our afternoon stroll. Glass of wine and then to restaurant for dinner and Svetlana singing as the cabaret.
This restaurant is at the bottom of the fortress, this area has a small river running through it and quirky old architecture.
Cab home. Lovely Day.
Manana we travel from Tbilisi to Lagodekhi.
Tamasn, our Georgian taxi driver arrived promptly at 1100. Two cracks in front windscreen the entire length, no seat belts in the back (I think we were lucky to have a back!), very wonky front seats, fuelled by gas but the car got us to Lagodekhi in a couple of hours.
The journey itself was fine, just a couple of hours on good roads. As we went along we saw the mountains in the distance that form the Russian Border. We stop for some ‘gas’ in the back of beyond. I see the car in front has no window, and is gaffer taped up, how else!
The town really is a small affair. There are 1 and a half hotels in the town, the full hotel is a dung hole and we are staying at the ‘half.’
Hotel Hereti Lagodekhi
Hotel Hereti would have been wonderful many years ago but now it is in need of a lot of care and money. Oh dear what a toilet!
Hereti Hotel Lagodekhi
The top floors do not have any windows and we are the only guests. The wind blows through the corridor. Most of the rooms appear to be undergoing some refurbishment, long overdue. For example, the balcony on the top floor has weeds and small bushes growing, window panes are broken, doors are open to the outside elements. However our room is clean, quite big really with a sofa and two arm chairs, fridge – a little suite in fact. There are some nuts and weird stuff for us as a welcome gift.
The wallpaper is peeling off the walls and the TV Is the size of a postage stamp.
Living in a Tower Block
It is a bit like living in a council tower block, I might throw the sofa out the window. Oh I forgot, the heating doesn’t work so I went to bed in my coat. Seriously there are radiators but they are off. It seems the old lady and old man that run the place only speak Russian, no Georgian or English. We have google translate and off we go. A short stroll confirms our thoughts that there is not a lot going on but the restaurant we find does come up trumps later in the day. Sue has weird fish and salad, I have some kebab type thing with chips. Beer and pear lemonade help to wash it down.Everything shuts around 7pm. Including the single restaurant in the town. By 8.30 we’re back at the hotel. We are the only people on the streets, the person in the restaurant was nice enough but I think she just wondered why we were there! So did we! We were to be here for 2 nights but will leave tomorrow and cross the border into Azerbaijan. The rationale for deciding to move onto Azerbaijan in the morning is the hotel is slightly better, we hope.
Whilst walking around the town/village/hamlet yesterday, and getting looked at weirdly (As though, why are there visitors to our town/village/hamlet?) we bump into a funeral possession. As the car drove past we noticed the open coffin which was carrying an elderly lady sporting a mauve head scarf on her way to be planted. Sue did say how nice the dead woman’s scarf was. It put me off my food.
TV is culturally different, Perhaps I should just embrace the culture more.
What a difference a day makes! 24 little hours, yes you know the tune, well it is true!!!Couple of hot drinks in the hotel Hereti hotel room and then seek out a taxi for the border.
The border is about 5 minutes from Lagodekhi A very smart red car takes us to the border.
We get dropped off about 200 metres from the border point, and you then walk, avec luggage, to the customs post. We walk across a bridge, past barb wire and rather scary looking men in uniform with big guns. However to be fair they are very pleasant, just a bit scary. There are a number of lorries awaiting the crossing. Georgia Customs is all very smooth, and we walk through no-mans land to Azerbaijan where we meet very friendly, helpful people and successfully get into the country. Funnily enough we are the only people on foot, but to be fair you couldn’t be a lot further from civilisation if you tried.
Hotel Qubek Balaken
Short taxi ride to Hotel Qubek Balakan. What a difference. The manager took a liking to Big Sue’s long legs and we got an upgrade to a deluxe suite.
I would have been happy with the standard room but this is lovely with a clear view of the snow capped mountains (Russian Border).
Hotel Qubek Balaken
Checked in early.The only person that speaks any English here is the hotel manager. That is it. Not that I expect anyone to talk my language. But it does get fun when you get the menu with no pictures, in Azerbaijan, and I am with a tree hugging vegetarian. I think someone has turned on the summer button as we have sunshine, blue sky and warmth. We walk along the high street and discover supermarkets, wine shops, atm’s, cafes and diner type restaurants.
Lost in translation
As the menu is all in squiggles, for lunch Sue opts for chy (black tea) I ask for a kofte and instead a meatball soup arrives with my beer.I did ask Sue not to order her ‘normal’ skinny latte, with low fat soya milk and judogi berries, as this may cause a difficulty. She did though mention she was gluten free and we had a few strange looks. The waiter got a screwdriver out, I think that one got lost in translation.