Category Archives: Hotels

A to Z of Balconies – Iceland

You don’t see many balconies in Iceland, neither the weather or the landscape is conducive. This one looks rather precarious, a good job that alcohol is prohibitively expensive.

Approximately three-quarters of Iceland is completely barren of vegetation and plant life consists mainly of grassland. The only tree native to the island is the northern birch but most of these are only a memory now because humans of course have damaged the delicate ecosystem as these birch forests were heavily exploited over the centuries for firewood and timber. Deforestation resulted in a loss of critical top soil due to erosion, greatly reducing the ability of forests to re-establish themselves. Today there are very few trees in only a few isolated areas of the island and none where we were driving.

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A to Z of Balconies – Furadouro in Portugal

The next stage in our journey was to the beach resort of Furadouro and we took the train from Coimbra to Ovar.

On arrival needed to travel about three miles west to the seaside town and rather unsure and completely disorientated we broke our no taxi rule for a second time in four days and hitched a ride to our hotel, the Furadouro Spa.

The taxi dropped us off outside reception and we went inside to register where on account of a nippy wind coming in off the sea the staff were in thick jackets and expressed surprise that we were wearing our summer clothes when, in their opinion, it was so cold. We explained about being from England and living on the North Sea East Coast.

After we had approved our accommodation and settled in, good but not as good as the last three in Lisbon, Tomar and Coimbra we stepped outside to take a look at Furadouro. This didn’t take very long, but we found a restaurant that caught our eye for later on and a nice pavement bar to have a beer and then we made our way to the seafront.

There was a strong wind blowing, towering Atlantic breakers and red flags flapping furiously, rather unnecessary in my opinion because only a crazy person would go into a sea as mad as that. Only half crazy we went into the sea but only up to our ankles with an occasional waist high splash and we walked the beach for about two miles or so.

Later we found a back street fish restaurant overflowing with local people so on the basis that this is always a good sign we requested a table We were having a lot of bad luck with restaurant closures in Portugal that was for sure!
and had a first class meal for a very reasonable price and we agreed, as we always do, that we would come back tomorrow. On the way out we attempted to book a table but the waiter told us they were closed now for an end of summer vacation.

The plan for our three days at the seaside in Furadouro was to take a break from travelling and the trains, the drag-bags and the packing and unpacking and to spend some time relaxing on the beach.

Unfortunately our plan was scuppered by the weather because when we woke the next day there was a thick sea mist which would have challenged anything that the North Sea can throw at us back home.

Trying as best we could to be optimistic about the situation we hoped that it would be blown away by the time we had finished breakfast but it was still there like a damp shroud when we left the hotel and ventured onto the streets.
The wind was raging and wild, someone told me later that it was something to do with Hurricane Irma on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and that may have been true, but then again maybe not.

As we walked along the seafront Kim continually complained about how cold it was and although I disagreed with her I have to retrospectively confess that secretly I was rather cold myself. Naturally I just shivered in silence but didn’t share this information.

There was a scything wind ripping in off the sea like the grim reaper, a dangerously high surf and a churning ocean like horses of the Camargue making a charge out of the rolling, twisting waves that relentlessly barreled and pounded the gritty shoreline.

By mid morning it was getting even worse so we finally admitted defeat, took our swimming costumes and towels back to the hotel and tried to think of some alternative entertainment for the day.

The wind continued to buffet the seafront promenade as we walked back to the hotel, it carried on howling throughout the night and it was still blowing a gale in the morning when we left the hotel after breakfast.

 

Sleepless in Pisa at The Royal Victoria Hotel

In March 2006 we spent four days in Tuscany.  We used the railways to get around and stayed in the city of Pisa in what turned out to be an incredibly noisy hotel…

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On This Day – Amsterdam and The Red Light District

Life is becoming rather like that film ‘Groundhog Day’ as I continue to search through the archives.

On 16th March I was in Amsterdam in the Netherlands…

The Amsterdam Red Light District covers a large area of the oldest part of the city.

The buildings are tall, narrow and crowded together with a distinctive glow of fluorescent red lights above the red-fringed window parlours from behind which the scantily clad ladies of the night invite customers with a rattle on the glass and a come to me pout and provocative pose.

All rather like I imagine Satan’s front room to look like!

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Balcony Flowers in Granada

“And thank God for home-sweet things, a green and friendly hill,
And red geraniums aflame upon my window sill.” – Martha Haskell Clark

Better off at a Berni

A week or so ago I wrote a post about Black Forest Gateau.

Whilst preparing the post I was distracted for a short while as I remembered occasionally eating out in the 1970s at a Berni Inn.

Berni Inn was a national chain of pub-restaurants founded just one year after the end of war time rationing in 1955 by Italian brothers Frank and Aldo Berni  and  was based on the American concept of dining out. The production line model – cheap, clean, consistent and quick.

The Wimpy Bar restaurant chain opened in the UK at the same time but I have never been a fan I have to say. McDonalds and Burger King didn’t arrive until 1974.  Pizza Hut turned up in 1980.

After giving the matter great consideration and a sleepless night I genuinely cannot remember eating out until at least the mid 1970s.

We always ate at home mostly for two reasons, Mum and Dad were not especially well off and rather crucially there was nowhere to eat out even if they could. For twenty-five years after World War Two had ended there were very few restaurants in the UK available or affordable for family dining and children weren’t allowed in pubs anyway. I have seen the period described as the ‘lost generation of English restaurants’.

Frank and Aldo marketed the Berni Inns as somewhere to go for a reasonably priced and hearty meal with a reliable product in a mock Tudor decorated dining room that was suggested might be a better experience than eating at home.

I am fairly certain that if I suggested such a thing to Kim then I would get a Geordie Kiss  but lucky for him he seems to have got away with it!

In 1972 I went out for a meal with three pals to celebrate leaving school and going off to University but except for the odd pub chicken or scampi in a basket meal after that I really don’t think that I went to a restaurant again until after 1975 when I had left university, got a job and a car and a girlfriend and discovered the Berni Inn.

If you were out to impress this was the place to take a girlfriend on a first date, or later on, if the date worked out successfully, to any sort of subsequent celebration or anniversary.

If you of my generation and ever dined at a Berni Inn then for sure you will remember the most popular combination on the menu – Prawn Cocktail, Steak Garni and Black Forest Gateau possibly with a bottle of German Blue Nun white wine. This combination was voted the UK’s favourite meal option right through the 1970s and 80s.

So, why am I telling you all this?  Well having brought up the subject I shared memories with Kim who also has fond memories of the time and we decided to make a Berni Inn tribute meal for Valentine’s Day.

But we updated it just a bit. We started with the prawn cocktail but added the avocado to the dish. The avocado was introduced to the UK in 1968 but wasn’t immediately popular and it wasn’t a part of a Berni Inn prawn cocktail and I am fairly certain that they didn’t add a liberal sprinkle of cayenne pepper either.

We slightly reinterpreted the traditional main course as well and substituted fried onion rings for the garden peas. I was pleased about that because to be honest I am not much of a fan of frozen garden peas and never been very successful at eating them without scattering them all over the table.  We also had oven baked chips instead of frozen.

Frozen oven chips were introduced into the UK by the Canadian company McCain  in 1968 and very quickly they were supplying supermarkets and the catering industry across the country.  I am certain that they were used in a Berni Inn main course.  Most places served frozen oven chips in the 1970s.

The first McCain processing plant was in Scarborough which must have been a bit of a shock to the people of Yorkshire who make the finest ‘proper’ chips in the country, maybe even the World.

It remains their UK Head Office.

Even today If you eat a McDonald’s or a Burger King french fry then it will almost certainly have come from Scarborough and that is how Yorkshire keeps control of the chip.

Finally for dessert we passed on the chore of making a Black Forest Gateau because there was no way we could eat a full one between us and Kim presented a chocolate fudge brownie with raspberries as an alternative.

So now we will have to decide where to eat next weekend. Maybe a ‘Little Chef’ Olympic All Day Full English breakfast.

On This Day – Train Ride In The Black Forest

About ten years ago we got into the habit of going annually to Germany, specifically to the Black Forest in search of snow. On February 2nd 2010 we were staying in a lovely hotel in the town of Offenburg…

On the evening before the train ride the restaurant was especially busy and we had to share a table with a German couple from Friedrichshafen in a side room just off the main dining area.  Because they were so busy the service was slow which meant that we drank more wine than usual and after the German couple had left us to ourselves I started to poke around the bric-a-brac and the ornaments and then foolishly started to fiddle with an impressive large cuckoo clock hanging on the wall behind the table.

Immediately I wished I hadn’t touched those cone things that drive the mechanism because it unexpectedly whirred into life and out popped the cuckoo which unfortunately turned out to be a rather loud cuckoo.  And then as the chain headed non stop towards the floor it popped out several more times, each time announcing itself with its little song that just seemed to get louder and louder.  The doors were banging, the birds were tweeting, the chains were rattling and I wondered if to stop it I might have to throttle it.

This impromptu and unscheduled entertainment seemed to amuse the people on the bus tour who were giggling and laughing and I just wanted the thing to get back in its box and shut up.  There was no such luck and the clock went through twenty-four movements in under two minutes and believe me that is an awful lot of cuckoos.  Then just as I was giving up all hope the thing  thankfully finally exhausted itself and it stopped and with me red faced with embarrassment we slipped out of the restaurant and went back to our room before I could get up to any more mischief.

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On This Day – The Blue Boats and Doors of Essaouira

In 2016 our post Christmas travel was to Morocco. On 25th January we were in the port of Essaouira on the Atlantic Coast…

It was once the most important ports in West Africa where there was a monopoly in trade with Europe for spices, precious metals, sugar and molasses and in the slave trade to the Americas. Later it was overtaken in importance by Casablanca and Agadir but today it remains a lively, thriving fishing port and the local centre of the boat building industry.

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On This Day – Essaouira in Morocco

On this day in 2016 I was in the Moroccan city of Essaouira on the Atlantic coast…

I really need to be careful about making bold statements because upon returning from Morocco in December 2011 I said that I would never return there.  This is what I said…

“I enjoyed the experience of Fez, the Riad was excellent, the food was good, the sightseeing was unexpected and we were treated with courtesy and respect by everyone associated with the Riad but I have seen Morocco now and I think it may be some time before I return to North Africa as we resume our travels through Europe.”

Well, now I have to eat my words because our first overseas trip in 2016 was to Essouria on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.

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On This Day – Vikings and Museums

Sure enough, in the morning, it was still steadily raining and over the first cup of tea of the day there developed an awful realisation that this might turn into a ‘killing off time’ sort of day. We took our time getting ready and then stretched breakfast out for as long as we realistically could and discussed our rather limited choices.

As we lamented the weather and talked through the options however the rain started to ease off and by half past ten, although it had not stopped completely, it was at last possible to go outside and only get slightly damp rather than completely drenched.

It was another depressing morning, the city crippled under the weight of a leaden grey sky, as we set out in a northerly direction along the black granite coast towards Huagesund’s most famous visitor attraction, the Haroldshaugen Norges Riksmonument a mile or so outside of the city.

We joined a handful of local people in brightly coloured ‘North Face’ Goretex jackets and stout hiking boots who were much better equipped for this sort of weather than us and were wandering along the meandering coast line rough cinder path stopping occasionally for no good reason other than to stare out beyond the boulders into the grey, unwelcoming vast expanse of nothingness that is the North Sea. Little wonder the Vikings sailed to England, it must have been the tenth century equivalent of Brits flying to Benidorm.

We found the monument and it struck me as rather strange for an Anglo-Saxon to be visiting a monument that commemorates the Viking Age and a starting off point for longships full of heathen bullies on their way across the North Sea to rape and pillage a part of England where I now live.

The Vikings were Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe and the North Atlantic from the late eighth to the mid eleventh century.

The traditional view of the Vikings as violent brutes are part true, part fable and, although if these guys paid a visit it is probably true to say that you probably wouldn’t want to put a welcome mat by the front door or get the best china out, no one can be absolutely sure of the accurate ratio in their character of unwelcome guest or charming visitor and popular representations of these men in horned helmets remain for now highly clichéd.

Haraldshaugen was erected during the millennial celebration of Norway’s unification into one kingdom under the rule of King Harald I and was unveiled on July 18th 1872 . Truthfully I found it a bit disappointing I have to say, a seventeen metre high granite obelisk surrounded by a memorial stones in a Stonehenge sort of way, next to an empty deserted car park, a closed visitor centre and an empty vending machine but I’m sure I am being unfair because places such as these are not really meant to be visited on a cold, damp day in January.

On the way back it started to rain again so we quickened our pace and returned to the hotel and made for the tea machine and the television lounge. Twelve o’clock was checking out time so we completed the formalities and then wondered what to do. The city museum was open from midday today but I couldn’t persuade Kim to step out in the drizzle for a second time so I left her in the comfy chair next to the log fire that was crackling in the grate and went back out by myself.

I wasn’t expecting a great deal I have to say but it was something to do for an hour or so and I walked back and went inside the rather grey and boxy utilitarian building. I

t wasn’t very busy and a young museum attendant greeted me in Norwegian which meant nothing to me of course so I just said that I would like to visit the museum. ‘You speak English’ she asked, ‘I am English’ I replied and she gave me a quizzical look that asked what I was doing there so I felt obliged to offer an explanation about cheap flight opportunities and never been to Norway before etc. and she seemed genuinely pleased to see me and in perfect English explained about the museum and suggested that I might find it nice to return in the summer.

As it turned out I wasn’t disappointed by the museum at all and a spent an interesting hour looking around the exhibits. As I left the museum attendant reminded me to come back in Summer, preferably in August when there is an annual herring festival – a three hundred and fifty metre long table along Haraldsgate with 101 species of herring to sample.  The World’s longest herring table.  That sounded like fun.

I walked back to the hotel where we watched television and counted down the clock until waffle time and shortly before three o’clock the batter arrived and we had a snack just ahead of the taxi arriving at quarter past.

This seems unfair but I wasn’t desperately sad about leaving Norway. Unfair because Haugesund is probably a much better place to visit in the summer when the days are longer and the place enjoys relatively good weather so I think we will have to return at a different time of the year.

By a mocking twist of fate as we sat waiting for the flight the clouds broke up and at the end of daylight hours a blue sky opened up to greet the plane and the next set of visitors enjoying a cheap flight bargain to a place they have never heard of.