Category Archives: Hotels

Entrance Tickets – The Village of Peretellada in Catalonia

We were heading for the village of Peratallada which it turned out is a heavily visited tourist bus destination for holidaymakers having an afternoon away from the beaches but it was quiet this afternoon as we pulled into the car park and grudgingly paid the entrance fee before walking into the village.

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On This Day – Guadix in Spain

In the previous post I told you that I visited Granada but stayed outside of the city in the village of Romilla. We regretted that so two years later returned and stayed in an apartment in the City centre.

After three days in Granada we left the city on 25th April 2018 and drove to the town of Guadix…

Guadix was quiet, almost as quiet as Puerta de Don Fadrique and we needn’t have worried in advance about car parking because the streets were empty, the shops were closed and there was almost no one about. We found the hotel easily enough, checked in, unpacked only what we needed for an overnight stay and then went back out into the centre.

I liked it, it wasn’t Trujillo in Extremadura or Almagro or Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha, it wasn’t Santillana del Mar in Cantabria but it was authentic and rustic, Spanish and Andalusian and I was glad that we had chosen to spend some time here.

We walked around the centre, along the banks of the crusty dried-up river bed and through some lush public parks but in late afternoon there was never much sign of life. I looked for a shop to buy some wine but I had forgotten my corkscrew key-ring thingy that I can smuggle through airport security and there were no screw cap bottles anywhere in my price range so I was forced to buy a carton of Don Simon Vino Tinto which is really cheap and tastes just the same.

The product manufacturers make this extraordinary claim… “Don Simon Vino Tinto Wine offers an expertly and exquisitely manufactured wine with fruity aroma; light fruit flavour, crisp acidity, light body and dry, tart finish. Good for every occasion. Best when served chilled. It looks as good as it tastes.”

No grape variety information or expert tasting tips and in truth it is the sort of wine that at about €1.50 a litre, if you have got some left over you don’t mind pouring down the sink when you leave if you are not too concerned about environmental damage or taking the risk of destroying the hotel plumbing system.

We sat for a while in the lonely Plaza Mayor which was abandoned and quiet but decided anyway to return later for evening meal. Two hours after it was transformed, the square was busy and there was fierce competition for tables but we swooped on one and the owner talked us into a Menu Del Dia which, as it turned out was a brilliant bit of salesmanship by him although not a brilliant decision on our part, but we had a hearty meal which filled us up including a truly enormous portion of Tiramasu for sweet for Lindsay which arrived just as she was explaining her planned dieting schedule.

I liked Granada and I liked Guadix, two completely different places which all adds to the richness and diversity of Spain and keeps me wanting to go back again and again.

The following morning we had a good breakfast at the hotel and we cleaned them out almost completely of tomato for the tosta and then we checked out and drove a short distance to the cave houses.

This is the main reason for visiting Guadix. It is like Bedrock and the Flintstones. People still live in caves.

People still live in caves!

Just outside of the City old town there is a community of residents who cling to and persevere with the old ways which includes digging a hole in the limestone cliffs and then setting up home inside. Not just any old cave however and today the mountain homes have brick façade and all of the modern home conveniences inside.

After a walk to the top of the village to an observation platform and then down again a man asked us in to his cave home and invited us to look around. People in Andalusia used to live in cave houses because they are cool in summer and warm in winter and they are cheap to build. Some people, like those here in Guadix still do!

We spent an hour or so investigating the intriguing village and then we left and set off back east towards Rojales and the Mediterranean coast.

A to Z of Balconies – Korčula in Croatia

Korčula is like a scaled down version of Dubrovnik with the same white Dalmatian stone buildings and red tiled roofs but sadly it is completely eclipsed by its more famous close neighbour and there has been little investment since the 1990s war that split old Yugoslavia apart.  Dubrovnik was the priority after that but the local authorities are now campaigning for Korčula Old Town, which is a gem of Venetian architecture to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

 

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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