Monday, 4 December 2017

A Railtour to Durham

So we decided we would do the Northern Belle Christmas special trip, as his Christmas present to me.  Mine to him will be reviewed after Christmas!  Anyway, this trip was to Durham and back, with brunch on the way there and a massive dinner on the way back.  While in Durham, we had the opportunity to visit the various Christmas and everyday markets, and to attend a carol service a the Cathedral.

The train left at 08:18 from King's Cross, which meant that for the second time this week we had to get up at sparrowfart (the first time was to blag a free breakfast from Pret à Manger, to celebrate the opening of its Brixton branch) to get there in time.  In fact, we had time to grab a coffee from the local Prets, before boarding the train.  We hadn't booked a private table, but when we sat down, the Swan Whisperer said to the woman opposite, "I know you, don't I?" and she turned out to be an old friend from Ice Dance Club, who hasn't actually been to our club since the old rink closed, and has since had two hip replacements, so she isn't quite sure when or whether she will skate again.  It was lovely to see her, and to meet her son, who had treated her to the trip.

The brunch, I have to say, was slightly spoilt by the fact that the scrambled egg with smoked salmon was rather cold - it was very nice, but would have been nicer had it been hotter!  The coffee, too, was not nearly as nice as Prets, although later when I had another cup it had got nicer (since I no longer had the taste of Pret coffee in my mouth!).  But that was the only disappointment.  There was fresh fruit salad to start with, and various pastries to finish.

We arrived in Durham on time, and there were coaches arranged to drop us nearer the cathedral.  We hadn't been to Durham before, and found it quite a long pull up the hill to get there, but once we were there, it was lovely.  There was a craft market in a marquee, and the entry fee was covered by our train fares, so we went in, and, incidentally, found the perfect Christmas present for my father!  That was the only thing we bought, though.  Then it was time to go into the Cathedral for the "Carols for All" service, which was excellent, although some people complained about the quality of the community choirs who were singing.  Nothing wrong with them, only a little uncertain, not helped by the organist having failed to read his service sheet....  An excellent talk by one of the Canons, and an offer of a free copy of St Luke's Gospel (I declined, on the grounds that after 25 years as a preacher, I really thought I might just be familiar with it!).  We then had a look round the Cathedral (I'm sorry I didn't take photographs, but my phone's battery only just held out as it was, and I knew it wouldn't if I tried), and then it was time to queue for the farmers' Christmas market in the Cloisters, which was lovely.  We didn't buy anything, although I'd have liked some of the cheese, as going home in a hot train.... not a plan!  I also tasted - was it there, or in the craft market? - some non-alcoholic ginger wine, which would have been lovely but was far, far too sweet for my taste!

Anyway, after a long look round, we found some loos, and then wandered back through the Cathedral and out into the main drag, deciding to go the other side past the marquee, which was a mistake as it meant we missed the mulled wine stall!  The main market didn't seem very Christmassy, and I'm not sure whether or not it was meant to be a Christmas market.  There were some Christmas-market type stalls, but not all.  And the indoor market is obviously there all year round.  There was a super wool shop, and I was really rather tempted....  but resisted!

We then decided to wander back towards where the buses would pick us up, as it was getting dark and we were tired, but it was awkward as we knew that if we went into a café we would want something to eat, but we didn't want to eat as we knew we were getting a huge dinner.  Ended up in a pub - a bit early to drink, but half a pint of what proved to be a simply delicious lager for me, and of cider for the Swan Whisperer, and we were able to sit out, although the SW felt a bit cold.  I was toasty warm - had been rather too hot all day!

So then we got back on to the coach and had to wait awhile at the station for our train.  The waiting area was all very well, but the automatic doors didn't shut properly, and opened every time a car moved they would open, so the poor Swan Whisperer got very cold indeed, and even I was glad to move and get on the train.

Going home, I got to sit by the window - big deal, as there was nothing to see by then - and we were heading forwards, which I do marginally prefer.  The meal was lovely - first there was a glass of champagne and nibbles, and then the starter, which was a trio of fish.  I chose not to have that, as really it didn't sound very nice, so I got offered, and accepted, ham hock terrine, which was lovely.  Then there was celeriac soup, but I declined that, too, and, having tasted the Swan Whisperer's, was rather glad I had as it didn't taste of anything much at all except a vague hint of cooked celery.  The main course was a 3-bird roast with a bit of partridge on the top (I wouldn't have known that was what it was, to be honest!), brussels sprout purée, red cabbage, roast parsnip and fondant potato.  It was very good, but I was so sleepy by then (I had fallen asleep between courses) that I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have done had I been wide awake.  Then there was a cheeseboard, and then pudding - an individual Christmas pudding with brandy custard, which was OK, but not the nicest (I gave half of mine to the SW), but also a bit of chocolate mousse cake, which was lush, and a scoop of cherry sorbet, ditto!  Then tea or coffee, if you wanted it, which I didn't, and a mince pie (I gave mine to the SW).  Our fare apparently included £24 worth of drinks, so we each ordered a glass of wine - red for him, rosé for me - some fizzy water and a fruit drink for him.  This was possibly a mistake, as we then didn't have a bill at the end, and those who did were taking the opportunity to tip the stewards quite heavily. 

By the time all this had happened, we were nearly at King's Cross, and after a lovely day, I was very tired indeed!  We were home just before 10:45 pm, after a lovely and memorable day!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Beyond Vienna, 3 and 4 October 2017

Since we were parked up just opposite a McDonald's, we decided to treat ourselves to a McDonald's breakfast.  In Germany, they don't force feed you hash browns with your sausage and egg McMuffin, I was glad to find!  I do love them (sausage and egg McMuffins) but try not to eat them too often.

After that, it was a long and dreary drive to Calais.  Originally we had planned to break our journey somewhere in Belgium, but of course the extra day in Hungary put paid to that, and the long drive isn't impossible, just boring.  There had been a couple of bad crashes on the border - the only crashes we saw all holiday, thankfully - which held us up for a bit, but not too badly.  We stopped a couple of times for breaks and lunch, and arrived at Cité Europe at about 5:30.  After a cup of tea, I went shopping in the Carrefour there, and the SW went for a walk, and then we decided to visit one of the restaurants in the Cité Europe instead of going to the Buffalo Grill like we usually do.  Big mistake - the meal was foul.  The snails were okay, but one of them was so tightly stuck in its shell that I had to break it to get it out.  The duck was edible, I suppose, but its sauce was way, way too salty for my taste, and the potatoes that came with it were undercooked.  Plus the helping was too large.  Then I ordered crepes with jam for pudding - they were tepid, tough, and he'd sprinkled them with sugar and THEN expected me to put jam on them.  I did eat one, but really.... not good.  Won't be going to that restaurant again.

Sad to wake up this morning amid those motorhomes that were heading off on holiday as well as the ones coming home.  Wishing we were going in the other direction, we presented ourselves to Eurotunnel hoping for an earlier crossing.  Oh dear, disruptions, and a two hour delay.... but fortunately it caught up with itself and we crossed at our booked time of 11:20 - home in time for lunch, although then there were hassles with the builders who fill our car park each day and make it so impossible to come in and out.... sigh... how soon can we go away again?

Monday, 2 October 2017

Beyond Vienna, 2 October 2017

Another wet day, alas. We set out from wherever it was we had spent the night, just outside Kitzbühel.  Our first port of call was Landau, a large ReWe where we did a Last Shop in Germany, and then we headed cross country, in the rain, towards Trier. We missed one services, where we had planned to stop briefly to put on jerseys, etc, but finally found one to do for lunch. We are parked up in the big park and ride car park - not 100% sure we are supposed to spend the night here, but people seem to. Certainly they did last year....

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Beyond Vienna, 1 October 2017

It had stopped raining by the time we were ready to go out this morning. As it was Sunday, we assumed we'd be able to park in the street, and indeed, that turned out to be the case, and we could probably have parked even nearer to the town centre than we actually did.

We had a pleasant walk round the centre of Augsburg, and in the main square we came across a mass balloon-release - we have no idea what it was in aid of, and were rather surprised that Germany allows such a thing (so bad for the environment), but it was pretty!

After a cup of coffee, we found a bakery that was open and bought rolls for lunch, and then headed back to the motor home to head on north up the A8, only this turned out to be blocked, so the Satnav took us the pretty way, with such an attractive lay-by to park in for lunch!  Only an oxbow where they had straightened the road, but still!

Then on, and I fell asleep and didn't weaken until we arrived at the Aire here just north of Kitzbühel, I believe. Not where I had intended for us to stay, but the SW decided it was less off our route.

Beyond Vienna, 30 September 2017

One of the loveliest mornings of the holiday so far!  We decided to breakfast outside, and the picnic table was brought into use for that. Then we cleared up and said a sad farewell to the Alps, and headed off. Or first stop was a local ReWe, which was disappointing as it had a rather poor range of meat and sausages (but it did have Federweisse!) and we had to stop again later for meat.
The aire in Augsburg was very nearly full when we arrived; we were lucky to get place. The SW went for an explore and said the town centre was lovely, but shortly after supper the rain came, and hasn't really stopped since!

Friday, 29 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 29 September 2017

Today was one of those days when we visited three different countries in one day!  We started off in Slovenia, at Lake Bled, where after breakfast we tidied up and I made a quick dash to the supermarket for rolls and milk while the SW used the services and checked out.  The first bit of driving was down to Jesenice, where we were finally able to join the motorway in time to go through the Karawanken tunnel into Austria, and thus over Austrian motorways to Bad Reichenhall which, despite being a suburb of Salzburg is, in fact, in Germany!  We had one stop for the SW to drink coffee, and then turned aside in Salzburg to get diesel as it was cheaper there. Mind you, the last time we'd filled up had been in Hungary, and we have been in Croatia and Slovenia since then!

Bad Reichenhall is an old friend; we used to come here on ice dance courses back in the day, and after a hard morning's work at the rink, many of us used to spend our afternoons at the Rupertusbad, a wonderful spa baths the other side of town. Well, the motorhome park is just across the road from the spa, so guess where I headed after digesting our rather late lunch!  It was being upgraded the last year we were here, but that was some years ago now, and it is still great fun. There is now a public swimming pool as well as the spa area - if you buy a ticket for the late you can use the former, but not vice versa. I decided against a sauna, but spent my time in the indoor and outdoor salt baths with a mixture of jacuzzis, overhead water massage, as the circular current thing like they have in the baths in Budapest!  Great fun!

Meanwhile I was very impressed by the locker system. You got given a wristband as you went in - pink ones for the sauna and blue for the rest of it - and you undressed in the usual little cabin with a wet floor (which locked by bolts on the benches, not the doors, rather confusingly), and then you put your stuff in an open cupboard which you locked with the wristband!  And when you were near it, coming out, it flashed at you!  Much better than trying to have the right coin and remember your number (I can never read the labels on the keys without my spectacles).
I'd stupidly forgotten my flip-flops, since I'd been wearing them as slippers since Budapest, and in hindsight my towelling robe would have been nice, too, but you can't have everything.  And it was fun.

But we are definitely on the way home now!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Beyond Vienna, 28 September 2017

Feeling quite a lot better today, thankfully, so this morning we went for a potter around the lake. Sadly, my stupid lungs don't seem to like being at even this rather modest altitude (it's only about 500 metres - dammit, I've competed at much higher!).  So we didn't walk as far as we would have liked, but came back and had a coffee in the café here.

Then the SW learnt that he could use some practice ice at the rink here, so we got our act together and went into town on the little tourist train that runs round the lake for the purpose.
There was time for a sandwich in the rink café before the session started, so we had that, and then went into the rink to meet the coach and confirm it was ok. The first half hour was primary-school children, so the SW got some solid work in, and then he got off when the older, better skaters got on.  We had just missed a little train, so wandered down to the next stop, hoping to find the supermarket (there is one up here, but its range is somewhat limited), which we didn't, but we did find a place that sold ice cream, so had a delicious cone before the little train came along. 

After which, the SW insisted on going out on yet another walk, round some mountains, and I read quietly.  And am about to make an interesting supper of sausages and leftovers!