Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Tue, 01 Sep 2009

Summer holidays

Our summer holiday this year was a couple of weeks at Camping Village L'Atlantique in southern Brittany. We had a ready-erected tent from Vacansoleil. As well as not having to take all our camping gear this also meant that we got proper beds and a fridge. It's a great site for families with a set of pools with slides and the beach a few minutes walk away. The weather was good enough for us to be in the water almost every day. We were in the sea a lot, which was very clear and made for some fun snorkeling.

Once we were there we didn't use the car much as you can explore a lot of the area via cycle tracks. I do quite enough driving anyway. I don't speak much French, but had enough to get by in restaurants.

A couple of bonuses on this trip were an afternoon at Portsmouth before we caught the ferry exploring the old ships and then there was a little festival near the campsite where we saw some local musicians as well as a great English/Irish/French folk band I'd never heard of called Churchfitters. We liked them so much we bought their album.

From Gigs
[20:59] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 09 Sep 2007

Travels and Tunes

I spent last week in and around Tel Aviv for work. This was my first visit to Israel, even though I've been working for an Israeli company for about ten years. I flew with El Al, which involved much more intense security checking than any other airline I've flown with, but wasn't quite as intrusive as I had feared.

As you might expect, it was pretty hot there, but I was not out too much during the day. Mind you, it stayed warm in the evenings too. My impressions of Tel Aviv were of a busy city that is building a lot of new high-rise buildings, whilst still having a lot of older, very tatty areas. It seems to be generally safe to wander around. The only real sign that something could be wrong are the plain-clothes armed guards outside many buildings such as some hotels, shopping centres and restaurants. I was asked once if I had any 'guns, weapons or bombs', but it was with a smile.

I ate pretty well there. Lunch was from some very good sandwich and other fast food establishments. Dinner varied from a slice of pizza from a street stall to a very nice meal in one of the nicer hotels. All this was at lower prices than what you would expect in the UK.

There were lots of signs of religion. There was actually a mosque near the hotel, but not many other obvious signs of moslems, but all sorts of variants of the jewish faith were to be seen in the way people dressed. A large proportion do not wear any special clothes, but many men wore a yarmulke (skullcap). There seemed to be several varieties of the more orthodox branches, each with their own style of dress. Alongside this you have a fair number of very obvious lap-dancing bars and sex shops. A 'tourist guide' I picked up in the hotel had a map of the city surrounded by 'escort agency' ads.

I didn't get enough time to really experience the country, but I've at least had a taste of it. I didn't get a chance for a guided tour from one of my Israeli colleagues that might have exposed me to more local culture, but I still managed to dine at some less touristy restaurants that didn't even have an English menu.

I got back in the early hours of Friday. I managed to get a few hours sleep then I was out in the afternoon to play in a short gig with Secret Bass at the Multiple Sclerosis Trust in Letchworth. I didn't get much chance to rehearse, but it went pretty well. Malcolm has written his own review.

Sunday was spent with the family at Marston Vale for an event called Woodworks. This was generally a celebration of the use of wood in crafts, but also included various other crafts and environmental stalls. There was also some live music from folk bands. I got in some more drumming at workshop by Chris Puleston. He runs a drum circle near here, but has a different performance style to Malcolm. He did a pretty good job of getting the audience to play along.

[21:10] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 07 Mar 2007

Arctic Circling

It's been a while since we last went skiing. This time we went for something a bit different and went to Ylläs in northen Finland, Lappland if you prefer, inside the Arctic Circle. It's not a very high resort, but it's latitude ensures it's cold enough for plenty of snow. In fact we had been seeing temperatures of -25C there a few weeks before we went, but it warmed up to a more bearable -12C. Unlike the Alpine resorts they had plenty of snow early on and a little more came during our stay.

Getting there was a bit of a trek as we had to go from Heathrow to Helsinki on BA then catch an internal flight on Finnair to Kittilä, so that was a whole day of travelling. We stayed at the Saaga hotel. We had a nice appartment, but didn't do much cooking. We had their generous breakfast and dinner buffets, but the latter could get a bit repetitive with variations on fish in a sauce or reindeer. Their SaagaCarte restaurant had a much better selection, but at a much higher cost. They also had a good pool and a gym if you felt the need.

They have quite a few ski runs, but nothing too exciting. In fact their black runs are more like a red elsewhere, but you could ski all day with hardly any queues on really good snow. Nothing was too carved up. The kids had a few lessons and were soon accomanying us up to some of the middle runs.

Overall it was an excellent holiday and we could well consider going back. If you don't want to ski their are several companies providing snowmobile, husky and snowshoe expeditions, but these can get expensive for a family. We didn't see the northern lights at all and missed the lunar eclipse as we were travelling back.

[21:17] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 26 Oct 2006

Edinburgh on a low (carbon) budget

We had another trip up to the Scottish capital to visit my sister this month. We chose to go by train because it's not too expensive, quick and not too stressful. It's also the greenest option. You have to know what you are doing when buying tickets as there are various options. Having a Family Railcard saves a lot for us. We used the GNER Mallard service. The new trains are comfortable and have mains power plus wifi. I didn't use either of those this time. Our audio players managed on battery and I still don't have wifi capability. Even if I did I would really have to need it. Considering that you have to pay a fair bit just to be sitting on the train I would think they could make the wifi cheaper. You have to pay a minimum of 3 for a half hour. Of course, first class passengers get it 'free'.

For most of our stay in Edinburgh we used the buses. It cost around 6 for a day ticket for 2 adults and a child, but we only made a couple of trips each time. It can be confusing to work out what tickets to get and which routes to use, but that applies in most cities. We were lucky to have someone with local knowledge.

We visited the zoo. It's generally a good one, but some of the larger animals, e.g. polar bear and tiger, could do with a lot more space. The tiger was pacing at the back of it's cage, others were just sleeping. I have mixed feelings about zoos, but most of the big ones are pretty active in breeding programmes. We can hope that seeing the animals will encourage people to think more about what we are doing to the planet, but I expect some just go to see something new. They had some good activities to keep the kids amused.

[18:42] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 09 Aug 2006

Happy Campers

Just back from a spot of camping up in Northumberland, near Haltwhistle, centre of Britain. Stayed on a very nice C&CC site. Checked out the Roman remains at Vindolanda as well as Hadrian's Wall itself. We had some wet days there, but I bet it was much worse for the Romans in the depths of winter. Another visitor to the camp site was Mick Aston of Time Team fame. We left him to enjoy his holiday, but I'm sure he got the odd autograph request.

We then went on to Edinburgh, via a brief stop at Roslyn Chapel. I first became aware of it when reading a certain well-known book, but it's enjoyable enough as a piece of craftmanship in stone. It's currently covered by a temporary roof to help dry out the structure. This allows you to climb up and view the upper features.

We were visiting family in Edinburgh, but it just happened to be Festival and Fringe time. We saw a couple of kids' shows and Rich Hall. He was pretty funny having a go at the US 'War on Terror' (to be followed by campaigns againt wistfulness and uncertainty). We also did some walking there, including an ascent of Arthur's Seat.

[13:14] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 17 Apr 2006

Spanish Flying

Just spent a week with the whole family in sunny Spain. Flew out on Easyjet, but they are not so cheap if you have to travel during the easter school holiday. Stayed at a Marriott resort courtesey of my parents. Nice enough place for chilling out and taking a swim. We spent some time in the outdoor pool and on the beach.

I organised a couple of golf lessons for Tanya at La Quinta. She enjoyed it and is showing a disturbing tendency to want to take it further. What have I done?

We sampled some of the local culture when we dined in Marbella old town where we saw their Semana Santa procession. As they do this all through easter week every year you would think that they would be better practiced at getting a large sculpture though the narrow streets. This is not helped by the mess of telephone cables strung randomly between buildings. Still, it was impressive, especially when the drum bands made the whole place shake.

We took a drive up to Ronda. This is reached from the coast via 40km of the twistiest road I have ever driven, peaking at over 1000m. The town itself is an impressive feat of architecture with houses clinging to the sides of the ravine. We took a look around gardens of the Moorish King's House. This includes a set of steps that take you all the way down to the river through the cliff. My legs are still recovering from that.

We spent our final day in Malaga doing touristy things like checking out the castle and cathedral then taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.

We rented a Ford Fiesta from doyouspain.com. Reasonable rates, but be prepared for a long queue at the airport as everyone likes a good deal.

Those of my friends and family with appropriate permissions can see some pictures on Multiply.

Yesterday I was back at Secret Bass for some drum therapy. Only five of us there, but we still managed to make a good racket.

[17:43] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 16 Dec 2005

Safe Flying

I have to fly a few times a year for work and it's becoming an ever more tedious process just getting to the plane. In the name of security you may have to remove your shoes, belt and other items of clothing that might set off the metal detectors. Anyone who wants to hear a ration opinion on security should read Bruce Scheier's site and/or books. I discovered him because of his writing on encryption, but he has branched out these days. He's written a good article on airline security at Sydney Morning Herald. He has worked as an advisor for the US government on the subject, but I donn't know if they will ake his advice. They prefer measures that might make people 'feel' safer even if they are not. I suspect someone is making a lot of money from all this.
[16:52] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 22 Sep 2005

Barcelona

We just came back from a short break in Barcelona. We flew over on Easyjet and stayed at the very modern Hotel Constanza. The attractions we enjoyed included:

Picasso Museum - located in a series of very old houses in the old town this gave me a greater appreciation of his talents. I still don't understand some of it.

Casa Batll - our first Gaudi building. Only saw the outside, but still impressed.

Casa Mil - incredible Gaudi appartment building. Well worth a visit to see the original rooms and the amazing roof.

Sagrada Familia - Gaudi's unfinished church. It will look amazing when they finish it in around 20 years. Meanwhile it's a work in progress. You can go in and go up some of the towers. I do wonder about the value of investing so much effort in a religeous building, but still admire the beauty of it

Barcelona Cathedral - a slightly older building (few hundred years) that also impressed. The view from the roof is great.

The rest of the city varies between elegant avenues and the cramped old town, but it's generally unspoilt by ugly, modern developments. They even have something resembling the London Gerkin.

There's plenty of shopping opportunities and the dining is excellent. It just takes a bit of adjustment as many restaurants do not open until 9pm, so you generally have to eat late.

The airport has the largest selection of shops I've seen outside Heathrow, but we only bough ta few gifts.

I would consider going back in the future to see if they have finished all their building. I'd also like to visit the Dali Museum that is a way out of town.

There are a few pictures on my Multiply site, but these are restricted to my contacts there. If you would like access then drop me a line.

[13:19] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 08 Aug 2005

Oh, Canada

Work have sent me to Toronto for a week to do some set-up at a client. This is my first time in Canada. I was lucky enough to get upgraded to business class on the flight over. That's my first upgrade after many flights. For me it meant better food and space to stretch my legs. It would be nice for the night flight going back as I might actually be able to sleep on the lie-flat seats.

I have to say that Canada looks a lot like anywhere USA at first glance. That's in terms of the roads, the traffic and the general building style. There's slight differences in the flags being flown, the use of French on some signs and the use of metric units. I had a brief walk around downtown Toronto. I craned my head back to look at the mighty CN tower and admired the massive Skydome baseball stadium. I've not had a chance to check out the shopping yet.

What's suprising is the sheer heat. It's 32C here and humid. They are even predicting smog. But then it gets scarily cold with masses of snow in winter. I'm often quite glad of the mild weather extremes at home.

[21:05] | [] | Comments | G

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