Tag Archives: travel

a walk in the woods

A Walk in The Woods by Bill Bryson

From Goodreads:

The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America—majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way—and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I came to this book having watched the film a few days ago. The film is decent but I had a feeling there was more to the story in the book. In an unusual flip I found the book was enhanced by having seen the film. Sure, some of the scenes were modified, switched around or simply invented for the film but the spirit of the book is definitely there. What really enhanced the book though was Nick Nolte’s excellent portrayal of Katz. I couldn’t help but see and hear him jumping out of every page and piece of dialogue. Despite how it happened he ended up being a perfect casting choice.

Katz is the success of this book. Bryson himself is very straight, introspective and sometimes abrasive and arrogant. Katz provides the comedic element but also some of the most emotional and thought provoking parts of the story.

It’s hard to think of this book as non-fiction or a travelogue but it’s both. There are lots of negative reviews on Goodreads, mostly based on a negative view of Bryson but I really enjoyed it. It provides a great view of what it’s like to walk a long distance trail and also a nice historical record of how the AT came about. There are many interjections about how the nature of the American wilderness has and still is changing. Probably one for people interested in hiking and camping though.

Header image by Ricardo Esquivel from Pexels

planes, trains and automobiles

Early start Saturday for my trip to Switzerland with Jim to visit Pierre’s. I was a bit nervous about travelling due to the recent Coronavirus outbreak and blanket news coverage but decided to go anyway. I wasn’t sure what to expect but apart from signage in the airports and trains and queues in the toilets to wash hands I didn’t see much different. Another passenger in Belfast International thought the airport was very quiet but I didn’t see much difference to when we went to Prague last year and my flight to Geneva seemed full.

The flight from Belfast was really good. We were flying above the clouds with very sunny conditions and breaks in the cloud gave tantalising views of the English and French countryside below. On the approach to Geneva the Alps were poking majestically above the clouds.

In an attempt to get a discounted train fare to Le Châtelard I had a 4 hour wait in Geneva. It was clear and dry but very cold and as I had a heavy bag I only walked down to the lake to see the view and then back to the train station with a stop at McDonald’s for something to eat. Even that short walk gave an indication of the sights of Geneva although I was mildly disappointed that “Le Jet D’Eau” wasn’t in operation today.

After food was the long wait in the train station followed by the train journeys to Martigny and then change to Le Châtelard. Slight stress out at Martigny as the incoming train was 4min late and I only have 9min to make the change from Platform 1 to 40. Panic subsided when I realised this was simply a matter of crossing the tracks via the subway!

busy train to martigny

Arrived in Le Châtelard at 21:55, bang on time and greeted at the train station by a barrage of snowballs! Made it 😊

every day is a school day

Some things we learned from our trip to London:

  • London is noisy. There’s a constant background hum, even at night. It was Owen that first mentioned it but it was only when we got home that I realised how much.
  • When you ask people for advice (Simon and the Oyster Card! ) then you should pay heed and follow that advice
  • Following on from the above, if you need to clarify your previously received advice ask someone for help.
  • The Underground is a really good way to get around and there are specific apps to help you plan journeys as well as the overland trains. However, don’t forget about Google Maps. It covers trains and buses as well as pedestrian journeys.
  • The Oyster Card is the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to pay for the Underground.
  • There are very few convenience type shops in the centre of London. Bring snacks and drinks with you as they are expensive in the attractions. Boots is an alternative as the bigger ones do sandwich meal deals.
  • Kids (ie. our boys) get hungry and very hungry way before adults do.
  • Book attractions online in advance of your trip and look for multi buy options as the more you book the more value you get.
  • Allow time for queues. All 3 attractions we did had a 30min queue to get in.
  • Saturday mornings are mega busy at attractions and best avoided.
  • There are lots of very helpful people to assist you at the Underground (Blue Hi-Viz vests) and along the streets, mainly at attractions (Pink T-shirts and/or Hi-Viz vests).
  • Despite the rumours not everyone will step over you if you were dying. There are many lovely people that will help a stranger.
  • There are quite a few homeless people around but they tend to keep themselves to themselves except when begging on the Underground – or throwing beer at me 🙈
  • It’s worth getting off the Underground and wandering around by foot. However, the distances do mount up quite easily as the main sights are quite spread out – London is BIG.
  • London is expensive to get around but food and drink are reasonably good value if you take time to look around.
  • It’s a great place to visit – plan ahead and get the most from your trip.

I feel like Baz Lurhmann after writing that!

all good things come to an end

When we booked our flights we chose a later flight for Saturday to allow us to have an extra day to explore. However, we didn’t have a plan for how to spend this last day.

On our last trip to England (August 2014) we made a day trip from Catriona’s brother’s in Bracknell to London mainly to visit the Natural History Museum. The boys enjoyed it and as Conor couldn’t remember it much (he was 6 then) he asked to go back today.

Today was not a good day to visit the museum! We should have realised that a Saturday in the middle of the school holidays would be busy but it was jammed! The galleries were packed, really uncomfortably so, very warm and stuffy, incredibly noisy and generally an unpleasant place to be.

We had a look around at a few things but after an hour decide to give up. Thankfully we had such a good week that this experience didn’t spoil our trip as we were already taking home some great memories.

dippy has been replaced by hope

I was really disappointed by the dinosaur display. It was fantastic in 2014 but much reduced now. Too many display boards and many fewer dinosaur displays.

One full gallery was given over to this huge Moon sculpture. It was impressive but I couldn’t help wondering if the room could have been put to a more interesting use? On the plus side it was air conditioned ✅

was there a moon version of atlas?

We consoled ourselves with a trip to McDonald’s for lunch using the vouchers we saved from yesterday before catching the tube and overland trains to London Luton Airport and our flight home.

We were a few hours early so we had time to relax in the bar and listen to the Highland Radio commentary of Donegal unfortunately getting beaten by Mayo 😭

relaxing at the airport bar

last photo in england

After the dodgy start to our trip it was a relief to take off on time, arrive 10min early, get away efficiently from the hotel parking and get back home to our comfortable beds before 1am.

A great trip with great memories. Very different to our trip to Majorca last year but one we will all remember.

banged up abroad

Friday was definitely our best day in London. Our 3rd pre-booked activity was London Dungeons. This is totally in darkness and photography was forbidden so I’ve no photos to show. It’s a mixture of live actors, props, noises, spooky music and two rides covering the dungeons in Henry VIII’s time, the torturer, Guy Fawkes, Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett, The Black Plague, The Great Fire, a mock court and jailhouse and a ride to simulate a hanging. Really well done and scared the bejeebus out of Conor. Definitely wouldn’t advise it for u10s but we all had a ball, even Conor!

Afterwards it was food time. We had vouchers for McDonald’s so headed for the nearest one in Leicester Square. As we got nearer we spotted a Pizza Hut. It’s our favourite place to eat and very rare we get an opportunity to visit one so we ditched McD’s for the “all you can eat” buffet.

Outside we took in the atmosphere of Leicester Square which has to be the coolest place in London. I could have sat there all day listening to the music and watching the world go by.

leicester square

Next stop was Catriona’s choice – Harrods. We decided to walk this time and really glad we did as the route took us by the M&M store, The Apollo Theatre, Piccadilly Circus, The Wellington Monument, Hyde Park Corner and Kensington with all it’s very fancy car dealerships and stores.

this place was mental

entrance to chinatown

even the side streets are decorated and colourful

apollo theatre

eros

picadilly screens

wellington monument

hyde park corner

Harrods was crazy, even more than the M&M store but for very different reasons! It was equally as busy but only about half of the people there were spending any money, probably about 10% spending serious money. The wealth on display from this 10% and the disregard for cost was eye opening.

even the escalator area was extravagant

While Catriona and the boys looked around the sweet hall for something small to take home I went looking for the beds department just to see what the other half buy. It was amazing although I was seriously unimpressed by the sales guy I could overhear showing a customer around. If he works on commission it didn’t show! I considered leaving my CV 😆

that’s correct, a kingsize mattress costs almost £17k and the display is over £31k!

After Harrods it was back on the tube and back to the apartment. All the way home I couldn’t help but wonder what all those mega wealthy people were doing right now.

wax on, wax off

The pre-booked attraction for our 3rd day was Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. It wasn’t until 1230 which gave us the chance to have a bit of a lie in after all our walking the day before.

I’d done a bit of research on the Oyster Card before going to London and despite excellent advice from Simon I’d decided it still seemed expensive, was going to cost us £20 (4 x £5) to buy and not save us much. Plus we were going to walk everywhere. Basically we* got it all wrong! A very friendly and helpful information guy at Tower Hill took the time to explain the card properly, explain how the £20 was refundable and would save us at least 50% on payg tickets. So carded up and happier to be walking a lot less** we took a wander around the outside of the Tower and down to the Tower Bridge viewpoint before getting the Underground to Baker Street.

*we = me of course 🙈

**we still managed almost 11km of walking despite using the tube quite a bit today.

tower of london – poppies all removed since our last visit

tower bridge

celebs in london 😆

As we still had some time to spare and I’m a big fan of Elementary I dragged everyone to see 221b Baker Street which isn’t actually 221b Baker Street!

sherlock holmes museum which claims the location

the famous address

I didn’t really think that they had used the actual address in S7 of Elementary but was still slightly disappointed it didn’t match the show

actual location was bloomsbury

Then it was back to our favourite thing to do in London – queue. Madame Tussauds was very busy but good queue management and efficient security meant we weren’t waiting too long and it wasn’t jammed once we got inside. I didn’t know what to expect so was surprised by the layout. There were less exhibits than I expected, less older celebrities but overall I was very impressed. All 4 of us really enjoyed the full experience and although the time flew past we felt that we experienced the whole thing. Some of my favourite photos are below but we took a lot throughout the exhibition’s many floors.

helen mirren

the most lifelike of the whole day

less smiley version of elliott

i want your boots, your clothes and your motorcycle

conor’s favourite of the day

thankfully not our air bnb

ronaldo

bolt

meeting the royals

trying to explain the backstop

he doesn’t look pleased to see me

but owen may have got there before me

a real president

smarter than the average bear

bob marley lost in the moment

madame tussaud herself

she looks like i goosed her!

definitely not my father no matter what he says

robin williams at the exit door to say goodbye

My only complaint with the museum was bringing everyone together for the 4D movie show (which was excellent). The queue starts in the Marvel gallery (which means you can’t get space to see the Marvel exhibition unless you wait for everyone to leave as the next queue gathers) and as everyone leaves the movie together the next Star Wars exhibition is jam packed and difficult to view.

After Madame Tussauds we headed to the Science Museum and this is where we (me again!) got it wrong again. We should have eaten before going. There wasn’t anything handy to Madame Tussauds but there was nothing at either Baker Street or South Kensington tube stations and once at the Science Museum, nothing within reasonable distance. Our only option was the Science Museum cafe which wasn’t geared towards kids at all. Far too many silly options of food that can only be described as “notions“. Kids want plain, ordinary and usually deep fried and breaded food. We really struggled to get something plain that the boys (and ourselves) could enjoy and be filled. It was way overpriced too! They would be better with a small entry fee, say £2 each, and charge more reasonable prices for food. They would probably make more profit that way.

The science museum itself was just OK. The ground floor had some interesting displays. The boys particularly enjoyed the space displays and the old stuff – mostly things I remember from my childhood! Upstairs there were galleries about the body, mind, climate and the future. We enjoyed it but it wasn’t gripping. I don’t know what I expected and although we spent about an hour and a half exploring and enjoyed it I don’t see how families can spend the day here as I’ve heard before. I think I expected something more similar to W5 in Belfast. Our experience could have been tainted by tiredness and not being properly fed though?

old enough to have stuff from my childhood in a museum!

The really good thing about South Kensington was that the underground took us straight back to Tower Hill with no stops! It was packed and very hot though so we were glad to be released back to the regular air conditioned train to go back to Grays. A trip to the chipper on the way home and normal service was soon resumed.

eye of the beholder

Day 2 London was based around a trip (or flight) on the Coca Cola London Eye. We had it booked in advance via a 3 attraction deal.

Our “departure time” was 1130am so we decided to get the earliest off-peak train in to London from Grays and walk from Tower Hill to Westminster. We had pretty much decided that we could use the Underground pretty minimally and do most of our exploring by foot.

The walk from Tower Hill took us across to the South Bank and passed a number of unexpected sites including the monument to the Great Fire of London, the Shard (close by) and The Globe Theatre.

the very classical style monument sitting smack bang in a very modern cityscape

the shard was visible from many locations along the walk and from the eye itself

the globe theatre

The South Bank was a really unexpected surprise as we hadn’t really thought about the journey but seeing places like the Globe and the Tate Gallery made it a lot more interesting. The whole area between the Globe and Westminster is a real mix of food stalls, music and entertainers. A great place to visit that we pretty much stumbled on accidentally!

Catriona and myself had been on the Eye previously (2014) but this was a brand new experience for the boys. Despite the overcast clouds we had great views of the centre of London and further afield.

the eye from below

not the first or last time we’ve felt like doing this!

looking down river halfway up

towards st james’s park and buckingham palace

proper family pose

going over the top

up river from the very top – loved this particular view

big ben covered up for repairs and houses of parliament

After lunch in a nearby Subway we headed off on foot again, across the bridge to Westminster proper, along Horse Guards Road to The Mall before heading for Buckingham Palace (unfortunately no Garden Party for us today).

very tame squirrel at the edge of st james’s park

top of the mall. victoria memorial and palace

without the culchies!

barbarians at the gates

he must have been melting in the heat

victoria memorial

As the Queen wasn’t in to greet us we decided to try Boris instead and headed for Downing Street via Trafalgar Square

trafalgar square

nelson’s column

boris was out – off having dinner with the DUP apparently!

At this stage the rain was coming on and our plan to walk everywhere was starting to show some holes* so we decided to retreat gracefully and return to Tower Hill via the Underground and head back to the apartment a little earlier than planned but with a fully packed day behind us.

*my Garmin showed a daily total of 20,005 steps that evening, equivalent to 16.7km of walking. Too much for any of us in the heat, never mind the boys.

london calling

Day 1 of our trip to London with the boys. Everything started very well with everyone up on time and away at 5.30am. Good run to Dublin and at the Carlton Hotel (where we parked) for 8am and at the airport for 9am.Bags checked and passed for free on board and the quickest, simplest trip through airport security ever meant we had loads of time to have food and browse the shops.

fine cooked breakfast to get us on our way

At the gate our flight was delayed but only by 30mins so no big deal but once we boarded we were given the news that we were looking at a further hour before departure due to thunder storms over London and a closure of the flight space. By the time we landed we were 2hrs later than scheduled but undeterred.

Playing around with rail apps resulted in cheaper fares but also frustration caused by bad design and repeated requests for the same information but we were soon in central London, on the Tube and out to Fenchurch where we got the final train to Grays and our Air BnB.

Outside Fenchurch I managed to upset a drunk* who threw beer at me meaning I was stinking of cheap beer by the time we met our host. Thankfully not much and the rain between the station and apartment washed most of it out!

*she was ranting and raving about something but all I can think of is that she heard our Irish accents and didn’t like it?

Our host was lovely and the apartment is fab. The area is a bit on the rough side but we won’t be out much. Our main excursion this evening was for Burger King and Morrisons for groceries.

The rest of the evening was spent relaxing in the apartment and tomorrow the fun begins properly starting with a trip on the London Eye.

Hopefully all our mishaps and interesting characters are out of the way for the week 😊