Gloucester Fortnight

Gloucester Fortnight

YHA Welsh Bicknor

The background to our fortnight in Gloucester was that we were booked to do a raw food (which is a NOT cooking) course there. My husband had seen Deborah Durrant at the 2013 London Vegfest and signed us up to do her hands-on Feast program. The course is expensive for South Africans. The current exchange rate is grossly unfavourable for us to say the least! But we’re both passionate about wholesome food. And if it helped us in our forays into raw food, then it would be well worth it. More on the course later.

River Wye

We arrived in London and spent a few days with my husband’s aunt as per usual. She’s 90 and has a love/hate feeling about us coming over. She lives alone in a large 4 bed roomed house in North London. It’s getting harder and harder for her. My husband has the awful job of trying to get her to accept care. His aunt loves when we’re around to help with things she can no longer do. She also feels safer when we’re in the house and likes that we clean and prepare food for her. Or take her out to the local pub for a meal. But she struggles to remember when we’re coming and going. It startles her when we walk in the house. So we keep our stays short. The raw food course ran from Monday to Friday so we added the weekends on either side to our time in Gloucester.

Typical steep narrow road

My husband hired a car from Enterprise Car Hire. We always use them as they’re the cheapest if you figure how to get the best price. (We don’t get paid to say that) We usually take the smallest or second smallest car. For the fortnight it cost £360. (Excludes fuel but includes £10 per day insurance) I booked 3 nights at a YHA youth hostel in Welsh Bicknor which cost £15 per person. Includes bed linen, but not towels. You can hire towels for £2. All food is extra but at those prices it’s to be expected. Supper was

Symonds Yat West

£7.50 for a main course, £3.50 for a local craft beer and £8.95 for a bottle of French wine. The food, beer and wine were all good. My husband had a Vegetable Thai Red Curry and I had a Veg Balti.

The YHA hostel in Welsh Bicknor is set in a gorgeous location amongst historical buildings right next the River Wye. It’s at the bottom of a narrow steep lane that does not accommodate two-way traffic. A bit of a problem if you encounter a car as you may have to reverse backward up a narrow steep hill.

Symonds Yat Trail

That’s how it is and no-one makes a fuss. We saw deer, wild birds, squirrels and rabbits – every time we went out.

I used youth hostels exclusively when I traveled Scotland with friends a few years back. Despite the name Youth Hostels, they are not exclusively for youngsters. I had only positive experiences. However we stayed at one in Brighton together earlier in the year. The first time my husband has ever stayed in a hostel. We were disappointed. (Read about that in My Holidays and Trips at the top of the page)

I gave the hostel in Brighton a bad rap and I wish I hadn’t. Maybe I needed to know more about how hostels work. Not sure if it was a YHA hostel. Basically YHA are a charity. They strive to provide accommodation at rock bottom prices. Obviously funds are limited so if you want designer decor, luxe linen and gourmet food – well then give them a miss. But if you just want a place to sleep that provides the basics then youth hostels deliver.

Here’s what you get –

  • friendly and helpful staff
  • bunk beds with clean linen – you pay extra for a towel
  • shared amenities – showers with hot water
  • you can self-cater or have low cost meals – I consider myself a fussy eater but I was happy
  • heating
  • local tourist information and brochures
  • some places have TV and wi-fi – some do not
  • basic furnishings – furniture and carpets can be a bit tired
  • decor is not a priority
  • some things are due for repairs like leaking taps or a lick of paint
  • affordable accommodation in key locations i.e. near to scenic walks or in cities
    Ross on Wye

Find Part 2 – on this link.

On the – My Holidays and Trips – page you can read more about other destinations we have visited.

Brighton England

Brighton England

What to do in Brighton – 2014

Beach huts on the Promenade

My husband has a 90 year old aunt who lives in North London. We go across to visit regularly. She loves having us come over. She also doesn’t love having us around. She’s lived alone her entire adult life. She wants to know we care. We help with things she can no longer do. But she gets a fright every time one of us pops up. She cannot get used to other people in her house.

Brighton Promenade

We decided to go to Brighton for three nights to get out of her hair. We chose Brighton because it was the quickest, cheapest and easiest place to get to from London. Plus my husband had never been there. My primary income is derived in South Africa. The current exchange rate is horrible. We’re paying R19 for £1. I can buy four to five cups of coffee in SA for the price of one in the UK. It was my decision to stay in a hostel. My husband has never done so before. I used hostels in Scotland

Art deco buildings

and Orkney with friends. Read about those trips – here – and – here. The accommodation was acceptable to fabulous.

So I found us a hostel in Hove which is about 2 – 3 miles from Brighton. It looked fine on the web.

Greenie on Brighton Pier

We found instructions for the bus and got there easily. The guy who managed the place was a really nice chap and I feel bad for saying this, but the place was awful. He told me it was owned by a charity and all proceeds went to a good cause. He also said they were looking at fixing it up.

Our rooms were clean enough. The linen was garish and well worn. The shower had a gaping hole and no trap. I lost a razor down there. There were notices on the walls imploring people not to

White cliffs

make a noise. The communal area was dark and dingy. The kitchen cupboard doors had fallen off. I wouldn’t use anything there or eat there.

I also suspect this place is used by homeless people. The same faces constantly lurked outside drinking beer and I could smell weed. Maybe that was the charity? A place of safety perhaps?

We decided that we were only sleeping there and resolved to get out as much as possible. Turns out

Seaside eateries

Brighton is a mecca for vegans, vegetarians and organic foodies. Who knew? Happy Cow listed loads of places to eat out. We walked along the promenade from Hove into Brighton instead of catching the bus. Much nicer.

There are brightly coloured beach huts along the way. As you come into Brighton you can see beautiful white cliffs. The sea was calm and flat that day. The beach is pebbled. A novelty for us. South African beaches are white powder sand. I LOVED the art deco beachfront apartments. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Agatha Christie Poirot series were filmed in Brighton and Hove.

Brighton Beach

More on Brighton in the next post – here.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

York England

York England

Traveling in York – 2014

Gates to York

The main reason for us heading up to York was because my other half is a serious model railway enthusiast. Our coffee table at home houses tracks and locos. The whole setup actually works. Lights go on and his trains move around the track. A great way to start conversations in our house.

Train Museum

York has one of the biggest Model Railway Expos every year. My other half was all keen to visit the show. Not only that, York has the biggest railway museum in the world. And it’s free! Sort of. They ask for a donation at the door. The train museum has so many trains and videos and information boards that you really need to put aside a fair amount of time to take it all in.

York is synonymous with the York Minster, Easter eggs and chocolate, Vikings, cats, trains, River Ouse, ghost tours, the Romans and Emperor Constantine who lived there. It’s halfway between London and Scotland and was a favourite stop-over in days gone by.

We went by train from London’s Kings Cross. Just arriving at York station is an attraction in itself. It’s one of the most beautiful and well preserved Victorian railway stations in the

York Station


We booked at our usual – IBIS Hotel, (no we don’t get paid to say that). The IBIS in York is near the racecourse which turned out to be the venue for the Expo. We wanted to do a Park Run in York and that’s also at the racecourse. So it was a good choice with hindsight. Park Runners will like the racecourse as it’s flat. York have a big group. Park Runs occur every Saturday morning around the world for a timed 5 kilometre run. It’s free, but you have to register and get a bar code.

Roman ruins

York is not a big place and we easily took in the sights on foot. Once we had checked in, we located the Tourism Info, loaded up on brochures and went back to the hotel to decide what to do. We had Internet in our room so also did a Google search on York.

We’re both terrible at taking relaxing holidays. Every single trip, we do the same thing. We find out as much as we can, can’t bear to choose and try to do it all. You would think with York being such a small place AND we had four nights at the hotel, that we would have had time to chill. But no.

York was originally called Yorvik by the Vikings who settled there. You can see where it gets it’s modern name. They have a free tour every day given by volunteers. We figured that would be a great way to start. It was supposed to be 90 minutes but was more like two hours. Which was fine as we learned a LOT.

Church Goodramgate going back to 12th century

Apparently below the foundations of the city lie relics and artifacts that will never be recovered. Each time they excavate in York teams of archaeologists get involved as special items are discovered.

Read Part 2 – on this link.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.



Travel in Glasgow in 2012

This blog is posted in three parts, each post a week apart.

Argyle Arcade

I’ve visited – Glasgow – before and been in transit through the city a few times. It’s one of my favourite cities, so when a friend came back from visiting Scotland and said she didn’t care for Glasgow, I was completely shocked.

When I went to Glasgow this time, I was conscious of what could have put her off.  My main reason for going to Glasgow was to do the – Great Scottish Run. The run was brilliant. Over ten thousand people ran the half marathon and it was a dream. No congestion, a course that isn’t ardous and takes you on a tour through the city.

Historically Glasgow was minding it’s own business as a regular medieval town for centuries. In 1707 a treaty allowing Glasgow to trade more freely, combined with it’s excellent loaction brought about rapid changes. Factories flourished and imports and exports as well as ship building on the River Clyde created massive employment opportunities and an influx of people. The city grew beyond recognition. Around the 1950’s trade and manufacture began to move to developing countries and much of the inner city fell into disrepair.

Glasgow Friendly City

Derelict chunks of the inner area were pulled down and tower blocks were built on the periphery to move and re-house large numbers of people. That proved to be a bad idea and many have since been evacuated and imploded. Read more – Red Road Flats – and – Bruce Report. The result of this is that Glasgow is the complete opposite of most cities. It’s been called a doughnut city because it’s hollow in the middle.

The exciting part is the planning and developing that is currently going on in the inner city. Essentially Glasgow is a city busy re-inventing itself. Old Victorian sandstone buildings and – Charles Rennie Mackintosh – architecture sit right next to glass and chrome structures.

Glasgow Cathedral

Although the poplulation of the inner city has shrunk, if you include the out-lying areas, Glasgow is home to 2.5 million people making it the biggest city in Scotland and third biggest in the UK. Edinburgh might be the capital city but Glasgow is the economic powerhouse and the hub of all activity. Glasgow is the biggest shopping destination in the UK after London. It’s crammed full of fun and funky places to eat, play or stay.

The quirky Glaswegians are a massive part of the character of the city. They call Glasgow – The Friendly City – and it truly is. Each time I have asked a passerby for help or directions they have just about taken me to where I want to go.

Modern art at GoMa

Glasgow has a massive art and music scene. In – this blog – I list Glaswegian musicians. And some of the best humour comes from Glaswegian comedians. Think – Billy Connolly – and – Frankie Boyle. Not to forget a new wave of fashion coming from the likes of – Louise Gray, Christopher Kane – and – Holly Fulton.

Tourism in Glasgow isn’t as obvious as in Edinburgh but that’s not to say it isn’t happening. The Commonwealth Games are set for 2014 and Glasgow is bidding for the 2018 Youth Olympics. Glasgow also hosts plenty conferences and exhibitions.

Glasgow Central Station

I guess if you are used to settling into an Alpine lodge or soaking up the sun on a tropical island, then you may not care for Glasgow. But if you love art, music, food, shopping and discovering fun quirky places and spaces then you will surely love Glasgow.

You need to get a map, divide the city into the amount of time you have on hand, and get cracking exploring. Next week I give my suggestions as to what to do.

Here are some handy links for more info on Glasgow –

The Lighthouse

Great Scottish Run

Willow Tearooms
Explore Glasgow
Glasgow Museums
Scottish National Heritage  
City Sightseeing Glasgow
Clyde Clippers
Clyde Cruises
Sail Scotland

Next week in – Part 2 – I make suggestions for a walking tour.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Scottish Coastal trip + Orkney Island

Scottish Coastal trip + Orkney Island

Travel the Scottish Coast and Orkney Islands in 2012

Aberdeen beach front on a sunny day 

This blog is posted in three parts, each post is one week apart.

I have spent a fair amount of time in Aberdeen, Scotland, as my husband works in the marine oil industry. We make a point of seeing as much of Scotland as we can, while we can. We did the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides a while back and I just assumed Orkney would be another similar Scottish island. Since there are around 800 Scottish islands and I couldn’t possibly see them all, Orkney was not on my list.

Silver granite housing in Old Aberdeen

Not so, said an Orcadian lady I had been running with. Orkney was previously a Scandinavian island so their language and heritage is vastly different from the Gallic speaking western islands. And Orkney has more neolithic sites and archeology than they have the manpower or means to un-earth. I had some friends coming over to visit so decided to take us on a round road trip of northern Scotland. We headed up the eastern coast, popped across to Orkney and came back down the west coast. We had 9 days to pack in as much as we could. It’s fair to say they came back having seem a lot.

Hill O Many Stanes Caithness
Pennan village

Since we rented an apartment in Aberdeen we kicked off with two days exploring the city. Aberdeen is the third largest city in Scotland and is the oil capital of Europe. It’s called the Silver City or the Granite City due to the silver grey granite they use in their buildings. It frequently rains in Aberdeen and on grey drizzly days the sparkly silver flecks are not visible. But we got lucky and had two glorious days of sunshine when we did our city tour and the buildings were magnificent. I found a great DIY walking tour of the city in – Fodor’s Scotland. You can also get a print-out of a walking tour from the Aberdeen tourism office in Union Street near Castlegate. NB – the tourism office opens later than the retail shops, closes for lunch and they finish up earlier too.

We walked past some of the key attractions – find them – here – and – here. We also took in a few free museums. I like freebies. Entry fees can quickly add up to a large sum of money. Free museums include Provost Skene’s House, Maritime Museum and the Tolbooth. (check visit times for Tolbooth as they are not always open) I also wanted us to visit Old Aberdeen, which be warned, is a bit of a walk from the city centre if you’re not fit.

Kings College Aberdeen

To make the most of your sight-seeing in Aberdeen, walk along the beach esplanade toward the Brig O Balgownie on the River Don. Then walk through the beautifully laid out Seaton Park, through Cruickshank Botanic Gardens toward Old Aberdeen. If it’s too much of a walk, you can always catch a bus to and from this area. (Tourist info have bus details) Make sure you see St Machar’s Cathedral dating back to 15th and 16th century and King’s College. There are also lovely old houses which give an olde worlde feel to the area.

Seaton Park Aberdeen

I wouldn’t call Aberdeen a shopping city but you can find famous high fashion brands like Topshop, River Island, H and M and Zara in one of the three main shopping malls namely – Union SquareBon Accord and St Nicholas and also Trinity Centre. Bargain hunters will love the charity shops in Union Street and Rosemount Viaduct as well as Primark where you can get just about anything at rock bottom prices. Further along Union street is – Cruise, a designer emporium for those with cash to burn.

On Day Three I collected our car from – Enterprise Car Hire. Just a note, they drive on the left in the UK and best prices for petrol are at the major supermarkets such as Tesco, ASDA or Morrisons. You are unlikely to find supermarkets in the small villages so make sure you top up when you pass through a bigger town.

Old Aberdeen

We drove up the east coast following Scotland’s National Tourist Routes. They have brown road signs which mark the scenic drives. The east coastline is rugged and you will encounter ruins, castles and fishing villages along the way. We stopped at Slains Castle in Cruden Bay, a ruin reputed to be the inspiration for Bram stoker’s Dracula. And we drove into Pennan, a village where the movie – Local Hero – was filmed.

There are loads of pre-historic monuments and sites in the north east of Scotland. If time permits you may want to view Longman Hill near Banff Bay and Hill O Many Stanes in Caithness just south of Wick which we saw on the second day of our road trip.

Slains Castle near Cruden Bay

Next week in – Part 2 – I talk about the rest of the road trip up the east coast, the ferry to Orkney and Orkney Islands.

Old fishing cottages near Aberdeen beachfront
Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.



Travel in Mauritius in 2005

Room Le Méridien Hotel

This blog is written in two parts.

Mauritius is the Miss World of holiday destinations. Think – blue skies, palm fringed white soft sandy beaches, unending days of warm sunshine, crystal clear waters and warm friendly people. Because Mauritius is keen to prevent over development, it retains a lot of it’s natural beauty. It was originally uninhabited and the home of the dodo which is now extinct thanks to the arrival of mankind on the island a few hundred years ago.

And it’s not just the dodo that we will never see again. There are lots of animal and plant species that have been wiped out by the intentional and accidental introduction of foreign creatures and plants. A trip to one of the nature reserves will give insight into the flora and fauna which are such a critical part of the character of Mauritius. Read more here – Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.

Hindu shrine next to the beach

Tourism – brings in a third of the Mauritian foreign income so they also want to ensure it remains a premium holiday destination. It’s a favourite port of call for passenger liners. Development occurs in resorts that are geared to cater to your every whim.

You can expect a room next to the beach with views of the Indian Ocean from your balcony. A week break will typically include airport transfers, breakfast, and in-house activities such as use of a gym and pool and beach games such as volleyball. Extras such as fishing safaris, cycle trips, spa treatments and day trips around the island can be booked at the reception desk.

Greenie at a beach bar

Because Mauritius is almost a year round destination we decided to use up some of our accumulated air miles and pop across. I often think the point of air miles is to make sure – you never actually get a free flight – as they limit the number of seats, time of year, amount of time you have to book ahead . . . you know the story.

I once got a free fight from SAA using air miles. Got my confirmation by text and an e-mail which I printed. As you do. When I arrived at the airport, my ticket had been cancelled. Just like that. No warning, no explanation, no apology, no alternate flight, no nothing.

Indoor market

Since the only time to avoid Mauritius is January to March when there is a possibility of cyclones, we had a fair chance of redeeming our air miles.  Best time to go? April to October. The temperature is fairly constant year round, averaging between 25’C and 30’C. They don’t seem to have a winter or a summer.

Hand made boat – one of the local crafts

Mauritius is popular for French tourists who make up 25% of the visitors. English is the official language but not everyone can speak it. Newspapers, schools, notices and legislature are all in French. But the language everyone actually speaks is Creole, which is not taught in their schools. There are 22 different languages spoken on the island including Hindi, Tamil and Arabic. The people are a mix of French and British colonialists who settled, and slaves who arrived from India, Africa and China. This mix of cultures has created a unique hybrid cuisine. Mauritian food is to die for. Have a look at these foodie sites – Madeline, Dima and Runweb. Plenty fresh food and vegetables. Lots of yummy curries and a great place for vegetarians – except when on excursions when they cater for tourists – read about that next week.

We stayed at – Le Méridien Ile Maurice – which is near Turtle Bay. It’s on the north east of the island which was a fairly newly developed area, away from the busy tourist places. We had to take a taxi to go exploring. Our room was spacious and we could see and hear the ocean rolling outside.

Pool Le Méridien Hotel

Breakfast was an eat-all-you-want buffet. The choice and variety was so vast that it defied belief. You can start your day with champagne and oysters, a bowl of Bircher muesli, a full on English fry up or delicate pastries. It’s all there. We had our evening meal in-house and the evening meal was yet another almighty buffet. They have a different theme for each night of the week such as Italian or Creole. And if that wasn’t enough choice they had more restaurants where you could have seafood or a curry perhaps. You will not go hungry at these resorts.

See – Part 2 – next week for what to see and do in Mauritius.

Beach Le Méridien Hotel

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

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