Truck spotting on London to Edinburgh Road

Our flight arrived London Heathrow 15 minutes earlier than scheduled, the move through Customs was uneventful although the line up of people for countries other than UK/EU was rather long so I opted to enter the UK on my Euro passport. Whilst I waited for the other 3 to gain entry I went to the baggage hall, collected a trolley and headed to the baggage carousel.

After collecting our luggage it was off to board the bus to the rental car company. We had booked a VW Passat station wagon but we were given a Mazda 6 wagon. We realised immediately this was not going to cope with all our luggage, each of us had a large bag, hand luggage plus we 3 females with handbags as well. Ty decided it was best to upgrade, which proved to be costly…..half again of the original price we had paid. Always best to book the rental car in advance to get the best rate, which we had done thinking a Passat wagon would cope. We had no choice but to upgrade or the backseat passengers would be nursing bags and that wouldn’t do.

This took some time to organise and we were finally on the road to Edinburgh by 6.45am.

First stop was a service centre off the motorway for coffee and breakfast. There were a number of truckies stopped there, when you see truckies that’s the place to stop.

To pass the hours and keep us alert we came up with a little I spy game…….we had to spot Eddie Stobbard trucks. I can hear you…..’who?” “what?” you’re saying “are these two going loopy”? We have watched, occasionally, a ‘boys’ TV channel with programmes about trucks and there was a series on Stobbards trucking company in UK. Each truck is named after a female so we also had to spot what it’s name was. Alison, Freya Grace, Tegan Eve and Leanne were some of the names we spied. There are people in UK who spend their time spotting these trucks, similar to train spotters I suppose. Not that I know exactly what train spotters do other than stand on overhead railway bridges looking for trains. Standing on railway bridges with a pair of binoculars doesn’t really appeal to me thank goodness. So we decided to see who could spot the trucks first. Silly game but gave us something to focus on during the long drive up the motorway. The backseat passengers chose not to join in our little game of ‘I spy’.

At one coffee stop Ted and Dog picked up a new travelling companion in Maurice Meerkat. Just as well he could travel up front with Ted and Dog as there was no room in the baggage area for him!

On the road again after another stop, this time for lunch, we arrived in Edinburgh at 4.10pm. Nine and a half hours including several food/coffee breaks this wasn’t bad time. GPS took us straight to our accommodation at Heriott Park. I had booked an apartment and, as often happens, it was on the 3rd floor of a building with no lift. I have a tendency to gravitate to buildings with character, not always a good thing as the internal staircases in these buildings are usually narrow with lots of steps to our rooms. I cringed when I stepped inside the front door and I could hear Ty saying “You’ve done it again haven’t you? I have to carry the bags up multiple flights of stairs don’t I?” I prefer not to answer or just mumble “sorry”. I feel really bad about it and promise to be more careful with my choices in future…..until I see some other place that I think has old world charm and my promise is forgotten. Ty puts a different interpretation on my view of old world charm luckily he isn’t booking all our accommodation!!!! We’d be sitting in fabulous new apartments with square windows, square walls and absolutely no character……..Who needs a lift to ease the burden of dragging bags up and down stairs?

Once we had all the baggage upstairs it was time to explore the surrounding area and decide on somewhere to have dinner. We had a range of cafes, a pub, a pharmacy and a couple of dress shops 400 metres up the road and round the corner…..although don’t quote me on that as I have no idea on distances!!

We decided to eat at the local pub and assumed all pubs served a variety of meals on their menus. Stepping inside I noticed it was very busy but 2 small tables together were free. As we sat down the customers in the pub turned to give us the quick once over then returned to their drinks and conversations.

A barman came over to take our meal order, he appeared nervous but perhaps that was his personality. We all stayed away from the haggis….although the meals we ordered were quite unappetising so maybe we should have tried the haggis!!! We were beginning to think we were upsetting the barman because each time he came near us he was more nervous than the time before. Poor thing but it amused us.

I really upset both barmen when I decided to ask for a coffee. Ty said “good luck with that” but I could see the coffee machine AND the menu offered a variety of coffees. The meal probably should have been an indicator for me but I ignored the signs and stepped up to the bar. The younger barman served me and I asked for my usual “a half strength latte please”. He stared at me for a minute then walked out of the bar to another little room and had a discussion with our nervous barman. I seemed to be waiting for an awfully long time for him to come back and make the coffee. The espresso machine was sitting on the counter of the main bar and ready to go. “So what’s the problem”, I thought to myself, as I looked towards Ty, Darelle and Maryanne and shrugged but all they did was laugh.

Eventually the barman returned to the air and announced he was unable to make my coffee as the machine was broken. What could I say, the machine looked in perfect working order, the light was on so it didn’t appear broken to me. However, not wanting to raise a disturbance in this little old pub I said “Oh, that’s disappointing, the machine looks like it’s on” and walked back to our table to break the news that our barmen couldn’t or wouldn’t use the coffee machine!!! I’d probably had enough coffees today anyway.

Our aim had been to stay up past 9.30pm so we could combat the jet lag. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep those eyelids open and would have been so much easier to give in to the tiredness that sweeps over me in waves. However we all passed the 9.30 deadline. Ty had fallen asleep sitting on the lounge so, with him still sleeping, I managed to get him to stand and I frogmarched him into bed.

Let the holiday begin…………

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Belfast Day Out

Whilst visiting Belfast a must do is viewing the various murals around the Falls Road and the Shankhill Road and the Titanic Exhibition. Of course there are many more points of interest but if a visitor is limited for time ensure these are on the list. This was my second visit to Belfast but the first visit for my travelling companions. My sister, Darelle, was especially interested in this city as her late husband grew up in Belfast.

Today was another full day of sightseeing and, in the middle of this we were also meeting 2 of Darelle’s in laws! Uncle Billy and Auntie Rita for the first time. I should think this would have been difficult for her but everything went well.

We spent the morning at the Titanic Exhibition at the dock yards. Everyone knows so much about the sinking of the ship, stories of survivors and sad stories of those lost but its still a great exhibition. I found it to be extremely well put together and surprisingly interesting given I’ve read so much about the Titanic over the years.

After the exhibition we still had time to visit the city centre and a couple of shops. Did you seriously think I’d spend a day without shopping??? I spied a Carrolls gift shop, crossed the road immediately and stepped in the front door. When we finally left the store we’d spent £268 between us (hope my niece doesn’t read this, have a feeling Danielle thinks I’m a bad influence on her mother encouraging her to spend).

Billy and Rita took us to lunch then we had a short stroll through the magnificent building and grounds of the University to the Museum where we had coffee. After coffee we went back to our hotel, they bade us farewell and left for the railway station and their return trip to Bangor. Darelle says they told her they could tell she was the quiet one in the family! How rude……although they couldn’t possibly have been referring to me….I’m like a church mouse!!!! Husband says I’m more like a church mouse wearing army boots. Hmm, should one put up with that sort of rudeness from ones husband?

We had booked a Black Taxi Tour…..chose this over the hop on hop off bus because the BT would stop and let us get out to take pics at our leisure, it’s also a little more personal. The Black Taxi driver that came to pick us up was a smoker, not just the faint smell of cigarette smoke under the after shave type smoker but a fully fledged chain smoker. This meant lots of photo opportunities for us but an uncomfortable tour in a smelly taxi. Rust was also prevalent in the doors and the side panels of the cab. All that aside the tour was well worth it and the driver took us to areas the hop on hop off bus couldn’t. We visited the Falls Road area first and viewed the murals and a couple of monuments to those killed in the conflict through the 1960s and 70s. The gates at the Falls Road are still locked at 6pm each evening, an automatic locking system is in place. We then moved on to the Protestant area. The police station was like a massive fortress or jail itself….it had been attacked so many times it had to be secured as much as possible. I have placed a pic below.

The driver imparted lots of interesting facts and showed us many places of interest including taking us to a plaque on a street near the Shankhill Road where a bomb was set off one Saturday, in the middle of the day, outside a take away fish shop. As is usual with these types of acts innocent people, including children, were killed. Our guide was one of the people that helped clear the rubble with their bear hands. It was in the 70’s, before the mobile phone, his wife and children were in the high street around the same time and he couldn’t find them for over an hour after the blast. I couldn’t imagine the anguish he went through.

Darelle was quite nervousness about heading into the Shankhill Rd area and wouldn’t get out of the taxi to take any photos. We started to discuss the current troubles between the protagonists during the Orangemen’s march with the driver and when he suggested taking us to the protest area my sister became adamant we shouldn’t go there. Her brother in law had told her to stay right away from these areas as they weren’t safe. However, we were in a black cab, our driver was a Protestant, we were tourists and I had no doubt that we would be quite safe, have to live our lives without fear as best we can. I said to the driver ” yes, why not”. Ty and Maryanne agreed that we should take a look as well.

As we drove up to the intersection the police vehicles were stationed on each side of the street on the Protestant side, in the centre of the intersection stood a man in his late 60s holding a British flag and wearing a large orange sash around his neck. As we turned the corner where the protesters were camped the taxi stopped and the driver asked if we’d like to get out and talk to the protesters. We thought about it for a few minutes and, as much as I would have liked to, I didn’t want to add to my sisters discomfort and anxiety so I declined. As we sat in the taxi he explained about the pub behind us being in the catholic area and directly across from where we sat an elderly woman was chatting animatedly to several others at her front gate. It appears the patrons would come out of the pub, cross the road to her house and smash her front window regularly forcing her to install bullet proof glass. What a way to live!

We picked up that the driver was possibly Protestant because once we left the Falls Rd area and travelled towards the Shankhill people would wave to him. We also sent more time in the Protestant area. Fine by us, we weren’t bothered either way and he was fairly impartial. He has been driving black taxis for many years and told us that at the height of ‘the troubles’ he wasn’t able to drive his cab into the Falls Road area. He also mentioned Belfast taxi drivers are the only taxi drivers that do not have their names or addresses displayed on their taxi licences….for obvious reasons.

After the tour finished we asked the driver to drop us off at the Crown Hotel in the city centre. The Crown is the oldest hotel in Belfast, it was also the most crowded on this Friday evening!!! No chance of a drink or a meal here but what a magnificent old building, inside and out. The bar and the ceilings were amazing. The lounge area consisted of chairs, tables and a number of snugs that had ornate timber and glass around them and a door….if you want to have your own private party I suppose. We took some photos and stepped back outside to look for somewhere else to go for a drink. It was raining now so we needed to find somewhere less crowded. We looked across the road to the Europa Hotel and decided that would do us. The Europa Hotel has been bombed more than 10 times over the years but we figured that was less of a concern we just wanted to have a quiet drink.

Ty has taken to Guiness, so he ordered a pint, I had a wine, Maryanne had a JD and Darelle decided on a shandy. The barman coped with the first 3 drinks but the shandy was a problem. Darelle came back with a lemonade and a lager….they couldn’t add a dash of lager to the glass of lemonade!! The barman told her he could only sell her both drinks and she would need to mix it herself. A bit odd that a barman doesn’t know how to add a dash of anything to a drink……but then the head barman was a grumpy old thing so he probably couldn’t be bothered!!!!!

We decided to go back to the same place we had lunch for dinner as it was a very good meal and Maryanne hadn’t eaten there. That proved to be a mistake. We were given the menus and chose our meals, we then decided to ave dessert…lemon tart took our fancy. “We’ll have 3 lemon tarts please” the waiter looked a us and then said “I’m sorry, you can’t have that dessert, we’re not serving off that menu”. Huh?? This is the menu we were given. “Ok, we don’t want anything else thanks”. “So you don’t want dessert?” “No, we only wanted the lemon tart”. He went away to tell the kitchen and see if he could get it for us. He returned ” No, sorry, you can’t have it”. Why would you present diners with a menu they can’t order from? Dare I say that’s typically irish!!!! With that we paid the bill and left.

Our last night in Belfast and we couldn’t get dessert. Probably a good thing as we’re eating way too much is trip anyway…..bring on High Tea (afternoon tea) at the Shellbourne Hotel Dublin.

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Singapore

Singapore Stopover – first leg of UK trip 2013.

Changi airport is advertised as one of the biggest and the best in the world. It certainly felt like it as we stepped into the arrivals hall to complete our customs declaration forms before passing border control. The size of this area was overwhelming. I felt like an ant that had been taken from it’s nest and dropped onto a large shiny island. We had just stepped off a plane with at least 340 or more individuals but where were they now??? No one in that hall but the 4 of us and 6 border control officers. We stepped off the flight with everyone else so it just seemed strange that people had moved on so quickly.

We hadn’t booked transfers this time, after researching the cost of private transfers and a taxi van it was much cheaper to hire a taxi van in Singapore. Four of us and all our luggage was S$60. Although when we booked one for the return journey we agreed with hotel reception that it would be the same price. However, as is often the case for foreign tourists, Ty double checked the cost with the driver before we drove away and he said, “No, it’s $65”. So before we went anywhere the driver and Ty went back into the hotel and when they returned to the taxi it was $60. It wasn’t the extra $5.00 that was at issue it’s being taken advantage of and that’s the main reason I generally pre book private transfers. If all tourists put up with drivers adding extra to the agreed fare, once they have you in the taxi, this practice will continue. We all need to stand up for fair play.

Our hotel was near Clarke Quay and unfortunately the reviews and pictures did not prove to be correct in this instance. The hotel,at first appearance, was disappointing with the reception area looking like a backpackers hostel. Perhaps it will improve, I thought, ever the optimist. It didn’t, the rooms were of a similar size to hotels in some parts of Europe. The bathroom was tiny and as with the main bedroom was badly in need of renovation. It was clean, bed wasn’t too bad and we had quite a good view from the large windows. It was only for one night so we would manage. Although Maryanne had a slight problem with the shower. In their room. The shower head was angled in such a way that you had to be at least 5ft 8ins for the water to cascade over you. Maryanne had no chance luckily the shower could also be hand held but washing her hair was out of the question!

The hotel is old and dated however we did find out the hotel is undergoing renovation and so far floors 1 to 4 had been completed unfortunately we were on the 8th!! It’s situated in an area not far from Orchard Road with many restaurants and bars.

The weather in Singapore,as usual, was very hot and humid with a late afternoon storm. We decided to take a Hop on Hop off bus for the day, see the sights and hop off somewhere in the Orchard Road shopping area. Mind you, we weren’t shopping just looking – we have 2 days to shop on our return. Do you know how many shopping centres there are just on Orchard Road? I don’t either, way too many to count! How many did we set foot in?? Three or four. Did we manage to keep our money firmly hidden and untouched in our wallets?? Of course…..not!!! Well, Ty and Darelle did but Maryanne and I just couldn’t resist a bargain!!! We did well though ‘cos we didn’t shop until the fourth centre….not too bad….we showed restraint early on, only weakened when the bargain was too good to ignore!!!!

What really struck all of us was the emphasis on food in Singapore. Restaurants, cafes, bars everywhere, practically every second store. The shopping centres appear to have a large number of food courts on each floor. Some centres had more focus on food vendors than other retailers.

The Sphere (similar to London Eye) has a High Tea available and given I’m partial to High Teas I thought this might be a possibility on our return. Raffles was also on the wish list but I think the Singapore Sphere would be very different……High Tea on a gigantic slow moving Ferris wheel just has to be done!!!! I’ve decided that this holiday will have a High Tea theme.

We had a late flight out to London so decided to pay for a 6pm checkout which would allow us to shower and change for the flight.

We had dinner at an Italian cafe!restaurant at the airport, food wasn’t too bad, at least it was cooked for us not mass produced and sitting in a Bain Marie, and we could get a wine. The cafe had one fault …… no ice cream!!! How rude, it was one of these times when we just felt like ice cream. We were intent on finding some sort of ice cream and we did… As we rounded the corner there was Burger King, flashing lights and all. “Four chocolate sundaes please” we told the cashier. We collected our sundaes and sat down to watch the passing parade. Not a large passing parade though as BK is at the end of a corridor.

Time to board the plane for the next leg….hopefully both Ty and I will be able to get a few hours sleep as we’re driving to Edinburgh immediately after we arrive at Heathrow in the morning.

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