High Tea at The London Ritz to Pig Racing in Griffith

Our spirits were high as we stepped out of revolving doors of The Ritz after the decadent high tea (or was it the champagne?) even though the rain was bucketing down and this was our last night in London. Our holiday was coming to an end very quickly now. The doorman summoned a black cab for us, we walked to the cab door without the shelter of the umbrella offered, it didn’t matter if we got a little wet now, we were on the way home after a very pleasant evening.

The trip was slow, a combination of the rain and traffic congestion in central London. When we arrived at Camden Town the cab driver had a problem finding our address. Unfortunately for us we assumed he would know how to get into our street so when we passed a landmark near the street we didn’t mention it.  He drove around a little then said “sorry mate, I can’t find how to get to your street”.  So much for the “knowledge”! Even though we’d walked back and forth from the house to Mornington Crescent tube station, to Camden Town, to Camden Lock and to Kings Cross/St Pancras we weren’t familiar with the driving directions. The cab circled around for the third time and we were back near Mornington Station – “We’ll get out here and walk thanks”. There was no point in driving all around the area racking up a taxi bill because the driver didn’t know how to reach our street, better to walk the 10 minutes to the house.  Thank goodness the rain had eased!

We finally opened the door to the house, Darelle was sitting upstairs watching TV, her packing all done. We still had packing to do and no time in the morning – we had booked the private taxi for 6.45am.  Tonight was the last night of our 5 week holiday and I think we were all ready to go home.  It’s a long time for four people to spend together and still arrive home friends.

We’d been home from our UK trip for just under 2 weeks when the October long weekend came around.  One of my good friends lives in Griffith and we hadn’t had time to catch up for 18 months – a visit was long overdue. Griffith is a city in south west NSW , a citrus fruit, grape growing and wine making area, part of the Riverina.  Griffith had a notorious history in the 70’s with organised crime gangs and marijuana distribution with one very high-profile murder where the body has never been found and no one was ever charged.  The main suspect legged it to Ireland. However that’s in the past and if this piques your interest in Griffith you’ll find more information on internet – just Google the name Donald MacKay.

Griffith is a 7.5 hour drive (on a good traffic day with very limited stops) from our home on the Central Coast of NSW, flights from Sydney are available and take just over an hour.  “Why wouldn’t you fly” you’re thinking – I can read your mind!!! I’ve flown once and would fly again but Ty is not so keen on small aircraft….the little planes going to Griffith are SAAB340s with capacity to carry around 30 passengers.  Too small says my husband!!! We drive 15 hours return trip and spend about 30 hours with Betty.

This particular October weekend the Griffith Country Show is on – Ty has never been to a country show so Betty and I tell him we’ll take him to the Show. All of you who’ve attended the Royal Easter Show in Sydney and a country show will know they’re a little similar – both have show bags, rides,  pavilions showcasing local talent in cake making, bread making, flower arranging, needlecraft, photography – to name a few or possibly I’ve covered the lot!  There are also ring events such as tractor pulling, horse events, bike riders, cat and dog shows and pig racing. Previously there had been a set of geese wearing various outfits of gingham and lace but they were absent this year.

Before going to the show we had the Saturday night dance to attend.  Betty and her friends, Lino, Jo and Penny to name a few, are into New Vogue dancing, they travel far and wide to attend dances and balls. Being a little co-ordinated  dance is not for me but we go along  to have a chat and a few drinks with this friendly group. The dances are generally held in small clubs and the women bring a plate of something savoury or sweet for supper.  Very much a  country tradition….this tradition has died out over time in the City …if a city dweller received an invitation with “please bring a plate” these days more likely than not they’d think the host didn’t have a enough plates for everyone so would bring an empty plate!!!! Yes, you may laugh but I know of someone who did just that……

Back to the show……the entry fee to the show was $15 per person and that included parking as well!!! Even though Griffith had rain in the past week the ground was very dusty, being a windy day the dust was swirling around us, in our eyes, mouth and nose. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t step lightly enough to stop the dust from rising…..where was a water truck when you needed one??  We headed into the first pavilion we saw, it contained people with their home-made honey products and some items that might be of interest to farmers. Hmm, farming doesn’t have much appeal for me (no disrespect to farmers and their wives they do a fabulous job but I couldn’t do it) I would miss the shops way too much!! We didn’t spend a lot of time in that pavilion…back out into the dust and into the next pavilion.  This was more interesting, I particularly like the photographic section and there were some interesting cake ‘masterpieces’.

Outside there was a crowd surging (sounds good) 10 people were rushing to the pig pens.  We were caught up in the crush and went with the flow.  There they were, the little oinkers, lying around, sleeping, oblivious to the adults and children clambering for a front row position around their pen and the race track.  Two presenters from one of the TV House and Garden shows was on hand with a film crew ready to call the race and record every exciting second.  Looking at the sleeping piglets I doubted there would be any race at all….how would they get them to stand up let alone run when they were so sleepy?

Let me set the scene for the pig racing…..first of all think small, small oinkers, small race track even smaller ‘jockeys’.  A bell rang, the pig keeper jumped into action, waking the pigs, tying on their jockeys whilst another handler filled the finish line dishes with milk and food.The ‘jockeys’ were little stuffed toys tied around the piglets’ bellies.  A raffle was held before the start and several children won the right to name a piglet for the race.  The piglets were lined up and the bell rang again, they were off….sort of.  A couple of the piglets stood around, one went the wrong way, they had to be steered to the track. A couple of jockeys fell off. Eventually a hungry piglet found its way to the food trough, others soon followed although one cheated and, rather than complete the race, pushed his nose through the wire on the other side to reach the food trough.

After the excitement it was time for lunch, we all know the array of food available at a show and this show was no different. Dagwood Dogs or Pluto pups, hamburgers, pies, steak sandwiches, greasy chips followed by large portions of fairy floss or toffee apples washed down with copious amounts of beer or soft drink.  All those culinary delights that people only seem to eat at show time.  Betty and I chose to sit in the grandstand and eat our sumptuous lunch (i had a pluto pup, Betty a small hamburger) whilst Ty wandered off to the ever exciting tractor pull…..eeck…another ‘dust in all orifices’ experience for which I was pleased to abstain.

Before leaving the show we felt it wouldn’t be complete without a walk through sideshow alley……it was a rather short walk.

As we drove away from the Griffith showground we commented on the fact two weeks ago we were in London getting ready for High Tea at the Ritz and today we’ve witnessed our first pig race!  Who would have thought……………..

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A penchant for High Tea

A penchant for High Tea takes us to a variety of places in Australia and, now, to places around the world…. 

Whilst in Ireland we would be celebrating our first of our third wedding anniversaries and, as I love sampling  High Tea (with Champagne, of course) what better place to do this than the famous Lord Mayors Lounge in the Shelbourne Hotel Dublin.  I had given our travelling companions advance notice of this plan however they weren’t obliged to attend as this was our anniversary.  We would not be disappointed if they preferred to do something else.  Originally they said they’d let us have the afternoon to ourselves but when the time came to make booking both decided to join us.

We dressed  in the best clothes we had  and left the house for the 5 minute walk to the bus station for the twenty-minute journey to the city centre.  Once in the city we still had a bit of a walk to the Shelbourne Hotel.  It was a lovely day so that wasn’t a problem, we were enjoying the Sunday stroll. We arrived at the Hotel early for our arranged time so we went to the bar and ordered a glass of wine….well Maryanne and I had a glass of wine, Ty a beer and Darelle a soft drink.  The small lounge we were in very much reminded me of the old English movies with the men’s smoking lounge with the big rounded, thickly padded and buttoned leather sofas, dark wallpaper, sports pictures adorning  the walls and the barman in his crisp white shirt, black bow tie and black pants with a very serious attitude. The room was  dark and sombre which meant we talked in whispers, no raucous laughing in this bar!!  We humans are odd sometimes  aren’t we? Allowing a room to dictate how we act.

At last the time arrived for us to move out of the dark room into the very bright, almost shining, Lord Mayors Lounge. The waiter seated us at a table with round back lounge chairs covered in beige or stripped fabrics between 2 windows. We didn’t have a view to the street outside…no people watching available here, well, outside the room anyway.  The piano was directly behind us and the woman playing smiled at us as we sat down.  She didn’t break into hysterical laughter so that was a good sign.

We had more important things to focus on than people watching and worrying about what the pianist was thinking.  What goodies would be served to us this afternoon, would we receive hot food as well petite fours?  These questions were foremost  in our thoughts!

Our very polite waiter arrived with the menus and asked if we were partaking of the High Tea or the Champagne High Tea – “oh, the champagne high tea” I replied a little too quickly probably, but not unusual given I’d already had one glass of wine. He didn’t seem taken aback just nodded and asked us to choose a tea from the tea menu whilst he strode off to collect the bottle of Moet.

Lord Mayors Lounge Shelbourne Hotel Dublin

Lord Mayors Lounge Shelbourne Hotel Dublin

Maryanne chose a pear and caramel tea, Darelle a lemon grass with a ginger twist, Ty, a little boring, chose english breakfast and for me it was chocolate and orange truffle. Our waiter came back with the silver service and set down tea strainers strategically on all our cups, however, Maryanne had a tea leaf on her strainer so he promptly whipped that one away and replaced it.  Well, he could have taken it out the back, blew on it to remove the errant tea leaf then brought it back!!  Of course, we believe he threw that one in the sink with a disgusted look and growled at the kitchen hand who hadn’t washed up properly!!

The tea settings were Wedgwood and very beautiful, tea and coffee taste very different when drinking from fine bone chine cups and not a chunky cup or mug.  That’s my opinion and if you’re not sure you should try it sometime.

Whilst we were waiting for the tiered stands holding our afternoon tea we took in our surroundings.  The room was very bright, not just because of the gold and crystal chandeliers but from natural light coming through the large windows. The wallpaper was gold  and the curtains, maroon in colour, made from heavy velvet.  It’s a beautiful  grand old  building situated across from St Stephen’s Green ( public park in centre of Dublin) in the Georgian part of Dublin.

Our trays of treats arrived, just in time, as I’d  finished my glass of Moet and was now onto my sisters’ glass – it’s ok -.my sister doesn’t drink.  It’s vary rare for me to go for seconds as a second glass generally can have me falling off my chair and that wouldn’t be a good look in this salubrious establishment!  We had two three tiered plate stands between us holding sandwiches,made from different types of breads containing fillings such as salmon, ham, goats cheese and tomatoes, another plate had buttermilk scones with jam and cream.  The piece d’ resistance was the top tier.  This tier held all the yummy sweet treats like the chocolate cup holding the mouse, strawberry cheesecake and pistachio slice which was very green and didn’t look very appetising but  a small piece tasted surprisingly good. Pistachio nuts aren’t too bad but pistachio slice was too much for Ty….he couldn’t even touch it.  At the end of the sitting there was pistachio slice left on both trays.

High Tea Shelbourne Hotel Dublin

High Tea Shelbourne Hotel Dublin

The friendly pianist finished at six o’clock and there was a thirty minute break before the next pianist arrived,  Suddenly we  realised people were starting to come into the lounge for supper and we’re still sitting enjoying the ambience and the subtle sounds of the piano. Our waiter had stopped offering to top up or pour our tea an hour ago so it must be time for us to move our bodies out of the comfy chairs and head for home.  The sun was still shining as we stepped out into the street, even though it was after 7.30pm.  Love daylight saving in Europe…the days are so long.

A little piece of history before we move on to the next High Tea destination, if you’re wondering why it’s named the Lord Mayors Lounge – each of the Lord Mayors of this bustling city head to this lounge for refreshments after their inauguration.  The Lord Mayors’ residence is located close the Shelbourne.   The hotel founded in the mid 1820’s and is the place where the Irish Constitutions was drafted in 1922.

The Ritz was  the setting for our second third anniversary celebration.  Confused???  We had two weddings….the first was Greece in August, the second  Las Vegas in September so we celebrate twice!!!  Our last day in London started off fine and sunny but the weather soon deteriorated and by mid afternoon it was very wet. This evening we were partaking in High Tea at the Ritz Hotel. Afternoon Tea or High Tea starts from 11am every day so, naïvely, I thought phoning 4 days in advance would be plenty of time to book in for Sunday. I was surprised and a little disappointed to find the only day and time available to us was Tuesday at 7.30pm. We were flying out for Singapore on Wednesday and I was not leaving London without tea at the Ritz so I took the date on offer. Darelle opted out because she hadn’t packed any ‘dressy’ clothes and high tea wasn’t really her ‘cup of tea’. Maryanne wasn’t sure whether to attend either but decided to go with us on this excursion.

We hadn’t had many chances to dress up this trip so it was good to spend the time attempting to look suitably dressed, with make up and hair in place. We had to look the part as we joined the rich and famous lifting our tea-cup to our mouth with the little finger extended in the twinings way!  Although the typically English weather was against us arriving looking our best.

The rain was torrential and the London traffic horrendous as our taxi negotiated the narrow inner city streets. It seemed to take an eternity to reach the revolving doors of the Ritz. As the taxi pulled up the doorman, dressed impeccably in his long green overcoat and hat, opened the door and held it open for us to alight. We didn’t waste any time rushing from the car to the revolving doors….it was pouring and I for one certainly wasn’t going to fall into the foyer looking like something the cat dragged in!!! Were we obliged to tip the doorman, no idea, we all rushed by him with a very quick ‘thank you’ wanting to get out of the wind and rain as quickly as possible.

We stepped through the revolving doors and there was another set of doors. Just as well because I needed time to readjust my hair and brush the rain off my dress. That done we stepped into the foyer all the while I’m making a mental note to keep my mouth closed, not to look like I’m catching flies as my eyes feast on the amazing view. Gold shimmered from every corner, of course the lighting and mirrors helped brighten the effect. The grand piano stood to the left of us, to our right was The Palm Court.  How did we know?  There were palms (in pots) strategically placed by the pillars so it had to be the place!! We stood for a second taking in the scene before stepping, gracefully, up the three stairs to the The Palm Court welcome desk. How do I know we stepped gracefully? Because I was on my best ladylike behaviour and I didn’t trip up the stairs. This area was amazingly opulent, gilded mirrors around the walls, ornate lace work on the ceiling and cherubs looking down on the diners.  Standing on the edge of the room. taking in the surrounds and the diners at each table (men dressed in jacket and tie) it felt like stepping into a scene reminiscent of the European establishments in the fabulous 1920’s and 30’s.. I could imagine Coco Chanel sitting at one of the tables talking in hushed tones to friends or Greta Garbo seated at another table in large sunglasses before moving into her reclusive stage.  Marlene Dietrich would have leaned against the piano singing in husky tones whilst Mr Piano Man tickled the ivories (so to speak).  The Ritz was the place to see and be seen and mostly frequented by high society. We probably would never have been allowed through the doors some 50 years ago!!

Suddenly the Maître D, was standing in front of us, welcoming us to this fabulous place.  He duly checked our booking on his Ipad,and showed us to our table. Reality reared its head very quickly, no old-fashioned  reservation books here.  As you would expect in such a setting, the waiters were immaculately dressed in suits.

We were taken to our table, at one end of the room, which allowed us to see the other diners.  There wasn’t a spare table, there was no loud conversational noise or laughter just the occasional clink of a tea-cup or glass.  The waiters made the most noise serving from their trolleys.  Once again we chose the Champagne Afternoon Tea .  Not being a ‘drinker” or, probably should say, not being able to hold my liquor (by the end of my first glass of wine I tend to  become more animated than usual and speak a little more loudly with lots of laughter),  I vowed to sip slowly and make sure I ate my food before scoffing the champers! Oh and drink my cup of tea…we were sure to be tea-logged before we left the table! I chose a passionfruit and orange tea – which the menu described as having “a truly wonderful taste”.

Enjoying High Tea at The Ritz

Enjoying High Tea at The Ritz

Palm Court The Ritz London

Palm Court The Ritz London

The top tier servings at the Ritz are more generous than the Shelbourne with more choices.  The  fingers of club sandwiches also had more variety, the second tier had a choice of plain or raisin scones.  When my eyes reached the top tier disappointment reared its head.  There were only 6 small morsels  (2 each).  However I soon realised that the fabulous waiters were wheeling around trolleys containing more desserts,  As you completed the savoury items they would arrive at your table and set down another small sweet to try. The last trolley to arrive held several cakes for us to choose from…some people chose a slice of each but I was being good and chose just one slice of chocolate cake.  No sense in adding more food when you’re tummy is saying ‘enough already”!!  As delicious as all this food was you just have to stop.

The Ritz permits happy snappers like us to take photographs but please do so discreetly (said so on the bottom of the menu).The waiter service  could not be faulted – our waiter took our photos for us…..and he didn’t blur the shot.  It was a very enjoyable evening.

We would highly recommend both Hotels for a scrumptious High Tea.  The Ritz is just a  little extra special.

I have only one more comment to make about High Tea or Afternoon Tea before I move on…..and that is…..Why do they serve so many SCONES?? My guess, and probably yours too, if you indulge, is scones are cheaper to make and tend to fill you up quickly, which is so unfair as it’s hard to have room for all the other goodies.  In my opinion scones should be served last!

Have I been cured of High Tea?  Not at all – love the old world charm of it and now plan to  compare them all!!!!!  Ty will cringe when he reads that sentence.  So let’s keep this next one a surprise!  In 2014 we are visiting Paris again and I have my sights set on High Tea at the Paris Ritz however they are undergoing extensive renovations so fingers crossed  they’ll open in time for our visit.

Harrogate with an interesting shop combination

I opened the front door to Diamond House, our accommodation in Harrogate, knowing there would be stairs but hoping our room would not be on the top floor. Wishful thinking I’m afraid. Once the door was open fully I could see the narrow staircase in front of me…”bugger” I whispered to myself as Ty mumbled something I didn’t want to hear. Now it was just how many stairs did we have to climb this week.

We checked downstairs, there was a lounge and an eat in kitchen with a little back garden. No bathroom or loo down here!! Ok, there was no other choice now but to head up the stairs. The first landing uncovered a double bedroom and a large bathroom, more stairs and another landing uncovered more stairs and the last landing!!! We were now at the top of the house…where we found another smaller bedroom and a double bedroom with ensuite. Darelle asked Maryanne if she wanted the bedroom on the first landing and Maryanne said “No, you can have that room if you like”. Maryanne took the smaller room and we had the double with ensuite. It was sensible to have 2 people sharing each bathroom, if Darelle or Maryanne had the ensuite room one of them would have to walk through the others bedroom. I did offer that option just in case…..

Once the rooms were organised it was time to bring the luggage in. There were 37 steps and three landings…..2 long ones and a smaller one as the staircase had a couple of twists and turns to it. It would be a good idea to spend as much time away from the house as possible to ensure we don’t get o.s.s (overuse of stairs syndrome).

We had also found a better way of transporting our luggage up all these marvellous stairs. Ty didn’t need to be alpha male carrying everyone’s bags up stairs, huffing and puffing by the time he got to the 3rd bag. 2 people would carry each bag which, on some parts of the stairway was difficult, but worked much better. It also helped ease my guilt on booking these lovely character houses. Although, Ty has made noises about sticking to hotels from now on. Is he losing his sense of adventure???

The house is situated in a quiet cul d sac, a 10 minute walk from the High Street and with a small group of shops less than a 5 minutes walk. Very conveniently situated.

Harrogate is an old spa town in North Yorkshire and is ideally situated to travel west to Liverpool or east to York or Whitby….hmm, I could have those mixed as I have trouble with directions!! It’s a beautiful town with majority of buildings being made of stone. The High Street is much the same as many UK towns with stores such as H&M, M&S, Primark, HMV and others. Of course we aided the economy of the town by purchasing items of clothing, a new camera battery and various other items. We also helped British Mail by posting boxes of goodies home…..yes, I’m sure some of you may remember me saying “I won’t be purchasing much this trip as this is my 5th or 6th visit to UK”. Unfortunately they have summer sales on and aren’t we heading into summer???? I also purchased Xmas decorations for our tree..I buy decorations from different places which makes our tree decorating more interesting as each decoration recalls a memory. Ty says thank goodness we only put the tree up once a year for a short time, I’m sure friends and relatives say the same thing to each other!!! Ty has also been making rumblings about the number of UK decorations I’ve purchased this trip, he thinks our tree will have too many UK baubles and not enough “other country baubles”. That’s rich given we have at least 4 Vegas baubles so that’s cause in itself to ignore him.

Back to Harrogate….the name is said to come from ancient words for lots of stones or something similar. As well as magnificent stone buildings this town is full of parks, small parks with lovely gardens and larger parks (commons) that take up entire blocks. One such common is called The Stray and is 200 acres of lush green lawns. We saw people walking their dogs, football teams playing, joggers and people just sitting around relaxing, Many smaller ones are in and around the town centre.

Harrogate spas were first discovered in the late1500s and once the medicinal properties of the waters were published the town started to develop around the 1630s. Harrogate did not rest on its laurels as just a spa town, it also hosted a Eurovision song contest and, as you’ll see driving into town and wandering round town, they won a ‘flowers in bloom’ contest. Believe me the flower baskets and the flower beds are magnificent I wish I could grow them so successfully although the weather probably has a lot to do with the success. Living in a semi permanent dismal state, too many dull skies and lots of rain does not appeal to me at all.

If you’re thinking of moving to Harrogate house prices are very expensive and you would have to love lots of stairs!!!! There weren’t many single level dwellings, lots of fine grand houses though. Harrogate has prospered quite well given many spa towns become less important or lose their appeal as the years pass. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the Yorkshire area, even make a detour it’s very well placed for a day trip from many places. you won’t be disappointed.

There are many tearooms in Harrogate, I could go so far as to say there are more tea rooms than pubs, but I won’t because I’d probably be wrong. One famous tearoom is Betty’s….we would have to sample their scones and cakes!!!!

We wandered to the High Street looking for a place to have morning tea and found a couple of clothing shops along the way. We came across an interesting looking arcade, very of old fashioned facade and wrought iron work. I had to go in to see what, if any, interesting shops it held. A couple of dress shops on the ground floor and a large billboard pointing us to a tea room on the 1st floor. “Shall we?” I asked the trio. “Why not” came the reply. Up the stairs we went, ahead of us we could see a hairdressers, on one side was a shop selling accessories and on the other side the tea rooms. They were had a couple of tables with people seated, some eating, others waiting for their orders to appear. It was a cute little place so we sat down and perused the menu.

Service was a little on the slow side but we weren’t in an hurry so we kept ourselves occupied by looking in the Accessories shop…..we thought it a bit odd there was no sales assistant on hand. However Harrogate also had signs everywhere that mentioned how they were a crime free town. A range of very pretty handbags sat on shelves or hung on racks around the walls of the little shop. All colours and types of scarves, some were draped over store dummies wearing costume jewellery to get the best effect, but we were trying to pace ourselves – we still had The Bullring in Birmingham, London and Singapore for shopping yet…don’t want to suffer burn out too early. Costume jewellery sat on glass shelves in the window shimmering and sparkling under the bright downlighting. Costume jewellery isn’t my “thing” so I ignored those.

The tea room waiter came to take our order…..scone with jam and cream and a weak latte for me, Ty ordered a sandwich and a cup of tea, Darelle ordered a scone with jam only and a cup of tea and Maryanne ordered a coffee. It took a couple of goes for him to write the order down correctly. Another couple arrived and sat on the lounge in front of us. I wondered how long they would have to wait to be served.

As we were sitting there I looked across at the accessory shop and still no sales assistant had appeared. Written on the window beside the entry to the store the following was listed:
Fashion accessories
Podiatrist
Make up artist
Spray Tanning
Waxing

An interesting mix of businesses so perhaps the person was out the back spray tanning someone. Whoever owned the shop was certainly embracing the multiskilling regime to secure their income and fair play to them it’s tough out there. Spray tanning and tanning beds are big business in UK given they don’t normally get enough sun to manage a gradual tan naturally.

Our waiter suddenly scurried past us, it had been 20 minutes since we’d placed our order – he had that rather rushed air about him – had he thrown a wobbly and left the building or was he off to borrow some milk from the hairdressers?? We watched in amusement as he came scurrying back with one of the hairdressers following close on his heels. The young man from the hairdressing salon helped make the coffees and served them, we never saw the kitchen hand but assumed there was someone out there organising the food. Eventually our harried waiter served our food and, obviously had noticed us wandering back and forth to the Accessories shop, told us that if we needed anything to let him know as they also own that shop!!!! Ah, it all fell into place, they obviously own the hairdressers as well! Hmm so who does the waxing and tanning and, if he does, does he do it between taking orders for tea??? Not an image I wanted to dwell on I can tell you. You could end up with wax on your cake instead of icing or icing on the parts needing waxing………don’t even mention the podiatry…..eewwhhh.

Whilst delivering our food the waiter was telling us about the business, suddenly a raised voice was heard from the kitchen….he immediately stopped chatting and headed straight back to the counter area. We assumed his wife did not condone idle chatter with customers. He did manage to impart, among other things, that his wife was also a trained podiatrist…….hmm note to self if we go back don’t order anything with slivered almonds……well you never know!!

After morning tea we headed off in search of other shops, namely clothing or shoes. It wasn’t long before we found both. We also took the time to sit in one of the parks and watch the people around us. Young people buying their pints of lager from the pub then finding a spot on the grass in the welcome sunshine to drink the amber liquid, older ladies in their pleated skirts and blazers siting on a park bench chatting. Visitors, like us, choosing strategic places in the park to take a photo. We also spied parking police wandering the street below us booking motorists who dared to go over the 2 hour parking limit. As you can imagine parking in this ancient town is at a premium and very costly. luckily we had a parking sticker supplied with the rental house.

Things were very relaxed and it was so warm in the sun 3 of us decided to have our own little picnic in the park as well. After lunch Ty laid down on the lawn and promptly fell asleep so Darelle and I moved away to a better vantage point. He was happily snoring away people would wander near him, stop, look at bit closer, then give him a wide berth.

Darelle and Maryanne decided to have dinner in…..they were fine dining….a microwave meal from Sainsbury’s Local, we opted for the Fat Badger…..not as our meal but as the place to eat. It was a pub about 5 minutes walk from us. The food was very good, more upmarket than the usual pub.fare. Talking about badgers, the only ones we’d seen were lying on the edge of the road with their little legs in the air. A sad sight but not as many badgers lying around as there are kangaroos at home on our country roads.

Later in the evening we decided we would visit Blackpool, given it’s only a 2 hour drive we will leave Harrogate after an early lunch as we intended to stay in Blackpool for the illuminations – so it’s good night from me.

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Off to Dublin via Gortin and Bellini’s Pub Newry

This morning it was another early start for the trip from Belfast to Dublin via Gortin in Co Tyrone……. Maryanne had ancestors that lived and were buried in this little town and she wanted to visit the graveyard. The town was well off the main road, quite a number of miles along narrow winding roads with hedges very close to the road, no room for overtaking. On several stretches the road was narrower than our car. Luckily we only encountered 2 tractors on these tiny roads, one farmer managed to move over so we could pass but the other had no room which meant we had to follow him till he turned off. It seemed like we crawled behind him for an hour but it was probably only 10 minutes.

The scenery, valleys and hills, was a beautiful deep shade of green, dotted with sheep and cattle and a fabulous looking farm house or manor house sitting on the side of a hill or on top the hill. Just like a scene on a chocolate box. Every so often a field had been ploughed and now stood brown and bare in contrast with the lush green fields around them.

Whilst Maryanne wandered the cemetery looking for headstones, Darelle feed an apple to a cow and her calf in the field next door, Ty wandered the cemetery as well, whist I stayed in the car. Well, it was a very chilly morning!!

Maryanne came back to the car within a short time, I thought she mightn’t be able to find them. “How did you go?” “Did you find them” I asked. “Yes, I did”, Maryanne replied, “but my camera has run out of battery so I need my Tablet”. All sorted off Maryanne went to take the pics. The area was so quiet and peaceful, very relaxing just a shame it was so cold but what graveyard is ever sunny and welcoming???

As we left town Darelle had postcards to send and I thought I’d but a couple of stamps as well. The little supermarket was also the post office. A funny little shop filled with all sorts of odds and sods. On the far aisle in a little office was the post office……naively we ignored the line of people (3 in total)at the register and headed to the post office window….’closed’ sign on the window. Oh well, it’s back to that line up at the front of the store. There were still 2 customers in front of us, we waited patiently for our turn. Finally, our turn came….”is it possible to get a couple of stamps please?” The lady behind the counter nodded as she closed the register, lifted a section of the counter and stepped out into the store. I thought they might hold stamps at the counter, not so. Our friendly assistant hurried to the post office door, unlocked it, turned the light on and asked “where are you sending the letters to?” “Australia” I replied. “Each stamp will be 88 pence” came the reply. As we took our money out she stood up, turned the light off, locked the door as she left the little office and returned to the counter. Darelle and I looked at each other as we followed her to the store counter where we paid for the stamps. By now there were another 2 customers in the store. We thanked her for the stamps and as we left she said, to no one in particular, “I’m rushed off my feet today”. We laughed as we both agreed that in a town that size 4 customers would amount to a busy morning!!

It was now time to find our way out of these country lanes, back to the main road and resume our drive to Dublin. However, it wasn’t long until food was on our mind. It’s been like that for most of this holiday…..breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and, not always last, dinner!!!! There was no morning tea break on this drive, Gortin had 2 businesses that had a cafe sign but we felt they might not know exactly what a latte or cappuccino was let alone serve one that suited our palate – we resolved to drive on and have lunch instead.

We arrived at Newry, on the border between Nth Ireland and Ireland and found a pub that looked interesting, looked more Italian than Irish. Bellini’s was the name of this establishment, not a common name for a pub in Nth Ireland that’s for sure!!

As we stepped inside you couldn’t help notice the intricate timber carvings on the walls and ceilings, the windows were framed by heavy brocade curtains in maroon and gold with large tasseled ties. We chose a table by a window…..not that we had a view but I like a view to the outdoors when I dine!! There was a table of 4 or 5 young people sitting in front of us…..they had lots of empty bottles on the table and food everywhere. I could only see the back of the girls seated at the table but noted they wore fancy hair clips in their 60’s style hairdos. The males would have been late teens, early twenties perhaps and one well dressed males would join the lunching party every 10 or minutes. They were a little noisy but so were we with our chatter and laughter.

The staff were extremely friendly and so were the locals……Darelle went to the powder room and was admiring the woodwork and decor when a woman sitting on a stool at a tall, round table, you know the be I mean, asked f she’d like a tour of the hotel. Darelle came back to our table “Come on, we’re getting a tour of the place while we wait for lunch”. “Who is giving this tour” I asked. “This lady here will give us a tour”. Maryanne and I wandered over but there was no woman there. “Where’s this woman?” I queried as I looked around and saw a half empty glass and a pack of cigarettes on the tall table. “She’s gone to the ladies and will show us around in a minute” replied Darelle. A bit strange, I thought, this customer is going to give us a tour. Next minute out we comes and says ‘follow me’ as the commentary starts….”This hotel was once a theatre and this s the original staircase” Ah that explains the ornateness of the place, Ok, lead on McDuff” I said in my mind. Perhaps it should have been Mrs McDuff……

We ambled through the upstairs, McDuff (for want of a better name, I’m sure she told us but my memory is slipping) tried a number of doors, “no, that ones locked” and then she was off and we followed once again like the mice followed the pied piper. Eventually McDuff led us to a beautiful ballroom all decked out for a wedding, blue and white was the theme (I know you need details – don’t want to leave you wondering what colour the bridesmaids were wearing). As we were leaving the ballroom for the cocktail lounge McDuffs mobile rang. “Hello”, pause whist she listens, “I’m just in town getting a wee something for lunch I’ll be home in 10 minutes” McDuff says into the mobile….imagine this in your best Northern Irish accent as I’m not much good on accents. We were hurried downstairs as she said ‘I hope you enjoyed your look at our wee pub”? “Yes, it was lovely thanks” we three mice said in unison.

We returned to our table and noticed that she was now chatting with our waitress. As McDuff turned to walk away, I assume to purchase lunch for the hungry person at home, our waitress said “Bye Ma”. We didn’t need to wonder who McDuff was any longer!!! She wasn’t just the ‘wee’ lady sitting on a very high barstool drinking ale and chattering to herself she actually belonged to someone and that was good news.

Our lunch duly arrived, I was having a hamburger minus the tomato, onion and cheese. Ty generally says to the waiter “she’ll have a burger with no bun, no meat, no lettuce etc etc”…..he’s such a rude person sometimes……poor waiters often aren’t sure what to say.

I must mention the faux par of my sister ….. the waitress cam to take our order and, as I previously mentioned, she was very friendly, very amiable so we were having a chat. As the waitress started to write down our orders Darelle looked up and said to the waitress “You have black ink on the tip of your nose, you must have accidentally touched your nose with the pen”. We slunk back in horror, (probably an exaggeration) as we could see what is was, and waited to see what would happen next. “It’s not ink it’s a wee mole” replied our waitress and with that she returned to the task at hand. After she walked away from our table we looked at Darelle and shook our heads. All she said was “What”?

Remember the young ones at the table in front of us? Well, one of the males called out “Woman, bring us the bill!” We thought how rude he was and continued eating. Suddenly they all got up and left the table, the mess was incredible, as if a group of pigs had rummaged around the table. Food was squished into the floor all around one side of the table, it looked like they’d hardly eaten any of the food just used it to make a mess.

Darelle watched them leave and said “they’ve left without paying their bill”…..”no, surely not” I said. I looked around and there were no staff anywhere so perhaps they had left without paying.
Suddenly the waitress appeared and looked towards the table then went to speak to another waitress. They had left without paying their bill, they were gypsies so that explained the mess, the way they spoke to the waitress and, of course, the fact they had scarpered when the staff were out of sight. Gypsies have a very bad name in UK and Ireland but are seemingly untouchable. Seemingly untouchable because if, for example, the bar staff had apprehended them they would return at another time and damage the premises. Yes, we’ve all probably been watching the shows My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and it’s easy to forget the antisocial things this group can do if they perceive you’ve ‘upset’ them. But their story or antics don’t belong in this story…..perhaps they’ll be mentioned in another story on another day!!

We’re off to Dublin in the green, in the green …… Sorry I’ve forgotten the rest of the words you’ll just have to carry on singing without me!!!!!

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Swift trip – Dublin to Harrogate via Bangor

The Swift was leaving Dublin at 8.45am and passengers were supposed to arrive for embarkation an hour before the sailing time. As was the norm now, Darelle and Maryanne asked what time we needed to leave the hotel. Ty replied 7am. The groans from my fellow travelling companions could be heard by the diners at the other end of the large restaurant I’m sure. We had moved from the house in Kilmainham to a hotel closer to the port so we wouldn’t have to get up too early but Ty, ever the project manager, would have had us up and at ’em even if we were sleeping in the car at the port. Everyone up at 6am, showered, packed, finished eating their banana (our only food source at that time of the morning) and in the foyer at 7am. Showered in freezing cold water…..we had showered the night before and the water was boiling hot, a great shower. This morning was entirely a different matter …..there was no hot water, not even lukewarm water just icy cold water coming from the tap. Had they forgotten to tell us that hot water was rationed and if you showered at night you wouldn’t be allocated any further hot water until the next evening??? This was not a cheap hotel, it was Sandymount Hotel near Landsdowne Rd and very popular. Perhaps we were just unlucky.

Yes, we were all present for muster at 6.55am, car was packed and we were making our way out of the hotel driveway by 7.05 am. The project manager wanted to have extra time in case we got lost between the hotel and the port of Dublin which was should be no more than s 15 minutes drive. The GPS had been set the night before in preparation for the drive so I couldn’t understand why Ty thought we might get lost but I wasn’t going to challenge his logic…..project managers can be a little odd at times so it’s best just to humour them in these situations!!!

We arrived at the port at 7.15am to be the 2nd car in line for the Swift…..the Ulysses had just commenced losing it’s trucks, cars and foot passengers. Ulysses was due to sail 45 minutes before us. The Ulysses is a monstrous ferry and quite luxurious inside but it’s a slower trip than the Swift, which is smaller. Ty suffers from seasickness so a fast ferry ride is a good ferry ride for him and me, of course. I don’t fancy having to provide him with sick bags, I’m not good with sick people so I was also thankful for a calm crossing.

We had booked Club Class for this trip of 1 hour 55 minutes. Club Class provided faster loading and unloading of the car, also offered complimentary food and drinks. A full cooked breakfast was also available for an additional charge. Magazines and newspapers were available for those who wanted to read. The free WIFI was a little slow but to be expected given we were on a ferry with several hundred others and a good percentage in CC had an iPad, a laptop or tablet with them.

There was an English couple seated near us who had ordered the cooked breakfast and he must have requested a certain type of bread or bread roll because he was complaining he’d received the wrong bread. The waitress apologised and said she’d bring the one he wanted. When the waitress she brought the wrong item again and by now he was becoming more frustrated and louder. He was not a happy chappy……I thought somebody should point out this isn’t a restaurant where you expect 5 star service this is a ferry taking people from one country to another quickly and cheaply. So just accept you were given a different bread roll to the one you ordered….get over it, get on with eating your full English breakfast before it goes cold and becomes a greasy mass. I’m sure sausage, beans and eggs taste the same whatever bread they’re eaten with….I’m not a connoisseur of English breakfasts so perhaps I’m wrong. Can you be a connoisseur of breakfasts??

We docked at Holyhead without further incidents and on time. Our next port of call, so to speak, was Harrogate in North Yorkshire. It was Sunday so we hoped for less traffic than you might come across on weekdays. Not so, roads were busy with trucks, camper vans, cars and caravans….the residents of the UK were on the move. Ah, yes, and the Stobbard trucks were also on the move, Ty was spotting them faster than me and in my haste to spot one before him I was making errors of judgement and shouting out “Stobbard” when it wasn’t so I was losing points rapidly (anyone who read one of my previous tales will understand this).

I’m not sure how many people know or, dare I say, remember the song ‘Didn’t we have a lovely day we went to Bangor’ but it was a favourite of mine for awhile…..don’t know why, maybe because it was a tongue in cheek send up British song (well that’s what I thought it was) to amuse. Anyway, I felt it appropriate to take my fellow travellers to the town of Bangor, Wales, to the Pier for a walk along the pier and a photo opportunity. Of course there’s no Ferris wheel and you couldn’t have lunch for under a pound as the song says – it cost one pound for parking and 50pence to walk onto the pier!!! When our companions realised it cost money to set foot on the pier they said ‘no, we’re not going, we’ll wait for you”! I paid their 50 pence entry fee as we had specifically came to see the Pier ……I’d been here before. This tour does all sorts of things you won’t find on the traditional tourist trail!!!

Bangor is also the town where the Beatles went to meditate with Maharishi Yogi and it has been said that this was one of the ‘nails in the coffin’ of the Band. It was whilst they were doing whatever they were doing in Bangor that Brian Epstein (their manager) committed suicide. This left them without a manager. A little bit of trivia before we step not the Pier!!!

Any thoughts of wandering the pier whilst eating an ice cream left us immediately we stepped onto the pier. It was so cold and windy we had trouble speaking to each other but the scenery is worth the walk. A men who was opening up his little shop saw us all rugged up, me with my earmuffs commented, in his best Welsh brogue, “it’s not THAT cold! Perhaps not for some, but 13 degrees celsius with a wind chill factor of 8 is cold in my book it certainly isn’t weather for wearing sleeveless tops and skimpy shorts as some were!!! If someone told me we were going to Bangor for a summer holiday I certainly wouldn’t be excited at the prospect.

After packing away our gloves, earmuffs and face warmers it was back into the car for the next stop, lunch, somewhere along between here and Harrogate.

Unfortunately before we managed to find a little place for lunch we were on the motorway. This meant we would need to turn off to a town or stop at the Services area. Put to the vote the Services area was chosen. We had stopped at others and they were fine but this one was crowded…..car park was full and inside every area was taken up with people. It was quite grubby but given the number of people around this was probably understandable as they wouldn’t have much opportunity to clean up spills.

What will I have – a hard decision….. there was lots of food choices but it’s what I will eat that narrows those choices. I finally opted for potato and leek soup with a bread roll. It turned out to be a bad choice for several reasons. Firstly I had trouble ordering as when I reached the head of the queue an OAP would suddenly rush forward and demand attention from the cashier, cashier would then serve them, this happened a couple of times before I got his full attention. Of course I couldn’t have my soup straight away one of the 5 people in the back would need to place the soup in the container and then he would deliver it to me. “Right, so how will you find me” I snapped, patience wearing a little thin now, “we’ll if you keep an eye out for me when I come out with your order and then wave to me”. “Of course, how silly of me” I replied. Thinking to myself that he is never going to find me in this crowded food hall……sure, don’t we all look the same after awhile???

Ten minutes passed, the others had their lunch and had almost finished, “this is ridiculous” I said to Ty, I would’ve just left it but it had been a long time since breakfast. That’s it, I went over to the outlet, where I had ordered the soup, to a female cashier standing around and asked for the soup and roll. I had obviously disturbed her rest time because she was not a happy customer service person. Armed with my lunch I sat down at the table took the lid off to find a lot of chunky potato pieces and large slices of leek….not my idea of potato and leek soup……generally this soup doesn’t have chunky bits…..luckily or as usual Ty was still hungry so he ate some of the soup whilst I ate the bread roll!!! I’ll be sure to eat dinner……

As we drove into Harrogate and saw all the wonderful old houses a feeling of terror came over me…….our rental property would be the same…..3 stories high with small winding staircases and our room will be the one in the bloody attic!!!!!

We found the key and opened the front door…………to start our week in North Yorkshire.

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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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