Saturday, 26 December 2009

Merry Christmas - Turkish Airlines Style


I was supposed to land in Cape Town at 1200hrs yesterday (Christmas Day) but thanks to Turkish Airlines I only arrived today.

Here's what happened:

Christmas Eve - Check in at Heathrow for a flight to Cape Town via Istanbul with a 2 hour connection.

Get to the gate and sit, and wait, and wait. Finally we are told that there is a technical fault on the plane and that there will be a delay. Then nothing for about an hour. Then we are told that the flight will be cancelled. Chaos ensues for about 20 minutes until we are told that the flight will actually now depart for Istanbul and that all connections are guaranteed. Happiness fill the room.

The flight is good and I even got an emergency exit seat. At Istanbul all of the passengers for South Africa are met in the terminal and told to wait with the member of staff. We can hear the final announcements for the closure of our flight so we think that we will be escorted to the plane. But wait, we are actually escorted to the Turkish Airlines desk and told that our flight has departed. More chaos and a bunch of 25 or so VERY upset South Africans.

We are told that we will be given hotel accommodation for 2 days until the next flight to Jo'burg and Cape Town. Not a good move by the staff at the desk as a full scale riot breaks out! Eventually order is restored and we arrange to be flown back to Heathrow and then onward to SA the next day. One demand is that we are flown in first class! We are put in the first class lounge at Istanbul Airport whilst the staff deal with the bookings and our passports. We all abuse the hospitality and drink and eat as much of the freebies as possible!

At 0800hrs the next morning our weary group board our London bound plane and seat ourselves in our lovely first class seats. Bliss!

4 hours later and we are back in Heathrow, on Chistmas Day, 16 hours after departing for the first time! We have been booked on a British Airways flight that evening and so make our way straight to get our boarding cards. Amazingly every desk (24 of them) at the airside customer service point is manned and we are dealt with very efficiently, though there is predictably no room in first class!

Now to return to the Turkish Airlines staff to see how they will entertain us for 9 hours on Christmas Day. Very well as it happens, SAS are their partner airline at Heathrow and they put us in their fabulous lounge in Terminal 3. We spent the day drinking Champagne, showering, taking free massages and eating fancy food! Spending Christmas Day with a great bunch of strangers, who are now friends, is no compensation for missing Christmas with Elaine and her family but at least it helped to pass the time in a fairly enjoyable manner.

Finally we were ready to depart and BA didn't disappoint, we departed on time and touched down in Cape Town a little over 11 hours later. Our weary band bade each other fairwell at the luggage reclaim and headed off to meet our loved ones. Elaine was waiting right by the exit. What a sight for sore eyes. Next time it's direct flights all the way!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 29 November 2009


For those of you who don't know we have moved from Birmingham to Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire.

Jon had been commuting to London during August and part of September for work until we found somewhere suitable to move to. Sawbridgeworth is the answer!

'Sawbo' as it is known by the locals is a really beautiful small town of approximately 8500 people and 13, count them, 13, pubs! The town is 27 miles from London and 15 miles from Stansted Airport so the opportunities for travel are very good. The nearest sizeable towns are Harlow to the south and Bishops Stortford to the north.

Our house is in a barn conversion which has been turned into 4 houses. The building backs on to the River Stort and our neighbours have their narrow boat moored at the botom of their garden! We are in the middle of the building with and open plan upstairs with exposed beams throughout. Downstairs are two bedrooms and a bathroom.

We love it, the location and the fact that we only use the car very occasionally.

The local area (East Herts & Essex borders) is also beautiful with lots of tiny villages. We can walk along the river to Bishops Stortford ot to Harlow and enjoy exploring the coutryside when we get the chance. Some of the nearby villages have some interesting names!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Another trip to Edinburgh

31st October 2009

Elaine's friend Jurg has been in the UK touring with the Cape Town Opera Company where he plays a policeman in Porgy and Bess. We decided that we would go and see the last night of the production in Edinburgh so we booked tickets and a hotel room and looked forward to spending some more time in Scotland.

When we arrived at our hotel we were delighted to be told that we had been upgraded to a suite with views over Edinburgh Castle! The bathroom itself was bigger then most hotel rooms we have ever stayed in and came with a gigantic jacuzzi!

We spent an enjoyable evening taking full advantage of our new found luxury!

On Saturday morning we met Jurg on the Royal Mile for coffee before heading off to walk around Calton Hill to enjoy the view over Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth. Elaine and I even managed to find room to stand on top of the trig point together to get a better view!

As Jurg headed off to get ready for the day's matinee performance we went back to the Royal Mile to meet another of Elaine's childood friends, Pieter who lives in Edinburgh now with his Scottish wife Gillian. We had a lovely few hours in the local cafes and bars before saying our goodbyes and heading back to the hotel to get ready for our first opera!!

A quick wash and change later and we were sitting in an Italian restaurant over the road from the Royal Festival Theatre. We ate up and took our seats just before the curtain came up. We thoroughly enjoyed our first experience of opera and it appeared that the rest of the audience did as well judging by the standing ovation at the end. On a personal note we thought tht Jurg was very convincing as a 1970s SA policeman and looked very comfortable with a gun in his hand!

And so the curtain fell on another enjoyable visit to this fabulous city. By Sunday evening we were back home happy and tired.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Sutton Coldfield Braai

29th August 2009

Well, it now seems traditional that we blog once a month so here we go with November's edition of catching up!!! Seriously once we get back from SA we will get online at home.

Thanks to their being a small dry window in the traditional British summer we decided to have a bit of a braai at my mom's house.

Elaine and my mom constructed a fantastic loose brick structure over a couple of hours the day before. They were very proud of their efforts right up until the moment that they realised it would have to be moved so as not to set the house alight!

Preparation hit full speed about an hour before our guests arrived, 'west coast salmon', boerewors, marinated chicken and steaks as well as a hue pile of braai broekies were lined u and ready to go!

The food was 'expertly' cooked by Jon and devoured by the hungry mob! As with all good braais there was still a mountain of meat left over for the following days - nothing tastes so good as cold braai meat!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

She's gone again!

Well that's the last I'll see of Elaine until Christmas day!

Elaine flew out of Heathrow this afternoon on a nice non-stop BA flight to Cape Town. We spent an hour in the coffee shop in the fantastic new terminal before she eventually had to go through passport control and leave me in the cold and wet! I think it was the lure of the tax free shopping that got her through the gate!

I follow on Christmas Eve with a far longer flight via Istanbul, oh well at least we will be together on Christmas Day. Then it's only two weeks until our wedding!

Can't wait. Safe landings in SA Elaine!

Monday, 19 October 2009

A couple of days in the Lakes

Sorry it has been a really long time between updates this time. We've moved from the Midlands and are now living in Sawbridgeworth, Herts where Davis Beckham is our neighbour! (Well he lives in a much bigger house on the other side of the village!). Before we moved here though we did manage to fit in a couple of days in the Lake District so we'll show you a little snippet of our time there!

20th August 2009
We drove from Birmingham to the picturesque Bowness on Windermere. The weather wasn't great but it was mostly dry. We soon found a room for the night thanks to the very efficient Tourist Information office next to the lake. We definitely recommend this approach, just turn up and see what's available! If you like certainty and planning try another approach!

We drove the short distance to the Annisgarth B&B, checked in, filled out our breakfast order and set straight off for the quayside and a trip on the lake. We would stay here again anytime, stylish, clean, friendly, well located and free wi-fi!!

We knew before we got there that Windermere Lake Cruises was formerly operated by British Rail and that we were entitled to reduced fares but what we didn't realise was that we were entitled to free day passes for all routes! What a bonus! Obviously we took advantage of this and boarded a boat heading for Lakeside on the southern shore of Lake Windermere.

We enjoyed the journey and fortunately after enjoying the very 'fresh' air we found that there was a bar onboard and plenty of inside seating! After Lakeside we turned round and headed for the other end of the lake at Ambleside via Bowness again.

When we got to our destination it was time for a walk into the village itself for an hour before returning to catch the last boat home!

A pretty good start to 2 and a bit days in the lake district, we'd seen all of Lake Windermere, the largest of the Lakes!

Back at Bowness we were met by a flock of very nosey swans who were obviously used to the hundreds of tourists and the tasty tit-bits that they may have in their pockets. It was a bit like walking into a street gang who wanted your mobile phone and wallet!

We headed back to the B&B and decided to drive out to Coniston, famous for the Lake on which Donald Campbell made several world speed record attempts in Bluebird K7, unfortunately losing his life in the process in 1967.

We had a nice pub meal and drove back to the B&B for a good nights sleep!

21st August 2009
We woke and had a great full english breakfast before heading off to nearby Keswick, where we had planned to stay for the second night of our trip.

The scenery in this part of the world is stunning and as we got near to Thirlmere (the Lake which supplies Manachester with much of its drinking water) we decided to stop and take a walk up into the hills overlooking the lake. Beautiful and good for you apparently!

After a couple of hours we carried on towards Keswick, stopping for Elaine to take pictures of some cows (she loves 'em!) and visit a stone circle.

We had a trip around the pretty market town before deciding to drive on and explore some of the local coutryside before finding somewhere to stay for the night. Soon we found ourselves in some quite stunning scenery and on the winding narrow road towards Buttermere. Simply stunning, sunshine and sheep everywhere!

With time moving along quickly we decided to head back to Keswick to find somewhere to stay for the night. The drive back was fabulous, a real drivers road. (Little did we know that we would find an even better one the next day!).

Once again we took advantage of the Tourist Information office and they found us another great B&B walking distance from the centre of town. If you are in Keswick and need somewhere to stay look no further than Laurel Bank B&B! We settled in and headed off to find somewhere to eat. Keswick has many pubs and pretty much all of them offer well priced hearty fare. We enjoyed some great food and a few beers before heading home (in a taxi this time!) and bed!

22nd August 2009
The last day of our mini break and a bit of a road trip around the Lakes. We decided to head out to the coast via Honister (and the slate mine) and Seascale (next door to the Sellafield Nuclear Reactor!) before heading back towards the Midlands via the fabulous Hardknott Pass (possibly the best driving road in the UK).

Here's a few of our favourite shots from the day!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Crooked House

16th August 2009

We went out for a Sunday drive with no particular agenda or idea where we would go. Eventually we found ourselves heading into the Black Country and a thought struck me! I should take Elaine to one of the strangest pubs in the world, The Crooked House at Himley. Unfortunately we didn't take the camera but thanks to Elaine's mobile and YouTube we can show you what we saw!

This would be Elaine's introduction to our neighbours, the 'yams yams' who are native to the Black Country and their dialect which is very different from my own, though most people in the UK think are the same!

The Crooked House is very strange place indeed. Originally built in 1765 as a farmhouse it became a pub in 1830. Thanks to subsidence due to old mine workings the entire pub leans at a 15 degree angle and was actually condemned in 1940 before Wolverhampton & Dudley Brewery safeguarded it for future generations by shoring it up!

We went into the bar and watched one of the pubs party tricks, a marble rolling uphill along a window ledge! It really is the most extraordinary place. Window ledges and sills appear to be sloping but if you put a drink on them it is actually level! Check out this clip from YouTube.

We enjoyed a nice pint of Banks's and Elaine's first ever pork scratchings before heading back 'over the border' to Birmingham!

Monday, 31 August 2009

North Wales Day Trip

14th August 2009

As Elaine has already been to England and Scotland and has booked a 4 day trip to Ireland with my friend's wife Megan I thought it was about time that she set foot in Wales!

It doesn't take too long to drive from Birmingham into North Wales so we set off nice and early in the morning with only a very basic idea of where we were going. As usual we would late fate decide and just follow our noses!

The first port of call was Llangollen because we spotted the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carrying the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee from the road!

Unusually for Wales at this time of year the sun was shining so we decided to have a closer inspection. We parked at Trevor Basin and had a walk onto he viaduct itself, pretty scary on the towpath but it must be even worse if you happen to be on the outside of a narrow boat!

We set off heading out towards the coast before deciding on Conwy and yet another castle! We found a good parking spot next to the castle and went for a walk around the town.

As Conwy is not very big it didn't take us too long to cover all the streets and decide against going into yet another castle! Conwy will be remembered by Elaine as the first place that she tried Kendal Mint Cake, to which she gave a thumbs up!

We headed towards the royal town of Caernarfon, famous for, guess what? Caernarfon Castle, yet another one to add to the list! This is where Prince Charles was invested as Prince of Wales.

As we parked up I suddenly realised that sometimes it pays to have a plan! I had intended driving via the small town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch on Anglesey which boasts the longest place name in Great Britain. Never mind, that's something to come back for one day!

By now the weather was fairly typical for an August day in this part of the world, grey! We wandered around the town for a while, went through a funfair near the castle, listened in bewilderment to the welsh language and watched the children 'crabbing' on the quayside.

With plenty of daylight left we set off to visit Portmeirion, the strange yet beautiful architectural ode to the Mediterranean created by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.

As it was after 3 o'clock we only had to pay half price to visit the village, a real bargain! It was definitely not beach weather but we had a nice time exploring the village (made famous as the setting for the 1960s TV series The Prisoner) and the nearby estuary. After a trip to the village shop and having an ice-cream each (despite the cold weather) we left and started to head back towards home.

The final port of call for the day was the village of Dolgellau which we reached at about 7 o'clock.

We walked around the town for half an hour, exploring the narrow lanes crammed with traditional stone cottages and trying to decipher the various signs that we saw which were in welsh only!

We were getting hungry so we chose one of the handful of very inviting looking pubs, the Unicorn Inn, for our evening meal. It was a great choice as we both devoured the fabulous local lamb shank, washed down with a pint of Brains Dark.

We headed off into the near darkness and the border! Another hour or so later and we were back home after a long but interesting day trip.

Barrow Hill - Elaine and Trains!

9th august 2009

After a nice trip back to England the day before we stayed overnight in Kiveton with our friend Alexa and some of the gang in readiness for visiting the nearby Barrow Hill Roundhouse the next day to support their Diesel Gala.

Elaine already knows my mates Mervyn (the General Manager at Barrow Hill) and Jon Pridmore (NRM) but hadn't yet met the rest of the 'railway gang'. Normally Merv would have been abusing my kind heartedness by working me to the bone but this time we were just visiting!

Elaine met loads of my mates during the day who all seemed intent on showing her how railways and locomotives work! She seemed to quite enjoy her time in the cab and up in the signal box!

After a few hours it was time to head off back to Birmingham and our own bed! Another good 'road' trip!

Glen Ord Distillery

7th August 2009

After a long day and a good nights sleep we had to decide how to spend our last day in Inverness. Having sampled a fair bit of the local fire water we thought it might be nice to visit the Glen Ord Distillery in nearby Muir of Ord and see how it is made!

We set of on the now familiar path to the station, stopping only to admire a pair of magnificent Eagle Owls that were being displayed in the city centre.

We caught the train to Muir of Ord and sat back to enjoy more Highland scenery. Just 20 minutes later we had arrived and set off on the 10 minute walk to the distillery. What a peaceful place to make whisky!

We paid the £5 tour fee (redeemable against a bottle of malt whisky) and read a little about the history of Glen Ord. Like most distilleries in Scotland its beginnings were strongly linked to the illegal production of whisky centuries ago!

Unfortunately we were not able to take photographs during the tour itself so we can't really show you too much! The tour was very interesting and we got to see the huge 'mash tuns' in full production as well as the beautiful and very hot copper stills used during the distillation process before returning to the visitor centre to sample the result of all of the hard work. SlĂ inte Mhath!

After investing in a couple of nice bottles we said farewell to Muir of Ord and headed back to Inverness in the blazing sunshine!

To round off our stay we visited The Kitchen restaurant on the banks of the River Ness for a fabulous meal. We headed back to our B&B in very good spirits though a little sad to be leaving early the next day just as the first drops of rain during our stay began to fall.

We loved our time in the Highlands and will definitely return one day soon.