Archive for the ‘Cities’ Category

At Large in London – Mixed Bag   10 comments

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For our last day we managed an eclectic mix of sights and travel. Heading first to The City we hopped off the tube at Monument, named after the – well – the Monument to the Great Fire of London. It didn’t start here but the height of the tower is the same distance from the spot where they think it started (a bakery in Pudding Lane)

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We’ve been up before and have to say the views are not that great as its overshadowed by most buildings in the area.

Our main reason for hitting The City was a trip to the top of the Sky Garden, this rather striking building also known locally as the “Walkie-Talkie”. More on that in a moment.

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We had half an hour to kill so took a wander around the district. On a Bank Holiday Monday its eerily deserted

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There are several new glass towers going up including one called “The Scalpel” clearly trying to cut the opposition down to size!

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I have to say I really like skyscrapers and especially the Gherkin. As tall office buildings full of office types and bankers ruining the country go, its a fine one (apologies to anyone who does work in there – I have no idea what they get up to)

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This is the infamous Lloyds building, the one that looks like an oversized air conditioning unit. You can imagine the drunken conversation at the Architects Guild when someone with too much Pinot Grigio in his system opined “I know, lets put all the ducting and pipework on the OUTSIDE!”. It’s a grotesque building but oddly eye-catching

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As was this rather unusual sculpture

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Back to the Sky Garden. Apparently its very unpopular with locals but I really like it. It has a form that’s graceful and sleek although it does dominate the skyline almost as much as The Shard

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What’s even better, you can go up for free (you have to pre-book your slot a week in advance though)

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The views from the top are superb. It’s a mandate of mine that all tall buildings should have the top floor dedicated to a viewing platform and that it should be free. It should be a planning condition. The Sky Garden has a place in my heart for doing just that. By comparison, the viewing platform on The Shard is not much higher and costs the best part of £100 for a family of four

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HMS Belfast

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St Pauls Cathedral

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The Shard

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Canary Wharf

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The viewing platform is only partly open air so all the photos are through glass hence the reflections spoiling the images a bit

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Tower Bridge

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The space is really well thought out, lots of light, plenty of space, views all round with a garden of indoor plants. The booking system (providing you know about it) means that its never crowded

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We spent a very happy hour up here

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As you can imagine, all that glass means it’s effectively a Greenhouse so it was getting hot and time for lunch

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A supermarket sandwich lunch by the river followed by a stroll along the Thames to catch another DLR journey to the East End

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Tower Bridge again

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The Tower of London

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The Shard

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This vista caught my eye as a juxtaposition of the very old and the very new

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Canary Wharf while we waited for a train

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Our next spot was the Olympic Park. We got off at what we thought was the shorter walk but it was eerily deserted and edgy. The Stadium was equally deserted but we could hear crowds of people.

This is the Arcelormittal Orbit, the tallest sculpture in the world (if you don’t see it as a Tower!) The very thin silver line snaking down the tower is actually a slide. It looked fun until I realised how much of a dent in my wallet it would make and thought better of it

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The crowds were actually hundreds of kids playing in the fountains on the approach from the Westfields Shopping Mall

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This is the Olympic Swimming Complex. I thought it was stunning

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More travel out to the east end. To look at these gentrified water-side houses and….

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Take a trip on the Emirates cable car across the Thames

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The queues didn’t look too bad but they insisted on not filling the cars as it was “too hot”. Much better to have people stand in the sun in a queue without any seats for almost an hour! You can imagine my thoughts on this decision!

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This did mean we got a cabin to ourselves and luckily it was worth the wait. It’s a short trip but it does go pretty high over the river and the views are excellent

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I was pleased to see the Thames Barrier for the first time

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Over all too soon and then we were off again, back past the Millennium Dome and onto another tube journey. You can climb to the top of the dome. I thought it sounded fun until  I worked out they wanted the best part of £150 for the family. Just to walk up on the roof of a tent. I passed on the idea

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One final riverside stroll along the South Bank past some now familiar landmarks

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After a nice pasta meal we took our final walk over the Millennium Bridge

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With the sun low in the sky the views were majestic

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The sun sets on fabulous weekend away

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With a last lingering look at London’s tallest building – for now anyway

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Amazing weekend and one we all enjoyed together as a family

 

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At Large in London – Greenwich and Parkland   6 comments

Day two and a visit to one of the suburban villages. The trip out to Greenwich was always a popular one when I lived in London and we repeated this classic with a few enhancements on another glorious, cloudless sunny day.

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A trip on the always fun Docklands Light Railway, complete with driver-less trains to get us to the river near Canary Wharf. A view across the Thames, to ships old and new, from Island Gardens

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Under the river via the foot tunnel

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And back across to where we’d come from, the domed red brick building centre-right in the photo is the tunnel entrance on the far side

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To work up an appetite for lunch we took a walk into Greenwich Park. London has some stunning parks and this is one of the best. It has huge expanses of open grassy meadows and wooded glades with fabulous views over the eastern part of the city. Whilst there were plenty of people it never feels crowded even on a sunny bank holiday weekend

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We found a suitable spot and sat for a while to enjoy some warm sunshine and a bit of shade

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The rear of the impressive Royal Naval College

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We walked back along the river to the centre of town. A group of kayakers out on the Thames, the Millennium Dome in the background

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The Cutty Sark, now fully restored and looking as good as new after the fire

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Another market based lunch. Greenwich Market had a fine array of street food stalls and we took our fill of wraps and cakes. The nice people of the Naval College allow you to picnic on their expansive lawns.

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After all that food I felt that a beer by the river was in order so we walked back through the grounds for a very fine pint of wheat beer in the sun

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It’s an impressive building with fine views

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The best way to reach or return from Greenwich is by boat. As you can imagine its popular and we had to queue for a short while to get on a boat but well worth it.

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Past the every developing collection of towers at Canary Wharf

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Gentrified old river-side houses.

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Under Tower Bridge

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The Sky Garden and Southwark Bridge

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The Tate Modern and The Shard

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The also ever-expanding skyline of the City

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I like this shot (even if the horizon went off kilter – I blame the boat). St Pauls, The City, Waterloo Bridge and a red bus all in shot

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The London Eye and County Hall

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Seeing as we hopped off the boat at Westminster we thought we’d take a look at the Abbey

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It’s a fine building but in my minds-eye its the same colour, a golden brown, as the Houses of Parliament seen in the background. Clearly it’s not so I’ve no idea why I’ve always thought that

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The sun was in just the right place to light up its features

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We stopped off for another sit down in St James Park before walking past Buckingham Palace. The flag seemed to indicate Lizzie was at home watching TV but she didn’t return my cheery wave. Perhaps she was worried about which hat to wear at the wedding

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We continued our parkland stroll through Green Park and into Hyde Park. We had thought of walking through to the end of Hyde Park but it was hot and we felt we’d be much better served by a curry

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So an interesting mix of tube and overground trains took us to London’s curry capital at Brick Lane. Needless to say curry-holics like me and TJS were in heaven and we found a very fine curry house. TBF enlivened the chat by remarking how amazing it was that they kept the windows behind us so clean in a city. Not the most observant of people, she’d failed to notice they were patio style windows and were wide open to the street!

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Suitably refreshed we headed for home. The walk through the streets past Spitalfields Market in the setting sun was a joy

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Christ Church of Spitalfields looked very fetching in the evening light

 

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And I liked this view to the office blocks near Liverpool Street Station

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Great day out mixing rural charm with the grittier delights of east London

 

At Large in London – The South Bank   14 comments

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Regular readers know that May Bank Holiday is time for camping and gathering with old friends of long-standing. In fact we’ve been doing that for well over twenty years. This year for a variety of reasons but primarily family unity and togetherness we did something different. TJF is not much of a fan of the walking and outdoor weekends and with TJS approaching A-Levels we felt it would be better so stay closer to home. I’m also acutely aware of the fact that family holidays are coming to an end and both me and TBF wanted a trip that we could all enjoy together. After the huge successes of trips around European cities last year we decided on a long weekend away in London.

We rented an apartment in Hammersmith and with a huge slice of luck we didn’t see a cloud for the whole three days. On our first day we took in the classic South Bank area kicking off with a walk past the Tower of London and over Tower Bridge.

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The views from, and of, what is in my opinion London’s most iconic landmark were breathtaking. Along the Thames….

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Over to the City

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And City Hall and the Shard

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As if that wasn’t enough we were lucky enough to see them raise the bridge a couple of minutes after we walked across

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A fine view back across the Thames to Tower Bridge

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And the Tower of London

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Lunch was beckoning and we hit Borough Market. I love food markets and the quantity of sumptuous treats was amazing. We feasted on burgers, wraps, paella, fruit, cakes and fudge – along with about a million other people it seemed. It’s not the place to avoid the crowds.

Southwark Cathedral where I planned to eat our picnic but they don’t let you take food through to the gardens any more 😦

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Time to work off that lunch with a walk along the South Bank. One of the best city walks. I remember a visit to London in the late 80’s and walking along here, thinking how down-beat and edgy it was. Nowadays its a stunning parkland style walk with plenty of sights all with views across and along the river.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

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St Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge

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We took a walk over the bridge to take a closer look at the cathedral

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It looked stunning, gleaming white under a clear blue sky

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We took a trip to the roof garden of a shopping mall (don’t remember the name) from where you get a good close up view

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Then back across the river to the impressive Tate Modern. Since I was last here they have opened a new viewing platform and its wonderful. Considering its free and open to all it offers a superb view across the city

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We decided not to look at the art. As I’ve described before, proper culture is wasted on us and besides it was too nice a day to sit inside

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Having said that we were on our way to an indoor visit. I’d deliberately avoided the usual tourist hot spots as the weather was so good and I was reluctant spend money! We continued our walk along the South Bank towards Westminster

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Past the London Eye and County Hall. London is always busy but it was mental around here

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And over to the Houses of Parliament. I actually had no idea you can take a tour on Saturdays and Sundays and expected it to be booked up months in advance but easily managed to book a self guided audio tour. It was excellent, really informative and comprehensive. Having seen the various rooms, chambers, House of Lords and House of Commons many times it was pretty cool to be able to see them close up. Our enjoyment was further enhanced when TJS told us he’d mistakenly been given a child audio tour by mistake! 🙂

Its well worth the trouble to take a tour if you are in London over a weekend. You can’t take photos inside unfortunately so you’ll have to take my word for it that its fabulous inside

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We finished off the day with a walk along the Mall to Trafalgar Square and a slap up Chinese Meal in Chinatown

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I think we walked further than if we’d been out in the mountains as usual

A Review of 2017   18 comments

I’ve read quite a few blog post in the past few days reviewing other peoples 2017 exploits. I enjoyed them so much I thought I’d do the same. Good excuse to look back through my photos and remember what we got up to. At my age I need help remembering stuff!.

Acutely conscious of the modern trend for these awful “round robin” letters you get at Xmas (we get one of these smugograms every year) I tried to select photos that bring back a particular memory for me so its more a personal, family introspection on outdoorsy stuff, than a blow by blow account of the year. As its based on my photo collection if I didn’t photograph it, it ain’t here!

January

We started the year off in Tenerife and New Years Day was spent on this rather splendid beach (the earlier part of the day was in the mountains but I cocked up the photos from that part of the day!)

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Returning to the British winter, a walk along the Cats Back in the Black Mountains with TBF, memorable for a cloud inversion after a very wet morning. A reminder that despite our travels we are lucky to have some stunning scenery on our doorstep

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A solo day out in the Brecon Beacons, the first snowy walk near to home and pretty much the only one with significant snow during the early part of the year (made up for it at the end)

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A glorious day out in the Black Mountains with TJS and a cooked breakfast on a cold Table Mountain. I like this photo though as it has Mynydd Troed in centre shot, my very first mountain climbed when I was about 10

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And my usual skiing trip (only a weekend this year) to finish off the month. Snow was a bit rubbish but we had a laugh nonetheless

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February

Another solo day on Fan Fawr in the Brecon Beacons. I remember this day for a very mild Friday afternoon (16C) and snow in the mountains 18 hours later

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A short walk with TBF on Hatterall Hill

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March

The first weekend of the month is always spent in Scotland with friends of long standing. A new location at Bridge of Orchy and a two out of three days were magnificent winter days. The walk along this ridge high above Rannoch Moor on the first day was superb

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Me and TJS also managed a cheeky backpack into the Black Mountains. Straight from work on the Friday for a one nighter in my new tent. Need to do more of these this year

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2017 is the year I rediscovered cycling – mainly to help my knee and also to be less of a lazy layabout during the week. The Hardman – a VERY keen and VERY fit cyclist caught wind and insisted we meet up in the Peak for a trip along a couple of the old railway trails. A cracking sunny day and I survived cycling with the Hardman!

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And we finally managed a meet up in the Berwyns with Uncle Fester after a few aborted attempts

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April

More cycling and solo trip through the Brecon Beacons on the “Gap” route. Cycling to over 600m was a first for me and I started to feel that I almost, might, actually enjoy cycling.

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Easter and a major backpacking trip with TJS to the Cairngorms. The weather was wild and windy but we had a couple of superb wild camps and TJS bagged his first Scottish 4000 footer

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I even coaxed TJF out for a bike ride along the Brecon and Usk canal

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May Day weekend was mostly in April. Mixed weather but we had a fine gaggle of friends on a hike around Greendale, taking in Buckbarrow and Seatallan

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May

No finer way to celebrate a birthday than a lunchtime hike. This one was on one of my local hills, Bryn Arw with TBF

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Followed by a weekend away in Cornwall. It almost felt tropical on the white sands just north of Padstow on one of our walks

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Whitsun weekend was spent with our good friends in Silverdale. The Sunday was a real winner with a long but easy stroll and a fantastic pub lunch. Weather was mixed the rest of the time but great company, many laughs and a chance to relax

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June

A different walk from the usual mountains. One of the small hills that overlook Gloucester and across to the Cotswolds. Not something I’d do every day but a nice change

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One of the highlights of the year was the long-planned backpacking trip with the kids into the Howgills. Despite poor weather we gave it a go and it was a huge success. The kids really enjoyed the adventure and I’m hoping they have caught the wild camping bug

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July

After the backpack trip I was out of action for a few weeks recuperating and resting after a minor knee op. Didn’t affect my water based fun though, a nice albeit far too long trip down the river Wye

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By the end of July I was back in the hills again (the knee op has been a great success I’m pleased to say). A fine evening stroll with TBF and TJS on Ysgyryd Fawr (we even took a cheeky cold beer to drink on the top)

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Another “local walk for local people” – this time Garway Hill where we reached the top, saw this nasty storm approaching and raced it back to the car. We won.

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Late July brings the annual camping trip to Towyn Farm on the Llyn Peninsula. We packed in lots of walks and beach fun in a very mixed few days of weather. My abiding memory though was this game of Kubb which was huge fun with both adults and kids alike taking it far too seriously and larking about in equal measure. A happy afternoon

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August

The big family trip of the year, a rail trip around some of Europe’s finest cities. An real change from our usual outdoor camping trips and it was real success. We all took took to the city life rather well you might say. One of my best ever holidays. A few photos that made me smile

One of the many fountains in Paris (we called this one the fountain of throttled fish)

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A monster thunderstorm in Turin

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My favourite seafront walk in Venice

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The Colloseum in Rome – of course

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Schloss Belvedere in Vienna (courtesy of an unplanned extra couple of hours from a very late train)

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The thermal baths in Budapest – “like taking a bath in a wedding cake”

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A stroll along the Spree river in Berlin on a sunny Sunday afternoon

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And the railway bridge over the Rhine in Cologne

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September

Back to earth with a bump. A few days after the heat and sun of Europe we were walking in the Black Mountains in driving rain and cold winds!

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But there was still enough warm weather left for a round of the hills near the Talybont Reservoir in the Brecon Beacons

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October

A walk with friends in the Roaches on the dreariest day of the year (when everywhere else was sunny – I’m not bitter)

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More evidence of my new found cycling passion (probably too strong a word). A ride around the tracks of the New Forest while TJS took a look around Southampton University

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And why settle for one trip to see major cities when you can do it twice. As a special treat for TJS 18th Birthday we spent a week in Barcelona. Probably my favourite city but despite all its famous sights, this little known hill and its view overlooking the city was my favourite spot

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November

After sunshine comes the reality of winter. A couple of cold but beautiful days. One in the Black Mountains on the Sugar Loaf and Crug Mawr

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And one of my favourite walks in the Black Mountain

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A delayed birthday treat weekend for TBF saw us in Padstow for a couple of nice meals and walks along the Cornish coast and Dartmoor

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December

And last into the proper depths of winter. The first snows saw me and TJS head into the highest peaks of the Black Mountains

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The day after saw the biggest dump of snow I’ve seen in my own backyard for many a year. Walks around my village in deep snow under crisp blue skies were wonderful

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The start of the Xmas holidays is marked with an annual get together of my University friends and their families. Always great fun but this year we could climb the hills in snow (rather than wet rain) and play at snowballs

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Finally coming full circle with a return to the Canary Islands to spend Xmas in Lanzarote and Xmas Day sunning ourselves on the beach

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Well I enjoyed looking through my photos, choosing a few and reliving a great year. Hope you enjoyed it too. All the best for 2018 🙂

Barcelona – Beach Life   14 comments

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Our last day before flying home in the evening was a glorious one, clear, sunny and pretty hot. We decided to take a metro out to the far end of the beaches and walk back along the seafront. We’d been to the beach a few times before, notably on our first day and in the middle of the week for a swim

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The first day was a chance to have a sandwich on the rocks

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And a stroll down to this all-glass hotel affair at the far end. Probably an ugly monstrosity to some but I quite liked it

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A couple of photos from our second visit

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We went for a swim this time. Colder than I thought but great to swim in the sea on a warm day at the end of October

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The beach front is a good few miles long and really well done. By that I mean it’s not a natural beach. This whole area was derelict and run down before the Olympics came along. In order to make the city presentable everything was renovated and sand imported to make this splendid beach frontage

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As it was Sunday it was packed with locals all enjoying some warm autumn sunshine. It was a cracking walk just watching the people and soaking up the rays. Winter is long and cold in the UK so we wanted to make the most of this! 🙂

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The beaches are all spotlessly clean and the water crystal clear. Fabulous for a swim but as we were traveling at the end of day it wasn’t really on for us even though it was a perfect day. The whole walk is pedestrianized so no cars to trouble us. There is a bike path as well and it would be a very pleasant leisurely ride

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These two skyscrapers and strange sculpture dominate the southern end of the beach. Again I really liked them and I didn’t feel they were out-of-place

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After lunch we sat on the beach for an hour or so and paddled in the cool water

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A very relaxing way to spend our last afternoon

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We took another wander down to the big glass hotel

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And its cracking views through the palms back along the sea front

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Nothing finer than a stroll in the warm sunshine along a Mediterranean beach.

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We took our leave of the beach, walked back to town through the marina, ate some takeaway churros, picked up our bags and caught a train to airport for our flight home. Not back till after 1am but that’s what holidays should be about making the most of every minute

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What a fantastic city. Architecture, history, mountains and a long beach. Brilliant way to spend the last week of October

 

Posted December 1, 2017 by surfnslide in Barcelona, Cities

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Barcelona – Font Magica   17 comments

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On our last evening we headed back over to the fountains near Placa Espanya and the Palau Nacional. There was already a massive crowd there and seating room on the steps was at a premium. What had everyone come here to see? The Magic Musical Fountain Show of course!

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Now I know you’re thinking “Magic Musical Fountains – how tacky” and I have to say I was dubious after the one we saw in Budapest

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However this one was done on a much bigger and grander scale and it was mighty impressive

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The way they controlled the water and the lights was really rather magnificent and I enjoyed it immensely and a lot more than I thought I would

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The description sounded like they did one show every 30 minutes but it just seemed to be one long continuous show for between 1-1.5 hours

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We arrived on the dot at 9 when it was crowded but if visiting again its best to show up 15-20 minutes after the start time as many people have wandered off by then and there is a lot more space and places to sit on the steps. Its not like you miss much as each combination is all on a similar theme

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We went and stood close up for the final few minutes before we headed back to the apartment. We’d been there 45 minutes which was plenty and it was a grand way to finish off our last night in the city

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I took several video clips which came out pretty well so I put them together in a little compilation below

 

Pretty good eh!

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As we walked back along the road to Placa Espanya the fountains, columns and palace looked wonderful

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The road was lined with smaller fountains also lit in a most charming fashion

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A bit tacky and cheesy but very well put on, and, a real novelty in Barcelona, free!

Posted November 30, 2017 by surfnslide in Barcelona, Cities

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Barcelona – Tibidabo   17 comments

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From our apartment balcony we could see a fun fair up on a hill. This is Tibidabo, the highest point in the hills in the immediate vicinity of the city. We thought it was worth a look. Despite being several miles outside the city the city transport system saw us easily to the top, by suburban railway, funicular and then bus

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The views from up here are excellent. You can just about make out Montserrat in the middle of the photo below

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This Radio mast has an observation platform you can go up, one for another day

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And of course spectacular views over the city

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The hill in the photo below is the Bunkers del Carmel that we visited earlier in the week

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And a distant view of the Camp Nou

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The hill top is strange mixture of Theme Park and very elaborate church, the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor

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From a distance it looks not unlike Cinderella’s castle at Disney Theme Parks

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Its quite beautiful in its own right, just rather odd to see it effectively in the grounds of a cheesy theme park

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I liked the contrast between the red and grey stonework

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And some nice frescoes inside

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The theme park has two areas, the upper level is really simple kiddy style rides. This plane ride is its signature feature and whilst it look impressive from a distance it was amazingly tame and pathetic

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Quite photogenic though

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This little video gives you an idea of the “thrill” factor

 

The lower section of the park has some proper rides but we weren’t even allowed in to take a look, tight gits!

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Considering the fact that there are only half a dozen decent rides, the entrance fee was typical of Barcelona, namely a staggering £30 each

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We declined that offer and satisfied ourselves with a wander about, a laugh at just how pathetic some of the rides were and enjoying the views.

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I suspect its better to visit late afternoon and stay till evening when the park is lit up and the night-time views over the city would be great

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We were satisfied with a couple of hours to look around as we had a much better evening entertainment planned. Just time for a last evening beer on the terrace

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Off so see one of the city’s more unusual attractions

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