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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Back in the land of Snow and Rain

Sagra in winterWell, that was an interesting week -  starting in Alicante we headed off to our place in Galera for the week, meeting new neighbours and enjoying spending time with friends over there. 

I would not call it a holiday in the sun as the weather was changeable but there’s no comparing it to the miserable cold back here in the Northeast of England.

Huescar marketWe got off to a flying start by leaving the keys back in the UK, so we started our holidays with a locksmith and a new set of keys. Our local mountain was covered in snow for most of the week (though by the end of the week it had almost all gone) and the weather went from sunny to overcast.. but that’s about it.

We managed a trip to Baza just for supplies and also the Huescar Thursday market (and a trip to the supermarket for my Russian salad) but nothing special – just a relaxing break away from the cold. The company we use for broadband – Habland – were kind enough to ramp up the speed for the week for a small sum – I leave it on standby speed when we’re not there so that I can check up on the cameras and also leave running a WIFI service called "wifi for you" available for those folk in the area around our place, who don’t have any broadband.

Stray cats in the mountainsThroughout the week we had a new dog pestering us for a home – just as well we didn’t take him on as his owner turned up at the end to take him away!

The cats however were there in droves as usual, getting more friendly by the day (though FAR from domesticated). On our departure they got our leftovers so by now there will be a very happy group of them.

AlicanteWe departed by way of the journey back to Alicante but leaving WAY before time to give us a few hours to enjoy the beach there which at this time of the year is very pleasant during the day. We stopped off and had pizza for lunch before having a nice walk along the beach.

AlicanteOur flight to the UK got is in late Saturday night and we arrived back in Wark at around 2am or so – to miserable, freezing conditions, so very, very different to what we left behind in Spain. Still, not too long to go before we’re back for the summertime – 40c – BRING IT ON!!!!

Our friends have planted some trees near our place over in Galera and I’ll be bringing a fresh set of solar lights to make the place look welcoming.

Click on any image to see a larger version.

Galera - our patch

A Happy New Year to All

Today we spent the day at our holiday cottage – having reserved it for a few days – we often travel abroad but this year we thought it would be nice to stay local. Not ones for organised partying we were at the Cheviot in Bellingham a few weeks ago and made a booking for dinner for tonight on the understanding that normal meals would be running (I have a "christmas food" gene missing)!

Their food is great but I’m not one for Christmas food (or Christmas pricing) so this sounded like a bargain!

This afternoon we had lunch in a train carriage at the Bellingham heritage centre (very civilised) and then after a short break headed off to the Cheviot. When we got there tonight the whole thing almost fell to bits – apparently the chef had changed his mind and they were offering only a special menu – the usual Christmas stuff…  we were in the process of checking the local takeaway when one of the (very helpful) guys behind the bar came over to assure us that normal food would indeed be available.  AT LAST a pub that puts customers first! Well done.

We had a very nice meal and I have to say the house wine is absolutely lovely. Approaching midnight, Maureen has given up  and I’m watching Keith Lemon (who despite at first glance being a little crude is actually quite funny). Despite being only a few miles away from home – it really feels like a mini-holiday break.

Cheviot Hotel in Bellingham

A Happy New Year to everyone – lets hope 2013 takes us a little nearer to the 21st century of yore – and not the unhappy one we’ve seen up to now.  Remember "Blade Runner" and the "off-world colonies" – it was on TV last night – at the start, the opening text says something like "in the early part of the 21st century" – well – we’re there!!!

Mind you – they didn’t have tablets or smartphones in the movie…

An Eventful Week

Actually, Eventful month, more like it!

AlicanteThe Journey through SpainBetween trips to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland as a guest of ESBA (European Small Business Alliance) where I visited Google’s HQ down there and managed a trip around the Guinness factory, then onto Spain for a short “break” (Alicante, Murcia, Mojacar, Galera, Malaga) then back up to Edinburgh for a series of meetings, it’s been pretty much non-stop and throughout the whole thing I’ve had the flu – not exactly ideal timing.

Marriatt Hotel just outside of EdinburghAfter Edinburgh I came home to an all-morning Skype meeting to talk about Intranets while looking forward to enjoying a peaceful weekend, forgetting we had a boatload of prior arrangements. On Saturday we travelled to Whitley Bay to a dentist appointment (100 mile round trip) and there on to a rather nice Italian restaurant in North Shields.

I used to live in Tynemouth and spent a lot of time in North Shields, which was enough to put anyone off for life as back in the day it was, well, a dump, but like everything else, “things change” and North Shields Fish Quay is really quite pleasant now with a boatload of restaurants, cafes and takeaways for every taste.

Sign outside a store at the QuaysideWe had lunch – and when I say pizzas at £3.75 you might laugh but they were as good as pizzas  from some well-known Newcastle Italian restaurants at well over twice the price. Between four of us, we had wine, beer and coke, starters, garlic bread, main course and either coffee or deserts for £40 all in (that’s a tenner each). I can WELL recommend a trip to the Quayside and we’ll definitely be going back. Good food, good views and surprisingly little smell of fish!

QuaysideWhile at the quayside, we popped into an indoor market full of second-hand furniture and I spotted a LED floodlight for a tenner. I took a chance as it might not have worked – indeed the guy running the stall was off on holiday and so a lady from a nearby stall handled the deal, offering me the lamp for £8 – we didn’t even have to barter. When I got it home it worked a treat, so as soon as it’s not bag-bitingly cold that’s going up in my back garden to save me standing in cat-poo in the dark.Quayside

Did I mention, the weather on Saturday was CRACKING considering it is November in the Northeast of England – as you can see, clear blue skies (that image on the right was taken mid-afternoon and is not in any way enhanced).

From there we went on to the Tynemouth market which is in the train station down there on Saturdays and is quite a large affair, well worth checking out. By then my ears were freezing and the first thing I bought was a new furry hat.

There was a stand with some great looking pies and so the next purchase was a corned-beef pie for dinner (and beyond.. it was big). We visited the stall of a fellow who claimed to be manufacturing LED lighting (though he did mention getting stuff made in China and his lights did look remarkably like the ones you get off the shelf from China) and I’d planned to put his details in here to help promote local business. He had a new  company and his son had been in the business for some time, so he said. We listened intently then took his business cards.

QuaysideWe had a quite night in on Saturday evening once I’d retrofitted Maureen’s car with some new red LED strip foot-well lighting and we spent the rest of the night catching up on Fringe, Continuum and a couple of other EXCELLENT American TV shows – there are a ton of really good US productions right now on Sky and it’s down to finding time to keep up – only made possible because of the Sky HD box recording everything. That and a slice of corned-beef pie finished the evening off nicely.

Sunday morning I checked out the LED lighting market guy – sadly his own website, referred to twice in his literature, doesn’t actually exist despite careful checking – and as for his son, that company looks to be merely a subsidiary of a Hong-Kong company. I do like to “shop local” where possible but he was talking about 5w lamps at around £8 each. After that I think I’ll just stick with buying directly from China via EBay – a bit of a disappointment but not completely unexpected. In you’re keeping up to speed you’ll know that UK prices are still way over the top for these. Check out this link for a good price from a UK supplier. Yes, that’s for 10 !!! Not checked this supplier out yet but I’ve some 8w ordered for Hollyberry Cottage so I’ll let you know if they’re any good in a future item.

After catching up with the email mountain and some reporting, we returned the Asus Transformer to PC World – it simply would not charge – which is very inconvenient. After a trip to the skips to get rid of a very old printer we arrived at PC World – to their “Knowledge Centre”. I don’t know about you but the phrase suggests knowledge to me – but nothing has changed at PC World, the guy took one look at it and sent it off to Asus. They had no test leads, nothing they could us to make use of any of that “Knowledge” – so just more hype then.

To finish off the day we visited the MetroCentre in Gateshead to see the movie Skyfall. Absolutely the best Bond ever and I’ve seen them all several times. Cracking movie – don’t wait for video – go see it now while you can. Entertaining, funny, full of suspense. Judy Dench deserves a medal.

Today it’s back to the grind and I’m hoping this week to fit in some time to get back up to speed with my Internet Thermostat design which thanks to constantly moving around has been on the back-boiler for a while.

The Summer of Sun

Entries in here in August are likely to be thin on the ground as we’re in Spain now for the duration. If you want to head over to the Spanish blog site you’ll find I’m keeping that up to date.

Here’s a typical (though ever so slightly hazy) sunset in Galera where we’re currently enjoying peak daytime temperatures of up to 37c.

Sunset in Galera, Andalucia

Public transport–no thanks

Tonight after a long meeting I took off from our offices in Catherine Place in London for the train. As the weather was showing signs of improving and with the traffic likely to be bottlenecked at teatime I made the mistake of taking the underground.

If you’ve not tried the London underground at peak times… it’s an interesting, never to be repeated experience. Dragging two heavy bags over to Victoria station, surrounded by masses of people in a hurry and constantly having to avoid running people’s feet over with your bag is not the most pleasant experience but when you get to Victoria it gets worse – try as I might I’ve never been able to find a lift in the Victoria underground and there is no escalator so you have to drag your bags down several flights of stairs (no wonder you rarely see really old people down there – it’s disgusting considering the efforts that small companies have to go to in order to comply with legislation) to get to the underground.

The tube was CRAMMED with people pushing into overcrowded coaches in a way we used to laugh at when watching them do the same thing in Tokyo – it must be a pick-pocket’s dream down there and I don’t even want to THINK about the carnage which would arise if the tube had to brake suddenly. £4.30 for a one-way ticket for just a few stops to Kings Cross and a rather annoying assumption that you either HAVE an "Oyster" card or even that you give a damn what the card is… in both cases I didn’t and hence stood in the wrong queue first time around.

Alighting at Kings Cross, they’ve done their best in the renewals to make sure you walk twice as far as in the past and so the whole experience took about as long as the taxi would have – but in considerably less comfort.

And so onto the government-run line from London to Newcastle – one would expect comfort in first class – especially as it can cost more than budget overseas flights – but on this occasion they were two coaches short – so the seat numbering was all to hell and the coach was quite full. I checked the first time they came around offering sandwiches and even then they were short – having only sandwiches with rabbit food …. marvellous… I declined.

The level of quality some folk find acceptable never ceases to amaze me – and some of them do this EVERY DAY!!

A Day in London

After a trip to the House of Commons on Monday night (the FSB’s "Summer Reception" wherein we met with politicians from both sides of the house for informal conversation on issues close to small businesses" and meetings first thing Tuesday I found myself with a few hours to spare before today’s director’s meeting. A bunch of us are staying at the Hilton Double-Trees in Victoria right now, formerly known as the Hesperia, formerly known as the Holiday Inn – just behind Victoria station (the constant changes confuse the hell out of taxi drivers).

Ye Olde Cheshire CheeseRather than contemplate the bad weather from the hotel room, one of my colleagues and I decided to make a day of it in London. He had a visit to the National Theatre planned so we headed off to the Thames area.

First stop the science museum which I have to say was something of a damp squib – we probably missed something but all I could see for kids were a bunch of theatrical sets with embedded touch screens and for adults a mock-up of the first lunar lander, some old cars and planes and not a lot else. If I’d paid to come specifically to London for that I’d be mightily disappointed. Next stop Fleet Street – wherein we visited Ye Olde "Cheshire Cheese" pub which did a cracking fish and chips, well worth a visit.

The Prop ShopAfter taking in the Thames view including the new Shard building, we made a fleeting visit to the Tate Gallery (no comment) and then ended up at the "Prop Shop" – a makeshift bar outside the National Theatre (created out of theatre props) where very helpful staff entertained us as I made a 3d video of the place on my new Fujifilm 3D camera.

Peter Scargill at the Prop ShopFinal stop the theatre itself, we had a personal tour of the place as we checked it out as a possible venue for events before returning to our hotel briefly to recover, next stop Brick Lane for a curry with Nigel Duncan and David Miles. I have to say, great fun, the moment you arrive, there is intense competition for your business and it didn’t take Nigel long to negotiate 20% discount, free poppadums and drinks all around (and when the bill came, sure enough we got the discount etc. – extremely reasonable pricing). If you’re in London and you love Indian, definitely give Brick Lane a go and be prepared to haggle (I should point out that on a previous trip as the owners were haggling prices we took a female colleague with us and as soon as she interjected she was told impolitely that the owner was "talking to the men" – needless to say he didn’t get any business out of us and if I could remember the name of the restaurant I’d help ensure he never got ANY business full stop – but that was some time ago).

All in all a great way to fill a few hours – today I’ve a long meeting and a short presentation to do before heading back home to Northumberland for a couple of days hard graft, catching up on the many jobs that need a decent office Internet connection for. Between holiday and meetings I’ve build up an impressive backlog so I’ll be hiding away for many hours tomorrow to catch up.

Science 1 : Malaria 0 ?

Is this it? Do we now have a solution for Malaria and possibly more?  Judge for yourself – this short and very interesting video is well worth watching.

Blistering Antarctic

The title may be slightly over the top, but we have had some pretty poor weather here in Wark and indeed the Northeast over the past few days. To press the point, here’s a picture I took over the weekend. We were on our way over to Bolam for lunch and spotted this uprooted tree. What’s interesting apart from the sheer size of it (not too well conveyed in the photo) is the fact that it knocked the tree behind it over too.

Tree near Bolam

A Nice Corner of Britain – Sandbach

Yesterday, having returned from our trip to Spain, we needed somewhere for dinner while staying at Cranage Hall in Cheshire.

Purely by luck we decided to take a trip to Sandbach and I suggest anyone travelling take a look in.  We had dinner at the old Barn which has just recently become a restaurant – but the whole area really needs examining. Rather than rant on here- I’ll just show you some photos I took while wandering around late evening…

Feel free to click on the images to enlarge:

The church

Old Barn

Old Barn

The village - Sandbach

Church at Sandbach

Lovely!

A Great Weekend in Almeria

Not much happening  so I figured I’d tell you about our weekend. We’re currently enjoying spending time in Spain.

On Friday we set off from Galera to see friends Angie and Dennis down to the area around Cuevas Del Almanzora, near VERA, in Almeria. One of the problems with Spain is… it’s big and in rural areas there are simply not that many main routes – so you might be looking at the map on the right and thinking “surely there’s a straight line from A to B – well, no.

Almeria

However, the route is pretty much motorway except for a short stretch at either end.

Arriving mid-afternoon Friday we all promptly went off to the beach and then after coming back to their place for a chat and a dip in the pool (remember we’re talking upper 30s temperature here – water’s pretty much part of the day’s entertainment) ended up in a nice little nightspot area nearby for drinks.

The following day we went back to the beach and after a battle with the (not insignificant) waves in which I ended up peddle-dashing my knee on the rocks – after fighting to get back on my feet without getting a mouth-full of salt water, I discovered I’d lost my specs in the sea – hardly a good start to the weekend as you can imagine.

Maureen Scargill and pal Dennis having a late night chat in AlmeriaThinking about it, writing this blog isn’t much fun without specs – so guess where we’re going tomorrow – well today as it’s 1.45am already Monday morning. Anyway, we ended up in a really nice restaurant Saturday night to finish off a very pleasant weekend break. We spent most of Sunday morning driving back up to Galera, but managed on the way to find a great market near Vera (and temporary sunglasses for me – I normally wear Reactolite varifocals). Spanish rural markets are much of a much-ness – you see the same Indian guys selling fake watches and fake sunglasses, but the quantity and variety of fruit and veg is worth seeing and in this case there was quite a large covered-over area selling plants, much to Maureen’s delight.

Almeria

We got home mid-Sunday afternoon and as it was too hot to do anything outside, I finally got my two new remote cameras working…lots of improvements over earlier models – these allow 2-way audio as well as quite decent imagery, though being cheap Chinese IP cameras the audio is nothing to write home about…. at least now I’ll be able to keep an eye on both the UK and Spain on the iPhone… handy given the increasing unemployment rate in both countries!!

Peter Scargill in Almeria

tmpBC47Oh, so there’s this puppy who seems to have adopted ourselves and our neighbours…he’s cute as well until he craps in the garden and starts barking at 1.30am – just after some “caller unknown” has rang twice on Skype and THREE have left YET ANOTHER stupid message saying how cheap calls are in Spain (despite being instructed verbally 3 times not to ever send me a text again). It’s going to be a long night…(Update 2014 – the puppy was later adopted by our <then> neighbours Richard and Chris who have since moved down to the coast where they have a bar)

Don’t forget you can see larger versions of most images by clicking on these smaller ones. More pics here on Google Albums or keep up with our Bedrock Facebook page