A Travellerspoint blog

London: the most popular tourist destination

overcast 15 °C

Sometimes it is easy forget that London is a popular tourist destination. In addition to the iconic buildings and monuments, it also is well-serviced with museums, art galleries (both free to enter don't forget!) and all manner of dining experiences from budget to high-end. Plus of course there are the theatres, markets such Borough, Camden and Spitalfieds (all offering a different experience to the market shopper) and the extensive nightlife ranging from pubs through to clubs.

I was reminded of this when reading this article in the London Evening Standard. So the next time I am wandering through a part of London, I will try to remember how fortunate I am...

Posted by jefranklin 07:05 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged me city_break Comments (0)

Migration complete

In 2004, I started keeping a travel blog on Blogger and used it extensively in 2006 when we went backpacking. When I found the Travellerspoint blogging tools, I started migrating all the old entries to Travellerspoint as blog tools were much more useful (for a traveller). Fortunately this migration is now complete so any new entries will not be 8 years or more old (apologies for any annoyance caused).

Going forward, I will try to keep this blog more up to date. It will need a fair amount of holidays though :)

Posted by jefranklin 11:21 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged me Comments (0)

Would sir care to try the fish?

An Easter weekend in Marseille

sunny 25 °C
View Easter 2014 on jefranklin's travel map.

We decided that this Easter, we really needed to get away. We have a lot of travel planned for the year, but it is going to be generally active and Heather needed a sunshine-hit. After a bit of research, we agreed on Marseille. Neither of us had been there, although we are pretty familiar with other areas of France. A quick hunt on Expedia found us a good deal: flying from Gatwick to Marseille by EasyJet and staying at the Radisson Blu, in the centre of the Old Port.

Oops, sorry about that

Being an EasyJet flight, the time of take off wasn't exactly sociable. Never mind, Gatwick is serviced by a number of hotels so I made sure to book us into one for the night before. Sadly, an error on my part meant that we ended up at the Premier Inn in Gatwick North, and our flight was from the south terminal. Fortunately, the Gatwick shuttle runs all day so we planned to get it at 05:30 the following morning.
Having checked into the hotel late (as we had stopped off on the way to the airport to have dinner with friends), we drunkenly tiredly stumbled to our room. Swiping the key card, nothing happened. I tried a couple more times, then Heather did and still nothing. At this point, we just needed to lie down as quick as possibly, so Heather went back to reception, returning with a member of staff who promptly let us in with his key. It was to his (and our) astonishment that we had woken up an elderly sleeping couple. After much profuse apologising by all parties, and a return to the reception lobby, we were presented with an alternative room (which fortunately was not occupied) and were able to get some much needed sleep. Hopefully this was not a harbinger of the weekend ahead of us.

Much, much better

Friday morning started for us with 3 different alarm clocks going off near-simultaneously at around 5:00. A quick run through morning ablutions and throwing on clothes, meant that we were able to get through to security by the planned 05:30. This gave us around 40 minutes to kill in Gatwick and normally we normally we would head to our favourite airport hangout location, but as we were likely to be overdosing on seafood in Marseille, we killed time in the pub. Eventually, boarding was called and we were on our way to sunny Marseille.
On arrival, we went to the reception but given it was only 10:00 or so, we didn't expect our rooms to be ready. However, we decided to leave our luggage (although I took along my camera as I planned to go click-happy) and look for something to eat as we were starving. Fortunately, we found a place close to the hotel and were able to grab a coffee and bagel, although a croissant would probably have been more appropriate. Feeling nourished, we set out to explore the old port of Marseille.
Marseille is an interesting city which has been around since around (in some form) since 600BC, making it one of the oldest cities in Europe. It has cultural influences from Africa as well as France, plus a bit of Moorish influence thrown in for good measure. As such it is a real melting pot, and is quite colourful. As culture vultures, Heather and I loved soaking up this atmosphere and it was only when sitting down to lunch, I checked my Fitbit and saw that we had covered 7 miles that morning alone1. Following lunch, we headed back to hotel for a quick nap before heading off to dinner at L'Épuisette - one of the finest restaurants in Marseille. A perfect end to a very pleasant day.

We didn't mean to, it just kind of happened

Saturday started with us heading to Notre Dame de Garde - a church built on the highest point overlooking Marseille. Feeling active, we decided to walk to it, rather than getting the tourist hop on/hop off bus. What seemed like a good idea at the time soon started to lose some appeal and when we eventually reached the top, we had climbed around 30 flights of stairs. Nevertheless, the views were spectacular and we were able to enjoy looking out across the topaz-coloured Mediterranean Sea. As we hadn't eaten at this point, we were starting to get a little peckish so we headed down to the main part of town and had a well deserved brunch.
It was at this point somebody's bad ideas bear took over their entire frontal cortex, and we somehow managed to start our own pub crawl. Our check-in history on Foursquare shows that we stopped into at least 9 different watering holes - sometimes it was just beer, other times it was wine. At some point, we decided we needed dinner but most of the places that we had spotted earlier as potential eateries were closed - at 20:00 on a Saturday! Finally we found somewhere and to be honest, I can't even remember what I ordered, let alone how good or not it was.
After a bit more of a walk, we wandered into a nightclub called the Darkside which was incredibly dark inside. It was also empty, although I suspect that is because we were there at 21:40 and the regular clientele had not made an appearance. It was at this point we decided to call it a night, and headed back to the hotel - stopping in hotel bar for a night cap (naturally).

Wherever we are, everything gets suspended for Stevie

Sunday morning started with a cleaner knocking on the door of the room next to us. My immediate thought was "why on Earth are they cleaning at this time of the morning?". I was about to roll over and go back to sleep, when I noticed that the time was 11:00 - the exertions of yesterday had taken their toll. We darted out of bed, and (after ablutions) headed out. We didn't have a tour of the Calanques planned, this was more important: Liverpool had a match on and we had to find a pub that was televising it. Fortunately, a chat with the duty manager at the Queen Victoria pub and we were all set for the game. We took a couple of seats at the bar, and settled down to watch the game. Following the far from convincing win, we decided a bit more exploring was required.
First port of call was the Panier district, which is actually the oldest part of town and was a mish-mash of buildings and cultures - all very bohemian. After this, we wandered through some of the markets as it is always a good way to see locals in their own environment. This also gave us the opportunity to pickup a couple of souvenirs, including buying some of the famous savon de Marseille (soap). As evening drew in, it dawned on us that we had not partaken of the traditional Marseille dish of bouillabaisse; naturally this had to be remedied. Unfortunately, Easter Sunday with nowhere booked meant that we spent a fair amount of time wandering from restaurant to restaurant hoping for someone that could take us in. Fortunately, we did eventually find somewhere, and we fulfilled our tourist obligations. Bouillabaisse is an interesting dish - basically a fish stew in a fish soup and (certainly the one we had) was very salty. Following dinner, we headed back to our hotel for the last night, bring our short break to a satisfying close.

Final thoughts

Marseille is an interesting city. It offers a lot of cultural differences, is pleasantly warm (although most locals were wrapped up, while we wandered around in t-shirts) and offers good dining & entertainment options. I would certainly recommend it for a weekend visit, although the less mobile may well struggle with some of the steeper streets and paths.

1 I would strongly recommend a Fitbit to anyone that spends a lot of time walking and exploring when travelling.

Posted by jefranklin 07:40 Archived in France Tagged weekend provence foodie Comments (0)

A Long Weekend in the Loire

The world is a book, those who do not travel read only one page

sunny 18 °C
View Summer Long Weekend 2011 & Backpacking 2006 on jefranklin's travel map.

DSCF6037.jpgFor a long time, Heather and I had wanted to a tour of one of the wine regions in France. This Bank Holiday we carped the diem so to speak, and decided to get ourselves over to the Loire. We booked a few additional days off so that we weren't one of the 30 million on the road at the same time and a trip to Halfords made sure that we wouldn't be running afoul of any of the French road rules; this required:

  1. A magnetic GB badge
  2. A complete set of replacement light bulbs
  3. A warning triangle should we break down
  4. Adjusters so that our headlights wouldn't dazzle the locals
  5. Reflective day-glow jackets so that if we break down, we put them on and won't get knocked over. Quite frankly I will be sitting in the car waiting for the AA if that happens.

Thalassa, thalassa

Following an early mark from work, we jumped in to the car and drove the hour and a half to Dover where we grabbed a cross-Channel ferry. Unfortunately after landing in Calais we still had an hour's drive, and I didn't know what the Gendarmerie think of drunk drivers so I limited myself to a solitary lager. We also tried to get some Euros but at an exchange rate of 1:1, only a £20 was changed.
The actual sea leg was pretty uneventful; I wouldn't say quiet as the boat was pretty full - or at least the bar area we were was. Fortunately, as we had been one of the first to board the boat, we were able to get off pretty quickly and on to French soil.

You should return to Newark

This was pretty much my first self-drive trip in France. I have driven left hand drive cars on the continent before and really don't find it a challenge but this was going to be my first time in a right hand drive car. Jumping straight in with a drive to the Loire (5 to 6 hours) may have been pushing it, so Heather had booked us into a small hotel in a town called Burck. After checking-in, we wandered around to check out the town. Our guess that at the height of the summer (in good weather) it is a popular family destination. Towards the end of the season and not so crash hot weather, it was like a run-down British holiday town.

We decided to cut our losses and go grab a bite to eat. There were a few options available and eventually settled on a quiet place. I can't actually remember what I had but I do recall that Heather had a "seafood medley" that contained something that looked suspiciously liked snails. No matter how many times she offered and how nice she said they were, I was not going to be trying them. It must be an English thing or something but I have been brought up to think that snails were garden pests and not a delicacy.

After dinner we decided to have a few drinks to celebrate our first day (or part day) on French soil. Even though it was only around 21:30, the entire town seemed to be closing down. The only options available were our hotel bar and a strip club. I thought that we should experience as much of the town of possible, but Heather would not budge from the hotel bar. After a few beers and a disturbing experience with one of those God-awful fruit beers, we called it at night. At least we wouldn't have problems waking up due to a late night.

Vinum bonum laetificat cor hominis

The following day was the drive to Saumur in the Loire. The roads were an absolute pleasure to drive on and the Jag just ate the miles. Fortunately the sat nag flashes warning whenever a speed camera is in range so I don't think I got stung - time will tell though.

We arrived at our hotel (l'Hotel St Pierre) and in contrast to our previous place, it was a lovely place with a very friendly owner. After sorting ourselves out we wandered around the town of Saumur, exploring the side streets, small shops, brasseries and bars. One of the most noticeable things were the large numbers of other English tourists in the town; fortunately these were not the kind of tourists that made me embarrassed to be English - there were also lots of British licensed cars, so now doubt we weren't the only ones with the idea of doing a Loire wine tour. The town of Saumur had cottoned on to this and had a "magasin du vin" which contained just about every wine in the region. We wandered in there and sampled their wares, taking photos of the ones that most appealed so that we knew which wineries to visit.

Having got comfortable on the roads, we decided to visit a few of the many Chateaux that were scattered around the Loire. It was at this point we also started to load up the car with one or two cases of wine. Although we were both tasting, I unfortunately had to spit but Heather had no restrictions. We continued the tasting/purchasing into the next day and by the time we were finished, the boot was loaded down 17 cases of wine. As we were loading the last of the cases in to the car, a bus load of tourists were able to get a good look at the volume we had bought and there were a number of approving looks.

Finally, we had to leave Saumur and head back to London. Unfortunately, we had to do it all in one day with no stop overs - 6 hours of motorway driving was kind of tedious. Heather nodded off a couple of times, and I could have done with a snooze myself - it was boring. Probably wouldn't have been a too good an idea though. We arrived at Le Shuttle terminal a couple of hours early hoping to get an earlier train; the terminal was overflowing so that scrubbed that idea. We managed to get home at 18:30 though to cap a successful and enjoyable weekend.

Posted by jefranklin 13:42 Archived in France Tagged chateau loire wine_tasting Comments (0)

Planning another holiday

Because I haven't had enough this year...

sunny 20 °C
View Backpacking 2006 on jefranklin's travel map.

Heather and I have been thinking about going on holiday late in the year, this year. So we've decided to head away for a week or so, although we are not too sure where. Obviously sunny weather is the attraction, and no doubt Heather would like to get in a few rounds of golf, and we don't want to travel too far. So on the list to consider are:

  • Portugal - should be nice beaches and some golf, weather is a bit of an unknown quantity
  • Canary Islands - should be sunny, etc. but not too sure about the golf
  • Morroco - sunny no doubt, but golf and maybe safety may be an issue

Anyway, a friend of ours will be house-sitting either our current place or if we are fortunate in the next couple of days, our new place. Decisions, decisions...

Posted by jefranklin 14:14 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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