Category Archives: Travel

Vienna 2017 – Day Three – Miscellany

Mostly when we go away it is warmer in the destination than it is back home but not this weekend. While the weather here has been warm (low 20’s) and dry (at least during the day) it has also been windy which has ensured that it has felt pleasant without being overbearing. That doesn’t seem to be the case back home where temperatures have been nudging 30 so it will be interesting getting off the plane late this afternoon.

The last two days we have set out with a particular goal in mind or have followed a walking tour from the GPSMyCity app. Today we wandered just soaking up the sights. What this did show is that plenty of places were closer to each other than we had imagined. You look up and there is the fountain that we passed on the way to the Belvedere which seemed a long way out but in fact was near to a park that I’d thought was in the centre. Maybe it’s just my ability to read a map that’s at fault!

So we leave Vienna having enjoyed our weekend. It is an attractive city but it is still missing that one landmark that everyone would identify with it. Having spent the weekend here its hard to think what that might be – think they’ll just have to build something.

The hotel that provided earplugs also was missing a fourth floor!

Vienna 2017 – Day Two – A Kiss

We started our second day in Vienna at the Belvedere, a large area of formal gardens, a botanic garden and two former palaces that now house art collections. There is certainly enough to do there to fill several hours.

I’m fairly particular about the sort of art I like, most leaves me cold, but I was keen to go into the Upper museum to see the Klimt collection there. This includes the most famous piece of his work – the Kiss. Turns out that there weren’t as many pieces there as I expected but what they had was excellent. He certainly was an accomplished painter and his portraits we so good that they were photo realistic.

The Kiss is a fascinating piece and certainly gathered the biggest crowds who stood a couple of metres away so as to get the best picture of the picture. This left me with a bit of a dilemma as I wanted to go up close and see the paint work itself. In the end I got fed up of waiting and just went up so some Chinese tourist has me in their shot too.

The room immediately next to the one housing the Kiss was empty and contained a facsimile where you could take a selfie, which we did!

Lunch was the typically Germanic fare of sausage, mustard and horseradish. It was pretty good and the horseradish had a bit of a kick to it.

After lunch we went into the botanic gardens which were a bit of a relief after the formal space between the two museums. After which we walked back into town. We had intended to get the tram back but it proved to be impossible to find anywhere to sell us a ticket. Turns out that you need to buy a ticket at the underground station. Surely if you’re at the underground buying a ticket you’d just carry on down and get that? Anyway not getting the tram ensured that we easily made our 10,000 steps today.

We also got to see more of these really rather cute pedestrian crossing lights.

Vienna 2017 – Day One – Ah Wien!

So when I go away for a city break I can usually build an itinerary in my head. Paris? So the Eiffel Tower, definitely, Arc du Triomphe, probably and possibly the Louvre. Barcelona then the Sagrada Famila or for sporting fans the Nou Camp. And I would have no difficulty thinking of things to do around London.  When I think of Austria, however, what immediately comes to mind are apple strudel, Niki Lauda and raindrops on kittens (sic) and none of those are likely to figure in a weekend away in Vienna. so, basically, we landed at Vienna airport last night with a blank canvas.

Our introduction to the citizens of Austria was via the taxi driver that took us from the airport to the hotel. He spent the whole journey muttering to himself as I had the temerity to suggest that I might pay for the trip on a card. As it was we weren’t with him very long as he was clearly as keen to get the journey over as we were and he went like a rocket to get us to our destination. He thawed slightly when I produced cash and a tip that I’m not convinced he really had earned.

The hotel room provided the next surprise when, along with all the usual items left in the room were two sets of ear plugs. This was accompanied by a short note apologising for the building work going on opposite hence the offer of ear plugs. Fortunately there wasn’t any work being carried out over night but I was alarmed!

Following breakfast we made our way, via the efficient underground, to the Schloss Schonbrunn with its palace and gardens. We didn’t go into the house, we never tend to, and instead walked around the very extensive (and free) gardens. These were laid out in a very formal style with high hedges alongside gravel paths. We did pay to go into the palm and dessert glasshouses which were an interesting interlude from the garden. The dessert glasshouse contained the most vicious tortoises I have ever seen – they were really going for each other with teeth bared.

We spent a couple of hours walking around the gardens before coming back to the house. It’s a vast but soulless looking place which wouldn’t have looked out of place on a film lot. The place and grounds are the number one attraction in most guide books but I couldn’t get that excited by them.

Back in the city itself we followed a prepared walk around some of the highlights and there the buildings were architecturally more interesting. We ended up outside the Rathaus a beautiful building but why is it whenever we travel the best buildings are either shrouded in scaffolding or have something camped in front of them spoiling the view?

Tomorrow I might get a kiss…

Barcelona 2017 – Day Four – Where is Espanyol?

It is always difficult to fill the time before a flight but we were determined not to waste the time that we did have, especially hearing that it was raining in the UK and the sun was out in Barcelona. The hotel where we were staying was very well located close to the Gothic Quarter so we headed out that way through the back streets as Alex wanted to try and buy a football shirt.

Like most big cities Barcelona boasts more than one football team: FC Barcelona and Espanyol but you wouldn’t know that from the variety of shirts on offer. It would have been easier to find a Real Madrid shirt than one for Espanyol but Alex had his eyes on the latter so an extensive search was required to secure. In the end one was found, and I literally mean one as that was all the shop seemed to have, for the very reasonable price of €30 in Las Ramblas.

Las Ramblas runs from the Placa de Catalunya down to the sea front and has a bit of a reputation as the place where you are most likely to lose your wallet to pick pockets. However, it is an attractive street being very wide with a tree lined pedestrian bit in the middle filled with street traders. About half way up, off to one side, is a market packed with both traders and tourists. This is a fascinating place as you can buy produce such as fish, meats and vegetables as well as stopping for a tapas snack. It very much reminds me of the covered market in Oxford.

Finally with gifts secured for all those that required them we headed back to the hotel to check out and make the trip back to the airport and home. There was a final reminder of the main event at the airport too – a Williams FW40 – going about as fast as it did on track!

Barcelona 2017 – Day Three – Grand Prix

The whole point of this weekend away was so that we could go to the Spanish Grand Prix, everything else was really built around that. The circuit is only half an hour out of the city and so is an ideal venue to visit, although it can be a fairly pedestrian race but live sport always tops what you see on TV.

In order to get to the circuit we had pre-booked a bus which would take us directly from the city to the track. There were, however, a number of unknowns in all of that: how early would we need to be at the bus station to secure a place? How long would the coach take? How close to the circuit would it drop us? Our answer in times of transport uncertainty such as this is to leave plenty of contingency, much to the dismay of the boys. So it was that we arrived at the bus station at just before 10 and we certainly weren’t the only ones there. Fortunately it was all well organised and we were onto a bus within ten minutes and at the circuit a further 30 minutes later.

I was convinced that we had booked a covered grandstand and so when we reached the corner with our stand it came as a bit of a shock that it was in full sun and 25 degrees. By the end of the day the the boys and myself all had red knees despite slathering on the sun tan cream several times during the day. Rather than sit there and fry we went off to take a look at what was on offer around the circuit. It was interesting to see the size of the concessions selling team merchandise were proportional to the teams popularity (I assume). McLaren seemed to have been afforded a stall the same size as those of Mercedes and Ferrari which initially I couldn’t make any sense of until I remembered Fernando Alonso. The Williams concession was half the size of the big boys and minnows (in terms of merchandise sales) Force India and Haas had to share a stand half the size again. Although I was already kitted out in my Williams hat and top I was in the market for a tee shirt at least. However, the prices were eye watering, particularly when you consider that Williams are currently offering 40% off on their website so I passed.

We were back in our seats in plenty of time for the start and had a really good view of the last few corners before the start/finish straight and the pit lane entrance. There was also a big screen in the distance so we could follow what was going on in the parts of the track that we couldn’t see. For me, as a Williams supporter, my race was over before the end of the first lap when Felipe Massa came past with a puncture and sparks flying from the bottom of the car. The race looked as if it was going to be pretty dull until there was a virtual safety car (brought on by Massa) which allowed Hamilton to make a late stop and close the gap to Vettel. Track-side I’m still not sure quite how he managed to cut the deficit so I’ll probably watch the race re-run to find out exactly what happened. This did, however, make for an exciting last laps as Hamilton closed in on the Ferrari and took the lead to take the win.

Grand Prix racing isn’t as tribal as football and so it was not unusual to see someone wearing, say, a McLaren hat with a Williams tee shirt, which really messed with my head as, to my mind, McLaren are the arch enemies of the boys from Grove. Similarly while the fans in the stands did give a big cheer for local drivers Alonso and Sainz they also cheered, well, pretty much any action so when Vettel took the lead from Bottas and when Hamilton passed Vettel.

Once the race was over everyone was up and out of their seats to make a swift exit. We retraced our steps to the bus stop where there was a looooong line of people waiting to board the buses back to the city. I steeled myself for a long wait but Sagales, the bus company with whom we had booked, were incredibly efficient and with so many buses available we were on one and away within 15 minutes. I cannot praise Sagales highly enough for the service there and back – it was tremendous.

Back in Barcelona we went out for a tapas meal and then found a local bar where Mat got through what was two very large glasses of sangria. It was a great end to a fun day.

Barcelona 2017 – Day Two – Going Topless 

We are a family of different sleeping patterns and so today to accommodate that we had a more leisurely start to the day. While one of the boys caught up on his beauty sleep Helen and I found a local coffee shop to have some breakfast consisting of a chocolate croissant and foul tasting cup of tea. To be fair the tea wasn’t the issue, it was the hot, UHT milk served with it.  We then regrouped ready to catch a hop-on, hop-off bus to take us to the sights.

Barcelona is an interesting place but the real interest lies in the architecture left behind by Gaudi and not just the famous, unfinished, church. We a number of examples of his work on the journey and made our first actual stopping point to be the Gueli Park which has a monuments section featuring Gaudi’s work. Unfortunately the first tickets available for this weren’t available for entry until 6pm. Instead we walked round the free bits of the park which are interesting in a dull sort of way. All the architecture in this part seem to have been constructed before Gaudi discovered colour.

From here it was back to the bus and onward to the next stop, which turned out to be lunch. I make no excuses for this but lunch turned out to be a KFC, something that we’d normally only do in our hour of need but it was convenient, cheap-ish and filling.

After lunch we took the bus to the palace. We should have been able to walk from the grand square at the bottom right up to the entrance but there was a motor show taking up the walkway so we had to arrive via the backstreets which wasn’t quite the grand entrance we’d hoped for. It was an impressive place nevertheless. The final stint on the bus took us down to the seafront from where we walked back to the hotel.

In the evening we went out to see the Sagrada Familia (that unfinished church) at night. Only the front was lit and it didn’t look that impressive as it had during the day which was disappointing. What wasn’t disappointing was the meal – it was great to find a traditional pizzeria in the middle of Barcelona 😉

Tomorrow the unknown that is the Spanish Grand Prix.

Barcelona 2017 – Day One – Nou Camp

Since the boys left home a couple of years ago our holidays have been strictly child free (not that they are children now of course). Today, however, we set off for a weekend away with all four of us in attendance for the first time in a while. Destination Barcelona. This meant a 5am start to catch the early plane from Heathrow. On arrival at Barcelona we dumped our bags and headed for the obligatory tapas lunch. No matter how hard we try we always seem to order too much and it’s impossible to stem the flow of plates arriving at the table Fortunately having the boys with us helps with this issue as they suck up everything in sight.

This weekend has a very sporty feel to it with the main event (for me at least) being the Grand Prix on Sunday. However, Alex may feel differently as he likes some game called “football” so this afternoon we we to Nou Camp, the home of FC Barcelona. I have to be honest and say that it wasn’t really something that I was greatly looking forward to, not being a football fan but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I wasn’t all that interested in the museum at the beginning, although the number of trophies was initially impressive until I noticed that they had sneaked in those from their winning roller hockey team too!

Once released from the museum you were allowed to go through the stadium itself. It wasn’t quite a free for all but I was impressed with both the areas you were allowed to go to and the fact that you weren’t unduly supervised or herded. So we were able to go out into the stands and see the impressive stadium. As with most modern stadiums the view for most seats seemed pretty good although given how high up some seats are you might need oxygen. Next it was down to the touch line and the technical area where Alex had great fun recreating yet another Man U loss!

We were then able to go to the press room and the “pens” where manager and players are interviewed post match and up to the view from the media area.

Finally, like all good tours, it was exit via the gift shop where we all managed to avoid picking up a Messi shirt. My money is staying firmly in my pocket until I get to the circuit on Sunday and pick up a pair of these…

Yorkshire by Plane

Last weekend, for the first time, we made the trip to my in-laws in Yorkshire by plane. Normally we would make the 200 mile journey either by road or rail. We prefer to let the train take the strain if we can as we prefer to let someone else drive and we can avoid the inevitable queues on the M1. For some reason this time I checked the prices of flights from Heathrow to Leeds/Bradford and was surprised that the cost was very similar to the train prices. By catching an early flight we could be in Yorkshire for breakfast – something that wouldn’t have been possible with the train.

So early Friday morning (it was the Easter weekend) we made our way to Heathrow. Of course the headline price didn’t include parking at the airport which bumps up the price but if we’d wanted to we could have taken the bus which would have helped.

What you don’t get on the train are the security checks required of modern plane travel and it was with dismay that I saw our only bag selected for additional screening. This was not good news as the queue was long but when we did get to the front the reason was explained to us – the scan looked as if we had put liquid in our case. We hadn’t but we had to empty the contents to prove it. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds as we had packed a number of presents for people which were wrapped. We had visions of being asked to unwrap them all to prove that they weren’t liquids. Fortunately the security officer was able to identify the offending item which we told him was a set of wooden flowers. Once they had been rescanned and swabbed we were good to go without further delay.

British Airways, in its drive to go downmarket and compete with the likes of EasyJet and Ryanair, no longer provides anything in the way of food and drink for short haul flights so we breakfasted in the airport before flying. While I understand that BA wishes to be seen to be competitive on price taking away the last differentiator doesn’t seem to be to be the best way to do that. Of course the low cost carriers don’t fly from Heathrow… yet.

The train journey to Yorkshire takes over four hours and involves a change of trains at York. The plane is direct and takes only 45 minutes – not long enough to comfortably complete an episode of Blakes 7 as I discovered! That meant that flying we were out of the airport and on our way by 9am. On the train by 9am we wouldn’t be much further than Oxford.

There is, however, one similarity between all modes of transport – when you reach your destination the weather will be exactly the same and in our case grey and drizzily.