Category Archives: Holidays

Hot Stuff in The States – Part 3: Dallas

Confession Time. We didn’t really think much about Dallas before we headed over to the USA. Nigh on all of our thoughts were around Las Vegas and our five days on the road. By the time we checked into the Hyatt Regency we had already been in the States for 12 nights, got married, and travelled 1,200 miles along stretches of Route 66 i.e. a holiday in itself. Therefore it almost felt a little bit strange to still have another week to go in a location we’d barely scratched the surface of during our pre-holiday research. What I’m trying to say is that we really didn’t do that much beyond wandering around the downtown area, and seeing what it had to offer. So instead of a day by day diary I’ll just let you know the highlights of our week.

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The view from our window (that is downtown Dallas)

I had a feeling the hotel was near Dealey Plaza, where JFK was assassinated, but I didn’t realise it was as close as it actually was. In the picture above, Dealey Plaza is centre left – the area of greenery. This was our first tourist stop, which we made on our second day in town. Next to the Plaza is of course the Texas Book Depository, from where all (or some) of the fatal shots were fired. The Depository is now not a Depository and instead houses the JFK Sixth Floor Museum.

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Bet you could get a good shot from here. That’s our hotel in the background i.e. the glass thing.

The museum was fascinating. I expected it to back up the “Lone Gunman” theory i.e. it was all Lee Harvey Oswald’s doing, but it didn’t. In truth it left the mystery as wide open as ever. As an aside, this was the first time I’d ever had an audio tour (it was included in the entry fee) and it really enhanced the experience. The picture above shows where JFK’s car was when he was shot – the silver car in our picture is about 10 yards beyond where the fatal shot hit Kennedy.

On another day we took the JFK Trolley Tour which involved hopping aboard an old style trolley bus, and in essence following where Lee Harvey Oswald went after the shooting. As you may, or may not know, he simply wandered out of the depository and went home.

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A new photo of the mysterious man behind the picket fence

Enjoyed the tour on the trolley bus. For one thing it let us see parts of Dallas we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. You saw where Oswald boarded, where he shot police office JD Tippit and the cinema where he was arrested. Before I go any further the following picture needs to be shown, and admired! Deena sat clicking at the downtown skyline for an hour during a spectacular thunderstorm and this picture was her reward. She’d always wanted to capture a lightning bolt and now she has.

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A Deena Clements original…can you beat that Angela?

Downtown Dallas wasn’t really what I had imagined. If you think of downtown New York or London you have pictures of streets crammed with tourists and lots of places to see. This wasn’t what we got in Dallas. The downtown area was more of a business quarter with offices and places to eat & drink for the office workers. To see the best of Dallas and the surrounding area i.e. the likes of Southfork Ranch, you need to have a car. If we could do the holiday again we would have probably spent less time in Dallas and more time with the car, possibly including staying outside Dallas and nipping in and out when we wanted to visit downtown.

In the downtown area the main tourist destination, outwith the JFK bits and bobs, is the Dallas Aquarium. Got to admit my feelings on animals in captivity mean I’m not a huge fan of zoos and aquariums, especially if it feels like the environments are restrictive and unnatural. The surprise with the aquarium is that it’s not just an aquarium. In fact it’s more like an indoor jungle with birds, reptiles, monkeys, sloths etc as well as fish and mammals. The place was slightly oppressive. Didn’t smell very fresh and the penguin in his sun drenched pool didn’t look too happy. However, it is what it is. Wouldn’t recommend a tip if you’re remotely unsettled by animals behind bars.

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Pool or hot tub?

Our hotel was right next to the Reunion Tower. Think the tower was there first and the hotel quickly followed. On our second last day we took a trip up. One thing we got a great view of was the hotel pool. As the picture above shows, it was absolutely tiny. More than three people in it and it was full. Honestly, I’ve seen bigger hot tubs. For a hotel of the size of the Hyatt Regency it was utterly bizarre that they had such a small pool. Pity, because me and the Mrs both enjoyed our evening swim.

Above the main viewing area was a cafe with a neat trick – the outside section rotated i.e. not the tower, simply the floor between the cafe and the window ledge. Took about 40 minutes or so to slowly work its way round.

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Paul in orange.

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Pioneer Plaza

Other places we wandered too include Pioneer Plaza which featured a collection of large horse, cattle and cowboy statues. Nearby was a cemetery which was where most of the pioneers who founded Dallas were buried. Retail therapy was mainly limited to one trip up the Orange line on the DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit – buses, trains, trams) to Northpark mall. Here we bought a carry-on suitcase as it appeared as if we were taking home twice as much as we’d brought. It wasn’t of course that much but we definitely needed some more space for the journey home. A few days we just went for a wander around downtown before relaxing at the hotel. As I said if we’d thought more about Dallas then I’m sure we would have seen more of it. As it was we were happy to chill after what had been a hot and tiring couple of weeks before even getting to our final hotel.

On our last morning we were up and out of the Hyatt Regency by 9:30. Handily the DART had a station at DFW (Dallas Forth Worth airport) and so it was a relatively easy journey from hotel to the departure lounge.

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At Dallas Fort Worth airport. The journey home begins.

Flight to London was around 9 hours, and a couple of hours after that we were in the air back up to Edinburgh.

Thanks for reading.

Hot Stuff in The States – Part 1: Las Vegas

Friday 12th June

All booked and planned several months ago, the time had finally come to head to the airport. To anyone who had asked the story we’d given was that we were spending time in Dallas along with several days driving stretches of Route 66. That was indeed true, it just wasn’t the whole truth as everyone now knows. With the dogs safely in kennels, and the cats looking forward to three weeks of my dad’s attention, we were up bright and early on Friday morning. After a quick breakfast and one last double check of the house and our cases, our lift arrived i.e my dad turned up. Half an hour later we had checked in at Edinburgh airport ahead of our short flight to Heathrow.

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Chilling at Heathrow

Flight down to London was quick and uneventful. Only thing worth mentioning is that in the seat in front of me was Peter Snow – he of the election ‘swingometer’. Once at Heathrow we had a three hour wait until our second flight departed. That flight wasn’t in fact to Dallas, but instead to the desert city of Las Vegas, Nevada. Trip from Heathrow to McCarron International was scheduled to last 10 hours and 15 minutes. Amazingly on board was a bunch of lads heading to the desert for a stag do. Twenty one hour round trip for a two day bender, expensive and tiring. My stag do wasn’t quite as elaborate.

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Hello, Las Vegas

We touched down in Las Vegas at around 8pm local time, 4am back in the UK, as we were now eight hours behind home. This meant we were knackered but still had a few hours left to stay awake to begin the recovery from jet lag. Unlike our last US trip, we got through immigration without a hitch and collected our bags, which we’d last seen in Edinburgh. Next task was to find our shuttle bus to the hotel. This obviously involved going outside into the Las Vegas night. One word, wow! Leaving behind the air conditioned airport concourse the heat hit you bang in the chops. It was like someone holding a warm hair-dryer a few feet from your face. A dry heat, but a very warm heat and this was at night without the sun to add to the experience. We soon found our shuttle stop and when our carriage arrived it was only another ten minutes or so until we reached the hotel.

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The view from our room

We had chosen to stay at somewhere called The Vdara. What made this hotel different to a lot of others on the Strip was a lack of casino, restaurants and shops. It was just somewhere to crash. Yes, there was a cafe, bar and a Starbucks, but that apart it was really just bedrooms. Perfect for us as it was a place to retreat to from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas. Our room was on the tenth floor and gave us a great view of the distant mountains as well as a large slice of Las Vegas. After scoffing down some food from the cafe we eventually gave into tiredness and headed for bed.

Saturday 13th June

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The Strip (facing south)

After a coffee and pastry from Starbucks we set off to explore the Strip. Temperatures were pushing 110 as we had our first full-on experience of an early summer’s day in the Nevada desert. Not surprisingly it was absolutely roasting, but as I said before a very dry roasting. This meant it seemed as if you weren’t sweating as any sweat just evaporated as soon as it formed. When you went into an AC (air conditioned) building you felt sweaty for a few minutes as the built up moisture didn’t evaporate, instead it poured down your forehead and back. Nice!

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Guess what they sell here!

From our hotel we turned down the Strip towards the MGM Grand. On the way we had a root around a shop dedicated to the humble M&M. However, this wasn’t just any old shop, it had four floors filled with everything you could possible think of crafted in homage to a chocolate sweet. Needless to say we bought a bag, and to be fair they did a good job of not melting. The first casino we had a close look at was New York, New York, just across from the MGM. In here we stopped for a moment to catch up on the Scotland game against Ireland which was showing at a sports bar. Final score was 1-1, decent result for the Jocks. There was a nice looking Irish pub which we didn’t go in this time, but did later.

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Healthy eating on hold

A walk back up the Strip and we eventually found ourselves at Planet Hollywood. What I mean by Planet Hollywood is the front part of the hotel which was taken up by a shopping mall called The Miracle Mile. Not exactly sure where guests checked in, perhaps there was another way into the hotel. This was one of our favourite malls because it had what we would deem as normal shops i.e places with clearance racks and 2-for-1 instead of another intimidating Louis Vuitton where the staff almost always outnumbered the customers. After Deena was nabbed by someone trying to sell her beauty products we eventually came across a place called Vegas Cheeseburgers. It was really just a themed pub/restaurant, very casual with telly’s showing baseball and the likes. A couple of beers and a full belly of food later we finished our wander through the Miracle Mile and headed back to the Vdara.

Sunday 14th June

After breakfast and a relaxing hour or so in the hotel we set out into the sun. This time we had a definite destination and plan for the day. Sunday was the day our wedding moved one step closer. Back home we’d already applied for a marriage licence, today we had to go and collect and pay for it. Once that was done we had an appointment with Vegas Weddings!

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Looks like it’s happening!

Best way to get up and down the Strip was by bus. Therefore we each bought a  three day pass for $15. For that we could go on the main Vegas buses (Deuce, SDX) as often as we liked for three days, which was a good deal. Today would be the first of three times we used our pass to make the 25 minute trip up to the Bonneville Transit Centre. From the Transit Centre (bus station) everything we needed was a five minute walk away. Our first port of call this particular afternoon was the Marriage Licence Bureau on East Clark Avenue. Have to say the Marriage Licence office looked more like somewhere people were registering deaths – it was a bit dowdy and run down. However, it was quick and within 15 minutes we were in and out. Next port of call was Vegas Weddings, a couple of hundred yards down the street.

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The venue

We were about an hour early for our appointment, but there was no way we were going to walk round the block in temperatures of 113. Therefore we made for the sanctuary of Vegas Weddings and their air con. As it happens they were happy for us to wait, and if possible, see someone earlier than planned. After about half an hour we got seen and all our outstanding paperwork was completed. This involved us giving them the marriage licence, signing a few documents and paying whatever money was due. If you’re interested we were having the Drive-Thru Faster wedding package. Vegas Weddings looked a nice place, fresh, bright and overall a good venue to get married. Definitely felt more up market than the kind of place some people may think folk go to get married in Las Vegas i.e. a mouldy Elvis manning reception.

After sorting out the final details of the wedding we headed back to the Strip. A second meal in Vegas Cheeseburger was followed by a walk back to the hotel to chill. Our last night as two single people.

Monday 15th June

Our wedding day!

To be honest, I can’t remember if we had breakfast or not. I don’t think we did, the ceremony was set for 10:15 and there wasn’t much time to spare. Once washed and dressed (both in white of course) we headed down to the hotel lobby to catch a taxi. Journey to Vegas Weddings in local traffic was an unknown factor so we left plenty of wiggle room. Therefore as with our trip up the day before we were early – not as early as Sunday, but still early none the less. However, like before it wasn’t a problem. Our flowers were removed from their cold storage and while mine was pinned on, Deena held onto hers. After about 15 minutes (this was still well before 10:15) a woman we hadn’t met before said hello and asked us if we’d selected the location. We hadn’t and in truth it wasn’t something which had been mentioned until now. Think I thought there was just a standard location and choice wasn’t involved, but it was.

We therefore set off on a quick tour of the venue. As it turned out we could get married outside in the sun in front of a “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, in the reception of the venue next to an “infinity fountain” or in the drive-thru tunnel. Luckily for us there was a fourth option which was only available because we were early – a proper wedding room. There was a wedding set for around the same time as ours in this room, but we were early so got in there ahead of the next party. We actually thought we were just being shown this room as part of the tour but before you knew it the ceremony was about to begin. The woman we assumed to be one of the wedding planners was actually the minister.

Around five minutes later it was done. Rings and vows exchanged and Deena Catherine Clements was now my wife. Some would say about time too after being together for over 13 years. After the wedding we chilled for a few minutes while another wedding came and went. It was then that the photographer turned up. Over the course of the next 15 minutes, and multiple locations, between 40-50 pictures were taken of the happy couple. Once this was done we said our goodbyes to Vegas Weddings. But fear not, we would be back again the next day to get our official marriage certificate and pick out the photographs we wanted to buy.

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Our flowers, after a full day walking around Las Vegas, in 43 degrees C, attached to my hat and Paul’s rucksack!

On leaving Vegas Weddings it was a short stroll back to the Transit Centre. I quickly changed from my black jeans into shorts before we got on the bus to the Strip. It had been a busy and momentous morning but the fact was it was still barely 11am i.e. plenty of the day ahead. What we decided to do was visit the Titanic exhibition at the Luxor hotel. Wasn’t a huge exhibition but what there was took a good hour or so to wander around. Star of the show was “The Big Piece” which was as the name suggests, err, a big piece of the side of the ship.

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Titanic – No sight or sound of Jack and Rose!

After Titanic we made for New York, New York and decided to have lunch at the Nine Irishman pub. Two drinks were enjoyed at the bar (which included the picture we put on Facebook to break the news) before we went inside for a meal – and delicious it was too. A few hours later we ended up back at the hotel. Perhaps not the wedding day many people would want but it was what we wanted. I’m sure everybody we know will understand and accept that.

Tuesday 16th June

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Nice way to start married life

We thought we’d start our first full day as a married couple in style, so room service it had to be. Deena had pancakes while I went for the more traditional bacon and eggs. All very nice and put us in good spirits for our third and last trundle up the Strip to the Bonneville Transit Centre, and Vegas Weddings. The aim of today’s trip was to collect our official marriage certificate, and to pick out our one free photograph.  First stop was the Vegas Weddings’ main building we had been to on the previous two days. Here we picked up our marriage certificate. It was then outside, back into the scorching heat and a short walk to their other property which is where they show the photographs. It was only three doors up so only took a couple of minutes to get there.

There was around 50 pictures in total and we were entitled to one free as part of the package. However, in the end we selected three. There were others which we liked but we settled on the three we liked best. Within an hour we were done with the photos and done with Vegas Weddings. Think what our experience shows is that if you want to do something with at least a modicum of classiness it can’t be done in five minutes. So while it was to most people a “quickie” wedding, even that required advance planning and slices out of three days of our time in Las Vegas. It was worth it though, as we both thought it went well and the photos looked great.

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Just one Cornetto etc

A quick walk past the location for “Pawn Stars” before we boarded the bus back to the Strip. Our mall of the day was one inside The Venetian. Being Las Vegas there was indeed gondoliers in full regalia singing while they ferried punters through various waterways inside the mall. We had our main meal of the day at an Asian Noodle restaurant where I successfully completed both courses with chopsticks – Mrs Clements whimped out and stuck to her knife and fork.

Wednesday 17th June

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Caesar’s Palace

Something was missing from our schedule today, oh yes, a trip up to the Bonneville Transit Centre! Instead we stayed fairly close to the Vdara and wandered through Bellagio to Caesar’s Palace. To explain. The Vdara and Bellagio were connected by a walkway from one hotel to the other. You did need to go outside, but only briefly, and under a roof. The Bellagio is the hotel with the famous fountains which do a show similar to the one we saw in Dubai last year. Caesar’s Palace was the next hotel up from Bellagio and is where many big boxing matches take place – not sure where, but I think there was an auditorium somewhere in amongst the labyrinth of gaming tables and restaurants.

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Time for cheesecake

Spent most of the afternoon at the Palace. Shops were ok, bit more up market than Planet Hollywood but at least had some which weren’t the empty, high end retailers with no prices on the displays. Before going to Las Vegas I’d noticed somewhere called “The Cheesecake Factory”. In my naivety I thought this was a factory which made cheesecakes. Sounded like a good place to visit. As it happens it is of course a restaurant which specialises in cheesecakes. It is also famous for a menu which has more pages than you almost have time to read. I ended up choosing something Mexican while Deena had a burger. We both then had cheesecake. On leaving we were absolutely stuffed.

After another stroll through the shops, our cheesecake stretched bellies headed back to the Vdara. On the way we took a trip up the Las Vegas version of the Eiffel Tower. Great views up and down the Strip as well as the surrounding desert and mountains.

Thursday 18th June

This was our last full day in Vegas and we decided to spend it with a spot of retail therapy. Yes, we’d been in shops several times, but on this occasion we headed for a place we might actually buy something. In Vegas there are two main outlet villages, Premium Outlets North and Premium Outlets South. The North is more Louis Vuitton and Prada, whereas South was Nike and Tommy Hilfiger. So South it was. A 15 minute trip on the “SDX” (express bus) soon had us on site.

One of the first things we did was get some breakfast i.e. a couple of coffees and some pastry. At first I thought I’d made a mess of the order as it was half what we had been paying in the hotel’s Starbucks. But no, I hadn’t mucked up, it really was half the price. Moral of that story is the undoubted fact that the Strip charges more than anywhere else in town. As it happened the coffee and pastry were probably the best we had all week. After coffee we did a couple of laps of the mall. I ended up with a few things, while Deena not so much. That’s usually the way it happens: Deena looks at a lot and buys little, I look at a little and buy most of it.

Our main meal of the day was back on the Strip at our favourite Irish Pub in New York, New York. After that it was time to pack. With the cases zipped up we headed out for one last walk amongst the lights and sights of the Vegas strip, and yes, it was still blooming roasting even with the time nearing ten.

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Bellagio fountains doing their thing

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Walking back to the Vdara for the last time

Friday 19th June (Part 1)

Checked out using the TV, as you do. Meant when we left all we had to do was drop the room card at reception. They had our credit card details so they simply deduct what you owe when you leave. Simple and quick. A taxi was then hailed and off we headed to pick up our rental car for our five day road trip. Details of that in the second installment of “Hot Stuff in The States”.

Thanks for reading.

A Trip To The Sun – Part 2

IMG_0250Day 5

On our fifth day it was finally time to see where all the beautiful people lived, and no I don’t mean we were heading home to Larbert! The destination was none other than the Dubai Marina. Another name you might recognise is Jumeriah Lake, which is basically the same thing. This area of town is crammed full of gleaming glass towers with little white boats chugging up and down the marina between the high risers. It simply smells of money and if you have £200,000+ to spare you just might be able to purchase a shoebox sized apartment in it.

Taking a step back. This trip required another saunter down the red line. As we do we like to see everywhere, so instead of getting off at either Dubai Marina or Jumeriah Lake Towers we kept going till the end of the line. Always like to see the end of lines, usually they aren’t that interesting and today was no exception. The terminus at Jebel Ali was in a developing industrial area which is actually not in the city of Dubai, but a few miles out on the border with Abu Dhabi. We liked this station so much we went back for a second trip 20 minutes later when we arrived at Jumeriah Lake Towers without Deena’s hat. Cue much laughter, or maybe I was crying. Either way, back we went…and yes, we found her hat!

Dubai-70D- 25-03-2014 13-24-37Eventually we got off (with hats) at Jumeriah Lake Towers and wandered through the tower blocks to the beach. Weather wise it was very warm, probably the hottest day we had and lazing on the beach wasn’t an option unless we wished to be roasted alive. Therefore we headed for some lunch in a shady cafe before a stroll along the retail section of the Marina. Some ice-cream accompanied us on our walk which ended up with as rejoining the red line at Dubai Marina station.

Dubai-70D- 25-03-2014 16-50-36Much to our surprise, on the way back to the hotel it began to rain – not much, just a few drops. Little did we know! Our enjoyable nightly swim/spa session was followed by our first trip to IZ. All I will say is if you ever go the Dubai Grand Hyatt, which we would both thoroughly recommend, then you must have at least one meal in IZ. The food was delicious, and the complimentary pickle tray & poppadoms were a filling starter in themselves. As was common in Dubai the meal was also very reasonably priced at around £15 each.

Day 6

Dubai-70D- 26-03-2014 08-58-23The rain which had started the previous night as we walked from the metro station kept on coming, and by morning there was a relative torrent flowing through the streets. Something like 1100 traffic incidents were reported due to conditions alien to most of the city’s boy racers. Wondering what to do we decided as we’d been to the end of the red line we might as well go to the end of the green one, and so we did. Like the red’s terminus, the end of the green line at Etisalat was equally uninteresting. Had the feel of a commuter station which was probably busy morning and night but quiet in between. We did see some more typical Dubai housing in a pleasant change from the towers. However, there wasn’t really much to walk to so we simply hopped back on the next train back towards town.

With postcards to post we needed stamps and so stopped at ‘Stadium’ which was as the name suggests next to a, you guessed it, stadium. The venue in question was the Rashid Stadium, home of Arabian League champions Al Ahli. Across the road from the ground was a supermarket called Lulu’s. In here we bought some stamps before having a bite to eat at the adjoining food court.

Back at the hotel our nightly swim/spa session was followed by our second tasty trip to IZ.

Day 7

This was our last full day in Dubai. As the rain had moved away it was another warm and sunny morning so we decided to begin by having a couple of hours by the pool. Has to be said the grounds of the hotel were fantastic. Because the hotel was in a developing part of town it clearly had its choice of land and chose a huge plot with great views of the creek. This meant large, landscaped grounds with a pool snaking between lounging areas. There was also the expected tennis courts, kids areas etc. In short a better hotel set-up you’d be struggling to find anywhere in Dubai.

Dubai-SX50- 27-03-2014 15-32-32After a cuppa, some packing and a breather in our room we got smartened up and ventured out on our last trip. The destination was once again the Dubai Mall. Not only did we want to get some presents for those at home, but we also wanted to witness the ‘Festival of Lights’ which was happening in and around Dubai Fountain each night that week. Dubai Mall meant one last return trip down the red line. Please note if you ever get the metro to Dubai Mall the walkway between the station and the mall is huge i.e. at least half a mile long. Thankfully a succession of moving escalators makes the journey less tiring but it’s yet another example of the cities attempt to keep you inside if at all possible. To make people walk in the sun for this distance in the height of summer would be crazy. Therefore if they want shoppers they need to make themselves accessible – hence covered walkways where possible. After a brief wander we headed for some tea at TGI Friday’s. Luckily for us they had a balcony which overlooked the Dubai Fountain so it was a perfect place for our last meal out. As ever the food was well priced at the almost daft price of about £16 for our two meals with drinks.

Dubai-SX50- 27-03-2014 15-00-56Just as we were finishing our food the clock struck six and this cued an explosion of music, water and light from the fountain below. Was almost like a Dubai version of the one o’clock gun from the ramparts of Edinburgh castle. We soon realised it was only the start. All around the Fountain at the base of the Burj Khalifa were installations and statues decked in lights of all shades and colour. The Khalifa itself sparkled like a 900m Christmas tree with spotlights searching into the darkening night skies. At seven and again 30 minutes later the fountain once more exploded to life. Really was a spectacular sight.

It was soon time to head back to our hotel. There was still time for one last bit of fun as the trains rolling into the metro station were packed like sardines. We let one go before deciding to ‘go native’ and just squash our way in!

Day 8

Dubai-70D- 24-03-2014 12-23-28Unfortunately we had to be up and out of the hotel by 3:30am to meet our arranged pick-up back to the airport. This meant getting up at 2:45 – Deena didn’t even go to sleep! Our lift finally arrived and raced through the still busy streets to the airport. After checking in we had some food and waited for the plane to take us home. As with the flight out it was an enjoyable, if tiring, seven hours. Between eating I filled in time by watching seven episodes of ‘Broadchurch’ on the in-flight TV service. There are actually eight episodes to watch but I only had 20 minutes left after watching the seventh so I’m still none the wiser to what happens at the end – I will need to find and watch the last episode somewhere soon!

Back home it was of course grey and freezing. However, it was home and for all that a small part of you is always glad to return to it.

A Trip To The Sun – Part 1

dubaiSome time before Christmas, Deena and I watched, and enjoyed, all ten episodes of a documentary series about Dubai International Airport. This, allied to an already existing interest in the desert city sparked plans for a trip to see it all for ourselves. Thanks to Netflights we soon had a week booked in the Dubai Grand Hyatt for the end of March 2014. As is the case most years, January and February went in a blur and before you knew it holiday time was fast approaching. Therefore with our suitcases packed, Dirhams (UAE currency) obtained, iPad charged and visitors guides/maps readied the morning of our trip soon arrived.

Day 1

Our flight was direct from Glasgow to Dubai on Emirates. Departure time was just after 1pm, and as is traditional with holidays we were at the airport with nearly three hours to spare. For me the holiday really feels like it’s happening when you get to the airport, and so even if it means hanging around for 2-3 hours it’s still seems like you’re on your way i.e. it’s still exciting!

2014-03-21 11.33.48Our chariot to the Middle East was a Boeing 777-300ER,  the workhorse of the long haul Emirates fleet. Seating was mainly 3-4-3, although on our way out we bagged seats towards the tail of the plane where four rows of 2-4-2 meant we could sit without bothering a third person. Seats were slightly angled away from the window but this meant plenty of space to stick hand luggage between seat and window. Leg room was surprisingly good as I was able to stretch out both under and to the side of the seat in front. Other than the odd ripple of mild turbulence the flight was very smooth and the food and general level of service was excellent.

dubai_bogOur flight lasted just over seven hours and arrived in Dubai with our watches showing 8:30pm. This though was in reality 12:30am as Dubai is four hours ahead of GMT. It was therefore approaching 01:30am when our pick-up dropped us at the steps of the Dubai Grand Hyatt. After checking in we made our way up to room 469 to be met by what was probably the poshest room I’ve stayed in. The bathroom was decked in marble, gold fittings, tiled floors and featured his and her’s sinks. The bedroom was very large with a huge King sized bed. As we were still hungry our first meal in the UAE’s show city was room service, and very nice it was too.

Day 2

When we arrived at the airport the previous night we were informed of a 09:00am meeting in the hotel lobby with the local travel rep. Considering we didn’t hit the hay until gone 02:30am the chances of making this meeting were never very high. I did at least email them to say we wouldn’t be coming and they understood. However, we still got up relatively early and made it down to breakfast before 10:00am. Breakie was included in our package and it took place each morning in the hotel’s ‘Market Cafe’ restaurant. It was a buffet service which had offerings from many different countries. Being safe I stuck with bacon and eggs (veal bacon as of course pork is off the menu in Dubai).

IMG_0006The plan for our first day was to suss out the metro system, plus a possible visit to the Dubai museum – both were achieved. The driverless Dubai Metro system has two lines, a green and a red. Handily, the green line has a stop called ‘Dubai Healthcare City’ which was a five minute stroll from the hotel. We therefore headed here and bought a ticket to get us the two stops to Bur Juman. The idea was to get to a main junction i.e. busier station than Healthcare City, and sort out some form of ticket to last us the week. The answer was a ‘Silver Nol’. For the princely sum of 20 Dirhams (about three pounds) we purchase a silver coloured credit card pass ticket which comes pre-loaded with 14 Dirhams worth of credit. The most anyone can spend on the metro in any day is 14 Dirhams i.e. once you’ve spent this all your journeys are free for the rest of the day, which is nice. Worth pointing out straight away that the metro system is an incredibly cheap way of getting around with journeys of several miles costing barely 70 or 80p.

With our Silver Nols purchased we then moved up one station to Al Fahidi and set out to find the Dubai Museum. As is traditional with Deena and I, we of course proceeded to walk 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Eventually we clicked and returned to Al Fahidi before continuing in the correct direction towards the museum. This museum was in an area called ‘Bur Dubai’ and it isn’t the area where all the jet setters and film stars live – it was more of a working man’s/old Dubai. Eventually after another few wrong turns we finally found the museum. Once again it was ridiculously cheap with entry only 3 Dirhams (50p).

IMG_0059The museum was set in the grounds of an old fort and was split into overground and underground sections. Above ground were bits and pieces of an old house and windtower. A couple of rooms held artefacts and some models of Dubai when it was just a small settlement by the creek. The main part of the museum was underground and therefore out of the sun. Haven’t mentioned the weather so far but needless to say it was sunny and warm with the temperatures hovering between 30-33 degrees. Out of the sun the museum wound its way through several rooms of exhibits, reconstructions, videos and a shop. In all we spent around an hour at the Museum which made it very good value for our 50p.

After the museum we had a late lunch at a nearby cafe before winding our way back the hotel. Dinner on our first night was had at the Market Cafe.

Day 3

dubai_mall1Only being in town for a week we had things planned for at least the first few days i.e. ‘the must sees’. The next of these was the ‘Mall of the Emirates’, which as you may know is a very large shopping centre home to all of the biggest names in the retail business. Even though the Dubai Mall is bigger, and in some ways better, it’s the Mall of the Emirates which is the one which seems to be known around the world. Hence we came here first. This involved a trip down the red metro line and afforded us a distant glimpse of the famous seven star hotel, the Burj Al Arab.

IMG_0187The thing which the Mall is possibly most famous is ‘Ski Dubai’. Being Dubai there is of course never any snow so the city decided to make some of its own, as you do. It really was quite a bizarre sight to see all the excited Arabic children rushing around in the snow, sledging down winding, icy runs and all wrapped up against something they rarely experience – freezing cold (temp is maintained at around -3 according to a digital display). Elsewhere chairlifts trundled up and down the slopes as snowboarders raced their way to the bottom. As I said a bizarre, whacky sight but one clearly enjoyed by the locals as it was absolutely packed.

Back at the hotel we enjoyed our daily trip to the spa – steam room, sauna, hot tub, pool i.e. the usual jazz, before once again dining at the Market Cafe. As it happened this was our last evening meal at the Market as we began to get more adventurous as we settled into Dubai, and hotel, life.

Day 4

dubai_mall2As hinted at in Day 3, the other ‘super mall’ in Dubai is the Dubai Mall. This is actually the bigger of the two malls and had two distinct advantages for us. Firstly it was half a dozen stops closer on the red line, and secondly it was right next to another of Dubai’s must see locations, the Burj Khalifa (more of that later). Within the air conditioned confines of the mall we once again wandered for a couple of hours past some of the most famous names in shopping. Has to be said most of the really expensive looking shops were empty as entry is likely to lead to a wallet soon shorn of several thousand pounds. Being in the Middle East we of course had to try some of the local cuisine and I must say the two portions of Cod and Chips purchased from the London Fish and Chip company were absolutely delicious!
burjk1Outside the mall one finds the Dubai Fountain and to your right the Burj Khalifa. The world’s tallest building is a staggering sight up close although you need a flexible neck to see all the way to the top! Sadly we didn’t realise you need to book up months in advance for a trip to the Observation deck on level 124 so we had to content ourselves with simply gawping in open mouthed wonder at the shining marvel.

Back at the hotel our spa session was followed by a meal in ‘Wox’ a Vietnamese noodle bar. Next door to ‘Wox’ was an Indian restaurant called ‘IZ’, which would feature over our next couple of nights.

Continue to Part 2

Tour De Cornwall – Week 2

At the end of our first week we moved to the north of Cornwall for our second seven night home. This is the story of that week. We will continue exactly where we left off.

Day 9 – Having left Loweneck Barn we made our way north. Destination was Talehay holiday cottages which was south of Liskeard and not far north of Polperro and Looe. We left the barn at around 9:30 and the journey was only scheduled to take around 90 minutes. Not being able to check in till 3pm meant we had time to kill. Therefore instead of heading straight for the cottage we made for Bodmin. Parking was easily found right in the heart of Bodmin. The tourist information centre was only yards away. Just next door was a free admission museum of Bodmin history. Donation was expected but we literally had no money so “sorry” for being cheap skates!

A walk through Bodmin town centre was if truth be told underwhelming. Bodmin had an “end of the line” feel with the high street not what you would maybe expect in a well known Cornish town. It was functional but not a street or indeed town centre you would be rushing back to. Apologies to any locals reading this but that’s just the way we felt. We had no plans to return on our week in the area and we didn’t. After Bodmin we made for Liskeard where we stocked up on our supplies. A bite of lunch and soon time was rolling round to mid-afternoon so we headed for Talehay.

corn13Thanks to the wonders of the web and Google Street View we knew what to expect when arriving at Talehay and we weren’t disappointed. Superb location with an excellent selection of cottages. The owner lived in the main building but most of the property was given over to holiday lets. Ours was called “The Barn” and in the picture to the left is on the right hand side of the building in focus. Lounge and kitchen downstairs with one double bedroom and pleasant modern bathroom upstairs. Small but perfectly adequate for our needs.

After a chat with the owner we settled into the Barn and spent the rest of the day on site.

Day 10 – As with the previous Sunday we decided to leave the engine switched off today and use foot power. A look at the OS map showed Polperro was only four or five miles away so off we set. An enjoyable ramble through the Cornish countryside followed. The now expected narrow single track roads with high hedges. The sun was out and it was a lovely day for a walk. After 90 minutes or so we reached what turned out to be the top end of Polperro. Unfortunately a map reading error convinced us, err me, that Polperro wasn’t straight on (which it was) but right up a hill. Net result of this map reading malfunction was that a five minute stroll down into Polperro actually took us up hill and down dale, through farm land and eventually into Polperro from the other side. In short what should have been five minutes took more like an hour. But hey, it was a nice day and we saw more of the surrounding countryside that we would have otherwise!

corn8Polperro is exactly as it says on the tin. A classic Cornish fishing village. Another description would be a tourist hot spot. Even on a Sunday in early season the village was packed. The narrow streets perhaps make it feel busier than it is but I wouldn’t like to be in town in high summer. Must be pretty claustrophobic! The picture to the right shows Polperro harbour. We sat down close by and ate our well earned lunch.

After lunch we continued to wander round the village. Eventually we decided to head for home. This time we would follow the main road. First thing to note there is a serious lack of pavements around here. The steep uphill hike out of Polperro had to be done walking into the oncoming traffic. Not a problem but not very walker friendly on a really busy day. After a couple of miles we did veer off the main road back onto the country lanes and were grateful to be away from the traffic again. With feet beginning to ache we reached Pelynt and another mile or so later were home. In total something like 11 miles were covered and we had certainly earned our scones when we got back to the Barn.

Rest of the day was spent at home with two dogs fast asleep in front of the fire.

corn18Day 11 – Just along the coast from Polperro is the much larger town of Looe. Talking of large the car park we used must be the largest car park I’ve ever seen. Must have been umpteen football pitches worth. If it ever gets full then Looe would have to be full to bursting. That said I’m sure it probably does get full in summer as Looe like Polperro is aimed firmly at the tourist market.

The town is actually split in half by the East Looe river. On the east bank there seem to be more holiday lets, hotels and residential areas. The west side is where all the chip shops, pasty takeouts, pubs and amusements are to be found. Also on the west is the main beach. Unfortunately this was a non dog friendly beach but the slipway near the lifeboat station provided a spot for a canine paddle. An hour or so of Looe and we decided to head on somewhere else. That somewhere else was just up the coast in a nice spot called Seaton. Unlike Looe the beach here was dog friendly and also unlike Looe it was almost empty. A great place to spend some time. We had lunch here before the dogs had a swim. After Seaton we looked at the map and decided to keep going west as we made for Torpoint.

corn9The reason we headed to Torpoint was that it would give us a good view over to Plymouth. As it happened we got more than a good view. To explain. Torpoint has a busy ferry connection to Plymouth with sailings there and back every few minutes. Not by design we ended up in the ferry queue. As it happens we could have got out of it but decided instead to hop aboard and leave Cornwall for Devon. Glad we did as Plymouth was well worth a visit. A huge place in comparison to anywhere we’d visited so far on our trip but just as fascinating. The place everybody has heard of is The Hoe so that was where he headed to. A parking spot right next to The Hoe was found and with the sun beating down we went for a walk.

After the Hoe we set the compass back for Cornwall. One thing to note. In returning to Cornwall you head over the Tamar Road Bridge. This is actually a toll bridge but only on the way from Cornwall to Devon i.e. not the way we were going!

corn22Day 12 – As this was an area Deena had visited as a child two places in particular were familiar to her. The first was Polperro and the second Lostwithiel. Polperro was done a couple of days ago so today it was the turn of Lostwithiel. Straight away it has to be said Lostwithiel was a beautiful little town. Quiet, not particularly aimed towards tourists but none the worse for it. We spent a good couple of hours here. There was a handy little bit of river where the dogs were able to have a swim. Also nipped to the station to watch the Penzance train arrive and head on it’s way again. After that we bought some lunch and dined out by the river. Really did enjoy our time in Lostwithiel. Somewhere I could imagine living if the opportunity ever arose!

corn24Carrying on from Lostwithiel we made for St. Austell and more specifically the village of Charlestown. Here there is to be found something relatively unique, a dog friendly museum! An interesting collection of bits and pieces from the world of shipwrecks and sea faring in general. Was always on alert that the dogs might bark or “cock a leg”. Thankfully they didn’t and instead were on their best behaviour.

corn19Day 13 – Today we decided to have a car free day. We therefore walked the three or so miles from Talehay to Lansallos. The first part of the route was the same as Sunday but after that it was up hill before the walk down into the tiny village of Lansallos. Why did we walk here? Well it’s simple. A dog friendly beach. Not only that a secluded and very quiet spot. Was a fair trek down from the village and for those with small children or prams forget it. Same goes for anyone with a wheelchair. It’s a long, steep and at times narrow winding path down to the cove. Worth it if you can manage but just to be aware that reaching Lansallos is only half the battle!

Ocne there the dogs loved it. Unfortunately Toby took his bark count to new levels. Fortunately those already on the beach also had dogs so didn’t mind. After an hour or so we had the place to ourselves anyway. Whether this was connected to Toby’s barking is unclear!

corn14Day 14 – With just a couple of days to go we agreed that today would be our last road trip. The destinations were Newquay and Padstow. Had been to Padstow before but Newquay was virgin territory. I’ve described Newquay since we were there to people as  Magaluf meets Skegness with surfers thrown in. As far away from somewhere like Lostwithiel as you could imagine. Extremely tourist driven with sandy beaches, pubs, cafes and amusements galore. Almost a Blackpool feel. Nothing bad about that just not the side of Cornwall we were that bothered about seeing. Probably a great place to go for families with kids. For us worth a visit but not somewhere we will likely head back to. The dogs though appreciated the chance of a paddle. Word of warning the car parking was extremely expensive. Almost £4 for just two hours!

After Newquay we headed up the coast to Padstow AKA PadStein after the famous TV chef. Like Newquay, Padstow is also aiming very much for tourists but is a more traditional Cornish fishing village. More our cup of tea. A check of the watch showed it was approaching 2:45. Rick Stein’s chippy closes at 3:00 in the afternoon. Not to worry. Plenty of time and soon we were munching on our second Rick Stein fish supper of the holiday. As ever it was delicious. A walk round the village and when done we headed for home. The end of our last big day out of the holiday.

corn20Day 15 – As with our last day at the first cottage the plan was to stay close to base. Allow some time for a tidy up and to begin packing. Therefore we made for Fowey. This involved a loop round through Lostwithiel for the last time. Said it before but we really liked Lostwithiel. Fowey was similar to Padstow without the Rick Stein outlets everywhere. Enjoyed a pasty and coffee by the water. Confession time. This was actually our one and only locally baked pasty of the holiday. We did have a Ginsters effort in week one but this one today was the only pasty consumed that wasn’t out of a packet. I went against tradition and had Chili in mine while Deena stuck to the tried and trusted ingredients.

Rather than going back via Lostwithiel we instead took the car ferry over to Bodinnick. Takes about a minute and runs all day back and forth. From here we took what is known as the Lanteglos Highway. In rural Cornish terms it is indeed a highway with two lanes and a dotted white line! Extremely rare for these parts but perhaps to do with it being the road to the Fowey ferry. Soon we were back at base and other than one more night in the cottage our holiday was almost at an end.

Day 16 – Up bright and early. Breakfast, one last hoover of the cottage, a chat with the owner and we were off. Took us about eight hours to get back to Larbert and reality. Cornwall seemed a long way away. I think we’ll probably be back!

Tour De Cornwall – Week 1

This year our summer holiday took us to Cornwall. Have been before in our motor-home but with that now for sale (contact me if interested, no really!)  we opted for a holiday cottage. Well two holiday cottages as we split our two weeks just as I am going to split this blog about the holiday. Cottage one was in the extreme southwest, almost at the end of the UK map. The second cottage was nearer the border with Devon. More on week two later. For now here is what we got up to on our first eight and a bit days.

corn21Day 1 – Travelled from home to just north of Bristol. Stayed in a Travelodge in what seemed to be a industrial estate/retail park called Cribbs Causeway. The reason we stayed at a Travelodge is because they allow dogs. As it happens the dogs cost more than us! The accommodation was basic and a touch shabby but for one night you can’t really complain.

On first arriving at the hotel we took the dogs for a walk. In doing so we passed several rooms, which with curtains fully open, gave us a clear view of what was going on inside. Nothing too controversial other than the sight of one guest with one of these in their room. Not sure if he was cooking a chicken but I thought it was worth a mention!

Day 2 – Up early and enjoyed a full “English” at the pub/restaurant adjoining the hotel. For non Brits reading this a full English breakfast is a plate of fried things such as eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms etc i.e. very calorific but sets you up for the day as a one off treat! A lot of the British motel type places are built next to a chain pub such as a Brewers Fayre or a Harvester. This was the latter and the food was most enjoyable. After breakfast we set off south on route to our first cottage.

corn1

After a couple of hours we reached Penzance. Our cottage was another couple of miles south but we fancied a walk around town as it was such a nice day. At this point it’s worth adding that our holiday was taken while UK schools were still in. The Scottish schools traditionally stop for summer at the end of June while in England it’s around the third week of July. This meant Cornwall was likely to be a lot quieter than if we’d gone a month later. This is why we tend to take UK based holidays in June! A walk through the bustling streets of Penzance was followed by a trip to the nearest supermarket to get in provisions for the first few days.

corn7With the clock ticking past three in the afternoon we made our way to cottage number one. Loweneck Barn was to be found down a series of narrow country lanes. Be warned, once off the beaten track in Cornwall most roads turn into single track with surrounding high hedges. Not for the faint hearted but once you get used to them it’s not a problem, as long as you are good at reversing! We were met by the barn’s owners who lived in the beautiful looking house next door. It was a very quiet spot with only the occasional passing tractor to disturb the peace.

A dog walk down by the stream across the road and after that we just enjoyed a relaxing first night in our home for the week.

corn2Day 3 – Due to the travelling of the previous two days we decided to leave the car alone for the day. Instead we went on a walk around the local countryside. Nothing too testing. A few miles to breathe in the fresh air and get the legs moving. When back at the barn thoughts turned to where we would go on our first trip out.

Only other thing to add is the absolute thrashing I handed out to Deena at Scrabble. To be fair I did get all the good letters and in actual fact she did well to keep it as close as she did!

corn3Day 4 – First place we decided to visit was the Telegraph museum at Porthcurno. Fascinating collection of artifacts from when Porthcurno was known as Cable Valley. Excellent presentation from a member of staff is included in the entrance price. Good for children too as there were plenty of buttons to press and bits and pieces to play with. As it was a wet and fairly miserable day the dogs were happy to snooze in the back of our van while we wandered round the museum.

After Porthcurno we went on a drive around the coast through the likes of St. Just, Pendeen and eventually St. Ives. Having bought something to eat we eventually parked in the neighbouring town of Hayle and chewed on our sandwiches. It was now dog time. They needed to run on a beach and have a swim. Unfortunately as we were to find out a lot of beaches in Cornwall have restrictions on dogs. Some they can go on, others not at all all and others only at certain times of the day or year. Today we seemed to find only ones where they weren’t welcome. Eventually we found a small stream leading into the sea which had a bit of sand. Almost like a mini beach and the dogs were happy enough.

If planning to visit Cornwall with pooches then this website shows you which beaches you should head for.

Day 5 – During our trip through Pendeen the previous day we noticed Geevor Tin Mine. The mine closed after an abortive attempt to recommence operations in 1990. Open since 1911 it produced over 50,000 tons of tin in its lifetime. What is now left is in essence a time capsule of the day it closed. At points it feels like the workers might walk back in at any minute. Fascinating place to visit.

corn4Towards the end of the site walk-through you are given a guided tour down an old mine-shaft. This shaft was not part of Geevor and is one which was only discovered when Geevor actually closed. Be warned it is an extremely narrow and low ceilinged series of tunnels so if you are either claustrophobic or larger than the average person you may want to think before entering!

corn5After around three hours our trip to Geevor was complete. We then had lunch on a picnic table in the grounds before a coastline walk to some more mine workings nearby. You can easily fill a whole day in and around Geevor and if you are visiting this part of Cornwall it truly is a “must see” attraction.

Day 6 – Today was the first of two days upon which we went to Falmouth. Somewhere which looked very interesting and well worth a visit was the National Maritime Museum. However, as it would involve leaving the dogs in the van we had to hope for a cool, wet day. As it happens it was probably the sunniest and warmest day of the entire holiday! We consoled ourselves with fish and chips from Rick Stein’s Falmouth cafe which was located near the Maritime museum within Discovery Quay.

Falmouth showed up well in the sunny weather and is somewhere well worth spending a day to fully explore. A brief stroll through the town and it was soon time to return to the car. We hadn’t finished with Falmouth yet as we drove up to a car park sitting just below Pendennis castle. From here you were rewarded with unbroken views over the English channel.

corn16Day 7 – Rain was forecast so we decided to head back to Falmouth. When we got there it wasn’t raining but it was overcast and considerably cooler than the day before. Therefore it was all systems go for the National Maritime Museum. Was well worth the return to Falmouth as the maritime museum was a superb collection of items. A good couple of hours was spent touring its various sections. As we made to leave the heavens had truly opened. A quick dash around the shops within the Quay saw us purchase some much needed scones for the now obligatory daily cream tea.

On the way home we took a trip to Lizard but by this time the rain was bouncing off the road so we turned tail back to the cottage.

Day 8 – Our last full day at our south west base. Decided to not travel too far so first we headed for the village of Mousehole. Located just south of Penzance this village is an extremely popular destination for tourists. If coming by car best to park outside Mousehole and walk down as the streets are very narrow and likely to be filled with people. As we had just recently found out Mousehole was the home village of the Penlee lifeboat crew which was lost with all hands in 1989. We spent an hour or so walking round the entire village. One or two sea front houses caught our eye but not ones we’d be likely to afford! The harbour beach is not dog friendly so just outside of the village we were pleased to find a little cove which did allow the mutts a chance to paddle.

corn6After Mousehole we made for Cape Cornwall which is to be found south of St. Just. This location felt like the end of the road in every sense. A climb up to the Heinz Monument provided stunning views out over the sea. A walk down the other side brought you to the volunteer run National Coastwatch lookout point. From here the seas are scanned for any signs of trouble. From Cape Cornwall we drove back through St. Just and Pendeen before heading home to the barn.

Day 9 – After breakfast and a tidy-up we left Loweneck Barn heading for our second cottage in the north of the county.

The second part of this holiday blog will detail what happened from here until we headed for home.