Friday, 22 November 2013

Virtual Tourist Manchester's Christmas markets Meeting 16th November 2013

I was awake about 8.10 and as Ashton Hill hostel has a kitchen with a kettle & microwave, I had some tea & porridge for breakfast before going to meet the Virtual Tourist group. I went out about 10am & walked to Starbucks opposite Albert Square. It is here where we have met for the past few years. I had a gingerbread latte. 
I joined Kirsty & Adds & other people from the group while we looked around  the stalls around the town hall. I also bought a "mulled wine" in a seasonal mug. Later I met Lia & Jeff, who were also interested in visiting the Lowry Gallery in Salford. So we decided to go together. We took a Tram 1023 to Salford Quays, then walked around the former dock area. Near to the BBC Media Centre there is the Lowry Arts Centre which as an arts centre which hosts concerts & other event. Also in the same building is the LS Lowry gallery which contains the largest collection of LS Lowry paintings & drawings, many of which are landscapes of industrial Lancashire in the mid 20th century. In addition there is an area set for special exhibitions & in November 2013 the Lowry gallery also hosted as "Performer as Curator" an Alison Goldfrapp exhibition. Alison Goldfrapp is well known as a musician in the electronic & synthpop genre & has several hits in a career since 1989. Alison performs under her surname with Will Gregory. Her albums have sold well. Alison is interested in art, fantasy & fairytales, and examples of there were included in the exhibition. There were also excerpts from films including:-
The lost highway by David Lynch
The Wicker man (Britt Eckland singing)
"Hansel & Gretel" a silhouette cartoon made by Lotte Reiniger
& videos of songs that Alison included in an early album. 
Annabel & Jo (films by Alison Goldfrapp)
The art centre gas an excellent shop of Lowry art memorablia & a cafe/Tea shop which serves fair trade hot & soft drinks, cakes & sandwiches.
At 15.10-15.20 Tram 1072 Media centre to St Peters Square. I went to meet up with the group again, and walked from St Ann's Church to the Cathedral area among the market stalls in New Cathedral Street, I also took some time to listen to talented musician girls, one playing guitar & both signing in harmony. Among the songs (covers of recent hits) they sung were "Girl on Fire" & "Story of my life" I also wondered arpund the cathedral & surrounding streets until meeting the VT people outside the Old Wellington, another Nicholson pub, in a distinctive Elizabethan house. Here Virtual Tourist had a table booked for 5pm & we settled to good food & beer. I had chicken & mushroom pie with fresh vegetables & chips. I also had apple crumble with custard. 
Later we went to a typical "backstreet" English town pub called the "Wheatsheaf" Hotel. The pub was very crowded, but served real ale & there was also a "disco" specialising in Tamla Motown & Northern soul music. We all chatted & stayed until about 11.45pm. 

Virtual Tourist Meeting in Manchester part 1

After the concert the previous night , I returned to the hostel. I arrived in to the bar area when there was a karaoke evening. I also met two Australians who were staying in the same room. The following day I was awake about 7.30. St Christopher Hostels serve a Complimentary breakfast of Tea, juices, muesli & toast with cheese, ham, jam..
After breakfast I took the Central line to Oxford Circus & Bakerloo to Marylebone. I then travelled by train operated by Chiltern to Birmingham Moor Street (10.15-12.08), walked across Birmingham centre to New Street from where I travelled on a Cross Country voyager to Manchester Piccadilly. On arrival into Manchester I went by tram 3008 to Victoria Station, an example of a fine Victorian rail terminus, where also trains from all over Northern England & beyond arrive and depart.
Ashton Hill Hostel is a ten minute walk from this station. The hostel was built in 1908 & is a grade 2 listed building, previously used as a woman's hostel & a hotel serving passengers who wanted to be near Victoria railway station. I was warmly welcomed by Rebecca on reception who also showed me my room, the kitchen & bathroom facilities. I stayed in the hostel & had a cup of tea & scone, before I went into the centre & as arranged I met Virtual Tourist members in the Bank, a Nicholson pub which like many Nicholson pubs is in a splendid building. I first met Dao, then later more members came including Kirsty & Adds, Gill, Sarah, Sue, Lia & Jeff. After having a drink we went to the Red Hot House World Buffet. This is one of several "buffet" style places, and has "sittings" & we were booked in for 7-9pm. There a buffet "stations" each of which specialises in a type of food, Chinese, Thai, TexMex.. as well as "stations" to collect starters & desserts. Drinks had to be collected from a bar on another floor. After eating well we moved to a Wetherspoon pub called the "Moon under the water". Here I had some beer & chatted until about 11pm, when the pub became more crowded and they started playing LOUD music.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Weekend in Slovakia, my final day in Krakow

Tuesday 10th September
Although these episodes of my travelogue are titled "Weekend in Slovakia" my final day was spend in Krakow, covering a waking tour of the former Jewish areas of Kazimierz & Podgorze.

I had spent the night in the B-Movie hostel & I was up about 7.50, having corn-flakes, tea & toast for breakfast. I met several of the guests including Helena & Catherine. The sun shone and it became pleasently warm. I walked to the centre and arrived at about 10am to meet Tomek in Plac Mariacka/Rynek & many other visitors who were joining us for the free walking tour. Based on the Jewish history & including stops in Kazimierz & Podgorze. We also learned about the bread rolls which are sold in the streets of Krakow, zapiekanky from the stands in Plac Nowy, a new foot bridge which is popular with young people who use padlocks (lovers' name engraved) to show their devotion & commitment.
Our tour finished outside the former Oskar Schindler factory, which contains a museum, not just devoted to Oskar Schindler, but also to Krakow, the Cracovian people at the time of the second world war.
After saying "goodbye" to everyone I went to Plac Nowy and bought for my lunch a Zapiekanka Polska from one of the stalls. I then returned to the hostel, collected my bag, and took a No 52 tram at 15.00 to Dworzec Glowny (trailer 567) and then travelled on the 15.35 train to Balice, then a shuttle bus to Terminal 1 of Jan Paul II Airport. Quick through security, time for a Tyskie beer & chatted to couple while waiting to be called to the aeroplane. We then waited in line to board Airbus 380-800 EI-EFS which left Krakow on time & arrived ahead of schedule. While leaving the plane I started talking with a Polish lady called Wioleta. Quick through customs I was on the 19.45 Stansted express to London Liverpool Street. Underground train at 20.40- Liverpool St-Paddington (Hammersmith & City), FGW HST to Reading
and a No 26 bus back home to Calcot.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Weekend in Slovakia part 4, Bardejovske Kupele & a return to Krakow

Monday 9th September 2013 

Monday 9th September 2013
The day had started sunny, but soon clouded over after we had breakfast of tea & selection of bread, cold meat, cheese, peppers and coffee
The children, Lorianna & Rastik also came with Jitka and me & we went to the spa town of Bardejovske Kupele, a small spa town only 6 kilometres from Bardejov. The town consists of several fine hotels and a spa colonnade set in a wooded area of streets & parks. We visited the sources (pramen) of different mineral waters, and we were able to taste these waters which have natural trace elements which are good for curing people with aches and pains. We saw the Astoria and Alzebet hotels, which are the finest in the town. There is also an outdoor museum (skanzen) of traditional buildings set in the woods.
We finished off with a coffee & cake outside a favourite cafe of Jitka's. It started to rain, as we were leaving Bardejovske Kupele.
We returned to Jitka's apartment for lunch of bean, carrot, potato & sausage (klobasa) soup with bread. Rasty had also come home for lunch, but Rasty had to go back to work.  Jitka with the children & I went to Krynica & I they left me at the same place we had met the previous Friday. I walked to catch the bus to Krakow. Despite the info on the bus stops &  internet, the "next" bus was 18.00. This meant I wouldn't be able to do what I had wanted, that is arrive in Krakow in daylight, but had three hours to explore Krynica. After walking by the Krynicianka river & through the park I took a "trail" through the woods behind ? Park. By this time the rain was falling again, but fortunately the trees kept me dry. I returned to the station & waited for the bus. The rain eased off slightly, but during the bus journey, the rain became heavier & persistent. We arrived Krakow bus station about 21.15. I took a 52 tram from Dworzec Glowny to Stradom at 21.50 (MPK 565) arriving at hostel 22.00 & after checking in went to kitchen & started talking with other guests & later went with sisters Catherine & Helena, Peter & his friend & others and we had a drink in the Alchemedia pub in Plac Nowy, Kazimierz. I also had szarlotta jabulkowe with my beer.

Cultural day in Reykjavik

My last day in Reykjavik was also the "Reykjavik Culture Night" or Menningarnott. Although it is referred to as "night" there are events all day all over the city. Museums are free (without charge) to enter, and even people in private homes open their doors to visitors and give the visitors coffee, pancakes and one family even cooked chilli-con-carne. A former mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson opened his house and served pancakes to visitors. The current mayor was standing outside.
I had my breakfast in the hostel and as the weather was damp, I decided to visit the National Museum, which is only a short walk from the hostel. Entrance was free due to the Cultural event, which is the Saturday on or after 18th August. The museum staff offered guided tours, and exhibits in the museum are from the 9th century to the late 20th century. Iceland was first occupied by Celtic monks and then Nordic voyagers, mostly from Norway and Denmark. There are examples of ships and personal effects from these early times, and our guide started our tour in this part of the museum. Later Norway and then Denmark ruled Iceland. One of the prized exhibits is a carved church door.As well as the permanent exhibition, there were temporary exhibitions, one was a collection of early photographs all taken in Iceland, which highlighted how Icelandic people lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Another was a collection of silverware.
After spending 4 hours I realised I needed to visit the library building which also had a "photographic" exhibition, but I arrived there & had a look around, there only appeared to be photos of American bikers.
I also received a message from Regina, and we met soon after, and made our way to the old town.
Here we saw more cultural events, two sisters singing lovely songs in English & Icelandic and some of their songs are on you-tube. Here is their recording "Desire" which is sung in English, but the scenery is definitely Icelandic
Almost at every corner there was something happening, magic shows, dancing and Viking battle re-enactments, and we saw another singer playing an acoustic guitar.  I think her name was Ingunn Huld, but I have not been able to find any reference to this name on the schedule as published on the internet, and if anyone can help me please let me know.
Later we visited a home, where the family had a "yard-sale" selling knicks-knacks, but they also offered us a coffee and a pancake.
All too soon it was time for me to leave Reykjavik, and I caught the 18.00 bus to Keflavik. It was still heavy drizzle, when I arrived at the Fit hostel in Keflavik. The hostel looked like it was in the "middle of nowhere" and I wondered how on earth I would be able to get to the airport. There was no receptionist the hostel, and so I had to use a telephone, and talked to a guy, who told me how to get a key, and to reach my room. I met Andrew, who was also leaving the hostel and catching the same 'plane home, and we arranged a taxi to get us there in the morning.
It was getting quite late, and I wanted something for my supper, and managed to find a small grocery store and I had some pasta and beer, back in the well equipped kitchen. The hostel also had free WI-Fi and a computers, which were being used by children.
As I needed to be up early the following morning, the taxi was leaving 05.30, I had an early night, and met Andrew, just after 5am.
The flight left Keflavik airport at about 7.30am and was busy, although the staff were not as entertaining as those who brought me to Iceland.
I was quick passing through passport control and managed to catch the 11.08 train for reading and was home by about 1,15pm.

Monday, 16 September 2013

My weekend in Slovakia part 3 return to Bardejov

Sunday 8th September

We had our breakfast in the kitchen of the apartment. We left Zdiar about 9 and we went to Stary Smokovce, one of four villages which form the Smokovce resorts, which there are early 20th century grand half-timbered  hotels & churches. From Stary Smokovce, there has been a funicular railway (pozemna lanovka) to Hrebienok altitude 1280 metres, since the late 1800s. From Hrebienok there are several hiking paths, and we took one towards a waterfall & we also stopped for a coffee at the Rainerova Chata, one of many "Chata" which are mountain huts, some of which have accommodation as well as catering.
After hiking for a couple of hours we returned to Hrebienok, and took the funicular back to Stary Smokovce. We returned to Bardejov passing Poprad & stopped for lunch at Koliba (a rustic building & restaurant) where I had duck served with red cabbage & knidnicky. By the time we returned to Bardejov, the sun was still hot & we had coffee & apple cake. 

After tea Jitka took me to Bardejov where we walked around the historic centre. Jitka & I visited :-

Lower Gate, Bastions  & fortifications. The city has been fortified since the middle ages.
Protestant Evangelical church, where Jitka & Rasty were married.

The library dedicated to David Gutgesel (an early 20th century building).

Church of  St. Aegidis, a Gothic styled basilica, which has 11 winged carved altar pieces built 1460-1510 (inside the church)
Town Hall (Radnica) with the Statue of the knight Roland.  The town hall building is in the centre of a large square (Radnicne namesta)  is surrounded by medieval burgher's houses.

We watched a Folk music competition in the amphitheatre. Two folk bands from neighbouring villages were competing, and there were many people watching them.  

We also passed Jitka's Gymnasium (grammar school) and the Orthodox church, complete with its onion-shaped topped towers in a shaded area of trees.

We also came across a Beatle memorabilia area around J Lennon street. We don't know why there is a street dedicated to an English pop group, but it was interested for me to see this.
A small river (Sibska voda) flows to the south & east of the town, and there is Fountain of colour & music
Jitka and I stopped for Coffee at a bastion cafe, before we visited the Synagogue & Haulocaust memorial
Soon after seeing these Jewish sights we returned to Jitka's apartment as it was becoming dark. For our supper we Sauce with bread,  Omelette and a "lemon-beer" & stayed in for the evening.

My weekend in Slovakia part 2 Zdiar, High Tatra Mountains

Saturday 7th September started for me with breakfast of egg-bread, coffee & fruit-tea with Jitka. 
Rasty had gone to work, and when he returned we (Jitka, Rasty, Rastek & I) travelled to the High Tatras (Vysoke Tatry) by car. The sun was shining & it was quite hot. We passed through several small villages, then Stara L'ubovn'a, passing the castle high up on the hill. We arrived in Zdiar, a settlement since the 16th century which predates the High Tatra resorts. In Zdiar there are mostly traditional built houses, hotels & pensions which jaw dropping views of the High Tatra mountains. We settled in to an apartment, belonging to the Penzion Strachan. I took a short walk around Zdiar, before we had dinner in the pension's restaurant. I had pirohy (small pillows of meat or vegetarian food, or cheese) with sheep-cheese (brynzcovy) & kofola. Earlier while I was exploring the area I managed to hear some of the traditional Gorale style music, as there was a wedding in the restaurant.  The band had left but we still had recorded "Gorale" music while we ate.
The restaurant was in the traditional "rustic" style, and the doors had an interesting way, or self closing, by using a stone attached to a rope.
After our meal we visited Spider Park, a children's activity park with climbing equipment resembling an army assault course. There is a interesting cave near by.
Later we took a short walk through the forest towards ? from  Javorina. However as it became cooler & darker we decided to return to our apartment, where we had some supper of bread, ham, cheese & peppers. In the evening Rasty & I watched "Farma" Slovak reality show with contestants living & working on a farm, and like UK reality shows, a person was eliminated each week.
For those interested in Gorale music, there has been a Polish-Slovak band who have used the traditional music & fused it with contemporary music. They are called "Bratanki" and their album "Ano" (Slovak for "yes") was very popular in Poland & Slovakia. Here is a link to one of their songs "Czerwone korale"

Friday, 13 September 2013

A weekend in Slovakia part 1

Friday 6th September 2013
This is an account on how I reached Bardejov and spent the weekend with my friends there.
I needed to be awake @ 02.30, as I had booked a taxi for 03.25 to Reading Station. I caught the 03.54 FGW to London Paddington (165-114) & then a 23 bus to Liverpool Street. On the 05.55 Stansted Express to Stansted airport which arrived 06.44, this allowed me the necessary time to pass through a crowded security checking area, and still had time for a hot chocolate & muffin. The Flight to Krakow was Ryanair FR2432 arrived 12.05. After passing through passport control I caught the Shuttlebus 19 to Krakow Balice railway station & then took the Train to Krakow Glowny 12.30-12.49. I went to the bus station and waited because at 13.30 there was a bus to Krynica Zdroj (Spa) via Bzesno,  Czcho,  Nowy Sacz, Nowa  Wies,  Krzykowa & arrived Krynica 16.50. Krynica is a popular spa town in south-eastern Poland at the foot of the Beskidy mountains. I had some time before Jitka & Rasty were due to arrive to explore the town, the river, interesting buildings & park. I  visited the park, walked along the river & met many young people who had just completed a "fun" run & took photos of  a pijalnia (a building which contains several taps which visitors can taste the mineral waters) & the statue of Lemk artist Nikiforsa, who lived in Krynica. His art can be compared with British artist LS Lowry.
When Jitka & Rasty arrived we went by car straight to Bardejov, passing some attractive villages with wooden churches (cerkwie) in Wojkowa, Muszynka & Tylicz. We had a little drive around the outside of this fortified city. The historical centre is now closed to traffic. I will write more about historical and modern Bardejov in another account soon, as Jitka & I visited the town late Sunday afternoon.
At Jitka's & Rasty's we had supper, beer & slivovice. Later we went to a pub, where we sat outside & met some of their friends. During  the evening there was a football match between Slovakia & Bosnia & Hercegovina. We finished the evening by visiting a cellar-bar & watched a live gig (where the band had reformed for their 10th anniversary). They played rock music.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

A day of exploring in Reykjavik

On Friday 23rd August I was awake about 7am, breakfast is served in the Gardur Hotel between 8 & 10am, and consists of muesli, cereal, yoghurts, cold meat, cheese, rolls, jam, sweet biscuits & Icelandic cake, fruit juice, tea, coffee & hot chocolate.
After breakfast I had some time to explore the city before meeting Regina, and started by crossing the busy road outside the hotel and walked around Tjornan (The Pond), a large freshwater lake, surrounded by park land with gardens and footpaths. I also looked around the neighbouring residential district with colourful houses. At the other side of Tjornan is the City Hall, and several parks and a church with a spire called the Stofnum Frikirkja. In these parks I took several photos of the statues, including poets, angels and lovers embracing. I visited the Court garden (Hallargardurinn) and the Mother's garden (Maedrogardurinn). This lead me to Laekjargata & the harbour area (Giersgata) and went inside the Harpa theatre, a recent addition to Reykjavik. In the harbour area which contains two grey ships, there is also a small steam locomotive, which may suggest there was a narrow gauge railway here. Aegisgata is an old street with quaint houses, most of which are shops or cafes.
By the time I was exploring the harbour, it had started to rain & became heavy, so I took shelter in the tourist information office and talked with a helpful lady called Harpa, and found out bus time for tomorrow, a nice nearby cafe & a nearby bank to change money. While waiting for Regina I had a hot chocolate in the Stofan cafe, a yellow house with easy chairs, books to read & photos of Iceland on the wall.  I met Regina as planned and we went to the bank where her sister works & had a complimentary coffee. We then walked to the old harbour and while waiting for the walking tour, we met IFAW (a charity which opposes whaling) who were giving out free waffles. Fortunately while we were on the walking tour the rain eased off.
At 13.00 everyday between 15th May to 15th September, a local waits in the Old Harbour to take visitors for a free tour of Reykjavik. He is one of the representatives of the Goecco company. We were introduced to the concept of the free tour, the guide shares his knowledge with the visitors while they go around the old part of the city, and at the end of the tour, visitors tip him/her on how much they think the walking tour & information is worth. Our guide "Day" first of all told us about the history of Reykjavik, who founded it and why it is where it is. We started in the harbour, then moved to outside the main library, Reykjavik is recognised by UNESCO as a city of literature. many great works have been written here. We then walked through the "Stone" village, a residential area in the middle of the city, where we also learned about trolls, elves and Santa's "Yule boys". We saw the statue of Skuli Magnusson who found the oldest street and house (Adalstraeti 2) which is now a designer clothing shop. We moved to Parliament square and learned about the oldest parliament (allthingy), the rise & fall of the banking industry & the "pots & pans revolution" when the locals took to the parliament garden and banged pots & pans in protest against the "financial crash". We passed the Pond & City Hall, the local mayor is a former comedian (seriously). The tour finished by the oldest school (still in use) & "Day" gave us information about local eateries, bars and cafes, music & other shops.
Regina and I went to the Cafe de Paris. Here we met Ana Novac, Regina's friend from Slovenia, and living in Reykjavik. Ana is a lovely lady, who also shares interest in music. I had some lunch (mushroom soup & lamb chop with vegetables & chips) with a cup of apple & cinnamon tea.
Regina & I walked to the recently built Hallgrimmskirkja, a huge church on a top of a hill and fronted by a statue of Leif Ericson, who was the first Viking to reach America (pre-dating Christopher Columbus by 500 years). We went inside the church and heard a rehearsal of two trumpeters & an organist playing music for the Night of Culture. Here later we met Jon, and we went for a drive around the bay to Seltjarnarnes. We stopped for a photo of the Viking Ship, the "island" of Grotta, which contains a lighthouse & some houses, but no one lives there. There are certain times that the "island" can be reached by foot. If the tide is high, then the causeway is covered by water. We also visited interesting buildings including the Pump House, which pumps up hot water from many metres below the surface, and the Shark House, a wooden building which was used to prepare freshly caught sharks for the dinner-plate.
We finished the evening by spending the evening with Helga & Simbi in her flat, which is down-town Reykjavik. We had tea & biscuits.
Jon & Regina took me back to the hotel, where I had an early night.

Monday, 26 August 2013

My first trip to Iceland

In August 2013, I booked a trip to visit Iceland, the first time in this country. Last November Regina from Virtual Tourist, was travelling in London and we met up several times . As Regina was in Reykjavik during the summer she invited to come and visit her home city, to meet some friends and to see the sights of this amazing city.
I booked to fly with WOW air, a recent addition to the "budget" airlines which are plying Europe. The trip from Gatwick was made more "interesting" by the fun comments from the airline staff. Example "You'll find one of our beautiful yellow life jackets under your seat", "Put on your own oxygen mask, before assisting a child or someone who behaves like a child".
The flight arrived at Keflavik, (The international airport is in a smaller town to the west of Reykjavik) at a reasonable time of 14,40. I reached Reykjavik from Keflavik by "FlyBus" a dedicated bus-service Airport to City.  The journey time for the 44 km journey is about about an hour. The scenery around the airport is nothing like I had seen before. Fields were covered by course grass and black rock and on the horizon I was able to see active volcanoes. When I arrived the weather was drizzly and cool.
When I arrived at the Bsi bus terminal, I was met by Regina, a Virtual Tourist member and her friend Helga, who was driving. After checking into the Gurdur Hotel (part of the university of Iceland campas) Helga, Regina & I went to the Pearlan building, a circular building atop a hill, which contains the Saga Museum and a revolving restaurant. There is also a cafe and the opportunity for us to take in views of the city and bay.
We went into the city where Regina & Helga showed me some of downtown Reykjavik, before we found the Uppsalir bar and restaurant, in the older part of town. Here we met Jon (Regina's friend and a magician) and when we arrived we bought drinks (two-for-one as it was still "Happy hour"). I also had "fish & chips", and after our meal Jon, Regina and I went to a "stand up comedy" show where new comedians tried to entertain the guests (some succeeded, some didn't). We also went to a club to see some salsa dancing., before Jon drove me to the hotel, and I soon went to bed.