Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The summary

Well, all back home and shivering a bit once the sun fades, which it does about 4:30pm and currently, rather wet too! 

This was really a two part trip, with a mix of the group stuff with the McLaren trust and therefore a motoring slant for one part.  The second part was more personal and included the family time in the UK.

When we first agreed to hook up with the Monaco tour, Paula accepted that it was far more likely to be to my liking than hers and we only really knew a few of the others, vaguely.  Initially limited to just 40 people, the popularity was such that the final number was 50 – and that created one or two hiccups and niggles.  Promoted as “including factory tours of Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini”, this aspect didn’t live up to expectations on a couple of counts.

Rather than getting any reductions due to the increased numbers sharing a coach or getting better discounts, we ended up paying a surcharge for the rail trip to Paris (we still don’t know why!) and the number allowed to go around Ferrari was limited to just 32, so we volunteered to stand down.  Both Lamborghini and Maserati tours were a disappointment.  Lamborghini because by the time we got there, it was knocking off time and Maserati, as there were sandal wearers in each group, it ensured a drastically truncated tour.

Never mind, we had a great time, lots of laughs and we made several new friends.  The Planet Hotel in Maranello was a great place to stay and the whole Maranello/Ferrari experience was worth doing, even if we did miss out on the factory visit .

Monaco itself, though a charismatic venue with a spectacular backdrop, was disappointing from a spectator race perspective on two counts.  The first was the rather limited movement allowed once at the track; the second was the amount of totally wasted time between bouts of track action.  So would we go again?  No...  The Goodwood Revival beats it hands down, though it has to be said, this meeting was more about single seaters up to 1985 and Goodwood has a cut off date of 1966, when the 3 litre formula came in.  Where Goodwood really scores is not only the access to the track edge and being able to walk around the whole track, but it is the off track experience that makes it so special.

Venice was great, but not a place we’d want to spend too much time in but it was a highlight for Paula.  Fortunately, we are there again next year.

Paris?  H’mmm.  The weather overall has not been kind to us on either visit, but we loved Montmartre, as this was as close as we got to the real Paris. I suspect we haven’t really seen or experienced the best of it, as so many people just love the place and we have yet to be charmed.  The patisseries looked fantastic, yet in the few places where we ate, the meals were less than spectacular, but again, I am sure that a better knowledge of the place might show it in a better light.

The downside for me in both Italy and France was the sheer numbers of people smoking everywhere.  I just couldn’t escape from it and suffered as a consequence, just as I did for the Christmas cruise last year.   I did expect better food options though, as both are well known for their basic cuisine.

England started off with dodgy weather and finished with dodgy weather, but just about everything in between was most enjoyable.  Highlights?  Well, family of course!  Second highlight and possibly the greatest surprise of all was that food options were generally more extensive, cheaper and tastier than the continent.  The English have a somewhat jaded reputation for food but quite frankly, they have much to be proud of.

The other area where the UK scored over Italy (including Venice old town) and Paris, was the limited extent of graffiti on city buildings and landmarks.  The London underground stations were almost totally graffiti free, yet even inside the carriages on the south of France railway, were defaced – badly.

Nottingham particularly, scored well for an almost total lack of graffiti around the city centre and that really is something to be proud of.

Maybe it is my perception, but driving standards in the UK seem to have slipped with less courtesy being shown these days and the spread of average speed cameras now seems to have hit the lower section of the M1 motorway, previously an area where the traffic police were more than capable of separating dangerous speeders from those simply driving faster than the 70mph speed limit.

The USA continues to get more expensive and the people there seem to get fatter, but sadly, there were also increased numbers of young fatties in the UK.

As for airlines, Air NZ (admittedly, Premium economy) was just brilliant and yet Singapore airlines economy class wasn’t what it was years ago.  Emirates?  Somewhere in between.  Only Air NZ’s entertainment system was live and available from the minute you sat down until you left the aircraft.

So, a great trip with lots of photographs and memories. 

This finalises this blog and now it is on to the next – back to the Dawn Princess...

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Day 37 - That is it then - Last day away - Jun 6th


The quieter area of Howard Johnson's

Not a brilliant sleep – which is a shame before a long day/night.  We went out to Denny’s (yes, again...) about 10 am and it was far busier than we expected.   Maybe the early Disney visitors had already done their thing and were taking a break?  Just for a change, we opted for the over 55’s menu and it was a lightweight toasted cheese and tomato sandwich.  Probably not the best choice for me, but bearing in mind the somewhat expanded waistline over the last month, perhaps it was just as well.  We walked the few yards back to HoJo’s to finalise the packing and check out.
The ever helpful reception staff locked our luggage away securely and we headed for Downtown Disney, the shopping street between the two parks.  This was no more than a relaxing time waster and apart from a chocolate brownie from the bakers ($3.95 + tax), we spent nothing.  Lunch was a McDonalds burger, as their establishment was between HoJo’s and the park and was convenient for a snack.  Paula pronounced their  grilled chicken wrap inferior to the one in Skegness...  That means that Skegness scores higher than the USA for a McDonalds...

Maybe we haven't put on quite as much weight as some others...
The reception staff happily gave us a swipe card so that we could get into the secure pool area to chill out whilst waiting for the Disneyland Express coach to the airport.  After a while, we got itchy feet, rescued our luggage and changed into warmer gear, ready for NZ.  Although we had planned on catching the 17:40 coach, we opted for the 16:40 instead, even though we knew that LA airport is one of the least attractive of all the international airports we visit.

Paula looking forward to leaving LA

A good run and even though we were way early, we were able to check in straightaway (not always the case at LA) and went straight through security at the foot of the escalator and instead of the usual surly guard, we managed one with a sense of humour.  The scanner was the usual shoes off, belt off, Kindle out, computer out deal, and here, I slipped up.  The tray was a bit smaller than the laptop computer and I’d forgotten to remove the wireless mouse transmitter and it snapped off somewhere between popping it into the carrier and getting it home.  Drat.
We then had the usual several hour wait at the most boring of all airports, where a plain sandwich is about $9.00USD and the choices are somewhat limited.  I made do with a Starbucks coffee and a packet of crisps.  I bought a bottle of water for Paula and sachet of lemon flavouring which seemed OK.
What I always find puzzling is why most departure lounges have far fewer seats than passengers and LA is one of the worst.  Then the call...  “Would Mr Green please come to the desk.”
We had seats 24A/B again and they asked if we’d mind moving forward one row so that a family could sit together.  No problem.
This is a bulkhead row and across the way, once we had taken off, they brought out the bassinet for the young child across the way.  Oh dear.
The food was generally OK, though neither of us cared for the main meal starter, of feta cheese and a very dry Italian ham (prosciutto? Parma?) and greens.
I opted to go without coffee and put the eyeshades and headphones on but didn’t manage much more than a decent doze until the babies across the way started crying.  One mother on the far side put the lights on, so that didn’t help.  A mug of coffee in the galley went down well. (Top marks to Air NZ for having decent sized mugs instead of tiny coffee cups.)
Arrival in NZ was on time, (5:40am) trouble-free and immigration lightning fast, so apart from a bit of a delay with the luggage, as we had followed another flight in, easy.
Out to a Super Shuttle and as we hadn’t pre-booked, it cost an extra $4 each, but we were home at 7am with no traffic delays.
It wasn’t very warm in the house...
So that is it.  Another trip over and just one summary post to wind up this blog, before we start on the next adventure – back on board the Dawn Princess.  Woohoo!

Day's 35 & 36 - Busy but colourful Disney - June 4th

For several months, I had been on the email list from Mimi’s cafe (linked to Howard Johnson’s) so we thought we’d give it a try.  It appears that over the years, prices have risen somewhat and judging by the vacant seats in an establishment that is so close to HoJo’s, maybe the punters are staying away – and we did too after this meal.
Nothing much wrong with the meal, but it appeared expensive to us. We hadn’t got up early to do Disney, so with our two park hopper ticket, we went into Disneyland first.  We hadn’t bargained for any kids being on holiday, but out of state kids have broken up, even though the California kids haven’t.  Big mistake from our point of view.  We were also unaware that the Disney annual passes expire early June, so many locals were in the parks getting the last ounce of value out of their passes.
I have never seen so many pushchairs and strollers in my life!  Just to show how many there were, several Disney employees spent their day acting as valet parking attendants, lining up the strollers, whilst mum/dad and the kids were queuing for the rides.
We managed Astro Blasters, Nemo and the railroad before heading for the Haunted House – but that was closed due to a temporary technical hitch.  I queued for Space Mountain using the fast pass system, whilst Paula waited patiently.  Although it was a real thrill back in 1983 and scared Paula half to death in 1987, its appeal has faded.   As a reward, for her, we went on her favourite – “Its a Small World”... 
We then headed over to the other park, as the last time I was there, the Thai chicken on rice was a substantial portion, so we headed straight there as it was about lunch time.  At $9.49 (plus tax of course...) it wasn’t bad considering the usual high food prices in the park.
As for attractions, we went once again to the 4D “Its a Bugs World” which was a bit scary for some of the younger kids, but we enjoyed it.  Apart from the new “Mermaid” ride (very tame) the queues were long and by this time, Paula was rather tired, after several hours on our feet, no surprise, so we headed back to HoJo's for much needed rest.

We nodded for a while and opted to not do anything else specific for the day. 
There was a time that my favourite place to eat locally was “Tony Roma’s Ribs”.  At around $26 for my main, we deleted that from our list of possible and ended up at – Denny’s!  Not very exotic maybe, but at least the prices are very reasonable, especially compared to the other options and the food was fine.
We ambled back and watched the nightly Disney fireworks display from the kids pool area then bed at a respectable 11pm.

Tuesday, for day two, we elected to get up a bit earlier and do Disneyland by 8am for the park opening.    
Although we were at the park opening at 8am, they do operate an early entry system for Disney Hotel guests, annual pass holders and those who purchase an early entry ticket, so although you may be past the tape fairly quickly, you are still in a queue.  I headed straight for the revised and updated “Star Tours (3D)”.  An enjoyable ride and the graphics are totally different from the original, featuring more down on earth stuff, rather than space.   Good fun.
Paula was waiting patiently for me and once again we went into “Astro Blasters” whilst the queue’s were short.  A clever ride where you have laser guns to shoot at targets and the score is recorded on a digital display.
I didn’t bother with my favourite ride – Indiana Jones this time, but we did do the rather pathetic “Winnie the Pooh” kiddie ride (no wonder there was no queue...).
After a mediocre Disney breakfast (well, we needed something to eat), we did one or two more kiddie rides, the recently refurbished monorail and the much loved "Jungle Cruise" (complete with corny commentary of course), then we headed back to HoJo’s to relax before we got too tired, as we had plans for the evening.
Denny’s again for a decent feed, then straight across to the California Park, specifically to see the dancing waters display.  They were building this back in 2009 when I was last there.  They had also started building the new “Cars” attraction way back then and that opens June 15th.  (Photo shows the model)  We could peek over the fence at a recreation of “Radiator Springs” from the Cars movie.  It will be a huge success, so if you plan going to Disney in the next  two or three months, be warned, the crowds will be bigger than normal.  As it was, the crowds were massive for tonight’s show, but what a show.  It is called “Colours” and is spectacular and well worth waiting for.  We stood around patiently, from about 8:20pm to 9pm for the start and we had a great view.  They very  cleverly integrate the projection onto the water mist with a screen that is part of the “California Screaming” roller coaster and also the LED lights on various background attractions.  Even the street lights on the boardwalk change colour!  Brilliant.  The Dubai Mall dancing waters display is very pale by comparison.  Literally.  
We headed back and had a drink then watched bit of TV before crashing out, knowing that this was the last hotel night of our trip.  Tomorrow, we head home again, to what we expect will be a cool Auckland, though LA wasn’t as warm as we thought it would be.
No rush to get out of the hotel tomorrow, as check out is 12 noon - and even then, we’ll be able to safely store our luggage whilst we waste the day relaxing.
Just one more daily blog to go – and a summary of course, then it will be on to the new one.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Day 34 - Highs and lows, UK to LA - June 3rd

Well, a quick snack of the last of my delicious red cherry corner yoghurts and a mini pork pie and we loaded up the car, said our thanks and farewells to Dave and & Sue who have been such fantastic hosts (will they ever come to NZ, so that we can repay their kindnesses?) and off at about 8:15am.
Well, we certainly picked  a good day to leave as the weather reverted to the UK summer’s worst, with rain and even surface flooding en route to the M1.  With the Queen’s Jubilee on the Thames likely to attract thousands to central London, we thought it better to set off early enough to give us a massive safety margin.
Once again, we managed a Costa coffee, at one of the motorway service areas before attacking the infamous M25, the London outer motorway, with a reputation of often being the largest car park in the country.  Fortunately, today, it was running fine and we were well ahead of schedule, so we diverted to Staines town centre.  It was rather chilly and there was nothing much to get excited about, so we headed for the car establishment, having filled up with fuel at the petrol station next door.   We used a total of 117 litres of fuel and covered exactly 1100 miles in the 1200cc Vauxhall Corsa.  A bit gutless if trying to overtake on the motorway, but adequate for our needs.
SixT took us straight to the terminal and once again, check in was a breeze, even though we were quite early. For lunch, we settled on another pizza and pasta establishment and much to my surprise, this turned out to be the second best pasta of the trip, accompanied by a Magner’s cider!  Probably my last for a few days.
Although we were late taking off, (many flights were disrupted due to having to avoid flying over the Thames) our seats were comfortable and spacious.  The 777 layout for Premium Economy with Air NZ seems to work very well, with Air NZ’s entertainment system being the best of the three airlines of the trip.  At least it is active as soon as you board, nor do they take your headphones away an hour before landing.  Other airlines take note.
The food was excellent and yes, clotted cream for the scone!  My lamb shank with minted yoghurt was very tasty indeed and Paula’s chicken curry was also pretty good.  I know, as I had most of it...
We arrived at LA on time, even a bit early, at 7:20pm to find that the arrivals hall was so packed, that we were herded into a side room until the queues had eased.  By the time we had gone through the usual LA hassle of eye scans, thumb print scans and both hand scans, then queued to get past the arrivals scanner, we had just missed the 8:40pm Disneyland coach by 5 minutes, though as we had no idea what times they ran, other than once per hour, we just had to sit and wait. After half an hour of this and it was getting distinctly cooler, Paula was totally disenchanted with LA and wanted to fly straight home, vowing that she really hated LA.   I can't say as I blame her.
The coach arrived at 9.40.  Relief.  I have been to LA many times now, but from terminal 1 or 2, the coach took no less than 40 minutes to get as far as terminal 7.  The Sunday night traffic was unreal.  Whether this was normal for a Sunday in early June, or the beginning of some school holidays, we have no idea.  For those unfamiliar with the terminals, it is no more than a cluster of buildings in basically a U shape.  Terminals 1 and 2 are of course at one end of the U and therefore 7 is at the other end, a matter of about 1 km at the most.
We finally made it to the Anaheim Howard Johnsons at 11pm and thankfully, they had heeded our request for a room away from the noisy freeway and by 11:15 we were well on the way to the land of nod.  Four hours from touchdown to bed.  Not good. It makes cruising all the more attractive, particularly if you terminate at your home city.  Somehow, I feel that Paula may not be visiting LA again...

Days 33 - That's the UK done again - June 2nd

Apart from the squeakiest floorboards anywhere, plus a noisy push latch on the bathroom door (who designs these things?) we managed a reasonably good night and headed down to catch up with Richard and Betty for our breakfast (included in the room rate).
Richard and Betty headed straight off - after complaining about the car park fee of £4.50 that he had overlooked in the small print, likening the hotel to “about a 1988 vintage Czech establishment”!  Maybe a bit harsh, but compared to some of our other stops, not overly expensive considering the two breakfasts and the free Wi-Fi.
We took our time packing and we considered going to the Crich Tramway museum, but as it was cool and misty, we opted to leave it for a sunnier day sometime in the future.
Back to base and as it is our last full day in the UK, grabbed a mini pork pie out of the fridge. You have to grab these treats when you can.  (Incidentally, remember my hit list of 8 UK food items?  All have been bowled over with the single exception of Cornish clotted cream, but my guess is that on the Air NZ flight tomorrow, we’ll get warm scones and clotted cream.) Then Sue produced a very nice quiche...
The day before flying out means trying to repack and see what can’t be carried or crammed in.  At least flying through the USA, the 20kg limit doesn’t apply.  Then brother Dave handed over a couple of surprise gifts...  Fortunately, the 8gb flash cards and a Kindle cover didn’t compromise the space.
Just as I was well into it, Stewart arrived with Noah (asleep) in his pushchair, so we walked up to Mapperley for the last time on this trip, where we caught up with Manu in a local cafe. Noah woke as soon as the food arrived...  Apparently, Noah is happy sucking on a wedge of lemon...
Noah hopped into the Postman Pat van and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Mr Bean’s baby-sitting system.  Filed away for the future...
Having said our farewells, almost tearfully I might add, I tried in vain to try and find a gift of some sort for Dave and Sue, but without success, so walked back.  I had no sooner returned when Stewart and Manu called in to say farewell to Paula, so we said our farewells  again.
Back to the packing. A masterpiece of space utilisation, with car models in their plastic cases, padded out with socks; the almost full packet of Bassett’s liquorice allsorts squeezed into my drink bottle and so on.
Sue cooked a nice chicken stir-fry and had made a tiramisu for dessert as our final meal.  My belt was now on the last notch instead of the last but one.  I fear that the bathroom scales back in NZ will not be reading the same figures as they were April 30th.
Bed called at 11:15, so that is it again (almost) for the UK.   Sad to be leaving, especially the family and friends, who I really miss once back in NZ.  With summer (or what passes for summer in the UK) almost here and having sampled some fine warm days and I have to say, very good food, we now head back to an early winter in NZ, but at least we have LA as a stopover and an Air NZ premium economy flight to look forward to, before landing back in NZ.  We set off in plenty of time tomorrow for a 4:15pm flight.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Day 32 - Buxton in Derbyshire - June 1st


The L shaped room...




The Opera House - Buxton
  

Inside, Jo-Jo's bistro for a great lunch



A new month and a back down on the weather with a distinctly chilly start, as the temperature dropped from 15 degrees at the start of our trip to about 12.5 degrees within an hour or so.

Of the 52 English counties, Derbyshire has to have just about the lowest profile or is the most understated of all.  Ask anyone from overseas what they know about Derbyshire and the response is quite likely to be a short one.   With the UK’s major motorway, the M1, going up from London to the north, Nottinghamshire is alongside on the east and Derbyshire on the west, but where Derbyshire really scores is on the scenery stakes, through the Peak District to the north.  Best known via the TV series “Peak Practice”, it is an unspoilt county and its other main claim to fame as far as we are concerned is Thornton’s Chocolates, manufactured in Belper.  On TV in the UK at the moment though, is a series that may well do more for the county than “Peak Practice”.  Called simply “Chatsworth”, it is an inside look and a behind the scenes look at Chatsworth House – upstairs and downstairs for real.  Our next door neighbours in NZ are avid fans of this country estate, so they will be thrilled to bits when/if it makes it to NZ.
We weren’t going to Chatsworth though, but the spa town of Buxton.  We arrived at the large somewhat stately Palace Hotel on the edge of town about 11:30am and were thrilled to be able to park right outside the front door and to find that our room was ready.  Room 202 is an odd shaped room.  If you can imagine a reasonably sized square room with two windows opening to the rear, then someone comes along and takes a chunk out of the room, including one window, to use as an en suite, you are left with an L shaped room with one window, with the TV set installed just in front of the window and at 90 degrees to the bed.

Bob Hunt, Pete Rudeforth, Mike Henry
 We strolled the few yards into town, well wrapped up and found the Jo-Jo’s Bistro situated in the Miltons Head public house in a pedestrianised street.  Jo-Jo was just writing the special of the day on the blackboard “spaghetti carbonara” – but we had to correct her spelling!
This meal was a revelation.  The spaghetti was perfectly cooked, was a massive portion and although not strictly authentic (thank goodness, as it contained a pile of mushrooms), it came with half a very fresh wholemeal baguette - with plenty of butter.  Considering this was about the 6th pasta carbonara on the trip and we had already done Italy and France, it was a real surprise to get the best of all in Derbyshire.
We strolled through the attractive Pavilion Gardens and back to our oddly shaped room. 
No big deal for one night but our friend Richard, the former road manager for the Chris Barber Band for 25 years was in the room next door, with wife Betty and his room was much larger, so we had a cuppa and a catch up in his room as there was no space in ours!
Richard has many stories of various musicians and supporters such as sound engineers, not just from the Barber band and is an excellent mimic so we were entertained until it was time to head out for a bite to eat, at an establishment right across the road from the concert venue.
Sadly, my cod chips and peas didn’t live up to the Skegness sea front standard.  We then went to the Chris Barber concert in the Opera  house and once again, we marvelled at how 82 year old Chris can play the trombone so well, sing - and do all the announcements, without even being out of breath.
Chris Barber

During the interval, most of the front line of the band enjoyed a drink across the road whilst Chris was still in the foyer, meeting his fans, selling CDs and DVDs, as he was both before and after the concert.  Amazing, and an object lesson in how to communicate with your fans, though many are our age and it is highly unlikely he'd be mobbed!

Afterwards, we headed back to the Palace.  Once we’d escaped from a rowdy bunch of girls celebrating a birthday and found a quieter spot for a drink, Richard managed to continue his story telling.  He should write a book.  (So should Chris...)
A great day even though it has got a bit cooler; we retired to our odd, L shaped room with very squeaky floorboards, which means that if I get up tonight, it will more than likely wake Paula.
Incidentally, today we celebrated 27 years since our first date.

Paula & Betty


Days 28 - 31 - Nottingham again - May 28th

By this time, most of our flitting around the UK was done, so time to just enjoy the City and County.  The weather was still pretty good for the first 3 days anyway, but getting cooler again by Thursday.
Monday and we headed out to Rufford Abbey, a country house in Nottinghamshire where we had a pleasant walk around the lake, though we had to run the gauntlet of the ducks and swans.  Some poor child probably lost his cuddly duck, but we managed to leave it in a prominent and comfortable place.  As always, we had to have a bite to eat and this time after my £3.45 breakfast less than $8NZ, I had spied the most delicious fresh sausage rolls being brought out to the cabinet. Irresistible, so I succumbed!
For the evening, we went to the restaurant (Tree Tops) that was just a few yards away from our old family home and I was supposed to pay, but Dave beat me to it!  The triple dessert platter was a nice way to get three desserts for the price of two and gave us an opportunity to sample them.
Tuesday, after calling on my boyhood pal, Richard (we got the right house this time, as an earlier visit had us confused, as the front of the house had been changed since his Facebook page posting!), we headed to our favourite supermarket (Morrisons) for brunch, then some shopping for essentials such as Colgate toothpaste that was not manufactured in Thailand, socks, mini pork pies etc.
Back home, Dave and I practiced our golf chipping practice on the back lawn with somewhat mixed results and we lost one ball in the undergrowth!
Wednesday and it was a degree or so cooler than of late.  Paula and I headed over to the far side of town to another supermarket and this time, the breakfast was just £2.50!  Not as good as Morrisons, but good value.  I had been looking for a travel alarm as my existing foldaway slim one is onj its last legs and I managed to find one.  Always fascinating to wander around the UK supermarkets and Paula is adamant that she'd not do much cooking if we lived in the UK.  As I do the cooking anyway, I'd certainly have more options.  So much food is either ready prepared or part prepared, that the range is just amazing.  I also noted about 20 plus brands of cider for sale, yet our airlines and criuse ships still seem to overlook the popularity of my favourite tipple.
We headed to the City centre for a Costas coffee and a nothre of their toasted cheese and mushroom sandiches, then had a short walk up the hill to Nottingham Castle (gallery and museum). Having visited it for free since I was a young lad, we were  stunned to find that the City Council had slapped a £5.50 entry fee on since September, so as a means of deterring tourists, this was a real doozy.  Locals can get in for £1, on production of proof of residency, but a 37 year residency in years gone by counts for nothing.  Bad move Nottingham City Council.  A voluntary contribution might gain a few pounds, but a compulsory entrance fee is more than likely to drive tourists away.
For the evening, we combined time with Noah with an excellent takeaway curry with Manu and Stewart, but in this instance, it was quite expensive compared to NZ, where we are now used to a $10 main.  Here it was nearer a £10 main, so twice the price.
My newly acquired, $2 battery operated travel clock ticks...
On a tip from Stewart, Thursday we headed out to IKEA just north of the city.  The weather was distinctly chillier and overcast but with some much needed rain for the garden overnight, a mixed blessing.  Over recent years, IKEA has established itself as an interesting one stop furniture and fittings shop and our first stop (Stewart’s recommendation) was the cafeteria.  Obviously very popular, but not the best breakfast we have had.
However, the shop itself was very interesting with a fair few items that we would have found tempting had we had unlimited luggage facilities.

Tree Tops Hotel - Mapperley

We went on to the Donington race car museum, but weren’t tempted as selling off many original race cars and replacing them with military vehicles, is not a mix that appeals.  On track, it was lunch break for the practice day but as it was 100% motorbikes, no point in hanging around.
Back home and Dave brought us up to date with the family tree computer programme for the maternal side of our family with some of the paternal side.
Back to the Tree Tops again (see last picture) with Richard and wife Sue.  Another enjoyable meal.
Tomorrow, we head to Buxton in Derbyshire, as the UK leg of this trip draws to a close.      
      

Day 27 - Alton Towers theme park - May 27th





Most of you will know that I am a Disney/Universal Studios theme park junkie, but I had never been to Alton Towers, just 80 minutes away from Nottingham.  This has long been the UK’s best theme park and I had few pre-conceptions, as I hadn’t Googled it or been on line at all, so as we arrived at 10:10am (just Stewart and I) and the park had only been open since 10am, I was staggered at the number of cars already parked and the solid stream of visitors.  Somehow, Stewart had wrangled free tickets through a newspaper promotion, saving us about £40 each and once inside, we consulted the rather crowded and confusing park map.

"Oblivion"

"Oblivion"

I just wasn’t prepared for the sheer size of the place, expecting a compact theme park tucked away in the grounds of what was a stately home.  The theme park aspect is scattered over many acres of the site, with beautiful gardens, a lake, buildings and what in NZ would be called ‘bush’ or in the UK, ‘woods’.

Stewart led us straight to a ride called “Oblivion”. Quite simply, a fairly short roller coaster ride that climbs to the highest point, then the carrier teeters on the edge of a sheer (totally vertical...) drop through a dark circular, steaming hole in the concrete - and indeed, into oblivion. A matter of a couple of seconds later, the ride was over and Stewart examined me closely to see if he was any nearer getting his inheritance.  No such luck, so from then on the rides we went on were gentler, but the queues were horrendous. A bright Sunday, a large catchment area and a well run and interesting park with plenty to do, so no wonder it is so popular.  There were several rides we didn’t even queue for, so there are plenty of reasons for a return visit.
We entered “Hex”, a sort of semi haunted house attraction and enjoyed that and also enjoyed the Willie Wonka chocolate factory – doing research for Noah of course...

Stewart has a side of pasta with his salad

Lunch time, we opted for the “all you can eat pizza/pasta and salad plus drink” establishment, and this was at a very respectable price, especially when compared with much of the other fare on offer.  Well, two large plates of excellent pasta and pizza later and I was suitably full, but Stewart managed a third... Pity the cold drink machine couldn’t keep up with the demand though, as there is nothing attractive about coca cola that is not ice cold.
Stewart tried to win a car by scoring a hole in one, but in 30 shots, managed to ring the tiny island green with about 20 shots, hit a duck squatting on the green and skewed a few well away. It was the ball/clubs/wind etc that prevented him driving home in a new Fiat.

Meanwhile I had opted to test out “Storybook Land” and the squirrel nutkin ride - to see if it would be OK for Noah of course...  Judging by the view from up there, there, the tractors would be a good option for the future too.

For several rides, the queues were just too long but we headed across the park, down one side of a steep gulley or valley and up the other side, to another scary coaster (Air) but this time I opted out – well, someone has to take photographs...  Starting the ride by hanging face down as the cart climbs is not my idea of fun – especially when the pasta was so good, if you get my drift.  Stewart enjoyed it though, and we then headed for the park exit at about 5pm, but the rush wasn’t as bad as we expected.  The parking fee of £6 would have netted them a handsome profit for the day.  Would I go again?  Too true, but next time, not on a sunny Sunday at the beginning of the schools’ mid-term break. The legs and hips were very tired not so much from the time standing (and queuing) , but also the walk through the valley was steep.
An easy run home again and Stewart shot off to rescue Noah who had spent the day with granny whilst Manu waded through a load of exam marking. 

Paula had been out with Dave and Sue and brought me a much appreciated present.  Those of you who have waded through this waffle earlier will remember that at Dubai, my much loved and very useful, tiny, Swiss army knife was confiscated.  Paula found one.  Great!

So good to have some father/son time – for just about the first time ever as adults.  Sad really, but that is the price we pay for scattered families.  Now we are distant from Noah too, but Teté in Brazil (Stewart’s mother in law), has both daughters and her grand-children in the UK!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Days 25 & 26 - Nottingham again May 25th

With temperatures up to 26 or 27 degrees yesterday, (yes, centigrade...) it was a warm night and neither of us slept particularly well.  We drove into Nottingham itself and headed quite quickly to Costa for a decent (large) coffee and a hot cheese and mushroom sandwich.  We still can’t quite understand why it is that you can get a decent sized coffee in NZ and the UK, but not in France or Italy. We had a pleasant stroll around this traffic free city centre and I couldn’t help but reminisce what it was like 50 or 60 years ago.  There were buses and cars ringing the Old Market Square and now there is nothing more than a modern tram, with buses skirting just parts of the perimeter.  This makes for a diesel fume free city centre and there are always plenty of shoppers around. Best of all, no graffiti...
After adding to my Scalextric slot car model collection, we headed back to base and then out to East Leake, to meet up with long time friends, Pam & Paul and out  for a meal. 
When we were growing up, belly pork was a cheap meal and probably quite unfashionable.  With a fair bit of fat in it, if not cooked well, it isn’t the nicest of cuts, but now some of these cheap cuts have been made fashionable and the slab of belly pork served at the Packe Arms at Hoton, near Loughborough was sublime.  Once again, we were impressed with English pub food and a glass of decent cider just rounded it off to perfection.
After such a good meal and another warm night, I was up at a reasonably early time (for a Saturday) and did some long overdue blogging.  Quite how and why the blog I’d sent from the computer yesterday reached its destination OK, but totally disappeared from the laptop is another cyber mystery. (Three years ago, a whole directory of pics disappeared without trace, and several times, spreadsheets do not seem to have saved updates.)



We went around to Stewart mid morning and then up to Mapperley to the Cheesecake Shop where Paula and I had cheese and tomato on toasted focaccia (and a decent coffee) whilst Noah had the baked potato!  I think his portion was the largest and he made the most of it.  He was in top form singing and playing his version of “Simon says”.  On then to Woodthorpe with an unhappy Noah in the pushchair.  Unhappy? Dad forgot his dummy for his afternoon nap, so paid the price by having to push the chair right to the far end of the park before Noah fell asleep.  When he woke, he dived straight for the bag and was most grumpy until the carton of yoghurt was unearthed!
Back at base, we had a BBQ, making the most of the early summer sun. We tend to forget that for the Brits, getting the weather right for a BBQ and on a Saturday is a rarity, so most make do with a small portable BBQ, gas or charcoal, whilst in NZ, most have opted for a large 6 or 7 burner affair.
Later, we watched the Monaco GP practice and then an old episode of the “Last of the Summer Wine” that neither of us could remember.  It was good to see Compo, Foggy and Clegg on top form. 
Tomorrow, a rare treat with a full day out with Stewart, at Alton Towers theme park.