This is my original blog for all our non-caravanning trips since 2009 and more recently posts about coming to terms with being single again having been widowed in 2018. And anything else too really!

My caravanning blog is (Get Your) Legs Down and all our trips in the caravan are there. My grog blog is The Ale Archive where I list every beer I’ve ever tried.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Sojourn on the Solstice – The End

Right, where were we? Yes, after the day at sea we were back at Naples, barely a year after we said we wouldn't mind if we never came back again!

Vague plans to catch a ferry somewhere we soon discarded. I was feeling a bit below par and needed a pharmacy. Pete had been unwell and unable to come ashore in Kotor. Soon after lunch Trev too was feeling rough. And Naples was still as dirty and smelly and noisy as before. Not a great day.

Next stop was Civitavecchia. A much cleaner place than Naples but pretty non-descript really. There's no particular reason to come here unless it's to join or leave a cruise ship or go into Rome, which many did. The only problem with that though was that it was All Saints day - which meant that the Sistine Chapel, St Peters Cathedral and many of the shops were shut. Oh dear, a lack of planning by the cruise line methinks! Anyway, the three of us strolled along the front of Civitavecchia to grab a coffee and stretch our legs in what was a lovely day. Trev remained in the cabin still unwell. The ship later confirmed, by their actions, not words that the Norovirus was onboard. They never like to admit that they have a problem but it's always obvious.

Yesterday we were in the Tuscan port of Livorno, the gateway to Pisa and Florence. Time was limited as always so we elected just to go to Pisa to see the old leaning tower. There would only be three of us again as Trev still wasn't feeling great. The shore excursions offered by the cruise line were extortionate for this popular stop, so we decided to do our own thing. Having taken the obligatory ('nominal' fee) shuttle from the dock we soon had our journey planned. A short hop on the number one bus to Livorno Central, then a fifteen minute train ride to Pisa. From the station it was a pleasant twenty five minute walk in warm sunshine, crossing the River Arno until the Leaning Tower came in to view.

And it is impressive, much more so 'in the flesh' than on the telly or in pictures. The white marble gleams in the sunlight and along with the nearby baptistery and cathedral it is an impressive sight. Pisa is a nice city too, a world away from the noise and filth of Naples.

Today we are in Toulon, in the Provence region of France. We should have been in Marseilles but the captain made the decision to switch as the weather forecast for Marseille was poor and it may have been unsafe for us to dock.

At the time of typing it is persisting down outside so I doubt we will go ashore today. A day of relaxation - and then later packing - beckons.

Well, it's been another good one, although really a cruise of two halves. Kotor in Montenegro just shaded it as the favourite destination on this trip although Venice came close, and Dubrovnik was good too.

I haven't said much about the ship - it's the sister ship to the one we were on last year for the Holy Lands cruise and the food, service and entertainment have been largely the same - excellent. It amazes me how the crew keep so cheerful and polite when confronted daily with some frankly quite rude and ignorant people. Some passengers seem to leave their manners and common sense at home (assuming they had any in the first place of course) and feel that it is ok to be obnoxious and treat the those that serve them like shit, simply because they will be leaving them tips. Appalling behaviour, by people who are old enough to know better, but there it is.

So, in at Barcelona tomorrow, than back home via Heathrow by late afternoon. Back to work and those bloody parcels on Saturday (shudder!). So, until next time........

Pisa (3) Pisa  Pisa (2)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Sojourn on the Solstice Pt 4

A nice relaxing day at sea today after visiting Kotor, Montenegro yesterday. I didn't think it could get any better than Venice, but I was wrong.

We went through the inlet from the Adriatic, a little before nine o'clock and the most beautiful scenery appeared before us. Soaring limestone mountains, their summits hiding amongst clinging cloud cover, the sun appearing over the tops of the lower peaks from the east, the little houses nestling along the waterside, just delightful.

Kotor 29-10-2011 (70) Kotor 29-10-2011 (85) 

We eased further in towards our anchor point in the Bay of Kotor. What first appeared as a gentle mist just hovering over the surface of the water became a full blown fog as we moved closer. Several long, penetrating blasts on the ships horn ensured any other vessels would be aware of our presence. Looking at the average age of the passengers, and the reaction of some, the ships doctor was guaranteed a busy morning too.......

Kotor 29-10-2011 (82) Kotor 29-10-2011 (87) Kotor 29-10-2011 (89)

As we reached our stopping point though, the fog cleared  and revealed Kotor in all it's glory. It really is the most idyllic little town, nestled at the base of the mountains on the waters edge.

We had pre-booked a tour - unusually for us - and were tendered to the shore a little after eleven. They do have a docking area here and indeed most cruise ships will fit. Our beast however is just too big and too deep, so had to remain anchored a little way out.

Our first stop on the coach was the little village of Njegusi, way up in the mountains. Each hairpin was numbered, and there were 25 in all, our tour guide proudly announced. The road was extremley narrow too, barely enough room for the coach never mind anything coming the other way. Some great views were to be had though as we wound our way up the mountain side. 

We've been on roads like this many times on our travels - Arthurs Pass in New Zealand (now sadly bypassed, dodging the falling rocks whilst constantly changing down gears was 'interesting') - and the road around the southern hills to Puerto de Mogan in Gran Canaria - made particularly interesting when the bus driver is more interested in his 'phone than the road ahead are just two that spring to mind. Some of our trans atlantic cousins - used no doubt to multi-lane highways down to the local shops - clearly weren't quite as comfortable with it!

We were over 3000 feet, or 950 meters up when we had our first stop. I hope the pictures give you an idea of just what a wonderful place this is.

Kotor 29-10-2011 (95)Kotor 29-10-2011 (39)

A short while later we were at the village of Njegusi, home to just 45 families. Locally produced smoked ham and cheese are the specialities here and we were given a plate of both at the local restauarant together with a bottle of the local grog - we settled for beer, but wine, and just about anything else was on offer too. The beer was good, the ham was really tasty and the cheese was just divine - and a pleasant change from the tasteless rubber they serve on the ship. A great shame too because the rest of the food has, so far, been excellent. Kotor 29-10-2011 (35)

A little further on, we stopped at a smokery to see where the hams are cured. Over  100,000 Euros worth of meat hung above and to the sides of us. It is cured, we were told, for a minimum of four months and usually six. Whatever, it tasted great. Sadly fussy EU laws prohibit it from being sold in Europe - such a pity.

Next up, was Cetinje and a stop for a stroll and coffee - just as well, as the beer and the sun through the window of the coach was having a rather soporific effect. A very pleasant place, once home to many foreign embassies, most now converted to museums and the like. Locals can be seen chopping up large logs in preparation for the winter.

Having began our descent, we were soon back at sea level - at the town of Budva, a popular seaside resort with stunning views from it's nineteen beaches. Development in Montenegro is pretty rampant, lots of money has been flowing in since the end of the war in the nineties, more so since Montenegro became independent from Serbia in 2006. Crippling inflation and plummeting of the local currency resulted them in adopting the Euro although they are not 'in' Europe as such (lucky them).

Tourism is the main industry and they are pretty serious about it, however between May and September no building or development is permitted around the coastal resorts. There's many a family in Britain who wish that had been the rule in Greece, Spain and the like I bet!

Soon it was back to Kotor. We said goodbye to our driver, who had done a great job seing us safely around the mountain roads. We had a short tour of the old town, which was just wonderful. you could just imagine staying in one of the hotels here sampling the fayre at the little restaurants in the squares. An excellent value tour made even better by a knowledgeable and friendly guide.

Kotor 29-10-2011 (116) Kotor 29-10-2011 (119)

Back on the ship we stood on deck as the light waned and the whole area took on a new beauty as - although by this time the batteries in the camera were well and truly exhausted. Soon after six, the anchor was raised and the ship slowly turned and headed slowly back to the Adriatic and on to Naples.

There was no need to add this place to 'the list' - we had done that already - many hours ago.

Good Bye Montenegro, will see you again soon - there's no doubt.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Sojourn on the Solstice Pt 3

Venice. Wow!

We've been lucky enough to arrive in Sydney on a ship - the dear old QE2 no less - and both thought that the beauty of that could not be bettered. Maybe it's still number one in our eyes, but I gotta tell you, Venice comes mighty close.

Our first sight of land was around midday - no early arrival here as it was over three hundred miles from Dubrovnik, but soon  all the little outlying islets began to appear as we approached, and then entered, the main channel to the port.

Already we could see some of the delightful little canals and waterways as the tugs came to join the ship and guide us in. The views from the deck were terrific but it must have looked equally spectacular from down on dry land too, seeing this vast ship navigate it's way through all the taxis, ferries and water buses.

Actually, it was quite surprising to see the tugs. Being a modern very manoeuvrable ship, tugs are rarely required, however there is a rumour going around that a ship's captain once dispensed with the tugs' services saying he did not need them. Apparently he woke the next morning to find a horses head next to him......

It was nearly two o'clock by the time we had docked but were not alone. Alongside was the 'Nieuw Amsterdam' from Holland America Line. The distinctive Cunard red funnel was visible from further out but it wasn't until we were much closer could we see that the Queen Victoria was also in residence. Joining us in dock was the much smaller 'Happy Dolphin' from Happy Cruises.

I had managed to skip lunch for a couple of days but clearly extra energy was going to be needed with all that walking apparently coming up so a burger and chips was wolfed down from the poolside grill. We then got our things together and headed ashore. Celebrity had laid on a a boat shuttle service into (well, near to) St Marks Square for what they considered a 'nominal fee' of US$22 each. There was a time cruise lines provided all this sort of thing all in but that a rant for another time. We walked around to the side of the dock and discovered that you could get a water bus that would deposit you right alongside St Marks Square for about half the price. We handed over our Euros and jumped on.

There is an incredible amount of traffic, but then of course virtually everything has to be transported by water - particularly people. There are scheduled water bus services darting backwards and forwards and smart and sleek private taxis vying for your business. It's a wonder there aren't more accidents.

We all got off at St Marks Square and were confronted with a line of Gondolas. Of course it had to be done, so as soon as we had recovered from the shock of the price, climbed on. Expensive or not, (I have since calculated that, per minute a Gondola is nearly four times the price of the ship's internet - and that's saying something) it was very pleasant. The narrow little waterways are lovely, if a little smelly. One can only wonder at the pong in the summer however.

Ride completed and wallets emptied we went for a stroll around some of the quaint little alleyways. There is some very smart and very expensive stuff on sale here, from designer clothing to blown glass from Murano, just across the water. Our meander took us back to St Marks Square where the unanimous decision was that it was beer o'clock. There are restaurants all around the edge of the square, many with live music playing. We chose one, was handed the menus and sat down.

And quickly got up again. Whilst there is music playing there is a 'surcharge' of just under six Euros per person for listening. A further quick glance at the menu revealed that a beer was gonna cost 10 Euros. Not wishing to fork out nearly fifty quid for four beers we scuttled away, and headed to the 'bus' stop and back to the ship.

It was extremely foggy the following morning when we awoke, but we still hoped to get some more exploring done before the ship departed at 1pm. Fortunately it soon started to clear and by 9.30am we were ashore again. A short shuttle train takes you out of the port area and deposits you outside the main bus interchange and alongside the central railway station at one end of the Canal Grande - the main thoroughfare through Venice. And busy it was too. Yet more water buses and taxis joined Gondolas and commercial boats, these ferrying all manner of items - from post and parcels (ugh!) to restaurant and building supplies. The Canal Grande weaves an 'S' shape around to it's convergence with the main channel near St Marks Square.

With gifts bought,photos took and caffeine and sugar levels restored we headed back to the ship. The Nieuw Amsterdam had left last night, but the Costa Cruises 'Costa Allegra' had arrived in it's place this morning.

The departure, back along the main thoroughfare and out to sea just as special, the sun had put in an appearance, helping to ease the Autumn chill. Venice had joined Dubrovnik (and many other places) on the 'must come back to' list'.

Venice (9)Venice Venice (1)

Venice (2) Venice (3)

Venice (4) Venice (5) Venice (6)

Venice (7) Venice (8)

Monday, 31 October 2011

Sojourn on the Solstice Pt 2

After a couple of days at sea it was nice to be back on terra firma again, at the delightful port town of Dubrovnik in Croatia. We had already docked by the time we woke and as we peered blearily eyed out from the balcony, the Seabourn Quest sidled in rather gingerly in front of us.

We had pre-booked a tour which included a cable car ride from the top of which were spectacular views of the old town and surrounding areas.

Dubrovnik 26-10-11 (5)Dubrovnik 26-10-11 (100) 

A short walking tour around the old town followed. We had all been issued with a set of those wireless earphones prior to ensure we heard every word the guide uttered, however soon after the tour started I turned mine off. I think the others followed soon after. It's not that she didn't know her stuff because the she did, she liked the sound of her own voice a little too much - still I should be used to that......

Dubrovnik 26-10-11 (113)Dubrovnik 26-10-11 (110)

Clearly having withdrawal symptoms from being on the water, we decided to grab a ride on an old 19th century crate around the harbour which was delightful, if a little hairy at times.

Dubrovnik 26-10-11 (74)Dubrovnik 26-10-11 (124)

We returned to the ship all promising to come back some day. It really is a beautiful place and such a tragedy that it was ripped apart by war not that long ago.

Dubrovnik 26-10-11 (118) Dubrovnik 26-10-11 (76)

More to come soon on a fantastic overnight stop in Venice.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Sojourn on the Solstice – Pt 1

Yep, a change in title. Never really liked 'Medriatic Meander' or even 'Medriatic Mayhem' much, so we've settled on the above. Solstice is the name of the ship we are on so it sort of works.

Right. Where and when are we? Well, it is the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday 25th October, somewhere in the Med'. We are on our way to our first port of call; Dubrovnik, and are due to dock early tomorrow morning. We have been at sea since late afternoon on Sunday, when we left Barcelona, passing through the Messina Straits (the narrow bit between Sicily and Italy) early this morning.

The ship is basically the same as the one we were on last year for the 'Heathens in the Holy lands' tour although a year or so older so we know where everything is. To be honest there is nothing too eventful to report apart from two - count 'em - two visits to the gym already by yours truly, although to be honest they were a waste of time, I never felt 'the burn' only the boredom. It's strange in a way - I managed seven or so hours on an old uncomfortable bike six weeks ago, but barely fifteen minutes on a state of the art contraption in a modern well equipped gym. A touch of good old CBA creeping in again I guess!

Anyway, enough about my half arsed attempts to get fit. The flight from Heathrow was ok. We chose BA over sleazyjet because the flight times were better and once you added in all the extras - like baggage and the privilege of paying for your flight - there was very little in it. Anyway, once airborne they proudly announced on the tannoy that they would be serving a complimentary snack and a drink (note the singular) from the bar. I cheekily asked for - and got - a second.

We overnighted in Barcelona, the hotel was a little way out of town but it was fine. It was here that we met up with Ann & Pete who would be joining us for the trip. We've been to Barca before (and loved it) but they hadn't, and so came out a couple of days earlier.

Anyway, by Sunday lunchtime we were at the port. It took slightly longer than anticipated, not because traffic but all the extras that the driver seemingly had to add to the meter.

Three other ships were also in port alongside ours, the monstrous NCL 'Epic', one of the biggest and in my opinion one of the ugliest ships ever built, the smaller Holland America 'Ryndam' and the diminutive Ibero Cruceros 'Grand Holiday'.

We departed at 4:50pm, tem minutes ahead of schedule, no tugs of course with these modern ships; propulsion pods and bow thrusters make them very manoeuvrable indeed.

So, that's about it for part one. The weather has been very changeable - in fact they even closed off the outer decks last night because of the high winds and we have spent most of the last two days chilling out on sunbeds around the indoor pool. This morning was better, but still too cold and windy really to sit outside for long.

So, tomorrow is Dubrovnik. We have a short tour booked around what apparently is a very pretty city, so all being well, the next part will have some photos.

Until then...

Monday, 5 September 2011

Friday Night Ride to the Coast - A Personal Journey

FNRttC? So what's it all about? Well take the title literally and you get an idea. It's an annual event in aid of the Martlets Hospice here in Brighton, well Hove actually to coin an overused phrase. Basically we meet at the back of Victoria Coach station in London, set off at midnight, ride through country lanes, up and down a few hills and arrive in Brighton at breakfast time. Easy! It is organised by a group of cycling enthusiasts who do several rides to various coasts throughout the year.

Anyway, it was about May I think when I decided to do it and actually sent in my registration fee. Even then, whilst having not cycled any distance at all for many years, felt confident I could do it. I had toyed with it last year too but left it too late.

Why did I decide to do it? Well, I could say that I wanted to raise money for the Martlets which would be true but only partially. Whether it was the imminent arrival of the big four zero (and the apparently inevitable 'mid-life crisis') had anything to do with it I'm not sure. (that milestone is now thankfully visible only in the rear view mirror, a fact which my liver is extremely grateful for). I suppose really it's because it was something different.

As a kid, I liked bikes although never got a BMX or Chopper which were all the rage at the time. When I was old enough I would always cycle into town on Saturday mornings, and later on when I went to 'tech I would cycle - mostly.

Having gone through 'my first car period' I was back on two wheels going to work. At one point I was doing about 11 miles a day there and back on what was my granddad's old Rudge Whitworth, circa 1953. Heavy and slow but very comfortable, but never quite the same after one drunken night I went straight into the back of a parked car and ended up in hospital but emerged with nothing more than a few stitches, bruises and the mother of all hangovers.

It was soon after then that I bought my current steed - a Raleigh Atlantis mountain bike. Hardly state of the art but with a light (at the time) oversized frame and fifteen gears. One hundred and ten quid it cost after a rear carrier and lights were added and it served me well then too.

Myself and Trev bought our first house together a few years later, and where we were living, cycling to work wasn't really an option although I'd bought a car by then anyway. In fact in the four years we lived at Bar Hill, I don't think the bike ever came out the garage. I think I even contemplated getting rid of it.

However when we moved down to the South Coast six and a half years ago, the bike came with us. After we had settled in, Trev even bought one too, and very occasionally they would come out of the garage for a ride along the under cliff walk to Brighton. Mine would make a very slightly more regular appearance when a pang of conscience told me I should cycle the two minutes to the shop or library and not drive!

So, reversing back up memory lane to the more recent past, two things needed to be in good nick to do this - me and the bike. I wasn't too worried about me. I certainly wouldn't say I'm fit as the only regular exercise I get is scampering about delivering them bloody parcels six days a week. However, that does seem to hold the weight at bay as I don't generally watch what I eat (or drink). Twelve stone or there thereabouts is ok for my six foot frame, although more and more of that is gradually converging on the midriff. Skinny arms and no real upper body strength to speak of but that hardly mattered for this. The legs were important and they were in good shape thanks to those early days cycling and infrequent bursts on the exercise bike. The onset of bunions, more advanced in my left foot, due no doubt to excessive wearing of  winkle picker boots shouldn't make a difference as they only seem to be painful when I'm working! Have had Asthma all my life but have not used regular preventative puffers for years. A Ventolin is never far away though, as a comfort blanket as much as anything.

The bike was a different story. It looked sad and neglected. Rusty in places, covered in cobwebs and the gears were clogged with dirt. The handlebars pointed in a slightly different direction to the front wheel. Copious amounts of oil, a good soak and considerable brute force coaxed the locking bolt undone and that was sorted. The tyres were clearly past their use by date. Still plenty of tread but splitting at the walls. New tyres and tubes were procured and fitted. Brakes were ok and just needed adjusting up. Lights. A good front one was needed as a fair portion of the ride would be in country lanes without street lights. All that remained of the previous luminaires was the brackets. Fortunately, one of my presents for the aforementioned 40th was a set of cycle lights, the front one being extremely powerful. Clearly a lot of thought had gone into this and I was very grateful - thank you once again Rosemarie & Arnold.

So, pre-ride training. This won't take long because there wasn't much. Something somewhere told me that I would manage anyway, I don't know why. We have an exercise bike in the bedroom that gets an occasional dusting off but that sat untouched for at least a month before the ride. However, two days before and we needed to go to B & Q. Again. Honestly the amount we spend over there we should have our own parking space. Anyway, Trev suggested that I should cycle over and meet him there. It was a good idea - the climb up to Telscombe Cliffs, the relatively flat main road through Peacehaven, the climb up to Newhaven Heights and following descent would be a good microcosm of the ride itself. Well it took 36 minutes to get there and 30 back with a distance of about 12 miles. I was quite happy with this - my pace was still similar to what I used to manage some 12-13 years ago cycling to and from work. The bike seemed fine too - the wheels ran true and the gears worked - well most of 'em anyway. It also gave me a chance to pick up a couple of cheap led torches from the discount shop. Testing had shown that the battery pack on the light set would only last about four hours, long enough for the parts of the ride with no streetlights (estimated at 3-4 hours) but not for the whole ride. One of the torches, secured to the handlebars with cable ties would provide adequate illumination when being seen was more important. The other would act as backup and come in handy for punctures or any running repairs.

So forward to the day of the ride. Work as usual in the morning. A quiet day would have been nice but predictably it was the busiest of the week, the post bank holiday catch-up notwithstanding. The delivery would be late too due to, we were advised, 'unforeseen circumstances' which meant as usual that someone had ****ed up. Again!

However, we were still done and home by about 2pm. Then it was time for a nap and to start preparing the stuff I would need to take. The ride organiser; Simon Legg, who deserves a medal for his sterling work had sent out regular emails full of useful advice for FNRttC novices like myself, the last being an up to date (and as it turned out, extremely accurate) weather forecast for the night ahead.

Two spare inner tubes were top of the list, followed by tyre levers, pump and a adjustable spanner. All the lights, which would not be attached until later, as would the water bottle, filled with a weak cordial drink. A bottle of Powerade also went in for later in the ride when my sugar and mineral levels would need a boost. Bananas, six of, choccy bars, ditto, route sheet, mobile, paracetamol, deep heat cream and Ventolin completed the list. This was checked and rechecked about a dozen times in three hours, probably the first sign of nerves I guess.

Clearly I needed to 'pre-fuel' for the long night ahead, and Trev duly obliged with a huge plate of meatballs and pasta. A look on the FNRttC Facebook page indicated that preparation for many involved eating a lot. Simon's forecast predicted little wind and it was perhaps this point that was to be the least accurate!

We drove to Brighton Station and got the 19:20 train to Victoria, getting in about 20:10 and walking straight to check on Semley Place, then around the block to check on the local boozers. We settled on one around the back that was the quietest. The first pint, shandy only, was well, ok, but the following London Pride was much better. Soon it was nearly 10pm and we headed back to Semley Place to sign in and dump the bike then met up with some friends who were coming to see me off. Another pub and another pint, this time of juice and lemonade, followed by the first of the choccy bars. A little concerned that I hadn't put away quite enough calories couple with the fact that our friends hadn't eaten at all took us back to Victoria and Burger King. Now I know that I speak for all four of us when I say that it was the crappiest BK any of us had ever had. Most of mine went in the bin. Then it was back to Semley place which was now heaving with Lycra clad enthusiasts and slightly nervous looking novices alike. I fixed the lights up, done some final checks and listened to the safety briefing.

It was nearly time for the off and I waved goodbye, Ash & Stu would be heading for the tube and Trev would be waiting for the 1am train back to Brighton. The first lot - of which I just happened to be part of, were headed out to the road and at exactly midnight we were off. Marshalls would herd us along for the first part of the ride. The traffic in London was still abundant and it take some organising to get some 300 odd people on to the road.

We went over Chelsea Bridge and through Clapham Common. And stopped. We were waiting to get on the South Circular but obviously the marshals were looking for a big enough gap in the traffic to get us many of us on the road as possible. Still it gave me a chance to have a look around. Clapham Common has a reputation for certain nocturnal happenings but whilst there were a few guys hanging around there was no sign of George Michael.

It was 12:34am (according to my Facebook update) when we got moving, turning on to Balham Hill and down in to Tooting, passing Figge's Marsh and into Mitcham. Two things of note along this first bit although exactly where I can't say. I guess I was still absorbing the enormity of the task we had all just embarked on. The first was bike trouble and for a brief moment I thought that was it. I was freewheeling as much as possible, mainly to conserve energy but the chain suddenly get mangled. The back gears were still feeding the chain through. I learnt to stop it happening by keeping peddling bit this was to become a bit of a pain in the arse later on as well shall see. The second was a fight at one of the many boozers. The police were already there, and more were turning up, but of more concern was that some of the FNRttC'ers, resplendent in their 'Friday's' jerseys seemed to be involved too. However it transpired, as I later came to understand that said cyclists were actually coppers too and have dived to the aid of colleagues trying to deal with aforementioned fracas.

At Mitcham Common, and with confirmation that marshals were in place along route we were let off the leash. Which basically meant that the experienced lycrists sped off into the night and the rest of us just sort of carried on as before!

It was 01:29 when I stopped again, having clocked up only ten miles and being somewhere in the vicinity of Wallington. At this rate my guestimate of six to seven hours was looking very optimistic. With banana and choccy scoffed and Facebook updated I was off again.

On to Reigate and the first major hill of the night. After initially getting off and walking I realised it wasn't that steep and having selected the lowest possible gear, made it slowly and painfully to the top. Then it was across the M25 and down Reigate Hill. This was where not being able to freewheel was a problem. Basically, if I wanted to go fast I had to pedal fast and my legs were already feeling shot, so I was braking all the way down. How many people I woke up with the squeal from the back brakes I shall never know!

At the bottom I stopped again to do another mileage check and update - 20 miles on and 02:38. The first torch had failed so the new front light went on. For the first time on the ride I could see no-one behind or ahead of me. It was just me and the bike - and there was something nice about that.

Soon after we were to turn off the main road and on to the three and a half mile Lonesome Lane, the first part of the ride without any streetlights. The bright front light was a godsend here but the surface was pretty good. This cannot be said of the next part however, the Horley Badlands. A narrow, private road, unlit, with a plethora of bumps, pot holes, mud and bollards. Whoever had laid the speed bumps had very kindly left gaps in the middle, which was fine if you was alert enough but several cries of "Ow, **** it!" could be heard both forward and aft, as aching bums and legs were jarred again and again. Our route sheet advised that we might be in the company of wallabies as we traversed this particular section. We didn't see any but there was plenty of evidence to suggest they were around as I skidded on it more than once.

We exited the Badlands, went under the M23 and were back on country lanes heading for Copthorne, the halfway point and food laid on at the school. My bum was now really hurting but any attempt to ease the pressure by standing up on the pedals only met with bolts of agonising pain from my thighs and calves. I was so pleased as after what seemed like an age, the school finally appeared. I parked up, dismounted with considerable effort and headed inside to the sports hall. It was now 04:00 and 32 miles in, just a little over half way. My ETA was looking increasingly unlikely.

Coffee, tea, water, cakes and crisps were all on offer thanks to yet more volunteers from the Martlets. Sixty or so fellow cyclists were here, some in groups, others on their own. Some looked as fresh as could be others looked (like me) ready for the knackers yard. I had one coffee then used another to wash down some paracetamol. Two bananas, another choccy bar and the remains of the cordial completed the banquet. I then pulled down my trousers and massaged copious amounts of deep heat into my thighs, bum and lower back. No one batted an eyelid. They'd either seen it all before or were too knackered to care.

Refuelling and maintenance of self completed I headed outside. We had been warned not to linger too long here as tiredness and tightening of the muscles would very soon set in. It was good advice. I swapped over the torch and refilled the water bottle with the Powerade, done a quick Facebook update and gingerly climbed back on.

Turners hill, then Ardingly were the next villages of note. The weather forecast had been spot on and it was pretty misty in places. It was 05:22 when I hit Lindfield and marked off 42 miles. We were all quite spread out now, everyone finding their own pace. Those that were together didn't say much. The chatter and laughter of the first hour or so had long since faded as people concentrated on the task ahead. It was soon after Lindfield that the sky began to lighten as dawn broke other the South Downs.

Isn't Adrenaline wonderful. Despite having been in the saddle for nearly six hours, the pain wasn't as intense and I going faster than at anytime previous. I was thinking this and just entering the village of Ditching when a familiar car horn announced the arrival of Trev ready with the camera. I grinned, waved and pushed on, reaching the base of Ditchling Beacon at 06:25. Despite vague notions of having a go at cycling up early on it just wasn't going to happen. I dismounted and started the long ascent. I was not alone as many others were doing the same. It took 21 minutes to get to the top and I'm mighty pleased at that. Sadly the mist had obscured what is normally a terrific view but frankly I couldn't give a ****! I had made it to the top and was nearly home.

Just one more incline, this time in Ditchling Road just before the golf course then it was all downhill to the seafront. The freewheeling problem seemed to have sorted itself out so I stopped peddling, stretched my back and let gravity do the work. I clocked up 27 mph as I went through the speed camera further down, though later learnt that one of the lycrists had managed to set it off, hitting 38 mph. Nice one.

I was grinning as I passed Old Steine and went across the roundabout into Madeira Drive but the eyes started misting up as I began to realise what I had achieved and the tears were flowing freely by time I came to a final halt outside the Madeira Cafe at 07:15. I'd done it! Trev came to meet me and stood by with the camera while I signed in and got my medal, still shaking with emotion - and probably tiredness too. The cafe was doing breakfast but I just couldn't face eating. I stood for a while, taking it all in, then climbed gingerly into the car and went home.

If I thought getting into the car was tricky getting out again, only five minutes later was almost impossible. I stripped off and went straight into the shower while Trev made the tea - the second notable event of the day!

We both went to bed for a while but couldn't really sleep, I'm sure the adrenaline was still pumping and the muscles had seized up again. Nothing but a long hot bath would do the trick I decided, and soon it would be beer o'clock.

Well, that's my story but there wouldn't have been one to tell if it wasn't for the hard work of many others, so at the risk of turning this into some snivelling rambling Oscar acceptance speech the following should get a mention and big thank you:

the Martlets volunteers for their services at the beginning, middle and end of the ride, the school for the loan of their facilities and the marshals for keeping us on the right track and offering words of encouragement. Even the ones who said it was only 5 or 10 minutes to the half way point when it was in fact half an hour! I understand why you done it though! Biggest thanks must go to Simon Legg for organising the whole thing and to all those that sponsored me and made it so much more worthwhile.

I was asked a number of times over the weekend whether I would do it again and the answer was an unequivocal yes. It was one of the best things I have ever done and am already looking forward to next year. Although there are four criteria to be met. First; too enjoy it even more, second; to do it quicker, third; to raise more money and fourth; to ride up the beacon. Hmm, perhaps we'll leave it at three! As I mentioned before, this ride is but one of a number of (non charity) rides organised throughout the year by Simon and I may even consider one of these too.

Enjoy the accompanying photos, either attached if you are reading the email version or below if you are on the blog.

I'm still wondering why I found it so emotional at the end. I'm not over endowed with self confidence but, as I said earlier, I always believed I could do this. There were plenty of people on the ride older and in worse physical shape than me and they all managed it too. Perhaps it's because it was so personal, I don't know.

The now crumpled and torn route sheet still sits on my desk as I finish typing this on Monday night and I flip through it again for about the hundredth time. I've had the atlas out and traced the route and done the same thing on Google maps too, more than once. Yes, this came to mean a lot to me.

03 07
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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Andalusian adventure

Well, we’re two days in to our holiday down on Spain’s Costa del Sol and having taken a break from the arduous task of sunbathing I thought it was about time I started bombarding you with another load of drivel!

Where we are is Calahonda—almost midway between Marbella & Fuengirola. It’s the first time on this part of the coast for both of us and we looking forward to finding out just why it’s so popular.

You will see yet another new layout for the blog. I’ve been dabbling with MS Publisher so we’ll see how it goes.

Thursday 2nd June

Aer Lingus was the choice of carrier this time and a first for both of us. When I was looking for flights back in January the usual suspects cropped up, i.e. BA and sleazyjet. However Aer Fungus offered both better flight times and were cheaper. Predictably that sealed the deal.

Having checked on car parking at Gatwick We’d decided to have a taxi there and back. Overall, the difference was minimal and certainly makes for a less stressful start to the holiday.

Check-in was ok, hardly any queue, which was just as well as there was hardly any staff. We’d done the usual check-in online and print your own boarding pass stuff (they make out it’s a privilege!) to save time at check in. It didn’t.

Security was straightforward, though still no strip search regrettably. An errant tin of deodorant and pot of hair wax was found in Mr. W’s bag however. With the usual admonishments the items were whisked away to be destroyed (or more likely the male locker room)

The idea of a traditional (well, I’m trying to make it traditional) pre holiday breakfast pint sidled it’s way into my thoughts so we headed to Wetherspoons, grabbed one of the last remaining tables and sat down. The atmosphere was, to put it nicely, lively. I headed to the bar to order and squeezed past a large tableful who had clearly been there for sometime. All thoughts of alcohol went  and I settled instead on coffee.

To be honest, for what we paid, it was shite, possibly the most tasteless bacon I’ve ever had. We decamped next door to McDonalds for a sausage  muffin and a bit of (relative) peace and quite away from Chav Central.

The flight was on time, more or less, uneventful and the plane was reasonably comfortable. At a little before 2:30pm we touched down at Malaga airport and proceeded to the car rental desk. I’d prebooked direct with the company this time which even with the inevitable extras worked out cheaper than going through a price comparison website. For a bit of fun we’d decided on a Smart car and with paperwork completed and credit card swiped we went to pick up the car.

Well, it has to be said they’re great little things. Enough room for our bags (just) though Trev did later liken it to driving a roller skate powered by a sewing machine motor. It’s semiautomatic and the gear changes aren’t the smoothest (nothing to do with the driver obviously!) but for nipping around it will be great.

It did take slightly longer than it should have done though to get to our destination. We’d had some directions from Mark & John, the owners of the apartment, and they were quite straightforward. However there were some major roadwork's going on and it took a little while to get on the right road. And a bit longer to head in the right direction. It was nearly 5.00pm when we eventually arrived.

What a place! We had booked it on the recommendation of some good friends and certainly weren’t disappointed. What we have is a one bedroom self contained apartment below and to the rear of a beautiful villa. Beautifully furnished and appointed, not least in the bedroom where there is a proper mattress instead of the usual Spanish slab of concrete. A multi jet shower that attacks you at all angles leaving no appendage untouched awaits in the bathroom. All mod cons abound in the kitchen. A lovely lounge-diner opens out onto a secluded patio and completes the set-up. The boys had very kindly put some stuff in the fridge to get us started. Including some wine. Our reputation clearly arrived earlier than we did!

In the main garden, which we also have the use of is a lovely pool and covered bar area, complete with tap beer. We sat down and sampled.

Dinner was a quick burger and chips at one of the bars on ‘the strip’ just up the road. Supper was a bottle of plonk and some crisps in front of the telly. I forgot to mention that the apartment also has Sky TV. Great for keeping up with what's happening in the world and at home. Not so great if you want to avoid Simon Cowell’s cash machine, better known as Britain's Got Talent.

That’s it for now. Last sentence of the day though must go to Jodie, Mark & Johns gorgeous West Highland Terrier. A lovely little bitch!

It’s now Sunday afternoon and to be honest there’s not an awful lot to report on from the last couple of days. But, at the risk of writing the most boring blog ever, I’ll get you up to date. A day out in the little black, Singer powered roller skate is planned for Monday, so there should be more to write about. Anyway, here goes.

Friday 3rd June

A leisurely start although neither of us slept that well. We’d brought a load of bacon over from home  - surely that’s the wrong way round, I thought you were supposed to bring home the bacon. Anyway, that, couple with the holiday starter kit thoughtfully provided by Mark & John meant that we didn’t have to go scurrying off to the shops first thing. However later that morning we did go shopping for the usual tubbystar holiday essentials: wine, crisps etc. You get the idea.

Sunbathing was of course on the agenda so we headed up to the pool area and stripped off. The position of the property means that the garden is not overlooked so going ‘au naturel’ is the done thing and is really quite liberating. Although when I turned over to get some sun on my back Trevor commented that he thought that the moon had risen early. Can’t think why!

We overdone it a bit for the first day, although thankfully the important bits remained unscathed.

Dinner was at a little place about 10 minutes walk away (we drove it!) following a recommendation from the boys and was without doubt the most delicious steak either of us have had for years. A return visit has been pencilled in for later on.

Saturday 4th June

I must start off by mentioning that it’s one year ago today that our dear friend Roy passed away aged just 50. We was in Ibiza when we got the phone call. I just can’t believe where the time has gone. Thinking a lot of his family back home.

A day in the shade today after yesterdays over exposure, but no less pleasant. The usual lunch of rolls and crisps was supplemented with a couple of beers from the pool bar. I even slipped, all be it temporarily, out of CBA (cant be arsed!) mode to start on the blog. I should say too that free wi-fi is included here and makes life so much easier (and cheaper) than farting about with the mobile.

For dinner we fired up the roller skate and headed to another part of Calahonda on one of Trev’s legendary long short cuts. Whilst the areas nearer the coast cater to the holiday trade, there are  a lot of expats living out here. There are certainly worse places to be.

Eventually we pulled up at an eatery, which whilst offering typical tourist fare was pleasant, reasonably priced and tasty without being particularly memorable. What’s more we even managed to avoid the final of Britain's Got Talent too. Definitely a plus point!

Sunday 5th June

Another beautiful day, though both of us were a little sluggish this morning thanks to the cheap vino tinto procured from Lidl on the first day. There’s no  doubt though that despite Spain’s economic problems things are still generally cheaper on the main land than in the Canaries or Balearics.

Normal service resumed in the sunbathing department after making sure the old fella was well protected  - and Trevor too of course! At the time of typing it is now late afternoon and rapidly approaching beer o’clock. We may dine in tonight but we’ll see how it goes. Gibraltar is on the radar for tomorrow, so hopefully there might be something more interesting in the next blog

There are some pictures of the apartment below. There are some more still on the camera that are not for public consumption—unless you are into (very) burnt offerings that is!

Monday 6th June

After three lazy days chillaxing it was time to start exploring, so this morning after a quick cuppa and toast we wound up the roller skate and pointed her in the general direction of Gibraltar.

It has to be said that the car is surprisingly nippy, sitting happily on the motorways at 80-100 km/h or whatever the mph equivalent is. Gib is about 90 or so kilometres away so it was in little over an hour that we caught our first glimpse of the famous rock. By this time however the weather had turned and the majority of it was shrouded in mist. It made quite a centre point however for the forks of lightning that frequently appeared along with the rain.

Now, you cross into Gib via the Spanish town of La Linea de la Concepcion. Being British of course, Gib has retained it’s border controls so there is normally quite a queue. Advice from many sources suggested that going across on foot was much much quicker, but given the current weather, that was out of the question.

Although we had missed the morning rush hour (many Spanish work in Gib) there was still a long queue snaking back around a number of roundabouts. Unfortunately we didn’t immediately realise that this was the queue until further up. Trev nosed the little roller skate into the tiniest of gaps much to the ire of the woman behind us. Still, it was well over half an hour before, having waved our passports at border control we were wave through without even stopping.

Almost as soon as you have passed through you have to cross the runway of Gib’s airport. There’s not a lot of air traffic at present, but given it’s size (about 3 miles long and barely a mile wide) when there is movement virtually the whole of the islands’ traffic comes to a standstill whilst take off or landing manoeuvres are completed—as we found out later on.

It was still raining as we crossed so we decided to head to the big Morrisons supermarket to procure the duty free. That’s the other thing here. Not only are booze and fags cheap but fuel is too. Everything is in pound sterling and you will pay less than a pound a litre for unleaded and for the smokers cigarettes are only around the two pounds a pack. It’s very popular with both local Gibraltarians and ex-pats living along the Costa del Sol. We paused first at the supermarkets café for breakfast before picking up a couple of bottles of the hard stuff for the drinks cabinet, some cigs for the local barber back home and some Pg Tips for the boys back at the villa.

The rain was easing as we left the supermarket so we headed down the west coast to Gib (and probably Europes’) most southerly tip—Europa Point. Here you can easily see the coast of Tangiers in Northern Africa and in fact ferries from both Gib and Algeciras across the bay back in Spain will whisk you across in under eighty minutes. Algeciras is Spain’s main entry point for trade from Africa including unfortunately drugs and sometimes human cargo too.

To the west, the Spanish coastline curves away, eventually becoming southern Portugal, the sea becoming the Atlantic. To east lies the Mediterranean. Many cargo ships sit in the bay either awaiting entry to the ports of Algeciras or Gib whilst others bunker fuel for their onward journey.

With necessary photographic duties completed we continued up the east side. There is very liitle here as the rock climbs steeply a short in from the coast. The town is all on the west side. In no time at all we had rounded the north-western tip and were back where we started. It was at this point that a plane had either taken off or landed as, for a short while, traffic was at a standstill.

We headed south again although this time to the interior which basically means up. We were soon at the entrance to the Nature Reserve which contains, caves, tunnels and the world famous monkeys.  Thought to have been brought over in the 18th century from Northern Africa they are one of Gib’s main tourist attractions. They seem friendly enough but have been know to attack small children and grab food from peoples bags as well as grabbing women’s nether regions.

Anyhow, you can drive around most of the area although some of the steeper inclines caused the roller skates engine to squeal a little. The caves were an unexpected highlight and the openings for the canons in the siege tunnels gave some fantastic views of the airport and bay below.

Our journey back down skirted us around the edge of the town, but we resisted the lure of a look at the likes of Marks & Spencer & Next and headed instead for the border.

Duty Free allowances into Spain from Gib are quite limited. Spanish customs make spot checks to enforce these limits. We were fine and they left us alone but we did see one car that had been pulled over with at least a dozen cartons of cigarettes piled up at the side of it. No doubt the drivers was getting a verbal roasting.

The journey back was uneventful, we did divert into Estepona to have a quick look around. It was pretty enough and well kept but extremely quiet.

A late afternoon snack was devoured at the café next to the local supermarket. Provisions having been procured we grabbed a couple of beers at the bar before and early evening nap.

Had a touch of the CBA syndrome again, have just been too relaxed to think about anything other than turning the page of a book, a dip in the pool, a drinkypoos from the bar. Anyhow, will try and bring you up to date.

Monday 6th June - continued.

It was quite late when we eventually stirred from our nap, so when we got to the nearby strip of eateries options were becoming somewhat limited. Neither of us being particularly hungry for once, we settled on what proclaimed
itself as traditional English fish & chips. Even the odours wafting out of the door suggested same.

The reality, sadly was somewhat different, although it took a long while to find out; the owner being on her own and trying to juggle waitress, cashier and cooking duties. The chips were overcooked and the batter was hard, the
best bit was the accompanying cuppa which was lovely.

What livened up the occasion however was the appearance of two gentlemen at the door before the food arrived. They made there way somewhat unsteadily to the counter and ordered fish & chips. The plan seemed to be for a takeaway but one of them appeared to be about to lose the use of his legs, so instead they sat, well lurched down. Next to us. They were here for golf they said along with six others, although clearly none had been played today. Both in their seventies, one was Dublin and the other Edinburgh although now both living in Hertfordshire - though not together!

"We've been drinking all fooking day" the Irishman said, as if an explanation was needed. The Scot burped in acknowledgment then, having just about got brain cells and jaw working in harmony enquired as to where we
were from. "Aye, Brighton" he said to our reply, "Thas the gey capital is it nae?". Trevor decided to plunge in head first and clear things up straightaway. "Yes", he said, "That's why we live there!". Well, the look on these two
guys faces were priceless, but when they'd recovered from the shock both shook our hands!

The food arrived soon after. The Irish fella was making a good job our devouring his but his mate was having a bit of trouble with the rock hard batter. A fair percentage of it ended up on the floor but I had to duck more than once as another piece of killer batter hurtled passed my ears!

We had one drink back at the bar then called it a night.

Tuesday 7th June

Little to report. Good weather, lots of sunbathing, a few cold beers in the afternoon, but a fantastic meals this evening. Three courses, wine coffee and brandy. Lovely. The bill. Ouch.

Wednesday 8th June

The boys had organised a bbq this evening to which we were invited. A fantastic evening with great food and the chance to meet more ex-pats who had moved over. In answer to the question of whether they would move back to
the UK was always the same. No.

The time passed so quickly and it was gone one in the morning by the time we all said our somewhat drunken goodbyes.

Thursday 9th June

Oh dear, more sunbathing. This is getting tedious (as if!) Nice meal at a little Spanish place tonight. Yes there are some here still!

Friday 10th June

Pointed the roller skate north this morning, to Fuengirola for our mandatory holiday visit to the department store El Corte Ingles. Honestly, there's not a suitcase big enough to accommodate all the stuff I'd like to buy here but
I did manage to resist this time. We stopped at another shopping centre on the way back and, at the time of typing are now back by the pool making the most of this great weather. Sadly, Monday and the journey home are started to loom large on the horizon so we are gonna make the most of it.

Right where were we? Ah Yes. To be honest, not much else to tell you, but I'll tie up the loose ends:

Friday night we went out for a meal with Mark & John. Another delicious fillet steak, absolutely divine, you just don't seem to get them at home like this.

Saturday 11th June.

Yep, you guessed it, sunbathing. The boys had to chance the sand stuff in the swimming pool filter, apparently it needs doing every few years (how tough!) and Mark seriously done his back in. By the end of the day he could
hardly move and looked really in pain.

Another great meal at a place across the road tonight.

Sunday 12th June.

Our last day, but the sun was shining more of the same. Whilst about 28 degrees in the shade it 43 degrees on the sun beds mid afternoon.

Some friends of Mark & John called in late afternoon on the way back from the beach and we had a long chinwag with them. By the time they left, it was late, we were starving and couldn't be arsed to get showered and changed. So our last meal of the holiday was from you know where. Yes that chain of 'restaurants' beginning with 'M'. How sad is that!

Monday 13th June.

We said our goodbyes early Monday morning and were soon at the airport. We had a little while to wait for check-in to open but were soon through to departures. The flight was on time and we were soon deposited at Gatwick.
There was a wonderful welcome home from the cheery smiling faces at passport control and it took over an hour for the bags to appear. And really that was the end of that.

So, to sum up. Although we were in Andalucía it was hardly an adventure, so I suppose the blog title was misleading. Having read back through it, it will certainly not rate as one of my best - probably the worst in my
opinion. But that doesn't mean we didn't enjoy ourselves because we most certainly did. We could have done a little more sightseeing but to be honest we were so relaxed just sitting by the pool in wonderful surroundings we
weren't bothered - there is always another time. I don't usually put links in but I'm going too this time: Without doubt the best apartment we have ever stayed in. If you fancy a quiet
relaxing break in a wonderful place, you won't be disappointed here.

What was interesting and thought provoking was meeting people that have made a great life for themselves in Spain. Mark & John specifically but their friends too. It just shows what you can achieve with hard work and, as they will admit, a little but of luck upon the way. This area is full of expats and you can see why. Everything is here, all the facilities you need and terrific weather too.

A lot of food, and even more thought.

One day, maybe.