Author Archives: edmartinuk

Vaduz (Sep 30 – Oct 3)

Vaduz, the capital of Leichtenstein, was city number 25. To be fair Leichtenstein is even smaller than Luxembourg, so although it’s not a very large capital city Vaduz, at a population of around 5000, is about 1/6 that of the whole principality which at 36,000 is smaller than my home town of Scarborough. We caught the train to Sargans, which is still in Switzerland, and then took the bus to Vaduz (which helpfully took both Swiss francs and euros, the driver having a clever setup which allowed him to give change in either!)

Our first experience of the place was somewhat muted, as the weather was very misty. We checked in at our hotel, called the Meierhof and quickly dumped our bags. We headed out pretty immediately and caught the bus almost directly opposite the hotel to a village called Triesenberg. The journey was up a winding road with several hairpin bends, through dense mis, rising dramatically up the side of the mountain. When we arrived the fog swirled around us making the place very atmospheric. We were impressed with the very clear signposting, which outlined many walking options which started from Triesenberg. We took a well marked walking trail to Vaduz, listed at about 1 and a half hours. We would have had a nice view, but today it was somewhat grey although very atmospheric and rather spooky. The trail headed fairly quickly out from the village and then we found ourselves on a nice wide path through a pine forest. It was a nice walk, and we met no-one along the trail the whole way. Every so often we could catch a glimpse of the valley floor below us, between swirls of fog, but mostly we enjoyed the forest itself which was just heading into autumn. Our trail ended near the royal family’s castle, which sits on the hillside rather imposingly overlooking Vaduz, from where we headed down into Vaduz itself.

Greg’s first option for dinner turned out to be closed, so we found a small Chinese takeaway with a few tables which turned out to be great. The staff were very friendly, and after a bit of menu translation we ordered what turned out to be rather tasty and probably the best value meal we’d had for a while. We got up early the next day and rather confusingly took our bags to another hotel in Vaduz. We then left with just our rucksacks (including some spare clothes) and headed into the city centre. We visited the Postal Museum and enjoyed the obvious pride with with Liechtenstein views it’s postal service and national stamps. From there we headed to the Vaduz Country museum which covered archeology, culture, and technological development. This turned out to be a fascinating place, where we could easily have spent more time than we had. It really helped us to get more of a feeling for how much the country had changed in last 50 years – almost literally going from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest. This transition had been accompanied by a huge change in culture too, the pace of which has been a challenge to those living through it. We were also impressed by some of Leichtenstein’s unexpected telecommunications achievements, such as having the first fully automated telephone exchange in Europe as well as being the first country in Europe to go fully digital.

We got the lunchtime bus to Malbun, where I learnt we were to spend the night. I’d spotted Malbun on a map previously – it was high up in the mountains at a heady height of 1600m. Amazingly there was a regular bus service to it; in fact the same bus we took previously to Triesenberg kept going higher. I was a little disappointed in terms of the weather – it was again a uniform grey with substantial fog. What I hadn’t expected was the difference a tunnel can make – a little after Triesenberg the bus went through a tunnel, and on the other side was a village called Steg – bathed in sunlight beneath a beautiful blue sky! If I hadn’t seen the transformation for myself I wouldn’t have believe it; what a different between valleys. Greg mentioned at this point that he’d nearly booked an experience in Steg, but he hadn’t been able to make the logistics fit. A place there offers guided walks in the mountains with their dogs – each guest gets a husky! That sounded fun, and something we might enjoy should we return.

The approach to Malbun was glorious – sun was streaming down the valley, which was a perfect alpine landscape with the small village of Malbun nestled between high peaks. Our hotel was a very short distance from the bus stop, and was a delightful family run affair. We were given a friendly warm greeting, and shown to a nice room (of about 30) with a wonderful view up the valley. First stop for us was lunch, and Greg had picked out the perfect location – a restaurant high on a nearby peak at 2000m! To get their we had to take a chairlift; an experience I really enjoyed and one which Greg coped with very well (given his difficulty with heights). I took a few photos as we ascended, but not too many as I got frowned at every time I turned as it slightly rocked our seat. At the top was a charming little resaurant clearly prepared for all weathers – it had copious outside seating on it’s sun terrance, together with a supply of wollen blankets! Inside was toasty warm, and we noticed only one other couple had made the trip. We ordered some food which was made fresh to order, and I selected a small Leichtenstein beer from their wide selection (whilst admiring the wine fridge and the selection of schnapps and stack of shot glasses). The meal was quite traditional and really pretty good, and also had the distinction of being my highest ever meal (ignoring planes).

After lunch we debated how to return to Malbun. The mist had caught up with us, and where previously there had been a beautiful view there was now only white; quite spooky. So the walk down we’d previously considered wouldn’t be as interesting as planned. We considered the chairlift down, but decided on a 3rd option – the Malbi rider! These were three wheels karts, hired out for the descent. We persuaded the chairlift man to accept my train photo-card as an appropriate form of ID (it has the advantage of looking more official than it is!) and shortly had two helmets and two Malbi riders at our disposal. They turned out to be great fun; they promote them for families though I am not sure the ride down would have passed UK health and safety as some of the tights bends had steep drops on the other side of them. We found them great – they picked up considerable speed on the journey down, and were controlled purely though a steering wheel and left and right brakes (which were only moderately effective as the wheels skidded on the path surface). It certainly didn’t take long to get down this way, and driving round hairpin corners surrounded by mist proved an exhilarating experience.

Once safely at the bottom we returned to our hotel, an enjoyed a nice cup of tea (for Greg) and a coffee (for me) in the restaurant, watching the mist swirl by outside. We’d booked dinner for 7pm, and had a couple of hours to go so asked the staff to turn the sauna on, which they happily did. So we headed down to the basement to enjoy this, and were blown away; this small family run hotel had a ‘wellness center’ which would shame most 5 star UK hotels! There was a beautiful swimming pool, with a nicely designed natural-style mini waterfall in a corner. There was also a steam room, a sauna (with a window providing a view of the village), a pair of foot baths and a relaxation room. A jug of water with slices of lemon in it was left out, together with some cups. The styling was delightful, soft classical music was playing, and everything was spotlessly clean. All in all it was a delight, and as Greg summarised “well, colour me impressed!”. Our expectations had definitely been exceeded and we enjoyed almost two hours relaxing here in bliss, whilst Clair de Lune and other tunes added to the mood. We were on half-board, and so had a fairly set menu for dinner. The food was reputed to be rustic style but good, and we were looking forward to trying it. For first course we had pumpkin soup, which turned out to be one of the best soups I’d ever had, packed full of flavour. For main course I had steak, which was a house speciality and very tasty indeed. Greg had venison snitzel with wild mushrooms and cranberry sauce, which was delicious. I enjoyed a glass of the local wine (made by the prince you know, well by his staff at least) and we considered it a thoroughly enjoyable meal. Dessert was some slightly odd chestnut paste spaghetti, which apparently was a local speciality and though not to my taste did nothing to detract from what I’d already eaten. After dinner Greg explained that he’d found a hike option for the next day, but given the weather we would probably need a plan B.

The next day we awoke to sunshine steaming into the room. Despite the forecast it was a beautiful day with a deep blue sky with barely a cloud visible! The hike was on! :-).

Greg had researched a route of about 6 miles, which went from the village we were in up to a peak called Schönberg, and down to the village of Steg. It was rated 2 out of 5 for fitness, 2 out of 5 for difficulty and 4 out of 5 for popularity, would take about 4 hours, and sounded a great option. Greg doesn’t often hike, and I was really pleased that he’d found this was was prepared to give it a go with me. I’ll note now that what neither of us realised was this this would be a truely spectacular day (probably the most memorable of the trip), but substantially more challenging than either of us anticipated… The walk started simply enough, there was a steady ascent on a wooded hillside on a good path. It was clearly aimed at families as there were regular benches and storyboard telling a story in stages. This continued for about 30-45mins, before this section ended and we continued onto more of a forest trail. The views throughout were fantastic – Malbun was already high and as we climbed we were rewarded with fabulous views of the valley. It was also so warm that I removed my top for a while to better enjoy the cooling breeze. The forest trail continued to be very pleasant and we both remarked that it was as if we had the whole valley to itself, as we hadn’t seen anyone else at all so far. In fact we didn’t meet any other hikers the whole trip (we saw a family in the distance near the peak, but they were on a different path); not sure what popularities 3 and below would have been like, but I guess it was a weekday off-season.

We passed a small house, by it’s lonesome in a spectacular location, and also some path-side equipment where a new path surface was being laid. From there we climbed up towards Schönberg, and the path changed into a narrower hiking trail together with a signpost to reassure us that we were on the right route. After a further climb we turned a corner, and found ourselves looking down a beautiful new valley and also in full view of the peak we were aiming for. We stopped here for a snack and drink, to catch our breath and admire the view. From here we progressed more slowly, wending our way up the mountain side climbing steadily higher. As we ascended the path became narrower, and the slopes steeper, but we were frequently greeted with painted rocks to show that we were still on the proper trail (and if we ever came to a fork there was a helpful rock clearly showing the correct path to take). Our first pause for thought came when we encountered a fairly narrow rock path above a very steep drop; definitely not somewhere we wanted to tumble down! We took this very slowly and carefully, and I was very impressed at Greg’s stubbornness at continuing when he clearly wasn’t finding the going, especially the heights, comfortable. This pattern continued with further difficult stretches and ever higher slopes. We kept going, slowly and steadily, and soon climbed to a ridge a little before the main peak. From here we were rewarded with a magnificent view form the other side of the mountain meaning we had spectacular vistas on both sides. At one stage the path widened to provide several meters of grass, and we stopped to enjoyed our lunch and admire the views whilst being sufficiently away from the edge to feel comfortable. It really was quite an experience and felt truly magical having the whole landscape to ourselves. It had also continued to be a glorious day with beautiful deep blue skies and layers of cloud off in the distance at lower altitudes lit by the sun.

From here it was a short distance to the summit, where we were rewarded with a truly panoramic view of other mountain and bands of cloud. It was very beautiful indeed, but also very high at 2100m, so after a short pause we started back down as we were keen to get back to ground level. The path down was a different and shorter route and we hoped would be easier than the ascent. Unfortunately that didn’t prove to be the case as the first hour consisted pretty consistently of very narrow paths with large drops (sometimes a sheer granite face many stories high) to one side. First Greg, then I, focused on the path rather than the view, so I didn’t get many photos on the descent; only where I paused at a wide enough section to feel more comfortable enjoying the view. As we descended the drops got less sheer, and we started feeling more comfortable and relaxing again. The final ascent was on a zig-zag forest trail which would have been really nice except for copious loose gravel on the rather steep path which required concentration so as to not fall firmly on our behinds. Soon enough we were back at Steg having descended more than 700m from the summit and waited for the bus which was due shortly to take us back down to Vaduz. It was only at this point that I realised just how sunny it had been; Greg had got sunburnt and sported a rather red face! It had been a marvellous hike, but certainly not a 2/5 difficultly on my scale! Greg had done particularly well and was happy to be back down on more solid ground.

Dinner that night was to be a treat; and we both felt we’d earned it! The hotel we were in, The Schatzmann had a Michelin star for food, one of only two in Liechtenstein. And Greg had booked a 6 course gourmet tasting menu for us to sample. This proved to be a remarkable meal and certainly some of the best food we’d been lucky enough to enjoy. Highlights included some local fish which was poached perfectly and had the most delicious flavour and texture. We also really enjoyed some venison, which was very full flavoured and extremely tender, as well as a selection of 5 mini-desserts, with my favourite being a lavender flavoured crème-brûlée which was simply sublime. To be honest the whole meal became a bit of a blur later, but one filled with wonderful flavours, textures and with perfect presentation throughout. After the hike and the food we certainly slept well that night, our last night in Liechtenstein.

The next day it was onwards to… Innsbruck!


Zurich (Sept 27-30)

After our mountainous excursion around Lake Lucerne, we continued our onwards journey, and headed towards our next city destination of Zurich.  The train journey was beautiful;  not quite as spectacular as the Golden Pass journey, but only by relative comparison.  From Zug it was only a short trip to Zurich, and we ended up on a busy commuter train.  It was a double-decker, and we were very impressed when we saw that one of the upper floors has been converted from normal seating to a children’s playground – complete with mini slide!  Zurich main train station was large and confusing.  We totally failed to find our way out the first time, and ended up by a small shopping mall!  After a quick check of Google Maps we headed the right way, and made it out towards the local platforms.  We caught a local train shortly afterwards for two stops, and headed towards our hotel.  Although it was up a hill someone had helpfully built a lift at just the right place;  fantastic!

The hotel itself, B2 Boutique Hotel, was converted from an old brewery and rather splendid.  Upon entering we found that reception was busy with two other groups checking in.  However the receptionist immediately spotted us waiting, had a word with a colleague, and within about 10 seconds a new receptionist had appeared and came away from the busy desk to great us and collect our details in order to check us in.  Whilst waiting we admired the very impressive lobby which led directly onto the breakfast room which was also a library with books filling the walls from floor to ceiling in a double height room.  Our room was wonderful, and when looking out of the window I found that we overlooked two impressive Google buildings.  Greg remarked that he had tried to get a tour of Google arranged, but unfortunately it hadn’t been possible.  It was late, so after quickly stowing our stuff we headed out for some dinner.  This experience reminded us how expensive Switzerland was, but we found some reasonably priced pasta which we enjoyed before we headed back to a very comfortable bed.

Breakfast the next day was very good.  The library/breakfast room was a spectacular location, where we enjoyed the a modest but very well executed buffet selection as well as some eggs cooked-to-order. For our first day in Zurich we decided to start with a wander around the old town.  Similarly to Geneva there were obviously a great many watch shops.  Unfortunately also similarly to Geneva they were primarily out of my price range.  So we ignored looking at these and instead simply enjoyed the experience of wandering around shops with clearly fabulous ranges, and no top brand left unrepresented.  We also took the opportunity to enjoy some of the city’s history by visiting two key churches.  First was the Fraumünster Church (Women’s Minster), built on the remains of a former abbey for aristocratic women and founded in 853 by Louis the German for his daughter Hildegard.  Today, it belongs to the Swiss Reformed Church and is one of the three main churches of Zürich, the other’s being the Grossmünster and St. Peter’s church.  We really liked the feel of this church, two elements of which really stood out to us.  The first was that in the choir of the abbey there are 5 magnificant large stained glass windows designed by artist Marc Chagall and installed in 1970. Each of the 5 has a dominant color and depicts a Christian story in a visually stunning style.  The second were the former cloisters which are decorated with wonderful frescos, giving fantastic colour to this peaceful space.  By contrast I had to say that I was slightly less impressed by the Grossmünster (“great minster”), a Romanesque-style Protestant church.  It just didn’t have the same feel for me.  I did enjoy being able to go up the tower, as I like being able to get a good panoramic view of the cities we visit for some perspective.  This was nice, but I didn’t feel that Zurich was a particularly pretty city;  though I suspect that the slightly grey day didn’t help.  As it happens it turned out that I missed the most interesting aspect of our visit whilst in the tower.  Greg noticed that a group of school children we had seen at Fraumünster has followed us to Grossmünster.  They were Japanese, and so very well behaved, so we hadn’t paid them much mind previously.  However Greg later relayed to me that their teacher had a quick word with the staff attendant and taken her group of girls to the choir of the church.  There the group had suddenly burst into song, which Greg described as totally angelic and which suddenly brought the place to a stand-still as all the visitors stopped what they were doing and turned, enchanted, to listen.  What we hadn’t then appreciated, but that she clearly knew, was that the church famously had fabulous acoustics.  After a short time the girls finished their mesmerizing performance and their teacher returned to the stunned staff attendant and handed over a generous donation along with thanks for allowing them to briefly perform.  They then left as anonymously as they had entered.

From here we decided it was time for a break, and we headed to a famous Zurich establishment… Sprüngli.  Sprüngli is a luxury chocolatier and we sat in the cafe upstairs to enjoy a hot chocolate and small cake.  Although the cost was somewhat eye watering we both agreed it was worth every penny.  After this we browsed the retail section and picked a few handmade chocolates to sample along with a few “Luxemburgerli” – a sort of macaron invented by a confectioner called Camille Studer from Luxembourg.  His employer was friendly with the Sprüngli family and he had come to Zurich to serve an appprenticeship. Whilst there he invented these tiny macaron, originally called Baiser de Mousse (Foam Kisses) but more commonly referred to by the confectioners nickname “Luxemburger” in the form of Gebäck des Luxemburgers (Luxemburgers confection) later shortened to Luxemburgerli.  Refined for a competition Sprüngli now produce more tan 30 flavours as their flagship product, with according to Wikipedia an international reputation.  Having tasted them all I can say is…. with very good reason!

After a little more shopping we headed back to the hotel fairly early, as we wanted to take advantage of the attached spa, which specialised in a thermal bath treatment routed in traditional spa culture called the Irish-Roman spa ritual.  As hotel guests we were able to get half-price entry, and so we purchased a 24 hour ticket from reception and went up to our room to change.  We already had robes, and so taking the spa towels with us we used the hotel elevator to travel to the 4th floor which was a private entrance to the Spa for hotel guests.  The spa itself had several sections, and we started with the rooftop pool, which proved to be rather spectacular.  As our hotel was on a hilltop the pool afforded a view across Zurich, and the pool design maximized the impact by having no clear edge, so it appeared that you were simply looking across water and into Zurich city.  After enjoying the pool for a while we headed down into the basement and found another large pool, housed in an interconnected set of huge beer fermentation barrels and the thermal bath section.

This proved to be a very interesting and enjoyable sequence of rooms through which you proceded in a specific order.  You started with a warm steam room, to relax the muscles and begin to open your pores.  Second was an invigorating orange scrub treatment, to scour and cleanse your skin.  From there you moved to a second hotter steam room, which stepped up the intensity.  Next was the hot bath – hot even by my standards at about 42 degrees, followed by relaxing on a  stone plinth, before a leisurely swim in a moderately warm pool.  The next step was a shock – as it was into a cold bath!  Finally there was a further lying area with low light scattered with cushions covering a warmed stone base, which proved very restful.  The whole sequence took about 1.5 to 2 hours, by which time we both found ourselves both very clean and very relaxed.  We had a small but tasty dinner at the bistro, before repeating our favourite elements.  The rooftop pool was spectacular in a different way the second time around as it was now dark, and so the view transformed to a twinkling city underneath a dark sky.  The spa closed at 10, at which time we took advantage again of the private link to the hotel to descend a floor and flop into bed.

We woke reasonably early the next day, and decided we’d start the day with a quick visit to the spa instead of simply showering in our room.  This proved to be an interesting choice, as two other couples had the same idea and there were just the six of us in the rooftop pool early that morning.  Suddenly one of the ladies screamed in delight, and we shortly learnt that her boyfriend had just proposed to her!  She was very keen to show off her ring, and he looked a combination of both relieved that it had all gone well (positive answer and didn’t lose the ring in the pool!) and embarassed at the sudden attention they were both getting.

Day two was to be a visit to the zoo, and we were able to catch a tram there from a stop only about 10m minutes walk from the hotel.  The trams were as excellent as we’d expected, and we were particularly impressed by the monitors in them, which not only displayed full information about the route, destination and next stop, but also showed connection information at the major interchanges, together with the live timings of the services available from there.  As the bus climbed the hill to the zoo the weather worsened in that it became really rather foggy.  This made the entrance to the zoo itself somewhat atmospheric, and meant that we started of focusing on more of the inside options and headed to the bigger outdoor enclosures later.

Zurich Zoo had been very well regarded by the gorilla keeper at the Durrell wildlife sanctuary on Jersey, and we were impressed by what we saw.  For a city zoo it’s got a lot of space, and is clearly on a journey from smaller enclosures to much bigger areas for key animals.  For example the new Elephant house looks astounding and totally huge; due for completion next year.  Further expansion is planned too, and we both felt we’d enjoy coming back in some years to see how the plans have panned out.  In the meantime we enjoyed our day and were particularly taken with some of the animals;  for me the spectacled bears, the red pandas, the lemurs and the baboons (in their new large rockery) were standouts.  The most impressive section however was the last one we saw – the Madagascar Masoala rainforest.  This huge biome reminded me of a dome from the Garden of Eden in Cornwall, and is apparently 90m long, 120m wide and 30m tall!  It certainly feels vast when you are in it and we really enjoyed our slow trek round the wending path.  It has an aerial walkway right up in the roof space from which you can gaze out over the vast tropical forest and it’s huge trees.  As time went by we became more adapt at spotting the abundant wildlife that lives here – which included a small lemur, actively leaping around the various parts of the biome,  as well as a huge variety of birds, bats and butterflies.

Dinner that night was a Mexican meal at Desperados, where we chose all-you-can-eat fajitas.  It was an tasty selection of chicken, beef and particularly good prawns (which we reordered twice).  However it was rather expensive and overall not as good value as our excellent local Mexican in Bristol.

On our return journey to our hotel we encountered our first ticket inspector – undercover no less – of our trip so far (contrary to what a friend once told me, European transport isn’t actually free..).  He was a rather good looking young man travelling with a lady, in normal clothes and with a rucksack.  He produced an official ID and asked politely to see our ticket.  I was temporarily tempted to extend the encounter by pretending I had mislaid mine, but opted to produce it which triggered a friendly smile before he moved on to the next passenger.

The next morning was a relatively early start heading back to Zurich main station, but not before stopping by both Sprüngli and Läderach where we topped up with what could be considered to be an excessive quantity of fabulous Swiss chocolate, and of course Luxemburgli.  From Zurich we again caught the train, and headed out of Switzerland and towards… Liechtenstein!

Weggis / Lucerne (Sept 26)

This is city, err, 23b. It was an extra bonus stop in between city 23 (Geneva) and city 24 (Zurich). And boy, what a bonus!

We started from our trip with a train from Geneva to Montreux. Though, of course, we stopped in Geneva train station to stock up first – coffee, croissant and a pain-au-chocolat, plus a few more chocolates from Läderach (our Swiss chocolate bill kept climbing!). We’d also visited Migros for some lunch provisions, so we were fully prepared for what Greg had warned was a long train journey. The trip to Montreux was fairly short, and perfectly pleasant. It was at Montreux that the real fun began, when we boarded the famous Golden Pass panoramic train. This journey was to take us finally to Lucerne, though it was a deliberately convoluted route. The first leg was from Montreux to Zweisimmen, the second took us to Interlaken, and finally onto Lucerne. Greg confessed at being somewhat nervous when he booked the journey as each of the three legs has a set start time, and the connections are very quick (such as 5 minutes!). However in practice all the logistics went perfectly smoothly. Each time we arrived, precisely on time, at our destination station we found that the next train was sat waiting for us on the next platform, and we never felt rushed or at risk of missing a connection.

At Montreux we boarded the special panoramic train carriage, which had larger than normal windows, and extra windows in the side bits of the roof, meaning that much of the side of the train was glass affording an excellent view of the passing scenery. Greg had planned this as a real treat, and had reserved seats for us in the 1st class carriage. This had less seats in it, which were further apart from each other, so very little of the view was blocked by fellow passengers. In addition our carriage had empty seats at the end just next to us, so I was able to get up and take advantage of the extra space to grab photos. All this intro is intended to set the scene for an amazingly beautiful train journey, absolutely up there with the best I’ve ever experienced (such as in Alaska).

The train company describes the beginning thus, and with no exaggeration:
“Starting with the Mediterranean ambiance of Montreux, the train climbs above the lake and passes through a tunnel. Coming out at the other end, you find yourself among alpine forests, bubbling mountain springs and picturesque mountain villages. The train continues to Zweisimmen, transporting you through fairytale landscapes.”

Fairytale is right – the landscapes look picture perfect; as if customised for the front of a postcard or coffee-table book. The alpine vistas were truly beautiful, and we had our breath taken away by vista after vista for pretty much the whole journey. We also noticed our seat neighbours (who turned out to be from China, just outside Hong Kong) were similarly impressed. In fact at one point Greg remarked that it seemed to be a photo competition between myself and the lady (taking photos from a moving train is tricky, not least due to reflections from the window glass, but I had to try!). The views were magnificent throughout, and reasonably varied. We saw lakes, waterfalls, mountains, meadows, rivers, valleys, and many alpine villages which looked like they’d been drawn idyllically by Disney. We were also amazed by the location of some of the houses, perched precariously throughout the landscape on steep slopes, often without a visible road or track to them. I wrote no blog on this train, as I was thoroughly mesmerised by the view out of the window.

The weather was somewhat mixed – some blue skies, but also a blend of sun and cloud. In many ways this conspired to make the landscape appear more mysterious and added to the atmosphere of the trip. It did start raining just before hitting Lucerne, so we scurried quickly out of the train station and across the road to the pier where we were to catch the boat on Lake Lucerne! The rain, though intense, passed quickly. So I was soon able to prowl the deck and take pictures as we travelled to our destination, Weggis. The lake was surrounded by fantastic views, with numerous mountains rising up swiftly from the shores to dominate the skyline. Getting a decent photo was much easier on the boat than the train, though clouds ensured my shots were likely to turn out moody rather than alpine blue. Weggis itself was a small town caressing the lake shore, and our hotel was right opposite the boat docking station. Called PoHo, or more fully the Post Hotel, it was a modern style and just to the right of check-in was their internet lounge with iMacs. Our room was very pleasant, with a view of the lake and the mountains on the far shore. The hotel also had a small spa, which we made use of quickly. It was very well designed, with a small sauna, steam room, ice bucket, two foot-baths and a relaxation room. We were the only guests there, so it felt like our own private facility for the hour or so we were there. There was also a fine looking pool and a well equipped gym, though we didn’t use them. After the spa we changed into smarter clothes, and went in search of food. Weggis was as expensive as the rest of Switzerland so there was nothing available that we’d class as good value by British standards. However we found a nice enough restaurant, which was next to the hotel and served traditional Swiss fare. We had grilled veal and veal cordon-blu respectively, with an interesting and tasty selection of vegetable side dishes.

The next morning was an early start – we apparently had a busy day planned. We checked out, and left the luggage with the hotel to look after for us. We started our journey with a boat, which we caught for one stop to Vitznau. At Vitznau we had a 5 minute connection, but as ever Swiss efficiency was on show and the train was sat at the platform waiting for us, a hundred metres or so from the boat dock. This was a rather special train, and the nice ticket man at Weggis boat station (who had very helpfully and efficiently sold us all the tickets we’d need for the day) had advised us to sit on the left hand side for the best views. We did this, and soon the train pulled away – or should I say up, as the incline was very steep. This was a cog train, which was to take us up Rigi – termed the Queen of Mountains by the Swiss. The views as we ascended were breathtaking – even after having become accustomed to the local scenic beauty during our train journey of the day before. The track was extremely steep, and the stops were tiny – some seemed to serve a few houses at most. Our early train (2nd of the day) was obviously the post train, and at each stop the lady driving would lean out of the cabin and out some post into the postbox by the tracks! We passed by a small village with a few shops and hotels on our way up called Rigi Kaltbad, which Greg said we’d be returning to. We stayed on the train to the last stop, Rigi Kulm, just below the summit, where we alighted. Greg explained that the plan was to explore the summit and then take a slow amble down the path back down to Rigi Kaltbad. This proved to be a real highlight of the trip for me, and a magical excursion.

The summit itself commanded outstanding views of the local landscapes, including the lake now far below us, some stunning alpine valleys scattered with lonely huts, and an array of snow-topped mountains in the distance. We drank in the view for a while, and obviously I took a load of photos. We then began our slow descent, which was signposted to take an hour but which we took at a very modest pace and spread over about two. There weren’t many other walkers, and at one point we sat on a bench in front of a particularly beautiful vista and enjoyed the changing light as we ate some crisps and listened to the sound of the bells on the nearby cows. I currently count that as my favourite meal of the trip so far! We took what was labeled as the ‘flower path’ down, though at this time of year there weren’t many flowers on display. The weather was fairly changeable – we had generally good visibility though clouds came and went. It also showered briefly a couple of times, but never a enough for me to get my proper waterproof out. And in recompense around every corner a beautiful new view opened up for us to enjoy. The two hours went by too quickly, and we soon found ourselves at Rigi Kaltbad. From here we caught a cable car down to Weggis, where we had started. The cable car ran every half hour, and took only 10 minutes to return to the floor of the valley – a short, but very steep, journey.

After returning to earth we retrieved our luggage from the hotel, where we had stowed it a few hours earlier (but which seemed like a world away). We then grabbed lunch at a local restaurant, and enjoyed some really nice pasta. It was now time for a final boat trip, from Weggis all the way to Flüelen, at the end of Lake Lucerne. The trip proved to be a suitable end to our city extension, as we enjoyed very fine views all the way during the journey, which lasted about 3 hours though it felt like less. Several of the stops along the way were interesting, and we couldn’t quite understand how some had become established as ferry stops as they seemed tiny outposts with just one hotel/restaurant. The final approach into Flüelen was fascinating as we were able to admire the road which runs around the lake at that point, and which is literally cut into the rock in parts – must be an interesting drive!

From Flüelen it was a train to Zug, and then onto our next stop… Zurich!

Geneva (Sept 23-26)

We traveled via TGV to Paris, swapped stations via the metro (not fun with luggage!) and arrived at Gare de Lyon. Greg had a particular lunch spot in mind, and we soon ended up at Le Blue Train, a spectacular looking restaurant which is situated in the original station railway building and sumptuously decorated in a high Baroque style which has earned it a place as a listed building of historical interest. It even has the original and rather fabulous Victorian loos, all marble and wooden panelling. Our main courses were both excellent – I had a piece of Salmon and Greg had noisette of veal. For desert I enjoyed a selection of French cheeses, and Greg had the house signature dessert of Rhum Baba, extremely generously doused with dark rum at the table (with the bottle of rum left on the table so that more could be poured on if desired). However the star for the meal was definitely the venue, which was extremely impressive albeit somewhat over the top.

Our Geneva hotel, the Hotel Kipling, was a nice hotel with character. It was themed for Rudyard Kipling, and decorated with artwork, furniture and colours from India. It was elegantly and reasonably subtly done and we rather liked it. The hotel also turned out to be remarkably quiet despite it’s central location; always a definite plus. On check-in they gave us a 3 day transport card, valid within the city on all buses, trams and trains; fantastic! (and Geneva transport had an effective app too 🙂 ). We dumped our stuff in the room and headed down to the pier for dinner. There was a small place there which is part of an open air wellness facility (sauna, hamman and swimming in in the lake, all very European). In the winter months, starting from September, they specialise in cheese fondues, and we ordered a cheese and charcuterie board plus bread and fondue, and ate these as the sun went down creating wonderful evening and sunset light on Lake Geneva. Very picturesque and a nice end to the day.

We got up early the next morning and searched out a local cafe Greg had seen recommended for coffee and pastries for breakfast. These were indeed very good, and with these consumed we took the train to the airport. I rather wondered where we were going, which turned out to be the nearby exhibition center (think NEC), where a special exhibition was touring – a recreation of the excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamen. This was very well executed, starting with plenty of information about the background and history of the dig, to put it in context. The treasures themselves were very faithfully replicated, together with lots of information to help explain their meaning (as much as is currently understood). We spend a good two hours here, and were very impressed with the level of information and attention to detail. And the pieces themselves were very impressive; all the more given the lack of technology the Egyptians had available to them.

In the afternoon we visited the Patak Phillipe watch museum, which was small but contained an impressive number of timepieces ranging from pocket watches, to mantlepiece clocks, to wrist watches, plus more exotic creations such as clocks in fans or tiny jewellery and some mechanically animated pieces. There were a great number of exquisite pieces on display, though Greg and I would have enjoyed a little more information on how the clockwork actually worked. As a final stop we visited the Cathedral, and I climbed the tower, which repaid the effort (lots of steps!) with fantastic views across the city. The cathedral decor is stark in keeping with it being the birthplace of the Reformation and most specifically the Calvanism movement. John Calvin’s chair is preserved and on display and interestingly there is no main altar or indeed alter pieces. There are hints in high corners of the colour scheme there originally was, but these have all but been obliterated. The adjoining chapel gives an idea of the richness of the colour scheme and decor the cathedral originally had. The chapel had been converted into a Calvanist school with the very tall room split into several floors. More recently using the original drawings and art for the period it has been completely restored to its original state (it had been built as a mausoleum for a rich patron). The cathedral has a fascinating history and stands on a site which once housed three cathedrals (each with a different speciality). In one of the small side chapels a short film shows the history of the building, but also explains some of the history of Geneva (and why it seems an odd little addition at the edge of Switzerland – originally a small border town, it became independent in the 14th Century, following which it was conquered and reconquered a number of times, before voluntarily joining the Swiss Confederation in 1815 when the Confedration was granted independence and the borders of modern Switzerland were set). Dinner was at Chez Ma Cousine a very local restaurant specialising in chicken (and not offering much else!). So we had roast chicken and chips, and I had a local beer, which was altogether very tasty.

Our second day in Geneva was to be big institution day, starting with a trip to CERN (short for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire – its original name. Officially it is now “Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire” but the original acronym has stuck). My company does work with CERN, and obviously it’s quite well known to the public generally through major science infrastructure such as the Large Hadron Collider – LHC – as well as being a major location for a Dan Brown thriller! As my Mum later remarked, the perfect visit would have involved Professor Brian Cox as a tour guide, however short of that Greg had booked us onto a short guided tour which turned out to be given by one of the PhD students. As we waited we explored the small museum dedicated to CERN and it’s history, which was very interesting. I hadn’t appreciated how far back CERN was founded – not long after the Second World War in 1954. And it’s had a huge impact on science, and Physics in particular, with many notable discoveries over time; most recently notably the Higgs Boson (sometimes referred to as the God particle). It also happens to be the birthplace of the World Wide Web, which Tim Berners-Lee created as a hypertext system for scientists to share information and collaborate (his vision had more interactive wiki-type elements than the general web we know of today). Today CERN unites almost 10,000 scientists from more than 110 countries, with 20 Member States as well as a few nation observers. I was also tickled to notice copies of Cern Courier in reception, which is the in-house magazine for CERN published by my company. Our tour was somewhat limited but very interesting. It gave us a flavour what of type of work CERN did, and our visit included seeing the ATLAS detector, one of four detectors looking for particles created by LHC collisions. The LHC itself was housed deep below us, approx 50-150m below ground level, and taking up the 27km of tunnel which was built in 1980 for the Large Electron-Positron collider (LEP). The ATLAS control room was a little like a scaled down version of NASA mission control, though with only one operator as LHC is currently in an 18 month downtime window for maintenance. When running it generates so much data that each year it would fill a stack of CDs 20km tall. Our visit ended there (Greg had tried to arrange for more access through a work colleague, but unfortunately that hadn’t proven possible), and so it was time to head for our second big institution – the United Nations!

Getting into the United Nations was slightly more work, as you need to go through an airport style security checkpoint and present a passport to be granted entry. After this we headed for the reception building for the next English guided tour. The Geneva UN building is now the administrative center for the organisation, and was the original headquarters when it was formed after the League of Nations (founded in 1920 at the Paris Peace Congress and based in Geneva) disbanded (due to failing in its main prupose which was to prevent a second World War). Almost all of the Leagues assets including the beautiful Assembly building and its large grounds were passed on to the UN who also inherited its sub groups and comittees (which have now expanded and there are many more than you would imagine). Our guide was a very cheery fellow, and first led us to one of the iconic debating chambers. It was a weird feeling sat in one of the chairs, looking up at the platform with the UN symbol on it (itself a masterpiece of diplomacy – to avoid an country having undue prominence and bing in the centre of the map, the map that is the UN symbol is shown with the North Pole in the centre, thus having no nation in the centre as there is no landmass there).

Our guide explained the intricate arrangements with regards to seating (generally in alphabetical order, but alternating between alphabetical order in English and in French on different days! Major meeting also alternate with reverse alphabetical order to avoid countries like Zambia always being at the back). We also passed by a beautifully designed and decorated chamber – the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations room – which has a landscape on the ceiling by famous artist Miquel Barceló, within which the UN Council on Human Rights was in session discussing topics including Syria. As we wandered round I wondered whether the UN budget at $5billion was more than CERN ; a comparison via wikipedia wasn’t trivial, but it does appear that if you include the cost of all the science within CERN it’s annual budget is higher. The UN Palace is located in Ariana Park, which was bequeathed to the City of Geneva in 1890 by Gustave de Revilliod de la Rive, on three conditions: that the park always remain accessible to the public, that he be buried in the park, and that peacocks roam freely on its grounds, which they do to this day. For security reasons it is however unfortunately closed to the public. It looks over Lake Geneva, and towards the Alps and Mount Blanc and struck me as very peaceful. Probably a very useful aid to thinking and contemplation for some of those involved in tense International negotiations. Our visit included seeing a couple of grand halls, within one of which an art exhibition was displayed and apparently events are sometimes held. It was also a very international hall with different colours of marble; some from Italy, some from Germany, some from Finland. In fact that particular room – the Salle des Pas Perdus – had something within it contributed from every founder member state!

After the UN we decided to take a look at a few of the shops, and I considered buying a new watch if I saw one that I liked. However I have to say that I am not sure I’ve ever felt quite so poor when shopping! I thought the budget I had in mind was reasonably generous, but there were few watches that cheap, and many that were several orders of magnitude more expensive! (one that I briefly admired I commented to Greg was 4,000 francs – he corrected me as I’d missed a 0 and it was in fact 40,000 francs…). So we found something more within our price range – some Movenpick ice-cream and enjoyed that as we gazed at the shops selling Rolex, Cartier, Patek Philippe and similar. We also found a nice looking chocolate shop – Läderach – and purchased a small selection of chocolates. Dinner that night was at a small Japanese restaurant called Wasabi, that served a small but interesting selection of dishes. We shared some pork gyoza and then each had a bento box – Greg with mixed tempura and I had chicken teriyaki. Finally we returned to our hotel and sampled the chocolates we’d bought earlier, which turned out to be sublime.

The next day we left Geneva, and headed onwards..

Luxembourg (Sept 20-23)

And so, our next adventure commenced!

We traveled from Bristol straight after work and caught the train to London. It was a perfectly pleasant journey and we were shortly at Paddington, where we changed for Euston. It wasn’t far from there to the Premier Inn where we were staying the night, nor to the Ed’s Diner where we enjoyed nice burger for dinner.

The next day we commenced with breakfast at the hotel, which was better than we expected. Good coffee, fruit juices, a hot buffet, and eggs cooked to order. We both ordered omelettes, and were reasonably impressed; especially given the modest cost. After breakfast we headed to St Pancras, where we were to board Eurostar to… Brussels. Only my final destination couldn’t be Brussels, as we’d already done that. So sometime later I discovered that our first destination was in fact to be Luxembourg. Somewhere I knew very little of other than perhaps through Eurovision, or perhaps a banking scandal.

The journey itself was nice – Eurostar wasn’t very busy, and it seemed pretty quick that we arrived in Brussels Midi. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a local sandwich store, stocked up on Euros, and boarded the next train to Luxembourg. For this section of the journey Greg had managed to snag cheap 1st class tickets, so we enjoyed a nice ride at a table in a specious cabin which never got too full. It also had huge windows, so we could enjoy the scenery as it blurred past.

We arrived late afternoon at Luxembourg, and caught a bus (the bus ticket was €4 for a day-rider; almost as expensive as First Bus Bristol I thought!) to the Melia hotel which was located about 15mins ride away in a small park along with the Philharmonic Orchestra building and the modern art museum (MUDAM). It was an impressive hotel to look at – it reminded me of the new Titanic building at Belfast and Greg of a Borg cube! When we checked in there weren’t many rooms ready – so we ended up being upgraded and given a corner room on 5th floor. It was rather splendid with several windows on two sides affording panoramic views over the city. 🙂

We dumped our stuff and headed straight out. Greg had a plan to visit a town on the southern edge of Luxembourg called Mondorf-Les-Bains. It was then that I discovered that our bus ticket wasn’t just for Luxembourg city – it was valid for all of Luxembourg. (First Bus can relax, their pricing clearly reigns supreme still; Luxembourg isn’t even a contender..). I need to add a geek-aside here – I had found a Luxembourg transport app on the App Store and decided to give it whirl. Not only did it show everything to me on English it was perfectly formed; streets ahead of the equivalent in Bristol. This app confirmed the next bus to our destination, the journey time, and even an icon which turned orange to warn that we should start walking towards the bus stop now if we wanted to catch it (with map supplied on hand in case). As a visitor it was great, and we didn’t worry about bus times any further that trip. Mondorf-Les-Bains was a pretty little town on the south border, only a few miles from France. Greg had picked it because of the well regarded spa, and so we were soon relaxing in one of many sauna’s, cleaning up and unwinding after our journey. As is typical we spent several hours there, and managed to fit in a couple of ‘aufgaus’s’, which this time around involved iced tea and then japanese bowls and incense. We headed back at about 10, much more relaxed, and headed content to bed.

The next morning we arrived at breakfast to find it less well organised than we had expected. It had a good amount on offer, but the staff were not particularly in evidence, many tables weren’t set or in some cases cleared, the fresh eggs (for boiling) clearly weren’t, and the bacon had run out. We enjoyed what we had, but Greg had a word with reception on the way out. Our first stop of the day was to Fort Thungen, which was a museum covering the history of the fortified city. It was housed within the old fort building itself, still making use of the famous Three Spanish Towers. I there learnt that it wasn’t so much that Luxembourg city had a fort, rather that Luxembourg city *was* a fort (and Fort Thungen was one small outpost forming part of the huge whole). For many centuries the city was literally fortified, making it the largest medieval fortress in Europe. It was situated in a rather fluid part of Europe, between the lands that would become France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. And at various times it was part of/allied/invaded by each of these, sometimes more than once. And it seemed that each time a major power successfully took it, they modernised the fortification and built it up further. This continued iteratively for a while, until the Treaty of London in 1839 which defined much of the present borders for the local powers. Within this Luxembourg ceded much of the southern section of the country to France, and agreed to dismantle it’s fortifications in order to be considered neutral in future conflicts. This turned out to be a watershed for the city, as in dismantling its huge military establishment somewhat of a renaissance was trigged, as what had become something of a strait-jacket for the city was removed allowing significant growth in terms of people and commerce.

We spent about an hour in the museum, before heading towards the old town proper. To get there we opted to walk, and took a very scenic path down from Fort Thungen. This wended it’s way down the side of the valley, zig-zagging down to the river and affording several photographic opportunities along the way. From the river we walked back up the other side of the valley, past the smart looking Youth Hostel and towards the Bock casemates which was to be our next stop. The casements were caves and tunnels built into the main headland where windows were opened up on either side, providing a commanding view of the valley to both sides, and allowing soldiers with cannons placed there a significant degree of control from this natural vantage point. Nowadays a few of the tunnels remain, explored by tourists, and it was interesting to realise that from within the headland we could descend all the way to the valley floor (which we did, before having to return the same way!). The casements only started to lose their military advantage when artillery improved, and for over a century were constantly manned with troops.

After the casements it was time for lunch, and so we wandered into the old town. We found a square just outside the cathedral, where a band was playing and food was being served. It turned out to be a German run roadshow for Alzheimers awareness, and so we sat in the sun enjoying the atmosphere whilst I ate a hamburger and local beer and Greg had bratwurst and a glass of local bubby (certainly different from typical British street food!), and we shared some excellent frites.

For the afternoon we decided to take a walk in the picturesque Petrusse valley. We purchased a large bottle of water (it was pretty hot by now) and took a path down from the old town towards the base of the valley. For me the valley was the defining characteristic of Luxembourg – it’s geography completely dictated the layout of the city and had been a huge influence on it’s history. Walking though it was delightful. The weather was warm, dry and sunny and we took a meandering route which exposed us to a good amount of the views available. The base of the valley was parkland, with a river running through it. It was remarkably quiet in terms of people, even though for a fair amount of the visit our route followed a marked scenic trail. We walked along the valley floor until our route took us along the an old city wall, wending up the side of the valley. We rose to the top following a path that others must have trod decades, or even centuries before us, and enjoyed more scenic views of the valley beneath us, by now bathed in golden early evening light. Quite beautiful and surprisingly peaceful, and really nice to find in the middle of a modern city.

We ended up at a local traditional restaurant for dinner. We arrived at 5:15, and they didn’t open till 6pm, so we found a bench in the setting sun to relax on; still warm enough to be comfortable in t-shirts. We returned at 6pm sharp and were seated, and considered ourselves lucky to get a table, as we heard them shortly afterwards telling a telephone caller that they only had one table for two left that evening, and were otherwise full. We ordered house speciality roast pig leg, after admiring a whole set of them spit-roasting on a rack. What we hadn’t realised is that they pretty much served the whole leg – it was a large meal, but very well cooked; crispy on the outside and succulent and juicy on the inside – wonderful! I had the seasonal dessert – strawberries and Chantilly cream, which turned out to be some of the best strawberries (and the largest serving) I’d had in a very long time. Greg enjoyed a tasty Tarte Tartin. We walked home from here, which was less than half an hour, and had the luck to just catch the end of a beautiful sunset. One of those where the whole sky seems to light up, and there are just enough clouds to bounce different colours of light off. We sat and enjoyed that from the edge of the old fort, before completing our walk back to the hotel.

At the hotel we found that a set of treats had been setup in our room – a half bottle of wine, some snacks and petit-fours, along with a note from the hotel apologising about breakfast! This note continued at breakfast the next morning, starting when after giving our room number the duty manager greeted us by name, asked about yesterday and apologised again. It was a completely different experience, where coffee and tea were brought for us, plates were cleared, the food was replenished; it was very much as we’d expected it to be the first time.

Our first stop the next day was to the Natural History Museum. It was relatively small by many standards, but very well presented. We rather liked it, as rather than having rows on rows of items to only be able to pay cursory attention to we were able to take our time and focus on the smaller number of exhibits. The afternoon was the museum of the history of the city (which was pretty much effectively the history of the country as well) – Musee d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg. Some of this I included above when talking about the fort, and certainly the museum did a good job of covering this over three floors, including several large models of the city itself over time, which vividly illustrated how it changed and expanded; particularly the spectacular change from fortress to unfortified metropolis. The special exhibition was also interesting; called ‘Shop Shop Shop’ it focussed on the history of shopping and household consumerism in Luxembourg over time. This wasn’t a view we’d come across before, and it was an interesting alternative way to tell the story of the city. We returned to our hotel reasonably early that day, and visited the small sauna and steam-room to relax and wash away our exertions of the day. Before bed we enjoyed an episode of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (the original series with Alec Guinness, which I’d been inspired to buy after seeing the more recent movie), a few episodes of which I’d encoded onto my iPad prior to travelling.

Our last breakfast was the best of the visit – they’d added a fresh egg station where the Chef cooked Greg a splendid cheese omelette; very moist and with an interesting selection of flavourful cheeses. After that it was a bus trip back to the train station, and onwards to our next destination.

Jersey (Aug 24-26)

From Guernsey it was a short hop to Jersey. We had a relaxing wait as we were able to use the rather plush Blue Islands (our airline) lounge, which had nice leather seats, free drinks and snacks, and decent wifi. We were concerned that it might be a very full flight, as the flight before ours had been cancelled and the passengers transferred to ours. However the helpful member of staff clarified that this meant our flight now had a grand total of 15 people; so low that when we boarded the plane they asked us to sit in the back few rows so as to balance the weight out!

Jersey was clearly a bigger prospect than Guernsey; that was apparent from the airport. So Greg had decided to hire a car – an unusual event for our city visits, but we had a packed schedule and this would make the travel logistics much easier. From Avis we drove into the capital, St Helier, and parked in a central car park. Parking in St Helier is apparently scarce, and the system – involving some weird local scratch-cards – notoriously complicated for visitors. Thankfully we’d arrived late enough on the Saturday to hit the free period, Sunday was free, and so was Bank Holiday Monday; result!

We were staying in the very opulent Royal Yacht Hotel, on the top floor (we got a flavour of this later in our trip when a local used the Royal Yacht as an analogy for something very posh!). It was an impressive hotel with a very high standard of finish, and the room was very pleasant indeed. There were comfortable shared rooms available such as the lounge and free office facilities including computer and printer. The hotel also had a spa, but unfortunately it didn’t open particular early or stay open particularly late, and so we weren’t confident that we’d get to use it.

It was now getting past my normal dinner time, and I was definitely getting into grumpy territory. So Greg quickly took us to a local restaurant he’d heard about called CocoRico, which was a mixture of restaurant and deli, with a small number of covers after the shop section. It had been a very popular lunch spot for years apparently, and more recently started opening in the evening too. It was French style, so we ordered the charcuterie and cheese sharing platter, together with a galette (filled with bacon, Roblochon cheese and caramelised onions), and a glass of house red. The platter was sublime – really tasty selection of cheeses, and of the meats the duck terrine was truly outstanding. When the galette arrived we didn’t have much room left, but made an effort and finished most of it – made harder by how unexpectedly large it was, and easier by how tasty it was! I skipped dessert, but Greg was persuaded by the owner to try a crepe with Nutella and homemade caramel topped with salted caramel ice cream. The chatty owner treated us to a ‘french expresso’ before we left – which turned out to be a shot of liqueur. So we left replete, and headed back to the hotel to bed.

In the morning we both woke up a little early, so rather spontaneously we decided to nip down to the spa and enjoy a brief visit to start our day. We didn’t have much time, but we managed a short swim and a few minutes in the steam room and sauna (though the sauna was not quite up to temperature).

We had been pleased to discover at check on that our rate included breakfast, which Greg had not expected. It turned out to be a well executed buffet, with excellent pastries (clearly a local theme!) and a chef station for fresh omelettes, scrambled eggs etc. On our morning the egg chef was clearly feeling stressed and getting a bit tetchy – so much so that I overheard one customer advising their fellow diner in the queue that it was much safer to have decided what to ask for before reaching the chef (including specifying the number of eggs if ordering an omlette)!

Our first stop that morning was to Orgueil Castle at Gorey. This was over on the other side of the island on the east coast; or about 25 mins drive! We arrived fairly promptly, noting along the way that Jersey was more built up than I’d imagined (probably as I’ve fallen for the ads and imagine it as sparsely populated with happy cows!). We parked up near the castle, and went to explore. The Castle had an interesting history, and a correspondingly interesting architecture, which had evolved over many years and owners. The castle itself was never taken, but it was down graded when a new residence, Elisabeth Castle, was built by Walter Raleigh at the new capital of St Helier. Scattered throughout the castle were various art exhibitions, and when we bought our ticket the lady encouraged us to seek out all 5 that are often missed – the dance of death, mysterious creatures, the wounded man, the witches, and the wheel of urine! All in all it was an interesting visit, albeit hard to navigate around.

After the castle we needed to grab some lunch, so we wandered down to the village and found a restaurant that offered a take away service. So we ordered two sets of crab sandwiches with chips, and enjoyed these as we walked back to the car. We had a date with the far south-westerly tip of the island which was time critical, so we made haste back across the island and soon found ourselves parking on a somewhat desolate headland, with La Corbiere lighthouse standing stark against the gray sky joined to the mainland by a dramatic causeway. This was to be our destination, and the timing was dictated by the tides; most of the time the causeway is underwater, and the tour we were on only runs a few times every year because of that. We met at the old lighthouse keepers cottage (technically we went across the causeway first, waited there at the lighthouse, and then rushed back, but heh!). There were about 10 of us on the tour, which was given by a nice lady who clearly knew and enjoyed her subject. Over the next hour and a half we then slowly progressed across the causeway, into the outbuildings and then into the lighthouse itself. There was a fascinating history to the place; sometimes tragic. On 28 May 1946 a lighthouse keeper had drowned tying to save a tourist who became stranded on the causeway. And on 17 April 1995 emergency services and a host of local boats worked together to save passengers of the French catamaran “Saint-Malo” after it hit a rock when navigating round the headland carelessly whilst en route to Sark.

In the outbuildings was the old diesel generator, used for when power was lost, and despite being replaced with a smaller more efficient model still looking very impressive. We also saw the room where the foghorn was, complete the with instrument used to create the unique sound. Within the lighthouse it was immaculate; with brass so clean we all had to wear gloves so as not to smudge it! We also met the current lighthouse keeper, in a way, though there wasn’t much in the way of conversation – just a bit of a hum, flashing lights, and a rather tidy set of network leads. People are apparently so last century. The guide proudly showed off the light bulbs that still power the beam – just like old traditional bulbs but almost as big as your head. With new EU regulations they have to import than from the US, and we were told the amusing story of how on the occasion of the first import the box arrived containing bulbs with a pearl matt finish, which the US company had felt would provide a superior soft glow. After repeating the requirements again – “we are a LIGHTHOUSE!” – replacement clear bulbs were soon sent. The visit took an interesting towards the end, as the weather worsened and a mist moved in. The guide looked slightly nervous, and soon enough a trigger was tripped and stuff started to happen. We were at the very top at that point, so the guide suggested it was better to come down from the platform, and advised us to not look at the prism as the light warmed up!

Unfortunately we had to leave just before the end (we’d hit the scheduled end time but the guide was still going strong!). We left across the windswept causeway to the sound of a blaring foghorn. Greg had tickets to a show and we didn’t want to be late. The show was held on the pier, and was a long running and well regarded local drag act. The food was rather bland; the show was anything but, and consisted of two drag queens miming to various well known Hollywood numbers and 70s/80s pop songs. I’ll never be able to hear Kinky Boots or Wuthering Heights quite the same way again!

We had an early start on the Monday; no spa for us. It was also before breakfast started. Fortunately we’d had a word with the hotel the night before, and they’d prepared a take-away breakfast for us with pastries and drinks etc. The receptionist even remembered our hot drinks, and appeared with hot chocolate and freshly brewed coffee at the agreed time – perfect! Greg drove north this time, and soon we were parking at the Gerald Durrell Wildlife Park. This was effectively a zoo, and the centre of the Gerald Durrell (he of My Family and Other Animals fame) conservation effort. It was 8am and I was somewhat confused as the place didn’t open till 10am. We strode towards the entrance, and noticed a member of staff waiting. Greg did introductions, and it turned out that Will was our personal tour guide for the day.

So without further ado we entered the park and commenced our tour prior to official opening – all the better to see the animals without other guests getting in the way Will explained with a grin. As you may remember from previous blog posts, Greg and I enjoy a good zoo and this park was certainly that. It did something we heartily approved of – it specialised, and tried to do a reasonable number of things really well, rather than trying to be too broad and doing a less good job. The focus here aligned with that of the conservation fund – Madagascar, primates and within that endangered species. It was a wonderful tour – Will had grown up on Jersey, visited the park as a kid, and worked there for a while now. He was very knowledgable about the animals and a very accommodating guide as he chatted to us, discovered our preferences, and created a personalised tour just for us.

As he showed us round we found ourselves very impressed with their use of space, the imagination and effort that they put into the various animal habit, and how seriously they seemed to take their conservation goals. We were also interested to note that the wife of Gerald Durrell, Lee still lives on the park – you walk past her house – and is still involved in their work. Will proved to be a great guide, and his enthusiasm for the place really impressed us.

After visiting Asian otters (who all rushed to meet us before muttering to each other as they left again realising we did not have their breakfast with us), and a selection of apes, we had two of the high spots which were special visits to the lemurs and the gorillas. Apparently twice a week they allow visits to the lermurs, and Greg had arranged that for us. This meant that we got taken into the lemur enclosure by their keeper, and spent about half an hour in there, admiring the lemurs from very close hand, and chatting with their keeper. We’ve always had a soft spot for lemurs, and it was magical being so up close with them. From time to time they came to say hello, but mostly they sat around a couple of feet away seemingly oblivious to us. I was able to get some decent photos, which you can find here. The gorillas were also very interesting to visit, though unsurprisingly our visit didn’t entail entering the enclosure. Instead we chatted to their keeper for a good period, whilst he talked us through the different gorillas, their personalities and the clear hierarchy. Amongst the group was a powerful silverback male called Badongo, and a baby called Indigo (named for the sponsoring company – much to the disgust of the keepers). At one stage we were taken up onto the roof of the main habitat and the keeper threw down some food which meant that the gorillas came pretty close and allowed us to get a really good look.

Alas, our visit to the park had to end at about 2pm, as we had an afternoon flight back to Bristol. So we thanked Will very much for his excellent guide, and headed home after a busy and extremely fun long weekend, and our City adventure now over the half way mark!

Guernsey (Aug 22-24)

So, city number 20 was… St Peter Port on Guernsey (though as you’ll read we did bend the rules slightly this visit). We flew from Bristol on a remarkably small aircraft – rows just 4 seats wide (2 each side of the isle) and two propellers. It was an easy short flight from Bristol to Jersey, though we had a very quick connection to Guernsey which rather concerned us until the air hostess checked our tickets, and said it was the same plane and advised us to just stay on it when we landed. This was great fun, as for about 15 mins we had the whole plane to ourselves and watched with interest as our ‘private jet’ was prepared for it’s next journey! The moment ended when the new passengers were let on, and we had a second even shorter flight to Guernsey. We caught the bus to near our hotel (as expected, cheaper than Bristol First Bus for a longer journey) and checked into our hotel. We had a short time before dinner so we enjoyed a refreshing swim to wash away our journey. Dinner itself was a real treat – one which Greg had arranged in advance. We had the special seafood platter – a huge selection of a variety of prawns, langoustines, crayfish, crab and lobster. It all went well with the house sauvignon blanc, and followed with a nice cheesecake. 🙂 We got up quite early the next day, enjoyed a nice freshly booked breakfast (along with excellent croissants; a benefit of being so close to France we guessed!). We then caught an early bus to take us down to the port.

From there we caught a ferry to a local island – Herm. (technically we caught two ferries, as we each ended up on a different boat; beware Trident ferry company!). Herm is a beautiful island, and we were lucky enough to visit on a wonderfully sunny day (we made an emergency trip to find a Boots just before sailing in order to buy some suncream!). With blue skies and beaches which stretched into the distance it seemed pretty idyllic to us. We had about two hours there, which was long enough to take a walk round most of the north end of the island. As Herm is only about 1½ miles long and less than half a mile wide this wasn’t difficult, and we really enjoyed walking through some picturesque scenery including a fair amount of heather. It was a very pleasant wander, and we passed by several beaches which were either empty or almost empty. Although we passed a few people on our journey it was by no means busy, and so for several stretches it felt like we had the island to ourselves! As we headed to the eastern side of the island we approached the very popular Shell Beach, and walked along this before heading back inland. As we headed towards the port we briefly explored the 11th Century St Tugals Chapel, which was delightful albeit very small.

We left Herm by ferry, which arrived late and left very late due to the huge amount of luggage being transported. This wasn’t helped by the general inefficiency and ineptitude of the people unloading, who behaved like they hadn’t quite thought about how to organise the offloading. As a result our lunch was a basic sandwich, grabbed in haste from a local convenience store, as we had a hard deadline – the departure of our Ferry to another island – Sark.

Sark was a longer visit as we were going to stay the night there, and I was looking forward to seeing how it differed to Herm. Certainly it was clear at first sight that it was substantially larger – though still modest at 2 square miles. You go through an impressive arch on arrival, and climb up fairly steeply to reach the main village. I decided to get some fresh air and hiked up, taking a path which travelled through a selection of trees and ran separately to the main ‘road’ used for a tractor pulling the tourists. This is where one feature of island life becomes apparent – no cars! Instead you can walk, cycle or catch a horse and cart around the island. I met Greg at the top and we chose to cycle, headed to the bike hire shop, and we soon cycling towards our hotel. It was a great place for bikes; nice tree lined avenues and no traffic to worry about. It only took us about quarter of an hour to reach our destination, and we were soon pulling up outside a nice looking place with a wonderfully kept garden with chairs to relax and a small pond. The staff were very welcoming and quickly has us checked in to a nice room with a view of the sea. Our luggage arrived shortly afterwards (tractor service from the port!) and we left most of our gear in the room and left to explore the island.

We headed south towards Little Sark (the smaller of the two parts of the island), and couldn’t resist stopping at a local chocolate shop to pick up a small selection of home-made treats. Little Sark is separated from Big Sark by a narrow isthmus called La Coupée which is 300 feet (91 m) long and has a drop of 330 feet (100 m) on each side. (Apparently protective railings were erected in 1900 – by German prisoners of war; before then, children would crawl across on their hands and knees to avoid being blown over the edge!). On Little Sark we enjoyed afternoon tea in the tea garden of La Sablonnerie, and then headed to the coast to enjoy the view and watch the sun go down, where it seemed like we were the only people anywhere around allowing us to enjoy a quiet moment to ourselves. We had to leave before sunset (Sark gets properly dark at night!) and enjoyed the evening light as we cycled back towards our hotel, only stopping to visit the Pilcher monument and watch some people tying up their boat in a small harbour below. The final event of the day was dinner, which we’d booked at our hotel. The set menu was expensive, sounded nice, and to be honest we didn’t know quite what to expect. As a result we were rather blown away when it turned out to be one of the best meals we’d had in ages.

The early signs were good – an amuse bouche of fried gnocchi with Sark wildflowers. Then for starter we we shared the seared scallops with crispy pancetta and sweetcorn purée and the tian of crab and prawns with parmesan crisps. Both quite superb, with the edge going to the crab. Main course was aged local rib-eye steak beautifully rare, and hake which was deliciously delicate. Palette cleanser was a startlingly good black cherry sorbet and dessert was strawberry mille feuille with lime chantilly. Everything was beautifully executed, and all in all it was a very splendid meal indeed. We returned to our room pleasantly full and slept soundly.

The next morning we enjoyed a nice home cooked breakfast, and left our luggage with reception marked for the 11am ferry. So we grabbed our bikes for the last time to enjoy a ride back to the port. We left early to give us time to enjoy a detour, and took ourselves off to the famous La Seigneurie Gardens. We’d seen some pictures of these, and wanted to experience these beautiful gardens for ourselves. Unfortunately when we got there we found that they weren’t open yet; we had to go at 10am, which was the opening time! So, we wandered around a little… and noticed that the ticket money box was already out and the door to the garden wasn’t locked. So, we put our entrance money into the box, walked around the closed sign, and nipped into the garden. It truly was delightful; perhaps even more so given that we had it all to ourselves, making it feel like our own secret garden! We were really impressed by the huge amount of colour on display, and the high walls kept out the wind meaning that everything was kept warm and protected. We spent about 20 mins enjoying the splendid views, and realising our time was up we left via a corridor surrounded on both sides by a riot of wildflowers. From here we sneaked back round the closed sign, and with still no-one in sight we grabbed out bikes and headed back.

We took our time returning to the bike shop, and thoroughly enjoyed our ride through the small lanes of Sark, admiring the trees with just a hint of autumn on them. We passed by a small church, and stopped in to have a look. It was more impressive than we expected on the inside, and called St Peter’s turned out to date back to 1820. From here it was a short ride to return our bikes, and say a sad farewell to Sark; somewhere very different from our normal cities, and which both of us had very much enjoyed. We found a patisserie which was open and bought two delicious looking pastries – Greg had apricot tart and I had lemon tart; both were excellent with fresh flavours and crisp pastry. We also stopped by a local craft shop and fell in love with a couple of wonderful pieces made by the owner. We purchased these as gifts (no details; don’t want spoilers!), and made our way back down to the harbour where we admired the fish dancing in the water before our ride arrived and we waved goodbye to the island, hopefully to return one day.

On returning to Sark we had two more stops. First was the underground museum, which was a somewhat eclectic collection of material from Guernsey during the wartime occupation. It was interesting, but rather lacking explanation and a consistent narrative. I reminded us of an eccentric collector filling several rooms with his pieces without much consideration or planning. After this we had a much more interesting visit – to the house of Victor Hugo (Hautville House). Greg had arranged a slot in advance, going through quite a rigmarole – he had to apply to the Cultural Embassy in Paris, and after some correspondence received back a certificate of entry for our party! The house itself was a real reflection of the man, with every room extensively customised and decorated. Motifs abounded, and Victor had delighted in reusing objects for new ends – such as a wardrobe door between rooms, and the back of a chair as wall decoration. At the top of the house was his writing room, and with an expansive view of the ocean; something upon which Hugo commented with great pleasure in several of his letters. We left the tour to spend a little more time in the garden, enjoying the atmosphere and the sun until the time case for us to catch the bus back to the airport and our flight to Jersey.

Manchester (May 24-26)

So, Manchester! Over the years we had heard a lot of good things about how vibrant a city it is. And I also knew of the gay village and Canal Street from the ground-breaking 1999 drama Queer as Folk. So I was pleased when I realised that this was to be city number 19, which we should shortly be able to judge for ourselves. To give some context, this was a somewhat unplanned escape – some friends were due to visit us, but unfortunately had to cancel about a week before the weekend. So Greg took the opportunity to seek out a last minute deal, and our 19th city break was born.

We traveled by train, which proved to be a pleasant journey. We had an enjoyable train picnic on the way catered by trusty M&S. And I only slightly startled a fellow passenger who was deep in thought when I opened our fizz with a rather large ‘pop!’ … 😉

Our hotel was very close to the train station – the Hilton DoubleTree. We usually avoid chain hotels, but as this was a last minute arrangement there weren’t many alternatives. Overall the hotel was perfectly decent. It was very well located (very central – we could see Canal Street from our window), and had some interesting touches such as an iMac in each room rather than a TV. We were also very impressed with how they handled complaints – we mentioned to reception in the morning that our room was rather warm, and that the aircon was proving somewhat ineffective. When we returned that evening we found a note from the repairman who had resolved the issue (confirmed by the room being much cooler). But what particularly impressed us was that the card also promised a warm cookie if we handed it in to reception, plus we’d also been left a miniature toolbox with mints in it! In addition the hotel manager caught us for a chat as we checked out – so I have to say that their response was probably the most impressive to a room issue I’ve come across.

First, a word about the weather. We’d been assured that Manchester was invariably overcast and wet, but for both the Saturday and Sunday that we were there it was hot and sunny with beautiful blue skies. When we remarked on such to the locals we were always rewarded with a strong response – either an earnest assurance that it would soon pass, or a grinning comment that it was always like this, followed by evil laughter. Whatever the normal situation, for us it was an early taste of (a good) summer. Too much so for Greg who managed to burn slightly! 😦

For our first day we took a walking tour of the city center, which Greg adapted by combining several available online routes. I enjoyed tramping round the center, and was pleasantly surprised by how condensed it was – we didn’t take any transport the whole day! Greg had once visited the city for a conference, and he enjoyed showing me his old conference hotel which was the Palace – a wonderful old building originally built for the Refuge Assurance Company in 1891 and now Grade II listed. It included “the Grand Room” which was a most magnificent ballroom (albeit unfortunately not open when we visited, so I had to admire it through a crack in the door). When Refuge Assurance moved out in 1987 the building was intended to be the new home of the Hallé Orchestra but the required £3 million could not be raised and instead it became a hotel in1996. We also stopped by the Britannia Hotel, to see the marvellous iron cantilever staircase with a balconied stairwell which dominates the entrance hall. Originally it was the Watts Warehouse, an extravagant textile warehouse built in 1851. It was built in the form of an Italian Palazzo with each of the five stories was decorated in a different style (Italian Renaissance, Elizabethan, French Renaissance and Flemish) and the building has turrets with large gothic rose windows.

As we walked round Manchester I couldn’t help but observe the real mix of old (mainly late Victorian) and new – we admired some stand-out modern architecture including a couple of impressive sky scrapers. One is the “Student Castle” (all the mod cons for a modern student including ultra fast broadband and wifi in every room) and the Beetham Tower; from the ground to the 24th floor is a Hilton hotel, floors 25 to 47 are residential apartments. The architect lives in the top floor penthouse which occupies the top two floors. The penthouse apparently includes a large garden containing 21 olive, lemon and oak trees all of which are over 4 meters tall and were shipped from Italy.

There was some world-class running taking place in the city center, for the Manchester Great City Games. As we passed by we saw the men’s 100m para-atheletics race that was occurring. After admiring this briefly we worked around the crowds to enter the John Rylands library, part of the library of Manchester University. This is the number 1 visitor attraction on Trip Advisor (isn’t it wonderful where the no. 1 city attraction is a library!), and we could soon see why – it was absolutely stunning. The building had been purpose built in 1889 by Enriqueta Rylands who intended it to be principally theological and thus the building has the appearance of a church. The architect’s design was based on an Oxford college library, but he and Mrs Rylands had frequent disagreements, with Mrs Rylands overruling him on decorative elements, stained glass and statuary. The core of the library came from George 2nd Earl of Spencer’s private collection of around 40,000 books, which Mrs Rylands purchased in 1892 to expand her own book acquisitions. Many of the original rooms and halls are open for the public to wander round, including an exhibition showing off an impressive collection of original books and book illustrations by William Blake. However the most special room was the reading room, which puts some cathedral halls to shame! It was a totally wonderful space, and fabulous to see such a location dedicated to the religion of learning.

From here we passed though a small food market, and met the crumpet boys; two friendly local lads who were running a crumpet, jam and tea stall. We sampled a white chocolate and raspberry crumpet, with homemade blueberry and rhubarb jam, which was splendid. Thus refuelled we then visited the Royal Exchange Theatre, which had made great use of the old cotton exchange hall (the biggest in Europe in it’s day) to add a theatre in the round. Interestingly the floor wasn’t strong enough to support the stage and seating, so the whole theatre is suspended on a cradle in the middle of the exchange hall. It looked like a fantastic space, and it was interesting to admire the Edwardian hall with a very futuristic pod in the middle. From here we walked through the Arndale shopping centre, but were decidedly unimpressed. Much more interesting was Afflecks – a quirky collection of smaller shops, especially vintage clothing, laid out in a series of never ending corridors where you never knew quite what was round the next corner!

From here it was a short walk to China town, where we had dinner. After some consideration we tried Happy Seasons – a small restaurant just down from the paifang (Chinese gate). It was visually very unassuming, but what swayed us was the large number of Asian customers easting here, including a small queue into the street! After only a short wait we were seated and despite the modest decor enjoyed a fabulous and great value meal, including the most tender roast duck we’ve ever had. We returned from our meal via Canal Street, which was buzzing and full of a diverse crowd looking like they were anticipating a full evening of fun ahead. 🙂 We enjoyed the atmosphere as we slowly meandered through, and hit our hotel to unwind and get a good nights sleep after a busy day.

Sunday was the day of the Manchester 10k run, so quite a few people were about. For us though we’d decided to visit the Salford Quays and the Lowry. It was another very nice sunny day, and we weren’t in any hurry, so we decided to walk. Our journey commenced via Canal Street, which unsurprisingly was much more peaceful than the evening before (almost deserted). With the sun streaming through the trees which lined it, it had a European feel, and we enjoyed our stroll down it only passing one or two other souls. From Canal Street we were able to go down to the canal itself, and set off walking along the tow path. It was my plan to go as far as possible along the canal itself, and only hit the road when necessary. As it turned out you can go the entire way along the tow-path, which made for a great walk; along what felt like a secret route through the city. It reminded me slightly in that respect of the Appian way in Rome, and although very different in many ways we both enjoyed being able to get away from the crowds (as we had in Rome) and experience a journey similar to a route which might have been taken historically. This was especially interesting being race day, as several times we passed by or under a section of the race, and could hear, but never see, the throngs of people who were sometimes only some feet away.

Our initial journey was very industrial, travelling between tall buildings, sometimes derelict, with a few locks to mark our progress. After about 20mins the view opened up, and we found ourselves passing an exquisite lock-keepers cottage which was perfectly maintained and looked like it came from the set of a period drama. Just beyond it was a small car park hosting a local market. We couldn’t resist, and had a delightful time wandering past the food and craft stalls whilst a very enthusiastic 3 young guys played music to entertain the visitors. After this short break we rejoined the route and passed over a strikingly designed modern bridge, which to our surprise was somewhat bouncy. From here we could watch trams and trains passing by on the viaduct above us, as well as enjoy seeing a couple play frisbee on some grass with their dog (an enthusiastic labrador, who was remarkably good at catching the frisbee mid-air given a decent enough throw!). Round the corner from here were some towers of flats, and several inhabitants were out on their balconies enjoying the sun and perhaps a morning paper or book.

The next section left the city proper and felt more rural. We were briefly joined by a family of Canada geese, who seemed to appreciate the Japanese rice cracker we found to feed them. We continued our journey, occasionally passing another person, and before long found ourselves at the bridge by Old Trafford marking the entrance to Salford Quays. The road here was closed for the run, but we headed away from the pack and towards Salford Quay itself. We passed by the entrance to Media City, where the BBC now has a major outpost (Greg had checked about tours, but none were available during our visit). Instead we walked along the quay itself, passing a wakeboard competition outside the large water-sports centre there. A little further along we found our destination, and recharged at the cafe inside the Lowry, which is primarily a theatre venue. We visited the small shop, and couldn’t resist a postcard of ‘Jack’ the dog which Lowry drew and is used by the centre in some of it’s branding (we loved Jack’s buggy guarding service!). We then spent the next half hour or so admiring the collection of Lowry’s work on display; many of the more cartoonish pieces don’t do it for me, but I do rather like some of his cityscapes and other work (my northern roots showing, perhaps).

After the Lowry we looked round the adjacent outlet mall (which we found more interesting than the Arndale centre) and we wandered back to the local tram stop to catch a ride back to the city centre. The trams were frequent and cheap (single fare lower than the outrageous fees charged by FirstBus in Bristol), and it was interesting to see from a height the scenery we’d walked through at leisure, whizzing by much faster this time; in fact for some of the trip the tram had a distinctly roller-coaster feel about it! After a busy day we felt in need of rest and refreshment, and so visited a restaurant recommended by my brother, and ate Dim Sum at the Yang Sing. As he told me – the pork rolls are particularly good.

For our last day we decided to visit MOSI – the Museum of Science and Industry. It was only a short walk along the canal, the same direction as we’d gone the previous day and just a few minutes walk from where we’d found the market. MOSI has a very impressive setting, making use of the original Liverpool to Manchester railway terminus buildings. It is a multi-building museum focusing on Science and Industry, particularly in relation to Manchester. The first section had a technology focus, including a re-creation of one of the very first computers “Baby” – which as the display noted is approx 10,000 times slower than the iPads they use as information terminals! The main hall focused on the textile industry, and contained both a wealth of information and an impressive amount of machinery. The information told the story of the rise of the cotton industry in Manchester and the North West, which was the single most significant driver in terms of the growth of Manchester itself. It seems hard to overstate the impact of this, and we felt that Manchester’s industrial heritage remains a major influence on the modern day city. Much of the machinery was still in working order, as demonstrated by two enthusiastic members of staff as they showed an industrial loom and jacquard loom in action. Other halls focussed on communications – showing a range of devices from printing presses to radios, televisions etc. These highlighted a range of firsts for Manchester, stressing the local relevance.

Electricity came next, including some huge turbine and generator sections. After which we enjoyed a cup of tea and cake in the cafe; which was surprisingly good (splendid home-made flapjack). Following our break we explored the gas light section, Underground Manchester (with extensive coverage of the development of their sewers!) and the Making of Manchester, which was a history of the development of the city itself. Our final stops were the two halls full of machinery – one contained steam powered engines and the other was a vast hall full of cars and planes with links to Manchester (and a model of the USS Enterprise D, for reasons I wasn’t clear on…). All in all MOSI was very impressive, and we could have easily spent even more time there, but we had an early dinner reservation for which we didn’t want to be late.

So our final Manchester experience was at Saporro Teppanyaki (another recommendation from my brother), where we enjoyed a splendid meal taking advantage of their bank holiday Monday special. As with other similar Teppanyaki restaurants it’s as much a performance as a meal, and it was great fun watching the skilled chefs ply their trade and entertain the guests with some theatrics. Of course, that isn’t enough by itself, so we were pleased to find that the food was also of a high standard, and both Greg and I thoroughly enjoyed our special rice as well as the steak (beautifully rare) and (generous) scallops that we shared. A good meal to end our trip with. From there we enjoyed our last walk along the canal, and returned to pick up our bags from the hotel and return to the train station to be whisked back home.

Overall Manchester was an enjoyable visit, and we can easily see us returning. We aren’t generally great fans of London (too big), so Manchester seems a viable option if we want a weekend away from Bristol to a larger city centre.