Thursday, 6 February 2014

Booze cruise to Calais

It's becoming an annual tradition, the three men jump in the back of a van heading south to escape, Dover is where it starts. It's the crossing to France, the country that will return us our liberties; for Grandad, Dad and I it's the time of year we stock up on booze!

Late November/Early December we make our way to Calais for no other reason than cheap wine. From London the journey is quick, 1 hour on the M20, 30 Minutes on the Eurostar and within 15 minutes we're at one of the largest supermarkets in Europe Carre Four, all for a tiny £23 for a car plus petrol. 

The journey is so quick that the day then needs to be spent wisely, follow this itinerary and you won't go wrong:

7am: depart from Dover
8am: arrive at Carre Four
8.10am: enjoy a French breakfast: baguette, croissant and coffee
8.45am: shopping time
10.45am: coffee break
11am: head to specialist wine shops
1pm: lunch (baguette and wine)
1.30pm: walk around Calais town
3pm: coffee time
4pm: final wine store/duty free at Eurostar 
5pm: return to Dover
7pm: home

This is a very easy days shopping trip and the savings that can be made are immense, especially when selecting wine, spirits and cheeses (cheese can be frozen without a problem). 

I spend most my money in Carre Four, it has the best deal and everything in one place. I'm fact there are about 6-7 aisles with booze, imam always amazed and the special offers are usually immense. I have found prices to be 20-50% cheaper than London Upermarlts, so I definitely feel it's more than worth the trip.

In the last trip I spent €280 = £233, which consisted of 10 boxes of wine including 3x brut. That works out at just over £2 a bottle even with Brit at nearly €5 bottle each!!! That's why I love the booze cruise - each bottle I open I know it costs me half the price to one from a corner store!

Admittedly there's not much to Calais, but drive 3-4 hours south and you will be in Champagne. Check out my visit from last year for more details.

For £23 euro crossing, and about £50 in petrol, you make your money back easily in wine and have a fun day out! It's a must! 






Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Patience of Londoners - the Great British during a tube strike

London owns nearly one third of the UK population and much of it is foreign but the remarkable thing is how Londoners are sheep to the Great British etiquette.

The tube strike brings fear to the hard working souls of this city; we work long hours, our commutes can be unpleasant on the best days and we like to make the most of this number one Capital city. Yet when we hear the tube is closing those long hard hours whiling away at work are rewarded by arduous journeys to and from home!

I've personally never agreed with tube strikes that support reasonably well paid workers. It's true that our tube system Needs to changes, needs updating and requires more than a face lift but a true digitalisation. If waiters talk with digital menu slips, we pay by contactless payment and airplane boarding passes go mobile - it certainly is time to say goodbye to the ticket office and get customer service staff out from behind the glass cages mixing with people at ticket gates and on the platforms using digital devices for support.

And while Londoners are put through this pain, they wait patiently in long lines at bus stops - the wonder of a British queue, cram into packed tube carriages and face journeys 3 / 4 / 5 times their usual length. One colleague of mine left home at 6.30am from Heathrow today only to arrive at the office at 11.45am. When she finishes her shift at 6pm, going by her morning experience, she is unlikely to get home until 11.15pm. 

For all those who went on strike - feel ashamed you put people through this misery who often earn considerably less than you. And feel horrified that there are so any cleaners and support staff who are only paid by the hour - they only earned half a days wages today!

Yet the Great British grit is contagious - and Londoners will continue to soldier through, with or without the tube! 

Patience of Londoners - the Great British during a tube strike

London owns nearly one third of the UK population and much of it is foreign but the remarkable thing is how Londoners are sheep to the Great British etiquette.

The tube strike brings fear to the hard working souls of this city; we work long hours, our commutes can be unpleasant on the best days and we like to make the most of this number one Capital city. Yet when we hear the tube is closing those long hard hours whiling away at work are rewarded by arduous journeys to and from home!

I've personally never agreed with tube strikes that support reasonably well paid workers. It's true that our tube system Needs to changes, needs updating and requires more than a face lift but a true digitalisation. If waiters talk with digital menu slips, we pay by contactless payment and airplane boarding passes go mobile - it certainly is time to say goodbye to the ticket office and get customer service staff out from behind the glass cages mixing with people at ticket gates and on the platforms using digital devices for support.

And while Londoners are put through this pain, they wait patiently in long lines at bus stops - the wonder of a British queue, cram into packed tube carriages and face journeys 3 / 4 / 5 times their usual length. One colleague of mine left home at 6.30am from Heathrow today only to arrive at the office at 11.45am. When she finishes her shift at 6pm, going by her morning experience, she is unlikely to get home until 11.15pm. 

For all those who went on strike - feel ashamed you put people through this misery who often earn considerably less than you. And feel horrified that there are so any cleaners and support staff who are only paid by the hour - they only earned half a days wages today!

Yet the Great British grit is contagious - and Londoners will continue to soldier through, with or without the tube! 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

London Tourist - rediscovering home: 5 places to see in London

It's too easy to forget what's on your own doorstep; the old adage 'out of sight out of mind' is irrelevant in travel - it's quite the opposite. 

With 15 years beneath my belt being a vilified Londoner I seem to have forgotten the beauty of a city that has ranked number one for global tourist destinations. Following nearly five years of "campaign London" starting with the Royal Engagement, Royal Wedding, Queen's Jubilee, Olympics and recently ending with the new Prince the spotlight has even helped me reinvigorate the love for the capital and rediscover my environment.

1. Stepping onto Portobello Road for the first time in over 10 years, while it's much smaller than I remember, much less Bric-a-Brac and significantly more chain stores - and it has lost its historical edge, what it doesn't lose is the backdrop of Victorian Britain. The beauty of the colourful streets reimagine life here over a century ago when horse and cart were commonplace and the market was the centre of all refinery and wealth. Today, other than marvelling overly priced antiques it's the remaining independent stores that take my fancy. 

We stop in a burger joint for the biggest baddest burgers and fresh lemonade that I haven't had in an age - the prices mediocre as costs in the capital have continued to soar over the past decade, I assure you that there's no stopping them and finding a bargain is next to near impossible. 

2. Then just a couple of weeks before Christmas the city is ablaze with fairy lights and the festive dusting covers the city as I flit between the quirky - Vauxhall Tavern for its sing-a-long cabaret night and I show a visiting blogger around London's gay night life being reminded that fun can be had on a weeknight without much expense nor heavy head next day. 

3. And a visit to Winter Wonderland was perhaps the biggest spectacular surprise I've experienced as a Londoner for a number of years. This mammoth indulgence in Christmas brought the spirit and the excitement alive as thousands squeezed into Hyde Park and meandered around the fairground, markets and food stall supping on Mulled Wine and local beers.

4. Next stop Camden, the last time I visited this infamous destination I was a student. The place was quirky, historic, shabby, with drugs being sold on every corner; shop fronts bulging out onto the road, litter strewn across the streets, rats scurrying out of view and a multicultural diverse community of hipsters, punks and tourists. Today the place has been gentrified, very much middle class Britain with its cultural heritage diluted and the magic essence that made it Camden (like Carnaby Street was once the backdrop to 1970's Britain) pretty much evaporated,

The streets are clean and free from exploding shops, the markets are now laden with European imported goods, extravagant food stalls and the same groups of tourists that inhabited it many years ago. The hipsters and punks have all but gone and now any well to do respectable citizen will proclaim to having spent the day In Camden. For me, the walk was pleasant on a slightly frosty day as the winter sun spilled into the alleys and courtyards of the refurbished market but the touch I remembered had vanished.
5. My London finale was a trip down Oxford Street shopping with Mum for Christmas, the still not pedestrianised road is becoming more treacherous as the years go on, but the remarkable festive magic goes from strength to strength as the large stores of Selfridges,  House of Frazer, Debenhams, John Lewis, et al all put on spectacular visual displays in their shop fronts. Escape the crowds by eating In the side alleys but always go early to avoid the crowds.

London 2013 still works for me, but the changes have stripped places of the individuality they once owned and still there are changes that should take place. Perhaps my biggest disappointment about London, as one of the leading capitals and number one choice for tourists is its gay Pride event - whether it being marred by financial difficulties the fact remains that one of the most progressive countries in the world fails to deliver a first class pride precession baffles me, and even more so that financially burdened Spain can put on a show three times it's size in Madrid. Which incidentally spurs me to continue travelling, appreciate London for what it is - home - and that my doorstep is the world.  





Saturday, 1 February 2014

Hastings - the fishing town


It was time for a romantic break, the coast was the destination and heading in the Southerly direction was the intention. Storms had been battering Britain for weeks, we new whichever coastal town we were heading to that it would be cold, wet and potentially bleak.

We chose Hastings, I had last visited in 1993 and my only memories were the ruins of the castle and the pebble beach. We booked bed and breakfast at Alexander's Guest House with a sea view for a respectable £70 just 10 days prior - so we expected Hastimgs to be reasonably quiet.

On the drive down we stopped at Bodium Castle, we were aware it would be closed between the Christmas and New Year break and I was concerned that this detour would be a waste of time. Fortunately the parking gates were wide open and the skies cleared long enough for us to enjoy a walk around the mote marvelling this historic building, the beauty of the surrounding landscape was accentuated by the flooded plains and burst banks of the river. Families hopped across muddy pastures and dog walkers enjoyed the relative peace. The cold soon bit at our cheeks so we headed for the 30 minute remaining drive to Hastings.

Hastings old town is small but perfectly formed. Historic small buildings line the narrow street as you pass trinket stores, vintage shops, fish restaurants, quaint caf├ęs, old pubs and antique hordes. Climb to the East Hill for the castle ruins (closed over Christmas) and enjoy the roof top views overlooking the sea and fisherman's quarter, the roofs covered in vibrant green moss. 

We spent our time dipping in and out of pubs and enjoying fish and steak, the quiet weekend between Christmas and New Year was a perfect time to visit, a romantic time - the cold, the wet, the wind all added to the magic in this historic town as dusk set in at 4pm and the town was lit by amber lighting. 

After another stroll along the promenade, a coffee stop we then headed back home, stopping at Ashford Designer Outlet along the way. We will return to Hastings in the summer to enjoy some Lobster!