Hi, I’ve been reading articles again and I’d like to make a few things clear.

I’m not a very good writer and I don’t have an editor (but sometimes I get someone to spell check).

I just like to write down my thoughts somewhere – this is better than a journal because this has a built in spell checker and really cool formatting options that allow me to add nice pictures and a nice Google Maps. I am not trying to pass this off as a travel guide – I’m just not that good at writing – If I was that would be my job – this is just a hobby.

I just though I’d make this clear in case someone tried to highlight this as an example of poor travel writing.

My inner geek is a dark individual – it has many ideas, some are, some huge and complicated.

It is the being that happily spends hours preparing spreadsheets to budget for trips or made the Google map of Stuttgart accommodation (see previous post), there are many more example I won’t go into right now.

Anyway one of the things I wanted to do was put quotes on my site – mainly travel quotes. Unfortunately as good as WordPress is (and believe me it is) I am for pretty good reason not allowed to use certain html elements within my posts. I fully understand the havoc that could be caused by these, but it is a little frustrating.

Anyway I decided to get around this by dynamically generating my own images. Its a pretty common technique I first used in a previous job to generate those adverts you see with nice pictures that have custom text on.  I haven’t yet gone that far, but I will be tidying and improving soon so you never know what is next.

The final result is the picture to the top left, it looks a little like the one below.

Travel quote of the day

Travel quote of the day

I recently read an article on a travel website, (which will remain nameless). It was one in there “What not to do” series and to be honest I was quite disappointed. To be fair this article of one of many, that does this sort of thing.

They are much like those articles (reports on TV shows) that go to Florida and completely avoid the Theme Parks. I take no issue with this most of the time, but there is in some cases the feeling the reporter or writer considers it not worth looking at because they don’t like it. In the case of those who do this with Disney and  similar I feel they are joyless individuals.

Maybe I am being a little harsh, I would like nothing more than a few weeks wandering with a backpack, its so much fun; but I am proud to admit two weeks of Theme Parks and the other joys of Orlando can easily be as much fun. I have been fortunate enough to spend many a family holiday in Orland (and yes farther afield in Florida)., but one of the days my family talks about and remembers details from is a day a Gatorland. It is a much poorer cousin of the bigger glitzier parks but well over 10 years on and I am guessing for the rest of my life my family will remember the visit. Just as we will remember a certain small aquarium on the Florida Keys and a moped in Key West. Its not always about where you are – it who you are with and what happens.

Back to the article I was moaning about earlier – it was advising people to avoid Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Now it was slated as a tourist trap – too right it is – but some people like like. Some people will spend thousands of pounds travelling across the globe to lay on a beach – some like the flashy tacky tourist shops. I love them, where else would you find a truly hideous plastic snow dome or a handful of postcards for home.

I would advise you do what you want to if you are luck enough to go to Fisherman’s Wharf. There was a bar at the end of the famous Pier 39, where a group of us from the local hostel demonstrated how to drink pitchers of beer for a few hours, that was a great afternoon. More importantly if you do find yourself on the wharf head north to The Cannery (some slightly more upmarket shops and a fantastic bar) and close by is Lou’s Pier 47, a fantastic restaurant with live blues.

All I can advise you is this – go where you want, see what you want, eat and drink what you want (as long as its legal) and try to travel with an open mind – some of the best experiences are unplanned.

Happy travelling!

This is a match up I have read about, talked about, seen up from myself and experienced myself.

I once read some advice and thought “What sort of fool would do that anyway!”, the advice was along the lines of “when travelling keep your wits about you, don’t carry too much cash and keep a cash card in a secure place when ever possible”. We have all seen this and most of us (I hope) have had the same reaction I did. I went on my trip and naturally I followed this advice. Now I have a strange tradition which involves having two wallets, one for home and one for travel. That way I only take a few things out of my wallet when I go away. On my return I placed my cash card back into my home wallet, along with the space sterling I had and dug around in my bag for my money belt and pulled out my credit card, placed it back in my wallet, stuck it in my pocket and rushed out for a few drinks with friends.

Now what I noticed at some point that evening was I had broken the obvious travel rule I had mocked someone for writing down. I was walking around my home town with a load of cash and both my cards – loss of my wallet would be expensive and very inconvenient. What made this worse is I was not as alert as I would be travelling, this is my home turf, why on earth should I worry… complacency returns very quickly.

Moving away from this I find myself more open and adventurous as soon as I have my bag packed. I want to experience everything I can. Is this the normal me, put bluntly no – I tend to be more reserved and cautious, despite the differences in my wallets. This was brought to my attention by the huge source of travel related articles on the Matador Network, it was about relationships – I am not going to claim to be an expert here, but what I read rang true. What it came down to is that life is accelerated when travelling –  you leave your doubts and caution at home.

I ask myself why is real life not the same, I have no answer, does anyone reading this?

If I see something I like in a shop or in a market abroad I buy it – that is why I own a hammock – I have had it for years – one day I will use it. There is no chance I would buy one at home – I have no use for it – but when I was in Thailand it seemed like a dream come true – my own hammock.

I suppose this is me saying to myself and trying to encourage others – live real life as close as you can to the way you travel – why have a different outlook on life just change you wallet!

This is a bit of a test to see if I can embed a google map in my blog and what it looks like!

Blue markers are budget.
Green markers are mid-range.
Red Markers are expensive.

Sorry about that – I had to and now I can tick off that obvious title from my list!

As promised for some time now…

This is an addition to my origonal post, Grom, But Not forgotten, from the legendary Italian Cheese Diaries. You might ask how I was able to post on such allowed ground – well its a family thing!

I spent 3 days in Turin, one of which was spent skiing (well some of it was).

Firstly I would highly recommend Turin, it is a great city. For me there was one big reason to visit – one of my favourite films is The Italian Job, obviously on top of that Italian food and its the home of of Lavazza coffee. High speed car chases, pizza and coffee – what more could a man want? Oh yes, the home of Fiat…

Well there is Grom for a start – I do like Ice Cream and for 20 some years now I believed that Burgess and Ben & Jerry’s were responsible for almost all the great Ice Cream, my how wrong I was. Grom’s has to be tasted, it’s a life experience not to be missed – and unless you have no soul you will be back to try more… There are a large number of regular flavours, 15 regular flavours and a special ‘flavour of the month’. The real fun is combining flavours, just go for it – if you are feeling ambitious go for Caffé espresso, Cioccolato fondente and Cioccolato extranoir (not for the faint hearted) but well worth it!

Turin has the the  most wonderful covered walkways, arcades along wide streets – so despite two days of rain I was mainly dry. The shops, cafés and ice cream shops open up along them with far fewer chain shops than you would expect for a major city. It is a wonderful thought that there are hundreds of shops, selling a limited range of products and surviving, I was told the only place to get stamps is the post office, none to be found in the local newspaper stall or newsagent.

There are supermarkets which are useful, but the central market is simply fantastic – I was told about it by previous visitors (my parents), in fact most of what they told me was Grom and Market based. I can see why now – its a cramped and frenetic space, even passing it one evening when they were clearing down it was all action. The central mass was fruit and vegetables – the array and quality of it all was tempting even to me and the freshness of the produce I tried was amazing – but it didn’t end there. Around the edges of this madness were sections dedicated to home wares (where I finally bought a stove top espresso pot), clothes and the usual market fair. There are some buildings to0, one dedicated to fish – a slightly curved, wide uphill drag with boisterous sellers trying to temp you to buy an amazing array of sea food – it was a fantastic experience moving though it and buying some for the evening meal. The other two (I think there were two more) buildings concentrated on meat and cheese. Stalls groaning with so much hanging produce it was sometimes challenge to find a space to get though to buy it! The cured meats and sausages, cheese and occasional enclaves of bread pastry and sweets took nothing away from the fresh meat – from whole chickens with head and all, to pigs trotters, tripe, offal galore and expertly prepared cuts of meat and even mince. I could imagine dropping by every day or two to stock my kitchen and cook for hours.

With a local market like this I would not be heading to the Supermarket on a Sunday morning much.

Back to fast cars – I wanted to see as many Italian Job locations as possible and the link at the top outlines most of these so I will focus on the Old Fiat Factory (Lingotto). Now first off I will outline a little mistake which my sister may hold against me for many years to come (maybe a large number of strawberries will help her forget). There was a little confusion between which factory we headed to – which resulted in a long walk down a deserted street on a wet Saturday afternoon next to the very unremarkable new Fiat Factory and subsequently a frantic call to the Dr. for more accurate directions.

We got there in the end and it was seriously impressive – I had no idea how big it was – I was under the impression it was now a hotel – well some of it still is – the rest is a huge entertainment complex with a retractable glass roof one side and a big garden at the other.

I’ll skip past this to the “Arco Olimpico” bridge that leaves it to head back to what turned out to part (or all) of the Turin Winter Olympics Village, a now deserted strip of buildings that look a little dated. The bridge looks fantastic its a huge arc of metal and supporting wires, with for me only two problems. After a nice long solid covered walkway over the grounds outside the old factory there is a long section which replaces the solid floor with mesh – the sort that allows you to see the floor, many meters below. At the other end a spiral staircase made from the same vertigo inducing material made even less fun as it was wet and slippery. The bulk of the bridge isn’t like this by the way.

One thing to note, as the bridge crossed the railway lines linking Lingotto Station with the rest of Italy and beyond there was a mesh fence on both sides. Anyway there were loads of padlocks with names on attached to the fence on both sides, most single ones, but some linked to others and into the fence too. Now my first thoughts were unfortunately quite macabre, memories of those who decided to jump. I am pleased to find out this is not the case, they are “Love Padlocks”. One article I have read since lays blame to a film, but a certain all knowing wiki states older occurrences across the world.

Montgenèvre is a French resort town a few miles from the Italian border. Getting there is an drive though many tunnels and a stop to put on snow chains (a first for me and almost a first for my hosts). The snow chains are a bit of a challenge – you can’t drive with them unless the roads are bad and by the time they are getting bad enough you are (well the driver is)  challenged with finding a suitable space on an alpine road to stop a put them on. Now the roads are quite wide but the snow ploughs fill the edges with a deep bank of snow, a kind of half pipe! Other cars continue to pass in both directions. Add this to the devilishly hard task of putting on the chains, remember our combined experience is managing to put on one. It took 40 minutes. On the way home it took 10 to get them off!

Skiing is well known as an alpine sport and less know as a form of medieval torture, well the boots are at least. I did enjoy my first tentative steps on alpine snow, then I feel over, at least I’d got both skis on. I then had to take them off and get back up. I managed a few runs down what can only be described as a baby slope, a small piece of piste in front of one car park before lunch. However a combination of poor fitness (my hosts forgetting to mention ski exercises until after the event) a kamikaze ski baby and fear I was pretty knackered and quite injured by lunch. I had a restorative hot chocolate while my hosts went to a proper ski slope and rested my broken body. I will point out now that I enjoyed skiing and intend to go again. On their return we at a wonderful feast of chicken and chips. Afterwards I took and another restorative hot chocolate while my hosts had a proper ski and set out for more. This time I managed to fall before I got the skis on. Anyway as I was now ready and set I managed a final run before the afore mentioned ski boots forced me to stop – my left leg was on the verge of collapse. I must admit part of me was very happy to stop – a larger part of me wanted more – I had got down the baby slope without a fall and managed slight turns, in the direction I intended too.

After struggling off the piste, returning my ski’s boot’s and sticks, sorry poles I retired to a bar for a drink. Then enjoyed a walk up and back down the main street. Now I may have in the past been unlucky, but the vast majority of French people I have met have not been very understanding of a scruffy English man with the linguistic skills of chimp – for some time I was pronouncing the name of the resort Montenegro! The locals where a revelation – happy, open, helpful and able to and more importantly willing to speak English! I apologise to anyone I may have offended here – but I can only speak from my experience and from stories of others experiences, including someone who lived in France for a year!

After an ill advised but very enjoyable adventure day last summer I suffered considerable aches and pains, skiing also delivered on this – the brandy on my my return to Turin was much appreciated as was a fantastic lasagne and tiramisu! Both home made and very tasty.

All in all Turin come highly recommended as does Montgenèvre, especially for beginners.

More to come soon as I am off to Stuttgart for a stag weekend soon.

“-Cosmo,call me a cab! – Ok, you’re a cab.” (Singing In The Rain)

My many readers (I wish) will know by now I like to travel, moan a bit and more importantly I like my freedom. Now it may not be so obvious I am a control freak – I am and and unless travel is involved I will manage to suppress it.

Sometimes this makes travel a bit stressful, which I don’t like and careful planning combined with turning up early to catch trains, plans and such will make things run smoothly.

A while I ago I went to Manchester to see a artist called Regina Spektor, it was a great gig (review) and I spent a little time in Manchester city centre enjoying china town, the Christmas markets, local shops and one of the best second hand record shops I’ve been too (Vinyl Exchange).

After doing similar to see another band a couple of months before and getting stuck in a huge M62 traffic jam for hours and wanting to stay in a more central hotel I decided to plumb for the train – I love travelling by train so It seemed like a perfect plan. The day before departure I booked my taxi for 09:00, giving me much more than the suggested 30 minutes to get to the station, even at that time of day it would be easy. Even when the taxi was not there at 09:00 I wasn’t too concerned, I still had plenty of time. Normally I wouldn’t be too bothered about missing a train, but I had booked a seat, I had to get this set train (I will not do this again, the few pounds it saved me was in heinsight a bad idea).

Finally, after a couple of phone calls and panic rising, the taxi arrived at 09:17 – no if I’d listened to the taxi office I would now have 13 minutes to get across 3,6 miles of rush hour traffic dodging bus lanes, the end of rush hour and the school run. Google Maps puts the journey time at 17 or 19 minutes, depending on the route – at best I would miss the train. Thankfully I’d ignored advice, but still, 28 minutes, I was worried. I had driven to a place near the station a few days before and it took 15 minutes on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

This is the problem… I had planned everything, booked carefully and considered all my options, then given control of a key part of my journey to another. Now a serious road accident or similar unexpected event I would have been unhappy, but if the taxi had been on time, or even a little late it would have come down to one of those things and and put up with the problem, but this was not the case.

The guy who had answered the phone didn’t care, he has no steak in the success of my journey, neither did the dispatcher that morning. However true these facts may be its a poor state of affairs when people take no little or no pride in their jobs.

The driver was apologetic, expecting a very unhappy customer and potentially (completely unwarranted)  abuse. Here is a tip – front line staff are rarely to blame for many problems that they have to deal with, be nice to them, its not their fault and possibly more importantly they are usually the only ones who can help you! I sided with the driver and his excellent knowledge of back roads and traffic got me across town to the station in 16 minutes, very impressive, but still a little close to the bone for me. After getting into the station, getting though the ticket barriers and finding my platform I had a few minutes before the train arrived.

Take from this what you will, but I hope you will take the following – 1) Leave loads of time for taxis, 2) try to book open tickets and 3) Don’t blame the front line staff.