Weekend Getaway

Un week-end à Lille

Dates: 23 – 25 October 2015
Modes of Travel: Eurostar
Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Carol & Iain
Hotel: Mercure Lille Centre Grand Place

Bruce and I have wanted to go to Lille for quite sometime and before we made the move (or even knew about it) to Scotland we booked a weekend trip with Carol and Iain.

Bruce was already in London for a work trip so I flew down and met him in the early afternoon. We made our way to St Pancras where we met Carol and Ian. The train was later in the day as we all planned on going after work originally. Bruce and Carol popped into M&S for provisions so we had something on the journey to Lille (the train is about 90 minutes so we needed wine and snacks) In their haste to ensure we got all we needed for the journey they grabbed a £30 bottle of English Sparkling Wine which was nice but not worth the money.

IMG_2814Carol’s not one for a photo……

The journey was uneventful and we made it to Lille right on time. It was a nice night so we walked to the hotel and whilst not the most direct way it was interesting to see the back streets of Lille and a few restaurants that could be possible places for our dinner.

We checked in and took off up the main street and after about 15 tries  (many were closed or would be soon) finally decided on a place that… A) was open and B)had veggie options for the fussy veggie as Iain likes to call Carol (for the record, she is less fussy then me). After dinner and a few drinks we called it a night.

We woke up the next morning and headed to a wee French patisserie called Paul for a some pastries and coffee before really starting the day. We walked around for a bit and found a neat little market in the Grand Place that had several small stalls selling random stuff.

We had hoped for an open top bus tour (I mean who does not like a tour of a bus station like we had in Lyon and Carol and I enjoy our naps) but everything we read said none were available in the off-season so we had written it off. However, a quick visit to the tourist information centre showed us Google can be wrong and we booked the next tour, which was an hour away. So we walked around a bit and ended up over by the Place de la Republique which had some event taking place that took place in a tent that was shaped like breasts. It was time for our tour so we headed back to the info centre and took the city tour.

A tour is always good as you can see more of and learn about a city. This tour did not disappoint. We not only saw the whole city and a few places to possibly go back to (and we did) but we also saw the obligatory transport station Gare de Lille Europe.

It was a nice tour and when it was over time for lunch. We wanted to try a highly rated Thai place that Carol found on Trip advisor but sadly it was closed. So just across the street was a Vietnamese Restaurant called Le Co Do Hue. Iain was skeptical as he had not had Vietnamese before but they had veggie stuff so we popped in. We were the first customers of the day and we were quickly seated and provided menus. After about 2 minutes of trying to translate French to English they brought us English menus and we all figured out exactly what we wanted. The food was quite good and it was pretty inexpensive as well.

After lunch we explored the city and walked to a few points we saw on the tour including the Birthplace of Charles De Gaulle and the Lille Zoo. Whilst the Zoo was small it was cool to visit and free to boot! We enjoyed the Zoo and stopped off for a drink and then walked back to town.

We decided to find a wine bar so we could enjoy some wine and sadly it was very difficult and we struck out as they were all closed and opened later. So we wondered a bit and I remembered some pub from the tour. So we headed out that way and found them but sadly the world cup was on so they were packed. Luckily there was one place that had space for us called Le Fridge, which had a British theme with decent beer and wine!

It was now time for dinner and we found an Indian place called Maharani which had some decent ratings on Trip Advisor but we were sold by this photo……

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I mean who would not have wanted to visit the Throne?

Dinner was great and service was good and certainly better than Lyon. After dinner I remembered the first night I saw a Chocolate Kebab place so I led everyone there for desert.

We were not let down the place was really a Chocolate Kebab shop called Choco Kebab La Crepe Royale after desert we called it a night.

We had a few hours to kill after checkout and decided to give a Mexican place we saw a go, but sadly it was closed. So we found a very small cafe called La Vieille Bourse off Grand Place and enjoyed a nice lunch quick place to eat and headed to back to the Eurostar for our trip home. Bruce left us at St. Pancras for home via Luton and I stayed with Carol and Iain for my final week in London.



Weekend Getaway

Ein deutscher Geburtstag

Date: 29 – 31 August 2015

Modes of Travel: British Airways, DB Regional Bahn, S/U Bahn

Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Brett, Hannah, Indira

Hotel: Mercure Hotel Stuttgart City Center

Day 1 –

Well this trip was a few months ago and so much has been going on that we never got around to writing up our visit. We have a few today so they will be shorter than usual but with all of the info you would expect!

We booked this trip last November so we could get away from my birthday. As it turns out this was the year of German city visits for us and Stuttgart did not disappoint.

The day started very early at the T5 pod parking and then we made it through bag drop, security and to the lounge pretty quick.

The flight was uneventful (Facebook tells me I really enjoyed and said it was one of my best, but I can’t say I remember it) and once we arrived we made our way to the city centre on the S-Bahn. Once we got to the hotel, Brett and Hannah’s room was ready but ours wasn’t, so we dropped our stuff in their room and headed out.

We did some research before the visit, but we were surprised to see that the Stuttgarter Weindorf was taking place. This is a great wine fair/market with local wines from around the area. It was a bit warm (30+) so we stayed out of the sun and enjoyed many glasses of wine and local food.

We decided to take a small rest and headed back to the hotel. I had one of the souvenir wine glasses and whilst speaking to the receptionist and getting checked in, I managed to smash the glass on the counter. Now it was an accident ( I was possibly a little pissed and I talk with my hands….), but for the rest of the weekend all I heard about was how I attacked the poor woman on the counter when all she was doing was trying to get our room sorted.

All I will say about the hotel is whilst the staff was nice, the room was not what we booked (we did later get moved) but the A/C did not work and was boiling. It was possibly one of my most uncomfortable stays in a hotel ever.

After a small break we headed back to the city in search of drinks and dinner. The Weindorf was packed, so we headed further afield and found a nice Mexican place called Enchilada. Not only was the food decent and massive portions, but the happy hour includes blended real fruit margaritas that are some of the best I have ever had.

After dinner we enjoyed a few more drinks and called it a night.

Day 2 –

Today was my actual birthday and as it is a Sunday and most stuff is closed we decided on a day trip somewhere. Engineering works got in the way so our first choice Strasbourg was out. Whilst we were preparing for this trip, we were also in the midst of moving to Scotland. Indira (the move manager at Bruce’s work) is based in Stuttgart so invited us to visit Tubingen which is about an hour out of the city for a few hours.

So we took the train out to Tubingen and met Indira. She took us for a walk around the city and up (and I do mean up it’s a hilly place) to the University. Which gave us some amazing views of the area.

On our walk back down we stopped off an Bioeissalon Gorza for some ice cream. This is the first place I have ever been that the pictures in the menu matched ( or looked better) and it was awesome with lots of fresh fruit and a cost that was really really reasonable.

We walked around the city a bit more and walked along the river, when it was decided we needed some drinks so headed off to the Gasthausbrauerei Neckarmüller which was just behind us. We had a few beers and it was time to head back.

Once we made it to the city it was happy hour at Enchilada so we headed back for a few pitchers of margaritas and decided on BlockHouse for dinner. We had a good experience at BlockHouse in Munich and this did not match the service was slow/poor and the food was just eh.

We walked back through the Weindorf after dinner but nothing caught our eye, so we decided to call it a night.

Day 3 –

We had originally booked the later flight as we thought we could do something on the Monday, but other than lunch we had time to kill so we took the S-Bahn to the end of the line and then around the city kind of like a open top bus tour without the commentary.

It was time for us to head to the airport and at this point Brett/Bruce headed to security and the Priority Pass lounge and as I had a bag, Hannah went with me as she was my guest in the BA lounge (Brett joined me last time). We all chilled in our respective lounges and waited for our delayed flight, which sucked but was even worse as Bruce had tight connection at Heathrow.

In the end we made it to Heathrow in time for Bruce to make his connection.

Overall it was a good trip and a city we would defo visit again in the future!

Weekend Getaway

A Weekend in Ghent

Date: 31 July – 2 Aug

Modes of Travel: Eurostar, SNCB

Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Catherine, Shannon & The Twins

Hotel: Hotel ibis Gent Centrum St Baafs Kathedraal

Well this trip was a few months ago and so much has been going on that we never got around to writing up our visit. We have a few today so they will be shorter than usual but with all of the info you would expect!

We decided on a quick trip to Ghent to see how well it would work for the Bruges Beer festival this year.

We took Eurostar after work and with everything that had been going on we were pretty tired and just wanted to get on the train and get to Ghent (via Brussels).

St. Pancras was a zoo but we made it through almost quickly and in our seats on the train pretty quickly.

We made it to the hotel at almost midnight and went straight to bed.

The next morning we met Cath and Shan who by chance were on their way to a wedding in the Netherlands, but needed to stop off to break the trip up for the twins. We had discussed meeting up before but thought we were going to miss each other by a day. This was such a welcome surprise and we were able to introduce them to the Nantucket and a few other places. But sadly they had to leave after lunch.

We did a self-guided walking tour of the city and it was dinner time. We had booked Amadeus which is a all you can eat Rib place we have been to in the past. Once again we were not disappointed and not only did we enjoy our ribs, we enjoyed our wine by the inch. If you get a chance to check this place out they are scattered around Belgium and worth a visit.

Just like that our time was up in Ghent and we headed back to London via Brussels.

Looking forward to our next visit to Ghent in February when we are staying in Ghent and doing a day trip to Bruges for the beer festival..

Weekend Getaway

Trois jours à Lyon

Date: 24 – 26 July 2015

Modes of Travel: Eurostar, British Airways

Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Carol and Iain

Hotel: Mercure Lyon la Part Dieu Hotel

Day 1 –

Well this trip was a few months ago and so much has been going on that we never got around to writing up our visit. We have a few today so they will be shorter than usual but with all of the info you would expect!

We booked this trip as Eurostar sent us an email saying we are now going all the way to Marseille and you should join us. Well you know us, we (Bruce and I) are suckers for an email offer. We invited Carol and Iain along and we booked it back in December.

Well the day finally came and I think of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song when he said “ I yelled to the cabbie yo homes smell you later” the nice man who got us there in one piece was a very smelly man. Saying that our only other issue with the trip was the flight home.

Whilst St Pancras was busy, they had a special area for the South of France train and we were through pretty quick with a special luggage tag and South of France guide.

We decided due to the almost 5 hour travel time to spring for the Leisure Select tickets which at £50 more per person ended up being a really good value. Not only did we get fed twice, but bigger more comfortable seats and less people in the carriage, which makes all of the difference on a longer trip.

We arrived and found the hotel right next to the train station dropped our bags and headed to the city centre, which was about a 20 min walk. Other than the heat (it was 30+) it was a lovely walk.

We decided to see what we could see and walked around the city centre a bit before finding an open top bus tour. Needless to say due to the early start and the fact I was in a moving vehicle, I fell asleep almost instantly, but the parts I remember I thought it was pretty good esp the tour of the bus station!

We decided on dinner at the best Mexican place in town (El Sombrero) and we were not disappointed!

It was a long day and we decided to call it a night after dinner, but we did have a nice walk back to the hotel.

Day 2 –

After a great nights sleep, we started our day at a small patisserie and then walked into to old town where we enjoyed a bottle of wine on the banks Rhone. As you know all of us love a good boat trip so we found the local river boat and took an hour tour and saw the sights. After a lunch at an Italian place, we walked around a local farmers market then headed up a funicular to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere which provided an amazing view of the city from the outside and I’m told (everyone else went in) was amazing inside and worth a look.

After taking the funicular back down we went for a few drinks around the city and then tried to find a Lebanese place we read about. All was well until we actually found the place and it was closed for the month 😦 .

So at this point we were starving and decided to walk back to the hotel and see what we could find. It was slim pickings… Chinese or Indian. We chose Indian (Rose Indien) as it had been awhile and it was not a good choice. We looked it up before going in and it was ranked 7 in all of Lyon so we thought why not. First, they didn’t serve/allow alcohol 😦 and then the food was just not good. The did sell some authentic Indian sauces from India to take home with you.. Patak’s which whilst not a bad product is not authentic and I don’t think from India in my opinion. After the disappointing dinner we called it a night.

Day 3 –

Our time in Lyon was coming to a close and the hotel chucked us out, well not really we checked out on our own and crossed the road to the overpriced tram to the airport. The journey was comfortable and once we made it to the airport, it was a long walk from one of the nicest tram/train station we have been to.

Check in was not open yet and it was chaos! It was the end of the Tour De France and even the speedy line was packed with people. Once we started moving it was almost 45 minutes as each person in front of us had bikes they were taking back. Once checked in we made our way to the most shambolic security and immigration area I have ever been to.

Once we got through to departures, there was one little café, one small store and about 50 vending machines. The nice thing about the machines is the drinks were cheaper than the café or the store and it had the waffles I love!

Overall it was a great trip and the Eurostar was a lovely way to start the trip and if the return would not have been so late it would have been a nicer way to travel home as well.

Weekend Getaway

Wizyta w Warszawie

Date: 26 -28 June 2015

Modes of Travel: British Airways Heathrow Express

Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Hannah and Brett

Hotel: Novotel Warszawa Centrum

Here we go another BA holiday inspired by price.    When our friend Hannah suggested going to Warsaw we were initially hesitant.  We had been to Warsaw in 2011 and it didn’t wow us as much as the other Polish cities we had visited.   However once she told us it was £125 per person including flights and hotel for two nights we were sold!

As a group we like to maximise our weekends so we all took a half day off work and met at Heathrow around 12:30pm on the Friday.   Check-in and security was uneventful and once through security we headed directly to the pub for our traditional pre-flight drink and some lunch.  The pub in Terminal 3 is nothing to rave about but it got the job done and we headed to the gate.   Once at the gate it was evident that it was “training day” because they had 13 people attempting to check passports and boarding passes before entering the seating area.   We had managed to time it just right so once we were through they started pre-boarding which we were all able to take advantage of due to Dan’s Silver status on BA.

Once on the plane it was very clear it was an extremely packed flight.  As always Dan had pre-booked our group the exit row and a window and aisle for us.   As luck would have it no one sat between us which gave us the opportunity to stretch out a little bit.   Unfortunately a man in the row behind us has the most horrendous body odor and that was all I could think about for the two hour flight.    Other than that the flight was uneventful.

Once we arrived in Warsaw we quickly made it through passport control and baggage claim.    Dan had pre-booked an airport transfer with MKG Travel (www.warsawshuttle.com) a company we used previously in Gdansk for 90 Zloty each way.   The distance between the airport and the city centre was amazingly short and even during rush hour on a Friday we were at the hotel within 20 min.    We chose to stay at the Novotel Centrum which is an Accor hotel.  We typically stay with them when we are traveling in Eastern Europe because you know what you are getting and we usually get points.    Just as we finished checking in it decided to start pouring.    We agreed to drop our bags off and meet back in the lobby in 10 min.


Sadly no Minion view for us, but we could see it whilst waiting for the lift.

Fortunately for us during that 10 min break the rain had stopped.   We left the hotel in the direction of the old town with a mission of finding a place for a beverage to plan our night.    We didn’t have to go far before finding Kufle I Kapsle which was a Polish craft beer bar.   The beers were decent but it was a bit busy and we couldn’t find a comfortable place to sit so we quickly finished our beers and headed to the old town.   The walk to the old town took us about 45 min, due to a slight detour (ed note: and a hill, but who is complaining right), but we got there in the end.

When Dan and I had been to Warsaw before the old town was our favourite bit although it isn’t exactly old.   Warsaw was completely leveled during World War II so the old town was completely rebuilt in the 1950/60’s by the soviets.    While it isn’t necessarily the most authentic old town in Poland or in Europe it is still a pretty place to wander around and have drinks and dinner.

Once in the old town we quickly wandered from Castle Square to the Market Square where we went to Pub Leżaki for a drink while we decided what to do for dinner.     Dan and I had been to this pub on our first trip to Warsaw and while it isn’t the greatest place in the world it has a nice seating area in the market square.    While sipping our beverages in the market square we decided to go to a restaurant called The Mexican which is a Polish Mexican restaurant chain.   Dan and I had been to the ones in Poznan, Kraków, and Sopot previously.   The margaritas have always been great but after our last experience in Sopot we were a bit worried about the food.   Luckily The Mexican in Warsaw redeemed itself.   The portions were huge and more importantly the food was great.   After dinner we decided to get a lody (Polish soft serve ice cream) on the way back to the hotel. Due to lessons learned on the way to the old town we were able to cut the journey down to about 25 min by walking straight down Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street.

On Saturday morning we met in the hotel lobby at 10am so we could make the free walking tour put on by Orange Umbrella Tours at 11am.    We left the hotel and stopped by Carrefour for a quick snack and some water.   We were now experts and quickly made our way the Castle Square for the tour.   On the way we notice that several stages were being setup and banners for “Fashion Street” had appeared overnight on Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street.    The tour started promptly and the tour guide gave a very informative and insightful tour of the old town which ended with a shot of vodka and a traditional Polish drinking snack of bread covered in pork fat and a pickle.   As with all free tours the guide makes their money on tips so as a group we tipped 50 Zloty.

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After the tour we had already decided to go to the Warsaw Tortilla Factory for lunch.   Dan and I had discovered the restaurant on our first trip and wanted to go back.  We were a bit unsure of its location and received conflicting information from Google Maps and Apple Maps so it was decided that we would take a taxi there and then just wander back.    We found a taxi with little difficulty and he took us quite quickly to our destination, which turned out to be right by the hotel.   We had expected the journey to cost 50-60 Zloty but he wanted 210 Zloty.   However in the confusion of Polish to English we ended up paying the amount, instantly realising that it was way too much.

The restaurant is more of a bar/music venue so it wasn’t a tremendous surprise to find it pretty much empty.   We sat down and ordered our food as we were all starving after the walking tour. The server was friendly but the food took ages and was disappointingly average at best.

Once we finished our meal we decided it was best to head back to the hotel to freshen up.  Once at the hotel we agreed to meet back in the lobby at 6pm.

Well 6pm came quite quickly and we met in the lobby.  We decided to walk towards the river and then walk to the old town for dinner.    The walk to the river wasn’t a pretty affair and apart from the old town Warsaw isn’t a pretty city.   Once at the river we walked through a park and then along the river.   One thing that was nice to see was that across the river there were several beaches and bars that the locals were taking advantage of.     Our walk took us near the university library where Red Bull was hosting a basketball competition.   We watched the warm ups and had a few Red Bulls (summer edition was awesome and did not even taste like Rd Bull) while listening to the music.    Once the tournament started we continued our walk to the old town.

Our walk ended at the bottle of the Castle Square, which unfortunately meant we had about 100 meters of stairs to climb to the top.   Once at the top it was an interesting sight.    There had been a colour run earlier in the day so there were quite a few colourful people looking worse for wear as well as 20-30 dressed up military gear and another 20-30 dressed as zombies.    We decided to head to a craft beer bar Hannah had read about on Trip Advisor and that we had seen the day before called Same Fusy.   We walked along the old (new) city wall to our destination.  The bar was fairly busy but we managed to find a place near the bar.   The beer selection was immense and seemed to cater to almost any taste.     While enjoying our first beer we had the opportunity to see the food coming out of the kitchen.    The burgers and pizzas looked amazing. Fortunately for us a table opened up at the front of the bar so we decided to get a pizza and eat dinner there rather than heading out.


The pizza was AMAZING and possibly one of the best pizzas I/we have ever had.
After dinner we walked down the street to another local ice cream shop where Hannah and Brett got waffles with whipped cream and Dan and I got ice cream.   We decided on a leisurely walk back to the hotel down the “Fashion Street” to see what they had done.    During the day they had managed to install several tents and a stage with a catwalk.   Overall it was quite impressive how much they had done in such a short space of time.    As many of you know we collect Starbucks mugs when we travel.   However on our last trip to Warsaw I don’t believe Starbucks had opened yet so we stopped off in the way and purchased a Poland and a Warsaw mug for the collection.   As we approached the hotel the Palace of Culture and Science was illuminated in rainbow colours for Pride   I was able to take an obstructed photo with my phone but before I was able to take another they had turned off the lights.

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We met in the hotel lobby at 10:30am on the Sunday since this was our last day and we wanted to leave our bags.  Once we had checked out we walked over towards the central station to the adjacent shopping mall.   The mall is quite nice by anyone’s standards and was virtually empty. We made our rounds and discovered a Bath and Bodyworks!  I know this may not seem like much to our friends in the U.S. but they don’t have them in the U.K. and I love their hand sanitizer.      So after spending just over 100 Zloty on hand sanitizer we continue our wander around the mall.     As it turned out my purchase of hand sanitizer ended up being the only purchase for the group.

IMG_2243An old friend!

We left the mall and headed to lunch but since our flight didn’t leave until 6:15pm we were not in a huge rush so we took the long way around the Palace of Culture and Science on our way to Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street for lunch.    The “Fashion Street” event was just staring to get underway and many of the cafes near the catwalk were packed.    We decided to continue our journey further down the street and settled on an Italian place called Pizza Eataliano.   From the moment we sat down it was clear our servers English wasn’t that great (ed note, to be fair our polish is non existent) but we muddled thorough ordering and we all felt pretty confident.   That was until the mains came except one.  In the end we worked it out and the remaining main dish came out after everyone else had finished eating.  Overall the food was decent and hit the spot but nothing to rave about.

On our first night Hannah had spotted a cafe called Cheesecake Corner and we had planned on going back since.   Since lunch didn’t take that long even with the issues we had the opportunity to try this place out.  It had a nice seating area on the street and several varieties of cheesecake as well as other desserts.    Each of the desserts looked absolutely stunning.  We had a raspberry pavlova, New York cheesecake, a mini forest fruits cheesecake as well as a mini mango cheese cake.   Brett of course had to be difficult and get chocolate ice cream.   Overall the desserts were not the best I have had but given the price I wouldn’t complain and would recommend stopping by if you were around.

After the cheesecake we decided to walk in a different direction to kill some time as we still had two hours before the taxi was suppose to pick us up.    We ended up walking south past the road our hotel was on in the area with all the embassies.  After a few rounds of “name that country” we decided to head back to our hotel early and chill out in the lobby.

As luck would have it our taxi driver arrived about 20 min early and was the same driver that picked us up (same thing in Gdansk as well).   The journey to airport took about 10 min which meant we arrived at the airport about 45 min before check-in opened.   Once check-in opened we went through security.   It was a refreshing experience for there to be no line but it was clear they still took security very seriously.

Once on the other side of security we had the mission of spending our remaining Zloty and what is better thing to buy in Poland than vodka.   Dan took Brett into the lounge as his guest while Hannah and I waited by the gate and wrote our Trip Advisor reviews and discussed our upcoming trip to Stuttgart in August.

Boarding was fairly smooth again by taking advantage of Dan’s silver status.   Once on the plane I wrapped up my posting of Bilbao and wrote this lovely posting all before leaving continental Europe’s airspace!

In closing while Dan and I were not that impressed with Warsaw on our last trip it has certainly moved up in our estimation after this trip and I would recommend a short visit.     Poland is a great country with amazing cities, long history, good beer, great vodka and it is cheap.   Visit Poland!

Weekend Getaway

Bustling Bilbao

Date: 19 – 21 June 2015

Modes of Travel: British Airways

Cast of Characters: Bruce, Jodi, Alyssa & Rowan

Hotel:  Sercotel Coliseo Hotel, Bilbao
So this trip was a rare trip without Dan. The trip was again one of those random trips that was planned after about 3 bottles of wine.    Our friend Alyssa travels quite a bit around Europe for work.   Her schedule combined with our schedule pretty much means we never seem to be able to meet up.  As such during one of the rare occasions we were able to meet up Jodi and myself decided to meet Alyssa in Bilbao on the back of one of her work trips.

Jodi and I booked our flights and hotel through British Airways on a BA holiday.   Return flights and 4 Star hotel for two nights came to about £220 per person so overall a pretty cheap deal plus I got bonus Avios and £20 cash back from Quidco.    I am generally not that fussed about hotels other than location so I left the decision up to Jodi and she picked the Sercotel Colissio.

The day finally arrived for us to meet Alyssa in Bilbao.    Heathrow Airport is in the process of decommissioning Terminal 1 by the end of June so our flight was one of 7 that afternoon.    I checked a bag and went through security into an area that was eerily empty.    By this point most of the shops, bars, and restaurants had been closed.   I waited on a bench for someone in our party to arrive.   Rowan (Alyssa’s fiancé) was the first arrive.   The two of us went into Giraffe which was the only remaining restaurant for some food and beverages.    Shortly after sitting down Jodi joined us.   It does however appear that Dan has brainwashed me.   The moment the screen said that we needed to go to the gate I became instantly paranoid that we were going to miss our flight.   Jodi and Rowan of course were taking a more casual approach to boarding the plane and were working on their beverages and we did not leave the restaurant until it said Final Call Gate Closing.   We of course made it with us being the last 3 people to enter the gate area. Clearly if Dan were there his head would have probably exploded.

The flight was fairly uneventful and we arrived about 15 min early.  We quickly made our way to the baggage area, much to everyone’s dismay since I checked a bag.   After about 15 min of waiting my bag finally came and we met Alyssa outside the secure area and hopped into a taxi to the hotel.    The taxi journey was exceptionally easy and took about 20 min and went by the Guggenheim on the way.   As it turned out our hotel was also a casino and more importantly just across the river from the old town.     Check-in was simple and the rooms were very well appointed and modern.   Jodi and I quickly dropped our stuff off in our room and met Alyssa and Rowan in theirs and waited while Alyssa wrapped up a few work bits.   We then headed to the hotel bar and terrace to enjoy our first bottle of rioja in Spain for the amazingly low price of €13.

It was about 9pm when we decided to head out from the hotel for dinner.   We headed to a place a few streets away that was recommended by the front desk called Restaurante Beraia.  We walked into the bar area of the restaurant and it was heaving with activity but the restaurant area was completely empty.   There were no issues in getting a table since we were at least an hour ahead of the locals.   The wine was great and cheap and the starters were amazing.    The main courses in my opinion were good but nothing too amazing.     After dinner we decided to find a place to have a couple drinks before going to bed.    Around the corner from the restaurant there was a bar called Basque Bar.   It was definitely more of a locals bar with the obligatory overly friendly chatty old man out front.     Rowan decided to stay with the wine while Myself, Alyssa and Jodi moved on to pint size gin and tonics.  We ended up sitting outside for a few hours drinking and talking and finally just after 2am it was clear that the bar was winding down so we took this as our cue to head back to the hotel.

Saturday morning Jodi and I woke up around 10am.   We texted our Bilbao Whatsapp group but there was no response from Alyssa and Rowan so Jodi and I decided to take a walk around the city ourselves.   It became quickly evident that a majority of the city was still asleep.    We finally found a bar that was open and was serving coffee.    After a quick coffee we then walked to the Guggenheim took a few pictures and then walked along the river to the old town.

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The old town was overall very typical with several bars, restaurants and shops.    Jodi spotted some tables in the sun and quickly made a beeline.  However despite our efforts to go someplace with a bit of local flavour the sunny tables belonged to the Liverpool Cafe.     We sat and enjoyed a beer while waiting for Alyssa and Rowan to wake up.   Just as we finished our beers Rowan texted that they were awake and were hungry.    Jodi and I then began our search for a lunch location in the sun.    As you might expect in Spain we didn’t have to search very far and found this pintxos (Basque tapas) place called La Ribera Bilbao bar just underneath the city market with plenty of out door seating.   Jodi and I ordered assorted pintxos and a bottle of Rioja that was chilled as is customary in Spain.    Shortly after sitting down Rowan and Alyssa joined us and we enjoyed our beverages and pintxos in the sun.

After finishing up our drinks we headed up into the market, which was just staring to close up.   Fortunately for us there were still a few meat, veg, and fish stalls open.   We made our way to a meat stall in the opposite corner of where we entered where Rowan sampled a few items and both Jodi and Rowan bought some chorizo to take back.   After the market we headed back into the heat of old town.   During our wandering we came across a rundown street crowded with people and chanting and laughing (apparently there was a football game on).    We continued down this street that was jam packed with little student bars and managed to find a table at one of the bars where he sun made it through he tall buildings.   There we had yet another bottle of wine and some papas bravas.   After finishing that beverage we continued walking down the street until we hit a main road near a Carrefour Express.  We went into the supermarket looking for water and after much searching we found it on the top floor near the largest milk section I have ever seen in a supermarket.

Once we exited the store we noticed there were some outdoor escalators heading up a hill.    Of course we had to see where these went.  After two sets of escalators and a moving conveyor we reach the top of the hill, which had nothing more than flats and a good view of the old town.   After a few pictures and a moment to reapply sunscreen we headed down the hill in the opposite direction.    At the bottom of the hill there was another street of cafe/bars but slightly more upmarket than the previous street.   We of course stopped for wine and some deep fried potatoes at the first place we could find with a table in the sun called 300 Montaditos and had a discussion about where we wanted to head next.    It was decided that we would head back across the river and head to one of Bilbao’s oldest bars, which was coincidentally near our hotel.

After finishing another bottle of wine we headed down the road towards the river.     As luck would have it we made it about 100 meters before ending up in a square bathed in sun and surrounded by restaurants and bars so of course we stopped at a place called Beatles Bar and found the sunniest table in the square.  This was my round so I went in to purchase the bottle of wine.   In all my years of travels I have to say this was one of the more frustrating language experiences I have had in ages.    I will admit my Basque is nonexistent and my Spanish is rusty but the word for bottle in both languages is pretty similar to English so I have no idea why they struggled so much but in the end I got a bottle and a separate glass of wine.   While enjoying the first bottle of wine in the sun we were approached by a woman in her 50/60’s that was sitting in the table next to us.   She came over speaking Spanish pointing at our bags.  I initially thought she was being nice and attempting to warn us of thieves.    The first clue that I was wrong was when she picked up Alyssa’s purse and turned it upside down spilling the contents to the ground.  She then started talking to Rowan while telling the rest of us to shut up in Spanish.    At this point Alyssa went inside to inform them of the “loco” lady and from their reaction it appears it was a common occurrence and they quickly came out and ushered her away.   Of course by this time the bottle of wine was empty and we were not quite ready to part with our seat in the sun so another bottle of wine was in order.

It was after this bottle we were then on a mission to cross the river and head to the bar we originally had intended on heading too.   However as luck would have it there was yet another amazing square along the way and yet another wine bar.  However we decided to be responsible and have 4 glasses of wine instead of a bottle.    Unlike the previous place we picked a table in the shade in a side street and didn’t linger after the one glass.   We crossed the river and headed to the intended bar near our hotel to find it packed.   As it was nearly 6pm we decided to go back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner.

Once at the hotel Jodi and Alyssa decided to take a nap and Rowan and I decided to head to the hotel terrace and have another bottle of wine.     While the girls slept Rowan and I discussed real estate and of course the instability in the Middle East over a bottle of rioja.   Around 9pm we decided it was time to eat and we woke the girls.   Alyssa by text message and Jodi by me banging on the window since it faced the terrace.    After the success of last nights dinner recommendation by the note we decided to take them up in their other suggestion.   When we walked in you could tell it was a slightly nicer dinning establishment.   However, as with our previous nights meal we were well before the local rush.   We sat down and the menu was brought over.  It was quickly evident that the menu really didn’t call out to any of us and very few things on the menu that I would even want to eat.   In the end we all decided to get the €50 tasting menu which had the following:  white asparagus and tomatoes, black mushrooms and bacon, ox steak with a side of French fries, and ice cream for dessert.      In the end all I can say about the meal was that the wine was good.

We finished dinner just after 11pm.  We were all a bit tired but we’re not quite ready to give up on the night so we decided to go back to the Basque Bar and have a gin & tonic before heading back to the hotel.   End the end we were back at the hotel just after midnight and agreed to meet in the lobby at 10:30 the following morning.

The next morning came way too quick.   We all met in the hotel lobby to check out.   The checkout process was far from speedy but we got there in the end.    Fortunately due to the hotel having a casino there were always taxis down stairs and this morning was no different.    It was a quick 15 min journey to the airport and check in went fairly smooth.   Security was a breeze and once on the other side of security we quickly got some food at a local fast food restaurant and did some duty free shopping before boarding the plane.

I must say that the trip to Bilbao was an amazing success.   I had fairly low expectations at the start but Bilbao exceeded them at almost every turn.  I was so impressed that Dan and I have cancelled our trip next March to Marseille and we are going to Bilbao instead.  In short go to Bilbao for the weekend if you can.


Bier Festival, Weekend Getaway

München in May

Date: 1 – 4 May 2015

Modes of Travel: British Airways, S/U-Bahn

Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Hannah and Brett

Hotel: Pullman Munich

Day 1 –

We have been to Munich in the past, but we were not able to see it fully as we had been in Bratislava just before on that trip and Bruce had hurt his ankle, so we decided to go back and give it another shot.

We enjoy a BA holiday as you guys know and this was not different. Got a great deal and a really nice hotel to boot.

We started off in the lounge and whilst it was crowded and the food had run out, there was plenty of booze at 7 to kick the trip off!

It was a quick uneventful flight and we were in Munich.

After arrival we made our way to the S-Bahn station and once I figured out how to use the ticket machine (If you are travelling with others, the group day ticket is an awesome value), we were off to the city and 45 minutes and one change later we arrived at the NordFriedHof station where our hotel was located. Turns out it was right above the station which was good as it started raining.

We checked in and headed up to our room. It was a really nice room with everything you need including a private bathroom (see our Bratislava blog to know what I mean) an a big bed.


We decided to go to the hotel bar as due to my Accor status, they gave each of us a free drink.

So we headed in to the city and stopped off at Marienplatz where we needed some food and ended up at a place called Ruff Burger. They had great burgers and awesome chilli cheese fries! I should point out it was one of the few places open. It was a bank Holiday and everything but food places were shut!

After our awesome burgers, we decided to find HofBrauHaus and as it was raining we put the ol’ Apple watch to the test. Overall it worked pretty well and a few minutes later we arrived.

It was packed and there was not seat to be had and we couldn’t sit outside due to the rain so we did one more walk through and popped into the Dubliner Irish Pub. We had a beer and chilled whilst the place was over run by a stag do of Irishmen, we had a quick drink and left as they were a bit OTT for us. We then decided to pop over to the Sendlinger Tor area, just to see what was on the way. We walked through the completely shut Viktualienmarkt and found a beer hall called Der Pschorr, they were packed, but able to squeeze us in and we enjoyed a few beers and then continued moving on to Sendlinger Tor where we found  M.C. Mueller. We had a beer and then I needed to pop out to take a work call and Bruce had another beer whilst he waited for me. After I came back I tried to pay for his beer and they served me another beer. (it had a €30 min for card and we were out of cash at this point) so I popped to the bank and tried to pay for our beers again and we got two more. After this I was very clear in what I was trying to do and in the end we paid for 4 extra beers and had a great time. They looked to have some really good burgers so may have to try it next time I am in Munich.


We decided to walk around a bit more but as it started to get dark we decided to head back to the hotel so starting at Sendlinger Tor we headed back. It started to rain again, so again the Apple Watch helped direct us. We made it to Giselastraße before giving up. We had been to this area before and it was a nice area. We tried to get into a few of the restaurants, but they were full so we ended up at the new McDonalds (not by choice this time) across the road and after dinner and due to being soaked we took the U-Bahn back to the hotel and called it a night.

Day 2 –

Hannah and Brett were joining us on this trip, but had no more days to take off work so they flew over on the Saturday to join us. Their room wasn’t ready yet, so we chilled in the bar to come up with our plan for the day and have a few beers and by the time we were done the room was ready and we were off to experience the city together.

We went back to Der Pschorr as the food looked good and we enjoyed some lunch and beers. As part of lunch we tried Obatzda which was pretty good and possibly the best Spatzle I have ever had.

After lunch we walked around the city for a while and then made our way to the HauptbahnHof where were meeting for a Munich Beer and Food Tour. The tour took us for a walk around the city and then a trip on the S-Bahn to the Bier- und Oktoberfestmuseum where we learned more about beer, sampled some beer and had a pretzel before taking a tour of the Museum.

After the Museum we hopped the tram to the HofBrauKeller for some traditional Bavarian Cuisine and of course more beer. It is a nice beer hall and once we had all had our fill of beer and food, we made the trip back to HofBrauHaus for the final part of the tour.


Once again it was packed and we couldn’t get in, so we decided to try to walk back to the hotel, but due to the beer consumed, we only made it to Universitat, before taking the U-Bahn back to the hotel and calling it a night.

Day 3 –

We decided to put our all network group ticket to work and headed out to Starnberger See. It is a small town on a lake and it looked like it could be interesting. Its about 45 min journey and the S-Bahn is comfortable. We had a nice journey out, but the weather took a bit of a turn on the way and it was misty once we arrived. The S-Bahn runs every 20 minutes. We made it exactly 20 minutes and sat in the same seats on the same train on the way back.

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The area was nice, but due to the weather we couldn’t hang for long and headed back on the next train.

On the tour last night the guide told us that a mini Oktoberfest was on at the grounds so we headed there. It is called the Munich Spring Festival. There were two beer hall tents and a fun fair. We went into one, ordered litres of beers and a massive pretzel.


It was pretty cool and not too crowded, so in my mind we got a mini Oktoberfest experience without the crowds or cost 🙂

We headed to the Deutsches Museum, and whilst it was cool, would have been better if it was more hands on, but I think we all enjoyed (especially Brett and I with all of the travel exhibits) ourselves.

For Dinner we went to Block House at Giselastraße. It could have been any of the restaurants in the area, but it was the first one we saw.

After dinner we thought the Olympiapark would be nice to visit and headed over. It was built for the 1972 Olympic Games and it is still in great shape. As expected not too much was going on, but the Wings for Life World Run, so we watched the final bits on the big screen. We popped into the BMW Welt for a quick look and then we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.

Day 4 –

Sadly this was our final day and it was time for the Glockenspiel. So we checked out of the hotel and headed over to watch the famous clock.

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We introduced Hannah and Brett to Ruff Burger and once we were all done went for a walk towards the HBF stopping at every shoe store I saw as I wanted a new pair of Converse. In the end we stopped at a store we were all at the day before and I found a pair that fit and that I liked. We parted ways with Hannah and Brett as they were on a later flight and went back to the hotel the long way to get out bag and then headed to the Flughafen for our flight home.

We spent a little bit of time in the Lounge (Berlin’s is better) and then board the plane for the flight home.

Bier Festival, Weekend Getaway

Bierfestival Bruges

Dates: 6 – 8 February 2015

Modes of Travel: Southwest Trains, London Underground, Eurostar, Belgian Rail

Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Carol, Iain, Kristin, Dan, Gareth, Shannon and Ollie

Hotel: ibis Brugge Centrum

Day 1 –

We booked this trip to go to the Bierfestival Brugs. We went last year on our own and loved so this year we invited a whole group to go with us. In the end there were nine of us who went.

This trip started at the Champagne bar at St. Pancras for a nice glass of bubbles before getting on the Eurostar to Brussels.

Eurostar check-in can be hit or miss sometimes and today it was crowded as they had three trains leaving close to each other. Once we made it through all of the formalities, we realised that two of our group were in a different carriage and after working with the Eurostar staff, there was nothing we could do as the train was full! We resigned ourselves to the fact we would be separated until Brussels, and whilst that was sad, that meant we had four bottles of bubbles to share amongst the five of us who were near each other. After quick change in Brussels we were all reunited on what Carol referred to as a “Retro” train to Bruges and enjoyed another bottle of bubbles.

We arrived in Bruges and made it to our hotels. In the end our group stayed at five different hotels.

As per usual for Bruges, Bruce and I stayed at the ibis. We normally know what we are going to get when we stay at an ibis and sadly this one in Bruges did not live up to our normal expectations, the only thing that was normal was the smell you get when you walk in. In all other regards, our room sucked! It was small, there was mould on one of the ceilings joists and the shower drained slowly so your feet got a bath!

After check in we popped over one of our favourite bar, Don Quichotte aka the Rice Bar for a few beers and then over to the old Cool Cat (has a new name but no clue what it is) for a few more. By this point we all called it a night as the next day was the bier festival.

Day 2 –

Today is the day we all came for the 8ste Brugs Bierfestival. Bruce and I met Kristin for brunch at Cambrinus. I choose this place for the Spaghetti Bolognaise and the beer cheese, I don’t choose this place for the service as the staff is always a bit rude.

After this we headed to the square met up with everyone for the short walk to the bier festival. After a quick visit to the Delirium booth, I saw a hat I had to have, but Bruce said no as I already have a ton of hats. However, Shannon saw it a different way and when we went back from some Delirium Red, she bought me the hat for no other reason than Bruce said I could not buy it. She said it was the best €10 she has ever spent.

After many many samples, I think the clear favourite of at least Shannon, Carol and myself was the Lindeman’s Pêcheresse.


The Bier Festival got a little crowded so we left and headed to Staminee de Garre. They offer a beer that is only available there. It is called Garre, its ok certainly not mine or Bruce’s favourite, but we take people here as unless you know where it is you would never find it.

It was getting late in the day and I had booked us all in for dinner at a Thai place that we have enjoyed in the past called Sivalai Thai which is just up from our hotel. We have been a few times and always enjoyed the food and the service. It is run by a nice husband and wife team. The wife does all of the cooking and the husband does all of the serving. As usual we were not disappointed and it seemed everyone enjoyed themselves and their food.

After dinner we popped over to a “wine” bar we found last year called One. They were able to seat all of us in a cosy and I do mean cosy booth and we enjoyed five bottles of the house dry white. We chose it as the waitress assured us it was the better of the two white wines available. We realised afterwards it may have changed away from a wine bar since we were last in there and the white wine not as dry as we would have liked, but as we were all enjoying each others company, we dealt with the wine and it was reasonably priced so who can complain.

After the wine we weren’t done just yet so we headed over to the square and were going to go back to the Rice bar but sadly the whole area was packed so we stopped off at the Druids Cellar for a final beer of the night/trip. The place was packed and they were low on draft beer so I got stuck with a Juplier which is one of my least favourite beers, but Ollie assures me if sold in the UK it would be very popular.

After a drink fuelled day we turned in for some sleep.

Day 3 –

Woke up feeling pretty good and headed to Daya Chocolate for some chocolate to take home. This is my favourite chocolate shop, for two reasons, the staff are super friendly and normally remember me plus they are reasonably priced.

I headed to the slowest McDonalds ever for our Breakfast. It’s a new one (wasn’t there in December when we were there) so I hope that is why the service was so slow!

I took it all back to the room and we ate and finished packing. We met everyone at the train station and enjoyed a nice journey back on one of the new Belgian Rail trains to Brussels for our trip back to London. As we passed through Ghent we decided we want to go back and booked a trip for the summer and think for next years bier festival, we may stay in Ghent and just go to Bruges for a day trip.

We really enjoyed spending time with everyone and hope they enjoyed it too!