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……

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 19.51.44

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.




Quelques jours à Paris

Dates: 10 – 13 September 2015
Modes of Travel: Eurostar
Cast of Characters: Dan, Bruce, Brian & Andrew
Hotel: ibis Paris Canal Saint Martin

My brother Brian decided visit Paris and London for his 30th Birthday and his friend Andrew joined him for the big birthday trip. Bruce and I joined them a few days after they arrived and we all saw the city together. As many of you know, Paris is one of our favorite cities and always looking forward to a visit.

Bruce had to work the first day we were there, so Brian, Andrew and I walked around the city and visited Musée du Louvre. I have been before but we spent about 2 hours walking around and getting lost and I think we all really enjoyed it. Bruce joined us about 5 and we walked up the Champs-Élysées before heading to dinner.

Dinner on the first night was at a place in the 18th called Le Refuge des Fondus. It’s a fondue place that has some decent fondue, but the unique bit is all of the wine is served in baby bottles and to get to the other side of your table you have to climb over. We enjoyed many bottles of wine and when it was all over we walked around some more.

We headed up the funicular (first time for us) to Sacré-Cœur Basilica which is at the top of Montmartre. What an amazing view how have we not been up there before? This was like our 12th trip to Paris.

Day two saw the weather change and some torrential downpours so we took it easy. We had breakfast at a little café by our hotel and it allowed a quick break from the rain. Today was the day we did the sewer tour. For years we have heard about this place and finally able to go for a visit. It was not as good as we thought it would be, but definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. After the tour we walked around a bit and ended up at Notre-Dame. Now I have been many times before, but it always amazes me every time I walk in and this was no different. After our visit we walked around some more and then Brian and Andrew headed off to change and freshen up as it was still a bit wet. Bruce and I champed it out and headed to a wine bar we like in the 1st  called O Chateau and enjoyed some wine. We timed our departure horribly and got soaked on the way back to the metro. We went back to our hotel and changed and headed over to their area for dinner. They were in the china town area and we thought we would find some decent restaurants but nothing really called to us so we ended up at a place called Pho168. It was decent food and we enjoyed our meal. We crossed the street and had a crepe from the little stand. We called it a night and headed back to our hotel.

The next day saw our final day in Paris for this trip and we visited the Musée national Gustave Moreau. It was located in 9th in his beautifully restored home and even thought I knew nothing about him, it was really nice to visit and see his works. After our visit we popped into a little café called the Royal trinite. We had some drinks and just walked around the city. Once it got dark we headed over the Arc De Triomphe and went up. Again my first time up and it was so amazing and in my opinion a better view than le Tour Eiffel. We called it a night after our visit.

The next day we met the boys at Gare Du Nord and then said good bye to Bruce as the three of us headed back to London and Bruce went to Scotland.

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.

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!

Overnight Trips

Overnight to Brussels

Date: 24/25 January 2015

Modes of Travel: Southwest Trains, London Underground, Eurostar, Brussels Metro

Hotel: ibis Brussels Centre St Catherine

Day 1 –

So we booked this trip for Eurostar’s 20th Birthday. Bruce can’t pass up a good deal so when he got the email of special fares (I got it too but just deleted it) he sent it to me with instructions to book a trip to Brussels and a hotel for this weekend.

We booked the Eurostar for an 0858 departure which arrived into Brussels for 1208 which gave us most of the day to enjoy the city.

It takes about 45 minutes to get to St Pancras from Twickenham and I am a bit of a crazy traveller in that I need to be there early and I stress if we cut it too close. So that meant we needed to leave our house by 0655 to make sure we made the “faster” train to Vauxhall where we could switch the tube and onward to St Pancras.

We arrived at Eurostar check in just after 8 and it was a little chaotic compared to our trip a few weeks ago. There 3 departures in the next 90 minutes which included one of the Ski Trains, which seems to have there own alcohol rules.

The check-in gates are always a little temperamental with the print at home tickets so getting through them can be interesting as they can take a few try’s. Once through you have the normal formalities of security, French immigration and you wind up in a smallish waiting area. The reason I say smallish is that you can have over 2000 people in this area with 3 full departures and there is only seating for maybe 500. Additional facilities are a café, a poorly laid out and compact WH Smith, and a Nero!

Our journey on Eurostar was pretty normal. Once of the nice things about Eurostar is you can bring your own food and drink on board including alcohol (within reason, they do have limits for alcohol) and once we left the station we enjoyed a nice bottle of Codorníu (a bottle of bubbles has become a bit of a tradition) once that was finished, we then moved on to a Duvel from the bar the bar car. We arrived in Brussels right on time. We decided we would take the metro to our hotel and other than the ticket machine only took coins and not the notes we just took out it was a short and easy trip to Bourse station.

We normally stay at Ibis as we travel a lot and need to be economical, but we will at least know what we are getting. Also, it helps me keep my status with Accor.

Once we arrived, checked in and got settled, we decided to use the free drink I get as being a Accor Hotels silver member (they gave us two free drinks which is unusual). So after two Leffe Blonde’s it was off to explore the city.

First stop was lunch. I talked Bruce into Quick as we had not had it in awhile. Have to say I always forget I always forget how much I am really not a fan, but it fills the gap. Once we got lunch out of the way we went on a search for the Delirium Taproom. Bruce had found it online and really wanted to give it a try.

We walked around the city on our way there as it had been awhile since we were last in Brussels, after a short walk through the shopping areas and some of the alleyways, we found the Delirium Village which has 4 bars in it. We stopped off and had a few beverages that included a Delirium Red (awesome) and a pink killer (not so awesome) for me and a La Chouffe IPA and a Campus (served in a litre boot) for Bruce. We also tried some Delirium cheese, which was ok, but not the best beer cheese we have had.

We decided to wander around the city a bit and on the way to Mannequin Pis, I saw a place called Los Churros & Waffle so stopped off for a waffle, which was pretty good! The Mannequin was dressed up in a little costume that included a bow and arrow.

After more walking around we found a bar called Windsurf. After a beer we popped over to Homoerectus Clasicus, which Bruce remembers as this cool little bar that had a tunnel that went between it and a bar across the street. Turns out they had no secret tunnel, but had cheap beer so we had a few beers and decided to go for dinner.

I found a place called Amadeo which is a sister restaurant to Amadeus which we went to in Antwerp last year. Bruce said we should make a booking, and I was like no I am sure its fine, they only open in a few minutes. We found it after a short walk (turns out just by our hotel) The place was empty (like 10 people) and when I asked for a table for two, was told it was at least a two hour wait as they had a ton of bookings. I am sure they still could have seated us, but in the end we decided not to wait and of course Bruce reminded me he said we should have booked. So perhaps he was right.

We ended up at a place called Chi Chi’s. They serve overpriced Tex Mex. The plusses of the meal were the chicken nachos and the frozen strawberry margarita for 5 that we shared between the two of us. The minuses were the fajitas and chips and salsa and even though they were free the salsa was not too nice.

After dinner we were both quite full and tired so called it a night!

Day 2 –

I got us a Mcd’s for breakfast and was surprised they did not offer any of the breakfast sandwiches as a meal and only as separate items. Once we got ourselves ready for the day we checked out of the hotel and left our stuff in the lockers and ventured out to see more of the city. Whilst waking around we ventured past la Maison du Savon de Marseille, which is a soap shop that we first found in Marseille many years ago. They have by far my favourite soap and as we are not due back to Marseille until 2016, I stocked up at a price that was possibly the cheapest we have ever found it.

After we got the soap we headed back to the hotel picked up our bag and walked to the station which was about a 30 minute walk away.

We had Sbarro’s for lunch and made our way to the Eurostar terminal for check in. After all of he formalities we chilled for about 20 minutes for boarding and then got on the train. The journey back was ok, except we got delayed in the tunnel for a bit and we ended up getting back to London 30 minutes late.

Overall it was a great trip and we want to spend some more time in Brussels.

We hope you enjoyed reading it and If you want to know more just ask… 🙂

Upcoming Trips:

2015 – 

  • Bruges
  • NCL Spirit – 10 night cruise – Canaries Cruise (Malaga – Barcelona – Casablanca – Funchal – Tenerife – Lanzarote – Malaga)
  • Vienna / Bratislava
  • Munich
  • Budapest
  • Copenhagen
  • Aberdeen
  • Lyon
  • Stuttgart
  • Paris / Disneyland Paris
  • NCL Cruise to Miami (Southampton to Miami)
  • Xmas Markets – TBC (Prague?)

2016 –

  • NCL Epic – 12 night – Med Cruise (Barcelona – Valencia – Cagliari – Palermo – Naples – Rome (Civitavecchia) – Florence/Pisa – Palma – Barcelona)
  • NCL Spirit – 12 night – Grand Med Cruise (Venice – Athens – Ephesus/Kusadasi – Istanbul – Mykonos – Naples – Rome (Civitavecchia) – Florence/Pisa – Toulon – Barcelona)
    • Thinking about:
      • Cuba
      • NYC
      • San Diego

2017 –

  • NCL Sun – 14 night cruise around South America (Santiago – Puerto Montt – Puerto Chacabuco – Cruising Patagonic Channels/Chilean Fjords/Strait of Magellan – Punta Arenas – Cruising Beagle Channel (Glaciers) / Cape Horn – Falkand Islands – Puerto Madryn – Montevideo – Buenos Aires