Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Oadby Sausage and Cider Festival 2017: the one where Phillip falls off his bench

It was that time year again. The last weekend of June. Indeed, my favourite weekend in June. Even more so then my birthday weekend. The Oadby Sausage and Cider Festival, which, in our extensive experience of two different Sausage and cider festivals, is unequivocally our favourite. And while I did not write a post of the 2016 festival, I can assure you that we were (as usual) one of the first patrons there!
Baiky is once again sitting above an empty pint.
This year the weather was not the best, so Gemma and I searched for a table under cover and scored the table closest to the bar. We then plonked Baiky on the table and proceeded to work our way through cider list with reckless abandon somewhat akin to a kid in a candy store. Once again, with trusty pen in hand we rated the tasty (and not so tasty) beverages we quoffed. Below are some of the more noteworthy descriptions.

Thistly Cross (6.9%)
Their description:Matured in Glenglassaugh whisky casks to deliver a subtle spirit finish.
Gemma says: I don't like whisky
Phillip says: Don't worry, it doesn't taste like whisky.
Gemma says: It tastes of marshmallows.

Mr Whitehead's (7%)
Their description:Strong and dry - making a very unusual perry.
Gemma says: Ice lollies.
Phillip says: Ice Lollies?
Gemma says: Ice lollies!
Phillip concludes: Its a taste that lasts for a mile. The taste changes as it passes from the mouth, to the throat and then there's an aftertaste.

Baiky helps me make friends. However, when Gemma, Baiky and I are together, an amazing occurence...uh...occurs. People, for some reason completley unbeknownst to me, think we have a child. On this occassion we were offered free vouchers for swimming lessons for kids. 
Admittedly, it took us a while to convince them that Baiky was born to swim. 
Norman Cider (Medium sweat 7.5%)
A red cloudy cider with a delicious taste. Like a kiss from  a beautiful apple.
Phillip says: Urgggh! Janet Jungle Juice.
( Janet Jungle Juice has been a staple since we first attended this event - the description in 2015 was: smells like, B.O., tastes like B.O., must be B.O. Unfotuantely, since that time all that has changed is its name... -Ed.)
Gemma says: Ruuuuuuuude!

Black Rat Perry (Medium sweet perry 7.5%)
Their description: A fruity pear cider - dangerously drinkable. Go steady - this is a rocket fuel (seen the description rocket fuel a few too many times in the drinking guide, shows a certian lack of imgination. -Ed.)
Phillip says: $2 hooker; goes easy!

Vale of Welton: (Medium Sweet 4.8%)
Their description:Champion cider of the 2015 Northampton County Beer Festival - alcoholic apple juice.
Gemma says: Reminds me of Mary Poppins - its watered down medicine with a spoonful of sugar.

Aberhalls (Medium 6%)
Their description: A heady aroma of fresh crushed apples, light golden in colour, crisp and refreshing with a lingering fruitiness.
Phillip says: radioactive orange squash
Gemma says: fuck, my parents are [waiting for me to give them a lift] at the airport.

Gemma sees multiple missed calls on her phone confirming that she had in fact forgotten that she was supposed to give them a lift from the airport to their car that was parked at her house with keys inside the house.

Moonshine (Medium Sweet 7.5%)
Their description: Rocket fuel in aglass - go steady as this is dangerously drinkable.
Phillip says: Fuckin' disappointed, sharp taste but will drink it because I bought it. (this sentiment was shared by the teenagers sitting next to us at the time as well).

Apparently it is customary at any drinking event for Gemma to wear the contents of someone else's beverage. In this instance there is a slight potential that my pint was launched in an act of self-preservation. Apparently, I managed to single handedly topple my full-bench seat whilst leaning on it at a precarious angle (citation needed). It was gratifying, if somewhat patronising, that so many people who were barely able to stand themselves came to my rescue. None of these chivalrous gentlemen helped dry my pint off Gemma.

 Phillip missed this photo as he has fallen over again.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ballooning in Metz

Less than I week after returning from Poland, Gemma and I once again packed our bags this time heading towards Metz: near the French/German border. Why? We were going to the Mondial Air Balloons: the biggest ballooning festival in Europe!
With this traffic we'll nevner make it in time.
With flights every morning and evening every day of the event my calendar is absolutely crammed with flights, or at least there would have been lots of flights if the weather had have been a tinsy bit better (unfortunately poor weather and holidays seems to go hand in hand in Europe).
 Baiky's first flight!
We flew on the first morning, but alas, Steve, our pilot, was not confident in the weather conditions to go up again whilst Gemma and I were there. Personally I think he was just embarrased about the, ah, shall we say 'bumpy', landing on our first flight. That said, it is much easier to pack up a balloon if it is already prone on account of its landing.
We're here, just drinking beer (without a fear).
Probably a good decision after hearing about the balloon that 'gift-wrapped' a tree on the second day. Weather can be fickle, and even the clear looking skies on the photo above were considered insalubrous for flying.
Baiky managed to score two flights! Seriosuly, though, miniture balloons were hanging in trees in villages for miles around.
However, while we were defeated by strong winds, rain, and poor wind direction ballooning is about more then just flying (especially because it is well-documented I am not overly comfortable in the air.). It is also about drinking, eating, culture, and eating culture.
Balloons preparing for flight.
During our days not flying we visited Metz with its huge cathedral, an excellent art gallery (I did not attend visit), and free wifi well suited to watching round 17 of the AFL (only I participated in this particular activity). 
Minions are bloody everywhere.
Outside of Metz we visited a US WWII cemetery, enjoyed a free sound light show (more commonly known as thunder and lightning), and we also ate bread and cheese; lots and lots of bread and cheese. 
Our ballooning team for the first weekend. 1 flight, 5 blocks of milka, 6 cases of beer, 20 baguettes, and a (laughing) cow's worth of cheese.
I am of the understanding that the world record for the most balloons taking off at the same time was broken with nearly 450 taking off. This, quite clearly, happened after Gemma and I had returned home.
 Gemma got artsy, capturing balloons in glasses.
This was my first international ballooning festival, and to be honest, despite the lack of flying, I throroughly enjoyed it. The tent leaked a bit, but it was mostly on Gemma, and we did not fly much, but flying scares me, so overall I am earnestly anticipating the next one. Who else is up for Warsteiner 2018?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Acqua Alta

So, you may be wondering what Acqua Alta, why was it mentioned in the last post, and why would I dedicate a post specifically for it. Well, we were wondering the same thing as we witnessed the strange occurance.
A normal day in Piazza San Marco.
It all started at about 3 in the afternoon, when I heard a sound that was uncannningly similar to an air raid siren from WWII movies. It sounded once and then...nothing.
Hours later we were seated outside at a popular restaurant right on the canal, pretty hard to find choice seats like this during tourist season. The young couple in front of us were no doubt thinking the same thing as they had scored a table right in the canal edge, a table we had previously passed up thinking that we may get splashed from passing boats. We watched the water from the canal started lapping up against their table and chairs, we watched as they shifted uncomfortably as the water started tickling their feet, and we watched as they finished their meal early and left quikly; smug in ur choice of table, nice views and no water.
Water? In Venice? Well, I never!
Next, we watched as crowds of tourists made walked across a nearby bridge only to return, looking somewhat confused and miffed, minutes later. The water continued to rise.
Next we saw tourists striding along with large plastic bags, tied off at the knee covering their lower legs and shoes and locals walking past in gumboots. We looked at the water nearing our table, at the plastic bags, the gumboots, and the crowds of tourists walking backwards and forwards and I turned to Gemma to say, "No need to worry, my shoes are waterproof"
"What about me and my shoes"
"Well, I don't see how that's my problem"

I did formulate a plan. Venice is a maze of streets, surely one of them will be dry (in the background crowds of Venetians are laughing at that comment). However, we did okay. We made it all the way to the Rialto bridge without issue, along teh way meeting a lovely elderly couple, whom had been provided stylish plastic bags by the restaurant they had eaten in. This, however, created a difficulty for them, because not only were they lost, but plastic does not offer much grip of wet cobblestones. So, arm in arm, Gemma and I guided them to the bridge (their hotel was not far from there) supporting them in the 'treacherous' but comic journey.

 Baiky taking a swim in Piazzo San Marco with Gemma and I. By this stage  we were wet enought having a paddle didn't really matter any more, although I imagine hotel staff had a difference opinion...

By this stage, my planning had kept Gemma and I relatively dry. But alas, not two blocks from our hotel the water raised to heights not yet seen, and despite trying every avenue possible to the hotel it ended up a brave slog through shin deep water. My ankle-length waterproof runners futile against such depths.
View from our hotel window; their was no getting around that!
If you haven't put it together yet, the siren is the cities method of alerting citizens of the upcoming raise in tides. Probably somethig that would have been useful to know before we went.
In an unfirtunate turn of circumsances, the siren sounded again the next day, however, we were traipsing around Murano, Burano, and Torcello so were once again caught unprepared.
I have researched various sites on this phenomenon and many have said it happens maybe once or twice a year, but the fact it happened twice in our stay, I imagine it is more often then that.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Venice! Swamp to merchant capital of the Mediteranean. 118 islands joined by foot bridges and ferry lines. A city's worth of tourists every day to become engrossed and lost in its maze of footpaths and canals and for one week in the summer of 2016, Gemma and I joined them.
Baiky snags a summer spritz.
We never intended to stay there for the entirety of our trip. the previous year we spent nine days in Nice (can't find the photos so no blog post), which was nice, but a little stagnating. When we arrived in Venice we had only booked our hotel for three night and we intended to stay in nearby cities for the remainder of our holiday. But Venice is a place like no other.
Venice: non-stagnating
If I followed our every minute activity this post would go on forever, but it truly was fascinating. No cars, just boats and gondolers; winding lanes so narrow that barely one person can squeeze down;
A venetian highway.
everywhere you turn toursits, tourists, and more god-awful tourists (yes, I realise the irony); and then at 4:00am, poof, like magic, everyone is gone and Venice becomes a ghost town devoid of sound but for the gentle lapping of waves.
This was taken at about 5:30 in the morning. At any time past 8am hundreds of people would be crowded around the statue and traversing the street. This, buy the way, is the secret to good photos in Venice...
It was chock full of surprises. Despite the buildings appearing to be tiny, our first hotel room was massive. Everywhere you turn there was massive church or cathedral (not surprising) that had been turned into an alternate use or museum (hugely surprising).
Also surprising, the huge glass replica of puffer fish.
And it was built on top of a swamp. By chance (not really by chance, the main tourist area of Venice is not that big; we were bound to find out about it) we came across a carthedral converted into a Leonardo da Vinci 'musem'. They had hand's on scale models of da Vinci models and inventions. It was like Questacon, if it had been designed in the 1400s.
We stumbled across a Zaha Hadid exhibition, an influential architect whom Gemma likes. We saw to the Interpreti Veneziani play Vivaldi. We travelled out to colourful islands of Murano and Burano and traipsed around Torcello (I decided we should move to Torcello but thought it would be too boring).
Murano and Burano were both like this, I admire the dedication at keeping the paint so bright!
We sipped Spritz in the sun. We marvelled at how pure stillness of the canals in early morning perfectly reflected its surroundings.
Reflections in the canals.
We climbed St Marks Tower and went to the Basilica where we made all the requisite ohhs and ahhhs. And yes, we got stuck in Acqua Alta. Twice. Its alright though, my shoes are waterproof.
No story to thsi photo, dad just gets annoyed if I do no have a picturen of me in a blog post.
All in all it was a good trip, and while I enjoyed myself Gemma absolutely adored the place. After being there we would love to return, but I also feel strongly for the locals and how the sheer volume of tourists is impacting the true spirit of Venice. We might return and we also might not as Europe still has a lot to offer.
Gemma and I indulging in a selfie.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lake District

Pretty much exactly 12 months Gemma and I decided to spend the May Day long weekend in The Lakes District, a National Park in the Cumbria. It is famous for it's glacial ribbon lakes and rugged fell mountains. Now, I am not going to lie, I still haven't the foggiest what a fell actually is but it seems to have something to do with moutainous...
Mountains! In the Lake District! With Snow! (which makes me question why we came here...)
As with our stay in the Peaks District 12 months prior, we decided to camp. Unfortunately, the May Day weekends have not poduced weather that is particularly accommodating to our plans. On this occassion, the rain was so thick on the Friday evening that halfway to the Lakes we decided it was probably best to head back home and try again early on Saturday morning!
Gemma and Baiky on a bridge across over the Micklden Beck. Why they just can't call a creek a creek I do not know.
The next day dawned considerably dryer and much brighter, even if our campsite in the Great Langdale was a sodden mess. We set up camp and proceeded to check out the local walks. I was pretty keen to make my way to the top of Scafell Pike, the highest peak in England, but first Gemma and I wanted to walk up to the Stickle Tarn, a nearby glacial lake.
Gemma dn I stop for a bit to eat on our way up to the Tarn.
The view of the area was pretty amazing from the Tarn, and it was here I decided to take the scenic route home and run back over the Lagdale Pikes (I think a pike is a rocky outcrop in the top of a peak, in the end, they always have amazing views).
The stickle Tarn.
I scrambled my way to the top of all the pikes. I kinbd of got stuck on the Pike of Stickle as it was a tough scramble to get to the top and didn't really know how I was going to get down. I then caught up to some adventourous runners who were prepping for the 10 peaks challenge (cheats were using GPS) for a bit of company across the Martcrag Moor. They took a route off the beaten path and we pretty much immediately fell knee deep into a quagmire, which hampered our progress. After which they pointed my towards to Cumbria walking path where I ran as hard as I could back to the pub to catch up with Gemma's drinking.
This is where I got stuck. The trekkers at the foot of this rock heap were of no help either.
Sunday dawned soaked in clouded misery so we drove to some nearby towns Grassmere, Ambleside, and Windermere. Grassmere hosts the founder of Grassmere gingerbread, which has stayed in the family since 1854 and is widely known throught the UK. It also is the resting place of William Wordsworth (at the local church, not the gingerbread bakery).
Another photo of Baiky and the Stickle Tarn, because I just didn't take that many photos.
Ambleside is home to the Applice Pie Cafe and Bakery where I indulged in my favourite dessert, the humble apple pie! We got to Windermere just as it was closing and spent our time on the lake.

This is looking back across Sticle Tarn and over the Great Langdale. Our campsit is somewhere down there. 
Finally Monday rolled around and I rose bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to make my run to Scafell Pike, only to be greeted by fog so thick I could barely see the map in my own hand. Reason won out over desire and I decided not to go on a run through unfamiliar territory with no visibility and so Gemma and I packed our car and sludged our way out of the Lakes, with Scafell's untouched peak beckoning me back for another trip...
 View from the top of the highest point I made it too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Mourne Wall Challenge: Bested by a Wall

I was excited at undertaking and defeating the Mourne Wall Challenge; unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. It was my second day in Northern Ireland and the sun had barely dawned when I beaved my way out of tent. Heavy rain, high winds, limited visibility set me up for a real test of character. I loaded myself up with all my wet weather gear and set off. My camera suffered water damage after 5 minutes and I met three other intrepid adventures all who had turned back on the national park and strongly advised I do the same (the phrase idiot came up a lot). 
My first view of the wall. Admittedly, the weather also gave me lots of warnings not to partake this particular adventure which I dutifully ignored!
I alternated sides of the wall to best protect myself from wind as well as walking on the wall of the ground became to marshy. I soon learnt that slippery/greasy grass had a hidden bonus, and it was much easier to slide down the slopes on my bum then actually run the downhills. Admittedly, I probably slid through a load of sheep poo, but the rain washed that right off. My brief meal breaks were spent hunkering down in the wall corners for the best protection from the elements. All in all, the challenge, despite the exteme conditions, seemed achievable. I got to the top if Slieve Donard, traipsed through Silent Valley, and clambered through forest. 
Silent Valley was surprisingly quiet.
Then I hit the river. I do not know what it is called, and I cannot remember exactly where it was, but it seemed as though all the rain was collecting in one place and been forced down the one waterway. Ohhh, I tried crossing. I tried crossing four times; yet four times I was nearly washed away like president-masked bank robber on a surfboard. It was here that I had to concede defeat, and with a heavy, waterlogged heart I trudged to the nearest service station and called for a taxi. He also thought I was an idiot.

The reservoir at Silent Valley. From my expereince this area was in no need of conserving water.
I do not have many photos. The rain destroyed my camera as shown by the fuzzy photo from the start of the trek. It randomly started working again in Silent Valley (which was remarkably silent and free of bad weather!) but ceased functioning once I had returned to camp. And, to add a little bit of stinging salt to my open wound, I lost my pocket watch while trying to cross the river. Ultimartely is was this that sent me home. Without a watch to keep track of the time, I did not feel confident completeing the run/trek.There was a vast chunk of trek which was a bit too far from civilisation that I did not want to get stuck in come sun down, and my watch was the only methof I had of keeping time and ensuring I was not out after dark.
The night day before my challenge looking up at the mountains; eerily calm and dry. Oh, how that was to change.

Summer Holiday: Northern Ireland

So, in the summer of 2015 I went on my first European motorcyle tour. My recently purchased Bandit was loaded up and one Friday evening in July I slogged through a deluge that is the archetype of British weather and the jammed motorways which is quintessential to any British holiday to catch a ferry from Liverpool to Belfast (kinda hoping that the ferry wasn't made in Belfast if you know what i mean), and thus my adventure began...
Another adventurer I met in my hostel in Derry.
Now, if there is anything I leant from this little jaunt across the Irish sea is that law-maker Murphy was, indeed, right on the nose with his adage about fortunes and timings and that the stereotypical British climate is not really sympathetic to the poor motorcyclist. Especially when a tiny tent is one's evenings abode.

Baiky in Belfast at the Titanic Museum.
You see, even though I carefully planned my trip for the height of summer I seemed to have hit upon a, well, let's call it a wetspell. I had even carefully checked historical weather reports for added security but not even this could save me from Murphy's pervasive law.

A fine sunnt day! This was the first day and the last I saw of the sun.
The first day dawned delightfully. I puttered off the ferry into Belfast and cruised along the coast of of Ards peninsula through Comber and their titanic memorials, past Donaghadee and a left-of-centre kids festival, and across to the monastic ruins of Mahee Island.

Snake charming in Donaghadee.
The Portaferry ferry ferried me across Strangford Lough and I followed the Antrim Coast road towards Newcastle and the Morne Mountains for my first night camping. Yes, it was truly delighful. I set up my tent and prepared for my next day, the Mourne Wall Challenge; 12 hours to follow the 22 mile loop of the Mourne Wall. It was cold, it was wet, it was incredibly fun, but ultimately I was defeated by the weather gods - perhaps this is a short story for another time...
Just a tittle in of rain in Ireland!
I briefly pottered into Republic of Ireland to visit the Hill of Tara (and by pottered I mean raced 100 kms through driving rain), the seat of the High King of Ireland. It was a landmark missed on my previous vist to Ireland, Following this I spent a couple days riding up to Derry by circling Lower Lough Erne and visiting for St Patricks Cathedral in Amargh and St Patricks Cathedral in Amargh. Nope that's not a typo and yes there are two, about a half mile from each other. I am sure purists would tell you things like one is catholic and one is anglican, but all I can say is that as an outsider this is hilarious.
St Patricks Cathedral.
The hilarity, of course, tapers pretty quickly once I got to Derry and Belfast and began to understand the significance of religious conflict in the area (which I know was not between Anglicans and Catholics but is representative of the segregration caused through religious beliefs can fortify political conflict). 
As typified by the Bloody Sunday memorial in Derry.
I also took the challenge of sussing out St Paticks Chair and St Patricks Well, conveneintly located next to each other in Altadeven Wood, but still not particularly easy to find.
Baiky sitting in St Patrick's Chair, not too sure of the detour and hunt through the forest was worth it...
I arrived in Derry and the weather had started to improve. Derry; it was, by far, my favourite part of the trip (although the Chair and Well were pretty hard to beat), but it was here that I finally began to understand the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The Peace Bridge in Derry; some rude tourist told the locals just to huild a bridge to get over it...so they did!
I then spent a couple of days following the Causeway Coast stopping off at places like the Giant's Causeway, Musseden Temple, and the Old Bushmill's Brewery (I broke my free sample taster in my bag; tears were shed but my clothes now had a hint of honey whiskey). 
The Musseden Temple as seen from the coast.
It was a spectacular ride, but I admittedly found the Giant's Causeway disappointing. I then wandered off the beaten path to visit the Dunlop memorial and the Dark Hedges in Ballymoney, ran around the Glens of Atrim, and strolled through Cushendun Caves. 
The Joey Dunlop Memorial in Balleymoney.
All in time to arrive in Belfast just as the heavens once again opened up, just to remind that I was in Ireland, and if I was not wet, then clearly I was not having fun.
The Musseden temple from cliff. 
I think after Derry, the impact of the conflict in Belfast did not have the same impact factor. I spent half a day in a black cab tour, which was excellent, and we spent quite a bit of time visiting significant murals and the Peace Wall as well as looking at other ways in which the population have chosen to remember the conflict. 
The Peace Wall in Belfast.
I also managed to find the time to drop by the Titanic musem, Donegall Quay, City Hall, and go on an organised bar crawl, which, in tru Gatt fashion turned out to be much much more, as all the other participants were having a going away party for a mate of theirs who was moving toooooooo......Australia. I didn't want to, but felt obliged to honor the Irish tradition of getting outrageously drunk.
Baiky sneking my whiskey at Bushmill's.