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When We Couldn't Even Wed in Gretna Green

Northumbria - Barnard Castle, Hadrian's Wall, Lockerbie & Gretna Green

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With travel completely disrupted by Covid, and all our original plans out the window, any travel this year would be last minute and national.
We seized an opportunity with lockdowns easing and semi-decent weather to get some time away from the house and have a minibreak.

Similar to those carried out in previous years, we would carry out a road trip exploring part of the country we hadn't seen before - this time heading up to Northumbria.

We began by setting off up the M1, stopping at Woolley Edge Services, where every northern holiday begins, before reaching Barnard Castle via Scotch Corner and the A1.

Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle

I hadn't heard of the place until it made the news when the top government adviser broke lockdown rules to visit in order "to test [his] eyesight", but it was actually really pretty and being almost en route, we decided to stop.

We took a short walk by the riverside, before then driving through through the centre of town which was really very pretty. It was not much longer before we were driving past the Angel of the North and arriving at our hotel just on the edge of Newcastle.

By now it was late afternoon, and we had already spent a lot of time travelling, so all that was left was to grab some dinner and chill at the hotel.
Our hotel was just around the corner from the MetroCentre - the second largest shopping centre in the country. However with the country only just coming out of lockdown, many of the shops were closed, and almost every restaurant was closed. We ended up settling for a takeaway McDonalds, which we had to take and eat in the car park.

The following day was our first to really explore the area, and as the weather had seemed the best today, we headed towards Hadrian's Wall.

Like all Roman creations, it was created without really taking into account elevation, and so it runs in an almost straight line across the country. Most of which has now been lost, but a section in the remote middle of the country remains in quite good condition. We parked up and started our work, to find section of impressive wall was cut right across two rather steep hills. It made it stunning, but it was a really tough walk - at one stage it was almost like rock climbing!

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall

As we were not far from the Scottish border, and we had all afternoon, we decided to take a drive into Scotland, visiting a couple of places close to the border.

The first, being Lockerbie - the small village that a plane fell on in 1988. We took a visit to the remembrance garden, on the site of two former bungalows that were destroyed in the crash, in a residential street on the edge of the village. An eery site....

Lockerbie Memorial

Lockerbie Memorial

The second was Gretna Green. Famous for being the first village in Scotland, and where a lot of marriages of English couples take place due to less restrictive regulations on this side of the border. As we couldn't marry in a week's time anymore we pondered if maybe we should just do so here? Except lockdown restrictions were even tighter in Scotland right now and all of Gretna Green was shut. In fact until a few days ago it was on a strict lockdown where no one was allowed out, so hardly surprising.

An empty Gretna Green

An empty Gretna Green

With not much to see we didn't hang about long, and by mid afternoon we were back at the hotel, but we had at least got to see lots of new and different things something that didn't even seem possible a few weeks ago.

Despite some dark clouds, the weather had stayed dry for us and we were hopeful for this to continue...

Posted by kmmk17 05:31 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged scenery rural castle roman wall macabre northumbria Comments (0)

On The Runway

Berlin - Oranienburg & Berlin

semi-overcast 27 °C
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Our final full day in Berlin began with another visit outside the city to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Oranienburg. Annoyingly on weekends the bus between the station in Oranienburg and the camp runs only every two hours, and so we ended up walking for twenty minutes rather than waiting 25 for the bus to turn up. But the walk went by quite quickly and before we knew it we had turned up at the camp.

Entry to the camp

Entry to the camp

The camp is located on the edge of the town, surrounded by nice family homes - in what appears completely out of place. The camp was free to enter and had remains and reconstructed sites - execution trenches, huts and gas chambers as well as a memorial.

Inside Sachsenhausen

Inside Sachsenhausen

After a walk around the eery site, we headed back to the station and back into the city. We spent the afternoon with a visit to Berlin Zoo, taking a look around at the range of animals, before eating and chilling back at the hotel.

At the Zoo

At the Zoo

Our flight home the following day was in the late afternoon, and so after enjoying breakfast and packing, we left the hotel with baggage in tow and headed via a few sights en route to the airport.

Our first was the former airport of Tempelhof, where it is now possible to walk amongst the former runway.

Not this runway

Not this runway

Hoping locals wouldn't tell us that the airport is actually closed (as we were clearly tourists on our way to the airport), we made our way out and stopped off at Treptower Park, for a view of the Soviet War Memorial, reminiscent of those in CIS countries - such as Mother Motherland in Kyiv and The Motherland Calls in Volgograd

Treptower Park

Treptower Park

And that was it for our trip, a long weekend in Berlin was over already, with us back at Schönefeld Airport ready for our flight home.
The city is always fun to visit, much to see and do and never quite enough time to see it all without being super busy!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 11:44 Archived in Germany Tagged animals park airport memorial zoo city berlin war macabre Comments (0)

Southern Honshu

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Hiroshima & Himeji

sunny 21 °C
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With yet another early morning flight, we checked out of our hotel early and began heading to Seoul's Incheon airport. This was our only flight not with Air China, being with Asiana Airways, and after a short pleasant flight we arrived in the city of Fukuoka, Japan.

We flew via Fukuoka, as it had the best connections to get to Hiroshima, and after getting through immigration, we boarded the short bus transfer to the station, and got hold of our Japan Rail Passes which we would be using for the next week. With everywhere being so busy, it was several hours after we had landed that we finally boarded our bullet train to Hiroshima, but nevertheless we made the train we wanted and got to enjoy the journey on this legendary train.

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

Bullet trains look so futuristic, and felt also very strange, as although travelling exceptionally fast they pivot and thus don't feel particularly faster than regular fast train travel, except the noticeable sensation of ears popping. After just over an hour, we arrived at Hiroshima station, and after buying a few snacks, we headed to our hotel to leave our bags.

Hypocentre

Hypocentre

Our time in Hiroshima was limited to just one night, and this afternoon was our opportunity to explore the city. We began by heading to Hiroshima castle, before making our way to see the sights that are connected to what the city of Hiroshima is most famous for - the atomic bombing in 1945. Starting at the plaque marking the hypocentre of the bomb, we walked around the corner to see the A-bomb Dome, the closest building to survive the bomb, and symbol of the event, surrounded by cherry blossom.

A-bomb Dome

A-bomb Dome

The trip had been scheduled to coincide with the Cherry Blossom Season. However as time was limited, and the cherry blossom takes place in just a few weeks, it was unsure where we would actually get to see it. If it came late, we would catch it in Tokyo just before we left, whilst if it came early we would catch it in Hiroshima as we arrived. This year it came over a week early, and Hiroshima was already at the peak of the blooming.

Eternal Flame within the gardens

Eternal Flame within the gardens

The immediate surrounding area of the A-bomb dome is now a peace park, with monuments and landscaped gardens alongside a couple of museums, which contain artefacts from the bombing as well as other items, such a clock counting the days since the bomb, as well as the last nuclear test.

Peace Watch

Peace Watch

Having taken a brief look around the city, we headed back towards the station to grab food, from a food court on the 11th floor of a department store overlooking the surrounding area, before checking into our room at the hotel.

View from the Food Court

View from the Food Court

The hotel itself had its own Onsen, and after having a bit of a rest, I headed up there to enjoy the heated baths. Although as it was traditionally Japanese, this did mean having to go in naked!

After a soothing bath, it was finally time to sleep before the next day's adventure. However in the morning Chris had not slept well and was exhausted from the week's travel so far. Therefore I left him to get some rest, whilst I headed outside the city towards Miyajima Island.

Taking the train south for half an hour, upon arrival almost everyone got off - evidently full of tourists doing the same, and after a quick walk across the small village I boarded the ferry that would cross the small channel to the island. Upon arrival it was clear the traditional fishing village had now become a tourist magnet, being full of little shops and cafés.

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine

A five minute walk later and I arrived at the magnet of the island, the Itsukushima Shrine and it's torii gate. I had deliberately timed the visit this morning to coincide with high tide, when the gate appears to float in the water.

Floating Torii

Floating Torii

And with the local area also in full Cherry Blossom bloom, it made this one of the most pretty on the trip so far. After popping in the shops, and observing the local pagoda, I headed back to the ferry port and eventually the hotel to collect our bits.

Toyokuni Shrine Pagoda

Toyokuni Shrine Pagoda

Having rested this morning Chris now felt a bit better, and we headed back to the station to continue our journey, now headed for the city of Himeji. Himeji is not exciting enough to warrant a stay here overnight, but it does have one of the most important and beautiful castles in the country. And being just ten minutes from the station we decided to take a look.

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

Arriving at the palace, surrounded in cherry blossom, it was packed full of tourists, but not feeling completely better, Chris stayed outside with the bags, whilst I took a look inside. However the queues inside were long, and it took ages to get around the complex. Queuing to enter the palace took an hour, and I ended up skipping some of the sections altogether. Nevertheless it was an interesting place to visit and did look beautiful.

Inside Himeji Castle

Inside Himeji Castle

Relying on the trains, if we headed back to the station quickly we could make the next train, or otherwise we would have quite a long wait. We therefore decided to hurry and not long later we were back on the bullet train headed for the next city of destination - Kyoto.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 06:37 Archived in Japan Tagged palace train museum castle spa shrine nuclear gate bomb macabre eastasia cherryblossom Comments (0)

Manic Munich

Bavaria - Munich

sunny 26 °C
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After two busy excursion days, our final day in Bavaria was to fill in the rest of the gaps in Munich before flying home late in the evening.

We began once again with an earlyish start, grabbing breakfast, before dropping off our bags and checking out of the hotel. We then headed out to the central station, grabbing the S-Bahn train to Dachau. After half an hour we arrived in the suburban city, and changed to a bus full of other tourists all headed to the Concentration Camp Museum.

Entrance to Dachau

Entrance to Dachau

The Dachau Concentration Camp was the first opened by the Nazis, and is now open as a free museum almost every day of the year. We began walking the short path from the bus stop to the entrance gate, with the typical "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work makes [you] free) sign, before entering the vast site, and heading towards the main building.

Arbeit Macht Frei

Arbeit Macht Frei

Inside the building, which was formally the administration, were many placards detailing the rise of the Nazi regime, many of which are still sadly present today, before going on to explain the history of Dachau more specifically.

Walking back across the roll call area, we entered one of the reconstructed huts, with different sections showing how over the course of time, the camp got more populated, and thus density of beds was increased.

Early Layout of Beds

Early Layout of Beds


Former Hut Sites

Former Hut Sites

We then headed up the tree lined centre, past the site of former huts, to the chapels built within the site, before heading west to the crematoriums. These were built within an extension of the camp site, and were relatively underused for the extermination of prisoners, although still included the gas chamber labelled as "wash room".

Crematoriums

Crematoriums


Stove

Stove

After a depressing morning we headed back to the city centre for some other sights.

Unfortunately Munich wasn't the easiest city to get across, as most of the metro system runs off the backbone of the central corridor, meaning seeing the football stadium from Dachau took an hour and a half by public transport, but just 18 minutes if we decided to drive...

Allianz Arena

Allianz Arena

We therefore decided to make the most of the inevitable trip back to the centre to get some souvenirs, before heading back out to the Allianz Arena. Whilst neither of us are particularly bothered about football, it is an icon of the city, and after having to transfer to a different train en route (and given gummy bears for the inconvenience), we could see the stadium from the station itself. As our legs were aching like mad by now we therefore had a quick look and headed towards the Olympic Park.

BMW Headquarters

BMW Headquarters

Upon arriving, we took a short walk across a bridge, overlooked by the BMW headquarters, and entered the landscaped park seeing the stadium and arenas from the 1972 Olympic Games. Again, as our feet ached we didn't explore too much, and we also knew that if we made it to our last site, the Zoo, before 3pm we could be in time for the Polar Bear talk.

Olympiapark

Olympiapark

Hurrying through the underground system across the city, we eventually arrived at the zoo with ten minutes to spare. I explained to the cashier in German which tickets we needed, but forgetting the word "auch" and using "as well" instead, she had me sussed... no matter how much more German I could use she would always talk back in English. Far too inefficient for her to be wasting time when she was better in English than I was in German.

After hurrying through I then noticed on the map that we had been wrong all day.... the talk was at 3:30pm! We therefore had 40 minutes to get to the other end of the park, and so didn't need to rush. Therefore we started to look at the animals en route, guessing what their German names were before arriving.

Red Panda or 'Kleiner Panda'

Red Panda or 'Kleiner Panda'

Getting towards the Rhinos I wondered what they could be called, as Rhino sounded like a Romance/Greek word not a Germanic one. However walking past the Café Rhino sign, I thought I must have been wrong. Then wondering how a German would say it in my mind, I said it to myself in a German accent just as a German lady behind said the same thing in the same accent... ?

One of the Rhinos

One of the Rhinos

However after going into the Rhino house, where a little child was shouting "Nashörner" at the animal I soon realised I was right at the start - Rhino was not the German word at all!

Polar Bear Cub

Polar Bear Cub

Carrying on the path, it was not long before we arrived at the Polar Bear enclosure. We had aimed to arrive for the polar bear talk for the simple reason that it would therefore be more likely that the 9 month old cub would be on show, and luckily he was. Jumping around copying his mother, watching the cub was a real experience. And then he ran to the side for a swim in the window-side pool. We therefore got to be less than a metre away from the animal, as he swam and used the glass to push himself down with his paw.

Polar Bear swimming

Polar Bear swimming

After sitting around for twenty or so minutes, we continued around the zoo with such diverse animals as baby orangutans, Steffi the elephant and cows... Yes, despite Bavaria being full of cows, they were inside a zoo enclosure - surrounded by a moat so they didn't escape....

Baby Orangutan

Baby Orangutan

After a while at the zoo we then headed back to the city centre having seen almost everything. It was thus time for dinner, bag collection, and the airport.

Grabbing food, I confused the lady with my English so much that she then proceeded to talk the wrong language and to the customer for the next five minutes. Sitting down was well needed, but when it came to getting back up this was such a struggle. Having walked 40 miles in the last three days, I literally had to struggle down the stairs as my legs had seized up!

Making it back to the hotel, we changed, repacked and set off with our bags towards the airport. Getting on the S-Bahn, we headed out of the city when our train developed a fault. The announcement told us to wait on the adjacent platform for a train to change to, yet despite the fault having only just occurred, as we stood at the platform we could already see our replacement train coming to collect us...

Making it to the airport in plenty of time, we headed to border control. However once there, we got stuck behind an Asian family who had no idea what they were doing, with their friend standing in the way in order to wave a goodbye. We got into the EU queue (whilst we still could), but as it was much shorter, the Asian family's friend told them to use that queue instead - despite them not being European Citizens. Luckily we had got ahead of them, and after easing through, it was their turn. Bad luck for anyone behind as they had a tonne of questions and needed a full on visa check...

Security was also pretty slow - lots of random checks as well as an incompetence to actually ease the now developing queue. Having been held back from going through security itself because of a slow family ahead, I took as much time as I fancied repacking my bits at the other end.

After a busy trip we were tired and ready to go home, and luckily with no delay it wasn't long before we boarded and eventually landed back in Luton.

The trip was incredibly busy, and could have done with an extra day, but nevertheless was great. The trip to the Neuschwanstein castle being a particular highlight, and I would highly recommend it if in the area.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 09:08 Archived in Germany Tagged animals walking history airport zoo city war bavaria olympic macabre Comments (0)

"Are Yous Goin' Saaaaafend?"

Paris

all seasons in one day 10 °C
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Having already holidayed together twice in the summer, Chris and I had another getaway - this time a short distance across the Channel to Paris.

Once again taking off the Friday afternoon from work, we headed to the airport to catch a flight from Luton to CDG for a weekend in the French capital.

The "CDGVAL"

The "CDGVAL"

Upon arrival in Paris we quickly noticed the effects the ongoing state of emergency was having. After buying our train tickets to get to the city centre, we found that the station was shut due to an unattended bag, and thus we had to get on the CDGVAL (pronounced Cheval, like the horse) to the other terminal, and then transfer to the train. However this had now caused issues with the trains to the city, and when we did arrive at Terminal 1, the train we boarded wasn't leaving for another 35 minutes. We did however eventually find a train that was leaving imminently - though still delaying our arrival in the city by an hour or so. Getting through Gare du Nord and onto the Metro, we eventually arrived at the hotel, checked in and then headed out for a meal at a local restaurant.

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

After dinner we then headed a little bit further down the road to the Moulin Rouge. Having visited Paris twice before, I had already seen the majority of the sites in the city centre. However as this was located outside the inner city it was new site for me too. Taking pictures of the building all lit up in the night, we then took a look inside some souvenir shops, before heading back to the hotel via a local supermarket for some snacks and cheap fruity wine.

Sacre Cœur

Sacre Cœur

After a relaxing evening, the following morning we woke for breakfast before heading out to explore the rest of the city. Starting by walking up a large staircase we first visited the Sacre Cœur, another new sight for me, before getting on the metro and heading towards the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Most sights in the city have reduced rates, with a significant number being free for under 26's from the EU, and so luckily for me I had free entry. However with massive queues for attractions tickets, as well as extra bag security, it still took a long time to actually visit the attractions in the city.

View of Paris

View of Paris

The queue for the Arc de Triomphe was a particularly long one especially in the cold of a November morning - however upon entry to the roof it was definitely worth the wait, as there were some beautiful views over the nearby architectural beauty, La Defense, and the Eiffel Tower. Heading back down, we walked towards the Trocadero, where there are good views of the Eiffel Tower, before heading to the tower itself. Having still not decided whether we would head up the tower itself, we nevertheless went through the security check to enter the complex. After deciding we would walk up the to the lower levels, we then queued up and bought ourselves tickets.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

Unlike most tall city attractions, you can actually feel the wind through the structure, and see views of just how high you are. After stopping briefly on the first floor - where we were already at one of the highest points in the city, we then headed up to the second floor for even better views over the city. However unlike me, Chris was a little bit nervous of heights, and unfortunately the best form of encouragement I could provide was "Well we've paid for the second floor"....

Taking a look at the views from the second floor, we decided not to buy a top floor ticket, and instead headed down to the exit to continue our walk around the city. Taking in views of the Eiffel Tower once more, we then headed towards the Champs Élysées passing Les Invalides and crossing the Seine.

At the Champs Élysées, a large Christmas Market had been set up on both sides, and so enjoying some Mulled Wine and taking a look at some of the items on sale we then headed towards Concord and the Louvre. We would visit the Louvre itself tomorrow, and so enjoyed some dinner waiting for sunset so that we could enjoy our last site today - the Eiffel Tower by night.

The Eiffel Tower by night

The Eiffel Tower by night

Louvre

Louvre

The following morning after leaving our bags at the hotel, we headed back to the Louvre, where we managed to avoid the queues by entering through a shopping centre side entrance. Unlike the Vatican Museum, the Louvre clearly sign posts it's main attraction, obviously accepting that 95% of the people there simply want to see the Mona Lisa.

Kevin Bear at the Mona Lisa

Kevin Bear at the Mona Lisa

Located on a wall in the middle of the room, the queues to see the infamous painting are much less than we expected and so we were done with the museum pretty quickly.

The Mona Lisa Wall

The Mona Lisa Wall

We then headed out towards Île de la Cité - the oldest part of the city, walking towards the Notre Dame, where we arrived just as the Mass was coming to an end.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Heading back out, we then made our way over to the Deportation monument, which is almost hidden behind the cathedral, before we stopped for a bite to eat. With almost all the city having been ticked off our list, we then headed past the City Hall, towards the Pompidou Centre.

Our final attraction for the trip was the Catacombs, located in the south of the city. Taking the train, we arrived not long after but found a huge and very slow moving queue. Unfortunately we ended up getting caught in a shower during the two hours we waited and debated whether to skip the attraction due to time running out before our flight this evening. Just in the nick of time, we made it in, and after quickly taking a look around and overtaking everyone we had seen in front of the queue, we viewed the tunnels filled with the bones of residents from centuries ago. This eerie but unique experience was well worth the wait.

Inside the Catacombs

Inside the Catacombs

We then headed back to our hotel to grab our bags and headed for the airport. Luckily no bomb scares this time, but once again the understaffed city meant many delays - with a very slow security queue.

We had arrived at Border Control in plenty of time, but the Essex girls in front of us had diced with danger. Hearing we were also British they hopefully asked "Are yous goin' Saaaaaafend". "Err no" we responded.

Eventually making it through in enough time, the group of girls individually ran towards the gate for Southend just about making it. Our sympathy ran slim however as they had already each bought their duty free rather than making it through in enough time....

Eventually getting to eat, we waited for our plane and after a short flight, we finally arrived back home. A great trip even if Paris was overly busy!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in France Tagged art tower paris history city cathedral hill scenic macabre Comments (0)

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