When preparing to travel part 2

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money.  ~Susan HellerSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

One t shirt, one pair of shorts, one dress, two pairs of linen trousers, two favourite holiday tops and one cover up/sleep wear. Rolled and ready.

Into a packing cube. Undies, socks, swimwear and sarong in another.

Add a cardie and into the bag they go.

Sandals, travel towel and silk sleeping bag liner tucked around the packing cubes.

Add toiletries, hat and bag for the day time. This is my second Healthy Back Bag, with lots of handy compartments and is big enough for an iPad, sunglasses, notebook and pens, all safely tucked away and organised.

These will go in hand luggage, also in packing cubes. Minimalist make up as you can see. New on my Kindle is a book by Dave Dean, Hammocks and Hardrives, The Tech Guide for Digital Nomads. I live in hope. Seriously though, Dave was a great help to me when planning my RTW trip and I would suggest if you are serious about travelling and being a digital nomad, he is the man!

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Same routine for the husband. Seven shirts/t shirts, one pair of shorts and one pair of cargo pants, plus sandals, towel and sleeping bag liner. I even managed to get an additional warm top in for us both.

Weight of case fully packed? 10 kg each and hand luggage 3 kg each, that is pretty good going I reckon. And if were not for silly Thomson airline rules we could carry this on with us. The only thing we would do different is buy shampoo or shower gel at the airport or destination.

Crete, Santorini and who knows where else, here we come.

When preparing to travel….

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money.  ~Susan HellerWill it all fit? The money is fixed at £500 plus flights for 7 nights backpacking around the Greek Islands. The flights to Crete are booked and one night at the Kastro Hotel is reserved via Booking.Com and both were well within the budget. I just hope we manage to find some equally good bargains on rooms in Santorini and wherever else we visit. Packing, that is a different matter. We saw these UPPTÄCKA backpacks at Ikea and bought them because they have wheels too. When we used rucksacks on our RTW trip we so rarely needed to haul them on our backs and I really struggled with carrying my pack even though it weighed less than 10kg. I guess I am less a backpacker and more a flashpacker and at 55 I have nothing to prove.

I am also a convert to packing cubes. The pink and blues ones are also from Ikea. No hunting at the bottom of the bag for undies or socks. And full, they all fit perfectly into the larger rucksack. I have found these on the left purchased at Lakeland so useful, keeping cables, adapters and plugs all in one place, combined with these adaptor wraps, also from Lakeland.Cable tidies These certainly help me not to leave any adaptor plugged in at a hostel or hotel. And when, inevitably I have to unload my hand luggage to be searched at airport security. We also need to be prepared for cooler evenings as Greece in April can be chilly, yet if we are hopping on and off ferries I don’t want to be lugging a heavy coat on a warm day. My trusty Kag in a Bag combined with a warm top will have to suffice. One pair of shoes to travel in and one pair of sandals. And that is it. The trusty cagool It all has to fit into these two rucksacks, one to check and one as carry on. If I could only take one carry on that would be ideal, however the airline we are travelling with have a 5kg limit for hand luggage. We had to pay £48 for each bag we check, and have an allowance of 20 kg per bag. The 20 kg cannot be split over two bags, you pay for the bag not the weight. Who needs 20 kg for a week in Greece? Reluctantly I paid for two bags on top of the flights. The fact that the flights dropped in price by £40 the day I booked somewhat softened the blow. Still Thomsons, it is a silly policy. The bulkiest and heaviest items (apart from shoes) are toiletries. I keep saying we will cut back, and always struggle to do so.Too many toiletries I have bought a 3 in 1 shower/shampoo/conditioner, I use hardly any make up and have had my hair cut in an easy to manage style (thanks Vangelis) as I am definitely not taking hair dryers and straighteners. Maybe one hair product to project it from the sun. Sun lotion, toothpaste, Eight Hour Cream and Bare Minerals Sunscreen and that is all. Did me for 5 months on the RTW trip, will certainly do for 7 days in Greece. I am packing and flying tomorrow, wish me luck. And please feel free to share your packing tips with me.

More memories than photos

After I had published my last post about Greece, a number of other memories from that trip in 1979 popped into my head. Amazing that after 35 years I can recall so much. some of the photos jog the memory, like this one that reminds me that the van broke down a lot.The VW, more repairs

As my travel companion commented on my Facebook Page, it was indeed a great holiday. We travelled with a company called Consolas Travel who amazingly are still in business. I say amazingly because I am surprised any of their drivers survived more than one trip, their driving was so atrocious.

They got lost, a lot. Most memorably in Paris. They had no business being in Paris as we were heading for Boulogne sur Mer for the ferry back to Dover. They were following road signs for Bois de Boulogne. We spent an hour driving around Paris looking for the port.

Eventually they decided to ask for directions. Greek drivers in Paris asking for directions. Words that never belong together on one page. They were of the belief that if they shouted in Greek, Parisians would understand them. Arms were waved, by both the French and the Greeks. One passenger made the attempt to interrupt but they were having nothing of it, until she pushed her way off the bus, and asked for directions in perfect French.

She then directed the Greek drivers out of Paris and to the port. Where our ferry was departing.

We were just grateful to be alive never mind in the right Boulogne, as these particular drivers didn’t stop the coach when they switched over. Yup, one guy kept his foot on the pedal, the other took the steering wheel and as one slid out of the drivers seat, the other slipped in.

When we had left Athens we spent all our last Drachma on food and drink for the journey home. We bought bread and tinned sardines. The reason I remember this was because we shared our food around the coach, as many of our fellow travellers had no money left at all. We didn’t quite feed the 500, but our loaves and fishes sure went a long way around that bus.

When we stopped in Venice we were penniless. Beautiful city, and everyone was diving into ice cream except for us. Yet generosity has a habit of being paid forward, and one of the passengers bought us an ice cream each.

Before departing from Omonia Square we spent a last day in Athens. The bus left early in the morning so we needed somewhere close by that was cheap to stay the night. John the Kiwi was travelling back with us, so it made sense to get a room for the three of us to cut costs. Five of us had spent many nights in one room, on one beach, in one VW,  so we thought nothing of it. It was cheap, but not very clean. It was for one night and all we could afford. Sara in Athens

It was only after checking in, and hearing rats scuttling around the room did we realise how dirty the place was. What we also didn’t realise, till much later, was that most people rented the rooms by the hour. We were slap bang in a red light district and most of the rooms were occupied by prostitutes and their clients. We had no guide book or internet, we had no idea. We did emerge unscathed, if unwashed and itchy. Think hovering over the loo, careful not to let anything touch you anywhere.Cathy, Sara and John hanging out by the van

Despite sleeping with prostitutes and rats, that trip to Greece is so memorable. I can still see the sun setting in the middle of the bay, in Matala Crete. That night we slept without a tent, with the Milky Way as our roof. I have no photos of that, indeed much of the holiday is not recorded on film. I have 38 photographs from a trip that lasted about three weeks. I can take that many in a day now, but then film was expensive to buy and develop, when the film ran out so did the photos.Agios Nikolaos Harbour

Another memory was of the time we spent in Athens on a camp site we didn’t pay for. The banks were on strike and non of us had any cash. We couldn’t put fuel in the van and had no money for food. rob drove on the camp site, and we were told it was full, so we told them we would just turn around and leave. Instead we kept on until we found a spot that we could squeeze into. It was right on a beach and we spent the day swimming and sunning.

Ellie and Coral

Back in those pre recycling days, you got money back on empty bottles. We needed cash and people had left empty bottles on the beach. So we collected them and exchanged them for a few Drachma.  And that is how we survived for a couple of days until the banks re opened. Dropping of Ellie to stay with her ex in Athens, we had already lost Cathy to a holiday romance, the four of us decided to visit Crete.KnossosI don’t think I will be visiting Knossos or seeing much of Crete this time. Strikes and weather permitting, I will be going to some islands I have never been to before, The Cyclades. Can you tell I am looking forward to it?

 

 

 

Going back ‘home’ to Greece

I first travelled to Greece in 1979. There were four of us travelling overland on a bus from London to Athens.

coral and camper

The not so trusty VW with me and The Kiwi

 

Sara, my uni friend, and I had been working the summer at The Avon Gorge Hotel. It was rather a good summer job, as bar jobs go. My tips paid the rent, I had free food from the hotel, so with no other expenses, my wages paid for the trip to Greece.

Our customers were a good mix of locals who tipped well, hotel guests visiting Bristol for business or pleasure and a weekly coach load of Americans who were doing Europe in a week, (think, If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium). One of them thought the Clifton Suspension Bridge was a copy of The Golden Gate in San Francisco. That is a true story, I promise you.

We even had the Kent County Cricket Team stay once. Amazing how a logo on a polo shirt can get you into every club in Bristol for free. But that is another story and this post is not about Bristol or a night on the town with cricketers. It is about Greece.

food in Greece 1979

L to R Rob Ross, Ellie Ross, Cath, me, and out of shot, the Kiwi

My ex boyfriend had travelled to Greece the summer before with a guy named Rob. It was he who suggested I go to Greece and hooked up with Rob and his VW van. I suggested it to my uni friend and she was keen. We mentioned it to another girl who was working  the bar with us, and she decided to come along too. We had also got friendly with one of the receptionists, Ellie Ross. Amazingly she was also working at the hotel to pay for her trip to Greece. Then we discovered that Rob, the man with the van, was her brother.

coral and rob

Me, Rob and Cath at Corinth Canal

The overland journey by bus was pretty awful. I have recollections of travelling though the former Yugoslavia, where old ladies increased the charge to use unuseable loos when they realised they had a coach full of Brits. Being confused that we were not getting served with food and found out that was because we asked for the menu. And I am pretty sure we left one passenger stranded in Zagreb.

The highlights, for me, were travelling through The Mont Blanc Tunnel, and seeing the Geneva Water Fountain.  The fountain was always shown in the 60s tv show The Champions. I also recall rather good food being served, with wine, at a French motorway service area. Coming from England, good food is not what we associate with a motorway cafe. Certailnly not in the 70’s. That is why we used to take flasks and sandwiches and picnic on the verge of the M1. And wine, while driving?

We arrived in Athens and Ellie took us on the train to stay the night with the family of her ex boyfriend. In Kifisia. I am not sure that we had known then she had a boyfriend or where we were going to stay that night, we just let Rob and Ellie take the lead as they seemed to know what they were doing. Kifisia is the last stop, and is a leafy and affluent suburb. Water sprinlers kept the manicured lawns perfect.  Chilled water was kept in Gordon’s Gin bottles in the fridge. The decor was sumptuous. One night of luxury.

Ellie and Ross

Ellie and Rob

Anthony, her ex, and Ellie had met in England at University. His mother was English and his father was Greek. They had met as spies during the war. He was now something very important in the government. And I was staying in their house. That night the family and friends took us swimming off the rocks and afterwards for dinner in the hills. And that is when my love affair with Greece began.

I recall piles of food coming out, Greek Salad, lamb chops, chicken and potatoes, retsina flowing and wondering how I would be able to afford this. The bill, once split came to about £1.cheers

The next day, Rob came and picked us up in the ancient VW. He had one other passenger, John, from New Zealand. We camped in Athens and went to the Wine Festival. Nursing hangovers from hell the next day we set off around the mainland, visiting The Acropolis, the Corinth Canal and Mycenae. For someone who had studied and loved Classical Studies this was a dream come true.

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One night we went to see The Trojan Women in a Greek Ampitheatre. I had studied the play at school and now I was watching it in Greek, in Greece.  Afterwards we went to a taverna that was full of young men who were in the army on on Naitonal Service. They kept sending wine to our table. We later set off to the beach to camp for the night. Someone decided we would have a disco in the van. We got sort of arrested, a long night at the police station ensued.  Only after a lot of waving of arms and shouting did Anthony and his sister mention who their father was. We were then allowed to leave. We were woken in the morning by the fishermen whose boats we had slept in.

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After a more peaceful nights camping we left the van and took the foot ferry over to Aegina and Spetes.Cafe Spetses

Rob then decided to go to Piraeus and see where we could go from there. By then we were all so laid back we had decided that we were only allowed to make three decisions a day between us. Cathy had decided to run of with a Greek man after Spetses, so it was just the five of us who decided to go to Crete.

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Again, how excited was I to be visiting Knossos.

Knossos

Knossos

Things I had read about at school, now I was actually there.

Campsite in Crete

Campsite in Crete

We camped here just outside Agios Nikolaos. When I returned to Crete in the 90’s all this had been built on. Five star hotels stealing the views.

But all things had to come to an end, and we had to say goodbye to Crete.

This was the last day, just outside Heraklion, making the most of the beach.

OMG was I that brown and thin?

OMG was I that brown and thin?

And waited in the shade for the ferry back to the mainland.

Snoozing

Snoozing

I am going back to Crete next week. The flight is booked and one night in Heraklion. Then it is off to the port, to get a ferry and make only three decisions a day. One will be to go to Santorini to keep the last promise I made to my mom. To reunite her with her friend the wind.

Travel Insurance and not so natural disasters

I renewed our annual travel insurance policy today.

As we went abroad three times and had three breaks in the UK in 2013 an annual policy makes financial sense to us.

This time I was offered ‘additional cover’ for unknown or unpredictable occurrences.

I asked the agent, does that cover stuff like getting stranded in Majorca when a volcano erupts in Iceland.? Yes he said, that is what we usually give as an example. And being evacuated from an island in Fiji because of a cyclone? Er yes. And what if there is a civil uprising in the country you plan to visit and you can’t go? Um, yes. Ok then, I will take that extra cover as all of those have happened to us.

I am not sure he believed me. And I never told him about the two earthquakes in Turkey or nearly getting struck by lightning. Also in Turkey.

And still we got insurance cover.

Lots of reasons not to travel (see reasons not to travel). Many more to Go travelling while you can.

Melbourne – Yarraville and Williamstown by train boat and plane

One of our days out while in Melbourne was a trip to Yarraville and Williamstown. The people we were house and dog sitting for had driven us out there and we were quite taken by the quirkyness of these two suburbs so decided to revisit them.

Flinders StreetNot brave enough to drive there (Melbourne drivers are scary and there are Hook Turns to scare you even more) we jumped on the train at Flinders Street. Got totally confused and went round in a loop to get off at Southern Cross.The wedding party

Across the platform I captured this group of people, and guessed they were off to a wedding.

As we got off the train in Yarraville we saw this.Birmingham Street

Our home town in England is Birmingham. And how cute, they have this at the station. Something we need to have at all stations, I think.Kiss and Ride

We had a stroll around the area and were quite convinced we could live here. That said up until then we were pretty sure we wanted to live in St Kilda. Time seems to have stood still in Yarraville and I would think it is a popular suburb for young families and commuters. The Sun TheatreThe Sun Theatre opened in 1938. It is a beautiful building and another reason to live in Yarraville. They even used to have baby room, so you could leave you baby while you watched a film. Given my experiences where parents take children far to young to see some films (see A guide to cinema etiquette) I think we need to introduce a crèche in cinemas in England today.

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The railway goes right across th main street and I love these crossing so yes, going to share. The town goes at a slower pace than most of the other suburbs we visited in Melbourne. No one was in a rush to do anything.

No standing

We jumped back on the train to Williamstown and saw this. Tempted to sit down imediately, it was getting very hot by then.

Drinking fountain Williamstown

Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain 1875 Williamstown

This came in handy.

As did the ice cream.  There were so many to choose from. There were lots of ice cream shops in Williamstown.

We then decided that we may like to live in Williamstown. It had beaches and good places to eat, and we could commute like this.Sea Plane

Or like this.Wiliamstown Melbourne Ferry

 

With views like this.Melbourne skyline

We caught the ferry back and got chatting to a man on the boat who had moved from Sydney to Melbourne. After a long discussion about politics and advice as to where to get the best pies in Sydney, he then told us about the bridges we were travelling under. One not very pleasant story about this bridge (which I won’t share). 

And a funny story about this one.

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Apparently the concrete columns were put there to make people feel more confident using the bridge. Travelling on the bridge you would think they were supporting the bridge yet from the sea, you can see that they are not attached. Not my story his. Just telling it.

If you are going to Melbourne I would thoroughly recommend you visit both Yarraville and Williamstown. After the bustle and hustle of the busy city,mad drivers, trams and traffic jams, these are places to come to slow down and relax.

And get the ferry back as this is your welcome back to the city.

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We ended the day at the Young and Jackson, dining with Chloe and people watching from the window.

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I love Melbourne.

Melbourne for Free Part 2

We found Australia a very expensive country to visit. I posted while we were in Melbourne on our quest to find things that were free in Melbourne, here. We were house and dog sitting in Melbourne so our accommodation was free which saved us lots of money. Food and the cost of transport using Myki (think Oyster but complicated and expensive) really took a chunk out of our budget. We wanted to make the most of our time there, yet we needed to find free things to do and see. Fortunately my old uni friend, whose house and dogs we ‘sat’ for a month in Melbourne advised us to bring our National Trust card with us as we could use it in Australia.

And this is where we visited.

The Old Melbourne Gaol

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This would have normally cost $25 per adult if not for our trusty National Trust Card.

To visit the Gaol you need to book a timed tour. This is no ordinary tour as there is a lot of role play. We were taken into the police station, assigned names and had our charges read out to us. The police officer then accompanies you to the cells and divided up the men and women and then locked us up in separate cells. Even though you knew it was  all part of the ‘experience’ and fully participated in this, it was still very unnerving. I was glad to hear the key turning in the lock to set us free.

The most famous prisoner here was Ned Kelly who was hanged there in 1880. After the tour you are able to explore the rest of the gaol, and learn more about some of the prisoners held there. There are some very sad stories. While highly recommended, a visit to the Gaol comes with a health warning; you will probably leave with low spirits. I recommend that you line something up afterwards that is outside and cheers you up such as …

Polly Woodside

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As you enter the visitor centre you are assigned a role and then treated accordingly on the guided tour. We were the only ones on our tour, the upside was we got the guide to ourselves, the downside was that some of the role play was impossible with only two of us. This wasn’t the only time when visiting attractions that we had a guide to ourselves visiting Melbourne attractions. The Polly Woodside was built in Belfast and was sold to the National Trust for one cent in 1968. Great for families, children, big kids and history buffs alike. A good place to visit after the Gaol as it is in the open air and fun, and you can purchase a combined ticket with the Gaol for $30.

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Once more this is by guided tour only and according tp the web site:-

Como is not open to walk up visitors in the short term however, the site will continue to be available for bookings covering group tours of 10 or more people (a minimum of 20 people on weekends), as well as events and private functions.

We were lucky as we turned up on spec and joined the a small guided tour of just four. The house and gardens are beautiful, a real insight to how the privileged lifestyles of the rich. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, it is a shame that they have limited opening now.

Rippon Lea House and Garden

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Our tour guide informed us that the family that built this house had made its fortune in Manchester. As there were only two of us on the tour (do you see a pattern emerging here?) I gently pointed out that most, if not all Brits, would think she was talking about the city in England. The guide was surprised to learn that it is only in Australia and New Zealand that bed linen and towels are referred to as ‘manchester’.

IMG_6318

Once we had cleared that little misunderstanding up, she went on to tell us that this house, amongst others mentioned in this post, had recently been used as a film set for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Labassa

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Labassa was closed when we visited. It was within walking distance of where we were staying, and is surrounded by residential properties.We did manage to get a few photos of the interiors. Stunning house and disappointed that we were unable to go inside.

Use them or lose them Melbourne folks

What struck me was how few visitors most of these really interesting places were getting. By far the most popular was Melbourne Old Gaol. At most of the other places we were often the only ones there. Why is this? Was it the time of year, mid December, just before the school holidays? Do visitors to the area not know or are not interested in this part of Australian history? In the UK most National Trust properties are full of visitors. There has to be timed entrances due to the volume of visitors. Yet these beautiful properties are struggling to remain open due to lack of visits.

The guides at Como and Rippon Lea were baffled, as to why people from England were interested in these houses, when we had much older and grander properties to visit in the UK. We explained that we knew very little about the history of Australia, I frankly had no idea that we would find properties to visit like this. My limited knowledge of Australia was that it was hot, had kangaroos, spiders that would kill me and sharks that would kill me. And what I had seen in Neighbours and Home and Away. I thought everyone would have swimming pools and that most people living there were descendents of criminals or £10 Poms. OK I may be over exaggerating just a bit, yet Australia was full of surprises for me, (rain, cold, bad tv, heritage properties) despite reading Down Under by Bill Bryson who writes:

‘It was as if I had privately discovered life on another planet, or a parallel universe where life was at once recognizably similar but entirely different. I can’t tell you how exciting it was. Insofar as I had accumulated my expectations of Australia at all in the intervening years, I had thought of it as a kind of alternative southern California, a place of constant sunshine and the cheerful vapidity of a beach lifestyle, but with a slightly British bent – a sort of Baywatch with cricket . . . ‘

Yes, he loves Australia as much as I do. The rich culture, the amazing food, the skyscrapers in the CBD and these beautiful properties to visit, all knocked me for six. I cannot wait to get back there and spend some more time in this beautiful country.

Have you been to or live in Melbourne? What would you recommend to a visitor?

And if you live in or are visiting Victoria, go visit these properties, while you can.

Melbourne Memories -St Kilda

The far sickness has kicked in big time today. I think it is because I have committed myself to a paid job, which means that the travelling plans are truly on the back burner. But that’s another post for another day….

Time to revisit some memories of a very happy time in Melbourne. IMG_4658

We loved St Kilda. We were there every week as we were volunteering at Lentil as Anything.

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After our shift we usually had a wander around. There was always something to see.IMG_4673

We loved this community garden.

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And the cakes.IMG_4657

And the record shop.IMG_4662

And of course Lunar Park.IMG_5967IMG_4738

Hope to see you soon St Kilda.IMG_4787

Be a tourist in your own back yard – Up The Cape

Last Sunday my husband and I went ‘Up the Cape’ with Ian Jelf, a Blue Badge Tourist Guide.

Ian Jelf

Ian Jelf

This is an area that my grandparents grew up in. My first Saturday job was in Woolworth’s Cape Hill and it is about a 20 minute walk from where I now live. Much of my childhood was spent around this area, as it had a thriving market and I had a favourite Auntie Renee who in the early 70’s lived in the then, modern, high rise flats. She had been moved from a prefab and considered herself very lucky to have a place with all mod cons including underfloor heating.

Yet I knew very little about the history of the area. A tour of the area was in order.

It would be fair to say that The Cape is not without its social and economic problems. It is an area of low wages, high unemployment and low educational attainment. A high number of the population are immigrants, from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Caribbean and more recently from Eastern Europe. The shops on Waterloo Road and Cape Hill reflect this rich diversity, and it is the best place to shop if you want Asian ingredients, quality fruit and veg and wonderfully colourful materials.

Fresh produce

Fresh produce

As ever there will be somewhere that bucks the trend, and throws statistics and predictions out of kilter. One primary school in the heart of this community, has a long reputation of educating young people who eventually go to university.

Two hundred and fify years or so ago, it was an area that was ‘highly desirable’. The Cape was where wealthy industrialists would make their family home, to the west of the city, avoiding pollution, on a hill overlooking Birmingham. It is hard to imagine that this was once pretty much rolling countryside. Yet my Grandad’s first job in the 1920’s was as a farm hand. His father was a highly skilled gilder, hand applying gold leaf to frames, many of which hang in the Birmingham Art Gallery, according to my Nan.

The group met on a very sunny Sunday in March at McDonald’s, at the junction of Dudley and Grove Lane. Not a place where you would normally expect a guide to the history of an area to begin. There was a good reason for this however (in addition to the practicalities of parking, toilets and refreshments) as this was the site of a former public house, The Cape of Good Hope which gave the area ‘The Cape’ its name.

Ian began by explaining that this would be an unusual tour because most of the places he would be talking about no longer existed as they had all been knocked down. DSCN0726

And of course we got some odd looks from passers by, a posse of middle aged white people, following a man with an umbrella, a trade mark of a Blue Badge guide, all wearing sensible shoes, and carrying cameras. In Smethwick on a Sunday. We may as well have had a placard declaring ‘History Geeks R US’. And we would have held it proudly!

The Grove

The Grove

And so we began. The Grove, a beautiful Art Deco Cinema now a bathroom show room.

A road named after Arthur Keen of Guest Keen and Nettlefolds (GKN).

Keen Street

Keen Street

A description of Smethwick Grove, a beautiful home to the Kier/Molliet family that used part of the canal as a boating lake, with swans and grazing cattle. James Kier was a member of The Lunar Society had been a friend of James Watt.

The Grove

The Grove

Then on to a now derelict pub (one of many in this area) The London Works. this pub would have served the workers who made the metal frames for The Crystal Palace for The Great Exhibition. The Glass was made just up the road at Chances of course. Yes, The Crystal Palace. Made in Smethwick.

A meander around a housing estate (more baffled looks from residents) crossing over from the land of Grove House to the estate of The Woodlands. The only remaining evidence of this is a run down Working Mans Club and the name of the street. New housing built in 1968 have one reference to history, the first moon landings.DSCF7964

Smethwick Windmill

Smethwick Windmill

As we go around the back of Asda and the Windmills Shopping Centre, named for the original windmill that once stood nearby, we find yet another beautiful and listed building.

The Gaumont

The Gaumont

It was originally the site of a skating rink built in 1909 which became The Rink Cinema in 1912. Demolished and rebuilt in 1928,i t is now the Victoria Suite having been The Gaumont Cinema and a Mecca bingo hall (frequented by my Aunt Renee).

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The next stop was at the junction of Waterloo Road, Cape Hill and Shireland Road. The Waterloo Pub. It is crowned with wonderful weather vane, in the shape of a Galleon. There are galleon tiles in The Grill Room. This is because the it was originally going to be called The Galleon, changed to The Waterloo due to its location.

It is a tragedy that this building is not being used. It was recently sold for £150k and yet nothing is being done to preserve it despite it being listed. Oh to win the lottery.

We continue along Shireland Road, to the site of the former Shireland Hall, another of the great houses in the area. Now a car park and terraced houses. It was the biggest house in the area as it had seven hearths (recorded due to The Hearth Tax). One of the many taxes invented to obtain revenue from house holders, such as the Window Tax, where the phrase Daylight Robbery is derived from. Oh the things you learn when on an Ian Jelf Guided Tour.

This junction was also a site of a battle in 1643. According to this article about the military history of Birmingham  ‘At the far end of the town at Cape Hill the Roundhead troopers made a stand and successfully checked the Cavaliers between the Royalists’. I think we ought to arrange a re-enactment sometime. That would make the locals look up!


And talking of looking up, above and among the shops and banks there is some amazing architecture.The Victorians made their buildings stand out with turrets and clock towers, even those to meet the needs of the poor such as The Dispensary, a now an “at risk” Grade II Listed Building. Cape Primary school is where my nan was educated over 90 years ago.

We end the tour at the site of the former Mitchells and Butlers Brewery. Now a housing estate. This was such a big site that it had its own fire station, railway network and cricket pitches. Only the fire station building, the war memorial and these gates remain.

Most of the pubs around the area were M&B pubs, my Grandad’s local was The Two Brewers (now demolished and a housing development) and the famous Blue Gates where Christabel Pankhust made a speech when seeking a parliamentary seat in the 1918 election.

Ian covered so much more than this post could do justice to. His knowledge of the area is amazing. His style is eccentric, witty and informative. And never ever boring.

If you want to learn more about where you live, find a Blue Badge Guide. If you live in Smethwick or Birmingham, find out where you can join an Ian Jelf Guided Tour.

And I will book myself on another tour of my back yard soon. Bearwood I think.

Marrakech and why 4* luxury doesn’t have to break the bank

The pool

The pool

I don’t think I have ever stayed in a 4* hotel let alone go All Inclusive so I was a bit apprehensive when I booked a week away just before Christmas 2013.

I had come across an article about Marrakech whilst reading the newspaper in the very cosy bar of The Aysgarth Falls Hotel during a mini break to the Yorkshire Dales

2013 had been a tough year for me and the idea of a pre Christmas break seemed like a very good idea indeed. (Those of you who read my blog regularly will be aware that my mom passed away early 2013 and I have had a struggle clearing her clutter and managing my own health for most of the year). So yes I needed a another holiday.

It became a very good idea when I looked up some package holidays and saw the prices.

I don’t usually talk about how much my holidays cost, but on this occasion I will just to put it perspective what an amazing bargain this holiday was. I am always being asked how I afford so many holidays, the answer is that I make sure I get a good deal. If the price isn’t right I don’t go. There are still really good deals to be had. I also never, ever pay for inflight meals or to guarantee sitting together. Utter waste of money. So here goes.

One week, All Inclusive, gym, indoor and outdoor pool, free shuttle bus to the city,  for two people came in at under £600. ($996 approx). Including flights from my local airport in Birmingham, England. It seemed a unbelievably good bargain. After all we had paid around the same for a grotty bed bug ridden 2 star B&B hotel in Malta only a couple of months ago. Our B&B in Yorkshire was costing us about £80/$131 a night. With all the additional costs of fuel in the car and other meals we were paying about £110/$183 per dayThis holiday worked out at £85/$141 per night.

So of course I booked it.

I had no idea what to expect. I have travelled mainly in Europe and so called First World countries. I have been to Turkey a few times and travelled in SE Asia so thought that I would have been prepared for Marrakech.

I was wrong. Nothing can prepare you for Marrakech.DSCN9745 - Copy

As we drove from the airport to the hotel my face was glued to the window of the coach. There were actually donkeys in a 4 lane road surrounded by lorries, buses, cars and mopeds. And bikes, lots of bikes. Moped riders wore helmets, unfastened of course, and bike riders caught lifts from them, one foot on the moped and one foot on the bike pedal and holding on to the rider. Crazy mad dangerous.

I liked this place.

Our hotel was the RIU Tikida Palmeraie Marrakech and is a few miles outside the city, and was an oasis of calm. I was a bit very overwhelmed by all the luxury, the fact that our cases were delivered to our rooms. We were travellers for goodness sake, not holiday makers. Would I have to dress for dinner? Would everyone think we were the scruffs? Would I have to tip?

On the plane there had been some obnoxious, wealthy business men who talked loudly and verbally abused the attendants throughout the flight, and they were at this hotel. My heart sank, we were definitely the poor plebs here.Then I saw they had golf clubs, so reckoned I would not be seeing much of them. They had not brought wives and partners, this was a boys only trip.I imagine their partners had whooped with joy as the nobs their hubbies had left the house and had dashed down to to the Bull Ring with the Amex pretty swiftly.

Marrakech has some very good golf courses. Indeed I noticed that more golf resorts were being built on the outskirts when we were on trips out of the city. And there is a lot of space to build on, and boy are they building. All shiny four and five star hotels. Yawn, golf.

Our room was lovely and we had different swan towels every day. And yes of course I took pictures!

We discovered that we could, like Hobbits, have a first and a second breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. (We never did). There were three place to dine, the main restaurant, plus tables at the Moroccan and Italian themed restaurants could be booked. That said the main one served such a wide range of food, including Italian and Moroccan dishes, so these themed places were just a bit more cosy and intimate for a special meal. And all the drinks, soft and alcoholic, were of course included.

So used are we to being frugal, we forgot that the drinks were free and caught ourselves wondering if we could afford a drink in the bar. Then we remembered we had those little bands on our wrists and we were ‘All Inclusive’.  It was a novelty to have a brandy after dinner, or a G&T before. And the waiters always filled up your glass with wine as soon as you put an empty one down. The buffet was so varied, the quality so very good and we tried lots of new foods. It was easy to balance the less healthy indulgence in cakes when you knew you had had lots of salads.

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Two things had worried me about All Inclusive. That people would pig out and overload their plates with food and waste food, and, because the drinks were free they’d get drunk and behave like louts. And I don’t just mean us. To be fair we didn’t stay up late and drink with the many who watched the various entertainment acts at the hotel, yet we never heard any rowdiness, nor witness people getting pissed around the pool by day. This was not the Benidorm nightmare I had dreaded. It was all very civilised without being stuffy. Jeans were ok for dinner, shorts, bikinis and football shirts were not. Correction, football shirts did begin to make an appearance around the pool and a breakfast. That was because Morocco was hosting a big football tournament and many of the fans from Brazil were staying at our hotel.

When we did an open top tour of the city, the bus was packed with Brazilian football fans waving flags and shouting to fellow fans as we passed. In England you would get off a bus if 50 football fans got on, and wonder when the police would be needed. Here, it was all good fun, no nasty rivalry between fans.DSCF7451 - Copy

We couldn’t fault the hotel or staff and there was no pressure to tip. We began to relax and then we took the bus into the city and decided to explore the Medina. And that is when the adventure begin. If only I had been able to read this by The Wagoners Abroad before I went (I couldn;t have cos we went before they did) or this by Life Out of the Box (again, we were there first) but if you are thinking of going to Morocco, I would recommend you read their blogs as they are excellent guides to coping with preparing for Marrakech. I hope that my subsequent posts about our experience will be helpful too.