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Four Cities and a Wedding.

I have been wanting to get back to the U.K for 15 yrs, so one year ago, before we left New Zealand, Lindsay told me about an invite he had received from a friend/colleague to his wedding! I was overjoyed.

As it turns out, between us we have numerous friends and some family that we both really wanted to catch up with. So this holiday became the adventure of the year as we worked our way to and from different groups in Sweden and throughout the U.K.

Sweden

Our first visit was to Stockholm to visit my brother Grant and his family. This includes my two fabulous nieces Bianca and Olivia, and Grants partner Kristina along with her two son’s Alexander and Carl whom Grant has become a kind of foster father to. My brother and family extended their hospitality to ensure Lindsay and I were very comfortably looked after and fed, and we totally enjoyed our stay.

However, it turns out the proof of Aunty and Uncle love, requested by all our nieces and nephews throughout the world, is the love that only lolly/candy/sweeties can show! And what is the most requested! Jolly Ranchers – requested from NZ to Sweden; they all want the old fashioned hard candy…YEK!

Carl, Bianca, Olivia and Alexander divvying up the kilo’s of American candy and New Zealand lollies that we were directed to deliver! You think they would look happier, but this is serious business…to make sure that no one gets any more or less than the next person!
Exploring the streets of Stockholm.
Exploring the streets of Stockholm.
Out in the centre of Stockholm for a restaurant meal. Getting a little after dinner exercise  From left is Olivia, Grant, Me, Lindsay and Bianca.
The outpouring of grief following the 7 April 2017 attack in central Stockholm when a hijacked truck was deliberately driven into crowds along Drottninggatan (Queen Street) before being crashed through a corner of an Åhléns department store. Five people & one dog were killed, and around 15 others were injured.
Kristina’s stunning home steeped in history.
Easter dinner at Kristina’s with all the family. Prepared from start to finish by the fabulous Carl who at 14yrs is a superb Spaghetti Bolognese chef! Best I’ve had.

The Wedding in Derby, England

After three nights in Stockholm we flew to Manchester where we hired a car and drove to Derby for a three night stay. We had a fabulous time at David & Natalie’s wedding, everything from the venue to the catering, and music was great. As was the company.

Just your average view of a castle on a hill as one drives through England.
Lindsay and I all cleaned up for the wedding.
Throwing confetti to celebrate the Newlyweds David and Natalie Gee.
David and Natalie dancing (kind of) along with other wedding gifts to a song from their youth. We couldn’t join in – didn’t know the moves!
Action Shot of Lindsay crashing into me with his dodgem on an evening out with the newlyweds and new friends.

Scotland

After Derby, Lindsay and I enjoyed a day worth of driving through the English countryside as we headed towards Edinburgh in Scotland where we were to spend 4 nights. Lindsay and I are both fans of getting of the main road and exploring the back roads, villages and out of the way sights.

Lindsay feeling the chill at Hadrian’s Wall close to the border of Scotland, in England.
Hadrian’s Wall close to the border of Scotland, in England.

We stayed with Scott (whose business also happens to host this website/blog). Scott’s an old kiwi friend of Lindsays whom he met watching an All Blacks game in a Scottish pub, back when Lindsay lived in Scotland. Scott’s generosity was incredible; he shared his home making his room available to us whilst he slept in the single bedroom. He fed us fabulous home made food, and gave us the grand tour of Edinburgh.  Although we had lived in Scotland before, we’d never really seen Edinburgh the way he showed us. Thank you Scott, it was awesome.

Lindsay, Scott and Myself exploring Old Edinburgh.

Lindsay and I both love Scotland. I suspect it’s because we both enjoyed great experiences with friend whilst we lived here; that and the Scots aren’t to different in humour and lifestyle to Kiwis.  We spent a bit of time driving around visiting friends in Kilmarnock, Glasgow, Tillicoultry, Dundee and Edinburgh. We both really enjoyed catching up on the changes in our lives and rekindling old friendships.  We’re both pretty keen to get back soon.

The old stone farm house I had the pleasure to live in 15yrs ago, in Tillicoultry, Scotland. The oldest parts of the house date back about 400yrs.
This fabulous school! found in Edinburgh. I suspect there would be some awesome haunting stories to be told.
Greyfriars Kirkyard. A very old and interesting graveyard in the centre of Edinburgh.
Century old homes reflecting on the night waters in Leith, Edinburgh.
The Fabulous Edinburgh Castle.

London

From Scotland we flew down to London for a final three nights where my fabulous little brother Sam and his lovely girlfriend Elle shared their awesome flat with us.  The day after we arrived Sam took the day off and together we explored central London upon my request, visiting Hyde Park first before heading up to Oxford St and then down to Soho. London was nothing like I remember.  Im pretty keen to head back however and do some more exploring at some stage. I still love it, though I don’t think I could live in London. In all honesty I think Im just over living in cities.

Myself, Sam and Lindsay in Hyde Park. Just before we heard the Canon Salute to mark Queen Elizabeth’s actual 91st birthday.
Lindsay favourite map shop in Central London.
Lindsay perusing the same map he purchased for his cycle tour. This one I think a map to guide him over the countries of the Silk Road.
The last of my friends still living in London, now with their own families. From left Bianca, Paula, Victoria, Lindsay, Anna and Anna(me).
Gypsy’s Clydesdale Horses grazing on the local green…much to the delight of the surrounding residents!

The Jetsetters

Turns out I’m not good at this jet setting business. As I don’t sleep well on planes, Lindsay paid to upgrade to Premium Economy (not too expensive as he’s a frequent flier and gets special pricing). Unfortunately we have discovered the only place I ever manage to sleep is in economy (usually from sheer exhaustion)!
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Bike Touring

The Last Hurdle

I’ve crossed deserts. I crossed mountain passes. Hell, I’ve crossed continents. I’ve dragged the bike through bush to cross borders. I’ve dealt with wind, snow, rain, temperatures below zero, temperatures above forty. I’ve travelled along lonely isolated roads, sometimes over 200km between towns. I’ve also negotiated some of the busiest roads, in the biggest cities, with the worst drivers.

But yesterday I met my match: The Tay Bridge:

The Tay Road Bridge, in better weather

34,903km of riding around the world, and I was at the end of the line – Dundee. This was the planned end of my trip in the UK, from here I would get a train back to London, and fly home. The weather was shocking when I woke up, high winds, rain, snow, freezing temperatures. The wind was coming directly from the direction I wanted to go in. The only good point was that the snow wasn’t settling, so the roads weren’t icy. Normally I would have gone back to bed, but I needed to reach Dundee that night, to see some friends, and to get on the train I had booked for the next day.

So I struggled along, wearing pretty much the entire sum of my cycling wardrobe, some items coming out for the first time on this leg of the trip. In London I had purchased some new full finger gloves, since my old ones weren’t waterproof. The new ones were supposed to be windproof and waterproof, from a respected brand. Well, whoever put that on the label should be forced to go and do a ride like I did yesterday. A couple of times I had to stop, pull off the gloves, stick my fingers under my arms, try and warm them up, jumping up and down to distract myself from the pain of thawing fingers. Wouldn’t have been so bad if they had stayed numb, it’s when they keep switching between numb and thawing that it hurts.

Some roads were closed, so I had to wind about a bit, to get to the Tay Bridge. Finally I could see Dundee, see my destination. Rolled up to the roundabout just before the bridge, followed the signs for cyclists, around the path, through the carpark, and up to the special footbridge. There was a warning sign up, “Pedestrian and cyclist access will be closed if wind gusts exceed 60mph.” Should be fine then, gusts weren’t over 50 I thought. Rolled around the corner, onto the ramp up to the dedicated pedestrian/cyclist lane down the middle of the bridge…and the gate was shut. Foiled at the last. I could see Dundee, I just couldn’t get there.

Hmmm. What to do? First I went back to the kiosk, for some hot food and a drink. I was just warm enough when riding, but when I stopped, things got cold in a hurry, teeth chattering, near-uncontrollable shivering. Couldn’t stick around there forever. Hung around for a little while, in case there was any sign of the gate opening, or perhaps a friendly truck driver heading over the bridge. Nothing doing. Aha! I could see if I could get hold of Craig, see if he can come and get me.

So went to the nearby village, tried ringing Directory for the number for Bright Solid. No, no listing for that. OK, let’s try Scotland Online, the old name. Ah yes, we have a listing for that, but it’s ex-directory. Eh? But they’re a business that wants people to call them. Try another tack – go to the local Post Office, ask to borrow a phone book. Ah well, this is still Fife, so we only have an old copy of the Dundee phone book. No problem at all – we just need to look up Scotland Online. They had the phone number, it worked, and Craig was able to do me a great favour, and pick me up, and get me over the bridge to Dundee.

Was very nice to be inside a warm car, then inside the office, warming up and chatting to people. Had a nice night out in Dundee, good to catch up with Craig again – it’s been a while since I’ve been up to Dundee. Had changed a bit, they seemed to be building a whole lot of decent-looking student accommodation. Looked far better than what I think is appropriate for students, but I guess they don’t want to live in rat-infested tenements anymore.

A bit of fun with the trains this morning – because of the bad weather, East Coast trains have been cancelled. I thought I was all sorted, with a direct train from Dundee to London Kings Cross, bike reservation made. But my train was cancelled. Shit. The lovely woman at the ticket counter was able to help me though, getting me new tickets, and bike reservation to go across to Glasgow, and come down the West Coast. Will only end up being an hour later into London. Only problem is that Wi-Fi isn’t free on Virgin trains, and to make things worse, it’s not even working at all. Mustn’t complain though, the fact that they normally offer it and have it working is pretty awesome really.

There was a lot of snow on the ground through the Borders, I think I’m very lucky to have got through when I did, it would have been tough riding. It was always a bit of a chance, riding in the UK at this time of the year, but I’ve been very lucky, with really only the one day that was bad. Otherwise it was quite pleasant riding conditions, through the countryside, with spring just starting to peek through.

  • Near Burntisland
  • Looking back acros the Firth of Forth, towards Edinburgh
  • If you don't know what a "Glory Hole" is, do NOT look it up at work
  • Note the snow on the hills in Fife
  • Where the bike belongs, in the bedroom
  • Borders region, viewed from a warm train
Categories
Bike Touring

Over the Border

I have finally reached the last new country of my world bike tour:

Yesterday I crossed the border near Langholm, tomorrow I should arrive in Edinburgh. Driving rain, strong winds and low temperatures didn’t make things the easiest today, but as I said to someone “I didn’t come to Scotland to work on my tan.” Besides, so far it’s been warmer than Patagonia.

One thing I forgot to mention last time too – a big thank you to the crew at Evans Cycles in Kendal. As I was passing through Kendal, one of my seat post bolts snapped. Hunting through my pile of spares, the closest replacement I had was just a little bit short, resulting in a seat at an unnatural angle. I went in to Evans, where they found some spare bolts, fixed up the outstanding minor issue I’d had with my front brake, and loosened a tight pedal. I wanted to buy some muscle recovery rub, and they felt that was sufficient charge – the other work was free! Cool. Very grateful for the quick service, and being able to get back on the road no hassles at all.

  • Borders region
  • Ah yes, definitely in Scotland now
  • Scottish Village
  • Nice day for biking
  • That's the sort of place I'd like
  • Edinburgh in the distance
  • Random Georgian Architecture
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Uncategorized

I’m back baby

Wooo! Properly back online at last! BT switched over my line to ADSL now, and I’ve finally got proper internet access working. www.myfreeisp.co.uk was handy in a pinch, but I’d gotten very used to my wireless setup, with half-reasonable bandwidth. Although I can’t get full rate ADSL here, only 1100kb/s, it’s still pretty good. Makes me wonder how I managed so long in the past using only GPRS.

Pretty much sorted out in my flat now – some cheap and nasty Argos furniture and my room is looking a bit better. Bit of a hassle getting the furniture – they were due to deliver it on Sat morning, didn’t turn up, when I rung later they said they “couldn’t find my address”. I guess looking at a map was a bit tough. So I went to collect it from a store in town. But then on Monday morning, they turned up with my furniture! I could have taken that as well, but I would have felt a bit bad about it, so I told them the truth. Plus I’m not sure what I’d do with another “Malibu small chest of drawers” and a “small wide bookcase”. Getting it assembled would have been straightforward enough – if I had the tools. I couldn’t find anywhere around the city centre that sold something as common as a hammer and screwdriver, so I had to make do – I used a screwdriver and – I kid you not – a pot to hammer the tacks in. Worked a treat.

Started to get sorted out job-wise too – heaps of stuff to get my head around, but I’m starting to get it in hand. Had to change the wardrobe a little – bought two new suits, and now a nice wool/cashmere overcoat. I’m still going to have buy more warm clothes before winter really bites though…but my current problem is getting wet from all the damn rain, not getting cold.

Trying to work out my next few trips before the end of the year – I’m thinking of visiting Cambridge, perhaps Manchester, somewhere in the west of Scotland, and hopefully a weekend break to a European city – I’d like to go to Berlin, I’ll need to find out what I can get cheap deals to from Edinburgh.

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Uncategorized

Fare thee well, Bonnie Dundee

The time has come for me to move on, from a place that has made me feel most welcome for the last few months. However, I cannae face going cold turkey, so I am moving to Edinburgh – Irn Bru’s just too hard to get hold of outside Scotland.

My time here has gone quickly, but I’ve got a few good memories of this place:

  • When getting on/off the bus, most people say hello/good bye to the driver. One of my regular drivers was quite put out one day when I caught a different bus – “Where were you last night?” he demanded. “Just checking out the competition,” I told him “and I came back here didn’t I?” He came right after that. Last time he dropped me in town, we actually shook hands. Not exactly the sort of thing you do in other cities.
  • The people I worked with at SOL were fantastic at making me feel welcome, and making sure I was enjoying my time in Scotland. I was extremely touched by the leaving do last week, and the gifts. I wonder how well my bottle of Buckfast will age? Probably not as well as the Glenfiddich. Not sure how I’m going to be able to wear the Scotland rugby jersey at the game next month though – perhaps if I wore an All Black’s jersey underneath?

Random comments on Dundee in general:

  • Keep doing what you’re doing – the city is clearly in the process of re-inventing itself – I would say keep going down that path. Redevelop the waterfront area, keep supporting things like the DCA – and not just the bar part of it – and the Rep. Theatre
  • I feel the city could do with another 10-20 thousand people. Some of the infrastructure would put much larger cities to shame. I’m amazed at the number of new bus shelters I’ve seen going up, all equipped with electronic timetable boards. It all seems to be happening relatively quickly, whereas back where I come from, that sort of thing takes years.
  • Keep encouraging the universities – students are the lifeblood of a vibrant city.
  • I just don’t understand the locals’ feelings about keeping their city clean – every day, walking to and from the city, I see guys working hard, picking up rubbish from the streets. Every morning, every afternoon. And yet there’s still rubbish around. There’s a huge number of rubbish bins around, perhaps people could try using them some time? People don’t want to put their rubbish in the bin, but they do seem prepared to pay for other people to pick it up

So, off to Edinburgh shortly for me, where I’ll be straight into another contract. I’ve enjoyed by time here, but on the other hand, I’m looking forward to a new challenge, and some new experiences.

One more thing, if anyone is thinking of visiting the City of Discovery, the local tourist board has put together a fantastic website promoting the city, well worth a look. “Gadgies” is a new term to me, but I can see myself using it a bit. Don’t underestimate the number of shell suits, teenage mums, and Burberry caps that you can see in one day here – it will amaze even the seasoned ned-spotter. Possibly that’s a result of living in Hilltown, but still, it’s amazing.

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Uncategorized

Don't tell anyone, but I've been south of the border…

…and it was pretty good. Fear not, for I did not stray far from Scotland, and I returned quickly. I hired a car for the weekend again, and headed south. Down to Edinburgh, then east along the A1, down towards Newcastle. A quick photo stop at the English/Scottish border (it’s not very exciting), then on south. The plan was to roughly follow the line of Hadrian’s Wall across the country, then curve back up around through the Borders region.

Coming up to Corbridge, I thought it would just be a “blink and you’ll miss it” type of affair, but it turned out to be a lovely little village. It’s quite cool when you walk across bridges that have stood for nearly 400 years. I was going to get something to eat in the town, but they were having a food festival on at the old Roman site in Corbridge, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. There were quite extensive remains of the Roman town that had stood there 1800 years ago, which were pretty cool to look at. The extent of the water and drainage systems they had in place were pretty amazing.

Then it was time for some local food and drink, and one of the more unusual settings I’ve seen for food festivals. The local Angus beef was very nice, and the chocolate orange fudge was particularly good. The Fentimans drink was pretty good too – quite unusual, something along the lines of the Phoenix range in NZ, but with more of a herbal taste.

Off to Chester’s Roman Fort next, which was the first real sighting of Hadrian’s Wall. Not only running water and drainage here, they even had central heating! What I don’t quite understand is how the Romans could have had that, but later all these works were lost, buried. When the places were abandoned by the Romans, you somehow would have thought that the locals would have taken a look at them, compared them to the thatched huts they lived in, and moved right in!

The other thing that cracked me up was some of the old tombstones – people were buried, a stone was erected, with their name on it, then 20 years later, someone else can’t be bothered getting a new stone, so they just engrave a new name over the top of the previous one!

Via Carlisle, then on to Dumfries for the night. Went in a B&B;, looking for a place to stay – they were full, but the fantastic manager rang another place, gave me a map of the town and pointed out good places to eat/drink. Great service, especially since he wasn’t directly getting anything for it – will hunt down the name and post it here. The actual place I ended up at – Morton Villa – was very nice too, really nice personal service.

Caerverlock castle (Or is it Caeverlock? Seems to be some variation) Sunday morning. I don’t think I’ve seen a castle with its moat filled with water before – it really made the place come alive, made it a real castle experience. Lots of good photos here, I’ll just add the one:

Back via the A7, stopping at the Malcolm Memorial. Quite stunning views of the surrounding area. There’s some pretty barren terrain there. The thing I didn’t get was the road signs pointed towards the McDiarmid memorial – but that only seem to consist of a small cairn 400m from the summit, compared the large obelisk that is the Malcolm memorial.

Nice country to drive back through, towards Edinburgh. Strangely enough, there was an NZ flag flying about a rural house, more or less in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps not so strange though, the Borders region seems to be pretty big on its rugby.

Went into Rosslyn Chapel (if you’ve read the Da Vinci code, you’ll know what I’m talking about) on the way home. It’s actually quite an amazing little church, with massive amounts of imagery – of which I might only be able to work out 10% – but it’s kinda taken over by the people out there who think that the Da Vinci code was just the best book ever written, and that’s it all true, every word. Never mind that it was possibly the only book those people have read in the last 5 years. It would be quite the place to wander around just by yourself, but you’d need a few religious scholars to help you interpret the meaning of it all.

Hope everyone out there is doing ok. Not sure exactly when/where the next Scotland trip is – I’m thinking the west coast/Skye for a long weekend, but I’m not sure when that’s going to work out, due to some other stuff happening.