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Archive for the category “Travel”

London – Parking and Walking

I’ve written before about my discovery that London’s Barbican Centre is bloody great for visiting London on a weekend – and the weekend just gone reinforced that for me.

Again, I drove in early-ish on both days (I was at Barbican by 9.30 on both occasions) and the run in was easy.

Parking was worse on the Saturday than I’d seen it before – but I still found plenty of spaces, albeit on the next level up, rather than the one I usually use.  (It turned out that Barbican was hosting a graduation ceremony thing for the Open University, which explained why it was so busy) Still not a problem though.

In this case, I was walking down to Tobacco Dock – roughly 5km away – as the weather was great, and I had plenty of time to do it. (The venue doors didn’t open ’til 11.30 on both days – so I knew I was OK, regardless) So I got time to explore a bit, wander around, see stuff, and generally enjoy early-ish mornings in City of London.

The best (for me) was wandering down, turning a corner, and unexpectedly seeing the Tower of London, with the Shard behind it…

London TowersAll told, it meant I got to explore some bits I didn’t know all that well, cover a decent amount of kilometres, and still do everything I wanted to at Meatopia – so just a win all round, really.

Even better, once I got home yesterday I filled up the car with what’d been used over the weekend. £30 of fuel, £18 for parking (Barbican put up their prices at the start of September by a whole pound – shocking!) – so it cost me less to do things that way than one day’s train and Underground fares would’ve been. Not bad, not bad at all.

Meatopia – A weekend of meat (and walking)

The weekend just gone was primarily spent in London, as it was the weekend of Meatopia, a festival of barbecue, meat, and music. Now in its third year, and I’ve been to each one.

I like the Grillstock festival (which is similar) but it’s still not a par on Meatopia, which really does bring in some of the star chefs in the barbecue/steak/brisket/burger sector of the industry, and there’s always some spectacular stuff on the list.

Meatopia is also more about smaller dishes – it’s more like a set of courses on a tasting menu, and you get to try a bundle of things. Grillstock’s stuff tends to be more meal-sized, so you don’t have as many, although there are also less/fewer (whichever) stands/cooks, so it kind-of balances out.

But if the two were ever to run on the same weekend, Grillstock would lose. For me, it’s that simple.

Because I knew I’d be eating a fair quantity of meat, I was (vaguely) sensible about it, and parked at the Barbican Centre (my new favourite parking in London) and walked to the venue at Tobacco Dock – about a 5km walk – which I really enjoyed. I know most people don’t see 5km each way as “a stroll” but for me that’s what it was – and improved by fun things along the way, like turning a corner and seeing the Tower of London, with the Shard directly behind it, which was a nice surprise.

As for the food, we did well. In no particular order, I had…


  • Kid Shwarma (Shwarma from Goat Kid)
  • Chargrilled Herdwick Lamb with Smoked Cream Potato
  • Picanha (cut of beef)
  • Smoked Shortrib Sandwich with Pickles and Sriracha Cocktail Sauce (awesome)
  • A fistful of pigs (pig cooked different ways)
  • One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer (Beef, Bourbon-braised peppercorns, beer cheese) – awesome
  • Anatolian Spiced FlatIron Steak with Babaganoush
  • Chicky Chicky Bang Bang (Barbecued Chicken in a bun, but with extra burger because the chef decided it wasn’t meaty enough)
  • Hawksmoor’s ‘Spitalfields Burger’ with braise short rib (excellent)
  • Bourbon-glazed Tomahawk steak surf’n’turf
  • Oh, and ice-cream, and a cider

Being a bad, bad person, I think also stopped of at Honest in Liverpool Street (it was kind-of on my route back to Barbican) to have their new Oktoberfest special burger, which was also ace. Although I couldn’t face the chips that came with it…


  • Dirty Jerk Ribeye on Beef Dripping New Potatoes (Amazing)
  • Pit-roast Middlewhite Pigs, Yorkshire Pudding, Onion Gravy
  • DuckHearts with Apple and Kohlrabi salad (my least-liked of the weekend)
  • Aged Venison Shoulder, Leek and Potato (Excellent – Joint Favourite of the weekend)
  • Herdwick Lamb Chop with Lamb Fat Hollandaise (Mega)
  • BBQ Chicken Shawarma, Garlic Tahini, Dill Pickle, Chilli Sauce (Joint Favourite of the weekend)
  • Spicy Old Cow (48-58 (opinions varied) day aged beef, chillis, beef dripping, sourdough roll)
  • Hawksmoor Tomahawk Steak with Bulgogi (I don’t know) Hollandaise.
  • And ice-cream and cider again

All told, an excellent weekend, with a total of 30km walked over the two days – which balances out a lot of the food intake!

New(ish) Places – Some More

Following on from last week’s post about rediscovering places that are local (and that I hadn’t realised were local) I did a similar thing this weekend.

Having dropped off the Uborkans back at Stoke Bruerne, I had all day to play with, so mooched over to another blast from the past- Rushden and Higham Ferrers, in Northamptonshire.  While I didn’t work there myself, friends did, and I got pretty familiar with the area.

As before, it was odd to be going along routes I remember from bus and taxi rides from Northampton, the way those routes tripped my memory – as did arriving in Rushden, and recalling a bundle of landmarks.

I ended up walking round Rushden, as well as up to Higham Ferrers (roughly 3km each way) to revisit places I used to frequent. It was odd to see the changes, as well as the bits that haven’t changed – particularly the hotel that my friends worked in, which is now a set of apartments, with a new connected building, and a new supermarket over the road. It’s bloody weird, seeing old memories overlaid with new changes.

Once I was done, I drove home via a very perverse and winding route – I kind-of knew where I was, and where I was heading, but definitely took some of the odder routes and diversions, basically just learning sections of the local geography (and linking together bits I already knew, but hadn’t figured the road connections) and enjoyed doing so.

All told, a pretty decent way to spend a day.

New(ish) Places

As has been noted many many times here, I’m a bit of an idiot when it comes to travel, and think nothing of doing a two-hour-each-way drive for a day trip.  Somewhere in my head, I don’t really think “locally” for exploring and finding new places. As a result, I’m sometimes surprised by locations when I’m doing other stuff.

This weekend I was helping the Uborkans with a bit of taxi-work to make their lives easier. That involved nipping up to Stoke Bruerne to collect them, and dropping them off in Linslade – a dead easy journey, and not at all far for me.

I’d been to Stoke Bruerne a few times as a kid – school trips and the like – to the canal museum and so on, and I’d never realised how close it actually is to my current location.  We’re talking less than half an hour’s drive – it’s really close. Because it was a nice day, I got there early, and had a wander along a decent-sized length of the canal too, for fun – definitely somewhere I’ll return to.

Once I’d dropped them off at destination, I also finally discovered a pub I remembered from years ago, when I worked and lived in the area. So I’ll have to give that a go at some point – we never visited it the first time round, I just remember going past it on a regular basis, but didn’t remember the roads properly for how to get to it – I’d actually decided it was a different pub that I have tried and not been impressed by, which is in a similar location.  So yeah, that’s on the list.

And finally, in the evening the Uborkans had come back up to the edges of Milton Keynes, so we arranged to meet at a pub. It was in Simpson, an area I’ve been past on the main roads several times, but not actually been into at all – and it’s really nice, to the degree that you wouldn’t believe you were in Milton Keynes at all.  Indeed, it’s nice enough that it’s been added to the “yeah, I could live there” list, for if/when I decide to leave the current location.

It’s just interesting, how you (OK, how I) can still find new places in an area you’ve lived in for a number of years. I regularly bugger off far and wide, but I haven’t really explored a lot of the local area. Maybe that needs to change a bit…

London – Hamlet

Following on from yesterday’s post about London, Burgers and Hamlet, I thought I’d add some thoughts about the actual presentation of Hamlet.

The basic version is that I enjoyed it, and thought it was bloody good – although I’ve also got no solid reference points to compare it against. Technically it was still in the previews when I saw it – although paying full price for the tickets when it’s still in previews is a bit of a piss-take.  But it was worth seeing, and thoroughly enjoyed.

Happily, by the time we saw it, they’d put the ‘To be or not to be’ speech back in its proper place, rather than done as a speech at the start, and for that I’m thankful.

The staging is spectacular – as per previous reviews and thoughts, I’m a real geek for the technical side of shows, gigs and plays – and absorbing.

The play itself is, of course, equally absorbing, and interestingly done. I was surprised by how many lines and expressions from it are now in common usage – not something I’d realised at all. I thought Cumberbatch himself was good (but perhaps not excellent? I don’t know, with nothing to compare to, but he didn’t strike me as having that absolute star quality) and the rest of the cast were equally good, although at least one could’ve done with having a microphone arrangement, as his voice didn’t really carry at all.

That aside, I did enjoy the entire thing, and would happily go again, should the opportunity arise. (I doubt it will, but you know, it’s still something I’d be content to see again)  And now I need to see more Shakespeare stuff – as well as read more of it – and get a better grip on these things.

London – Meat and Hamlet

Last weekend, I was very lucky.  A friend had gained tickets for Hamlet (with Benedict Cumberbatch) at the Barbican for herself and a few others. As it turned out, one of those people couldn’t go, so the ticket was up for grabs. And I thought “Yeah, OK, go for that”. So I did.

I have to be honest, it’s not something I was eagerly wanting to see. I’m a bit of a philistine, and don’t really know Shakespeare’s stuff as much as I could/should.  Yes, I know Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet – plus bits of Tempest, but only because I’ve seen Return To Forbidden Planet.  I’d never been to see a Shakespeare play at the theatre, and really had no idea what to expect.

Anyway, things being as they are, I decided to make a day of it – and then both Honest and Blues Kitchen revealed new specials on their menus.  Well, it’d be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

The new special at Blues Kitchen

It turns out, you can park at the Barbican for the whole day on weekends for £8. That’s not far short of remarkable – and something I’ll definitely be taking advantage of again in the future.  I figured it would be ridiculously busy later in the day, so went up early, when the entire place was virtually empty.  (I’m glad I did, because the parking spaces are… entertaining, to say the least)

From Barbican, I could easily walk to everywhere else I wanted to be that day – bearing in mind, that’s “easily walk” in my terms, not necessarily those of anyone else/sane – so it was an easy day. A long one, as it turned out, but pretty easy.

I got to Barbican, parked up, and wandered. I knew where I was heading – but hadn’t actually clocked how close things were. It was about a mile, so not a long walk at all. (As always, for my values, not necessarily those of anyone else)  As a result, I was there far earlier than expected, and well before they actually opened. So – a further walk and explore was the result.

Once they opened, and I’d ordered, the Blues Kitchen burger was absolutely stonking. Best I’ve had in a long time…

The Pig KahunaThen a walk down to Honest – again, about a mile, maybe a bit further – and more of the same. I wasn’t overly taken with that special – it was still good, but not actually all that special.

From there, I had quite the wander – bits I didn’t know all that well, so spent some time mooching around, making discoveries, connecting parts of my mental map of London, and all that kind of thing.

post_burger_walkAnd then eventually back to Barbican, where I spent a very relaxed time on the Lakeside Terrace, reading and people-watching.

I’ll comment about Hamlet in another post – but safe to say, thoroughly enjoyed it.

Getting back was a doddle too – I’d expected the car park to fill up for the evening, which didn’t happen. So the performance finished at about 10.30, and I was home just after midnight. All told, a very civilised way to do a Saturday…


Ten years ago today, I finally passed my driving test. How time flies when you’re blatting round the country, and all that.

Prior to passing, driving had never really bothered me – I’d usually lived in places with decent public transport links, and when I hadn’t there’d always been friends, or lifts.  It also helped to own very little for a lot of that time – there were a few occasions where I moved by train, and could still do it in one journey, albeit with three or four bags.

However, now I wouldn’t be without my driving licence (and car, naturally – or at worst the ability to rent one whenever needed) and would hate to lose it. If something were to happen that made me lose my licence, I’d have to change everything – house, job, life in general. It would emphatically not be fun.

It still surprises me, though, how much I’ve changed in that ten years, and how much my attitude to driving has changed too.

Because I was such a late adopter of it – pretty close to mid-thirties – I thought I’d stay with using public transport, and that I wouldn’t drive much. Oh, how wrong I was.

In that ten years, I’ve covered *at least* 180,000 miles. That’s just a calculation based on the two cars I’ve owned, and doesn’t include hire cars, Herself’s car when we were together, or any other journeys. With all that included, it’s probably damn close to 200,000 miles in ten years.  Considering I’ve had some years (like this one) where I’ve been working far closer to home than others, that’s still quite an average to have been covering.

As I’ve said before, I really don’t think anything of a day trip involving two hours driving each way – one of those can add 4 to 500 miles to my total on its own.

Oddly, the general attitude to driving and miles seems to be a family trait – my brother covers even more miles than I do, Dad always used to cover a fair amount too, and none of us think anything of doing journeys that most people class as “too far”. Or maybe it’s just being daft that’s a family trait…

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