What's it all about?...

This Blog is basically my ramblings whilst on holiday - an electronic postcard!

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Chairman has moved!

This is not a medical update referring to my toilet habits, but an announcement of a different platform.

I am now publishing this blog with "WordPress". The address is:


Blogger has been a good intro for me to start Blogging, but I feel I have outgrown it, the extra functionality of WordPress should enable me to improve the site more easily.

The content and style will be unaltered, so if you have enjoyed this I hope you stick with me.

Thanks for reading.
Chairman Riddo  

Friday, 19 February 2016

Day 4: A divided city...

British and proud

Day 4: A divided city...

So today was our last day and we had arranged for a "Black Cab" tour of the Shankill and Falls Road areas of the city. For our generation references in the news and on TV to the "troubles" of Northern Ireland were almost a daily occurrance whilst growing up. Images of riots, fire bombings, street parades and funerals were regularly shown to us during the '70s and '80s, and today gave us an opportunity to learn more about this complex and wretched era of British political history. Our cab collected us from the hotel promptly at 10:30 and the driver - John, immediately began his friendly, balanced, and very informative commentary. The two particularly sensitive residential areas of Belfast are the Falls Rd area, and the Shankill Rd area, the former is almost entirely Roman Catholic, republican and pro IRA, and the latter is nearly all Protestant, Loyalist and pro Great Britain. We had no idea that the scale of "hatred" and "antagonism", (John's words - but very apt), between these communities was still so strong. There is a "Peace wall" running between the two areas - concrete and steel, 30 feet tall, the gates of which are locked every Friday night for the weekend, to prevent violence.

A gate through the "Peace wall"

The Peace wall behind a house in Shankill

  There are huge murals painted on house ends celebrating events and individuals; events such as killings, riots or particular wars; individuals such as murderers, (or freedom fighters), victims, (or targets). 


A "martyr"...

A "martyr"
  The people who live here are proud of their communities and encourage the way of life.  On the evidence we saw both groups seem as far from resolving their differences as ever they were, and the remarkable fact is this all seems to exist in such an apparently contained area. Back in the city centre life appears perfectly "normal" and feels perfectly safe...


The ruins of the Crumlin Rd Court house, derelict and wrecked by years of attack and violence

  The trip was truly fascinating and eye-opening, definitely recommended. We were flying home in the afternoon, so we whiled away the last few remaining hours window shopping, eating and drinking in the Morning Star, (again!), and shivering, (it was bitterly cold). It's been a great trip which we will remember fondly. If you get the chance to come here do so!        

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Day 3: A trip up the coast

Day 3: A drive up the coast

An update about yesterday evening: We went to eat at a pleasant little eaterie called "Molly's yard", it was really nice and the fayre was so filling that afterwards we felt too contented to traipse off to the Comedy club as previously planned, the traditional Irish coffee I ordered would be difficult to better. We traipsed back to the trusty Ibis instead, an early night in anticipation of tomorrow's busy day.
After a hearty breakfast - I've been meaning to have an "Ulster fry" whilst here, and today was the day, a typical full English but with soda bread instead of toast. Afterwards we eagerly awaited the pick up from our car hire company. "Enterprise" car hire operate a complimentary collection service, I thought this meant they continually told you how nice you looked whilst taking you to your car, but apparently this "complimentary" meant  it was free...
Our hire deal was really good, the upgrade from car group "A" to group "B" cost us an extra £1, (yes one pound!)
We planned to drive the "Coastal route" north to the Giant's Causeway, via Carrickfergus, Larne, Ballygalley, Ballyvoy, Ballycastle and Ballytoy, (the last place isn't actually spelt like that but I wanted to keep up the "Bally" sequence.)
We stopped early on so I could photograph Carickfergus Castle, there's a song called "Carrickfergus" by Van Morrison, I really love it, and this was really a homage - in fact now I can't get the tune out of my head!
The Castle at Carrickfergus
The coastal drive was fabulous, the views were great, the weather though cold was lovely - and it got nicer through the day, an added bonus were the roads, which were so quiet. We stopped for photo opportunities, comfort breaks and coffee at a number of sights -  cosy little harbours and panoramic headlands, all bracing and beautiful.
Cosy harbour near Ballygalley
Crashing waves off the coast
We got to the Giant's causeway at about 2:00 pm, the visitor's centre was impressive and not particularly crowded. After picking up the obligatory leaflets we followed the winding trail down to the shore line and the actual "causeway". It's really an impressive experience, the massive basalt columns growing out of the ground, all hexagonal, are truly bizarre. 
Jan watching her step!
Atlantic waves
This particular geological phenomenon is unique to the small corner of Ireland we were now at, and it - as well as the crashing waves, the clear blue sky and the fresh air, all contributed to a wonderful experience. I must warn you however that if you ever come here wear good shoes and don't carry any bags, it would be easy to fall and do yourself damage - my "gazelle-like" agility was sorely tested at times as I skipped gaily from stone to stone...
We turned for home after this, but with one more stop - the oldest distillery in Ireland was nearby at Bushmills,  and purely for the purposes of research, we felt a tour would be in order. £7:50 and a 45 minute factory walk seems a lot to pay for a glass of Whiskey, but it did seem to be very good whiskey...
Tasting a wee dram
We drove back into Belfast taking the scenic route, from the Lisburn Rd we dropped down from the hills above the city, (covered in snow), and returned the car safe and sound - approximately 120 miles all round, a really successful day!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Day 2: Titanic and City Hall

Day 2: Titanic and City Hall

Last night in town was fun, we found a few great pubs, thanks to Andrew and Julie for the recommendations - The "Morning Star", followed by "Robinsons". The former was a bit of a "Gastro"pub, and any pub that has its own resident butcher is OK by me, and the beer was really good too. Here's a joke we saw chalked on the menu board: 

Q. What does an Irish 7-course meal consist of? 

A. 6 pints of Guiness and a potato...

Robinsons promised live "Traditional Irish" music, and in a beautifully authentic Victorian back parlour we eagerly awaited the entertainment... Sadly for our taste the music was more "Folk thrash" than lilting Gaelic ballads, the only words we could discern above the frenzied guitars were the occasional "bejaibers!", "begorragh!" and "taytoes", (for any Irish readers - only joking!) Two pissed up Chinese guys who kept heckling and asking for "Scarborough Fair" were very amusing! It was a fun experience and after our drinks we left "Homeward Bound", (a song I doubt they would consider singing). 

In the morning we breakfasted at a local cafe - porridge and fruit salad, very nice, and then caught the train to the Titantic Quarter for our visit to the "Titanic Experience".

Harland and Wolff's massive cranes

The museum/exhibition is really good, great value and very interesting. Facts about the process of building the Titanic are truly breathtaking, the scale of the ship, the Harland and Wolff ship yards and the ultimate tragedy of the ship's maiden voyage all make for a enthralling visit. The actual  building that houses the "experience" is impressive as well - highly recommended. Did you know that two firemen on the Titanic got left behind in Southampton because they spent so long in a pub?...


The Titanic museum


The Titanic was literally built here.

As it was raining hard when we left we got a taxi back into the City, the driver was chatty. When we arrived at the City Hall he told us we could take a free tour of the building, it was still raining, so we went in.


Well what a stroke of good fortune! Belfast City Hall is a wonderful building, full of civic treasures, fabulous decor and fascinating history The guide - Christopher, was a mine of information and the tour he conducted was relaxed and entertaining, well done Belfast City Council!


A reception room


The ceiling in the entrance hall

We're back at the hotel now having a break, our plans for the evening include a meal out and a visit to the Belfast Empire Comedy club, report to follow.

Monday, 15 February 2016

First trip of the new year - Belfast!

Day 1: George Best airport and beyond

Our trip away to Belfast has begun; we arrived safe and sound, have done an initial "recce" of the city and are now chilling in the hotel before sallying forth once again this evening to find a pub (or two?), for a drink (or two?) Jan is watching Pointless at the moment and taking it way too seriously...

After checking into the friendly, budget, Ibis Hotel we explored the locale and soon realised we are in the heart of the student neighbourhood; loads of fresh-faced youths with too much disposable income and time on their hands milling around discussing which lectures to avoid this week... We ate a late lunch at a very trendy independent diner - Maggie May's, we were the only folk in there not in track suits or spending our student loans. 

Maggie May's - shake anyone?

The specialities of the house are countless different flavoured milkshakes: Snickers shake? Mars bar Shake? Malteser shake? I was tempted to ask for a "Hippy hippy shake", but settled for a sausage and ham omelette instead - I opted for the healthy alternative.

In the City centre, opposite the Ciy hall, we found possibly the best visitor information centre we've ever visited. So much helpful information, so many helpful staff and all the "I love Belfast" t-shirts you could ever want, all under one roof. We have now sorted transport to the Titanic museum tomorrow, a hire car and scenic coastal route for Wednesday, and a walking tour on Thursday, all in less than 20 minutes. Well done the Northern Ireland Tourist board!

Belfast City Hall















We also got suggestions for hostelries for tonight, so here goes...

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Day 17: Homeward bound

A long day travelling, and now we're on the train waiting to leave St Pancras. On the whole every connection and transfer has been smooth for the whole trip, but there have been funny "issues" on many occasions, just to keep us on our toes - the return journey was no exception...

We had a final stroll around the area near our San Francisco hotel before we left, we always have a feeling of "limbo" on the last day of a trip, knowing that time is almost up. 


                                                                       Coffee anyone?

The houses in this part of SF really are exclusive and trendy, apparently Jonny Ives of Apple fame has a town residence nearby, a retreat from Silicon Valley no doubt. The hotel receptionist told me that a local house had recently been sold for $35 million.



                                                          Real estate in Pacific Heights

When we returned from our stroll and spoke about our transfer to the airport there was an awkward rustling of papers and a few hurried phone calls - it seems that they had forgotten to book it.

A taxi appeared anyway and stress was averted. However the driver was a real prat who bored us all the way to the airport about how successful he was as a businessman, his Uber taxi company was evidently an "Uber" taxi company. Yawn.

At the airport we checked in our bags and then managed to get lost in the labyrinthine network of  corridors and stairways that make up modern airports; we went through the X-ray machine, taking off shoes and belts, before being frisked and quizzed about "liquids", then we took another couple of turns and found ourselves back at the original check-in desk!

So we did it all again, the X-ray bit and the frisking - I wouldn't have minded but they seem to employ some real monosyllabic gorillas at these posts.

Any way, finally sorted, finally on the plane, finally winging our way home, finally in London, soon it will be all be finally over for another year...   (Just stopped at Luton Airport parkway).

Friday, 14 August 2015

Day 16: A street car named Desire, and a bar named "Dave's"

This is our last full day, and the pace is starting to tell! We woke really late and have been tired for most of the day so we havn't really done much exciting...

We decided to go and explore the shopping areas down town, something we haven't done much of as neither of us are particularly "shoppy folk".

Macy's and Bloomingdales are both predictably massive, although they have their differences, I concluded that Macy's is like Debenhams and Bloomingdales is like John Lewis. We split up for a while and in the time apart I got myself a couple of pairs of Jeans and Jan got herself annoyed! The assistants in Macy's were so ingratiating their service bordered on harassment, "would you like to try this?", "can I help you ma'am?", etc, etc.

We fled to the relative peace of Yerba Bueana gardens, a pleasant park tucked away in the canyons of sky scrapers which seem to be the business area. En route we passed the street car terminus, the queue for a ride up the hill was massive, hundreds long - I hopped on a stationary car for a cheeky photo.

There are a lot of apparently homeless people in U.S. Cities, this seems to be a growing problem, and parks and open spaces are particular attractions for them - be aware if you visit.

                                                             Yerba Bueana Gardens


   On the street cars you're expected to hang on rather than sit down, (this one wasn't even moving!)


                                                           What a good name for a bar!

This evening we went out locally for our meal, we walked around the area known as "Fillmore". I've heard of a legendary music venue called the "Fillmore auditorium", and after research discovered it is actually here. This theatre has hosted hundreds of famous concerts, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zepplin etc. etc. The building is fairly unassuming, definitely past it's best, but I took a pilgrimage to visit it none the less, as well as the aforementioned luminaries, I can also say "I was there..."


                                              Famous music venue, The Fillmore Auditorium.

We're leaving tomorrow, so perhaps we'd better get back and do some packing.