Sunday, 22 April 2018

Clouds


Sunday we woke to grey clouds and it was cold!  Poo!

We were all a bit tired from yesterday - didn't even manage to get down to breakfast until after 9.30.   Tom was full of hay fever, it looked like he was coming down with it last night, so I got his tablets out and the pollen filter, but we are too late, he is full of snot, watery eyes and can hardly breathe poor thing.  Today is going to be a slow day.

First thing was to finish off his Victorian invention.  Tom was given homework over Easter of coming up with either a working model or blue print of an invention using Victorian engineering.  True to form, he didn't tell us about it at all, I found out on the playground on Monday and went to see the teacher on Tuesday to find out more, along with a long queue of other parents.  Not only did they have to do that but also have to dress up as a Victorian - oh joy!

Tom has come up with a clockwork trampoline, where you use cogs and gears to adjust the tension of the canvas to choose how high you want to jump.  I love it, no way would an adult come up with something like that.  Obviously we aren't doing a working model, just a blue print - most of which has come from google.

Matt is playing his first game of cricket today, so he had an early lunch whilst they watched the snooker, then Tom and I had a small lunch and went quickly round the village to buy some mushrooms, we are back to mushroom dinners whilst Matt plays cricket - yay!

Then a game of Rummikub (Tom won) and Uno (Tom won) before watching Lion King 3.  Then a hot bath before mushroom pasta tea.  Not an interesting day, but one which was needed.  I'm zonked and can't wait for bed.

Oh - Ingleton lost at cricket, but was first game of the season and freezing!

Sunshine

So, we've had an interesting week this week.  Tom, getting older is getting more aware of the big wide world we live in and that it might not be as nice has he previously thought.  He had four crying wake ups this week:

1) He was worried he was going to get shot - we had watched Dukes of Hazzard and there had been a shoot out!  I think one baddie got shot in the knee.  So we had to explain gun laws in the UK and the fact the Dukes of Hazard is fiction to him.  He went to sleep OK.

2) After watching an episode of Paddington 24/7 this week, where a person with a rucksack climbed up on the roof, he got worried that there was someone on our roof.  We had to explain the story to him - the person with the rucksack was a homeless guy trying to find somewhere warm and dry to sleep by himself, he wasn't wanting to do anything bad.  He went to sleep OK.

3) Thursday - a beautiful sunny day, brought out lots of jets in the sky overhead.  He was worried that world war 3 was going to start.  We explained that as it was a lovely sunny day, pilots would want to fly jets in the lovely conditions as they don't get many chances to fly their planes in such sunny conditions.  He went to sleep OK

4) He woke up in the middle of the night worried we were going to get burgled.  We explained all the doors and windows were locked and that we live in an area of low crime.  He went back to sleep OK.
Crummackdale from Norber Erratics

Oh my, the world is a horrible place isn't it.  Much nicer when you aren't aware of all the dangers in it!

Batting - eye on the ball nicely
So this week summer arrived, we had sunshine all day on Thursday, Friday from lunchtime and all day Saturday.

For one reason or another we didn't quite manage to get out on Thursday, although we did manage a BBQ in the evening (just in case it was the only day of summer!).

Friday we did manage to get out - it didn't look good to start with as we had rain, cloud, mist and dampness in the morning, it was cold as well.  However, we were determined to go out, so we did.  We had an early lunch and then headed to Clapham to do a walk we've been meaning to do for a while: the Norber Erratics.  It was spitting as we left Clapham so we took our cagools knowing it would probably clear up and we would end up carrying them around.  We were right, we walked from Clapham to Austwick in the grey, decided to go for a cheeky half at The Game Cock, came out of the Game Cock 15 mins later to bright sunshine and deep blue sky?!

Bowling - excellent action
The rest of the walk was gorgeous, a lovely route half way up the hills amongst the debris of the ice age - huge boulders scattered around.  Just about the length that my poor leg can cope with (I strained a muscle in my groin 3 weeks ago so have been having trouble walking and certainly can't run at the moment).  Anyway, it was lovely and one we will return to.

The evening saw us across the road at the Community field with Tom playing cricket.  It was a gorgeous evening so the parents were all happy to be out and taking part, a nice atmosphere. A good day.

Saturday was a lovely lovely sunny day.  It was an early start for us as Tom had a football tournament in Skipton - we had to be there for 9.00 so we were up earlier than for school!  It didn't matter so much with it being so sunny.  I was in shorts, we had to run around the house looking for sun cream, managed to find 1 bottle.  For once all the football mums and dads were happily watching on in the sunshine, makes it so much more pleasurable in sunshine.  They played 6 matches in all, each 10 minutes long.  They lost the first 3 matches - all by one goal, they were pretty unlucky to do so.  The last 3 matches they won 1-0, 4-0, 4-0 meaning they came third over all.

Up the Wanderers!
The tournament finished at 12, but we had to hang around till 4 as Tom had a party at the pool in Skipton - it is Fred's birthday and since he has moved school, I'm guessing a number of his new classmates live over Skipton way.  It didn't make sense to go home to come back again so we decided to hang around in Skipton.  We had Finn with us, so we went for lunch at the Cake'ole an interesting and eclectic cafe in Skipton, did a tiny bit of shopping but the  town was rammed, so we headed back to the park next to the swimming pool and played cricket, football and Frisbee in the sunshine.  The boys certainly had a good amount of exercise and I think were pleased to get into the water for a cool down and swim.
Some well-earned calories

It was very much an 'us' and 'them' birthday party: parents of the two schools didn't mix and children of the two schools didn't mix - there was no reason why we or they should though, why talk to complete strangers when you have friends there.  Didn't think it was ever going to happen.  I wonder if that will be the last time our children get invited.  Caroline didn't spend any time with 'us'.

On the way home we popped to the Craven Arms for tea with Pat and Bob - not up to its usual standards, and then we stopped by the Manning/Hughes to wish John happy birthday and ended up there until after 10pm.  A long but happy day, think we will take it easy on Sunday.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Easter Holidays Part 7: Brussels to Ingleton

Healthy breakfast
So an OK night's sleep, we got up at 8 and then walked to The Grand Place, hoping to find breakfast on the way.  We didn't but we followed a sign to Manneken Pis was we knew where that was in the relation to the Grand Place and there we found a waffle shop open, so we all had a waffle each for breakfast: one with Nutella on it for Tom, one with strawberry syrup on it for Matt and one with bananas and melted chocolate for me.  We were all very happy with our choices.

As we were eating our waffles, the Manneken Pis was getting an outfit for the day - a middle aged man was on top of a ladder with a bag of clothes which he put on him - took him a good 15 minutes to sort him out.  Not 100% sure what he was dressed as - but it was to commemorate 125 years of something.

We then went chocolate shopping - the shops in Brussels sell chocolates at reasonable prices, so we took advantage - put it this way, we won't be needing to buy birthday pressies / gifts for dinner etc for a while now.

Next stop was a bakery for Matt to have his morning coffee (otherwise he gets grumpy!) and then Carrefour for some more shopping: cheese and beer.  We then got the tram back to the hotel and packed up our goodies and had a bit of downtime before heading across the road to the station.

Manneken Pis, all dressed up
First job was to buy lunch for the train.  Tom went for sushi, Matt for a pasta pot and I went for a salad and a bread roll so I could make a salad sandwich.  Then through check in and security - much more civilised than in London, nice and calm.  Question: why do you have to go through security and passport control when going from Brussels to London but you don't when going from Brussels to Germany?  Why have we always had different rules to the rest of Europe?


The Eurostar back to London was uneventful: on time, fast and comfortable.  We arrived to sunshine in London and happily walked the back way to London Euston and got the Pendolino back to Lancaster - once again without any hiccups and the sun was shining in Lancaster. Hurray.  However, our train to Wennington left 15 mins before we arrived and the next one wasn't for another 2.5 hours. We decided to see how much a taxi would cost, if it was under £20 we would go for it, it was £21, we went for it.  Our car was patiently waiting for us so we hoped in and returned home.  It was nice not to have to wait 2.5 hours!
Architectural bling, Brussels style

As it was so nice, as we arrived, we headed out to the Wheatsheaf for a last pint.  Tom made some friends in the garden and played hide and seek, which was great.  Then back home for a cupboard tea and early to bed.

A great holiday, think we will do something similar again next year...

Easter Holidays Part 6: Hamburg to Brussels

Our ICE at Hamburg Hbf
So last night we had a fab night's sleep which meant we were ready for starting our long trip home.  We had showers, packed up and pushed our suitcases down to the bakery at the end of the street for breakfast (Tom: chocolate donut, Matt: cinnamon pastry, me: hard boiled egg on bread) Oh we are going to miss German bakeries, although our waistlines will probably be thankful.  We then got the U3 to the station before the Hamburg Hbf as we had loads of time and Hamburg Hbf is busy and confusing - it is easier to navigate it from outside than inside.

We got ourselves to the food court and bought our lunch and drinks for the journey and then we got our first train, an ICE to Hanover.  We were in a compartment coach again, and shared our compartment with a lovely lady who spoke really good English - think she must have been late 60s, early 70s.  Anyway, she wanted to chat and she was lovely.  We talked about trains, travel, language, family etc - she was heading to Basel to see her son as her grandson was having his first communion on Sunday.  We even talked English health service as she was a doctor and has friends who go to the UK at weekends to work as they are desperate for staff.  She was lovely, a German Hiromi, we were sad to say goodbye and get off in Hanover.

Boys and a train!
In Hanover we got the IC to Cologne.  Not quite as nice as the IC we got to Hamburg - no central table and no friendly travel companions.  Oh well, we ate our lunches (all of us were made up with our choices - cheese and ham roll in cheesy bread for Tom, cheese roll in a pumpkin seed and raisin bread for me and a HUGE salami pizza for Matt), then Matt did some work whilst Tom and I played many many many games of UNO.  The German countryside whizzed past.  We did get away from the flat lands for a while, even saw some nice scenery and Tom managed to spot a hanging monorail - Matt did some research and found it was the oldest one in the world.  The nice scenery gradually left us as industry took over and before we knew it we were back in Cologne.

Porte de Hal
We had a quick stop in Cologne (managed to pick up beer and pretzel to put us on) and then back on an ICE to Brussels.  This train was full.  We were in a compartment coach with business folk, one of whom liked to think he was more important and spoke loudly on the phone, said 'shit' quite a few times very loudly (Tom was sat next to him) and the only time he spoke to us was to correct me when I said that Aachen was very close to the Dutch border - he said no, the Belgium border, so I looked it up on the map and found that it was as close to the Dutch border as the Belgium border and showed Tom in full view of him - funny he didn't say anything after that - humph, I made my point!

We arrived in Brussels on time and headed straight to the hotel (the same one as last time, so we knew exactly where to go).  We checked in, had showers and then decided to try out a restaurant which was nearby and rated number 3 in Brussels on trip advisor.

Le Bistro - superb meal
Wow!  What a find.  It was probably only 10 minutes walk away, located directly opposite a castle which was impressive in itself.  The Bistro was lovely and there was room for us - yahoo!  The building had a lovely atmosphere - olde worlde, staffed by the most attentive staff ever!  We settled in straight away.  Beers were ordered, and then meals: Belgium beef in beer for me, steak kebab for Matt and Lasagna for Tom.  The food was delicious, Tom got served a HUGE hunk of lasagna and dived straight into it.  Now, for the last week or so we have been trying to explain to Tom that if he feels tired / weak / grumpy he is to let us know as he probably needs a snack / drink etc to perk him up.  However, he doesn't and if he goes beyond a point he thinks he isn't hungry or thirsty and just refuses everything and becomes really grumpy (we think this stems from school where they have been doing healthy eating, so he thinks he shouldn't have snacks during the day as they are bad for you - we have been trying to drum into him that as he is skinny he really doesn't need to worry, in fact he needs snacks to keep going as he doesn't have any fat reserves)  We had a blank faced Tom in the restaurant, not that hungry etc.  The lasagna arrived bubbling it was so hot, normally he wouldn't eat something so hot, but once he started he couldn't stop!  He was starving!!!!!!  Arggggghhhhh!  He perked right up and became happy Tom again.


Top notch food and drink

My stew was to die for and Matt was a happy boy with his steak.  We then ordered one chocolate mousse between us, and were very glad as it was very big and very very rich.  It's always nice to end the holiday with the best food.  The service was amazing as well, the waiters (all at least trilingual - ours didn't even have an accent when he spoke in English!) were very attentive and quick to make a joke and make you feel at home.  In short we loved the place.  When we left we all got hand shakes and Tom got a massive hug. Even better, we got chased down the road by the uber-friendly waiter because Tom left his colouring book and felt tips in the restaurant. Probably the best dining experience of the whole trip!

We walked home, popped into the station to get a bed time beer and then went back to the hotel to rest.

A very enjoyable holiday and we have really enjoyed travelling by train.  It might take longer, but you get to see the scenery better, get to meet people who are mostly really lovely.  We are thinking of making this an annual event, and maybe even get a sleeper train somewhere further away next time.   Only wish is that we, well I, have more language ability, I really struggled in Germany, I found it difficult to remember anything: French or Dutch would come out rather than German!

Anyway a good holiday.  Just the small matter of chocolate and beer shopping to do tomorrow before we get the Eurostar and Pendolino home tomorrow...

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Easter Holidays Part 5: Sightseeing in Hamburg

Breakfast choices
We had a rubbish night's sleep last night.  The bed in the apartment is a double bed, squashed up against a wall with a tiny quilt.  This doesn't lead to good sleep, we try not to steal the quilt from each other but it is really hard, so then we cuddle up, but of course then we get too hot and have to break apart and so it goes on.  We thought that after a bad first night's sleep we would sleep well the second night.  It wasn't the case unfortunately.

Tunnel under the Elbe
We got up and headed to a nearby bakery we found yesterday for breakfast.  Now German bakeries are a thing of wonder, it's what I remember the most from our trip to Berlin.  You get rows and rows of wonderful bread products to choose from.  Obviously we aren't all that sure what we are ordering, but that's part of the fun.  Never had a bad cake in Germany.  We did well: a two tone shortbread biscuit sandwiched with jam for Tom, an iced pain au raisin for Matt (he's so predictable) and a mystery something for me (it was a bread type product with bits of apple and strusel topping) freshly squeezed orange juice for me and Tom and a coffee for Matt and it all came to €6,50 an absolute bargain - we will be there again tomorrow.

Funky building
We purchased a travel pass which gave us unlimited access to ferries, U and S bahns for the day (all 3 of us for only €12) and buses got the Hochbahn to Landungsbrucken where we had to search high and low for the pedestrian tunnel under the Elbe.  There is a very very ornate entry building to it, but no signage on it, we very nearly didn't find it as we thought it couldn't be right.  Anyhow it was, and we walked through to the port side of the city.  The idea was to walk through the tunnel and get a ferry back.  We found the ferry landing only to discover that the next trip was at 2.30, oh hum, we decided to walk back!  It wasn't a trauma as it wasn't that far and the tiles on the walls were interesting.  Cars can go down there too, but they have to come down in huge lifts, 2 did so when we were there, wouldn't want anymore as the fumes would build up.

Matt and boy
When we got back to Landungsbrucken we were going to walk to St Michael's Church, but we discovered the 62 ferry just about to leave - this is the one which has the longest route taking in the dock yards so we hopped on board, as we did the gangplanks heaved up and it set on its way.  It was a lovely day we had all left our coats in the apartment and were braving just jumpers - when in the sun it was fine, although when the wind picked up it was a little cold.

Boy, shorts and beach
The docks looked very busy: huge container ship in dry dock as well as a big passenger ferry, plenty of containers being off loaded from a boat with big cranes,  opposite was obviously the nice bit of Hamburg - huge huge houses, green parkland and a proper beach at the shoreline full of yellow sand, and plenty of people on it, enjoying the sunshine.

Colour overload
We got to the end of the route but stayed on the ferry to come straight back - plenty of people were doing the same.  It was a very pleasant way to spend an hour.  We then decided to go to St Michael's Church to climb up the tower for a view of the city.  However, we got there at 12.15 and it is closed between 12 and 12.30 for prayers (think we could have joined them if we wanted...).  There was a cafe opposite (Gibbon Cafe) so we decided to go there for lunch to pass the time.  Posh ham panini for me (I have noticed, every sandwich I have has pesto in it - almost instead of butter or mayo.  I really like it and think I will do similar once back home) the boys had a fried fish sandwich each (basically a posh fish finger sandwich) by the time we had finished the church was open again so we headed in.  We walked off our lunch by going up the stairs to the top of the tower from which we had a great view of the city.  The lay of the land is flat, very flat so you don't have to be that high to see a lot.  It almost felt like we were in Miniatur Wunderland again - with trains whizzing around in the distance.  It was a bit hazy so we couldn't see for ever and ever, at the horizon it was still flat - we couldn't see even a semblance of a hill, we couldn't see the sea either.

Proper German Beer - Proust!
We got the lift back down and then walked over to the Elbphilharmonie, a rather stunning building sat perched on top of some red brick warehouses (which we saw in splendid miniature yesterday).  We were able to get some free tickets to go up to the viewing platform via a very very long escalator which Tom enjoyed.  The view from the Elbphilharmonie was good, but the view of Hamburg is better when you can see it, rather than when in it.

Next stop was a return to Kaffeerosterei for refreshments (more cake - yumsk - lemon tart for the boy and an apple sponge thingy for me and Matt) and cold drinks but more importantly a chance to rest our aching feet.  We were able to watch the roasting of coffee beans again and Matt was able to purchase the coffee he had been recommended.

Our apartment - look at the top floor
Once rested we headed out and got a bendy bus to the Chocolate Museum I had been wanting to visit, Chocoversum.  They do tours and show the whole chocolate making process from beginning to end, you even get to make yourself a chocolate bar.  However, there were only two tours a day in English and the last one had been and gone.  Considering we were tired and had very very achy feet, it was never going to be a good idea to do the German one, so, instead we settled with looking in the shop.  They had some great chocolate cooking books - but alas, only in German so nothing that would help me with my emerging chocolate business.  They also had some moulds but nothing I haven't got or seen or can get much cheaper from China.  Oh well, next time...

Looking up
We were really flagging by now so we got 2 x trains back to the apartment and had an hour or two to relax, so we all had baths and lounged around reading books before dragging ourselves back over the road to Kartoffel Keller for tea (we couldn't face going any further).  BBQ ribs with 2 x baked potatoes for me, pork medallions and sauted potatoes for Tom and a potato bolognaise pie for Matt, all washed down with deliciously cold beer (and sprite).  We all ate up, we were hungrier than we realised.   Tom's portion was an adult portion (there are no children's menus in Germany - not that we have found anyway) and although he said he wasn't that hungry, he pretty much demolished it - it was a big portion!  Well done Tom!

We then came back to the apartment, struggled up the long winding, leaning staircase for the last time and flopped.
Warehouses by night

Note to selves for next time:
+ UK exhibit at Miniatur Wunderland due to be finished in 2021
+ Book English language tour of Chocoversum well in advance.
+ Zoo is supposed to be great
+ Look into bike tours

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Easter Holidays Part 4: Miniatur Wunderland

Watching the beans go round
So, today was the day we had all been looking forward to, and the reason for our journey here.  Miniatur Wunderland.  We had pre-booked tickets, but they weren't valid until 1pm, so we had the morning to kill.  First job of the day was to find a bank - we came home from Malaysia with loads of Ringits which we hadn't changed, so though we would bring it with us - we saw it as free money as we had already paid for it last year.  Could we find a bank - no.  So, back to Hamburg Hbf we went with the last of our Euros (think we got down to about 2 Euros!) to search one out.  We found one in the station and successfully changed the Ringits, we didn't get a good exchange rate, but hey, we had no money so were in no position to argue and anyway, it was 'free' money.
Hamburg Rathaus

First job was to get breakfast.  We wondered into the food court and found a great looking bakery, so queued up.  The boys had an iced pain au raisin each and I had an apple puffy pastry thingy.  We were all happy with our lot.

It was good to have full bellies and money in our wallets again, so we decided we were up for checking out the main shopping street in Hamburg which took us more or less back to our apartment.  We came across a C&As and managed to get some good T-shirts for Tom - we always do when we come across a C&As, and also free toilets which are always good.  We then stopped to admire the Rathaus which was gilded and rather splendid looking and then went looking for mammoths in Mammut before heading home to dump our shopping and head out again towards Speichstadt (the warehouse district) where Miniatur Wunderland is located.  The plan was to have lunch at the cafe outside the museum, but we noticed a coffee roasters just next door and Matt being Matt couldn't resist a quick snoop.  Wow, it was amazing and massive and had a cafe serving good looking sandwiches and apple juice alongside the coffee.  We were having lunch here!

Italian Coast
The boys found themselves a table right next to the big coffee roaster, so they were up and down watching the beans turn from green to brown, them being sieved, sent up a duct and packed.  All very exciting stuff.  Tom managed to find himself a smoked salmon bagel for lunch as well so he was very pleased (the girl serving us was surprised - telling us: "it includes fish, is that ok?"

After a good look around the shop we headed to Miniatur Wunderland.  We bypassed all the queues as we had pre-paid tickets and went in.  The place was very full, but everyone was in a good mood, so we headed up to where the signs said start.  Wow!

WOW!

Switzerland
We were expecting good things, it being the biggest model railway in the world, but this was beyond all expectations.  So much so that I can't begin to describe it to you.  It was a full on hit on the senses.  There were trains of all shapes and sizes buzzing here and there, trucks, cars etc doing the same, moving along on roads and bridges, indicating as they turned, getting caught up in traffic jams but then sorting themselves out.  Lots of scenery to admire and to find things in.  My favourite thing to was to find the strange things:
+ A camel in a sorting office in Norway
+ Penguins on a beach in Germany
+ A world domination area under a mountain in Switzerland where they were faking the moon landings, all the terrorist organisations were together plotting, and a whole load of other things going on that we can't remember now.  There were a number of naked lovers enjoying themselves in various places
+ A crab who had caught a diver and wouldn't let him go
AND a whole lot more.  It was a sensory overload, and might take a while for us to compute them all.

Hamburg
Anyway you walk in and are confronted with the Wild West, American trains heading round mining towns and old frontier towns.  You have Mt Rushmore looking down on you, then this gradually gets more and more built on until you come to Las Vegas.

Every 15 minutes day turns to night via a sunset and then back to daylight via a sunrise.  During the night time, the Las Vegas area lights up just as it would in the real town.  There are hundreds of buttons strategically dotted around the barriers for everyone to press - to get a ropeway working, a hot air ballon to take off, someone to bungee jump, a bank raid, an attempted prison escape, you name it you could do it.  Oh and there was a wooden ledge all the way round so children could step on it and see properly.  They positively encourage you to take photos and video too.

The best thing about the place was that it was open - there was no screen anywhere, meaning you could lean over and touch it if you wanted to.  You could trash it also if you wanted to, pick up the trains etc, but NO ONE did, maybe everyone was well behaved because of the numbers of people around, but I think I only saw one (adult) touching the display for the whole 5.5 hours we were there.

Once we were done with America we headed over to Scandinavia.  We started in the Artic Circle in Sweden, with a mineral mine - one of the buttons set off a big explosion, there were icebergs (with a pirate ship sailing between them!) an ice hotel, I found a snow sculpture of an elephant here.  We were then taken into Norway and Denmark into the mountains and the ports where there was a huge cruise liner and a big container ship that was navigating its way through fjords into the port.  Some of the places were real, some of them fictional.  It didn't matter, it was amazing regardless.
Bavaria

The next diorama was Hamburg (of course) Here we got to see all the interesting parts of the city (very useful for our day sightseeing tomorrow) including the new Elbphilharmonie building which is as stunning in model form as it is in real life.  In fact it was more stunning in model form because (of course) there was a button that opened it, it opened up and you could see the concert hall full, a orchestra playing (yes they were all moving) and audience enjoying it.  Then you could see inside all the side rooms as well, some were apartments, others store rooms, practise rooms etc, it was a real representation of how the building is.

That's what I really liked about the place - the attention to detail.  All the trains had people on board (don't think that happens in Japanese model railways) and all the buildings had people in them going about their business - so if you looked inside a catering building at the airport, you could see people stood at conveyors putting food into trays, a bank of ovens, with one on fire - there were a lot of catastrophes happening in Miniatur Wunderland with loads of emergency services out and about sorting them out.  It wasn't obvious it was there, but if you looked hard you found the attention to detail was phenomenal.
The Alps

Half way through Homburg we all started to wilt, so we headed down to the restaurant for a drink and snack.  Get this: the seating was sets of 4 x train seats around a table, with pretend train windows looking over a German scene or a scene from Miniatur Wunderland.  Once refreshed we headed back to Hamburg.  After Hamburg came Middle Germany - the pretty rural bit with castles, lots of sheep, cows, agriculture and trains (of course).  There were fairgrounds, picnics, forests, outdoor concerts, picturesque houses, cable cars, oh, so much that now (of course) I can't think of anything!

Next came a fictional place called Knuffingen, a city where the modellers were able to use their imagination for every building, doing what they wanted to do.  So, loads of cars, loads of trains, loads of buildings, all great stuff.  The next bit though was the most amazing thing: Knuffingen Airport - a proper airport with all the buildings, terminals and planes and vehicles.  All the vehicles moved, as did the planes which took off and landed.  YES TOOK OFF AND LANDED.  WITH THE APPROPRIATE SOUND EFFECTS!  WOW!  WOW!  We were all stunned and amazed and transfixed.  They had all kinds of planes: passenger planes, freight planes, Concorde (which had afterburners on when it took off and was very noisy), small planes, old planes, even the Millennium Flacon came in to land (a bit wobbly it was!) and once a bumble bee arrived.  There was even an elephant vehicle going round (not sure what that was for).  Once landed, the planes taxied to their gate, vehicles and steps arrived to meet them, fuel vehicles arrived to fill them up, passenger buses arrived to take the passengers to the terminal if they weren't at a terminal gate, oh, so so so much was going on.  We could happily have stayed there watching just this all day.

However, we had to get on...next stop was Switzerland, where there was a to scale Matterhorn, pretty awesome on its own but then of course there was loads more: cable cars, ski lifts, rotating restaurants, chalets, etc etc.  The best bit though was a chocolate factory.  You pressed a button and watched chocolate being made in a production line, and guess what: a mini chocolate arrived for you to eat at no extra cost, just the press of a button.  Wow!!!!!!!
Italy

Next stop was Italy - but we were flagging again - so back downstairs we went to the restuarant to have a ice-cream each.  Happily revived we headed back to enjoy Vesuvius erupting, a diorama of Venice (no trains or cars here), all the important buildings from Rome including the Sistine Chapel where a monk was messing about shooting up and down on a rope, of course there was the Colosseum, St Peters (where the Popemobil was getting sorted ready for an outing) and everything else.

Last but not least was Austria where there was a raging storm above the mountains, a rack railway, plenty of cable cars, ski lifts and the such.

Wow.

Sorry for the wows but don't know what else to say!

We were there for 5.5 hours and shattered at the end, but very very happy and even though we had high expectations entering it, we were blown away.  It was ridiculously cheap too.

To give you an idea of scale, here are some statistics:
Didn't see much of Tom just his back!

+ Over 15,000m of track
+ 1,040 trains
+ 10,000 carriages
+ Longest train 14.51m
+ Signals: 1,380
+ Points: 3,454
+ Lights: over 385,000
+ Figures: over 260,000
+ Trees: 130,000
+ Construction Time: 760,000 hours
+ Construction Costs: 20 million Euro

How it isn't better known is beyond me!

They haven't finished either, next is Monaco, then France and then England.  We need to come back after 2021 when they have finished them.

AND you can see into the workshops and watch people making the scenery, mending trains, a huge bank of screens with all the points on etc etc and you can arrange a behind the scenes tour as well if you have time.

Mission Control
Every now and again we saw someone pop up in the scenery sorting out a derailed train, problem car etc.  It all added to the fun.

We didn't leave until after 6pm, we were all exhausted, so we dragged ourselves back to our apartment, had a shower and then headed out for tea across the road at a Breton creperie where we each had a galette and a crepe washed down with French cidre (me and Matt) and Orangina (Tom) - we were all starving!

A brilliant brilliant day, well worth the trip here. 14 minutes of video highlights can be found here: https://youtu.be/cQ_-zyF7oj8

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Easter Holidays Part 3: Brussels to Hamburg

In our cosy compartment
Today was a train day.  Anybody know where Hamburg is?  Answer: 604km from Brussels, so it was a much longer journey than yesterday and we got a new country to take in - hurray!

First things first - breakfast, so as our hotel was just across the road from Brussels Midi Station, we went there for breakfast.  We found a place call Le Croissanterie - I thought we might be able to find one of those delicious ham and cheese croissants there - the ones with b├ęchamel sauce inside and cheese shavings on the outside.  Alas, it wasn't to be, but we did find regular ham and cheese croissants, so Matt and I had one each and Tom had a sausage roll - well we are on holiday and whilst on holiday, anything goes!

Our ICE, with Cologne Cathedral behind
We then did a spot of trainspotting as we had an hour before our train left.  Whilst on the Eurostar we read up on onward connections from Brussels, it said that you had to check in for ICE journeys to Germany and to make sure you allow a good half hour for security etc.  We got there, asked at the ICE desk and were told you just walk on the platform and get on the train.  Great - we had time to kill...what do you do with a little boy who likes trains when you are in a massive train station with trains from all over Europe arriving and departing - oh yes, that's right, train spotting!  He was more than happy.





We got the ICE from Brussels to Cologne, very nice it was too.  We had a first class compartment - it seats 6, the 3 of us and another man got in.  We started speaking in basic English to him to find out he was from Milton Keynes!!!!!  We chatted the rest of the way, he has a little girl, 9, was on business, prefers the train to the plane etc etc.  The journey went very quickly, first class wasn't that different to standard class, wider leather seats, but no food or drink like you get in English trains, although we did get a fun size Mars bar which made Tom's day.

A light snack for the journey
We arrived in Cologne dead on time, the station was right next door to the cathedral which was very handy - I remembered it from a school exchange trip.  We didn't get to see it properly though as we had  lunch to get which was much more important.  We are in Germany, so what should we have - sausages of course!  We found a sausage stall almost immediately: bratwurst for Tom and 2 x currywursts for Matt and I - my first currywurst (I think).  Very nice, the curry sauce catches up with you so it got quite spicy towards the end.

There were loads of bakeries around as well, so I got us a very nice looking pretzel (can't remember trying one in the past) for the next train ride, whilst Matt went looking for drinks.  We then got the IC to Hamburg - this one took much longer over 4 hours.

Pretzel exhaustion
We were 1st class again in an compartment again.  When we got to it, there was a feisty old woman in one of our window seats!  Although she only spoke German and us only English, it was clear she wasn't going to budge even though we had proof of our seats.  Luckily she pulled out her ticket and we found she was in the right seat but in the wrong carriage - she had no comeback and although she didn't leave the compartment she allowed us to sit in our seats!

The train trundled through the industrial cities of the Ruhr Valley: Dusseldorf, Essen, Osnabruck (remember learning about these in history lessons), not pretty but functional and necessary.  We finally got out to the countryside around Munster which was really quite lovely, if very very very flat.  It was a gorgeous day so the countryside looked very inviting.  The feisty old woman slowly warmed towards us (I think because we were playing so nicely with Tom) in the end we were talking to each other quite happily: her in German and us in very very broken German.  She helped us with the colours (we couldn't remember yellow: gelb) and chatted to us about her grand children.  She thought Tom was about 11!!!!  She got off at Essen and a young man got on.
The Hamburg Philharmonie

Believe it or not the train wasn't great.  Our carriage had no electricity and I mean NO electricity, even the emergency lights weren't working, so we had no air conditioning meaning it got hotter and hotter as the sun heated up the train, the doors didn't work, WC didn't work, well, basically nothing worked.  Can you believe it? In Germany!!!!!!!  I was just commenting to Matt that the WCs on the train were as good as in the UK (i.e. smelly and dirty) when the young man in the carriage decided to join us in conversation - he couldn't believe I meant the toilets were good!  I explained, and then we were chatting for the rest of the trip.  Tom had by this time fallen asleep, spread out on the seats (early morning and late night yesterday).  I think it took him about 3 sentences to ask us what we thought of Brexit - it is embarrassing trying to explain to a European why people voted to leave.  He was really interested in how the vote came about and why people voted to leave and if people understood what they were voting for etc.  It got a bit political, but in a good way, he had a sense of humour.  We were stunned when he revealed he was still at school - we took him for 20 something, but he must have been 17 or 18, wow!  A very self assured young man who was able to communicate in his second language very effectively - we were stunned.

Happy boy in cool restaurant
The rest of the trip went very quickly, mainly because we were chatting away with our companion (we never asked him his name!)  We arrived in Hamburg at 5.20 - a bit late!  We headed straight to the underground to get to our Airbnb.  We are on the top floor of an old Merchant's building (1689) lots of flights of stairs to get to it and sloping floors and ceilings.  The owner is also obviously resident here when he isn't letting it out.  He is a 'cool' guy in his 20s, almost a stereotypically cool guy - complete with John Lennon glasses hanging round his neck, a cool hat worn on a jaunty angle etc etc.  He was happy enough and showed us around - it is a bachelor's pad - but will do just fine.  It is also directly opposite a restaurant we were recommended by Karen and Adam who visited earlier in the year so that was good luck.

We dumped our stuff and then headed to the end of the road where we could see old warehouses so we got lost amongst them for a while - mainly to stretch our legs, we then headed back to the restaurant that Karen and Adam recommended Kartoffel Keller - which was great.  Very moody place, tables in a cellar lit up by candlelight.  Every menu item included potatoes of some sort.  Matt had Wiener schnitzel with sauted potatoes (with loads of bacon bits which he loved), I had baked potatoes with mushroom sauce and Tom had potato pancakes with apple and cranberry compote.  We were all very happy.

Tom sort of died at the end of the meal so we headed back across the street to our apartment.  He headed straight to bed but couldn't sleep as he is so excited about visiting the model railway tomorrow...

Easter Holidays Part 2: Ingleton to Brussels

Rubbish train
Hurray, our 'proper' Easter holiday has arrived.  This year we thought we would like to visit Germany.  Then Matt had the idea of going to Hamburg as the world's biggest model railway is in Germany, I didn't mind as long as I got some sausages, beer and apple strudel.  THEN, Matt had the idea of going to see the model railway by railway, and our holiday was born: a European Train Odyssey, Wennington to Hamburg and back, all so a little (and big) boy could see a model railway. There is a chocolate museum next door, so I was swayed.

It all started this morning, so we woke up to our 5.30am alarms, got changed, finished the packing and headed out.  We drove to Wennington, mainly because parking there is free (in Lancaster it costs £12 a day) and got the 'rubbish train' which apparently is called a 'Pacer' to Lancaster, then a quick breakfast at Costa before getting the Pendolino "Virgin Crusader" to Euston.  We felt quite smug on the way as the carriage was full of men in suits with their lap tops, reminds us of corporate days of the past which we are now happily rid of.

Not rubbish train
We got to London at 10.09, dead on time (how often does that happen?)  it was colder than Lancaster and raining - yuck!  Who says it is grim up North, grim down South more like!  Anyway we braved the rain and walked to Kings Cross where we went to Wasabi to get our lunch sushi.  We then headed to St Pancras for tea and a bun - which for me was the most amazing jam doughnut in the world.  We then headed into Eurostar departures - had to go through security which was as busy and manic as it always is at departure points.  Then into the departures area which was full to bursting because the previous Paris train had been cancelled, it was a case of standing room only, very glad we weren't going to Paris, when it boarded the area emptied, I dread to think how crowded the train would have been.


Grand Place
A minute early we departed London and headed towards the coast.  Once past Ebbsfleet we were 'allowed' to open our sushi and eat our lunch - phew - I was starving!  It was a novel experience to travel so quickly in the UK - we really did move very fast.  The route out of London was basically 2 big tunnels: one from St Pancras to Stratford and one from Stratford to some green fields then it wasn't too long before we were in the tunnel.  It really didn't take long before we arrived in Calais, then another stop in Lille before arriving in Brussels dead on time.  It was a nice smooth journey, but not as smooth as a shinkansen - I had trouble writing without wobbling which never happens on a Shinkansen, and leg room is minimal, on a Shinkansen, you can't touch the seat in front of you - so sorry, Shinkansens still win.  However, you can't move from one country to another on a Shinkansen, so the Eurostar wins when it comes to international interest.

The countryside wasn't the most scenic:  very flat fields, tumble down farm houses in the distance, but different from home, so I guess it was interesting to a point.


When in Brussels...
Our hotel was directly outside the station in Brussels, we walked through the station and there it was, right in front of us, couldn't have been easier to find.  We checked in and had showers before heading out.  Now the receptionist at the hotel was very very helpful and told us how to get to the Grand Place via tram.  Matt couldn't compute this - he thought she had made a mistake as she described the tram as being underground - surely you don't get underground trams, she must have meant the Metro!  When I looked on the map she gave me, it clearly marked the line she suggested as being a tram.  I then Googled it - yes Brussels has one of the most extensive tramways in the world, including underground trams.

On returning to the train station, we found the tram line and yes it was underground.  We got the tram to Bourse, then followed our noses to The Grand Place, it helps that Matt has been here many times, so knew where to go to find it.  The Grand Place really is Grand, lots of amazing buildings from the 1600s and 1700s covered in ornate statues and gilded in gold.  Certainly worthy of the title Grand Place.  Oh on the way we came across  a number of chocolate shops and beer shops and tacky souvenir shops, WOW!  I'm in chocolate heaven.  I've got lots of new ideas already, what I need to find is a chocolate mould shop, rather than a chocolate shop.  Matt couldn't believe his eyes with the beer shops and we were all impressed with the waffle shops.  Oh my, how come the people of Brussels aren't all obese - on a diet of chocolate, beer, waffles and frites, how do they not all become fat?!

Boys settling in well (iced tea for the small one)
We walked down various streets, taking in the various shops and came across the Mannekin Pis, so Matt took the obligatory picture and then we departed the area, knowing that everywhere nearby would be overpriced.  We got ourselves a couple of blocks away from the Grand Place and looked for a restaurant.  I wanted moules, Matt wanted steak & frites and we both wanted beer.  Where would we be able to find these?  Initially we had trouble, but then a small voice piped up "I need a wee", so we had to find somewhere quick - just as we were beginning to get  annoyed with all the waiters touting for business, we noticed one restaurant with a €18 menu which included moules and steak so we headed there.  We had a pretty decent meal - 3 courses: croquettes to start with, moules for me, steak for Matt and Tom had chicken and chips - of course his was the biggest meal.  All washed down with Leffe Blonde and finished off with a small chocolate mousse, which was all we could fit in.  A lovely meal which satisfied us all - Tom went hyper afterwards!!!  Just as well we didn't look at the reviews for it as they were awful!  The service to be fair wasn't great, but the food was just what we wanted.
Big meal for a small boy (he ate most of it too!)

Afterwards we headed to a Carrefour we saw in the City Centre and were wowed by all the beer on show.  Our suitcases are very empty at the moment, I have a feeling they will be full and clinking when we return!!!!

Moules and beer for me.
We got the tram back, got confused how to use the ticket barriers back into the station and returned to the hotel.  Tom was still hyper and is now twisting and turning in his bed, not sure he's going to switch off until we turn the lights off.  He is excited about tomorrow: ICE to Germany in 1st Class - now there's a reason to be excited!

 Oh before I forget we measured the speed of the trains:
+ Pacer 72 mph
+ Pendolino 125mph
+ Eurostar 184 mph

Eurostar was significantly quicker and it felt it.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Easter Holidays - Part 1

Tuesday
Tuesday we had a great day.  We picked up Luca and Julie in the morning and headed over to Lancaster and Salt Ayre sports centre which we have never been to before.   It was inflatable session in the swimming pool and although Settle do run them from time to time, they are always over subscribed and that is all you can do, there is no space for swimming, messing about etc.  At Lancaster you can book in advance and they had it all including a curly wurly slide.  Luca is in the class above Tom, but they have very similar characters so they get on really really well.  They got in and Julie and I had a natter.  The session went very well, I had heard on the grapevine that it can get boisterous (Salt Ayre is on the border of Lancaster and Morecambe, and Morecambe has a reputation shall we say), however everyone was beautifully behaved - didn't see any incidents at all.  In fact the only thing of note to happen was that whilst play fighting in the pool, Tom took a kick to the chest from Luca and cried.  It was the end of 2 hours of play so I think it was more that he was tired and hungry than upset, by the time I got him to calm down the children had been called out of the pool for the end of the session, so that was that.  Oh hum.

It was 1.30 by the time they got dressed etc, so we went looking for lunch, Julie suggested Halton - where there is a big Community Centre with a cafe and big playground, so we went there.  The boys went playing whilst we ordered lunch - very very very cheap and decent.  The boys came up and demolished their food (Tom had a jp with beans and cheese - it was inhaled before I finished my beans on toast which is very rare).  They then went for a play in the woods before we realised that really it was getting late and we headed back.

A very good day out - the kids were exhausted and I hadn't chatted for so long in ages!

Wednesday
Tom, Rebecca and Hornet at Barrow
Wednesday was my catch up day.  Tom and Matt had a day out whilst I stayed at home to sort out the kitchen and start my paperwork.  I had a list the length of A4 of things I needed to do.  I didn't get them all done, but I did reclaim the kitchen which was good.

Now over to Matt to talk about their day out...


For once, it was a boys' AND girls' train day. It turns out that one of the Year 5 girls at Ingleton Primary is a train nut, and we got talking to her mum recently. We decided a day out on the trains would be a good way to get to known each other better, and to get Tom and Rebecca talking, which they hadn't up to now.
So, we all bought Cumbria Round Robin tickets, and caught the morning locomotive-hauled service from Lancaster to beautiful Barrow. Until recently, this was always hauled by one of Tom's favourite engines (a vintage class 37), but today it was pulled (and pushed) by modern class 68s, which don't sound as good, but go like stink. Mind you, 7600 hp to propel 3 coaches is serious overkill.
Us with Avro Vulcan at Carlisle
We got to Barrow early, so easily made our connection to the other loco-hauled service, which was pulled by an old class 37, much to Tom's delight. He and Rebecca spent much of the 3 hour journey to Carlisle playing Top Trumps, pausing only to inhale a packed lunch. Sadly, the views weren't great thanks to the ghastly weather, but they yakked away like old friends, which was lovely to see - she's a thoroughly nice girl. No awkward silences between Katie (Rebecca's mum) and me either - very easy company.
Carlisle was freezing cold and blowing a gale, so we didn't linger, deciding to catch the first Pendolino south. Our tickets allowed us a return trip up the Windermere branch, so we went, and were unimpressed. For a line that goes to such a famous holiday destination, there's very little to see en route, mostly newborn lambs freezing in waterlogged fields.
That just left the quick sprint back to Lancaster on another Virgin train, after which I drove us all back to Ingleton, where Tom and Rebecca disappeared upstairs for a good hour, while we adults yakked away in the kitchen.
All in all, a nice day out, and a good way to pass a day of horrible weather. I'm sure we'll be meeting up again.

Thursday
Lady Branch of Bowland
Thursday morning dawned beautiful.  Clear blue skies and not a breath of a breeze.  We had to get out for the morning, so we decided to do the Ingleton Easter Egg Hunt.  I quickly contacted Susan to see if Harrison was free for the morning - he was, and we were off on our way, checking all the eggs to work out the word.  We also took in the playground and went skimming pebbles in the river.  Think we managed to enjoy 3 hours together in the village - ending up with cake at Inglesport, very strange, after the cake, Harrison lost all energy and I had to literally drag him all the way home.  Oh hum, it was a good day until then.

We got home, had lunch and then Tom was picked up by Grandpa for an overnight stay.


Matt and I thought we should take advantage of the good weather and headed over to the Forest of Bowland for a walk.  It was a little boggy - yuck, but it was lovely and a new area we haven't begun to explore yet.  The walk was a little harder than we were expecting and as a result we had to abandon plans for a full on circular walk, but we enjoyed what we did (about 5km) and felt like we had done enough to warrant an ice cream so stopped off at Slaidburn on the way home for one which we ate outside (first of the year!).  Then a quick spruce up and we were out again to Kirkby Lonsdale to the Sun Inn for posh nosh.  We were hoping for the tasting menu which is 4 small courses of lovely food, however, they have stopped doing this so we just had the one course.  Duck for me and Steak for Matt - all lovely, but the 4 courses would have been better.  Then home to a quiet house.
Whernside and Ingleborough from Bowland Knotts

Friday
Tom was returned to us at 11am.  The plan was to have lunch and then head over to Luca's as was planned on Tuesday, but Julie had double booked us, so as we had already spent time with them, we bowed out.  Instead we went to Bernies for lunch and then had a slow afternoon, which consisted of sorting out our spice cupboard, playing snakes and ladders and watching nature documentaries.  After tea, we headed to Kirkby Lonsdale as Tom had cricket at QES.  Wow he has certainly improved since last year - bowling and catching particularly.

Saturday
We woke up to a horrible, grey and rainy day.  Tom had footie first thing, he went along happily enough and played really really well for the second time in a row - Matt came home all proud about him which was lovely.  He was rewarded with a hot shower and then we headed to Goat Gap for lunch - the cafe has improved considerably so that it is now on our local hot list of places that are reliable.  (When it opened it was terrible - over priced and a strange selection on the menu)  We both had a cheese scone with a mug of white onion and celeriac soup which was delicious.  Tom had sausage, chips and beans - 3 - yes 3 sausages came his way!!!

In the afternoon, Tom and I went over to the Bickerstaffs whilst Craig visited Matt with his tools (our ground source heat pump has been showing an error and Craig has lots of tools and is very methodically minded when it comes to DIY).  They couldn't find anything wrong but Tom had a good play with the boys and I had a good catch up with Janine and Fiona.

Friendly robin
In the evening we went to the Old Post Office for a quickie and then La Tavernetta for pizza and pasta.  All very nice, it's been a while since we've managed a drink at the Old Post Office - shows we must have been ill.

Egret


Sunday
A grey, cloudy day.  Weren't sure what to do, and ended up heading over to the RSPB place at Leighton Moss.  Had a good day, we aren't bird watchers by any stretch of the imagination, and we can't spot birds as such but can tell a bird of prey when we see one and twitchers by nature seem to be friendly in that they are happy to share their knowledge, so will tell you what is where.  We did a family trail and then went to the hides.  We saw a couple of Marsh Harriers, lots of tits, a Nuthatch (not sure what that one looked like, but found lots of people very excited by it and looked in the general direction)  In fact we spent much longer there than we expected.  Oh Mum - this is one to put on your to do list when you next come as it is completely flat.  We headed to Arnside afterwards for lunch to find our favourite lunch spot closed - NOOOOO!.  The other cafe as a result was full, but we found space in the pub, where they did a deli plate which we ate between the 3 of us.  Didn't take long and was just the right amount of food - phew!
Marsh harrier

Came home, finished off tea (slow cooked ham hock - yumsk) and packed ready for tomorrow...