Some sad news, the Musicians Union and a few observations.

The days of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday the 6th, 7th and 8th June passed passed fairly unremarkably with me sitting in the back garden reading a succession of good books. My late Mother was a prodigious reader and instilled a love of reading in me. She left an extensive library at home which I still have not managed to wade my way through and my complete inability to walk past a charity shop without checking out the book section means that I have plenty of choice.

I say the days were unremarkable and certainly my activites were but there is one matter that is definitely worthy of mention here and will cause raised eyebrows amongst anyone reading this who may have ever visited the Province.

The island of Ireland is stuck in the Atlantic Ocean on the Western fringe of Europe and consequently gets the weather coming East across that huge expanse of water which usually consists of more water. For meteorological reasons which I do actually understand but won’t bore you with there is a lot of rain here and the relatively Northern latitude coupled with the maritime influence means that it never usually gets overly hot. It was with complete amazement therefore that I spent three days sitting with my shirt off, shorts and flip-flops on and roasting myself in what can only be described as a heatwave. It was upper mid 20’s each day with high UV levels and it was truly glorious.

An indication of how bright it was is that I was able to read a standard print book comfortably without my customary reading glasses. I have done that before but it has been in places like the Algarve and Sri Lanka and I really did not expect it in Tandragee. I am certainly not complaining but it did surprise me a bit.

I mentioned that I was wearing shorts and thereby hangs another tale. For obvious reasons I had not packed any but my sister in law came to the rescue and brought me round three pairs which my (sole) nephew had outgrown. I had met him the day I got back and I could not believe it when he walked in the room. I had not seen him for some time and had a mental image of him as a tall but fairly slim schoolboy. He has just turned 20, is studying at University and has taken to going to the gym which has bulked him up no end. He really is quite a unit now and would make a useful rugby player but, to my regret, has no interest in doing so. I suspect he takes after his Father (my brother) who is a keen spectator but never really played much. I loved playing although without any distinction but my Father represented Ulster at inter-Provincial level in the 1950’s and continued playing social rugby into his 40’s. I had the pleasure of playing with him a few times for a wonderful veterans team called  the Malone Tornadoes.

On the Friday morning my Father announced that he was going to mow the lawn. I said that I would do it but he would not hear of it as, despite his recent ill-health, he loves pottering about in the garden. Certainly my brother does the heavier work but it is effectively my Dad’s garden and if you have a look at the attached image I think you’ll agree that he keeps it very tidy.

There was one other small event of note on the Friday which demonstrates the legendary generosity of Northern Ireland people and the bond between musicians worldwide.

I believe I mentioned that my Father has carers who call and who I must say are very good. One of them is called Lana and she has red hair and lots of very well-done tattoos. When I say red hair I do not mean that in the tradtional sense of the stereotypical “Irish red-haired colleen” but something rather more crimson and obviously out of a bottle. I must say it suits her.

Under normal circumstances I would not subject a young lady to the sight of my ageing torso but I did not hear her approach to find me with no shirt on. She spotted the guitar tattoo on my back as well as the other two on display, one of which is a song lyric and the other the logo of a rock musician I know, which led to a conversation about tattoos and music. Of necessity it was brief as the ladies are on a tight schedule but I did find out that she was a multi-instrumentalist and played in a rock / blues band called Obsidian who had a gig the following night in Armagh to which she invited me but there was no way I could have got home late at night save walking about 12 miles which I didn’t really fancy.

IMG_6751
Thanks Lana, brilliant artwork.

She went on her way and I thought she had gone but a moment later she returned with the CD and sticker you see pictured. I asked her how much the CD was but she would not hear of it. Having been involved in the music game for some years I know that “merch” (merchandise) is often a necessary financial supplement to appearance fees for unsigned bands. With modern technology no more advanced than a PC you can burn CDs easily enough but this is professionally produced and the packaging is very slick. I particularly like the artwork which is the work of a local artist called Kevin Mahoney and struck me as very 70’s prog rock, which I love. For some reason I could not get the cover of the excellent “Wizards and Demons” album by Uriah Heep out of my head. Whilst I never had the opportunity to see Heep in their heyday I was fortunate enough to watch them perform the entire album at a festival near my home in London a few years ago.

IMG_6718
This might even make it onto the back of my guitar.

By way of yet another deviation which I promise is the final one for this entry, I have actually played on the same stage as Uriah Heep. Admittedly it was not on the same night but what the heck.

Some years ago, I toured Sweden and Finland with a group of Irish dancers called the Irish Folk Ballet company.  There were ten young female dancers, two equally young male dancers, a wonderful fiddle player called Lynne Butler, your humble narrator on guitar and vocals and two lunatic Finnish roadies named Kristal (yes, really, but we called him Kris) and Vesku. Our agents thought it was a good idea to send us up near the Arctic Circle in February and March and when we got to Vaasa it was -26C i.e. bloody cold.

One day we played two shows in the magnificent Tonhalle in Sundsvall in Sweden which is possibly the best venue I have ever played. Between the shows we were asked to sign a publicity poster which someone had put in a huge visitors book for everyone who had played there. With that done, I had a flick through the pages to see who had been there before and found out that Uriah Heep had played there only a few weeks previously. As if the  800+  crowd was not enough of an adrenaline rush, it really gave me a buzz to think I had fluked playing on a stage so recently graced by genuine prog rock legends. For the record, it was one of the best gigs of the tour.  I cannot believe the agents were apologising that one of the shows had about 50 empty seats although the other was over-subscribed.  I was used to playing to 50  people in a pub!

That is the somewhat meandering story of my unlikely early June sunbathing adventure in Northern Ireland, unlikely as it sounds but enough is enough and I was actually burning a bit so I’ll get my shirt on in the next instalment and get out of the back garden, pleasant as it is.

 

 

The 9th of June was a Saturday and the day I was due to return to London but I had changed my plans and decided to stay on for a while. Being retired I have the luxury of being able to do that. I had a couple of social engagements planned for the next weekend with old friends from the Virtual Tourist website but they were very understanding when I explained the situation. I do hope we can get together again soon as the phenomenal community spirit was perhaps the one aspect of VT that set it head and shoulders above any other travel related website. I have some knowledge as I have contributed to several over the years and VT really was unique.

A measure of the strong friendships formed is that long after the site was so disgracefully axed by the totally immoral and discredited Tr#pAdv&s%r (the typos are deliberate to avoid adding another mention of their reviled name for search engines to find) there are still annual Euromeets. Although I could not attend the 2018 event in Iceland, I did manage to get to the 2017 gathering in Kempten im Allgau in Southern Germany. The story of how I got there is a bit of a saga and may well form the basis of my next set of entries here.

Kempten was a great weekend with over 50 attendees and all because of a website that we could not even use for communication through any more. Although I do not use it I believe there is still a very active VT group on Facebook and at time of writing there is an online vote going on to decide between Newcastle-upon-Tyne in UK and Plovdiv in Bulgaria for the 2019 event. Both “bids” are from personal friends and I know either will prove to be a great success. I know that the majority of my small number of readers are old VT friends but if anyone else comes upon this entry and would be interested please get in touch with me and I shall put you in touch with the relevant people. Whilst the whole event was born out of a shared love of the website we are most definitely not prone to cliques and are a very sociable bunch with new people made most welcome.

As I do conversationally I am digressing again but as it is my website I can (cue evil film villian laugh c.1930). I shall have to guard against megalomania before I start hatching plans for world domination! Back therefore to a Saturday morning in Tandragee.

The day did not start well as it was today that I learned from the TV news of the very sad death by suicide of the renowned celebrity chef Tony Bourdain. I have mentioned before that I love cooking, cookbooks, cookery programmes and everything to do with the culinary art. It is just the eating part I have trouble with. I first became aware of him many years ago when a friend, knowing of my love of cookery, recommended his excellent book Kitchen Confidential which was a very much “warts and all” expose of the wirkings of professional kitchens. Tony started off washing pots in a New England seafood restaurant and eventually worked his way up to being one of the top chefs in the USA.

Much of the book focused on the appalling conditions faced by kitchen workers, often illegal immigrants, in the USA and this was an issue he fought tirelessly to change. It was a brutally honest piece which detailed his drug and alcohol abuse in the 1980s including stories about he and another chef staying awake in a chemically induced haze in order to prepare a completely over the top buffet and with much of the work being done in the freezer in well sub zero conditions. He certainly did not pull his punches and whilst I do not know where my copy of it has gone I shall have to acquire another one. It is too long since I read it.

Not only was he a world class chef with awards coming out of his ears but he was an inveterate traveller and many of his journies were recorded for various American TV shows like “No Reservation Required”. For a chef of his stature he was equally happy eating foie gras and truffle in a Michelin starred Parisian restaurant or sitting on a plastic stool in country X, Y or Z feasting on some obscure dish with the locals. This chimes very much with my own notions of travelling except that I tend more to the plastic seat than the Michelin star.

There are many TV chefs who do that like Greg Fiori, Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein (a favourite of mine), the late Keith Floyd (utterly brilliant and he would never be allowed to broadcast as he did in these politically correct days), the Hairy Bikers (more favourites and not even trained chefs) etc. etc. but Tony went a bit further in a way that was quite personal to me.

I have spoken above about the Virtual Tourist website which I loved before it was destroyed by a totally immoral bottom feeder called Kaufer. Some years ago Tony was a guest contributor to that site and I loved reading his pieces. He certainly was not getting paid a fortune as there was not a fortune to give, he did it for the love of the thing, love of travelling, love of what we had on VT which was so very special as I hope I have demonstrated.

That a man of his obvious talents and passion should die at his own hand without having shown any signs of it coming is nothing short of tragic. I know I am not alone in mourning the death of a man like Tony Bourdain. RIP, my friend.

After a little early morning mist had burned off it was another lovely day but I had roasted myself enough the previous three days and so I caught one of the three buses that run into Portadown on a Saturday. I know I mentioned this before but small towns and villages in Northern Ireland really are poorly served by public transport. I cannot see how anyone could live here without their own transport, especially if you have a family. In fairness to Ulsterbus, the buses they do run on the Tandragee route are always very punctual but I just wish there were more of them.

The first places I visited were the charity shops which appear to dominate the town now with the only new shops opening appearing to be grocery shops catering to the huge influx of Eastern European immigrants that have arrived. Every time I go back to Portadown and walk through the centre I see more and more shops closed and the heart really is being torn out of it. Even my old guitar shop has shut (as has the one in nearby Lurgan) and I now have to travel miles to either Newry or Lisburn to get even a few basic accessories. Like the rest of the UK everyone seems happy to shop in big out of town shopping centres of which there are plenty and inevitably this squeezes smaller businesses out in town centres. It also reinforces my earlier point about the absolute need to have your own transport in order to get to these centres.

This economic malaise is not restricted to Portadown and seems to be regrettably all too common in Northern Ireland. I was talking to an old friend the other night and he told me it is the same all over the Province apart from Belfast which is booming, largely due to the huge investment associated with the so-called “peace dividend”. It appears the £ / $ / € just don’t get far outside the capital.

Whilst I lament the loss of the traditional High Street, I am a great fan of charity shops and simply cannot pass one without checking out the book section. I cannot remember the last time I bought a book from a proper bookshop and I picked up another couple for a fraction of the published price. I think I have about six unread books on my bedside table now but I just cannot resist.

After my trawl of the charity shops it was off to Joe Mac’s for a pint. Whilst I was there I had a read of the local daily newspaper and amongst the usual petty sectarian political squabbling and much talk about “Brexit” (very topical as I am typing this a mere 15 miles from the border) was a story about a man who had been sentenced to nine months imprisonment for running two brothels in Belfast. Vile as that particular crime is it was not what caught my attention. I have reproduced the article here but if it is not clear enough on whatever device you may be using he was called Catalin Vasile Manea which instantly gave me a clue, confirmed by the next phrase “originally from Romania” and leads me to a few observations about the country of my birth.

When I was growing up in the 1960’s there were virtually no non-indigenous people in Northern Ireland save for a very small Chinese population who were almost exclusively involved in the restaurant business. One of my earliest memories is of being taken to one of the two Chinese restaurants in Londonderry where we lived at the time. It was a birthday treat and I reckon it must have been about 1967 or 68. After half a century I cannot be sure but something tells me I had chop suey which I had never had before and which instilled in me a deep love for Chinese cuisine which remains to this day. Whilst the food was a revelation it was the staff that made the greatest impression on me as I had never seen anyone that looked like them before even in books and certainly not in the flesh. Northern Ireland really was that parochial back then.

In regard to non-indigenous people I was in quite an unusual position in that I used to chum about with a lad called Jimmy Niagra who lived nearby. Jimmy’s family were from Mauritius and to this day I have no idea how they had ended up in Ulster but our friendship led to another culinary first for me. I remember my Mother having to show me where Mauritius actually was in an atlas and at eight or nine years of age I could not even comprehend how far away it was.

Mrs. Niagra had invited me to tea one evening and my Mother agreed. It was very close by and in those carefree days before “the Troubles” started so I went down by myself to Jimmy’s house where we played outside for a while. When we were called in to eat I was presented with a plate of something that looked vaguely like the stews I was so used to although not quite the same. When I took a mouthful I knew it was not like any stew my Mother or Grandmothers made. It was very different and quite unlike anything I had ever tasted before. You are probably ahead of me here, dear reader, but I had just had my first curry and I loved it.

I am sure Mrs. Niagra took it easy on the “heat” of the curry and, on reflection, I wonder where she got the spices. They must have been sent from her native country as I am quite sure there would have been none of the exotic seasonings we are so accustomed to now available back then. I remember going home that evening and gabbling on to my Mother about this funny tasting stew and asked her if she would make it for me. Unsurprisingly, I cannot remember it ever appearing on my plate.

My first curry led to a lifelong love affair with the genre and I could easily live on the stuff, in fact I do when I stay with my friend in Sri Lanka. Enough then of my childhood reminiscing and fast-forward to Portadown where I moved in 1981.

In the ninth decade of the 20th century, non-white people were still a rarity in the town and indeed Co. Armagh although there were a few more round Belfast than there had been in the 60’s and 70’s. I knew of two mixed race families in Portadown and that was about it. It was after I left and in the closing years of the last Millennium and first years of this one that the first major wave of immigration took place courtesy of the EU when there was a large influx of Portuguese into the town. I have asked many people the reason and nobody seems to know exactly although I suspect that it is the age old process of a few immigrants coming and then others coming to join them on the principle of sticking together in a foreign country. What I do know is that most of them went to work in the Moypark chicken factory nearby although I do not know if that is still true.

I first heard of this from my late Mother who had volunteered in one of the charity shops in town before she became too ill. She told me that groups of Portuguese women would come into the shop and literally buy up everything in sight. My Mother, being my Mother, took it upon herself in her 70’s to learn some basic conversational Portuguese to converse with them. She really was some woman. I shall return to this Portuguese influence in a moment.

IMG_6724
Yes, you’ll get as much Eastern European produce as you want here.

The second wave of immigration came with the accession of a number of other countries in 2004 when the UK was the destination of choice for a huge number of “Eastern Europeans”, specifically Poles in numbers that the Government of the day had underestimated by a factor of 10. With “the Troubles” more or less over, Northern Ireland received it’s share of these immigrants and I have already mentioned the presence of shops catering specifically for them. It suits me fine as I am partial to Polish cuisine and I can easily pick up a few bits and pieces. Older Northern Irish people tend to be quite conservative in their culinary tastes and I remember once making up a packet of flaki (tripe soup) at home and explaining what it was to my Father. His expression was priceless.

IMG_6732
Moved to much larger premises, business must be good.

What I am going to say now will possibly be controversial but is backed up by plenty of verifiable evidence including the newspaper report that triggered this whole portion of the entry. For the relatively small numbers of Romanians currently in UK where they can come perfectly legally, there seems to be a disproportionate percentage involved in crime, specifically prostitution and people trafficking. I do not wish to further digress into the matter of prostitution and the pros (no pun intended) and cons of legalising it but I do find pimps amongst the lowest forms of life and I do hope Catalin Vasile Manea receives the kind of reception he deserves in Her Majesty’s Prison but back now to Portadown.

IMG_6727
Oak Bar, Portadown.

Walking down Woodhouse Street I wandered into the Oak Bar and I may as well have been walking into a bar in Albufeira or Funchal as it really was a slice of Portugal.

IMG_6725
Portuguese sport in a Portadown bar?

There was a Portuguese sports channel on TV, a Portuguese bar snack menu and Portuguese was the predominant language amongst both staff and customers, although I did have a chat with a local couple sitting next to me at the bar.

IMG_6726.JPG

It was not like this the last time I was there a few years ago but I found it unsurprising for reasons as explained above.

IMG_6731
McKeevers Bar, Portadown.

Another short walk took me to McKeevers bar  which is yet another beauty of an old-fashioned place although not nearly as old as McConville’s which I mentioned in an earlier entry. As you can see from the image it only dates to 1944. but it appears to be fairly well unchanged since then and they still serve an excellent pint of Guinness. It was only when I was leaving that I noticed the poster for Long Meadow Cider which I had never heard of despite me being a big cider fan and which was apparently made by the McKeever family not far away. Some relatives of the publican presumably.

The interesting thing about the last two pubs mentioned is that, whilst I have visited them on subsequent trips home, I never drank in them when I lived here. Such was the tribalism then in vogue that I was the “wrong side” to drink in either of these establishments. Certainly there is still a lot of organised crime controlled by paramilitaries in Northern Ireland but things really have moved on a lot and I feel quite comfortable in any pub in the town now.

My last port of call was McConville’s again as it is pretty close to the bus stop in Carleton Street and I had my pint of Guinness ordered before I noticed that they sold the Long Meadow cider I had seen advertised in McKeevers so I had a bottle of it before I went. It is a little sweet for my taste but a decent drop nonetheless.

I mentioned in a previous entry about how I was plied with Guinness one evening and talked into playing a cannibal queen in a pantomime in a meeting held in a snug here in McConvilles. I enclose here an image of the very table over which the deed was done.

IMG_6735
Where I managed to change gender and colour one evening.

On the bus then and off home for my dinner, a bit more journal writing and reading and then bed.

There is more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.

 

Last throw of the dice.

The very fact that you are reading this, if indeed anyone is, should be regarded as nothing short of a miracle.

The very fact that you are reading this, if indeed anyone is, should be regarded as nothing short of a miracle. Allow me to explain briefly as I am well aware that verbosity is one of my many failings, most of which I have only recognised relatively recently. Isn’t it funny how the passage of time gives you a much clearer picture of yourself?

I came to the fascinating mysteries of the world wide interwebnet.com or whatever it is called somewhat late in life and, after being shown the basics by a then 15 year old “stepdaughter” (I was not married to her Mother) along the lines of how to answer an e-mail and other such mysteries which she took for granted, I set off on a journey of exploration into the ether. Yes, I did get numerous withering looks of the kind that only a teenage girl can muster and which suggested, all too obviously if unstated, that I should just crawl back under my rock and await the Grim Reaper in due course. No doubt some of you will have fallen foul of it and I was still only in my 30’s at the time so hardly geriatric.

I have always loved travelling since my first “solo” holiday i.e. without parents aged 15 when myself, my younger brother and two friends cycled round the Antrim coast road in Northern Ireland, my home country. In the days before computers and in the prevailing circumstances at the time everything was planned to the last detail by “snail mail” and a visit to the Youth Hostel Association office in Belfast. A call on a public payphone (remember those?) had to be made to our parents every night but it was a start and I loved it. We were never more than an hour’s drive from home but it was an adventure and I was hooked. Everything was so much more innocent then even in the awful situation of my homeland in the 1970’s.

 

I promised to try to curb my verbosity so I shall precis this as best I can now. Armed with my newfound wanderlust, I took off to travel when I could and had left home. Nothing dramatic but some decent trips which were all organised (think package holidays) which merely served to inflame my passion for more adventurous travelling. Like the internet, I was a late starter to independent travel for various reasons too boring to go into here.

My first trip outside Europe was when I was 28 and went to New Zealand for a friend’s wedding which I turned into a month long trip as that was the longest period I could take off work. I had a stopover in Bangkok on the way which was the absolute definition of culture shock, a few weeks hitchhiking round Australia which regrettably is too dangerous to do now (hitchhiking, not Austtralia which is relatively safe) and undoubtedly illegal, a week in NZ for the nuptials with a 20 person honeymoon afterwards if you can believe that and then home. I enjoyed it immensely, the freedom, the new sights, sounds and especially smells which was the first thing I noticed when I got to Asia. I still never get tired of the smell of a Southeast Asian night market although I have been to literally hundreds.

I never had the opportunity to do the full-time “going on the road gig” as I had a steady job when I left the Forces in 1988. OK, I could have done that but I had a plan which has now fortunately come to fruition and that was to work very hard, manage my finances as best I could and hopefully retire relatively early to do my travelling then.

Path in an old railway bed, Lunenburg, NS, Canada.
A path along  a disused railbed in Lunenburg, NS, Canada.

In the interim I contented myself with working a lot of overtime and saving it for time off rather than payment which gave me the opportunity for one decent long haul trip per year. I was greatly assisted in this by a succession of very decent bosses and the fact that my workmates were nearly all married with families which meant that they wanted time off based on UK school holidays (July and August plus Easter sometimes). My preferred travel destinations are mostly in Asia so I could work like mad all summer to let the guys get time off for the two weeks break with the family and then I could take a month or slightly more off in January / February when nobody else wanted leave.

I worked hard and managed to get early retirement on a modest pension plus the werewithal to pay off my mortgage a few months shy of my 50th birthday which I thought wasn’t bad for one like me who is so totally useless at matters financial. It sounds like an ideal situation and so it has worked out but at the time I don’t mind admitting that I was utterly petrified. I had literally worked every day of my life and was really unsure what I would find to do with myself every day for the rest of my time on this planet. There was always the danger of just sitting about moping and I really didn’t want to go that way.

My entire retirement plan was predicated on travelling a lot and, almost as importantly, writing about it. I was fortunate in that I had been a member of a superb travel website called Virtual Tourist for a number of years where I had developed a love for travel writing hitherto undiscovered. I had literally thousands of entries and about 10K images there. I had travelled all over the world to “VT meets” and formed many firm friendships which endure to this day as well as discovering that I really did enjoy the writing almost to the point of obsession. I was active on an almost daily basis and it really did give me a purpose. I know this sounds a bit overblown but it is the truth and I used to set up little projects like walking several long distance paths primarily for the purpose of writing about them although I enjoy walking and exploring for it’s own sake. Then the sky fell in.

VT had been bought out some years previously by TripAdvisor and they announced at the beginning of 2017 that they were shutting it down. No provision was made for us to save our work although fortunately some of the wonderful members (including the former CEO and the original programmer) managed to get us some sort of a rapidly thrown together system without which I would have lost 12 years and literally thousands of manhours of writing, researching, cross-checking and a lot more. As and when I get this site up and running I shall attempt to transfer some of that content here from the disorganised shambles that constitutes my computer “filing system” although I do realise that it is unrealistic to try to move it all, there is just not enough time.

At time of writing in April 2018 I am not long returned from three months in Sri Lanka and I have a few other little half-formed travel plans albeit that my travel is usually arranged, booked and undertaken on a last-minute whim which is just the way I like it. Being a single man with no dependents I can literally just get up and go at a moment’s notice and regularly do.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Typical “road” in Burma / Myanmar 2006.

Approaching 60 I am glad to say that I am in perplexingly rude health given my somewhat dissolute lifestyle with the one slight problem being a bad back which I ruined by playing too much rugby in my youth. I compounded the problem by not retiring when my excellent physiotherapist told me to (you were right, Roisin) and then ludicrously coming out of retirement which finally did for it and I was forced to quit for good at the relatively young age of 31. I have not even been registered with a Doctor for over 20 years which must tell you something! The spinal problem precludes proper backpacking but I do manage to undertake fairly extensive trips with a small rollalong case which is the next best thing.

I am hoping against hope that this will be the first of many entries on a blog that I am not going to shut myself down on!

Stay tuned.

The fun continues.

I have mentioned the “travel Gods” before on this blog which is unusual for an atheist like me and perhaps I am just lucky but I woke up on the morning of 27th March in what we call at home a “garret” room, the garret being basically the attic room where the serving girl lived. My first place away from home was a garret room with a great mate called Kevin (who incidentally taught me the rudiments of whatever culinary skill I may have, he having learnt it in the Merchant Navy) in a similar billet adjacent. I woke up this day with a slanted roof above my head, sunlight coming in the window and looked around to see a room that was certainly much better appointed than my 1979 version but I just got a feeling that the travel gods were on my side that day.

 

Without wishing to dwell on it I had been in a pretty bad way about travelling when I started this slightly odd trip but I was now rediscovering the joys and this was certainly a joy. Quick shower and downstairs to see so many artefacts that had been unlit the night before and I in no position to appreciate them. It really is a fantastic hotel and I have included a few images here.

I went to the desk and asked the same lady who had been there the night before (I believe she must be the owner and apparently never sleeps) for a cab.  She was most apologetic as it might be half an hour. Was the bar open? Certainly and no problem for me to spend thirty minutes there. A breakfast beer duly purchased and outside for a smoke (it is a non-smoking hotel) and a look round what is effectively a very small but almost appallingly gorgeous village. I swear they take these places out of children’s books. I took a few images (again included here) and my beer was not even warm by the time I got back. What an utterly delightful place. Again, I had thought I was a bit screwed the night before because I could not stay in Kempten but I would never have found this tiny place otherwise. We are back to the travel Gods.

The taxi turned up well before time and I was slightly surprised to see that it was a lady driver as there are very few where I live. I approached her and gave my name to receive a “Ja” and asked her for “zwei minuten” to finish my beer which appeared to be no problem. In truth the finishing of the beer took about three seconds but I did want to go and thank the lady on reception which I did.

I looked at my tiny bag as I threw it into the boot of the very nice car and had a brief moment of introspection as I tend to, wondering how it had all become this crazy. I was nearly two months down the road now on four days kit and as happy as a pig in muck. To borrow from the final line of “Gone with the wind”, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Isn’t that the truth? I was on the road, going meet some dear friends again, as happy as I am probably ever going to be. By this point I had given up any pretence of this being a normal little jaunt to Europe, I was on a mission. Unlike in the Forces, nobody had actually told me what the mission was but I was on it nonetheless.

In retrospect, I think the mission was to stop me going completely mad. I do apologise to people who are visiting this page hoping to read about a wonderful little Southern German village and, believe me, there will be plenty of that in due course but a look at the previous entries on this blog may assist in understanding.

IMG_5186
Ready for the off.

In due course I was deposited back at the allotted meeting point in good time, yet again clutching my small bag but more than ready to go. This was going to be the last day of the last VT Euromeet (as I thought then) and there was certainly the potential for a very maudlin day out but not a bit of it.

As we set out for our day trip it seemed that there was a rather more defiant attitude regarding a website that has been prosecuted in at least four countries and is without any validity at all and which had removed the very raison d’etre of this lovely weekend purely to remove an infinitely better site after having stolen all our content.  Just today, whilst preparing this piece for publication I was re-researching matters (is that a real word?) as I always do and came upon this from the New York Times which is hardly a “fly-by-night” sensationalist publication and an article I had somehow missed before.  If you don’t want to check it, it reveals how posts from a woman detailing how she was raped by a security guard in a Mexican hotel were repeatedly deleted by Tr%padvi&or, presumably because they were paying for good reviews.  When the report of this vile crime was eventually re-instated, it was re-posted chronologically to ensure it was so far down the list you would have to search for a week to find it.  Again I must urge my very few readers not to ever go on that disgusting and immoral website as this is just one of so many examples of it’s disgusting record.  Back to our day out.

We jumped on board another lovely coach (again, well done again Christian) and we were off again for another day of the joys of Southern Germany.

We were heading for Oberstdorf, the main event of the day.  To be honest we could have just parked in a carpark by the autobahn with a few bottles of beer and a few more of the excellent local wine and had a brilliant time as it really was that kind of gig. There were a lot of very old friends (in all senses of the phrase) all together, having been made effectively homeless online and struggling to find out where to go.

So, this was the last ever VT trip months after our site had been murdered?  I use the word “our” advisedly as it was always rather more a community based concept than a simple travel website.  This day had every potential for being morose after what we had all communally contributed and subsequently lost.  Morose? Not a chance, that’s obviously not what we are about although it did certainly surprise me. We took off on another delightful coach and into the delights (and they are indeed delights) of the Bayern (Bavarian) countryside. This place really does need to be confined to a children’s book somewhere, it is proper storybook scenery.

IMG_5200

Whilst not the coach of the previous day it was similarly delightfully appointed. I don’t know if Christian had used two different firms or coaches brought in by the same firm but they were excellent.Yet again, his organisational skills are to be heartily applauded and I think everyone that was there will agree.

Off we headed in good time (nobody was late as I recall) and away on the relatively short journey to Oberstdorf, a village which is near enough as close as you can go South in Germany and still be in Germany! Arriving there in a very busy car park, Christian asked who wanted tickets to visit the gorge which is the main draw here. As I mentioned earlier it was a holiday weekend and half of Bayern seemed to be there.

Firstly, we went for a short and very pleasant walk past some of the most contented cows I have ever seen (then again, they always seem fairly contented) to view what was apparently an international standard ski slope although at this time of year  with no snow it looked as though some giant had ripped up a long thin field and placed it at a most ridiculous angle up a very steep hill.  For those of you who have not seen ski jumping for real, it beggars belief how humans can hurl themselves down this thing at vast speeds and effectively jump of the equivalent of a house after that.  Those people must be absolutely mad as you have to actually stand next to that thing to appreciate just how huge it actually is.

After wondering at the potentially suicidal tendencies of some folk, i.e. those who throw themselves off tall structures at vast speeds with no means of braking, there were a couple of options available. You could either just walk a few hundred yards and see the gorge or there was a full walk right around the high perimeter which was designed to take about an hour. Some of the more intrepid members took the latter option and came back panting, sweating and generally looking the worse for wear. Readers of earlier submissions here will know that my trusty old walking boots had died back in Luxembourg and whilst I can hump up a hill with the best of them I was neither shod nor, frankly, in the mood for it.

In my way of noticing these things, I had instantly “clocked” there was a decent looking and very traditional Bavarian bierhaus / restaruant so that would do for me. A day off sightseeing would do no harm. I went to the bar and was yet again amazed that they would not serve me. I was told I had to go and sit at a table and a waitress would come to me. Why? I really do not understand. The place was busy as Hell and I thought that my going to the bar would just save everyone a lot of work. Not so apparently. Eventually a very pleasant young lady appeared and brought me up a very decent beer I could have been drinking five minutes earlier. Utter lunacy.

I was sitting outside (for the purposes of smoking) and it really was the most perfect experience. It was just one of those things of time and place, everything was just right. I live for days like this. Yes, a few very dear friends were coming and going before or after their various meanderings around the gorge. I regret that I do not have the vocabulary to describe the pleasure of this day properly but suffice it to say that I was subsequently in tears composing this piece. It really was that magical and poignant.

After that, it was back to the bus and into the village of Oberstdorf itself which was yet another delight (the ski jump and gorge are a little way out of town).  Needless to say, I wandered round a few bars after having taken the obligatory few “snaps”.  Yet another one for the “picture postcard” brigade.  I know that some of my compatriots had a walk along the river which they declared to be beautiful and I am sure it was but again, I do not see it as wasted time.  I met some lovely people, had a great afternoon chatting and getting to know about the local area and that was quite enough for me.

Eventually we embussed again and  back to Kempten for the final “final” meal on a VT meet ever. Frankly, I was not looking forward to it for reasons as mentioned before. Also, I was still effectively homeless and had to get to my third hotel in three days. Hey, this is Fergy style travel. I got to my hotel, the Peterhof,was checked in quickly and efficiently and found an utterly gorgeous room that was probably stretching my budget a bit but was worth every penny.

More of that in due course and, suitably refreshed, it was off to the designated resto for the evening meal.

We had had some brilliant meals already but somehow I think Christian had definitely saved the best for last. From the selection offered I chose the pork shank which, as I have said before, is one of my favourite meats. In UK we have a bar snack called pork scratchings which is effectively deep fried pork fat and sold in small bags or foil packages to accompany your drink. I love them albeit that the are undoubtedly cholesterol laden and absolutely perilous to the teeth. I had never seen it “au naturel” as it were but this is how it was served. I have no clue how chef achieved it but it was undoubtedly one of the finest pieces of meat I have ever eaten and I have dined in some pretty decent places. Again accompanied by my perennial local favourites of red cabbage and dumpling it was a meal of utter gastronomic delight for which I thank chef and his / her brigade. I’ll let the images do the talking.

Whilst the meal was superb as Christian’s track record had suggested it would be, that was never going to be the problem. This really was the end of the end for something that we had all held dear for varying periods of time, in some cases up to 16 years and in mine 12. That is a long time. Most marriages don’t last that long! Again, it had every potential for being a very sad and even depressing occasion. My arse, if the ladies will pardon my French. It was a night of great fun, excellent food as mentioned, and with a not particularly subtle undercurrent of defiance that dictated that a very evil man in charge of a criminal website was not going to beat us down.

To an outsider I know this will sound completely overblown but that is how it felt. I know that the revolting and criminal site (look it up, Tr(pAd*isor have been successfully prosecuted in four countries for lying to my knowledge and there may well be more) are still illegally using our content but who has the money to take them on? It appears that might is right and certainly the American legal system works on the principle of “he with the biggest chequebook wins”. However, the evening had been a resounding success and not at all downbeat as I had feared. We are still here and not going away any time soon.

Incidentally, the guy in the slightly garish red jacket is Jon, who is married to a VT member called Regina who is a great friend of mine.  He is by trade a professional magician and very good he is too so he kept the entire party amused with his sleight of hand antics.  Even when I was standing right beside him I still don’t know how he did it, he was that good.

I had more or less got my bearings in Kempten by now so a 15 or so minute walk home and a quick beer from the hotel bar saw me to a very comfortable bed in fine order. So that was it? That was the end? Somehow I do not think so. We don’t lie down and die at the whim of a corrupt man in charge of a criminal operation.  Thankfully, this was to prove to be the case with a 2018 meet taking place and another planned for 2019.

Well, that was the meet over so what to do next?  If you want to know, stay tuned and spread the word.

A great day out.

I woke up in my rather lovely hotel on the morning of the 26th of May, hugely happy about the previous day’s events (if you do not know the full story I would urge you to have a quick wade through the very many previous entries in this journal if you think you can stand it) but to summarise briefly I was in Kempten im Allgau for what I though was to be the last of the Virtual Tourist meets, given birth to by the eponymous website. They were an annual and very well attended event and I was hoping they could continue with TravBuddy friends joining in and that is a theme I shall return to later. TravBuddy was the site that many of us had jumped to when VT was shut down but it has sadly also closed now as well.

Regrettably, I could not stay where I had been as it was completely booked out for that night (a Friday) which I believe was due to it being a holiday weekend and, to a lesser extent, the presence of a decent number of us VT members being in town. Still, that was not a problem as I had managed to secure myself a bed online in a little village about fifteen miles from Kempten (which turned out to be an excellent result) and I am well used to living out of a smallish kitbag so a nice shower, five minutes to pack and I was back on the road, trailing my newish suitcase with a now half broken handle (you get what you pay for) and off to the meet point where the hugely friendly driver opened the cargo hold and told me to throw my kit in there. No problem, well no problem then but we’ll come back to that.

IMG_5155
Our lovely coach later in the day.

Christian (the organiser), despite all the fairly massive obstacles that were thrown in his way, had got everything perfectly arranged and we all met up at the appointed place to embus on a rather spectacular coach. Hell, we were all there and damned if any self-serving, egotistical corporate charlatan who pays himself $39 million (US) a year was going to stop us.

On the bus and Christian was acting as tour guide as he did so very well. I know that it was probably a money-saving measure (very rightly so) in not employing a qualified tour guide which would have been a fairly pointless exercise anyway. As I have mentioned previously, trying to organise VT i.e. independent travellers is like trying to herd cats and I did not envy him his job at all. We were all big boys and girls so just dump us off somewhere interesting and let us go. That is what VT members were like and I was to discover on my brief acquaintance that TravBuddy members were like as well. We were all fairly independently minded travellers irrespective of which website we chose to use.

First stop of the day was the utterly delightful town of Wangen which, although being reached by a decent autobahn still managed to take in some pretty decent scenery. Our ultimate destination was Lindau where I had had my little “interaction” with the local polizei on the bus from France.

In truth, lovely as Lindau later proved to be in daylight and me not being turned over by the local constabulary, I think I marginally preferred Wangen. It is a beautiful mediaeval town and I was right back into “Memmingen mode” (see previous journal entries for an explanation of this) where I could not walk round a corner without my jaw dropping yet again at the stunning, pristine beauty of the place. It is yet another of those little beauties that Bayern (Bavaria) seems to specialise in and which really makes me want to go back and explore that region more.

Again, I shall let the images (amateur as they are) speak for themselves and would point the reader to the work of some of my fellow travellers who are far handier with a camera than I am and who have contributed tremendous images of this most photogenic town. Perhaps the highlight for me was the Spitalkirche (church) dating to 1447 which was stunning outside and in. I have mentioned before that I am a man of no religious faith and yet places of worship are like magnets to me, I love them.

Removing headgear (bandanna in my case) as Christian etiquette demands, I wandered in there and spent quite a bit of time wondering at the outstanding architecture and artefacts. Without looking it up, I could not tell you if this place was Roman Catholic, Lutheran (which is a popular faith in this region) or whatever. Frankly, I feel I am better off not knowing. I was brought up in Northern Ireland in the 60’s through to the 80’s and I have seen far, far too much of what religious intolerance does. Yes, I fully appreciate that this is a bit heavy on a predominantly travel website and I apologise but I only know one way to write whatever rubbish it is I contribute here and that is the truth and what I feel at any given time.

IMG_5096
These little piggies went to market and became bratwurst,,,,,,,
IMG_5101
…..but this little piggy had the sense to run away!

Of course, it was not all heavy (I didn’t feel any negative influence at all in that beautiful church) but the more secular attractions of the town were going to have to be investigated, namely the bars which Bavaria is famous for and rightly so. A few of those were duly researched against writing future reviews for the website I was then contributing to, no other reason obviously!

IMG_5092
It was always going to happen.

I can’t remember if it was 1300 or 1400 we had to be back at the coach but we all made it on time (we were all pretty experienced travellers as mentioned above) and I even had time to stop off at a nearby supermarket where I was amazed to find that they had easily 100 types of beer but nothing in a can, it was all bottles. Not a huge problem as I can open bottles with a cigarette lighter, belt buckle, door jamb or just about anything solid. I have even been known to do it with my teeth but I have given that up as I don’t have so many left at my time of life and it seems to make women squeamish. No problem as my Scandinavian mate (ex- Special Forces and always well kitted up) had the necessaries on his keyring so that eased the admittedly short journey to Lindau which will be dealt with in the next paragraphs.

Before we get to Lindau, here are a few more images of the absolute gem that is Wangen.  Apologies if there are any “doubles” in the images but I hacve so many images of that day.

It is not a long drive from Wangen to Lindau which was the “main objective” of our excursion although, in truth, I could have happily spent the whole day in the former town. Bayern just seems to be packed to the gunwales with the most amazing little places that I had never even heard of prior to this trip. The whole region just oozes charm but I suppose it is like everything else and the eternal lament of the traveller of “so many places, so little time” much as I would love to re-visit.

As mentioned in a previous entry in this journal / blog my first exposure to Lindau had hardly been great as I was having my passport examined by an armed police officer at about 0600 in the morning after a long and fairly uncomfortable night on a long distance coach with pretty unsanitary “facilities” and a bunch of raucous children. None of this is a problem to me and the officers were obviously looking for one person whom they removed from the coach, a pretty young Macedonian girl who was undoubtedly being trafficked for some purpose that probably doesn’t bear thinking about. I do hope that they found some way of “saving” her.

As my religious discourse above, I know this is pretty heavy stuff for a mainly travel website but I have news for those that don’t already get it, travel is not all pretty castles and lakes and mountains and white sand beaches and Disneyland. Bad things happen in the world and the more you travel then the more likely you are to encounter them. Open your eyes and live with it, perhaps even try to help a little if you can.

Anyway, enough pontificating from me and back to Lindau. We rolled into town, past the place where I had been stopped before which raised a slightly rueful smile with me and were dropped off in a sizeable car park just out of the centre and told what time to be back. Christian, in his totally brilliantly organised way, had obtained timetables for boat trips on Bodensee aka Lake Constance which is a rather large body of water and, indeed, the harbour would do justice to a small coastal town anywhere. It even boasts a lighthouse although whether this is operational or not I could not say. I am not sure whether or not any of our party availed themselves of the maritime exploits on offer but I had decided on a wander round and, yes, obviously a beer or ten.

My quest for a beer was never going to be a problem as the place is stuffed to the gills with restaurants and bars. This was obviously getting into high season and many places were full at the al fresco tables eating what looked to be delightful food. However, Fergy does not work like that. After a small shutterfest (with the fairly average results attached here) on my compact camera I let the “nose” take over again.

For those who have come upon this page by some strange twist of fate (your karma must be awful!) I shall explain briefly so as not to further bore whatever regular readers I may have. I seem to have an innate ability to seek out great little bars in the strangest of places even if I have never visited them before. Well, the “nose” rarely lets me down and so it was to prove in Lindau. No, I didn’t just hit any bar and sit there all day, I had travelled far enough to see this place and I did. Lindau was stunning and I do recommend it as it is utterly gorgeous. Again, Christian had picked well.

I had seen a small restaurant called Mediterraneo which gives something of a clue to the cuisine offered. I perched myself at the bar, which is my preferred position and called for a beer which was promptly served by the charming lady behind the bar. My German is even more appalling than my schoolboy French, which I can just about get away with but, by dint of a whole lot of miming, we managed to carry on some sort of “conversation”. When I was at school I often wondered why we were made to mime, I know now as it is so fantastically useful and I thank Zandra Magennis and the late Joan MacPherson from the bottom of my heart for that as it has carried me round the world!

From my “perch” I could see straight into the kitchen and watched the chef knocking up a number of dishes for the patrons who came and went and it was a joy. Whilst I have the appetite of a sparrow, I can watch chefs, or indeed cook myself, all day. I would certainly have been tempted by some of the offerings but one meal a day is quite enough for me and I knew I was set up for a feed that night so I restricted myself to a few beers before heading off to the bus at the appointed hour.

IMG_5145

Before you ask, no, this wonderful ice cream cup was not for me but I could not resist a photo as it looked so beautifully presented. Chef had all the stations covered by himself, he was completely a one man band and obviously very good at it.

Back on the bus then for the return journey and, again, nobody went MIA.  A couple more beers and a small dozette made the time fly.

IMG_5151
The hills are alive with the sound of Fergy (Heaven help us!).

On the way back to Kempten we did stop for a bit of a photo stop which really did bring home to me how delightful this part of the world is and what utterly superb company I was in.  I really was so glad I came.

We arrived back in Kempten in good order although there was a slight piece of drama after we alighted right in the centre of town. The driver, who had been an utter delight all day (I had had a few chats with him albeit we had hardly ten words of a common language) was quite rightly and properly in “daytrip” mode and wasn’t expecting to offload baggage. Sorry, I was effectively homeless at this point with far too little kit and most of my wordly goods and possessions in that bag in the belly of the bus.

I was standing by the cargo hold door waiting for him to open it and he jumped up into the interior of the bus. No problem, I thought it was some sort of electronic opening from inside, it really was a flash coach and I wish we had had one like it on my sub-Arctic trip to Scandinavia where I played a lot of gigs and nearly died of hypothermia when the heater failed! Next thing I knew, he had pulled out into the traffic and was off. I do not blame the guy at all, he was in one mode and I, as is my way, was messing up his nice schedule. There ensued then something that would have done justice to the Keystone Cops with Christian and I chasing a very smart coach down a main road in central Kempten screaming and shouting. Fortunately it was rush hour and we ran him down by the second set of traffic lights (I could not have gone much further at my time of life and with my lifestyle as I am not that fit any more) and he was terribly apologetic although he really had no need to be. So, I was re-united with my four-day bag and ready to go (I was to go an awful lot further later so wait for that).

IMG_5157
I do like German beer.  OK, I just like beer!

Back to where we had been dropped and some of the group headed home to freshen up whilst others adjourned to a nearby bar. You can guess what camp I was in. I was actually staying that night in a little village about fifteen miles away and although several friends offered me use of a shower, spare bed for a doze etc. I was on a roll. More of the village and wonderful hotel to come.

I knew that the evening meal that night was to be in a “rooftop” restaurant which immediately presented problems for me as I really do no like heights. I am sorry, they just freak me out. I feel physically ill some times and yet other times I can stand quite happily, well, without blind panic anyway, in a high place.

I was enveigled by friends into an external lift so beloved of high-rise places. I swear I was hanging onto anything which didn’t appear to be hurtling upwards at a very disagreeable rate of knots. I include in that several of my friends and yet again I can only apologise and do hope the nail marks eventually faded. It was only on the way home that I found out there was a “real” internal lift (elevator) with proper walls and the like and wasn’t going to make me pass out in fear and so I used that to make my exit!

IMG_5161
No mistaking who was in that night.

Into the restaurant and a beer was immediately required if only to calm my heart rate from that Apollo liftoff ride up there. As always, Christian had picked brilliantly. I genuinely don’t know how he managed a meet of that size with the rug literally pulled out from under his feet. Rather ludicrously, I didn’t manage to take a single image of what I ate, nor do I remember what it was after all this time, but I work on the principle that it must have been pretty good as I always remember a bad meal. Perversely, the fact that I cannot remember it is no adverse comment on the kitchen.

I even braved the outside terrace for a smoke (I was not going to risk that external lift again to go downstairs for one) and got some beautiful views of Kempten at dusk which I hope I have managed to convey here.

Of course the main purpose of being there (last-minute as it was) was to meet my VT mates and it was a great night with many old friends. Yes, there was an element of sadness at what we had lost but the mood was overwhelmingly positive and there was an uge desire to keep the whole thing going even if the website had been taken away from us.

Getting not particularly late in the evening I knew I had to make a move. As mentioned previously, I had had to take a room in a village some miles away (what a good move that turned out to be) and was still wandering round with my complete worldly goods in a tiny case with my computer in another. I asked Christian if he knew a reliable taxi firm in town. I was quite happy to pay for it but did not want to leave it too late. Not at all. He would not hear of it and offered to drive me. What? A cab would probably have been €30 or €40 and I was set up for that (I think it was about €35 on the return next day) but no chance, he was going to drive me home. What a man and what a positive affirmation of what I have always said about travellers. As a man approaching old age when I will not be able to travel and when I will look back on these things, I know exactly what I think.

IMG_5177

Christian dropped me off in the charming little village of Wiggensbach at the Hotel Goldenes Kreuz (Golden Cross if my appalling German serves) and even came into the reception to make sure everything went smoothly (he knows I speak minimal German but that was no problem as the charming lady had perfect English anyway). I would include a hyperlink here but they do not appear to have their own site.  Upstairs to a most delightful “garret” room which suited me down to the ground (no witticism intended) and back to the bar, obviously. Despite my complete lack of facility in German (I find it a really difficult language) I managed to ascertain that the bar was open just about as long as I, as a resident, was there and did not fall off the perch. As is the way in such places I think the night porter doubled as the barman.

IMG_5176

Happy days but dangerous for me as I had another day of the VT meet to go. Let’s see how far we can go. As usual for me, somewhere vaguely out the far side of madness! A couple of beers and a chat with the barman and I thought a relatively early night was called for as I had to get back into Kempten for the last day of the weekend. Off to my lovely room where I slept the sleep of the just, albeit that that is far from my moral state.

The weekend was not over yet, I was thoroughly enjoying it despite my initial misgivings and there was another day to go so I was not going to blow that on what was effectively to be the last day of the last proper VT meet ever after all those years, as I believed. Even writing about it months later in my home in London it still provoked very mixed reactions. I had debated just taking off and not going as I knew it was going to be hard and so I thought I would wait for the morning with a relatively clear head to make a decision.

To find out what I did decide, stay tuned and spread the word..

I got there at last.

If you have been following this blog from the outset then, firstly, I thank you (not to mention sympathise with you for my inane ramblings) and secondly I will give a very brief explanation for anyone who has stumbled upon this page in search of information about Memmingen or Kempten.  I had started off in very early April on what was meant to be a four day trip to visit a friend in the Netherlands and here I was nearly two months later in Bavaria and heading to meet a whole bunch of other dear friends.  That is the potted version, the rest is fully explained in earlier blog entries here (and later ones hopefully) if you care to wade through sixty plus of them. Yes, it had gone on that long!

I awoke in my lovely room in the Park Hotel (it was brilliant, I loved it there) and, much as I would have loved to stay there as both hotel and town were stunning, I knew that I needed to move the short distance to Kempten to see my friends.  Damn, I had humped myself from South central France to get here and I wasn’t going to blow it out of the water for a few more miles. On top of this I had told my dear friend Sarah (toonsarah on the Virtual Tourist and TravBuddy websites as she was, and a superb travel writer) that I was coming but I had asked her to keep it quiet.  Having told everyone I wasn’t coming, I fancied making a bit of a drama queen entrance and, yes, I am that much of a tart.

I think breakfast was included in my room but it is a meal I rarely take unless it is in a glass and I do not mean fruit juice! Thanking the staff most heartily and genuinely for the wonderful hospitality I had received there provoked large smiles all round which made me feel as good as they obviously did. Lest the reader, new to my idiotic ramblings, think that I am writing this as an advertisement for the hotel, I am not. I have nothing to do with them and am most certainly not getting paid for writing this. There are enough people on other websites who have “officially” vouched for me and will undoubtedly do so in a less formal way if required. I merely write as I find.

I knew from my wanders of the previous day exactly where the train station was, about 15 minutes of another Disney wonderland through cobbled streets (not so good for a wheel along bag but utterly gorgeous) and past buildings that belonged in a child’s fantasy book.

Well, it was almost inevitable. It was time for a Fergy breakfast i.e. a beer. I came upon a small place which I had somehow missed the day before to be met by some pretty loud rock music (suits me) and a fairly heavily tattooed barmaid who I asked in German if the premises were open. She looked a tad surprised although whether that was because of the hour or my appalling German I could not possibly say. Yet another language I do not speak but insist on trying out.  Suffice it to say that we ended up comparing tattoos (I have four and she had me beaten by a country mile without even taking her T-shirt off!) and chatting about rock music. Great time.

I know I am probably preaching to the choir a bit here as people who are reading this website are mostly known to me and are undoubtedly fairly independently minded and think for themselves.  Please, I beg you, do not judge people, especially young people, on their appearance. Talk to them and find out what they are about, it might just surprise you and here endeth the lesson!

Anyway, I knew I had loads of time but I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, reliable as DB (German railways) are so I headed to Memmingen station which was merely a few hundred yards away. No problem and in I went to check the train times. Unusually for me I had not used the facilities in the bar with the tattooed barmaid before I left.  They were immaculate from previous experience, and so I went to use those in the station. What an obscenity. I have been in public toilets on several continents and this was amongst the worst I have ever encountered. The stench was overpowering, there were used and bloody hypodermic needles on the floor and the place looked like it had not been cleaned since the day it was built. It looked like a field hospital in Scutari, it was abominable which surprised me as I know how highly Germans prize their efficiency. DB take note.

Still, I wasn’t there merely to use the “facilities”. I thought a quick beer may be in order so I went to the station cafe / bar and bought a well over-priced bottle which I brought to sit outside with on a now reasonably decent day.  I had to sit outside because of the Federal States of E (aka EU) fascism about smoking. Nightmare. It appears they make no attempt to stop the street dwellers and their apparently uncontrolled yappy little dogs just sitting there all day and drinking their shop bought alcohol. I was glad I seemed to be upwind.

OK, sod that and it actually hurts me to write that because I loved Memmingen so much on an admittedly brief trip but I always attempt to write honestly and this was just a step too far. Surely there must be a real bar nearby. I knew there were plenty of trains so I was not going to be stranded. Out the front of the station and the Fergy “nose” took over. For those that do not know (I apologise to those that do and are getting bored by it) it has been said that I can sniff out alcohol at about 600 yards through concrete. I don’t know how true that is but I always seem to manage to get a beer wherever I am. Standing waiting on the pedestrian phase of the traffic lights, I had a bit of a scan. There were two options both within 100 yards. I scanned them both and the one on the right just felt wrong whilst the one on the left was calling to me. I know this sounds utterly ridiculous written down in the cold light of day but I swear it is the truth. Ask anyone who has ever been on a pub crawl with me in a place I have never been before.

 

Anyway, the “nose” had it absolutely spot on as always and I lugged my bag into a most beautiful and utterly crazy bar. Yes, I was right back in my element, this is where I belong.  A beer was quickly ordered and swiftly supplied so I took a look around. Well that took about an hour, I have never seen a place like it and I have been in a lot of crazy bars. There were old radios, old records, old posters, cutlery sets, I could go on but it would take forever. Hopefully the images will give an idea.

A few people came in for lunch which was cooked to order (I could see into the kitchen from where I sat) and it looked delicious but still way too early for me to eat.  There was a slightly rotund gentleman who came in and consumed, in no time flat and accompanied by a couple of beers, what I would have described as two main courses. This may well explain his waistline and I would love to be his cardiologist, I’d make a fortune.

I asked for permission to take a few pictures which was granted instantly and most charmingly. I know that in a public place you can effectively fire off your camera wherever you want, especially in these days of ‘phones with cams but I still like to ask. Damn, I could have taken 300 or more pics in there, it was that quaint. I hope the attached images do it justice.

Time was moving on and it was a very regretful Fergy that left this little locals bar but Kempten awaited.

IMG_5045.JPG

I made the arduous trek of, oh, perhaps 100 yards across the main road to the station, found my platform and hopped onboard my absolutely punctual train, settled down in a comfy and spotlessly clean carriage and began what was not a particularly long journey.

 

I am quite content to just sit and look out the window on a train journey and so I did not even break out my book although in truth there was nothing spectacular, certainly not in comparison to the scenery we were to see in the region over the next few days. We pulled into Kempten im Allgau (hereinafter referred to as Kempten to save my poor fingers from more typing) bang on time. A decent station and I knew it was walking distance so off I took, thankfully downhill, towards where I needed to be. I only managed to get lost the once in what should have been a fifteen minute walk. Honestly, I do not know what has happened to me, I used to have an inbuilt compass that never failed and now I get lost two times out of three. Old age I suppose.

 

Anyway, eventually to the Art Hotel, which I had scored online and cheaply judging by my subsequent research)  and checked in quickly and efficiently to what turned out to be a charming room. All the usual amenities like a flat screen TV and a safe etc. and I was in a room with a double and a single for which I was being charged single occupancy. The “features” were a beautiful monochrome print of a boat on a placid lake and the etched stylised map of the region on the shower doors which I thought was a nice touch.

I didn’t actually need one as it was still only about 1330 but I had a shower just for the Hell of it and to freshen up and headed out.

I had worked out it was a fairly short distance to the meet point and a thankfully fairly straight shot so navigation should not be a problem later on as I know these things can get a bit messy dependent on which lunatics I meet.  I made it to the grandly named Brauereigaststätte Zum Stift and into the bar which was just about empty but a quick look in the beer garden (should I say Biergarten?) and I saw why. It was a more than decent day and everyone had very sensibly decided to sit outside albeit the indoor area was very comfortable.

 

Well, that was it and I knew I had done absolutely the right thing in coming. It was just like it had always been despite the catastrophe that had affected us communally. Those who have waded through the many long pages of this blog will know that Sarah  was the only person I had told of my change of heart about attending and she, true to her word, had kept it entirely secret. I am not ashamed to say that the reception I received was close to reducing me to tears. I was having my hand shaken left and right, being embraced, slapped on the back and so on.

I saw so many familiar faces there, either people I had met before or people who I recognised from profile images on VT. After so many years of speaking online I finally got to meet Victor from the Ukraine which was a particular thrill although I would not like to single him out particularly, and nor would he wish to be singled out thus as he is a very humble and lovely man. I would say that there were probably 15% of people I did not “know” there, spouses, partners, friends or whatever but they were charming to a man and woman and I suppose it makes sense as if you “hang about” with a traveller you must be inclined that way as well.

After all the almost tearful introductions were made, it was time to get down to business. I have mentioned before that the guy organising the whole thing was a German friend called Christian and he must have been in a world of worry when VT was murdered. He had already laid down deposits for restaurants, coaches, had hotel rooms set aside and whatever else and stood to lose out badly. I sincerely hope he didn’t lose a cent as that would be wrong but I believe that is not the case. Anyway, I went to see him and paid for all the activities I had booked up for (i.e. everything, what’s the point otherwise?) and I still worry about the amount of cash he walked to the bank with. I have a little training in such matters and offered to accompany him but he assured me he would be OK. Nice one, mate.

Afternoon rolled into evening and soon it was the time for the first official function, the welcoming dinner. I know there had been a pre-meet elsewhere as there always is and there would be one or more post-meets, again organised totally by members but this was the start of the weekend “proper”. We were eventually assembled in a delightful and very typical Bavarian dining room and I was reminded of a saying that used to have a bit of currency on VT that trying to organise VT members was like trying to herd cats which is undoubtedly true. A blessedly short speech from Christian which certainly touched a few raw nerves, as it would under the circumstances, and it was time to eat.

We had all pre-ordered from a menu to assist the kitchen as we were such a large party and I must confess I had chosen my main as much for the accompaniments as for the “main event” which was pork in my case. I know people say I am mad and, whilst I’ll munch my way through a good fillet steak quite happily, I am equally happy with a well-grilled double pork chop. I do like a bit of dead pig, sorry veggies and vegans. As an aside I should mention that Christian had arranged veggie options everywhere we ate which is not perhaps standard practice in this very carnivore part of the world.

The dish arrived with the pork cooked to a turn and obviously carved off a large joint with the accompaniments I mentioned which were red cabbage and dumpling. When I am in eating mode in that part of the world they are two of my absolute favourites. Service was a bit slow but we were a fairly huge party and the food, when it arrived was certainly warm enough and very, very tasty.

A few more beers, well more than a few but this is Fergy, and it was off to the very decent hotel for the night against a reasonably early rising the next day. Early for me anyway. I slept like a baby which was another blessing as, just to add insult to injury, I suffer from sleep disorder as well as eating disorder. On all levels, it was a very content man that drifted off to sleep the sleep of the righteous, even if I am not.

Stay tuned and spread the word.

I get to the other Halifax.

A word of explanation.

For those of you who may have stumbled upon this page accidentally, perhaps searching for information about leisure activities in Yorkshire, specifically in respect of canals, I offer a quick word of explanation here.

Virtually all of the content on the following pages was saved against the best efforts of an evil corporate entity who bought over a great website that I wrote for for 12 years and who are Hell-bent on being the only travel site online and will stop at nothing to do it. As this is my site and the content is meant to be in a more narrative style I shall attempt to edit as appropriate but I make no apologies for the fact that some paragraphs may read like reviews which is what they were originally written as. Certainly, at time of re-writing this here in November 2018 I am sure much of the information is out of date. I have attempted to verify if places mentioned are still functioning and will indicate where not but this is mostly a personal remembrance of a wonderful trip undertaken with great friends in the early Autumn of 2015.

There may be an occasional reference to VT which slips through the net and which refers to Virtual Tourist, undoubtedly the most genuine travel review site that has ever existed on the net (I have written for a few, believe me and it is that I referred to above) which was so awfully butchered by a criminal (yes, I can prove that) website who I shall not even name here.

Now we have the explanation out of the way, let’s get down to the trip. On the aforementioned VT we used to have all sorts of “meets” including a huge annual Euromeet somewhere in Europe (obviously) and which, whilst supported strongly by the tiny staff of VT, although they did not have the resources to actually arrange it, was always undertaken by the members themselves. At least one of the staff would always fly from the States to attend, it really was that kind of site and I would think it is a fairly rare thing when you can have a drink with the CEO of your favourite website and speak to them quite frankly about the site.

In another series of travelogues here I have written about the 2017 meet in Germany even after they had killed the actual website. You can kill the site but you cannot kill what we were about. I know there was a 2018 meet in Iceland, organised by another personal friend of mine, which I unfortunately could not make and there is one planned for 2019. Criminally convicted big business may kill off a website but it cannot kill off the will of travellers worldwide. We were travellers, we are still travellers and VT is not going to go away in spirit any time in the near future.

So, I was going to go to Yorkshire to meet dear friends for a weekend of fun and frolics on a hired canal boat. Suits me. I know I have mentioned on other pages my love for canals and canal boats and I have been deemed competent enough to crew by friends who actually run them commercially. As always I’ll try to go through this chronologically as it is the only way I can even attempt to recover all this content without getting totally lost. OK, let’s be honest, I have been totally lost mentally and occasionally physically for years. I always manage to find my way home eventually physically but mentally……………..?

Given the large UK membership of Virtual Tourist I was slightly surprised at the fairly small group who had signed up. There was Gilly, who organised the whole thing (brilliantly I might add, cheers mate), Aly, Dave who could not join us until Saturday as his teaching duties did not allow for a Friday off and your humble narrator. That was no problem, I had met them all before another VT events and got on really well with them, they are all lovely people. As I have mentioned elsewhere here on my pages, Yorkshire is a part of the UK I have visited far too infrequently. Yes, I walked an LDP (Long Distance Path) many years ago with my then fiancee and I had been there once or twice on other occasions but I knew damn little about it and so when I jumped on my train in London I was actually quite looking forward to it.

Again, a quick piece of travel advice if you may be reading this overseas and thinking of using the trains in UK when you visit. Always, always book ahead as “walk-up” fares are out the far side of ridiculous. Generally speaking, the further ahead you book the better as you get the best deals and, if you are not confined to a particular time, then travel after 0930 as it is considerably cheaper, it is called “off-peak”. Certainly, the very best fares require you to commit to specific trains but I have never had a problem with that.

IMG_9002
I got there in one piece.

I am now going back into review mode as explained above to describe the journey although I shall attempt to make it as readable as possible. Sorry, I just cannot break the habit, I reckon I was born to write travel reviews if I ever find a site I can trust and I probably won’t so I bought my own! Again it is culled from something I wrote at the time on VT.

Let the train take the strain.

Whilst it is undoubtedly more expensive than the bus (coach) I much prefer travelling in the UK by train as it is considerably quicker and certainly more comfortable and this is the mode of transport I used to and from Halifax.

Trains leave Kings Cross and take a little over two hours and most involve a change at Leeds although I did manage to get one of the few direct trains which take just a shade over two hours on a pleasant service run by Grand Central.

The station was clean and tidy and it offers the following services as outlined in the attached website. The station code is HFX and the ticket office is open Monday – Friday 05:50 – 20:00, Saturday 05:50 – 20:00 and Sunday 08:15 – 19:00. There are ticket machines outside these hours including accessible machines.

The full postal address is Horton Street, Halifax, West Yorkshire HX1 1QE and there are always appear to be taxis waiting outside when the station is open. Refreshments are provided in the cafe opposite the booking hall which is open Monday to Saturday 06:00 – 18:00 and Sunday 09:00 – 18:00.

Access to all platforms is by stairs or lift and there is an accessibility helpline available for information on 0808 156 1606. It is available Monday to Saturday 0800 – 2000 and Sunday 0900 – 1700. There do not appear to be accessible toilets available.

I’m glad I did that. Sod it, it is my site and I basically started writing online to help other travellers so I see no reason to stop now.

It perhaps seems strange that as a UK citizen I had visited the city of Halifax in Canada in 2014 but had never visited the place in England for which it was named. This was a four day affair starting Friday lunchtime and finishing Monday morning although I had decided to make a bit of a trip out of it and arrive on the Thursday to avoid a very early start and also added three additional days at the end to explore an area I know lamentably little about.

Our start and finish point for the boat was Sowerby Bridge although I could not find any accommodation there in my price range but a bit of internet searching showed up a few places in nearby Halifax which is a mere seven minutes by train or not much more on a fairly inexpensive taxi ride. That was decided then and Halifax was duly chosen as my base.

So what did I know about this town of about 100,000 souls? To my shame the answer is just about nothing. I knew it had a history of textile production, was home to one of the largest building societies in the UK, had a close association with Rugby League and a football (soccer) team who are languishing somewhat at present having gone bankrupt in 2007 after more than 100 years in the top flights of the English game.

I know a little bit more now although there is undoubtedly much more I can learn. I found a fairly typical Yorkshire mill town on the banks of the River Calder albeit that the mills are long closed with many of them now converted to office and other use. Easily the largest of these is the massive Dean Clough Mill I will write of later and which stretches for over half a mile. It was once one of the largest textile factories in the world specialising in carpets and it really is rather impressive.

Other medium and heavy industries have gone the way of the mills and it is hard to know whether the place is in decline or making a resurgence. There are many closed down industrial units apparently not earmarked for anything and I noticed a disproportionate number of restaurants shut down. In contrast, many other buildings seem to be thriving in their new guises.

Halifax has very good public transport connections and makes an excellent base for exploring the delightful nearby Calderdale as well as being close enough to major cities like Leeds, Bradford, Rochdale and Burnley.
It shall be interesting to see what the future holds for this friendly and pleasant town.

IMG_9031
My home from home in Halifax.

Out of the Station and I knew it was walkable to the place I had booked to stay in so I swerved the taxis as mentioned above and took off in what I hoped was the right direction. Fortunately, I am of a generation that does not rely on GPS technology which is just as well as I cannot operate it and I quickly came to the Old Post Office in good order.

I had left booking quite late and they did not have any single rooms left but offered single occupancy of a double room for a very reasonable £30 per night. Purely coincidentally both the rooms I stayed in were the fully accessible rooms situated on the ground floor up a ramp to right of the pub with the other rooms being on the upper floor. I had Room 1 on the first night and Room 2 on the later nights when I returned and so had an opportunity to check both of them out.

Location and price are important to me and the latter was excellent with the former not much behind it. The walk from the Station was fairly flat and I managed it easily even with luggage. Should the traveller be arriving by bus then the bus station is a mere 200 yards in the other direction. I was slightly concerned initially at the location on Winding Road which appears to be a fairly main thoroughfare with the rooms facing it but I need not have worried as it is really quiet at night and road noise was not a problem at all.

IMG_9003
As comfy as you like.

I went into the bar and spoke to the friendly young barmaid who booked me in quickly and courteously. I explained that I would be returning later and enquired if I could settle my bill for both stays on the one card transaction and that was no problem. After a quick pint in the pleasant bar, I went up the gentle wheelchair ramp and let myself into the room which was certainly not palatial but perfectly adequate and spotlessly clean. The double bed proved to be very comfortable and more than enough for my 6’5″ frame. There was a wall-mounted TV and the bathroom was of the wetroom type with all the usual handrails etc. associated with accessibility for the mobility impaired. When I later used the shower it had plenty of piping hot water at a very decent pressure so no complaints there.

The second room I stayed in was much of the same although it did have a rather incongruous easy chair in it which was positioned in such a way that it would have been impossible to sit in unless you put your legs up on the bed as there was about three inches clearance between the two pieces of furniture. This, however, is a very minor quibble.

Accommodation is offered on a room only basis as the pub does not open for breakfasts but there are numerous places within a few minutes walk where you can get a bite to eat. The local Wetherspoons pub, the Percy Shaw, which I shall speak of later, provides breakfast from 0800 and is only a few minutes walk.

When I travel I merely require a clean and comfortable bed and enough hot water for a shower and the Old Post Office certainly provides all that at a price that undercuts even the no-frills chains locally by some distance. If you are on a budget I certainly recommend it.

In the almost OCD way I have of checking my information I have recently (November 2018) checked the information regarding this establishment and I find that the accessible room is still a remarkably reasonable £38 whilst, if you are on a serious budget, a single with shared facilities is a ludicrously cheap £29. I really enjoyed it there.

A mini-Minster.

With the kit duly stowed it was time for a look around, the weather was typically Yorkshire but not horribly so and off I went. I had seen an obviously Christian church to my right as I had walked to the hotel so I thought I might as well start there as it was only a very short walk back and it turned out to be not merely a Church but a Minster.

IMG_9009
Halifax Minster on a dull Yorkshire day.

People tend to have an image of Minsters being huge and grand edifices and, certainly in the case of somewhere like York, this is true but the term Minster merely refers to a missionary church, a fact I only learned whilst I was there. As I often say, every day is a schoolday on the road. Indeed, the Minster was originally merely called Halifax Parish Church. If the reader is interested then there are another two Minsters in West Yorkshire at Dewsbury and Leeds.

Another thing I mention often here is that I am of no religious faith and yet I find places of worship endlessly fascinating and was very flattered to have a couple of my reviews on them included in certain VT press pieces, one of which was actually published internationally when I was on this trip. Get me pretending to be a travel writer!

On a midweek September afternoon the place was naturally very quiet and I was greeted by a very friendly old chap who gave me a self-guide tour leaflet although that proved not to be necessary as he basically wandered about with me pointing out things of interest. I suppose he was glad of the company.

The history of Halifax Minster may be as long as 900 years but early records are extremely sparse. There may have been a hermitage hereabouts as far back as the seventh century but the first vaguely solid evidence is for a vicar being appointed in 1274 although an 1150 gravestone has been found nearby. Interestingly, it features a pair of shears thereby providing the first evidence of a textile industry in Calderdale.

Various eminent clerics have presided here including Dr. Thomas Brent, chaplain to King Henry VII and William Rokeby who baptised Mary Tudor in 1516. Rather grotesquely his heart and bowels are interred in the Minster although I am not sure where the rest of him is. During the Reformation, Halifax became increasingly Protestant although Dr. Holdsworth, the incumbent at the time seems to have gone whichever way the wind was blowing at the time. The area and church experienced further upheaval during the Civil War and subsequent Reformation with the local populace being overwhelmingly Puritan.

IMG_9026
Poor old cemented Tristram.

Times were hard then as evidenced by the effigy of Old Tristam, a local licensed beggar (really) with his alms box which now serves to hold donations from visitors. There is no admission charge but donations are obviously welcome and there is a £3 charge for photography. Remarkably, they have had to cement poor old Tristram into the ground as he has been stolen on more than one occasion. It defeats my fairly fertile imagination what kind of person would steal a donation box from a place of worship but there you are.

Halifax boomed during the Industrial Revolution although remarkably the Church, as it still was, did not undergo a full refurbishment until 1878 – 1879 under the supervision of the famous architect George Gilbert Scott. He is a fascinating man and I have written about him many times in various places. He is known for designing the Albert Memorial and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and the stunning hotel that still graces St. Pancras railway station in that city. The £20,000 refit included several structural alterations and, somewhat puzzlingly, the lowering of most of the pews. This is effectively the building you see today although minor alterations have taken place since.

Another favourite subject of mine is military history and many old colours of the Duke of Wellington’s Royal Regiment are laid up here. The Regiment has a long association with the town and the excellent Regimental Museum will be dealt with in a future entry in this little series.

Another feature of interest is the organ which was originally built in 1763 by John Snetzler and is regarded as being of great interest albeit that only a little of the original work remains, having been subsumed in various enlargements.

Halifax Minster is definitely worth a visit and, should you wish to do so, here are the logistics taken from the attached website. Again I am back into travel review mode and again I make no apology. I do hope it may assist someone some time.

There is accessible ramp to the accessible toilet at the West End of church and accessible entry from the surrounding area. Please ask the volunteer about this. Assistance dogs are allowed in the building.

There is no parking on site. There are pay and display parking bays in the streets around Halifax Minster and several council pay and display car parks close by. Pay and display is Monday – Saturday 0800 – 1600. Please check the parking meters for further information on the day of your visit.

Lest we forget.

Readers of my other pages will know that I have a great interest in military history and also in war graves and memorials and there are many tips included here about them for which I make no apology. Like any right-thinking person I hate war but the tragic fact is that wars happen and people are required to pay the ultimate price when they do. It has happened since the dawn of time and shows no signs of going away any time soon, more’s the pity.

IMG_9029
Lest we forget.

The main memorial in Halifax stands in the gardens just North of the Minster Church of St. John in the open space that is variously known as Duffy Park or Cripplegate Park. It is 25 feet tall and was designed by H. Scott Davis. It was unveiled on the 15th of October 1922 by Sir George Fisher-Smith but it was not here at the time. It was originally in Bellevue Park and was moved to the present location some years later.

If you are passing, you may wish to pause for a moment to reflect on the sacrifices made by previous generations.

IMG_9028
Isn’t she a beauty?

As I was walking out from the Minster, having inspected and paid respects at the war memorial as described, I was treated to the sight of an immaculately preserved old Morris motor car, which I can tell from the number plate pre-dates 1962, being driven into the carpark in a manner that would not have disgraced the Monte Carlo rally. Out jumps the vicar in full ecclesiastical kit and takes off at the trot into the Minster. He must have been late for a meeting of the Parish Council or something and it was just totally surreal. I had to take an image of the motor though, which was an absolute beauty.

There was still time for a good wander as it was only early September and I had plenty of daylight left so I took off for what I thought was the direction of the centre of town. Obviously a pint was called for and there certainly appeared to be no shortage of options as the town is well served for what were to turn out to be uniformly decent pubs.

The first of a few.

IMG_9038
A very fine pub.

The first on that caught my eye was the Gundog. What a find. It looked great from the outside and I believe it had had a bit of a refurbishment on the inside. Again, another review from my VT writing.

I do like old-fashioned pubs and I knew the minute I walked into the Gundog pub in Crown Street that I had stumbled upon a beauty. In fairness, the exterior had hinted at it but the interior was a delight with various little side rooms and so on. I got my pint which was well-kept and served promptly by a very friendly barmaid and retired to the room which is on your right as you come in the door and faces the street. Although I was drinking cider I noticed that they had a good selection of real ales and they can offer this selection as they are a freehouse which means they are not tied to the products of a particular brewery as many establishments are. Prices were very reasonable.

IMG_9032
A beautiful place for a pint.

Having settled myself on the comfy bench seat I took in the fine wood-panelled walls, lovely old-fashioned fireplace and even noted the old bell pushes which were used to summon the bar staff in days past. What really took my eye, however, were the simply stunning leaded windows you can see in one of the images here. One featured a stained glass panel of an old rugby match and the other a game of cricket. It was really cosy in there so I had to have another pint and was served by a barman this time, the staff having changed over. He was as charming as his colleague and it only added to a very pleasant visit although regrettably I had to move on after a couple as I had other places still to visit.

IMG_9034
Check out the windows, they are stunning.

If I am back in Halifax I shall definitely return here and I strongly suggest the reader does as well if they are in town.

It is what it is.

IMG_9043
Old Cock and Oak Bar.

Back on the completely unplanned ramble and I happened upon another place which proved to be a completely different entity although decent enough in it’s own way. I came upon the Old Cock and Oak Bar which was down a bit of a back street but I do have a knack of finding slightly out of the way pubs. I also have a fairly well-defined ability to be able to gauge what kind of pub I am in within a few seconds of walking through the door and so it was here.

Firstly, the place is huge and on an early midweek evening it was very predominantly males in there although there were one or two females. There were several large screen TVs showing a variety of sporting events and I chose the back bar as I had seen cricket on the screen there. I believe this is the Oak Lounge mentioned in the full name of the premises, presumably due to the rather pleasant panelling there. I went to the bar and was served by a pleasant and chatty young lady who provided a pint of well-kept cider very promptly.

As well as the TV screens the rear room also boasted a couple of pool tables which seemed to be getting plenty of use. I was told by a local that this place can become, shall we say, a little lively on a Friday and Saturday night but it was perfectly well ordered when I was there so I can only speak as I find. This may be something to do with the fact that they have live music on those nights but the couple of locals I exchanged a few words with all seemed friendly enough.

There is not really much more I can tell you about this place. Certainly there are more atmospheric pubs in the town but I can find no fault with this place, as they say “it is what it is”.

Yet another gem.

IMG_9045
What a great place.

It undoubtedly “was what it was” and none the worse for it but I was on a bit of a mission. A city I had never been in so there had to be plenty more to explore and I set about it with a will. I came to a road junction where there was a sign advertising an Italian restaurant and indicating to use the other door down the side street. I was also looking for somewhere to eat that evening and I wandered down to where I thought the door was to check out the menu. Instead of a menu I saw a sign stating that this was the local current CAMRA Pub of the Season. This intrigued me as there was nothing else to suggest it was a pub and it would be unusual for a restaurant to be designated thus. For readers not aware of CAMRA it is an acronym standing for the CAMpaign for Real Ale which is a consumer pressure group that concerns itself with the preservation of real ales, ciders and the British pub which are all subjects dear to my heart!

Obviously I walked straight in and was greeted by the slightly unusual but very welcome sight which you can see in one of the images. It was immediately obvious that the premises had not been designed as a pub which was all to be explained to me later. It was fairly quiet in there and I chatted to the very friendly barman whilst perusing the extensive beer and cider menu before deciding on a pint of one particular cider which turned out to be rather good. Please don’t ask me what it was as I rally cannot recall.

The story is that the premises had indeed been an Italian restaurant for some time before going out of business, then lay empty for four or five years when the current management bought it over, gave it a lick of paint and opened it as is now under the rather grand name of the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in November 2014. Most of the original decor has been retained which gives it more a cafe-bar feel than a pub but it does not suffer for that.

I particularly liked the wood ceiling and the shelving which was presumably designed for wine bottles initially but now serve to display some of the huge range of available bottled beers. I know many pubs use this device as a decorative tool but in here it is the genuine current stock as I found out when one of the staff produced a small step and reached up to take some bottles down to resupply the chiller. If none of the bottles appeal then you may want to try one of the eight real ales from the pump or twelve beers from the keg which are offered. These change regularly. They also have a spirits licence if that is your thing but it really is a beer / cider place.

If there are all sorts of beers here then it is the same with the patrons and the VCBC, as it seems to be called locally, certainly attracts a very varied clientele. On the evening I visited there was a poetry session in the small upstairs area which attracted a number of “alternative” types and became quite raucous. I was cordially invited to join in but declined although I sort of regretted that due to the amount of fun they were apparently having.

Downstairs there were guys in work gear mixing quite happily with “suits”, a young couple having what appeared to be a romantic tryst in the quieter little area to the left whilst an older chap got on with his crossword nearby and then, of course, there was your humble narrator! It does not get much more eclectic than that but it was all extremely friendly.

I tried a couple of the beers (the saison was good) but I eventually settled on the grapefruit beer and you did read that correctly. I do like fruit beers and ciders and I am particularly fond of grapefruit so this was an obvious choice. It was slightly more expensive than most of the other brews on offer but I still found all the prices to be very reasonable as I am used to London and I have to say that it was worth every penny as it was utterly delicious.

IMG_9047
Beards are not obligatory!

Should you wish to combine your love of beer with your love of matters internet (hopefully reading my blog) then there is free wifi available. Regrettably, I am not sure how accessible it would be here as I only saw one entrance and that has two steps up to it. It is extremely dog friendly here and also extremely beard friendly. At one point early on there were nine men and two ladies present and all but one of the men had face furniture of one sort or another. I felt right at home although I do stress that it is not mandatory! It is open 1100 – 2300 every day except Friday and Saturday when it stays open an extra hour.

All in all this is another great venue in a town where I seemed to have been ricocheting round quite a few, I do recommend it highly and herein ends another travel review written for such a site but it does not end there.

It had to be a curry.

IMG_9268
A fine curry house.

Yorkshire is famous for many things like tea, cricket, the Dales and so on but in more recent times it is known as a county with a huge South Asian immigrant population and renowned for it’s contributions to the curry cuisine of the world. Well, I had a bellyful of very decent beer and cider in me so a plate of something spicy seemed right in order as I do love a curry and am lucky enough to live in an area with something like nine curry houses within a 500 yard radius of my front door.

As I mentioned above, where I live in the East End of London there is certainly no shortage of “Indian” restaurants although the fact of the matter is that they are no such thing and are almost exclusively owned and staffed by Bangladeshis. In West Yorkshire, however, the situation is somewhat different as the majority of the Asian population there are of Pakistani descent and so it was no surprise to me when I saw a restaurant called Kashmiri Aroma which is on the first floor of a modern looking building right in the centre of town.

When I went in I noticed that it was a large establishment although it was fairly well empty which may have been due to it approaching closing time on a weekday night. There were only two other tables occupied which is normally not a great sign but I need not have worried as I shall explain now. The decor is modern and bright and the staff were well turned out. I was greeted in a very friendly manner, shown to a table and the obligatory beer and poppadums were duly produced. I am not sure if it was just natural Yorkshire friendliness or they were merely bored but I had conversations with no less than three of the waiters whilst waiting for my meal to arrive. These conversations confirmed my earlier surmise that the place was, indeed, Pakistani run (I am not going to get into the Indian / Pakistani dispute over the Kashmir region here, they told me they were Pakistanis). Maybe the respective Governments of those two nuclear enabled countries should just sit down, listen to the wonderful Led Zeppelin song named for the region and chill out. I suppose that is just the old hippy in me talking.

IMG_9053
An unusual starter.

My starter of chicken liver tikka (£3:70) duly arrived and was delightful. Described as “Spring chicken liver marinated in selected herbs and spices and cooked over charcoal”, I had selected it mostly on the basis that it was a dish I had never had before. Yes, I do take my travel writing seriously and took images of the menu for use as notes later! I do like to try new things and it certainly did not disappoint, being fairly delicately spiced and cooked to perfection. I am a big fan of offal anyway as I think it is much underused and can be absolutely beautiful. I’ll take a plate of devilled kidneys for breakfast any time but I’m damned if I know where to find such a dish now.

For my main course I had opted for chicken Kashmir which is not as hot a dish as I would normally choose but I had been having a little bit of stomach trouble for a few days and so I thought discretion was the better part of valour. Add in the name of the restaurant and it’s probable provenance and it was an obvious choice. It was delightfully spiced although not overly hot and the lychees added a nice note of sweetness. Lychees are one of my favourite exotic fruits so this was perfect for me. Strangely, I rarely eat rice in Asian restaurants as it just bloats me but I do love Asian breads and a couple of nice warm chapati complemented the meal nicely.

IMG_9054
Every bit as tasty as it looks.

I hadn’t really considered what time it was as the Asian restaurants near me stay open pretty late every night but when I checked the opening times to write this piece originally I discovered that I had been there a bit beyond closing time. I was not rushed in the slightest and was asked if I wanted dessert or coffee which I thought in retrospect was a nice touch.

Later on in my trip I was talking to an Asian taxi driver who mentioned that he thought the place was expensive. Perhaps it is just that I am used to London prices but I found it very reasonable given the quality of the surroundings, service and, most importantly, the food. I have no hesitation in highly recommending Kashmiri Aroma which is open for a la carte and on Sunday there is also a buffet which starts at 1630.

It was a completely satisfied Fergy (in every sense of the word) that returned to his comfy bed nearby. I was going on a canal boat trip, one of the great loves of my life, I hadn’t even seen a canal at that point and yet it had been a brilliant day out.

I’ll get “on the cut” (canal talk for being on the canal) in the next entry so stay tuned and spread the word.