Saturday, 14 November 2015

Pontins, Southport.

I have to start this review by saying that if I had booked via a £9.50 holiday deal, then I would not have so many poor views, after all, you get what you pay for.  But having paid more than £180 for 3 nights self catering, admittedly for a specific event being held there, I would have expected more, especially as we had been advised that the site had been renovated since our last visit.

The site is easily found, being located on the Shore Road and the two storey chalets are laid out in a big cartwheel shape.  The main building houses the reception, the games area, a NISA shop (which was very sparsely stocked), a takeaway selling pizzas, burgers and kebabs (more of this later), the function rooms and the Queen Victoria pub, a standard facility in all Pontins.

There is a newly opened leisure centre, I am not sure if it was open when we were there, it houses a new arcade, Captain Cods, a new Chinese and Indian Restaurant and a bar area.  The swimming pool is also located here.

I had a twin bedded, single bedroom room on the top floor of a block near the main buildings.  The view was fine, not that I saw much of it due to the horizontal rain that fell most of the weekend.

I opted for the Classic grade chalet - there are 3, the Popular, the Classic and the top grade, the Club - however, the Classic and the Popular seemed to be identical meaning that my additional £30 (inc credit card charges) was well spent!

The supplied sheets were made of some shiny, slippery fabric.  The sheet, duvet cover and pillowcase did not match.  The duvet cover looked marked, but not sure if it was dirt or just poor printing!

I only spent one night in the bedroom as it was so cold, I was laying in bed watching the curtains moving from the draft from the closed window, the remaining two nights I spent on the sofa.  Assuming that I kept the bedroom and bathroom doors closed, my chalet did not feel too cold, but this may be more to do with the fact that I do not have central heating at home.

The bathroom had a built in swimming pool, either that or the shower was constantly leaking as the floor was pretty much wet all weekend, I even had to sit on the toilet sideways to keep my feet out of the worst of the water.  Where there was exposed wood, whether intentionally exposed or not, it had turned black and was swollen.

The kitchen featured an electric standard alone cooker (oven, grill and hob), a fridge, a kettle, toaster and microwave.  And one plug.  So you could either use the toaster, the kettle or the microwave, which had to be carried across the kitchen to be plugged in.

There was a plug for the television to be plugged into, when it worked, and another plug in the middle of the end wall.  There was neither plug nor mirror in the bedroom.

The floors were not finished off brilliantly.

All the staff I had contact with were lovely, very cheery, helpful and efficient.

The bars were overpriced, but they generally are whether it be a holiday camp or hotel.

Now, to return to the takeaway.  I treated myself to burger and chips Saturday lunchtime.  Big mistake.  I spent most of the afternoon in and out of various toilets.  I have discovered since my return that a lot of people were ill, but none of us connected it with the takeaway at the time.  I am not saying that everyone who ate from there was ill, but everyone who was ill had purchased food there.

I have also heard several reports of flea bites.

I would not chose Pontins for a holiday for myself, hopefully the event I attended will not be held there next year.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Coventry - the Beauty and the Beast. (Photo heavy post)

Coventry has some beautiful buildings.  Even after the bombings during the Second World War, some fantastic Georgian, and even older, buildings remained.

But these are being dwarfed by the influx of garish student accommodation.

A timber framed building built in the 1930s to blend in with the surrounding properties with 2 garish blue and red student properties in the background.  The nearer one, a former gym and university offices, the further one the former AXA insurance building.

The Old Cathedral - St Michael's, a 14th century Gothic church later designated cathedral, that remains a ruined shell after its bombing during the Second World War.

The Council House - Built in the early 20th Century in a Tudor Style.  It is Grade II listed.

The rear of the former main post office in Hertford Street - built in the early 1900s it has since been converted to student accommodation.

The former Penny Black Pub - an essential stop off on a night out back in the day.  Now converted to student accommodation.

Broadgate, or 'the top of the town', as it used to be.  Spent many a happy lunch break sitting on the grass to eat my dinner.

Broadgate as it is now.

The Old Grammar School in the centre of the shot, currently being restored to be used by the Coventry Transport Museum, in the background is the former Post Office sorting office, soon to be replaced by student accommodation.

Another view of the former AXA building.

Previously offices, Dial Direct House (formerly St Georges House) is now also student accommodation.

The former Leofric Hotel, one of the first hotels to be built after the Second World War and a symbol of Britain's recovery - now student accommodation.

Former Belgrade Theatre accommodation for out of town actors, now student accommodation.

Ending on a positive note - two of Coventry's spires in the morning sunshine.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Ibis Bordesley Circus, Birmingham

I spent 2 nights here, and the only thing that let it down was the location which was slightly desolate, the civil engineering works going all through the night didn't help.

On first sight the outside was a bit shabby and uninspiring and was right next door to a 24 hour McDonalds, but as soon as you entered the lobby it felt welcoming.  The staff were attentive and check in was quickly sorted.

Due the high number of foreign visitors, all signs were pictorial which was a nice touch.

I was on the 3rd floor and the corridor was not inspiring, it looked very much budget and council flat inspired so I wasn't expecting much from the room.  

But the room was large, airy, bright and clean.  

The bathroom was a bit of a shock, it was a prefab built offsite and installed as a single unit, despite the feel of being in a caravan, the vanity was large with plenty of space for toiletries, make up, etc.  The shower was large, the water hotter and more powerful than I have experienced in some so-called 'premium' hotels.

Soap and shower gel were supplied and the towels with the thickest, fluffiest and softest I think I have ever had.

There was 24 hour food service, the menu dependant on the time of day or night.

There was an airy bar on the ground floor, but the prices seemed very high, but this is probably standard for a hotel in the UK, a bottle of Cava was £23.  There is a Morrison's supermarket 10 minutes walk up the road, so I bought sandwiches and a bottle of Cava (£5) there for my dinner.

St Andrews football ground is a 5 minutes walk away too, so the hotel is very handy if you are attending a function there.

The hotel was very quiet overnight, this is probably due to it not being right in the city centre, there was no-one running up and down the corridors, shouting and banging doors.

Free wifi was available in all areas of the hotel, something that other hotels could take note of.

All in all, I enjoyed my stay at Bordesley Circus, and should I have cause to visit the area again, it will certainly be my first choice of hotel.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Parc de la Ciutadella (Citadel Park), Barcelona

In all the years I have been visiting Barcelona, and more specifically the Zoo, which is housed in the park, I have never explored the park itself.

This year I did, and I have been missing so much.

The Citadel itself was built and then destroyed, restored and destroyed again on several occasions for various reasons, not least because it was seen as a much hated symbol of central Spanish government by the Catalan people. Only the Chapel (now the Military Parish Church of Barcelona), the Governor's palace (now a Secondary School), and the Arsenal (now home to the Catalan Parliament) remain with the rest of the site now forming the park.

On the day I visited, three of the Gigantes i Capgrossos (I have blogged about these before here) were being received into the Parliament buildings, along with their associated bands and groups.

After the puppets entered the building I wandered off down a different path.  

And got lost.  

As the park is 70 acres, this is not hard to do!

I continued wandering round knowing that, assuming I could find one of the exits, I could find my way back to the nearest metro or train station.

The park has a bandstand, I have always seen these as a peculiarly British thing, but evidently they are not.

It has a boating lake, something else I had seen as essentially British, it was a minimum of two people in a boat so I couldn't show off my (lack of) rowing skills.

There are plenty of play areas for children and plenty of little outside cafes where you can get a cold drink.

And then there is this....

It is the Cascada, it looks huge and it is fantastic.  It was first inaugurated in 1881 without sculpture or detail and was thoroughly criticised.  The addition of the modifications, including the fountain, continued until 1888, the building has remained the same since.

It was erected by Josep Fontsére and to a small extent by Antoni Gaudí, who at that time was still an unknown student of architecture. The aim was to loosely make it bear resemblance to the Trevi Fountain of Rome.

Quite randomly, down one of the paths leading from the Cascada, there is a model of a mammoth.

The park as a whole is well worth a visit, there are free wi-fi areas available too now.

I will definitely be spending more time there from now on.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Barcelona Zoo - An Update

It has been two years since I last visited Barcelona Zoo and a lot of changes have taken place.  As I mentioned before, there is an ongoing programme of refurbishment and renovation, and having left a two year gap between visits (instead of annually) I can see a big difference.

The whole place feels lighter as soon as you enter, even though you can't really see much difference from the turnstiles you can feel it.

The rather small pen where the camels were housed is now home to mongoose, which are much more suited to the size of the pen.

The Montserrat display, with mostly goats, sheep and vultures, has had a facelift, this is still ongoing with areas being closed off, but it is still a vast improvement, the smell has certainly gone!

One of the dolphin pools is now inhabited by seals.  There is a large display detailing the dolphins and whales that can be seen in the Mediterranean, I knew there were dolphins as I have seen them, but I had no idea that there were Sperm and Fin whales too.

The 'Savannah' area is being renovated too, most of it was still closed off, but you can see that the elephants, rhinos, hippos and giraffes are going to be much happier when it is all finished.

Part of the monkey/ape area is closed off, but there was one Chimpanzee that really did scare me.  He looked straight at me and grinned a really weird grin.  I moved,  Quickly.

Apart from the lions and tiger, the big cats have been moved out to allow refurbishment of their areas.

After many years of visiting, I finally saw the Red Panda.

You still exit via the gift shop, that hasn't changed.

I will give it another two years before I visit again, the changes are more dramatic.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

What to do with unused currency.

Now that I have returned from my annual holiday to Spain I have the usual problem of what to do with my unused currency.

The best thing to do is keep it for your next trip and when I was in a position to travel more regularly than I currently do, this was my default position.

However, this is not an option for everyone, or me now, so what to do?

I have €290, plus change, to convert back.  

If I was to buy €290 today, it would cost me £212 (courtesy of the Post Office Travel Currency website), however changing it back would only net me £181, a difference of over £30, and this is pretty much the norm for all tourist exchanges.

Most of these High Street exchanges highlight the fact that they charge no commission, (years ago there used to be a commission charge of around 2% to change money back, but the rates received were higher), however, using a buy back rate that is 15% lower than their selling rate appears to me to be a commission by another name.

Another option is to sell the currency onto any friends and family who are going away.  This works better if the exchange rate has dropped slightly since the original purchase, if it has gone up then they would get a better deal with a fresh exchange.

In the past I have sold my Euros on eBay, but their fees were much less in those days.

The option I am considering this year is to use a specialist currency buy back operator, the drawback with this is that Euros would need to be posted, obviously by an insured route.  At today's buy back rate, my €290 would net me £204, less the cost of the postage.  This is clearly much better than using a normal exchange.

It would be so much easier if all UK personal bank accounts accepted both sterling and foreign currencies with no additional charges.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Dinosaur Adventure, Lenwade, Norfolk.

I spent Saturday morning walking around Dinosaur Adventure in Norfolk in glorious sunshine.

There is plenty of parking, although a lot of it is on grass, so if visiting after heavy rain, try and get there early!

There were two payment windows open and quite a queue forming, but a third window was quickly opened and the queue soon dealt with.  This is definitely the first place I have visited where the entrance price is less for adults than for children.  I liked that.

Buying my ticket on the day, I paid £11.95, booking online is slightly cheaper at £11.35, with a child's ticket costing £16.10 (under 3s go free).

Importantly, when travelling with children, there are plenty of places to eat and plenty of toilets dotted around the park.

As it was half term week when I visited, there were special events being held, including 'Guinea Pig Petting & Meet a Bunny', 'Snake Encounters' and 'Tortoise Time'.  The park is home to small animals as well as big dinosaurs, including a Norfolk Black turkey who sneezed every time I walked past.

There is only one animatronic dinosaur, although roars can be heard across the park from hidden speakers.  Quite eerie when walking under a huge canopy of trees.

There are other activities available at an extra cost, the Jurassic Skywire, the Deer Safari and face-painting.

The park is non-smoking, although there are designated smoking areas dotted around.

The park is on a hillside, some of the paths are quite steep which may pose a problem for anyone with problems walking.  Wheelchairs can be hired.

If you are in the area and have a budding Alan Grant or Ellie Sattler in the family, it is well worth a visit.