Blogging since 2004, about the significant people, places, sights and sounds of my world. Now dabbling with retirement!
It’s that time of year again where a group of us Trainers (‘the 5ive’, because there’s 7 of us – don’t ask!) who worked together on the BA Project back in 1999 get together for a weekend of celebration. This year, there’s five of us – Antoinette, Angela, Philip and me – with June joining us on the Saturday.
We try and choose a different venue each year. After Stratford-upon-Avon (2012), Bath (2013), Birmingham (2014), Liverpool (2015), London, for my 60th (2016) and nothing in 2017, this year we’re in Southsea!
The majority of us are staying at The Best Western, Royal Beach Hotel for a couple of nights, beginning on the Friday.
So, first stop was over to Northampton to pick up the two studio photographs, then it was onto Chertsey Station to pickup Angela. Her train was on time, and we were soon on the last leg of the journey.
90 minutes later, after negotiating the very tight car-park, we met Antoinette and Philip who were soaking up the Sun outside the hotel followed by a swift(ish) check-in.
My room was ready but they were still working on Angela’s. Room 411 certainly had a sea view – and it was initially a little ‘toasty’ in there (until I found the electric fan!)
…not a bad view though!
By 2.45, Angela was checked-in and after a quick planning session by the four of us, we headed off to Gunwharf Quays by Bus. It only took around 15 minutes and we were soon wandering around, soaking-up the sun.
Wow! It was also as BUSY as I remember it! I think I assumed that being a Friday, it wouldn’t be too manic… how wrong can you be??? People, people everywhere. First stop was the Emirates Spinnaker Tower – an opportunity too good to miss with this glorious weather. Last time Ann and I were here was back in July, 2009 – and it was a fine day then too! In the intervening years, it’s acquired sponsorship by Emirates – and their branding was hard to miss – red, red and err, more red!
Age had its advantage as I got my ticket for a whole pound less than younger visitors!!
As expected, the views were spectacular! In addition to the spectacular views on the main observation area (that also included a small glass floor area, so visitors could enjoy the view vertically downwards) there’s an extra floor. This involved a short stair-climb where a small area had been converted to look like a garden – astro-turf and a few deckchairs! The unique feature, in addition to even more stunning views, was that it was roofless! What I thought was a really efficient AC unit working its socks off, was in fact the ‘breeze’ from the roof! Overall, it was a great experience and good to see the views across the Harbour and beyond.
We were now in need of some refreshment, and as Philip and Antoinette had arrived ahead of me, they’d already sussed a suitable watering-hole.
The watering-hole in question was The Canteen – a deli style café – a unique eatery that because of its location – in the Barracks of the ‘Hotwalls’ area in the old town. It was so close to the water that it advertised the times for high-tide so that patrons could avoid getting wet/get wet/watch others get wet!!! We enjoyed some small nibbles and a bottle of Champagne whilst occasionally watching other unintentionally dampens their socks from the safety of a ‘just-inside’ location.
Philip and Antoinette walked back to the Hotel whilst Angela and I tried out the bus-service. Confession time: I
redacted. We waited longer than expected but eventually the ‘No. 1’ arrived. After a quick change of clothes and then helping Angela determine her journey home (because of engineering works on Sunday), we were back out – after a quick drink in the Bar – and heading out for our evening meal.
Our restaurant of choice (there were so many to choose from!) was Bodrum as we’re all a fan of Turkish food. A £3 taxi fare followed, and we were soon seated and looking through the (massive) menu…
..and the food and service didn’t disappoint. It was all delicious. We learned that it’s a family-owned-and-run business. Dad cooking the meat (uniquely on show actually in the restaurant), Mum, back-of-house, whilst Sons made up the waiting-staff. It all worked very well and a friendlier team of waiters would be hard to find!
We wined, we dined and we wined some more! By 10.37pm it was over. And whilst Philip and Antoinette headed for their next venue. Angela and I called it a night.
Our plans for tomorrow are to have brekky around 8.30 and then head into the Old Town for a Harbour Tour and then do our own thing in the shape of the other attractions on offer.
June joined us today after breakfast (she travelled down last night and is staying at another Hotel up the road). Our plan today was to do the Historic Dockyard ‘to death’ – history will show that we succeeded!
First activity (after queuing for a bit) was another queue – for the Harbour Tour. This was clearly a very popular option and although we got in the queue by 10.35, we didn’t actually start boarding until just before 11am. The trip lasted just over 45 minutes and took in a comprehensive listing or more or less everything that was moored in the Harbour. Pity then that the Captain’s live commentary was being mostly ignored by most passengers under the age of 20 – more interested in stuffing their faces and taking selfies #GrumpyOldMan.
Our Boat stopped briefly at Gunwharf Quays before returning to where we boarded. It was brilliant!
This was a steam-powered and sail-powered ship. I don’t recall it all last time we were here, but apparently, it’s been in dry-dock here for 30+ years. Although a good example of ‘best technology in its day’, the overall experience was marred by a distinct lack of background information and hardly any volunteer exhibits. Worth wandering around it though!
Then it was off to The Victory. That’s more like it! Plenty of Volunteers around and a unique audio guide that filled all our knowledge gaps.
A spot of Lunch followed and then it was more exploring around Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard before retiring and reflecting on the day in a cool shady spot in the Old Customs House Pub. This was nice! We chilled for a bit before heading back to the Hotel
Whilst Angela took the Bus, the rest of us (partly) followed the Millennium Walk
Somehow, we ended up back at The Canteen – and another bottle of Champagne! This time, we sat outside and watched the Ship pass by – a unique location with a unique view. Perfect!
Our final meal was booked for 7.30 at Samphire – a Cocktail Bar and Brasserie…
A couple of us had assumed it was an Indian restaurant (me included), and now I’m not sure why! Still, the food was excellent – and we dined like Kings!
We finished the meal just before 11pm and decided t walk back together to our respective Hotels. Antoinette’s estimation of a “10-15 minute walk” was a little wide of the mark, but it didn’t matter, it was nice warm evening – and just perfect for a walk.
Thirty-five minutes later, as we approached the Hotel, I said my goodbyes (as I was travelling home tomorrow at the ‘crack of dawn’), headed back to my room, as did Angela. The others made even more of an evening of it, by heading off to a Wine Bar.
I woke at 3.30am and it didn’t seem worth going back to sleep. So, after a quick shower, at 4.15, I was checking out and soon on the road. It was fast journey home and I was indoors – 150 miles later – by 6.45am!
It was a great break, and Southsea exceeded my expectations, as did the Hotel. I’d happily stay in Southsea again and the Hotel too!
A bit of a rush today as I finished the Class at 3pm, drove over to Bedford and headed for the Capital.
The reason? The semi regular get-together members of ‘The 5ive’ – our informal gathering for those of us who worked with BA ‘back in the day’ on their SMA project. Tonight, we were a little thin on the ground, with only three of us – June, Antoinette and yours truly – but that didn’t stop us having a good time.
First stop was The Euston Flyer in the Euston Road accompanied by a glass of London Pride before moving on to Pizza Express in Euston Road a few doors away for 7pm.
…and the place was really busy! I think we got the one of the last few tables available. A few hours of catching-up followed, helped along by very good service, superb food – and the obligatory 30%-off voucher!
Ooo! that was spicy!
One of my ‘5-a-day’!
We managed three-courses, a bottle of vino and a tea/coffee, all for a very reasonable £25 each (and that included the tip). Not bad for this part of London! We even got to set a date for a pre-Christmas get-together AND weekend date for 5ive’s collective get-away in 2018!
We called it a night around 9 and wandered back in the direction of St Pancras. The girls took the Tube and I headed for the Bedford train. Perfect timing for me as I only had to wait about five-minutes. By 10.20, I was unlocking the car at Bedford station, and by 11 I’d hit the pillow!
A great night out!
It’s that time again when us Trainers (‘the 5ive’, because there’s 7 of us – don’t ask!) all assemble for our regular catch-up.
Venue of choice tonight was Strada in Great Queens Street, close to Holborn Tube.
Before the get-together I met up with Angela outside the London Palladium beforehand (Scooby-Doo? Boy, this place has gone down a bit!) as she’d found out about a FREE wine-tasting event courtesy of Mr Tesco, just down the road in Wardour Street.
Like many, I tend to associate Tesco with wonky trolley wheels and supermarkets, so this was almost surreal. It was a pop-up type venue, with security guards on the outside and reception staff beautified within an inch of their life. We got there around 5.15 and the place was already packed. After a short wait, we were led down (an almost vertical staircase) to immaculate seating area with four wines laid-out ready for our tasting-pleasure.
It was even more surreal when I remembered that it wasn’t just a Wine-Bar, Tesco was also presenting an invite-only wine-tasting evening run by two of their wine-buyers (I still found it difficult to believe this was a supermarket-driven affair). But what an affair! We were educated and entertained in equal measure and the whole thing was 101% professionally presented -we even got to (try and) take notes. In just thirty minutes, we were better informed about the wines-of-choice – and slightly p***** too. A perfect combo then.
And in a flash, it was over! and as Angela and I attempted to climb the (what now seemed even more vertical) staircase, we then jumped on a bus and headed for the restaurant – what a great start to the evening!!
We were slightly down on numbers this time around – just June, Antoinette, Angela and me, but it didn’t matter and we were soon catching-up with everyone’s news. The food and service were excellent – and the Waiter did well to cope with our (now legendary and regular) confusion at the end trying to sort out who-was-paying-what! For a group of so-called communication experts, it’s always a giggle seeing how crap we are at sorting out this simple task!
Time flew as it always does, and I left around 8.45 to give me enough time to get to St Pancras International and my timed train at 9.30. On arrival at St Pancras, it looked like there must have been a cancellation before mine – the waiting area was packed! and the train staff gave up managing the crowd when the platforms were announced – and simply opened all the barriers.
Luckily, I got a seat, and the hour-long journey soon passed. By 10.45 I was indoors catching-up with the latest Olympic results (aren’t we doing well!!)
It’s been another great evening with ‘the gang’, but I’m still trying to get my head round the whole Tesco Wine Tasting Evening!
It was down to London for me this afternoon, for my semi-regular meet-up with Trainers past-and-present, Angela, Antoinette, Carey, June, and Rick. Almost a full-house then with only Philip not being able to make it this time aorund. We call ourselves ‘The 5ive’, because there’s seven of us (yep, I know… and I’m supposed to be good at Maths – it’s a long story!!!).
Trainers seen in the going Wild
I caught the 3.30 out of Kettering and met up with Angela at King’s Cross to sort out a niggle she was having with her laptop before taking the short walk to the restaurant. Our choice this time round was one that Sally and I had discovered many moons ago when we both met in London – Pizza Express in the Euston Road. It’s hardly a gourmet paradise, but in the past the food has been hot, promptly served, delicious, and the staff are pretty friendly too!
And tonight was no exception. Even with the place busting at the seams by about 8pm, we were looked after very well – and the pizzas were as delicious as I rememeber them!!!
I caught the 10pm out of St Pancras with about 15 minutes to spare and was indoors by 11.30pm
Nice one Trainers – I had a great time with you all.
It’s that time of year, when a few of us Trainers get together for a weekend of culture, food, drink and whatever else comes our way!
In previous years we’d been to Stratford-upon-Avon (2012), Bath (2013) and Birmingham (2014). This year it’s Liverpool and a ‘Staycity Serviced Apartment’. Coming along for the experience this time around is Antoinette, Angela C, June P and of course, me (Philip P and Carey C couldn’t make it this year).
The weather forecast, unusually for us on these events, is actually, DRY with a little rain overnight on Friday. Anyway, its only a forecast!
Ann dropped me at Rugby station, in good time to catch the 10.10. It was on time (and mostly empty!), so I had a trouble-free journey on my first leg that got me into Stafford in good time to grab the connecting train that took me to Lime Street. The Stafford train was a little late (and also mostly empty!) but it didn’t matter, and I was soon heading to the home of the Fab-Four.
The train pulled into Lime Street at 11.10 and I waited for Antoinette to arrive around an hour later on the Euston train. This gave me time to take a quick look around the station as it was one I hadn’t been to before. It wasn’t quite as large as I imagined, but there were plenty of people heading in and out meaning that there were queues almost everywhere or takeaway coffee – I joined a queue!
Antoinette’s train arrived on time and we soon both studying Google Maps to work out the walking route to the apartment. In theory, it was less than a ten-minute walk, and as the weather had now warmed up quite a bit, it was an ideal time to test our shoe leather! Note to self: get map reading lessons! Fifteen minutes later and with us both in ‘full walking mode’- the estimated walk time was now twenty minutes! (I think I must had had my phone upside down!!). My map-reading skills have always been crap, and it wasn’t about to change any time soon!
Anyway, after a slightly longer-than-expected stroll, we arrived at the Apartment. We were earlier than check-in allowed, so we dumped our bags, and headed for the Bistro next door. Initially, we opted to sit inside, because I thought it might be cooler, but it wasn’t! The sight of an air-conditioning unit had lulled me into a false sense of security – but it was obviously turned off. We headed outside, and actually, with the cool breeze, it was very pleasant.
June and Angela arrived not long after and we began to plan for our short stay in scouser-land. We wanted to try and make the most of the good weather right now and decided to take the short(ish) walk to Albert Dock. But not before checking in and booking some tickets for the The Cavern to see the resident Beatle-band tonight.
Well, it’s not how I imagined it would look at all. I knew that there had been some massive investment here, but I wasn’t expecting quite so much transformation. It was clean, very pedestrian-friendly with the new architecture nestling nicely alongside the old. The architecture may not have been to all our tastes, but you have to admire the sheer boldness of the transformation. The sun was still shining, so we bought some tickets for the Mersey Ferry – next sailing at 4pm. Whilst June and Antoinette took a mooch round the Museum to kill some time before the sailing, Angela and I sat out on the Dock, looking out towards the water and began to ‘put the world right’.
The Ferry arrived, and the hoards boarded (obviously, a popular attraction!). We planted ourselves under-cover with a good view and waited for the commentary to start. This is where I got my first hearing of a snatch from ‘Ferry ‘cross the Mersey’, that iconic tune by Gerry and the Pacemakers – it was coming frmo the Ferry, and as we were soon to learn, the city seems to use every opportunity to play it! (Well, it seemed like that to me anyway!)
It turned out to be a really good commentary, with plenty of facts, using alternating male and female voice-overs. ‘Biggest/largest in the world outside London’ was a frequently used phrase and IMO became a bit over-used – although I didn’t know that Liverpool had the largest brick-built bonding warehouse IN THE WORLD!
All cultured-out, we headed for the nearest Bar. Some naff cocktails meant that were soon on the move again looking for more drink and a nibble before our night of Beatles memories.
More by luck than judgment, we fell into a Spanish Tapas Bar called La Viña, after initially trying out the Slug and Lettuce opposite and beating a hasty retreat because it was so noisy (yes, it’s confirmed – we ARE getting old!)
As it turned out, it was a good decision. The food and service were both excellent.
As we headed for the Lounge, we could see the place was getting busier – and seating was pretty scarce. It was hot, the rarer-than-hen’s-teeth seats were uncomfortable, but it didn’t matter, as it all felt very a ‘real’ recreation of days-gone-by. Even though we couldn’t see the stage, we could certainly HEAR ‘The Beatles’ – and they were SUPERB – professional musicians that sounded so much like the originals, it was spooky. Whilst Antoinette and June got closer to the action, Angela and I ‘sat it out’ and luckily for us, we even managed to spot a wall mounted monitor, that obviously had a live camera feed pointing to the Stage – perfect for Mr Lazy here! They played and played. Then they played some more. And some more. Although some familiar Beatles staples were missing (‘Help’ for instance), they did do quite a few b-sides and even a couple of pieces I’d never heard before. They came on stage at 9.15 and finished after an encore at just after 11.30. Super value for money at just a tenner a ticket!
When we stumbled out with the rest of mankind, the promised rain had arrived with some vigour – it was pissing it down, so, we took a taxi back to the Apartment. I think the driver went via Cardiff, but it was only £4.75, so well worth it.
I was well past my sell-by date when we finally turned the key in the Apartment and I fell into bed almost immediately. It was a great first day and I feel we got a good measure of the place and the people. But, I hope the weather improves for tomorrow though!
SATURDAY I think it had rained all night! And some!!! Couple that with a crap night’s sleep, it all combined to make me feel a little grouchy this morning! It also allowed me to reflect on the shortcomings of the Apartment. Clearly designed by someone who has NEVER stayed in an apartment, it featured wardrobeless rooms and new definition of ‘double-glazing’ designed in such a way to actually, somehow, amplify the noise from outside. Nice to hear the drunken soul at 2.47am and the plethora of commercial traffic passing by throughout the night! Still, we’re not here all the time, so I shouldn’t moan I suppose!!!
First stop was breakfast. so we dropped into a local Bistro – Hanover Street Social for our respective preferences. For me, it was the full English! The food and service was great here too, and we noticed that generally speaking, the waiting staff are very well trained and take their role very seriously.
An hour later, we were suitably stuffed and headed for the Hop-on-hop-off Liverpool sightseeing bus tour. And perfectly on cue, it started to rain (although it did brighten up considerably later).
It was a worthwhile tour and we certainly saw a lot of Liverpool. The stand-out experience for me was the two Cathedrals… Firstly, the ‘modern’ one (Catholic)…
…complete with a ‘today only’ access to the Crypt and some impressive embroidery on display.
It was then that we realised it was Heritage Open Day Weekend here from the 10th until the 13th where certain buildings in the city were made accessible to the general public.
Then it was onto the other Cathedral – the older one. (Anglican). The largest Cathedral in the UK. And, boy, did it feel like it inside – it was truly massive!!!
Wow! Sensory overload!!! Then, continuing our search for open buildings, it was off to the Town Hall, that we learned was also open today as part of the Heritage Open Day weekend. Wow! what an interior! Luxurious, doesn’t even begin to describe it.
We were now all cultured-out, and time therefore for another mooch round Albert Dock. The place was really busy, and that’s when we spotted Pirates! Dozens of them, all shapes, all sizes. Some were more Jack Sparrow than Blackbeard but we still weren’t sure WHY there were so many? – then it became clear , it was the annual Liverpool Dock Pirate Festival – obviously!!!!
After neatly avoiding some menacing (and mincing) Pirates, we took a t pit stop at Vinea, a very nice wine-bar about two-thirds of the way round the Dock at Britannia Pavilion. Another example of really good service and really good wine, soon got us in the mood for tonight’s big meal. A couple of glasses of wine, complemented with some chilli puffs and wasabi thingies kept the hunger away until our big evening meal.
We decided to go Thai tonight, and identified a likely candidate in the shape of Chaophraya. However, we hadn’t factored in that they might be super-busy, and it was either a table 6.00pm (too early), or one at 9.00pm (too late). After some more thorough research looking at the next one on the list in the Google search results for ‘Thai restaurants in Liverpool’ we picked Chilli Banana mainly because of the quirky name!
It turned out to be brilliant! Superb service (that’s rapidly becoming the norm here) with a really good menu. When we arrived at 7.45, the place was already quite busy – an hour later, it was packed! We munched our way through the various courses and finally finished eating around 10.15. The restaurant happily called us a cab and were soon heading back to base. Angela retired early whilst we popped nest door to the apartment and chilled-out some more. It turned into another late one for me, and I finally called it a night just before midnight.
SUNDAY It’s checking-out day for us today, and as we have to be out by 11 and out train is just before midday, there wasn’t much time to do anything significant. A moment then to pause on the ‘Liverpool experience’. Overall, we had a really great time. The people here that served us in the restaurants have almost all been first class. The mix of architecture here ticked all the boxes for me, and the restoration of the dock area has given it a whole new character. The weather has been changeable – we’ve had a bit of everything, and dodging the showers wasn’t, in the end, too much of a problem. The taxis were surprisingly cheap and there’s been a great variety of places to eat. The major disappointment for all of us was the Apartment – in short, although the staff were very helpful and friendly, that didn’t compensate for the poor design of the apartment itself. A mirror in the bathroom that can only be used if you kneel on the loo, and the woeful lack of hanging space for any clothes in the end just made us giggle, but these are basics that should have been spotted (and sorted) before the place even opened.
None of these shortcomings dampened our love for the city though – and all it had to offer. I’m sure we’ll be back either individually or as a group in years to come.
We didn’t take much time to talk about where the annual get-together next year will be, but we’ve tentatively thought about the Aldeburgh area in Suffolk.
Bye-bye Trainers – see you in 2016 (but probably before!)