Monday, 26 March 2012

The Wast Weekend Pt 2

Great Gable from brekkie spot.
We lost an hour last night. Not as a result of all my watches going the same way as all my compasses, but on account of the arrival of BST. Hurrah! Light evenings are back and what better way to start than with balmy June-like temperatures. We had to be off the campsite by 11am so after a quick excursion to get in a few pics of the lake we packed up and drove down to the NT carpark at the foot of Yewbarrow where I whipped up a batch of sausage & egg sarnies to fortify us for the day. Steve was convinced we'd do a roaring trade flogging them to passing motorists but I was far too hungry to part with mine.

Without wishing to encourage reckless behaviour Yewbarrow is the sort of fell you don't really need a map for. There's one route up and another one down and on a glorious sunny Sunday it's hard to go far wrong. Whilst we'd munched our sarnies earlier we'd watched one couple get ready for their hike by donning several layers of clothes including gators and full on fleecy jackets. Not sure how far they got before they began melting but I was only in my t-shirt and lightweight trousers all day and would gladly have shed layers had decency permitted. Still better to see people being thorough I suppose.

How could you resist?
Yewbarrow's "come hither" flanks did not disappoint and we were soon picking our way up onto Bull Crag. The path is clear the whole way though there are a few scrambles involved. We took it steady and enjoyed the experience and the stunning views and at one point spotted a very clear profile of a face in the crags; the north face perhaps? It's a straightforward fell but not one for the feint hearted, the route up is strenuous but, because of its directness, not too long so we were soon on the broad grassy summit ridge with tea and sarnies fully deployed. The views all around are quite simply breathtaking with many of the Lake District's finest peaks almost within touching distance. Through the binoculars we could see ScaFell Pike was having a busy day but over on Yewbarrow we only saw about a dozen other people all day.
North Face of Yewbarrow

Our descent took us over Stirrup Crag which is by far the finest "bum plummet" to date. It's a route to challenge the mind as well as the body as you peer down rocky outcrops picking out the best route or, put another way, it could scare the bejeebers out of you so try not to look down too much. I confess I finished the descent off with a grassy slide down to Dore Head with my newly repaired trousers and still recovering bum performing wonderfully.

The hard work was now over and all that lay ahead was a very pleasant and gentle stroll along Over Beck back down to Delores. No high drama this weekend just a perfect opportunity to enjoy the fells at their very best. Steve had a cold beer whilst I settled for water as we cooled our feet in the gill and polished off another bag of M&Ms. Heaven on earth? Pretty darned close I'd say.
Aaahhhhhh...

The Wast Weekend Pt 1

Huge excitement in our household this weekend as we dusted off Delores for her first proper trip of the year - 2 nights in Wast Water. Well not exactly *in* it but parked very near to the edge of it. We made it to the site just before darkness and the first thing we noticed was the gentle(!) hum of the industrial generator powering the site. Wasdale Head has been without mains power since before Christmas so this is a necessary evil if you want things like lights or food. We're actually very self sufficient on Delores but it seemed churlish to insist they switch it off on our account.

Sca Fell from Burnmoor Tarn
With my legs & backside still suffering slightly from last Saturday's mini adventure we planned a rather more laid back approach to the fells so on Saturday we set about Illgill Head and Whin Rigg. Obviously the first thing we did was add in a detour via Burnmoor Tarn - a pleasingly large tarn nestled between Sca Fell and Illgill Head. It's an injury inducing route as there are spectacular views in every direction so looking down to see where you're treading comes rather low on the list of things to do. Having tripped and stumbled our way to the tarn we next headed for Illgill Head and I'm pretty sure Illgill is an old Norse word which roughly translates as "fake summit". I don't think I've ever climbed a fell that contained more dashed hopes of tea and biscuits than this one. "We'll have a brew when we get there" was quickly becoming "we'll have dinner & a movie if we ever make it". Eventually we made it and, without wishing to give too much away about tomorrow's encounter with Yewbarrow, I'd say the only thing better than climbing Yewbarrow is sitting atop Illgill Head on a fine sunny Saturday scoffing tea & sarnies and looking at Yewbarrow as it looms large at the head of the lake.

Wast Water from Illgill Head
Eventually we pootled off to Whin Rigg, a stroll along the length of Wast Water which is much easier than tackling the screes at the base. Not that we didn't enjoy the screes but you certainly couldn't describe them as a stroll. Beyond the end of Whin Rigg the path drops away sharply to the right for a bit of a "bum plummet" to the shoreline. We refilled the flasks with stream water replacing the apple & blackcurrant squash with eau de sheep pee - a cheeky little number with a subtle woolly bouquet.

Following the path around the woodland we revisited "Britain's Favourite View" - one of the few popular survey results I'd wholeheartedly agree with. We passed a very pleasant half hour or so on the beach topping up our fuel reserves with a carefully balanced nutritional pack of essential sugars and proteins - or peanut M&Ms as they're usually called.

Reaching the bottom of the bag far too quickly we headed back along the easy side of the lake passing right by the foot of Yewbarrow. It's an imposing fell with "come hither" flanks which no right thinking hike could ignore.

Britain's Favourite View
The thrum of the generator told us we were nearing home. I'd not slept well the previous night having woken regularly from a fitful sleep convinced a tractor convention was taking place nearby so tonight I was taking no chances; I prescribed myself 3 beers and a pillow over the head and slept through till dawn. So was Yewbarrow going to live up to expectations?

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Great British Chippy

Bet this lot have no problems
finding fish...
I don't often use this blog for ranting purposes but today I feel I have to.  What has happened to our chippies?  And, more specifically, what has happened to our seaside chippies?  There can be no greater British tradition than sitting on the prom on a sunny evening scoffing a hot tasty fish supper enveloped by the glorious smell of freshly fried fish coated liberally with salt and vinegar - my mouth is watering at the very thought and it's only 8:30am!  But how hard are they to find?

I adore international cuisine and will sample just about anything - it was only a couple of weeks ago I was sat in a Dubai hotel eating curry for breakfast - but when I'm on the prom in England it's fish & chips I'll be wanting, thank you very much.  Yesterday afternoon I had a meeting in Lancaster so met up with Steve afterwards for a jaunt across to Morecambe to take advantage of the lovely early spring day with a stroll along the prom and a bag of fish and chips.  We parked up near to the wonderfully Art Deco Midland Hotel and began our quest for deep fried goodies.  Perhaps I have a distorted memory of days gone by, or maybe it's just Morecambe, but I'm sure there always used to be a plethora of sea front chippies to choose from, but not any more it seems.

Eric Morecambe on the prom
We passed one buried at the back of an amusement arcade, which really didn't appeal, and another which sold assorted pizza and burger products but not proper chips.  You know, real, proper chips; good and thick and chunky not some flimsy fries with barely an ounce of potato in them.  Next came the realisation that the big chains have taken over many of the prime slots; KFC, Costa, "themed pubs"...  I'm sure Costa has its place in society but a panini on the prom simply does not cut it for me I'm afraid; I want chips, and plenty of them.

Eventually we found Sam's chippy, and what a fabulous chippy it is too.  Fish freshly fried while we waited and a massive pile of wonderful chips, cooked to perfection.  The batter was light and fluffy and simply melted in the mouth and it was all served in paper - non of that polystyrene tray nonsense.  Giddy with excitement (or maybe hunger) we scuttled across to the prom and wolfed the lot as we sat next to Eric and watched the sun go down.  I doubt there are many finer ways to pass an early spring evening so I beg of you, walk away from the KFCs and Maccy Ds and support your local seafront chip shop. Long live the Great British Seaside Chippy!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Am I too old for this?

I'm writing this the morning after the hike before, and everything aches.  Whenever I read other people's lovely blogs about hiking they never seem to mention the pain, so is it just us?  Are we getting too old for all this cavorting around the fells?  I do hope not!  Mind you, yesterday's hike was a bit of a "hiking extravaganza"!
Buttermere from Fleetwith Pike

Lured by the first spring-like Saturday of the year we decided to go for it and tackle a biggie.  Our plan was to park near to the lovely folks at Honister Slate Mine, hike up and over Fleetwith Pike, along Buttermere, around  via Scaleforce up onto Red Pike, then follow the ridge via High Stile, High Crag and Haystacks and back to the car.  We very nearly did it too, but we hadn't factored in three key things:

  1. Tourist time - allowing additional time to get from A-B on a sunny Saturday.  We'd gotten lax through Jan and Feb and had forgotten how much time this can add to the journey.  We were held up by a succession of people tootling along admiring the scenery at 35mph.
  2. Unexpected snow - it was a lovely spring day, we certainly weren't expecting snow on the fells.
  3. Another dodgy compass - my Silva broke during our Wetherlam hike, it simply refused to point north but it did, at least, point consistently in the wrong direction.  I replaced it with a non-branded one from Mountain Warehouse which, during the course of our hike yesterday, decided North could be in any one of a number of directions.  Free thinking compasses are not helpful.
Bleabury Tarn (note rain!)
We're not early starters and knew there was a good chance of finishing in the dark, so head torches were packed along with plenty of food and drink.  Thanks to the aforementioned hold ups along the way we didn't get to Honister until 11:30am, however we soon whipped up Fleetwith Pike and stopped for a quick slurp and a bikkie whilst we admired the stunning views down over Buttermere.  Then we descended Fleetwith Pike.  Entire books could be written about the descent of Fleetwith Pike down Fleetwith Edge and they'd be very long books indeed.  It just goes on, and on, and on.  But at least the views were pretty.  Over an hour later we were finally stood on the shores of Buttermere.

High Stile Cairn
The easy stroll along the banks of the lake was livened up by a hefty rain shower and we decided on reaching the head of the lake that we'd ditch the Scaleforce route and instead head up Old Burness to Bleabury Tarn.  This is a really straightforward route and is stepped pretty much the whole way and, if you were "lucky" enough to be on it yesterday in the pouring rain you'd have heard me belting out "Blueberry Hill" in honour of the occasion.  We sheltered briefly for a sarnie en route but otherwise steamed through, past the tarn, up onto Red Pike and into the snow.  This was definitely unexpected - though we had noticed the dusting on top of the fell on our way up.  Pretty though it was it delayed us for 2 main reasons; firstly because we were slipping and sliding around and secondly because it was pretty and we had to take pictures.

The mist kicked in around about now which was when I discovered my compass had taken leave of its senses.  However long I held it still for it resolutely refused to point consistently in any direction.  Though frustrated at the mist and the compass we were mightily impressed by seeing our first Brocken Spectres - we tried taking pics, but they're not easy to capture.  Thanks to the popularity of the route we found our way to High Stile pretty easily but it took us a while to find our way from there to High Crag.  Once we got to High Crag the mist cleared but it was now getting dark fast.  We dropped down via Seat to Scarth Gap and deployed head torches.

Climbing Haystacks in the dark was surprisingly straightforward, the route is clear and easy to follow although there are a couple of scrambles along the way.  We paused next to Innominate Tarn and there, in the peaceful still of the evening, with the stars shining brightly in the heavens, you could almost hear Wainwright himself whispering to us: "What time do you call this? It's gone 8 o'clock, it's pitch dark and it's time you got down off my bloomin' fell - I came here for a bit of peace and quiet!".

It took us a few attempts to find the route down in the, by now, pitch dark and at one point I slipped and tore my Gore-Tex trousers (again), my nice Berghaus walking trousers (first time), my undies and my, ahem, bum.  Luckily I didn't notice the latter 'til we were home and I spotted all the blood - to be fair it's more of a very deep scratch than a cut, but it is a good 3 inches long.  Sadly the location of this spectacular war wound precludes me from including pic or showing it off in anyway.  Curses.  Just take my word for it, it's pretty impressive!

Sunset from High Crag
Luckily for us the mist was long gone and we managed to navigate using the lights of Gatesgarth Farm in the valley below as a landmark.  We also made use of the many cairns along the way although at one point when I excitedly spotted another one Steve cautiously enquired "Is it actually a cairn, or is it just a pile of stones."  Good question.  Amazingly we didn't put a foot wrong and were very glad to spot a huge JCB as we approached Honister Slate Mine, reassuring us we were most definitely on the right track.

We finally got back to the car at 9:41pm after our 10 hour adventure.  We were exhausted and glad of the sitdown but before I hopped in the car I took one last moment to enjoy the fantastic display of stars; being out on the fells after dark might be challenging but it certainly has its benefits.  Today will be an awful lot lazier, but there will most definitely be a leisurely stroll along the prom later on to ease my aching muscles.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Commuter hell...

It's not just the hiking around here that rocks, it's the commuting too.  On Tuesday I spent the day working in Burnley - Townley Park to be precise, and very pretty it is too.  I have 2 routes home available to me from there, I can either follow the M65 back to the M6 and zoom north at high speed, or I can drive home along the A682 through the Yorkshire Dales.  During the winter the M65/ M6 usually wins for purely practical reasons, but as soon as the evenings lighten up a little, there really is no contest.  As it is not only impractical, but also highly illegal for me to try and take photos of this amazing route as I tootle along, I shall invite you to make use of Google Maps.  Open a new tab and locate "Blacko" on Google Maps then drag the little orange man into Street View on the A682 and follow me as I head home.

Blacko itself is fairly high up so the route starts with this amazing sense of space and freedom as you head onto the Dales.  There's no dual carriageway along this entire route so patience is called for if you find yourself behind someone a little slower than yourself - but who wants to speed past these amazing views?  Plenty of people actually, so although I stick to a steady 50mph I find I'm regularly pulling over to let those with more pressing engagements zoom past.  The weather isn't always as glorious as it appears to be on the day Google took their pics, but by the time I was heading home on Tuesday there was a breathtaking sunset in progress and it's a wonder I didn't end up embedded in a dry stone wall as I tried to take it all in.

I spent a lot of my life commuting around the M25, specifically the "always rammed with traffic" section between the M40 and the M3 and I'm sure it won't come as any surprise at all to hear I don't miss it one little bit.  Even the M6 is blissful by comparison, especially once you're north of the M55.

Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale
Pretty soon you drop down into Gisburn - which always makes me think of Robin Hood - is this where Guy of Gisburn was from?  Or was that something dreamed up by Kevin Costner?  A quick right/ left over the A59 and you're on your way again.  Incidentally, I've just noticed that on Street View you get to journey through all the seasons along this route - I promise you it won't really take you that long!  By the time you reach Long Preston and the A65 Summer has clearly arrived bringing with it rather more traffic.  Well, more traffic for this route anyway, which is nothing when compared with 8 lanes of stationary vehicles on the M25; the worst we get is the occasional tractor, but they soon pull off into a field or farmyard.

Next up is Settle and, if you're on this route for the first time, then I'm going to insist you take a diversion and visit this lovely little town.  It has an absolutely gorgeous little town square and a very handy petrol station and car park - so there's no excuse not to visit!  Many's the time I've stopped and bought an impromptu picnic from here ready for an alfresco dinner later on along the route.  Plus it's right next to Giggleswick, a place name that can't fail to bring a smile.

Back on the A65 and it's not long before you spot Ingleborough looming large and flat in the distance.  The village of Clapham at its base is another reminder of the rush hour chaos we left behind in the South East.  This Clapham does have a station, but it's a little less busy than Clapham Junction and a whole lot prettier.

Kent Estuary from Grange
Pressing onwards and soon Kirkby Lonsdale appears and with it the perfect opportunity to scoff the picnic dinner I bought in Settle.  Devil's Bridge is very popular with motorcyclists at the weekends, but on a weekday evening it's the perfect spot to unwind after a busy day in the office.

After that it's just a hop, skip and a jump along the A65 to the M6 and over it on to the A590 which soon has me back home in lovely Grange.  There was a time when the journey home was more stressful than a day in the office, but not any more, and for that I shall be eternally grateful.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Beth's Big Adventure - the finale

Intercontinental Abu Dhabi
So, here I sit, back in Blighty after my wonderful adventure.  I'm all unpacked and the biggest challenge facing me right now is how to stay awake until bedtime.  I've set myself a target of not going to bed before 9pm - and if that sounds like I'm being a wuss, then here's the stats:  yesterday I got up at 3:30am UK time, I worked from 4:30am through to 2:00pm, I then walked around for a few hours before catching a flight at 7:30pm, then another at 10:30pm. I flew through the night, managing around 3 hours fitful sleep, and arrived in Manchester at 6:20am.  I zoomed through immigration to make the 7:00am train to Kirkham where I delivered another training course before heading home and wading through my emails.  Trust me, 9:00pm cannot come quickly enough!

Sheraton Bahrain
But I'm not complaining, oh no, it has been an absolutely amazing adventure, even the bits where I was tired and grouchy at the hotel in Oman.  (But seriously though, tiled floors?!).    It did get me thinking that maybe I should review the 4 hotels I stayed in, not from the perspective of the seasoned business traveller, but from the perspective of someone who could only ever possibly stay somewhere like that on a trip that someone else is paying for.  I think those of us in that category have rather different criteria.  So, here are my five categories that all 4 will be judged against:

1.  Bathroom nickables:  we all do it - but at some hotels it's just not worth doing.
2. Quality of pens:  A posh hotel with a dodgy pen is fur coat and no knickers.
3.  Snootiness of reception staff:  It's clear I don't belong in these places, but how did the staff react to that?
4.  Cool factor:  Does the hotel just have something seriously cool that will impress your friends?
5.  Number of building sites visible from hotel room.  This region is growing spectacularly quickly, but how much of that will you trip over?

Park Regis Dubai
The four hotels competing for top honours are:  The Park Regis Hotel Dubai, The Intercontinental Hotel Abu Dhabi, The Sheraton Hotel Bahrain and The Ramada Hotel Muscat.

Category 1:  Bathroom nickables.  To be fair they all put on a good showing here but the award goes to the Intercontinental:  Not only did they offer decent shampoo and conditioner in very lovely bottles but their sewing kit beat the others hands down too - a hard plastic casing with 5 ready threaded needles; that baby will lurk in my handbag for many a year to come and will always be produced with a flourish and accompanied by the phrase "Oh this little thing?  I just picked it up from the Intercon last time I was there."  The Sheraton comes a very close second as their bathroom stash included a very cute little rubber duck but they lost out because a) I can't mend my skirt with a duck and b) I've seen one before at the Europa hotel in Belfast.

Some pens are mightier
than others.
Category 2:  Pens.  Well, this was an eye opener, and very hard fought between 3 of the hotels.First let's eliminate the Park Regis - a lovely hotel but a very cheap an nasty purple pen that wouldn't look out of place in Argos.  If a pen is to have a marketing value then it needs to be one I want to use and hence display your hotel name.  The nasty cheap purple plastic thing from the Park Regis (top in the pic) will never see the light of day in public again.  Joint runners up are the Sheraton and the Intercontinental as their pens were identical apart from a small leaf detail on the Sheraton pen.  Nice feel and would look good in the handbag.  The surprise winner in this category is the Ramada in Muscat because written in big red letters along the side of the pen are the words "Ramada, Muscat" so each time I use it both I, and anyone within about 6 feet, will know where I swiped it from.  Shallow?  Moi?

Pool & Dubai
Category 3:  Snootiness of Reception Staff.  I definitely noticed this most at the Intercontinental, they were perfectly polite and helpful but looked a little sniffy at my somewhat tatty holdall.  The Park Regis also lose out here too for failing to have a sense of humour and sticking a little too sycophantically to the "yes madam, no madam" routine.  Whilst the Ramada weren't all that snooty, they were rather disorganised and understaffed when I arrived and were completely unable to direct me to my room - which was hidden away the other side of the staff staircase, implying I wasn't posh enough for front of house rooms perhaps?  (You will tell me if I'm getting paranoid here won't you?).  Clear winners are the Sheraton in Bahrain - they actually chat to you like a normal person not a "customer", they enjoyed a good natured giggle with me over the Executive Suite incident AND they don't have a soulless check-in desk; instead you're greeted and checked in whilst sitting at lovely but informal desks and they take a genuine interest in you and your journey.  Or at least they appear to.  Maybe they're just the best actors?

The Intercontinental has
the domed roof.
Category 4:  Cool Factor.  Well there can only be one winner here, the Park Regis in Dubai.  A stunning rooftop pool 20 storeys high with a panoramic view of Dubai including the Burj. What can beat that?  The Sheraton came a close second though with its view of the World Trace Centre with the Intercontinental hot on their heels with their beach views.  Sadly the Ramada is a dim and distant 4th due to their pool being hidden deep in the bowls of the hotel.  Honestly though, in a country as stunning as Oman I think anyone caught using that pool should be immediately repatriated to their homeland for the crime of failing to fully appreciate their surroundings.

Category 5:  Proximity to building sites.  The Intercontinental was practically in a building site, the Sheraton had building work dominating the shore area in front of the hotel and the Park Regis afforded a stunning panoramic view of downtown Dubai which is, basically, one massive building site.  This leaves the Ramada, relatively construction free, but for how long?  Oman seems keen to play catch up with the rest of the region, but it would be a real shame if that wrecked the wonderful beauty of the place.  Does all progress have to come at a price?

So there we have it, a tongue in cheek round up of the posh hotels that were kind enough to take me in and look after me during the course of this week.  They really were all absolutely lovely and if you ever get the opportunity to visit the region, even on a schedule as crazy as mine was, then seize it with both hands.  I've only got an hour to go now before I can crash out and try and beat my body clock back into shape.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Beth's Big Adventure Day 5: Oh Man, Oman

You know all those people who told me Oman was beautiful? Well they lied. Oman is breathtaking. I didn't see much of it when I arrived late last night but I saw plenty of it today.

video
As the hotel pool was wedged in an unattractive corner I decided to go for a quick walk on the beach before brekkie, but when I got there and saw how beautiful it was I dropped the whole silly notion of brekkie altogether. I finally paddled in the Gulf, then legged it back to the hotel to grab a banana before dashing to the office.

I had an early start & late finish today which gave me the luxury of a 2 hour lunchbreak and yes, I spent the first part of it on the beach, but then I joined some colleagues to sample some of Muscat's finest fish in the form of sushi, freshly prepared before our eyes. Over lunch the team kindly helped me make arrangements for this evenings activities - they got hold of a driver for me who'd show me the sights & give me chance to browse the souk before my (very) late flight home.
Moon over Muscat

First stop was the Sultan's palace and the driver was fabulous giving me loads of history. After the massive sky scrapers and frenetic pace of the previous 3 cities Oman is a blissful contrast; very few buildings are over 3 stories and Muscat has a much more relaxed air to it - apart from the Souk.

I've been to the souk in Dubai before but this is a 'proper' souk with tiny passageways winding away in every direction crammed with tiny shops guarded by shopkeepers eager to encourage you to buy their wares. I settled on a pendant and a rather lovely embroidered woollen scarf - I haggled admirably and was quite pleased with the result.

After that I was whisked off to Muscat airport for the first hop to Abu Dhabi where I'm now dashing this off before I board the final plane home.

The Souk
Enjoy the pics & I shall be back in Blighty by dawn!

Muscat Harbour


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Beth's Big Adventure Day 4: Bahrain to Oman.

View from the training room
A glorious sleep in a massive comfy bed is exactly what was needed at this stage in the journey. By going to Bahrain I gained an hour and when I arrived at Oman I promptly lost it again, so my poor old body clock now has no idea whether it's coming or going.

Bahrain rocked - such a beautiful location, an office full of lovely people and stunning views from the training room: deep blue sea turning emerald green in the shallows and a cloudless blue sky. Very few signs of the problems of last year and the people I spoke to were very eager to tell me how the international press blew things out of proportion somewhat - big surprise. My taxi driver from the airport asked if I'd visited before, when I told him I'd been here 2 years ago he replied "not much has happened since then, but we've got a new hospital." Maybe he was on holiday when it all kicked off.

World Trade Centre Bahrain
There was an international food festival taking place in the mall near the office so I seized the chance to try new an interesting foods - not entirely sure what I ate but it was very tasty. I also discovered that Sweet Chilli Sauce over here is a LOT more spicy than it is in the UK. Divine!

On the drive to the airport I spotted a rather battered Police vehicle going full chat with two wheels on the pavement and no siren. You have to admire their commitment to the cause although it did startle a couple of pedestrians. We passed through 2 police checkpoints on our way to the airport which is the only sign I've seen of last year's issues.

Picturesque pool..?
A thankfully uneventful flight and a reclaimed hour meant I hit Muscat at 22:25 local time. (Silly phrase really - I'm hardly likely to quote random times from around the world now am I? "I arrived at 04:25 Beijing time" would just be silly wouldn't it?). For some reason we got naff all food on the flight but the Omani lady sat next to me clearly though I needed fattening up so started feeding me doughnut-like treats - very tasty!

The hotel pick up went smoothly but hotel a bit rubbish to be honest - or maybe I'm just tired. The tiled floors combined with the people upstairs hosting a "rearrange your furniture" party really aren't helping. Plus there's not a drop of booze in the place - no bar and the mini bar just has chocolate & soft drinks - what a waste of a fridge! Where's a decent Premier Inn when you need one?

People keep telling me "Oman is beautiful" and it's certainly different. I didn't spot any big skyscrapers on our drive from the airport and I'm looking forward to seeing it in the daylight. View from the hotel room doesn't really do it justice... Last leg begins tomorrow, but it's a 2 stage journey so watch this space.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Beth's Big Adventure Day 3 - Abu Dhabi to Bahrain

Harbour Abu Dhabi
So help me, if one more person tells me it's cold here I will not be held responsible for my actions. It's a steady 25C with a pleasant breeze but the locals are all freezing. Is anyone in the entire world happy with their weather?

I'm afraid there was no early morning dip this morning - there was a bit of a lazy lie in instead. I am loving every second of this adventure but it's incredibly tiring so I opted for kip instead of dip to try and maintain some sort of equilibrium.

World Trade Centre Bahrain
I spent most of the day inside working again but escaped for a 20 min stroll at lunchtime. During my stroll I met Irfan who told me he was in charge of a local building site. I think he was looking for a chance to practise his English but he was very charming and walked me back to my office block. I'm meeting loads of fabulously interesting people on this trip, the region is a real melting pot of ex pats from around the globe, none of whom ever appear to lose their accents, as well as Brits in the past 2 days I've also worked with Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians, Dutch, Ugandans, Somalians and a Chinese gentleman; all of whom sound like they arrived here last week but have, in fact, been here for years.

Meet the team
The day was fun but uneventful and I was soon on my way to the airport. Abu Dhabi airport was heaving but I kept getting waved to the front of queues - no idea why - and I began to think this trip was blessed, until I arrived in Bahrain and had a real struggle to get through immigration. They didn't appear to believe what I was here to do and it took over an hour and assorted calls to London and my contacts here before they let me in. When I arrived knackered and bedraggled at the hotel they took pity on me & have given me an Executive Suite with free WiFi and a cute teddy bear; not sure which of those I'm most chuffed with! Not that I twigged that at first. My room card said room 1001 so I trudged up to the 10th floor and followed the signs but could only find rooms 1002 & 1003 and the Executive Suite, so I went all the way back to the (very posh) lobby to complain that my room was missing. That's when they explained to the crazy English woman that that was my room. I expressed my gratitude thus: "Nooo really?", "Yes really." "Me?" "Yes Ma'am" and then I squeaked quite loudly. Pure class me and possibly not what the check in staff at the Sheraton are used to.
Divine dinner.

So here I am, propped up in bed with a take away sarnie for dinner and a beer from the mini bar - life on the road is fun but it's not always glamorous!
Fabulously quirky building.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Beth's Big Adventure Day 2: Dubai to Abu Dhabi

I did consider renaming today's entry "Pool to Pool" but didn't on account of the fact I haven't actually been in the pool here, yet.
video

The day kicked off with a dip in the rooftop pool in Dubai - and let me tell you there are far worse ways of starting your day than a refreshing dip in a pool 20 storeys up with breathtaking views across Dubai. It was a wee bit parky though and *very* windy - so much so that whilst I was there one of the substantial pool side chairs blew right across the decking and into the water. I was the only one mad/ brave enough to take an early morning dip but years of family holidays in Whitby & Rhyl had prepared me well - Dubai pools hold no fear for me after the North Sea in August.
The Burj & the moon

After that it was down to brekkie and whenever I'm somewhere abroad I go out of my way to eat as local as I can, so at the buffet breakfast I loaded my plate with things I didn't recognise, which explains why a few minutes later I found myself eating curry for breakfast. It was very tasty & I'm assuming packs much the same punch as prunes do. Luckily I have Imodium on standby just in case.

Although this is a wonderful & undeniably exotic trip it is a working trip so I spent all day delivering courses - but the groups were utterly charming which makes things a lot easier.

At 5:30pm I was collected from the offices for my 2 hour drive through the desert to Abu Dhabi. The driver maintained a steady 150kph throughout, weaving through traffic like Ayrton Senna and with at least 3 engine warning lights flashing on the dashboard, whilst I cowered in the back taking the odd blurry pic.

Mars & Venus over Abu Dhabi
I arrived at the alarmingly posh Intercontinental hotel just after 7pm and after dumping my bag in the room I scooted off to explore. To be honest I didn't go beyond the grounds as it was dark & there's no town near the hotel, just huge dual carriageways and a beach - it's probably very safe but when I'm travelling alone I prefer not to take chances. That said I still managed to get lost in the grounds and somehow ended up back in the hotel by coming in through the fire door of a posh restaurant. What the hell, I'm English & the whole world knows we're all a little eccentric.

Freshly carved & divine!
My embarrassment was complete about 10 minutes later when, realising it was the only place to eat, I returned to the same restaurant for dinner. And what a dinner! It was an eat as much as you want mega salad bar with fresh BBQ meat carved at your table. Each diner is issued with a beer mat style token which is red on one side & green in the other. If you want more meat you turn the token so it shows green & one of the many waiters soon stops by your table with a large skewer holding some wonderful freshly cooked meaty delicacy and carves you off a chunk. Then you just flip the token to red until you want more meat. Sorry veggies but I have never in all my born days eaten lamb as good as I did tonight. I am now "Christmas Dinner" full - and that's only meant to happen once a year. Still, it's the only night I'll have chance to eat so I'm glad I made the most of it.
Largest Mosque in the Middle East

Tomorrow I shall check out the pool before spending the day working in the Abu Dhabi offices and then a short flight to Bahrain ready for Day 3, country 3 and a whole new time zone.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Beth's Big Adventure Day 1 - Manchester to Dubai

Dubai by night.
Not exactly Cumbria I know, but thought it might be fun to keep tabs on this adventure!

Early doors & Manchester airport and massive queue at the Emirates desk. The only problem with this was the two whinging Brits stood behind me. For a nation that invented queuing we don't half moan about it sometimes. They had a go at the concierge chap so I was ultra nice to him & the check in guy & he gave me a seat with extra legroom - I never saw them again to thank them.

Posh hotel room.
The flight was a wee bit bumpy in places but otherwise uneventful. Emirates have a camera in the nose and under the plane so whilst you're flying you can properly check out the world outside. Made me feel a little nauseous as I watched the belly cam showing the world passing by 41,000 feet below.

Thanks to only having a carry on bag I zoomed through arrivals. Wheels down was 7:15pm and I was in my hotel room before 8:00pm. I'm staying at the Park Regis and it is scarily posh. Well, scary for me, I'm more of a Travelodge girl usually. I've been in Dubai before but had forgotten how crazy the drivers were - it made the turbulence on the plane seem like a walk in the park, albeit a bumpy one. As we weaved through the traffic I took in as much of the local sights as I could; the Burj, the Raffles Hotel, Marks & Spencers...

Blurry Alps maybe?
I'm currently making use of the free wifi in the lobby before taking a short stroll in an attempt to absorb at least a little of the culture - this whistle stop tour is way more whistle than stop so I'm making the most of every chance I get. A dip in the rooftop pool beckons before brekkie and a full day's work (their working week starts on Sunday). Then it's a 2 hour drive through the desert to Abu Dhabi for the next instalment. I'm a very little Beth in a very big world - but it's nice to explore a little bit of it occasionally - though I'd really prefer it if Steve were here with me.

PS Please excuse the lack of possessive apostrophe in the title - the editor I'm using can't cope with it!  (Now sorted!)

Rooftop Pool & Dubai Skyline

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Dirty Old Town?

I don't do cities. They're always packed with people rushing around trampling on each other and nobody ever smiles, but this week I've been forced to get to know Manchester a little better as I'm attending a five day course there. The course itself is 2 1/2 miles outside the city along the A62 but rather than take the bus from Piccadilly I've been walking there and back each day. On day one I stuck to the main roads but since then I've been exploring the back roads and, rather like the fells, it's amazing what you can find when you come away from the main routes.

The streets behind Piccadilly station have names that appear to point to the history of the city: China Lane; Cotton Street; Silk Street; Portugal Street; they all conjure up images of a time when the mills were still going strong and international trade was the order of the day. The one street name that puzzled me though was Radium Street, I've no idea where that name originates from, maybe it glows in the dark?

Wandering around the newly laid cobbled streets of the Arncoat area you will find a crazy jumble of old and new architecture. What I know about the technicalities of architecture you could write on the back of a postage stamp, but I do enjoy looking at buildings and appreciating them, even if Kevin McCloud mightn't approve. The pavement free cobbled streets have an unexpectedly European feel to them, until you turn a corner and are confronted with an immaculate row of terraced houses that wouldn't look out of place down the posh end of Coronation Street. Further along the same street there's a lovely old converted factory/ mill - once the working place for some of the most poorly paid people of the city and now, by the look of it, home to some rather more affluent folk.

True, further along the A62 some of the back roads are a little less pretty, but they still have their moments - it was tucked away behind these that I spotted the lovely old factory complete with chimney. I did notice that the good folk of Manchester appear to keep many of their green spaces locked firmly behind high fences, not too sure why that is, maybe it's the only way to protect them? I suppose large green spaces in cities aren't quite as safe as large green spaces on fells so perhaps it's for the best.

Greenery - safely fenced off.
As day 5 of my enforced city living looms large I must confess I've developed a bit of a soft spot for the little corner of Manchester I've explored. It's not somewhere I'd want to live but it's far from being a Dirty Od Town.  (And I know most people associate that song with Dublin, but I first heard it performed by Fivepenny Piece and dedicated to Manchester, so there!)