21.6.16

Mumbles and South Wales

Explore South Wales Pass
Explore South Wales Pass
When Jackie and Rob, Pam and Steve said they'd rented a cottage in June on the edge of the Gower, I jumped at the chance to mop up a couple of heritage railways and art galleries. All did not go to plan, however, and I'm not talking about the weather! At Swansea station, I bought an Explore South Wales Pass, which would give me four days of rail travel and eight days of buses, though many of the bus drivers I encountered had never seen one before and were wary! It cost £45.55 with my senior railcard. I subsequently found out that with my English bus pass, I could have got a day saver on the buses for £3. The Welsh, by the way, get their bus passes at age 60.

Vintage Gatwick Express at Barry Island!
Gatwick Express at Barry Island
We travelled down on Saturday, changing at Bristol Parkway and getting a taxi from Swansea station,  and Sunday 12 June was the only day the Barry Island Tourist Railway would be open. Sunday was also a day of few buses, so getting to Swansea bus station, then the not-nearby railway station was a trial. Anyway I got to Barry Island to find that the train running was a vintage Gatwick Express, operating as a Park and Ride shuttle - it was also the day of Barry Festival of Transport, with the Red Arrows (who didn't turn up due to weather). Anyway it was only £2 and on the way back (driven from the guard's van) I had the train more or less to myself.

View of Mumbles pier from Oystermouth Castle, South Wales
view of Mumbles Pier from Oystermouth Castle
Monday it was a trip round nearby Oystermouth Castle, up and down lots of steps and spiral staircases, and a look at Mumbles Pier (closed), coincidentally meeting up with Rob and Steve, then Jackie at The Pilot of Mumbles for a pint, sheltering from the rain. I caught a bus into town to buy some kippers and cockles from Swansea Market.

Me and Magritte, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
Me and Magritte
Tuesday it was a trip to Cardiff for the National Museum of Wales, getting off at Cathays station. Unfortunately seven galleries were closed due to industrial action, including 19th Century British and the Blaschka glass sea creatures. Plenty of good stuff though: lots of Augustus and Gwen John and a big exhibition about the Battle of Mametz Wood. But I did get to meet my Facebook friends Nerea and Jo, who took me for a pint of Brains at the Old Arcade. They live up the Rhondda at Treherbert so suggested I stay over Wednesday then they'd drive me to the Brecon Mountain Railway on Thursday.


Trevethick replica at National Waterfront Museum, Swansea
Replica Trevithick loco
So Wednesday it was into Swansea for the National Waterfront Museum and Swansea Museum - I knew in advance that the Glynn Vivian art gallery would be closed. First though, there was supposed to be a guided tour of the Brangwyn Hall and Guildhall at 10am. I turned up, but it'd been cancelled due to lack of numbers, so I booked in for Friday. The Waterfront museum is modern, with big things like the replica Trevithick loco on the ground floor, and smaller pieces upstairs, including a first world war postcard exhibition. I had a coffee in the cafe first, then braved the various school parties visiting. It was raining stair rods outside!

Sign in Tram shed, Swansea Museum
Swansea Tram Shed
When it stopped, I popped in to the Tram Shed annexe of the Swansea Museum to see the trams, then on to the main building, which again had a big WW1 exhibition. Two galleries upstairs were closed, leaving only Egyptology and the Swansea Mummy. I was told that on Wednesdays, the Swansea Museum’s store, housed in the former Hafod / Morfa Copper Works in Landore is open to the public,  but I didn't have time to find it.
Replacement diesel at Brecon Mountain Railway
Diesel replacement at the Brecon Mountain Railway
So it was on the train up the Rhondda valley, a chippy tea and some tv at Nerea and Jo's. On Thursday we drove over the mountain, past old mines and wind turbines to find that the German steam loco at the Brecon Mountain Railway had broken and there was a diesel replacement. Ah well, it was a fabulous journey anyway, but it would have been nice to hear a steamer working hard up those inclines. We saw the other US locos in the shed (through windows) and the viewing gallery over the workshop, plus another two in the Steam Museum at the cafe stop. Then it was a lift to Merthyr Tydfil (home of Trevithick) and the train back to Swansea.
Brangwyn Hall, Swansea Guildhall
Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
Friday was the guided tour of the 1934 Guildhall, with its viking theme, and especially the Brangwyn Hall and murals. Frank Brangwyn was commissioned to decorate the House of Lords with panels depicting the British Empire, but they were considered a bit too colourful and lively and were rejected. After a showing at the Ideal Home exhibition, they were snapped up by Swansea, and the half-built Hall was altered to accommodate them. They are magnificent, with lots of topless women, all painted in Ditchling using local models! Then, after welsh cakes and tea, it was a bus ride to lots of places beginning Ll... in the Gower, a Coffee Crunch cone at Joe's Ice Cream Parlour and a pint of Plum Porter at the Mumbles Ale House, thence home without incident on the Saturday.

More photos on Flickr.

16.5.16

Bavaria steam, rail and ale: part 2

Lake Ammersee
Lake Ammersee
Day 5: Sunday 8 May - to the lake!
Another early start to catch the 7.17 to Augsburg. Here we boarded the steam train hauled by 38 1301 to Utting and Lake Ammersee, via a station called Kissing! The heritage coach we were in had a flat tyre, so that meant a loud thumping sound every revolution. After a coffee by the lakeside (where the cafe had a veggie menu!), and watching a paddle steamer pass by, we returned to the steam train for a visit to the Augsberg Railway Park.

38 1301 at Augsburg Railway Park
38 1301
Here I had a quick €1 ride on a miniature railway (no photos!) to get my bearings, a walk round the International roundhouse, and into a shed containing various locos, the Trans Europ Express, people in Bavarian dress, a jazz band and a bar! Then it was backwards back to Augsberg station and back to Nürnberg, to be greeted by a whole station full of footy fans, inc St Pauli with their skull and crossbone shirts. We could have revisited the brewery on Day 2 to see the cellars, but it was a longish walk through the old town so I opted for a tram ride with some of the chaps for an Italian meal.

0-8-0 well tank at Emermannstadt
0-8-0 well tank No. 4
Day 6: Monday 9 May - our steam charter
Not such an early start to catch the 9.08 to Ebermannstadt. Here we had a guided tour round the shed - which included a prototype electric battery loco donated by Siemens that recharged the batteries on braking, whilst our industrial 0-8-0 well tank was prepared. The journey to Behringersmühle was very scenic with a couple of castles on hills said to have inspired Wagner to write Parsifal. After a beer from a dress shop (well, it was 11.30!) we returned, with a couple of fly-past opportunities on the way.

Bamberg Rathaus
Bamberg rathaus
Then it was on to the scenic town of Bamberg, with a route march to tonight's restaurant, then free time to see and photograph the sights. I had a coffee in a cafe next to the Tourist Information, then a hike up to the Dom (cathedral). Dinner was in the Schlenkeria restaurant, famed for its smoked beer (they do their own malting), and the best toilets in Germany. The meal - which started with white asparagus soup (we saw lots of it on the veg market), followed by stuffed courgettes - was fine except for the cheese afters, which looked like something the cat threw up. Strangely enough my veggie option was more salad! The smoked beer, however, was excellent.

1906 streamliner at  DB Museum, Nürnberg
Bavarian semi-streamliner from 1906
 Day 7: Tuesday 10 May - homeward bound, but first…
At 9am, after breakfast of muesli and boiled egg, we walked the short distance to the DB Museum for what for me would be the highlight of the visit - the German streamliner 05 001. But first, a walk round the main museum which contained an ancient 4-4-4 Bavarian streamliner from 1906, Class S 2/6 No. 3201. The museum was arranged chronologically, and they hadn't shied away form the period 1933 to 1945. The continuation upstairs was closed for building works, and I didn't have time to see the Telecommunications museum on the top floor, so it was outside and through a tunnel to the annexe, and the star of our show: 15 001. It didn't disappoint, a huge beast of a loco, in LMS maroon!

05001 streamliner at Nürnberg Railway Museum
4-6-4 streamliner 05 001
After a two-lap ride round the yard behind a narrow gauge diesel, it was back to the InterCity Hotel for our bags and the noon train to Frankfurt. At Aachen we spotted a couple of new Thameslink trains en route to England. Just missed a Brighton train at St Pancras so was joined by Big Alan as far as Three Bridges, and I got home, knackered, at around 10.30pm - we regained our hour down the Eurotunnel!

More photos on Flickr.

< Back to Part 1

13.5.16

Bavaria steam, rail and ale: part 1

52 8195-1
2-10-0 No. 52 8195-1
Day 1: Wednesday 4 May - getting there
My third trip with Railtrail Tours and another very early start to get the 8.55 Eurostar to Brussels. That meant catching the 5.44 from Brighton! This was before the London Road trains started, so it was a taxi to the station. In the end I caught the train before the one I'd planned on, so met Martin and got my free coffee and croissant at Des Vins. So, it was an ICE to Frankfurt and a change for Nürnberg, arriving at 8pm. Then it was a coach ride round the city walls to the Hausbrauerei Alstdthof for my first veggie meal of cheese croquettes and salad (the others had pork and dumpling). With this we got to try three very tasty beers and a red beer brandy! The itinerary had changed somewhat to accommodate this meal and there was an optional return later in the week to look at their cellars that I declined.

Czech 4-8-2 loco 475 III
Czech 4-8-4 475.111
 Day 2: Thursday 5 May - by steam to the Czech Republic
Another early start for the 6.40am train hauled by 2-10-0 No. 52 8195-1. At the Czech border, we changed engines to a beautiful 4-8-2 'Mountain' loco 475.111 which took us to Pilsen. Here we marched out of the station and I got left behind, but phoned Martin and was found in the cathedral square. Had a ridiculously cheap coffee (paid in Euros) - €4.20 for three coffees! - then went underground with a tour of the town's joined up cellars. There was a celebration going on of the towns liberation by the Americans, with various re-enactors to be seen. On the way back, we had a meal in the restaurant car and arrived back at the hotel around 11 o'clock.

10 001 semi-streamliner at Neuenmarkt-Wirsberg
10 001 at Neuenmarkt
Day 3: Friday 6 May - 10 001 semi-streamliner
Phew, a later start today. Time to buy a sandwich and catch the 9.05 to Neuenmarkt-Wirsberg to visit the railway museum (Deutsches Dampflokomotiv Museum) there - tantalisingly close across the tracks, but we had to walk to a bridge to get there. No live steam today, but a surprise was finding the semi-streamliner No. 10 001, one of the last locos to be built in Germany (in 1957). We also saw Hitler's coach, a tank painted in photographic grey and an austerity class of wartime locos. A big loco, 50 975, was outside on the turntable. We had two loops on a little diesel railway, past a snow plough, then back over the bridge to the station, where we spotted a rally of Goggomobils going on!

Brewery
Brewery museum at Kulmbach
Then it was back on the train to Kulmbach and a long walk to the Mönchhof Brewery Museum (Bayerisches Brauereimuseum Kulmbach), where we were treated to a glass of their microbrewery Museum beer. After the guided tour, including a lovely art deco tiled room of mash tuns, we had more beer samples (no dark beer tho), with pretzel, then a meal in their on-site restaurant, sitting outside - I had two sorts of fish and potatoes. Then I shared a taxi back to the station with Big Alan from Horsham, who'd got one there!

Two Pacifics at Neustadt Weinstrasse
Two Pacifics, Swiss and German
Day 4: Saturday 7 May - two Pacifics
Another early start! This time on the 7.29am to Hanau. Here - on platform 101 - we joined a train hauled by No. 01 150 to Neustadt Weinstrasse, where we spotted Swiss Pacific 01 202. An extra on the itinerary was a (long) walk to the shed… once again I got left behind in the hot sun, but it was worth it to see the two locos side by side posing. Then a schlep back to the station and over the bridge to their railway museum DGEG Eisenbahnmuseum (which as the crow flies was within spitting distance of the station) to see a Bavarian pacific and various railcars. After a couple of beers in a cafe opposite the station it was back to Hanau for a meal of warmed up pizza and platform 103 for a train back to Nürnberg.

Part 2 - to the lake! >

More photos on Flickr

27.4.16

Liverpool, again!

Yo Hole in ye Wall
Ye Hole in Ye Wall, Liverpool
So, on Sunday I travelled down to Liverpool with NUJ DM Delegate Melita on the train and got off at Moorfields. When researching the pubs near my hotel, I discovered about five good ones were situated between the station and the Z Hotel. We popped our heads in the first one but Melita didn't like the look of the big screen, so i asked the barmaid the way to Ye Hole in ye Wall, and she took us there!

Yo Hole in ye Wall
Ye Hole in Ye Wall gents
It's a quaint old pub with lots of snugs. There was a session going on in the first one, and a Sports screen, but the beer looked good so we settled on an empty snug next to the Men's (women weren't allowed in until 1975, their leaflet told me). Mine was a pint and a half Peerless Oatmeal stout, made in the Wirral. I was convinced the crooner and guitarist next door had been in Liverpool beat groups back in the day!

View from my hotel
View from Room 614
Melita headed off to Lime Street and I crossed the road to find my hotel. It was a converted office building, with the bar and reception on the ground floor. It was next to one of those enigmatic Art Deco buildings without windows that are ventilation shafts for the Mersey Tunnel (but not at all noisy). I was on the 6th floor, with a view of a magnificent building with a sun dial. At 5pm we were promised free wine and cheese - but only one (large) glass per customer, that did me for tea, so it was upstairs to watch my 40in tv and bed.

Walker gallery
Walker art gallery
 Monday morning I walked to the Walker art gallery to see the Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion. With my Art Fund card and concession it worked out to be £2.50 entrance, so after a cappuccino in the cafe it was upstairs for the art. The exhibition was more about the Liverpool collectors and contained many lesser local Pre-Raph followers, plus some old favourites, including Rossetti's only nude Venus Verticordia. George Rae had a copy painted with drapery because he found it 'too voluptuous for a respectable  old timer like me'! A great exhibition and more outside in the permanent collection. Of course, I bought the catalogue!

Paul Brown at FACT, Liverpool
Paul Brown at FACT
Then it was to The North Western, the Wetherspoons under Lime Street station, for a beer with Rob and Jackie, who were up for a sundial conference. Now FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) was supposed to be closed on Mondays, but I risked it anyway and found the cafe and lobby, where there was a Paul Brown and Son exhibition - Scouse roots: Art that makes itself - open. I had some soup in the cafe then enjoyed the computer art. Then on Melita's insistence I patronised the Roscoe Head, opposite, for another pint, of St George - another pub with many rooms. In my snug was a canoodling couple and I didn't know which way to look - no music either to mask their snogging! They eventually left to be replaced by a little old man who told me how much he'd saved by cancelling his landline.

FACT cafe
Soup at FACT
The Bluecoat shut at 6pm, so I headed down Bold Street to find it. The exhibition on was Double act: art and comedy, which was slightly interesting. I ended up watching a 40-minute video of stand up by 'Karen' of Common Culture, which despite being rude about short men and old people, had some good lines. Her imaginary audience was called Fred! I nearly got locked in…

So, it was back to the Z Hotel (which I discovered was a stone's throw from Mathew Street), for free wine and cheese, then tv and bed. Tuesday morning I got the tube from Moorfields to Lime Street and caught the train before the one I had scheduled for - I had an open ticket. Found an unreserved seat in Coach U and was delighted to spot 46100 Royal Scot in steam, at Crewe

26.4.16

Southport (and Liverpool), again...

View from Southport pier
View from the end of Southport Pier
The last time I was in Southport was for the NUJ DM back in 2011. I was a delegate then, but this time I was an observer. I was also very diligent then, attending every session and a couple of fringe meetings besides, and regretted not taking time off to go to the end of the second longest pier in Britain, when it had a tram service. I also missed out on the Atkinson art gallery, which was being refurbished at the time.
Southport Pier road train
The Promenade Express
So, Saturday lunchtime I headed for the pier and hung about by an A-board advertising the Road Train, every half hour. It was nippy and a family and me waited what seemed like ages before the 'train' arrived. Bought a £2.50 return and we headed off, me wishing I'd brought a scarf. At the end of the pier was a pavilion containing a cafe and some penny slot machines. No sign of the sea, just endless sand. The driver and conductor were having a fag and a cuppa but eventually drove us back.


Atkinson museum, Southport
Victorian sauce inside the Atkinson
Sunday was much sunnier and I was joined by delegates Amy and Melita to the end of the pier. This time it was a bit busier - still no sign of the sea - and I got the next train back cos I wanted to see the Atkinson. It's housed in the same building as the town hall, under a clock tower, on Lord Street, which has many splendid buildings. The art gallery is on the first floor and comprises a large room themed as Victorian Dreamers, with a group of saucy paintings in the corner, including Pygmalion and Galatea by Earnest Normand and Lilith by John Collier, plus a couple of William Ettys. There was also a travelling exhibition of more modern works entitled One day, something happens. Another floor up is the museum, which houses some mummies, a Dan Dare exhibit, Meccano and Dinky Toys and lots about the history of Lord Street. On the ground floor is a cafe called Bakery, where I had a cappuccino.

Dan Dare
Dan Dare was born nearby
We were staying in a hotel that had seen better days - the Prince of Wales - me in a tiny single room on the 3rd floor. The DM was in the Floral Hall again (it will be in two years' time too) an we managed to visit a couple of quirky bars, including the Baron's Bar (ale £2.10 a pint) in the Scarisbrick Hotel and the Inn Beer Shop with its 'Continental-style seating' at the far end of Lord Street.  The strangest thing that happened at DM was at the Saturday night Gala Dinner when someone went to the loo and reported that Michael Jackson was next door! Well, a lookalike was, with a huge queue of women and children getting selfies with him. Apparently it was a show! 

Preston Bank, Southport
One of the magnificent buildings on Lord Street
On Sunday I set off with Melita to Liverpool…

More photos on Flickr.

22.3.16

Chatham historic dockyard

Call the Midwife, Chatham dockyard
Call the Midwife!
This was my first coach trip since Bletchley Park last April, booked by Coach Trip chum Chrissie, with Worthing coaches, not too early (8.55am), but no pick-up at Preston Circus, so I cycled down to Pool Valley. We were the only two waiting and after a pick up at Patcham, the half empty coach set off to The Historic Dockyard Chatham, via a coffee stop at Clacket Lane services on the M25.

View from HMS Cavalier, Chatham dockyard
HM Submarine Ocelot, HMS Gannet and No 3 Slip from HMS Cavalier
Collecting our maps from driver Martin, we made our way to the entrance and not looking where I was going, tripped on a manhole cover and bruised my knee - and ego! We were advised to call in at No 1 Smithery first to book places at the Ropery demonstration and on the HM Submarine Ocelot tour. We declined the sub tour on the grounds of sore old knees and claustrophobia, plus there'd be lots of climbing up and down stairs etc in the course of the day!

HMS Gannet, Chatham dockyard
Sloop HMS Gannet (1878)
First stop was HMS Gannet, an 1878 Victorian sloop, with hammocks, cannons and rigging everywhere. No engines or boilers to see. We were followed through the day by a party of school kids in what looked like sportswear. Then it was to the Ropery, via a Call the midwife photo opportunity. After an introduction by a shouty Victorian lady we got to see a three-strand rope being made by a very noisy twirling machine in the longest brick building in the world at 1/4 of a mile. Best bit of the day!

HMS Cavalier, Chatham dockyard
Destroyer HMS Cavalier (1944)
Next to the Ropery was a general exhibition on the history of the dockyard, entitled Steam, steel and submarines with figureheads and lots of ship models, including those in the Battle of the River Plate. After eating our sandwiches by the steam cranes, we wandered back past the Nelson Brewery where they make beer with suggestive names, such as the Pursers Pussy Porter, a bottle of which which I bought for £2.70. It was time for a coffee in the Railway Workshop and I was attracted to a spicy butter bean pie on sale from Kent Pies, but resisted. There were only two steam locos in the shed: Ajax and an unnamed 0-4-0ST (Peckett  No. 1903 built in 1936, maybe). I knew they wouldn't be in steam on a Monday.

0-4-0ST Ajax, Chatham dockyard
0-4-0ST Ajax
Destroyer HMS Cavalier (1944) was next, with lots to see above and below decks, lots of ladders to climb up and (facing the ladder) back down again. Here the sailors had bunks, and proper toilets! Its a huge ship with great views from the top, although the man with the wheel had no view at all! HMS Cavalier and HM Submarine Ocelot can both be toured virtually on Google Maps.

Slip cover 1838, Chatham dockyard
No 3 Slip roof
No 3 Slip looks like a modern structure from the outside but it was built in 1838 so that ships could be built under cover. Inside houses all kinds of vehicles and machines, including a section of 'Boring Machines'! You can take the lift or stairs up to look at the amazing wooden roof. Next door is a big collection of RNLI lifeboats. The dockyard closed at 4pm, but is well work a visit - and with an entrance at around £20, the coach trip at £33 was very good value. Then it was straight back, no stopping until Patcham.
Worthing coach
Worthing coach
 There's a steam and blues festival on over Easter. More photos on Flickr.

22.2.16

Brussels: trains, trams and Magritte, part 4

Atomium
Atomium
 Day 5 Monday 8 February: On Mondays most museums are closed, so a long tram or metro trip was in order. And as it was windy and absolutely throwing it down outside, I stopped for a while at the Natural Coffee House on the corner. Bought a croissant from Teddy L and jumped on the 73 tram (temp stop outside the Michael Collins irish pub cos the road was up) to Louise then down to the M6 metro to Heysel and the Atomium. "Built for the 1958 World Exhibition, the Atomium is shaped on the model of an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times."

ADAM
ADAM
I was planning to buy a combo ticket, to include the ADAM art and design museum, but the price was considerably higher than the website said (it would have been €14) , and there were hoards of kids in the queue. Also, they warned of stairs, so I figured they'd not repaired the escalators since last I went up it with Jonny the Lodger.

ADAM, Brussels
Plasticarium
So I headed back towards the station and into the modern building that is ADAM. It was €8 to get in and very disappointing - unless you love plastic chairs. It was basically the Plasticarium Collection (that I think used to be housed in the Atomium) plus a lot of big empty rooms. The cafe was tiny and the shop expensive. Bad choice, I should have gone up the Atomium. Ah well. I walked up towards the Art Deco building (Palais des Expositions from the 1935 Expo) and back to the metro station.

Brussels
Palais des Expositions 1935

On the way back I took a detour on the metro to find Central Station, which I did and discovered I was literally yards away  the other day! I bought a crusty sandwich from Exki and skirted the Grand Place heading for Bourse. I'd been tipped off on Facebook (by Tamsin) about an Art Nouveau bar called Le Cirio.

Central station, Brussels
Central station, designed by Horta
It was late afternoon, so first I had a coffee at another Natural Coffee Cafe, then had a couple of Grimbergen dark beers in this wonderful bar. A strange woman on the next table to me, who was eating her way through the not so appetising menu, gave me a praline! Then it was the metro back to Gare du Midi and a try out on tram 81 back to Bailli (one of those older ones with three steps up.) I popped into the Cock's Fresh (yes!) supermarket to buy a couple of cans : Leffe Brune, and Palm, and watched tv in my room. The building work outside went on all night!

Grimbergen at Le Cirio

Day 6 Tuesday 9 February 2016: I struggled to get my case up the three-step 81 tram in the rain (it was easier getting off). A slightly goth young woman sat opposite me and pulled from a brown paper bag a brand new copy of Mein Kampf, with day-glo cover. I bought another crusty sandwich from the station Exki, had a cappuccino in the departure lounge, and soon I was back in Blighty.

More photos on Flickr.

Brussels, part 3 >