Edinburgh 2014: part 2

Tamsyn Challenger installation at Summerhall

Saturday 2 August and we walked across the Meadows in the rain to Summerhall, to meet Mad. It wasn't quite open for business and the number of art exhibits seemed to be down on last year. Particularly liked the Meteorite room (Swiss artist Augustin Rebetez), full of mechanical things moving and screens with stop motion animations on. Genesis P Orridge had a show too, in the Hope room where Michael Nyman was last year. After a pint of Barney's beer, we put Mad on a bus to the borders and sheltered in the Green Mantle where I had my first Mac and Cheese, and American version of macaroni cheese only not as cheesy.

Mac and cheese at the Green Mount

Rob Newman's New Theory of Evolution at the Stand in the Square was the first show we'd paid to see and reasonably good it was too, on an oversized yurt. Afterwards Sam and Teege went on to the Purple Cow to meet friends; i carried on back to the flat.

Sunday 3 August I spent most of the day indoors watching the Commonwealth Games road race in Glasgow on tv. Then it was over to the Zoo venue near the Pleasance for The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote by Little Soldier Productions, three Spanish women and an Englishman who clowned out scenes from the book on a small stage with trapdoors, swopping roles as they went along. Spanish guitar was played throughout and there was only mild audience participation.

That evening we had more free tickets to see Rhys Nicholson (Clover, 20.05), a dapper Australian who made jokes that sounded somehow shocking coming from such a young mouth! The narrative was based around a guard llama. At least there was no audience participation, apart from a dig at someone who left in the middle of the show.

Pizza at La Piazza

On Monday 4 August we saw the biggest show so far: Reduced Shakespeare Company's Complete History of Comedy (abridged) 13.05 at Pleasance One (free tickets!). They were American, which came as a surprise, but were very amusing, except when they invoked an imaginary (?) clown Rambozo, it did tend to go on a bit.

We met Mad again at the City Art Gallery and had coffee there then at 16.25 it was Stand 3 for Robin Ince's Blooming Buzzing Confusion. He'd already said on Facebook that he'd lost his voice, but it didn't sound too bad, though he stopped a couple of times to complain he couldn't do his Brian Blessed impersonation. The show was about the amazing brain and I enjoyed it a lot. We caught the tram to the West End, had a pint in Aubar and a pizza next door at La Piazza.

Last show of the day was David Trent back at Pleasance Courtyard (21.45). He used a video slideshow to dissect the sexist Robin Thicke video and a Nick Griffin of BNP fame cookery show (yes, it really exists!). This was Sam's favourite show, so far.

Ellie Harrison at the Talbot Rice

Tuesday 5 August was my last full day and we visited the Talbot Rice for  Counterpoint, a group exhibition, including a confetti cannon that will only be fired on a Yes vote. The last show of my stay was Simon Munnery, back on stage at Stand 1 (15.55) with Sings Soren Lierkegaard (half price tickets). Munnery is a banker and never ever disappoints. Stewart Lee is another but we were taking a rest from him this year. We were going to have a Chinese fish meal, but it was shut so we had a very filling African tapas at Indaba.

Jim Lambie at the Fruitmarket

On the way home on Wednesday 6 August, I got the bus to the Mound and popped into the Fruitmarket for the Jim Lambie exhibition. I wasn't expecting much more than stripes on the floor, but it was worth a visit, especially for the maze of mirrored ladders downstairs. Edinburgh to Kings X was a breeze (at York I'd seen 46115 Scots Guardsman on the way up, but only the Harry Potter loco was outside on the way back). The Thameslink train from St Pancras to Brighton was another matter, it was packed, it being just after 5pm, and it went a very circuitous route, via Herne Hill, Tulse Hill, Gypsy Hill and Crystal Palace! Should have got the bus to Victoria…

PS. It has always been a tradition that the first pint in Edinburgh is a glass of 80/-, but this year it was nowhere to be seen. Deuchars IPA is more or less everywhere, but no Cally 80… On my last say however I finally got a pint of heavy at the bar in Stand 1. So now you know.

Edinburgh 2014: part 1

This year's Edinburgh was a bit of an experiment: go up early and bag some free tickets. Yes, groan! Free means crap usually, doesn't it? Anyway, I was willing to take a chance - besides I couldn't find any really cheap rail fares, so it was £33 up and £15.85 back from Kings X with another £20 on the fare from Brighton to St Pancras and back (bad move, more later).

Edinburgh tram on Princes Street

I arrived on Tuesday 29th July, met Sam and had a quiet night in. Next day it was to the Mound by bus and a trip on the new tram to the stop before the Airport. The tram journey was included in my £3.50 day ticket (hooray!), but if you go all the way to the airport, which you could see from Ingliston Park & Ride, it'd cost a fiver. The trams are badly laid out for the casual viewer as the driver is so high up you can't see out the front.

  On an Edinburgh tram

 Went back all the way to York Place then popped in to the National Portrait Gallery to check out the Ruskin (with Sam's Friend card) and John Byrne (Tilda Swinton) exhibitions, use their loo and have a coffee! Walked through St Andrews Square where they were erecting a Spiegeltent for the Stand, and after a pint of Munro Mild at the Abbotsford on Rose Street met Sam and Teege to see Steen Raskopoulos at the Wee Coo (20.10), a shouty Australian with a little too much audience participation in his act for my liking. Nobody was safe!

Most pierced woman in the world

Thursday 31 July, I visited the Writers' Museum off the Royal Mile, a really interesting building, but dull exhibits, apart from the printing press at the top of the stairs (no photography allowed!). Walked down the Royal Mile and spotted Elaine Davidson, the most pierced woman in the world. Ended up at the Pleasance and got some free tickets for The only way is Downton (18.20, Pleasance Above, Luke Kempner), which I enjoyed but Sam hadn't ever seen it so was mystified. The impressions were excellent except for Richard Osman in a Pointless segment. Then it was Luke McQueen at 20.00 in Bunker Two, who did the whole act in his underpants, baked beans dribbling down his chest. This involved far too much audience being picked on, tho one punter refused to play ball!

David Shrigley at the Mound

Friday 1 August, I got the bus to the Mound and visited the Scottish National Gallery (front bit) which was given over to Generation: 25 years of Contemporary Art in Scotland. The David Shrigley room was the best tho I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the show. It continued at the Modern Art Museum, so i got the 2pm Gallery Bus (now a cramped minibus) out of town. Tip: get there early to get a seat, and it no longer stops at the Portrait Gallery.

 Gallery bus

I gave the American Impressionism show at the former Dean, now Two, a miss, checked out more Generation and had a coffee in the grounds behind the gallery. Back at the Mound, I popped in to the back bit to see the permanent collection and The Art of Golf downstairs, which had some nice railway posters in it.

Installation at the Modern Art Museum

That evening we had sushi with Belle and Adam at Kanpai, where I was presented with a customised bottle of 'Clear yer Pipes' green chilli sauce from Big Red's Chilli Company, and cocktails at Monboddo, where the cast of River City were celebrating the opening of a play 3000 Trees directed by Libby McArthur. Jimmy Chisholm from Braveheart was also there.

More to follow...


Pies, piers, canals, cruises and art, part 2

On Wednesday morning I checked my Metro app and was delighted to find that the trams were back to 'good service'. Had to pay on the bus into Bury (£2.50) as it was ridiculously early and another £7 for the return tram ride to Salford Quays. The tram cruised through Victoria station without stopping and we changed at Cornbrook for the spur into what's now known as MediaCityUK, where both the BBC and ITV have their studios. We crossed a bridge towards the Lowry and round the corner spotted the 10am ferry - Snowdrop - it was 9.30am and already full of pensioners!

The Lowry footbridge

We joined the queue to get aboard and grabbed a bit of a bench on the forward left-hand side. I got some teas in before we set off -  bacon baps were already being prepared for the breakfast rush. It was a lovely day and we went under the Lowry footbridge (all the bridges, except the high level ones, raised or swung for us), past the Imperial War Museum North and Coronation Street and into the first set of locks, Mode Wheel locks (named after Maud, according to the woman giving the running commentary). There are five sets of locks in total, and they mostly account for the predicted six-hour journey to the Mersey. Out of Manchester it was much more rural than I expected, with lots of birdlife to spot: herons, cormorants, and baby ducks having to ride out the wash.

Mode wheel locks

We passed countless swing bridges, swing aqueducts and deserted railway bridges, and after Irlam locks, we had our first glimpse of the Mersey, which would join and leave the Ship Canal several times.

The River Mersey!

Apparently building the canal had cut through several ancient rights of way, so every now and again there'd be a ferryman to take ramblers across the water in rowing boats.


Eventualy the canal widened and we saw a lot more industry - oil refineries and chemical works, one with its own island church.

Island church

 But amongst all this industry there were islands where sheep grazed, brought over in the farmer's boat. Sheep jetty

As we approached Liverpool the weather had got worse, the sun went in and it was windy and cold. Finally we reached Eastham locks, where we had to wait for an age for a ship to come in - the tide was ebbing and it'd get stuck unless we let it through. It was fascinating however to watch the tugs (all with names beginning with V) inch the Gibraltan tanker into the lock and out into the canal.

 Eastham locks

We were now at sea and heading for the Liverpool skyline in the distance. It had taken around seven hours and we just had time for a couple of pints in the Pump House at Albert Dock before getting a coach back to Salford and home to Bury. A great day out! Book your trip here.

Career seeking missile 2011

On Thursday I was heading home to Brighton, but set off early to see if I could check out the Ryan Gander exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery (it used to be called Manchester City Art Gallery but must have changed its name after pressure from United fans). I'd never heard of him until a Culture Show on tv. I got the tram to St Peter's Square (£4.10 for a single!) and the guard at the art gallery kindly let me put my case behind his desk. It was the first day of the show and the staff were still putting final touches to installations. It was fascinating however, one of those shows where you have to question everything you see. Is that crumpled piece of paper on the floor art (yes)? Is that guard (or rather Gallery Visitor Services staff member) reading a book (William Morris's News from Nowhere) art (yes!). Are you allowed to take a badge from the ice cream container (no)? Are you allowed to look behind the curtain (maybe)?

 Investigation #14 The privilege of hindsight 2010

It was only later reading the guide on the train that I noticed I'd missed one or two pieces. Luckily, the friendly guard at the door had told me of other pieces scattered about the gallery: the Degas ballerina and Yves Klein blue cube (depicting the public perception of modern art) in the entrance hall, the chess set in the Design department, so thankfully I saw most of it! So glad I did. He's a sort of Jeremy Deller or Martin Creed but with a devilish sense of humour. Loved it.

It was time to hit the train. Manchester has free circular buses so I jumped on a Metroshuttle 3 right outside the gallery that took me directly to Piccadilly station, thence to Euston and via the tube (cos the train was delayed), back to Victoria and home.


Pies, piers, canals, cruises and art, part 1

I was to be Up North for a family wedding so I though I'd stay on a few days and book myself on my first cruise - down the Manchester Ship Canal from Salford Quays (now rebranded Media City) to Liverpool pier head, on a Mersey Ferry. When I told my sister about it, she booked my brother-in-law on the same trip, the Wednesday after the wedding.

Remains of Bury Odeon!

The journey Up North on Thursday 26 June was smooth as always, although the train I was meant to be on from Euston had been cancelled due to something at Watford. The next one, via Crewe (what was that steam loco outside the Heritage Centre?), got in in time for me to have a coffee and catch the bus to Bury, detoured around Victoria station.

Valerie's Snack Bar, Bury Market

Friday I had a wander round Bury, seeing the hole where the Odeon once stood, buying a Harrington jacket (£20 compared with the £30 I paid in Brighton) and waterproof flat cap on the market, taking photos of pies, having some black peas for lunch and finishing off at th'art gallery, where a text festival was going on. Had a coffee and cake in the little cafe upstairs, then explored the new sculpture gallery that has taken over half of the library.

Bury Sculpture Gallery

Saturday was the wedding and the splendid reception was in a country house called Haigh Hall (pronounced Hay Hall) near Wigan. We didn't see much of Wigan so I thought I'd return on Monday for a look around. On Sunday I used up one of my ELR member's free rides on a round trip, pulled by 80080. The only other steamer was W^D 132 Sapper pulling a lunch special.

80080 at Rawtenstall

On Monday I caught the bus to Bolton, thence another to Wigan, via Westhaughton (where the wedding was) which made several detours round housing estates and thought I'd search out the museum before my quest to discover Wigan pier. Wigan is quite hilly and after a stop at a Wetherspoons (The moon under water) to use their facilities, eventually found the museum, which had a very small display of George Formby memorabilia. What I didn't realise until back home was that there was a statue of George in a modern shopping centre that I'd walked past!

Wigan Pier

It was a bit of a schlep to the canal, via Trencherfield Mill, which has a giant steam engine open on Sundays, but I eventually found a sign pointing me in the right direction. Wigan Pier is basically a restored 'tippler', where coal was tipped onto the barges. Having taken some snaps I thought I'd pop over to The Orwell pub across the water, but it was shut. I got a bus back to Wigan, a pint in the Wetherspoons and a quick look round the market for the famous pie stall, to no avail. Well, it was a Monday! I got a different bus back to Bolton.

Heath and Safety, Bolton

Tuesday, I returned to Bolton, but by the scenic route. I popped into Bury to find out how the Metro was running for tomorrow. The staff at the travel shop at Bury Interchange were very unhelpful, pointing to a Metro person in hi-vis who told me to check the website in the morning. Today they were terminating at Crumpsall with a replacement bus to the city centre. The Rosso 480 bus I took to Bolton took me up Walshaw Road to Greenmount, Hawkshaw and Affetside with great views. After a walk round Bolton market, I popped into the art gallery to see Naughton and Moran's Paintings of the American West - one big painting by Thomas Moran (born in Bolton) and a few etchings and watercolours plus paintings inspired by them both big and small (I preferred the smaller ones) by James Naughton. No cafe at the art gallery so I popped across the road to the Octagon Theatre for a hearty soup and cappuccino. Very soon I was besieged by academics in their robes - they were installing a new chancellor or something.

To be continued...


Hull and Beverley for Easter, part 4: to Gainsborough

Wednesday was to be a day of travelling, across the Humber Bridge by HF2 bus to Grimsby, thence by train to Lincoln and finally Gainsborough, where some of my ancestors were married. I was an hour ahead of schedule catching the bus, and the journey across the bridge was a thrill. We called in at the Humberside Airport and I got off by Grimsby station. The next train however was nearly two hours away, so i had a wander, bought a sandwich and a pint at the Wetherspoons right by the station, The Yarborough Hotel.

Humber Bridge
Across the Humber Bridge by bus
I also had time to kill at Lincoln, so wandered up and down the main street, but the view of the mighty cathedral was never as impressive as when we were coming into the station. At Gainsborough, it had started raining so I called Peter the B&B owner to pick me up. I had about an hour to catch All Saints open by my reckoning (I'm sure it said it closed at 5pm on the website) so he drove me straight there. But it was shut! I wasn't really expecting to see any Pipes evidence there but it would have been nice to see inside! It's a Georgian church, opened in 1744 - Samuel Pipes (waterman) married Sarah Cook there in 1796.

All Saints, Gainsborough
All Saints, Gainsborough
So I trudged back to the B&B, Eastbourne House, stopping off for a coffee at Cream, in the Marshall's Yard development. Now I rarely take a dislike to places but Gainsborough was an exception. The B&B was lovely, but I took a stroll by the neglected river that evening, and apart from the Old Hall, saw nothing of interest. The town centre was dead, populated only by street drinkers. I sought sanctuary in the Wetherspoons, The Sweyn Forkbeard, where I had a couple of pints and some sweet chilli noodles. Then it was back to the B&B for the final episode of Jamaica Inn.

Old Hall Gainsborough
Old Hall, Gainsborough
After a very nice breakfast, it was a lift to the station for a train to Kings X via Retford (transferring from the low level platforms to the high level). Caught the 73 bus to Victoria and had a final holiday pint at Victoria Wetherspoons, were the beer was three times the price it was Up North.

More photos on Flickr.

Hull and Beverley for Easter, part 3

On Easter Monday morning it was back to Hull, by train. I was hoping to get a bus but it was Sunday Service and the next one was a wait. Rick met me at the station and we headed off to Spurn Point, with a detour to The Holly Tea Rooms in Patrington for a light lunch. My word, the portions were generous, and the tea came with its own matching set of crocks. I was mystified by the Xmas decorations, but then I got it - Holly! Well worth a detour.

Light lunch at Holly Tea Rooms
The last time I came to Spurn Point (the second geographical extremity of the week) you could drive right down to the lighthouse, but not any more. You have to park up and walk. Soon the road runs out and there's just a sand bank, accessible only by 4x4s. Debris from the wartime defences is scattered everywhere, plus the remains of wooden breakwaters meant to tame the North Sea.

Road to Spurn
The road to nowhere
Spurn Point
Just a sand bar separates the North Sea from the River Humber
Breakwater broken
Remains of wooden breakwaters
After a bracing walk to this breach, we returned to a welcome cup of tea in the Blue Bell Nature reserve cafe and back to Hull via the huge Centrica gas terminal and Withernsea. I wanted to see Holderness Road, as one of my ancestors Thomas Pipes lived there, according to the 1851 census. We also did a detour round the rather attractive Garden Village behind Holderness House. Hull has many parks! Thence back to Rick's for fish curry.

Ella Street birds
An Ella Street bird
Tuesday morning we travelled into Hull to visit the Ferens Art Gallery, which has a fine collection of Victorian and Edwardian paintings, and a great modern collection too. The Hull Open was on, and there were some items I wouldn't mind having on my walls. On the way we checked out The Street of Birds and Shadows, Ella Street, where Rick used to live. There are plenty of metal birds to spot all along the way.

Art Galleries often have good cafes, and this was no exception. Rick dropped me off at the Hull History Centre, where I had to deposit my bag and get a temporary readers ticket to study the directories (only pencils allowed). I found no trace of Thomas Pipes but a librarian (?) suggested he lived by a steam mill (he was a stoker, and I'd always assumed that was aboard a ship) crushing linseed. Bell's Mill was the best candidate, but it wasn't named on any of the maps. Just as I was leaving, she found a book on Holderness Road which had more info on Bell's oil mill, more grist for David Pipes in Kent, our family historian,  to digest!

Hull and Beverley for Easter, part 2

After the Clarion AGM proper on the Saturday (see Ian's report here), we assembled outside the hotel for a town tour, led by Paul Schofield. We started by almost reaching the North Bar Gate, then turning round and heading for the distant Minster, with several short detours. Beverley is to Hull, like Lewes is to Brighton: ancient, sleepy and a little bit posh!

North Bar Gate, Beverley
The Medieval North Bar Gate, Beverley
Now, I'd assumed that we'd pop into St Mary's church to look at the white rabbit carving said to have inspired Lewis Carroll, but we didn't. And I could have done it independently earlier but decided to read my paper instead. Bad mistake… it was open only for services on Easter Sunday and closed on Monday! There were however some grotesque heads to look at around the various doors.

Head on St Mary's church, Beverley
Anyway, we learnt a lot about the lost pubs of Beverley and were encouraged to look for public art, including the 'trades' series, celebrating the occupations of former times carried on here abouts. See if you can find all the thimbles!

Street art in Beverley
Street art in Beverley
We walked through Saturday Market and Wednesday Market (which was working on Saturday) and finally arrived at the Minster, via the Priory - our guide's favourite building, now a YHA - where we were left to our own devices. I popped into the Minster for a look round and spotted some carvings of musicians. I found out later that one is supposed to pay 3 quid for a photo license. The Minster is impressively gothic and one of the finest examples in the country.

Beverley Minster
Beverley Minster
On the way back I had a very nice pint of Worksop stout in the Chequers Micropub, a pop-up in a 60s shopping square.

The Chequers micropub
Chequers Micropub, Beverley
Back in my 4th floor single room watching tv, there was a knock on my door. It was the manager and she'd had reports of flooding in the room below me. We looked in the bathroom and it was awash… it looked like the lever tap had been dribbling down itself and round the back of the basin. The upshot was that I was upgraded to a double room on the first floor - Room 101! In the evening we had a barn dance and buffet at the hotel.

From the top of Flamborough Head
On Sunday, after the group photo, Sue drove Ian and I to Flamborough Head, where we walked to the very edge, past the lighthouse and the radio station. The problem with being atop the Head is that you can't see it, and I was not about to be doing any leaning over the edge! After a cup of cappuccino at the cafe there, we drove back via Bridlington and Hornsea. That evening, after another trip to Nellie's for an Organic Chocolate Stout, it was the prize giving (the Clarion has lots of fine trophies, but we didn't win any!) and formal dinner with speeches and cross toasting.

Many more photos on Flickr.


Hull and Beverley for Easter, part 1

People laughed when I said I was going to Hull for Easter, in fact they were rather sniffy about the place. But I like it, it's a bit like Liverpool used to be, and when it's City of Culture in 2017 I hope it will get the appreciation it deserves. In fact, my excuse for travelling there was the Clarion Cycling Club AGM in nearby Beverley, being held in Yorkshire twice in a row.

Me and Larkin at the station
Larkin about at Hull station
I travelled up the day before to avoid the Good Friday madness and stayed with my old college chum Rick, who recently relocated southerly from the leafy Avenues to the still leafy Dukeries area, backing on to a very leafy cemetery. That night we ate seafood in a swanky restaurant, Bait, on up-and-coming Princes Avenue.

Scale Lane Bridge, Hull
Scale Lane Bridge, over the River Hull
Next morning, after a walk round the Old Town to see the new Scale Lane bridge, a giant apostrophe or comma that swivels around, we negotiated the walkways around the tidal barrier and the Deep, to pop into the bohemian Thieving Harry's for soup and coffee. It's a pop-up in an old fruit market building, and the boarded-up shop from which Rick's dad used to import Mediterranean produce was just around the corner nestling between an art gallery and the Museum of Club Culture.

Thieving Harry's
Thieving Harry's cafe
Then it was a lift to Beverley, via Westwood - an area of grass and undulating woodland - to let Lisa's dog Ronnie run around and do tricks with two frisbees. They dropped me off at the Beverley Arms Hotel, where I met up with the Brighton Clarionettes Ian, Sue and Bob. We sloped off after the Mayor's reception to eat at Figaro's a big italian near a car park, via the White Horse Inn aka Nellie's (more on this wonderful establishment later), for a pizza so big I couldn't finish it!

The White Horse aka Nellies
The White Horse, aka Nellie's


Cuba: days 8 and 9 - Havana and home

John Lennon statue attendant

Day 8: Thursday 20 February 2014
The breakfast at Hotel Occidental Miramar wasn't as chaotic as on the first day, when there were no plates or cups, maybe it was the late start that worked in our favour. Today was the walking tour of Havana's Old Town, but first a detour to John Lennon Park. Now this is what I love about Cuba: People (tourists?) kept nicking John Lennon's spex so they employed a guy to put them on him every time someone wants their photo taken. This guy must be the richest man in Cuba. Every 20 minutes or so a coach full of tourists arrives and each tourist tips him say 1 cuc. Now a cuc (convertible tourist peso) is worth 60p to you or me but 24 times that in local pesos! So he must make at least 20 quid for every coach arriving… Simple pricing in Cuba: 1 cuc buys you a bottle of water, 2 cuc a beer, 3 cuc a mojito!

Loco museum outside Central Station

We then headed to Central Station, where in the park outside are several retired locos and a herd of wild cats. We also passed three other locos on the way and I'm not sure whether this was a treat for me, or a regular part of the tourist trail. Anyway I had a quick peep inside the station too and spotted a big old diesel loco. Not much in the way of train activity however.

Loco museum outside Central Station

The coach dropped us off at Plaza de San Francisco and immediately we were surrounded by caricaturists and women in national costume, all wanting our cash. Rob very kindly forked out 5 cuc for a drawing of me done surreptitiously by a woman with gold teeth and Mick got nabbed by the ladies.

Mick gets nabbed by Havana ladies

We saw the President's railway carriage, but didn't go in - you had to pay, and the restored Plaza Viega, with its giant cock statue and the only microbrewery pub in town, Factoria Plaza Viega, sadly it was too early to get a drink - it opened at 12 noon.

Rob and Amanda at the giant cock

At the cigar shop I bought the cheapest they had, a Romeo y Julieta No. 2 at 6 cuc.  We had lunch of tuna toasties and mojito on the roof terrace of the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Ernie Hemingway lived, transported upwards by an ancient iron lift complete with wise-cracking attendant. We then had some free time and I bought some space stamps in the Plaza de Armas, where there was a market of booksellers all around the square. At the allotted time, we headed to the cathedral to meet up with Tony, our tour guide.

Tony at Havana cathedral

I was intrigued by how many cannons there were used as bollards (in Trinidad too), and the strange 'green man' letterboxes everywhere.


Then it was back to the hotel to say goodbye to those travelling on the earlier direct flight with Virgin, those staying on, but in Old Town casas, and our tour guide, mechanic and driver. At 6.30 we got a taxi to the airport to be greeted by mayhem at check-in, with people pushing and shoving to get in a queue, but once through security the departure hall was pleasant enough. Had a beer and bought a bottle of Havana Club Anejo Especial for 5.95 cuc, then it was the long tedious Airbus flight back - only 8 hours this time cos the wind was behind us!

Cuban space stamps

Day 9: Friday 21 February 2014
At Madrid, we ran to catch the connection - a rather more pleasant flight in a Brazilian Embraer 195 (EC-KRJ), which felt more like a private jet, whose route took us over Brighton. Back at Gatwick we discovered that our cases had stayed in Madrid, so after some form filling, came home on the train in the freezing cold in just a short-sleeved shirt and shorts! My case was delivered the very next day, door-to-door!

Tons more photos on Flickr.