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Bristol - Gatwick - Oslo - Evenes - Risøyhamn

Heading for the cold north


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Thursday 14th November 2019 Bristol - Gatwick

Originally booked for February this year, we had to cancel when my dad was very poorly. Fast forward to November, and we are on our way, with our good friend and fellow photographer, Lyn.

Our flight is early in the morning from London Gatwick, so we stay in the Premier Inn at the airport the night before. As Lyn was working today (these poor people who are not yet retired!), we get there late, and go almost straight to dinner.

While the waiter is dishy (and way too young for me unfortunately), the food is just passable. Both Lyn and I have the Hunter's Chicken, which is very much on the small side and served with too small a portion of BBQ sauce. Never mind, we are having churros for dessert, a firm favourite. What a disappointment! They are cold and chewy. We are offered another portion, or a free drink to compensate, but decide to call it a day.

Friday 15th November 2019 Gatwick – Oslo – Evenes - Risøyhamn

We are always excited when we get a new experience on our travels, but this is a first I could definitely have done without: I spend the entire night awake, just lying there, staring at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to catch up with me. It doesn't. At all. All night. I am hanging this morning.

With valet parking arranged, they picked the car up last night, so all we have to do is walk across to the airport this morning.

Self check in is easy. Or at least it is when the young man comes over and does it for us. We are now finally on our way. We are pleasantly surprised that we are able to check the luggage in all the way to Northern Norway despite the second leg being a domestic flight.

The first flight is reasonably painless, it is not full and we are able to spread out a little. There are two large groups on the plane, one of which I assume is a large Indian family, and the other is a number of Caribbean Africans who speak a form of Creole or Patois.

Transfer at Gardemoen (Oslo), however, is anything but painless. Mrs Hitler at Security wants everything out. All the cameras. All the batteries. She could do with a personality transplant as she tuts and sighs when we are not fast enough for her liking, and I put my stuff in the basket she is trying to grab. We still make it to the gate in plenty of time.

Arrival at Evenes is very low key. By the time we get to the luggage carousel, the bags are already going round. Mine and David's. We wait for Lyn's. And wait. And wait. When there are no more bags arriving and the belt stops, the realisation that her case has not made it sinks in.

We head for the Service counter to report it missing, where we are lucky to go straight up to the waiting staff. By the time we have finished explaining when we last saw it, what it looks like, what flight we were on, and given our forwarding address to the young trainee whose typing speed must have been around one word per minute; a long queue has formed behind us. We are given a receipt with a telephone number and told that the case will be sent on to Andenes this evening where we can either collect it or it will be delivered tomorrow.

Meanwhile, David has arranged our hire car, and we walk down the dark slippery pavement to the car park, where the car is not only waiting for us, unlocked; the engine, and more importantly, heater, is on.

We're on our way.

Our first stop is the local convenience store, part of a petrol station, in order to buy some food for the next 24 hours. There is very little choice, the store is full of chocolate, crisps and other snacks, but as for 'meals', frozen pizza is about the only thing they have.

Despite it only being around 4pm by this stage, it is pitch black, and we can't see much as we make our way to the first accommodation.

Hjerterom i Andøy

Half an hour before we are about to arrive at the house, I ring the owner. I speak to him in Norwegian and he answers me back in Norwegian. We are clearly speaking two different Norwegians, and I spend the entire conversation asking him to repeat what he said. Eventually I have to admit that I have spent 45 years abroad and my Norwegian is somewhat rusty. It is not, but the 'dialect' they speak in this part of Norway might as well be a foreign language.

We find the house without problem thanks to the Garmin Sat Nav we brought with us from home, and are given a guided tour by Ole-Robin, the owner.

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On the ground floor is a large lounge-diner, a sizeable kitchen-diner, another small lounge area, the bathroom and one of the bedrooms.

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Lounge area

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Dining area

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Kitchen-diner

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The other small sitting room

Up some dangerously steep stairs are another three bedrooms. I now understand why there is a bucket in the bathroom named “potty”. There is no way I would want to climb those stairs in the middle of the night – they are lethal!

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Tonight is cloudy with no chance of seeing the Northern Lights, so we settle in for the night with a few drinks and the pizza we bought earlier.

Posted by Grete Howard 13:31 Archived in Norway Tagged oslo flight stairs norway norwegian churros gatwick lost_luggage risøyhamn premier_inn valet_parking vesteralen norwegian_airlines evenes gardemoen hire_car hjerterom_i_andøy andøya Comments (5)

Makasutu - Banjul - Gatwick - Home

Going home


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I lay awake in my bed early this morning, listening to the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer before daybreak. The first rays of daylight brings with them screeching plantain eaters flying through the camp, pigeons cooing in the rafters, quarrelsome crows in the tree tops and the chattering of many small birds. Makasutu Forest is awake once more. I shall miss this.

We wander around the hotel grounds before breakfast, enjoying the whimsical architecture and meandering paths overlooking the mangrove and mud flats. In addition to the four floating lodges, Mandina has Jungle lodges, a Stilted Lodge and a Mangrove Lodge – each room being individually designed.

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The pool

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Reception area

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Breakfast

We travel to the airport with three other Brits in a mini bus, and on the track leading to the main road we encounter many children running alongside the bus. One of the tourists has bought a large box of sweets which she is throwing out of the window to them. Not only is she encouraging the children to beg rather than go to school, she is putting their lives at risk by them getting too close to the moving vehicle. The driver is getting more and more angry and shouting out to the kids. The woman's husband tries to involve me in the hope of getting some support. Wrong move. Telling him exactly what I think of the practice doesn't sit too well with him and he tries to justify it by telling me he doesn't approve of people “flashing at dinner” (referring to me taking pictures of us and food). I shrug and reply “fair enough”, letting the conversation die right there.

Banjul has a new airport building which is almost finished. It looks very different to how it looked last time we came in 1996. We check in our luggage in the new terminal, but have to walk across to the old terminal for security and passport control. There is a long queue snaking its way through the covered area and out into the sun.

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Bottles confiscated at security

The departure lounge in the old terminal building hasn't changed much over the years, it still looks more like a cafeteria than an airport, with a large outside seating area.

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The flight is full of British school children – three separate classes from what I can gather. They are mostly well behaved, and on landing they give the pilot an enthusiastic applause that goes on and on with cheering and whooping.

The flight lands at 22:30, and with a 3.5 hour drive back from Gatwick, we have decided to spend the night at the airport before driving back home tomorrow. We quickly grab a few things for a 'room picnic' from M&S before trying to locate the Premier Inn next to the terminal.

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And so ends another Howard holiday.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:02 Archived in Gambia Tagged hotel airport africa gate gatwick banjul gambia premier_inn the_gambia mandina_lodges makasutu mandina airprot_transfer water_bottles desparture room_picnic Comments (6)

Home to Gatwick

The Gambia here we come


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After having to cancel our trip to Norway recently while looking after my terminally ill father: culminating in his death at the end of a long and stressful period of our lives; I felt the need to book something. Anything. I didn't want to have to spend time planning a 'proper' adventure, but I did want to go somewhere reasonably exotic. Having contemplated a return to The Gambia a couple of times in recent years (we first visited in 1996), it seemed a perfect destination: hot, sunny, relaxing, comfortable, friendly, excellent bird watching and not too long a flight.

So here we are, in the car on the way to Gatwick for an overnight stay before our early morning flight tomorrow.

Premier Inn at Gatwick Manor

After checking in to the hotel, we crack open a bottle of something alcoholic in the room (we do like to have a little tipple while we are getting ready) before sauntering down for an early dinner. We find there are no vacant tables in the restaurant, but the bar is reasonably empty, so we eat our food there instead.

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With mostly traditional pub dishes on the menu, I choose carefully. It is not that I don't like traditional food, but when I go out to eat I prefer to have dishes that I would not normally have at home.

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Very tasty mushrooms in Stilton and black peppercorn sauce on toasted sour dough bread for starter.

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Battered halloumi and chips. One of my frustrations with classic pub menus is that so much of it is deep fried (why not just simply grill the halloumi rather than adding extra grease and calories?) and most things seem to be served with chips, which I am not overly keen on.

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David, having more of a traditional palate than me, chooses pie and chips for his main course.

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My choux bun with Prosecco strawberries is disappointing. The berries appear to have come out of a tin and there is too much cream for my liking. David fares much better with his apple and sultana crumble with a hint of cinnamon. As usual David asks for custard and ice cream, but unlike most other places we have eaten over the last few years, he get charged extra for one of them.

Almost as soon as we have finished eating, we retire to the room to make sure we get some sleep before tomorrow's early start. Watch this space for further updates from The Gambia.

Posted by Grete Howard 09:36 Archived in England Tagged dinner gatwick gambia premier_inn gatwick_manor the_gambia pub_food halloumi pie_and_chips Comments (2)

Carlisle - Badluarach

We've finally arrived at The Wee Barn


View In search of the Hairy Coo - Scottish Highlands 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We decide to forego the full English breakfast at the Premier Inn this morning, and just make do with some fresh fruit from Tesco. Cheaper and better for the diet.

After yesterday's traffic jam, we have some very pleasurable motoring today, and we soon find ourselves entering Scotland. Damn, I forgot my passport!

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Look at these empty roads! What a change from yesterday!

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On the way I spot a couple of amusing road signs.

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Arria

The 10 metre high sculpture, nicknamed "Angel of the Nauld", overlooks the M80 just north of Auchenkilns. The female sculpture's large swooping arcs from her hands to her dress are based on the Gaelic name for Cumbernauld, “comar nan allt”, which translates as “the meeting of the waters”. Not quite sure how that follows, but so the story goes. The sculpture, created by Andy Scott of Kelpies fame, is part of the Cumbernauld Positive Image Project's aim “to create a distinctive image of Cumbernauld; increase residents’ pride in their town; raise awareness across Scotland of Cumbernauld’s attractiveness as a destination to live, work and play; create a sense of place and provide a positive statement about the town. Again I am not sure how this sculpture plays a role here, but she is pleasant enough to look at as we glide past on our way further north.

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Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder

We park in the centre of Pitlochry town and follow the signs to the dam and visitors centre on foot. The road leads through the town, down a hill, under a bridge, along a narrow lane, up another hill and down a slope before it gets to a dedicated car park for the visitors centre. Doh. At least we get a little bit of exercise rather than driving to the nearest car park. We have spent enough time in the car the last couple of days.

I am officially intrigued by the Fish Ladder, as although I do understand that it facilitates salmon to travel upstream during breeding season, I have never actually seen one.

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But first we stop for coffee and cake in the modern visitors centre overlooking the hydroelectric plant.

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We walk across specially constructed walkways from one bank of the river to the other (not the one shown in the photo below), and although the power plant is certainly impressive, it's the reflections in the loch that first and foremost grab my attention.

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Hydro-electricity is produced using the power of running water to turn the turbines in the power station.

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Once we reach the fish ladder on the opposite bank, I have a feeling we have seen something similar before, possibly in Madeira in 2003. Either way, it is a pretty cool idea.

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This is how it works: each of the 34 tiered pools has an opening below water level to allow fish to swim through to the next level. The ladder is even equipped with a fish counter (the sort that counts each fish, not sells fillets) so they can monitor the success of the ladder. Some 250,000 salmon have climbed those stairs since the ladder was first opened in 1952. That is very impressive.

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I continue taking photos of the dam and surroundings while David goes back into town to collect the car. He's a good man.

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Cairngorms

We head for the hills of the Cairngorms (a mountain range and national park in Scotland) to find somewhere to have our picnic.

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This will do for a picnic

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Not a bad view

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Cowboy Caviar (mixed bean salad) with chicken and Southwest Sauce

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We are fascinated to find, as we make our way even further north on smaller roads, that each layby is identified by a number. I have not seen that anywhere else. There are plenty of them too, something that we come to appreciate a lot as the week goes on.

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Hmm, but not today...

Highland cattle

As you may have noticed, I have called this blog “In search of the Hairy Coo”. 'Hairy coo' is of course the local slang for the adorable long-haired Highland Cattle. There are two reasons for this – I was tasked with getting some photos of me petting a highland cow by my friend Kay; and also because it reminds me very much of my first visit to Scotland in 1974 with my parents. My mum adored these cute bovine animals and used to call them 'hippy cows'.

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'Pretend' Hairy Coo at the Ralia Highland Gateway Centre where we stop for a pee break.

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Apparently, cuddling a metal coo doesn't count.

Sat Nav

Mid afternoon the Sat Nav dies, meaning we have to revert to the old fashioned way of finding our way using a map. Those of you who know me well, will realise that it is not a good idea to leave me to do the navigating while map reading. Not only do I get my lefts and rights mixed up, my sense of direction is so poor that I can get lost in my own back garden.

Let's hope we make it to the cabin this evening without too many detours and without having a major falling-out.

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Love the roads and the scenery!

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Loch Droma

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The further north we get (and nearer our cabin), the narrower the road gets.

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We find the turning off the main road without any major drama, despite me map reading, although I fear the credit has to go to David, who has a photographic memory when it comes to maps: once he has seen the route on a map, he can drive there.

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The Wee Barn

I booked this holiday on a whim a few weeks ago. We have been talking about visiting Scotland for a while now, but no actual plans, and certainly not this year. I thought I would just do an internet search to give me some idea of costs, and then I saw The Wee Barn and fell in love. Ten minutes later I had booked it.

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The Wee Barn is in what you could safely call a remote location. Some two miles down a single track road with a handful of other houses, a post box and telephone kiosk, It is situated down the lane leading to the landing where ferries take passengers across Little Loch Broom to the smattering of houses the other side. Surrounded by countryside on three side and water on the fourth, the setting is idyllic.

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The cabin itself is small, of course (there is a huge hint in the name), but more than adequate for us, with a living room / dining room and a very well equipped kitchen.

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As well as a bedroom and bathroom, the entrance hall has a comfy chair and a well stocked bookcase.

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Once we have unpacked, I whip up a quick dinner of cold Black Forest ham, scrambled eggs and roasted tomatoes.

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After dinner a settle down to relax, but David has other ideas, and suggests going out for a short drive. I shall make that the subject of the next blog entry however.

Posted by Grete Howard 04:16 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland salmon road_trip sculpture seal deer motorway highland_cow pitlochry cairngorms road_signs premier_inn arria angel_of_the_nauld auchenkilns cumbernauld andy_scott power_station hydro_electric fish_ladder hary_coo sika_deer red_deer harbour_seal Comments (3)

Home - Carlisle

A slow start to our Scotland Adventure

-50 °C
View In search of the Hairy Coo - Scottish Highlands 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Although we booked this trip some months ago, it wasn't until the very last minute (two days before departure to be exact), that we actually decided we were going to go. As many of you will know, my dad was very poorly recently, and we were unsure whether we were going to be able to get away at all.

Anyway, here we are, setting off for the long drive to Bonnie Scotland.

Apologies for the quality of today's photos, they are all taken with my mobile phone.

Motorway Madness

It doesn't start well. Just outside Birmingham we hit the first traffic jam. We see two fire engines, an ambulance and the Incident Manager go past. Oh dear, I hope it is not serious. At least we are just delayed, we are not involved in the 'incident'.

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Without notice, the traffic starts to move again and within seconds we are up to normal speed, with no sign of the incident that slowed us to a stand-still in the first place. How very odd.

It doesn't last long, however, and soon we are slowing right down again. This is when motorbikes come into their own – we see the whole chapter of Satan's Slaves go past, some 50+ bikers, weaving their way in and out of the lines of slow-moving cars.

Leaving the M5 and joining the M42, we arrive into another stationary traffic jam.

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Once we're on the M6, the story is the same – another load of slow moving traffic! There is one benefit: we may not be going anywhere fast, but at least we are getting in excess of 75 miles per gallon.

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Picnic lunch

The plan was to come off the motorway to find a small, rural place to have a leisure lunch in the countryside, but as we are making such slow progress, we are concerned about the distance we still have to travel, so pull into a Motorway Service Station where we have a car-picnic in the car park. Not quite the same.

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Without notice the Sat Nav decides to give up the ghost, forcing us to get out an old-fashioned map. Thankfully, the further north we go, the less traffic there is, and David is a master navigator anyway, with a non-rivalled memory for routes.

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Premier Inn and Beefeater at Carlisle

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Finally, after over eight hours on the road (the journey should have taken us 4½ hours), we eventually arrive at our overnight stop in Carlisle, where a very welcome drink awaits the driver.

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I ask for a pint of Morgan's Spiced and Coke (four measures topped up with Diet Coke). It goes down well.

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We both have fillet steak, mine with a salad and David's with chips.

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I'll drink to that!

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So much for being good and only having a salad with my steak: a churros sundae with a large Tia Maria isn't going to do my diet any good!

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When it comes to paying, we are really pleased when the waitress lets us use a discount code from an out-of-date voucher that doesn't even include steaks! Double success!

Full of good food and drink, we retire to bed ready for another long drive tomorrow.

Posted by Grete Howard 12:45 Archived in Scotland Tagged map cider birmingham steak sat_nav beefeater carlisle traffic_jam premier_inn churros_sundae tia_maria morgan's_spiced Comments (1)

Bristol - London - Istanbul - Muscat

Let the adventure begin


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Sunday 11th February 2018

Premier Inn, Heathrow

Our second attempt at travelling to Oman (being hospitalised with pneumonia saw us cancelling this same trip last year) starts with an overnight stay in a Premier Inn at Heathrow. We do enjoy getting our holidays off to a leisurely start, especially when we have an early morning flight the following day.

At the Thyme restaurant, we enjoy a nice dinner, a few drinks and in my case, a bit of eye candy in the form of the cute Spanish waiter, Pedro.

Grete: “I am enjoying the view”
David: “You are old enough to be his grandmother”

Oh well, a girl can dream...

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A nice fruity cider

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David prefers the regular apple flavour

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Firecracker noodles with chicken - delicious

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David's chicken escalope with sweet potato fries

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David looks lovingly at his liqueur coffee

Monday 12th February 2018

For some reason I never sleep well the first night away on any trip, and this one is no exception.

FlyDrive Meet and Greet

The car is covered in frost as we make our way from the hotel to the terminal building at Heathrow. We have booked a Valet Parking service, but struggle to find the right entrance to the parking area. As we pull off the main road, there are three gates leading to the car park, but only the one barrier on the far right leads to the floor we need to be on, something we realise too late. After the expensive mistake (£4 charge to get out after driving around the 2nd and 3rd floor realising we are in the wrong place), we drive around the block twice before finally locating the right entrance. Third time lucky.

The car parking people were supposed to have called us half an hour before our expected arrival time, but they didn't; and when we try to phone them, the line just goes dead. To add insult to injury, when we do finally find the attendants on the 4th floor, they have no record of our booking. This does not bode well.

Heathrow Terminal 2

We leave the car with them and check in for our flight, then head for some breakfast.

While taking my order, the chatty young waiter asks if I want to add some “beans, bacon, massage..”?

“Massage? Ooh, yes please!”

“Sausage madam, sausage”

Oh dear, you can't take me anywhere.

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Scrambled egg and smoked salmon. Not a sausage (or massage) in sight

London - Istanbul

The plane carrying us on the second leg of our journey from Heathrow to Istanbul appears to have been built for midgets, as I don't even have room to put my legs straight, they have to go either side of the backrest in front.

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Istanbul Airport

At the Security check in Istanbul, the guard asks me where I am going.
“Muscat”
“Where is that?”
“Oman”
“You are going to Oman? On holiday?”

Istanbul airport consists of long, seemingly endless, corridors, with no information boards to indicate which gate we should be heading for to catch our connecting flight. We finally reach the food court, and as we have plenty of time here (we deliberately caught an earlier flight from London as we have missed connections a few times in the past), we grab a bite to eat and drink at the amusingly named Tickerdaze Restaurant.

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Chicken fajita at the front, David's mixed fajita at the back. Very nice they are too

Istanbul - Muscat

We strike lucky on the flight from Istanbul to Oman, snagging a complete row to ourselves, meaning we can spread out with a spare seat in the middle. There is also a bit more legroom on this plane, making for a much more enjoyable flight.

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Muscat Airport

First we join a long queue to purchase our visa, then for immigration. At least the line is shorter than the one for the 'pre-arranged visas', which consists mainly of migrant workers, predominantly from the Indian subcontinent. Apparently, 800,000 of the 4 million inhabitants in Oman are Indians, something that has influenced the Omani culture (especially food) much more than I realised. More about that in future blog entries.

Surprisingly, there are no questions about "how long", "where", "why" etc. when we get to the immigration counter; we sail straight through to the baggage reclaim area where our luggage is already waiting for us. It is all very civilised, and once we're through the X-ray, our driver is waiting to take us to our hotel in Muscat.

Al Falaj Hotel, Muscat

The hotel is expecting us and once we've completed the form and they've copied our passports, the porter shows us to our room. It is now 03:30, but as we are both wide awake, we break open the Duty Free rum and raid the minibar for Coke and Pringles.

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Welcome to Oman.

Apologies for the poor quality photographs, all taken with my mobile phone.

Posted by Grete Howard 09:58 Archived in Oman Tagged flights oman heathrow muscat duty_free london_heathrow undiscovered_destinations turkish_airways premier_inn istanbul_airport flydrive valet_parking al_falaj_hotel captain_morgan Comments (2)

Home - Gatwick

On our way to yet another trip

I hadn’t originally planned on including this day in my Moldova blog, but as a couple of amusing incidents happened, now that it is time to write it all up, I have changed my mind; so here goes:

In order to avoid an early start and any hassle associated with long distance motorway travel in the UK, we decided to drive up to Gatwick the day before and stay in a hotel. After checking in to the Premier Inn near the airport, we head straight for the outside bar to enjoy a pint of cider (or two) in the warm summer’s evening.

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Also in the beer garden are a table of ‘virgins’ - air stewardesses from a well-known airline. They completely freak out when a few wasps are attracted to their food; screaming, waiving their arms about and running around like demented beings. Their hysteria is complete when the resident cat saunters over to check out their dinner. The girls abandon their table, complete with plates of half-eaten food, and seek safety from the dangerous beasts of Surrey inside the pub. Hmm. This is the calibre of people we have to rely on to be calm, efficient, and business-like in the case of an emergency on a flight?

This is our third visit to Gatwick Manor, and we are not sure whether to be flattered or worried that the restaurant manager still remembers us, especially as it is four years since we last came! We must have made quite an impression.

I often find appetisers are more interesting than entrées on the menu; so like many times before, I choose three starters rather than a first and second course.

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STILTON & PEPPERCORN MUSHROOMS - Sautéed button mushrooms on a garlic toasted muffin with peppercorn & buttermilk sauce. Topped with crumbled Stilton.

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KOREAN-STYLE PULLED CHICKEN dressed in a hot red pepper sauce. Served on noodles with red onion, soya beans and red pepper in a soy, lime & chilli sauce. Finished with sesame seeds and a honey & chipotle dressing...... and ..... CARIBBEAN-STYLE PORK MINI RIBS, slow-cooked and served in a sweet and spiced jerk marinade. Accompanied with cooling kale coleslaw and a jerk barbecue dip.

David is more of a traditionalist, and after his Stilton and peppercorn mushrooms, he has SLOW-COOKED LAMB SHOULDER, cooked for 8 hours and served with mashed potato, buttered seasonal vegetables and a rich red wine sauce.

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For dessert, David predictably chooses the apple and blackberry crumble with custard and ice cream.

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I, on the other hand, go for the cheese plate.

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Having eaten – and drunk – too much, and with the room being way too hot, sleep evades me, and I toss and turn throughout a restless night.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:54 Archived in England Tagged food restaurant airport drink cat pub virgin cider gatwick wasps premier_inn gatwick_manor Comments (2)

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