Monthly Archives: November 2017

Road trip from Stavanger to Trondheim in 2 days

I knew it would be a nutty exploit driving 1,100-kilometres (around 684 miles) in two days along Norway‘s coastal road. So why did I do it?

Well, it wasn’t for the weather. It drizzled most of the time with the sun taking a sneaky tantalising peak through the clouds every so often. The elements teased right through to sundown at 11pm – a late sunset is a a quirk of Norway’s daylight cycle during the summer months.

It wasn’t a boozy trip either as a humble pint of beer knocks you back £12 and with just over 5 million people in a space as large as the UK, the nightlife was not exactly heaving.

And forget about the romance of negotiating winding roads at speed – the 80km/h (50 miles) limit is strictly adhered to and without any specific fine range, a speeding fine could empty the bank coffers.

Yet there are some compelling reasons: the roads are utterly superb – a sure sign of the expense and attention paid to the infrastructure – the scenery of fjords, waterfalls, mountains and lavish greenery is exceptional and with six road-ferry combo experiences peppered throughout the road trip from Stavanger to Trondheim, you get to see different perspectives of the scenery from the water.

You may also like: From Oslo to Bergen, and the spectacular scenery in between

Ferry Crossing
Ferry crossing
So, I picked up my 2-wheel drive Mazda CX-3 in Stavanger the evening before – a car which for a mildly nervous driver like myself – seemed solid enough to steer me through some hair-pin strewn mountain roads and narrow tunnels.

Click on the image to enlarge:

The lake in Stavanger with birds
The lake in Stavanger with birds
White clapper board homes in Stavanger
White clapper board homes
With so much daylight I explored Stavanger that first evening. It’s a handsome town with a pretty harbour, wavy streets lined with white clapperboard homes. There’s a pretty lake too replete with swans, seagulls, ducks and some loitering sparrows that broke out into a frenzy at the mere hint of any bread being thrown their way.

Read also: 48 hours in Stavanger, Norway

In the morning I awoke with the birds around 5am for an early 6am start for the first leg of the trip to Loen. I braved the drizzle and got into the car with a trusty breakfast pack in hand, which I learned was a highly-prized provision since there was not a single eatery along the way other than at the odd petrol station and possibly at campervan resorts.

Early morning ferry
Getting on the ferry
The ferry crossings were regular and efficient and my early start meant being able to avoid the deluge of campervans and inevitable queues that hit the road slightly later in the day.

The roads were incredibly smooth and I passed miles and miles of rocky or lavish emerald green terrain and mountains rising into low hanging clouds. It was haunting yet beautiful all at once.

BA i360 Observation Tower

Last year the Brighton Eye (akin to the London Eye) was replaced as a seafront landmark in Brighton by the British Airways i360, a 162-metre-tall vertical tower. It is located on the site of the derelict West Pier that was burned down by fire in 2003. You can still see the ruins of the pier straggling in the water just beyond.

Some have dubbed the observation pod the “donut” due to its shape, while others have been known to refer to it as something far cheekier (best left unquoted). However you call it, there is no doubt that this is a huge feat of engineering.

Taking off in the BA i360 in Brighton
Taking off in the BA i360
This is, afterall, the world’s tallest moving observation tower with an observation pod built around a central column. It is in fact a fully enclosed futuristic glass observation pod that gently lifts (the movement is hardly discernible) up to 200 people to a height of 138 metres.

Click on the image to enlarge

BAi360 pod host looking at view
BAi360 pod host looking at view
BAi360 pod and toll booth
BAi360 pod and toll booth
I couldn’t wait to have a go in it when it first opened but whenever I happened to visit Brighton, the i360 was closed on some technicality or other. The gremlins are long gone and I finally got to experience the BA “flight” last week.

Checking into the BA i360
Like any flight, you have to check in, collect your ticket and go through security – a sort of airport light version – a process that is guided by staff dressed in BA livery. Once passed security you get to sit on deck chairs as you watch the previous flight land. It’s quite extraordinary.

Inside the BA i360
Straddled by two BA staff, the doors slowly slide open and passengers are shown into a very spacious 360 degree observation deck. There are some banquettes for those that need to sit but most like to walk around and visually drink in the views over Brighton from various perspectives. As the pod rises the views inevitably become ever more expansive across the sea, both sides of the beach and way into the city and beyond over the Downs.

It is a serene experience with the odd chatter in the background unless, of course, you get on with groups of kids, so be sure to ask which flights are free from school outings.

Though the flight lasts around 20 minutes, it seems all over far too soon and I hardly had enough time to sip the champagne I liberated from the pod Sky Bar.

Blanco Beach

The Algarve is loved by holiday makers for its light blue skies, amazing sun light (I swear it has its own shade) and its golden beaches. And tranquillity.

But now you can ditch the peace and quiet and pump up the volume at the Blanco Beach Club. This newcomer to the Portimão beach adds a new dimension to day life and indeed the al fresco night life with its house-party-within-a-beach-club scenario that Nathanial the oh-so trendy head host says “will be the local answer to Ibiza”.

This is a top notch beach club looking fresh in its white-washed decor created by the elusive entrepreneur Maximillian White – hence the name Blanco. There’s a “guest” list and if you are on it (easily done; you pay the entry fee or hire a bed in advance) and you get to enter into another world armed with a defining wrist band.

There are security guards (bless them for being diligent) and a doorman-cum-bouncer. All necessary stuff in a place like this, but perhaps tone down the bouncer act a bit?

Inside, white leather round beds are dotted around the 20-metre blue-hued pool on attractive wood decking. There’s a bar at one end, sunken arcs of seating, the DJ’s stage and at the other end of the pool there are a few cabanas that have their own jacuzzis big enough for six people.

But these are expensive (1,500 euros for six people) to hire. The cheapest option is a bean bag on the sandy area which, after an entry fee, are free to use.

It is quite a beautiful scene to walk into and one that shines in the daylight. At night it is lit up in pinks and purples and looks good against the night sky.

Pool side scene at Blanco Beach Club, Algarve, Portgual
Pool side scene at Blanco Beach Club
Blanco Beach Club at night, Portgual
Blanco Beach Club at night
There are plenty of easy-to-spot waiters as they are all dressed in white. They mill around and as the beds have a waiter service you never need to wait long to place an order for a cocktail. It’s a simple menu of sushi, pizza, salads and burgers, but tasty enough.

Waitress service at Blanco Beach club, Algarve
Waitress service
There’s large DJ stage churning out tunes all day and as the alcohol-fuelled hours slide away, flirting couples canoodle to the sway of the music while others take to the pool, cocktails in hand to frolic, refresh underneath a fountain or simply dance adding movement to the shimmer of the blue water.

Rail adventure in North Wales

The hills are alive in North Wales with the cranky rhythm of chugging wheels and the whistle of coal powered trains as a stream of steam is funnelled out through their chimney.

It’s a mode of transport that hails from the early 19th century that all too soon came to the end of the line.

Rail enthusiasts have set in motion a revival of the Welsh Highland Railways and Ffestiniog Railway bringing the steamy affair of vintage travel by railway through this amazing landscape, right back on track.

I book my carriage.

My base: Llandudno
Llandudno war memorial on the seafront
Llandudno war memorial on the seafront
The seaside town of Llandudno is my base, a pretty town with a mish mash of elegant Victorian and Edwardian architecture and pleasant scenery. It stretches out from the foot of the Great Orme, a huge chunk of limestone that curves around the town. It surges up from the sea and towards the seafront and its wide ribbon of sandy beach and an even wider promenade with a war memorial obelisk as its landmark.

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Caernarfon to Beddgeert – Welsh Highland Railway
My first rail adventure starts in Caernarfon where I alight the delightful narrow gauge Welsh Highland Railway train. The line was built in 1923 but economically it was derailed soon after. After 70 years in the sidings, it was pulled back into service by a group of railway enthusiasts.

Engine 87 on Welsh Highland Railways
Engine 87 on Welsh Highland Railways
The locomotive is engine 87 and as I watch the steam funnel out it leaves a dreamy nostalgia in its wake. So it’s surprising that the vintage styled wood-decked carriages are in fact no more than 20 years old, and some just a couple of months old. A modern kitchen serves sandwiches and of course Welsh rarebit (a version of cheese on toast) and a tea trolley does the rounds.

The journey passes through Caernafon Bay and the Lley Peninsuala, the old slate quarries and once at Bryn Gloch the Snowdonia National Park unfolds beyond. The valley narrows dramatically as we pass between mountains Moel Eilio and Mynydd Mawr.

Now it’s all alpine views and tumbling waterfalls towards Rhyd Ddu. Soon we climb to the summit of the line at Pitts Head and soon after the train begins its descent zig-zagging all the way down the hillside to Beddgelert. The top speed is 25mph so there’s time savour and digest what my eyes are devouring.

Welsh Highland railway
Welsh Highland railway
The entire length of the line is 25 miles all the way to Porthmadog, but I was disembarking at Beddgeert to make my way to Portmeirion.