Metal Days trip: Day 2 (London to Trieste)

Not a hugely eventful day today. Up at a reasonable hour to thank my kind hosts Katie and Nick for putting me up (and putting up with me) for an evening, and then Nick escorted me to Liverpool Street Station before the trains got too busy.

Better photos tomorrow, hopefully

I was an hour early for my coach to Stansted, but as it was almost empty, the nice man from National Express told me to jump on the earlier one rather than sit on the pavement for sixty minutes. A short journey later and I was at the airport and going through security. Belt off, shoes off, waving my arms in some scanner things… the usual.

There then followed three hours of sitting on my arse wondering why the airport put about twelve plug sockets on little seating things outside Burger King when not a single one of them works. I’m just glad I have an additional battery pack for my phone.

Then there was the usual stampede for the gate when it was announced. Followed by people standing and queuing for ages when everyone has an allotted seat anyway. It’s not like getting on first makes any difference at all. I sat until the queue vanished and pretty much just walked straight to my seat.

As we were taxiing I noticed that the chap next to me was just a little bit nervous. Well, very nervous. He was gripping the (cheap plastic – this is RyanAir) headrest in front of him so tightly I thought he was going to leave handprints. It turns out he doesn’t fly well, and when most of us are making our ears pop, he gets incredibly dizzy and feels like he’s falling. Very much not a pleasant way to travel.

He also was heading for Slovenia, to play at a rockabilly festival. We talked for the entire flight, keeping his mind off things, and I hope I made the ninety minutes or so slightly more bearable for him!

On arrival at Trieste, the passport queue took an age to get through, and my phone data wasn’t working. This was an issue as my only means of communicating with my couchsurfing host and navigating to his flat required internet access… With the help of my lovely wife (because the phone bill’s in her name, so BT wouldn’t speak to me), we managed to get it sorted and normal business was resumed.

The train into the city was less of an issue, only €4 for the half hour journey.

Of course, I was flustered to had to stop for a drink at the very nice Hop & Rock café, where I chilled for a bit as the sun began to set over the ocean to the west. Lovely. Trieste at first glance, is typically Italian. That is to say, gorgeous and full of too many nice places to drink outside when the weather’s this nice.

I made it to Alessio’s at around 8:30pm, only 2 1/2 hours late. Like many before him, he’s proven to be a wonderful host and – after a pasta (of course) dinner – we sat up to the early hours talking about… well… stuff!

So, after keying around 350 combinations into my luggage lock to open it (it changed combinations – the one that eventually opened it was one digit out on each of the wheels in various directions, so I’m not impressed with that) I was able to get my phone charging and rattle this off.

Tomorrow I will mainly be walking. A lot. I’ve got a handful of sites I want to see and a lot of local food and drink I want to sample!

Metal Days trip: Day 1 (London)

Day one was mainly spent nerding out. Andy mentioned that the building he works in plays host to the Terry Pratchett archives so I took a trip up in the lift on the off-chance I’d be able to have a gander. However, the archive is stored off-site and requires 24-hour notice for archivists to bring the required items in… and as there are almost 3000 of them you don’t get to delve through the lot! Maybe another time.

Senate House

Instead, I wandered over to the British Library, somewhere I’ve meant to go in the past but never quite managed it. I am really glad I made the effort. A beautifully modern building – I confess I was expecting something much older – it’s airy, cool and a very pleasant environment. Access to Reading Rooms where many specialist texts are stored requires a pass, but there’s still plenty to look at, including pop-up exhibitions.

One permanent exhibit is the Treasures of the British Library and this was worth the trip to London all by itself. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a book nerd. I’m no expert, I just love books. I can’t even explain why (except possibly, “thanks, Dad”) but I’ve always had a massive appreciation for the written and printed word.

Walking through this collection, I was getting goosebumps and it wasn’t due to the air conditioning. Some of the items they have there are of massive significance. Some due to what they are, some because of their age, some down to how they were printed.

British Library

Everything is behind glass, obviously, and carefully controlled in terms of light, moisture and so forth. But you are still mere inches from some utterly enthralling chunks of paper with ink on them. Which, let’s face it, is all they are. Yet because of what is on them, every single item in this collection is an incredible part of history.
There are subsections focusing on religious texts, music, historical documents, science, maps and so forth. I only spotted one spelling mistake on a single placard (I won’t spoil it for you, see if you can find it), because I am that sad individual who reads all the information about the items he’s looking it.

The age of some of the exhibits is staggering, when you think of that they’re made of and how long some may have lain discarded until they were rescued and restored. The oldest item I spotted was from the third century, some scraps of a Bible discovered in Egypt. Right next to it is St Cuthbert’s bible, the oldest known surviving example of European bookbinding. It’s from the eighth century.

Other items that jumped out at me included the first letter detailing the concept of a computer program, from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage), and John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for “A Hard Day’s Night” which he knocked out on the back of a birthday card belonging to his son, Julian. The maps are also stunning, especially some of the older examples from the 15th century. They look like they could have been drawn in biro barely a few weeks ago, they’ve been so well cared for.

Secret Weapon, Stratford

You can tell I was enthralled. Yes, it’s nerdy, but it’s a wonderful collection and definitely something you should see if you’re a bibliophile.

The nerdiness continued as Andy took me to Secret Weapon in Stratford, one of a chain of gaming bars. There we imbibed a couple of expensive (for me, I live in Glasgow) beverages while he thrashed me at Injustice 2 and I destroyed him at Rocket League.

Lovely place, very comfy with a decent range of beers and ciders (but no alcohol-free ones, just soft drinks) and plenty of games to play, including the board/tabletop variety.

I am currently in a comfy bed at Katie’s where I will nest until tomorrow morning and panic about getting into Liverpool St on a very busy train…

Prepping for Metal Days, Slovenia

[This post was originally published on The Moshville Times, which I also own and run]

This one caught my eye when I saw the poster and checked out the price. An incredible lineup over five full days, three stages and only about £135 including camping, showers and phone charging? What, really? Wow…

But first, travel. There are festival shuttles for €25 to €40 each way from various places such as Venice, Trieste and Ljubljana. I’ve not been to Trieste before so I’ve booked a flight there from Stansted (about £85), will sort out some couchsurfing over two days and get the coach to the festival on the Sunday.It turns out a couple of our Crew have been in the past and recommended it as well, though the couple of warnings I was given included “it’s not all sunshine, expect rain” and “you have to get there early to get the warm water for the showers”. Because I’m expecting to do a fair bit of work when I’m there I opted to try and get some accommodation rather than crashing in a tent.

On the way back, I’m going to Ljubljana where I’ll spend a night and see the Slovenian capital before flying back to Luton (around £25). I’m in Glasgow and have already sorted trains to/from London at £30 a pop, so just the airport transfers to worry about which are cheap enough.

Accommodation was a little tricker as I left it a little late and it seemed everywhere in town had already gone. It’s not just the festival, Tolmin is a tourist hotspot for hikers, bikers, parascenders and so forth. It is, frankly, beautiful.

After looking a little further afield (20 min drive, half hour bike ride), I put in a couple of emails through the local tourist office which seems to conveniently bring together every hotel, hostel and guesthouse in the area under one website roof. I got offers back for six nights in both places, one a hostel in town (20 mins walk) and one a bed and breakfast but some distance out. Pricewise there was little in it, but I’ve gone for the hostel. They’ve been in touch to sort out deposit and so on and have been fantastic so far. I’m really looking forward to getting there!

Cost – around £150 for 6 nights which, for a premium site and booking late in the day, is cheap enough. If you’re sharing and book a little earlier, you can find very nice places for around £100 per room for the same period. I may be going back another time just to explore the place!

So five days of metal, one day to chill and then back home to see some friends in London before getting the train back to Glasgow. Can’t wait!

Metal Days: official

Prepping for Sabaton Open Air

This post was originally published on The Moshville Times, which I also own and run. It’s very much travel-related, though, and this blog hasn’t has anything on it for some time as I’ve not had the opportunity to travel over the last few years. Chances are starting to come up again, so it’s time to brush off the mothballs!

So the decision was made and permission given for me to take my 10 year old son, Austin, to see his favourite band headline their own festival. The only issue? It’s in Falun, several hours north of Stockholm, so that’s going to make it expensive, right?

Train tickets in Sweden can be purchased online and the advice I had is that it’s similar to the UK in that booking ahead of time gets you cheaper tickets than on the day. Heading to sj.se, I picked up tickets from Stockholm to Falun, and Falun direct back to the airport. These were less than £15 each way for the pair of us. Sweden is very child-friendly it seems. My ticket is around £12 – my son’s is a standard fare of less than 50p!Well, not actually. I decided to make a little holiday of it and booked flights a couple of days ahead of, and one day after the festival so we could stay in Stockholm and explore. With the festival in late August, I booked flights from Glasgow in early May and for the two of us (carry on luggage only) with KLM, it came to only £450 return.

Bus travel we’ll wing when we’re there (aside from airline transfer), and apparently the cheapest method is to get the tickets or a pass from a local shop. So the journey to SOA will be a train to Falun and a short bus journey to the venue.

Plans are to couchsurf with a benevolent host in Stockholm – better for us to get a feel for the city than a hotel – and perhaps for a night in Falun also after the festival to freshen up for the trip home the next day.

To say the little guy is excited is an understatement. He loves Sabaton, he loves camping and the idea of “the boys” in the family going away together is a big thing for him. A shame we can’t take the dog as well!

He’s currently on a diet of other bands who will be playing and has already taken a liking to Powerwolf and The Darkness. We’ll work through the rest of the lineup in due course!

The festival has a safe kids area for chilling out and I think we’ll be making use of the pool as well if the weather’s good. Frankly, their “family friendly” facilities put every other festival I’ve heard of to shame, but the proof is in the pudding and we will, of course, have a full report once we get back.

Sabaton Open Air: official

A quick post about Hanoi and package trips

Ho Chi Minh statueI love Vietnam – been there six times. I love the Hanoi Backpackers’ Hostel – stayed there on every single trip (and worked for them for 2 months on my last visit a few years ago). The guys that own / run it and all the staff are simply some of the most wonderful people you could ever meet – generous, hard-working, and above all honest.

So when they reach the point that they have to post the attached, I feel obliged to share it. Please – don’t get ripped off when you’re travelling as it sours a great experience. I’ve been on a load of HBH’s tours – all paid for out of my own pocket – and had nothing but the best memories to bring back. People who read my travel blog before it went into mothballs will know this.

Actually, I had one issue with my Fansipan trip (the scheduling of the ascent/descent wasn’t ideal) which I fed back upon my return. I was staggered when the hostel refunded about 50% of what I’d paid for it. I hadn’t asked for nor had I expected this.

So if you’re heading to Vietnam for tourist attractions, specifically Hanoi, avoid the places and people mentioned in the attached post. They’re scammers who will take your money and ruin your trip. I’m sure there are other places selling great trips (I’ve met people who’ve been on them), but I only ever used HBH and booked direct from their premises. A little more expensive than most (from what I heard), but worth every Dong/Dollar for peace of mind.