Last day then home

Venice Holocaust Memorial

Venice Holocaust Memorial

We had our final hearty breakfast at the hotel with the idea being that we’d not need to eat again until we got our inclusive sandwiches on the flight to Amsterdam. That kind of didn’t work out.

After checking out, we decided to wheel the suitcase around with us rather than leave it at the hotel. There’s a shuttle bus to the airport from Piazzale Roma, so there seemed little point in coming all the way back to Mestre just to grab a bag and walk to the railway station.

We picked up our shuttle ticket from the machine as soon as we reached the Piazzale Roma to save time later. A good job as the machine is very picky about how you insert notes! I think it only likes them fed in one way of the possible four you can insert them.

As usual with no plans we just ambled. Heading for the Jewish area, we found a little art shop where Gill bought a couple of paintings (I swear the new bathroom will be the best-decorated in all of Scotland) and I snapped some photos of the Holocaust memorial. Like so many others I’ve seen, it’s engraved with the names of all the locals who died after being taken away by the Nazis during WWII.

Venice Holocaust Memorial

Detail of the memorial

Time flew over the day. We were due at our bus around 14:45 and spent the intervening time locating little stops we’d not found before, and shopping. Well – Gill shopped, I stood outside guarding the suitcase and reading The Invisible Man on my phone.

Eventually, laden down with souvenirs, we capitulated and stopped for a quick snack. Of ice cream, tea, and strawberry/chocolate crepes. It wasn’t cheap, but it was nice and we left in good time to hop onto our bus for the airport.

The flights back were comfortable (though there was a one-hour delay between Schipol and Glasgow) and we were home a little after 22:00. Full marks to KLM for comfort, in-flight snacks and excellent cabin staff. Marks off for the rubbish “self-check-in” at Marco Polo airport, that confused the hell out of anyone over 40 and caused horrendous queues. It also placed Gill behind me on our final flight instead of next to me – something that likely wouldn’t have happened if a human being had checked us in.

As always, good to be home. Our next trip will likely be Egypt in the summer. I can’t see us being able to fork out for anything else before that!

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Glasgow to Venice (via Amsterdam)

Wetherspoons "cutlery"

Dear Wetherspoons - this is NOT a knife

We got to Glasgow airport at 10-ish, with breakfast at the Wetherspoons which was fine aside from being provided with something akin to a spatula with which to cut my sausages and bacon. Our flight to Amsterdam was on time, and in fact we anded early which gave us over 4 hours to run into the city for some food and drinks. Transport tickets are available in the baggage collection area – as we were heading through to Venice we didn’t have to worry about our one piece of luggage as it would be transferred directly onto the next flight.

Amsterdam’s a bit of a maze (with some incredibly artistic graffiti in places), and we wandered for almost the full four hours after getting there on the train. The weather wasn’t great, but it was better to plod around that spend ages at the airport getting bored. We had a couple of beers and found some shops with some very strange battery-operated toys in them. I guess you put them on the table

Dutch graffiti

Pretty pictures

top and the vibrations make them move around. Maybe you’re supposed to get several and have fights with them. Just in case the security at the airport thought they were weapons (some did look very scary), we decided not to buy any for the kids.

Our next flight to Venice Marco Polo Airport was also on time, comfy and well tended with drinks and snacks and we landed a few minutes ahead of schedule. It was still late in the evening, but the public transport runs to the flights so we had no trouble getting one of the shuttle buses to our hotel. Don’t bother queueing for the ticket machine in the arrival hall – there are loads of others outside, which we discovered later. €3 will get you a bus to various destinations. We were heading for Mestre railway station, a short walk from the Hotel Dolfino, to which our nice bus driver gave us directions.

Marco Polo Airport

Big glowing balls

The hotel itself was pretty nice, although the room was way too hot when we got in. Also, the wi-fi, despite having a good signal, seemed to be connected to a dial-up modem which dropped out every 30 seconds making the free internet rather pointless. A shame, as otherwise we really enjoyed staying there. Friendly staff, excellent buffet breakfast and a lovely meal on the Monday night. It’s also ridiculously convenient for buses to Venice City and they sell tickets at reception for buses and boats.

After a quick drink from the bar, we unpacked, settled in, watched Roadhouse in Italian (why? WHY?!) and zonked out for the night.

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Graspop 2008 – aftermath

Hans left first from the festival as he had to get down to Charleroi for a flight to Dublin, and wanted to stop in Brussels on his way there. It was great to see him again after so long. I think we should set a rule that we never meet in the same country again!

The rest of us lazed for a while as our bus to Eindhoven wasn’t scheduled until midday. Plenty of time to mop up, finish the scraps of food, the last tins of beer and have a quick wash in the troughs. The campsite looked more like a bombsite. Discarded tents, small fires (and men zipping around on small ATVs putting them out), food flying through the air, corpses… OK, not corpses, but I’m sure the hangover some of them had made them wish they were dead.

Lunchtime approached and we picked out our coach. We had two choices – get off in Eindhoven proper or stay on to the airport. We opted for the former as we had several hours before our flight and the town offered more entertainment than the joys of a small-town airport. For food we joined the ranks in McD’s, mainly as it was easy to pick something, cheap and they’d let us sit there for hours without hassling us.

Dave tried to pick a fight with some juves who were attempting (badly) to vandalise the toilets, but otherwise lunch was uninteresting. We walked about for a bit and noticed that every pub was closed. We had a swift drink at an outdoor cafe in the sun watching some stunning women walking past. I swear, every gorgeous woman in the Netherlands must come from Eindhoven. Oh, and there was a mad man who looked like Santa on an electric trike driving round telling everyone they were going to Hell unless they repented. I refrained from letting his tyres down.

Time came for us to hop on a local bus up to the airport and a short while later we were in a massive queue of scruffy metallers waiting for the RyanAir desk to open.

Oh, and I removed my contact lenses for the last time. Ever. Historical note – my last pair of contacts were disposed of in a small bin next to the ATM in Eindhoven Airport. Well, it means something to me.

The flight back was uneventful with the only spectacular point of note being the complete lack of queue when we arrived at Stansted. A good job as our train tickets only gave us the minimum of time to whizz through. A shame our luggage took an age. Still, we made it onto the train with a minute or two (and I mean just that) before it headed off. Marina had kindly sorted my ticket for me to save me some cash and I jumped off at Cambridge as her and Dave continued on to Ely. Oh, Pete had met his dad off the flight and was getting a lift home. Alright for some.

Colin was there to meet me at the station. As ever, great to see him. The last time was just before I originally left the UK. And he’s not changed. Apart from becoming increasingly bitter about drivers trying to kill cyclists on the roads of Cambridge. He took me to a local burrito shop where they sell what he claims are the best burritos in the UK. I don’t think he’s wrong. I’d be surprised if anyone could top them, frankly. He also, very kindly, paid. Cheers, fella!

After chowing down in the park, watching some foreign kids show off at football, we hopped in a cab to a pub near his place where we met up with Damo for some beer before last orders. Then walked back to Col’s for more beer and a giggle viewing of the excellent film UHF. Monster Munch were chomped on and then bed headed for. A bed. A real bed. Yay!

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Tip – The Netherlands

Quite a general posting this for the whole country, as far as I could find. Overall, the Netherlands were great. Wonderful people, dead easy to get around and so forth. Ideal for cycling. Cycle paths (and therefore safe walking) is possible not just within towns and cities, but between them all. Superb.

An issue, however, with the public transport. You must ensure you have change to buy a ticket. The inspectors are very strict and the excuse of “I couldn’t pay, no matter how hard I tried” will not work. Many stations are unmanned, and only have ticket machines. None of these accept notes or credit/debit cards. Even if you find a ticket office, you will need cash as they won’t accept Visa.

Actually, hardly anywhere in the Netherlands takes Visa. Maestro is the plastic of choice, if you’re one of the few people that have a compatible card.

One way to save cash on the public transport is to get a discount card, though these are only really worthwhile for the long-term resident. I’m not sure if they do short-term ones, but the annual pass is around 50 Euros and gives 40% off fares to the holder and any two people accompanying them. This is a superb idea, and at that rate of discount could pay for itself in even two weeks, depending on the travel you’re doing.

Farewell to mainland Europe

[Quite a backdated post, this – I’m writing it on the 15th of October! I apologise for the delay, but as I hope you can appreciate I’ve been spending a lot of time traipsing around and visiting friends and family.]

Today I plodged from Amsterdam to Ijmuiden, the main port north and west of the capital from where all the ferries head over the North Sea to various destinations. Near the ferry terminal, I saw something that surprised me and cheered me up no end: a roadsign pointing west and proudly proclaiming “NEWCASTLE”.

I followed this most welcoming of directions and got to the DFDS terminal where I was checked in and stamped out of the country by some very friendly staff and border guards. The ship I traveled on, the King of Scandanavia, was huge – like a block of flats laid on its side. Several bars, a nightclub, two cinemas and a gazillion little en suite rooms.

We disembarked on time and I explored the ship, watching the port disappear into the distance as we set off for England. I admit it was a little emotional knowing that my journey was almost at an end. I made use of the cinema and went to see Shrek the Third with the auditorium all to myself. I’d seen all five of the other films they were showing! Afterwards, I grabbed some dinner and visited the bar. Just to use up the extra Euros I had left, you understand. The entertainment was pretty good as well – a half-decent standup/singer/compere, a band from Bulgaria and a dance troupe.

I groggily retired sometime around midnight, possibly in British waters. I wasn’t going to go outside and look for border markings.