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…

Ben Nevis – conquered

Top of Ben nevis

Top of Ben nevis

[Full set of images available on Flickr]

Well, that’s another one of those nice things ticked off a list. I’ve been to the northernmost point of mainland Britain, the eastern-most & southernmost parts of Australia, the southernmost part of continental Asia, the highest point in IndoChina (although I believe that claim’s disputed)… and now I’ve been to the highest point in Britain as well.

Thank you to all those who sponsored me and helped raise money for the St Andrew’s Hospice – a genuinely good cause, with lovely staff who did a great job in organising today’s fundraiser. With 200+ schoolchildren and staff scrambling up the mountain they made sure everyone was accounted for, shepherded and got home safe. Obviously, the Ben Nevis mountain staff also deserve thanks, as do the St John’s Ambulance staff and everyone at the Ben Nevis Hotel who fed and accommodated us at the end of it all. And even let the staff have a free shower!

To paraphrase the great Douglas Adams – the first 1000 feet were the worst. And the second 1000 feet. They were the worst too. The next 1000 were no fun at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.

Then it started to snow.

Only a slight dusting, but enough to make the stuff which had already been lying somewhat more slippery and the last couple of hundred feet more of a challenge. Up until then, I’d be taking a layer of clothing off every half hour. The sun was out, my balding pate was getting redder and sweat was running down my face.

That last little hike was probably the hardest purely as I had to spend as much time looking for footprints to stand in as I did making sure I didn’t slip backwards more than I walked forwards.

There isn’t a whole lot at the top other than a pair of stone… somethings and a tiny shack. And a great sense of achievement. Oh, and a corking view.

I made it up early enough that the clouds were only just coming in, so managed to see in all directions. The snaps (link at the top) should give you an idea of the incredible scenery on the way up and from the peak.

The journey down was no cakewalk either. As well as the skiddy snow, my legs were somewhat achey. The muscles I used on the way up were very different from the ones I needed on the way down! This was partly a good thing as I had developed a hell of a pain at the top of my left leg – something I’d not had for many years, but that’s because I don’t exercise enough. Going downhill stopped this particular pain, but allowed many others the chance to surface. Joy.

Still, I made it up and back again in a little under 5 1/2 hours, which I’m quite pleased with. The nice staff at the bottom gave me a little medal and – more importantly at that point in time – juice, energy bars and a banana.

A shuttle was taking people back to the hotel where we got to freshen up and fill up on “proper” food before the journey home.

A very hard slog, but all the best things are worth the effort.

If you feel the need to donate to the charity, by all means drop me a quick email or contact them directly via the web link above. I’m sure they’ll be happy to take your money!

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Ben Nevis walk – sponsors please!

Ben Nevis, in Scotland, is the highest point i...

Ben Nevis, in Scotland, is the highest point in the British Isles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not often I’ll ask for cash, but I’m doing a sponsored walk up Ben Nevis on May 6th and I need to raise £90 before then. If anyone would be kind enough to sponsor me a few quid, please let me know and we’ll work out how to get the dosh to me.

Obviously, if you’re local then I can just get the cash. Anyone else can probably get it to me via bank transfer or *spit* PayPal. If you’re a UK taxpayer, make sure I get your postcode and house number as well so we can claw more back off the government!

Oh, the cause – it’s St Andrew’s Hospice. Not one I’ve been associated with in the past, but one that the school I currently work at raises a fair bit of money for.

Thanks in advance, folks.

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Limited travel

Again, a quick post so that the blog doesn’t look like it’s completely lying fallow. I had “kind of” plans to travel over xmas, but they fell through for a variety of reasons. One was price, another was that I’ve started seeing someone who lives in Glasgow and I’d much rather spend the holiday season with her and her kids than travelling.

Given the “travel chaos” (i.e. Heathrow being rubbish) that hit around the time I would have been hoping to get a flight, this is perhaps for the best!

I may look at going somewhere for Easter. After watching the Top Gear Christmas special, I’m once again drawn to the Middle East. A shame that, unlike famous people, I ‘d struggle to get into Iraq. On the other hand, I don’t work for the BBC so Iran is permissible. Last year’s plan was for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – I may resurrect that plan. Kind of apt for Easter.

Summer will be another call. I have “permission” to go away for a long break if I want to. It would be strange, what with the kids, but I do still miss the backpacking and I’m as ever drawn towards Vietnam. Having said that, I’ve still not managed to make it to South America. Or if I fancy staying closer to home, I still want to do Sweden, Norway, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria. Oh, and Liechtenstein. And more of Italy. And Germany.

Sometimes it’s a pain living in a world with so many interesting and exciting destinations!

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