Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Coffee Shop etiquette

I’m not suggesting that we go the whole hog and put a maître d’ on the doorway, but perhaps there needs to be some signage in the coffee shops in Stratford that you actually buy something before you all sit down at a table.

I’d been queuing up to get a very late lunch (a Panini at nearly 5, could have been described as an early light dinner) and had noticed that there weren’t that many free tables left. However there were some.

In the time it took me to put in my coffee order and pay two large groups of tourists had walked in and plonked themselves down on most of the spare tables, without any of them bothering to actually come up and order anything.

It was pretty obvious to even the least observant person that the system here was queue up, pay up and collect your drink, there was no table service.

Thankfully a table did become free as I was walking away with my piping hot Panini (not something you want to be holding for a particularly long period of time looking for a table), but it was a good few minutes before a final member of their group walked in and one of them went over to order.

Of course, I haven’t ruled out the possibility that they were just being plain rude.

Monday, 16 August 2010

I have a dirty little secret

It’s time to make a confession. It’s time to admit to something that no self-respecting Londoner should admit to.

It’s time to come out in the open and say the unmentionable.

I quite like Birmingham

There, done it.

Birmingham is quite often the butt of jokes.

Yes, it’s not the world’s most stunningly attractive cities, a lot of the architecture is very badly dated and some bits are a bit shabby (see for example the Palisades shopping centre above New Street Station).

Yes, the local accent doesn’t have the beauty and charm of a Morningside or a Welsh Valleys, but it could be a lot worse (and I include my foul South London accent in with that group)

Yes, it’s a pain to get to from quite a large number of places. It’s the hub of both the Cross-Country rail network and the motorway network, making it the hub of the UK’s delays and conjestion

Yes, it’s not an historic city like York or Liverpool, having still been a sleepy market town up until the Industrial Revolution

But for some reason that I can’t quite work out, I quite like it.

I like the compact city centre and the friendly atmosphere.

I like the way that it unashameably tries to compare itself to locations well out of its league (“We’ve got more Canals than Venice, we’re Britain Venice” being one of the main culprits)

But most of all I like the fact that the city centre feels much safer than most other city centres I’ve been in.

I’m sure that when you get out of the city centre there are areas which you don’t want to be wandering around, but you get those in most places, however there isn’t a feel of that actually in the heart of Birmingham. Wandering around New Street feels so much safer than walking down Oxford Street in London (and that’s before you include the fact that Oxford Street still has traffic running up and down it.)

So, there, I’ve admitted it, I’ve outed myself as a Brumophile.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

OK, so it is doable in a day

I’ve always been a bit concerned by some towns tourist activities.

The main one I’ve always thought was a bit dodgy was Stratford-upon-Avon’s attempts to make itself a day trip from London for tourists staying in the capital.

Hampton Court is only 20 odd miles from the city centre, Windsor around the 30 mile mark, these are not massive distances if you set off early and make a day of it. But Stratford is well over 120 miles from London, it’s the other side of the two hour mark on the train, how can you do that in a day.

However, I will now willingly renounce my incredulity on Stratford being a day trip.

I caught the train from London just after 10 this morning up to Leamington, walked over to my hotel, dropped all my stuff off, wandered back out and then caught the round the houses bus to Stratford and still managed to squeeze in most of the major sites by 5pm (and they were still open for another hour).

So, using the open top busses to hop from one site to the next (assuming you do the sites in the order the busses serve them) and getting into Stratford earlier than I did it would be possible to do the whole “Shakespeare Experience” and be back on a train to London the same day.

On that basis, maybe Edinburgh isn’t such a silly idea for a day trip...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

How the other 0.002% lives

I treated myself for the ferry back to an upgrade to the best cabins on the ship (the difference between steerage and Commodore for a single person was actually only £200).

And my fellow Commodore’s are an interesting bunch.

There appear to be a fair number of other oiks like me who have paid that little bit extra for the unlimited free beer, snacks and breakfast (and with costs on board, you don’t have to go spectacularly overboard to be making a profit!)

Then there are a couple of clearly very well healed people who I think don’t like the idea of the lower classes being allowed to upgrade.

This really came into focus earlier when I was having a snack in the lounge washed down with two gallons of beer.

There was a small family group, and one of the kids was getting quite excited, so excited that their accent slipped from the kind of received pronunciation English that you can’t place to any particular part of the UK other than “well-educated” to what was very noticeably South West, and I’d even go so far as to say a full Bristol.

The reaction from the parents was quite swift with a stern telling off about “not using “THAT” accent in public” and comments to the effect that they weren’t spending good money on pronunciation lessons for their daughter to keep reverting back to “THAT” accent every time she got excited.

Now I know it’s not the nicest of accents, but then I can hardly talk with a nasty South London accent (or Sauf Lunun accent), but at the same time I really didn’t think that accents mattered so much any more. But obviously for a very small number of people they do (and for an even smaller number of people they represent a way of making an awful lot of money by beating RP English into people)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Have you met the rest of us?

According to the bike tour guide in Copenhagen (though I can’t find a trace of this “research” anywhere on the internet) a survey carried out for one of Denmark’s main newspapers asked the Danes what nationality they would like to be if they weren’t Danish. Over 70% emphatically came down on one nationality.


Why?, have they seen England, more importantly have they seen the English?

Perhaps the 30% that didn’t say English all lived in Copenhagen where they experience the “full English” in all it’s Stag and Hen do glory on a regular occurrence.

Perhaps for those Danes who live a long way from the Capital, don’t venture there very often and the only English tourists they see are the ones who have hunted out their city or town for the art, music or museum, then yes the English might appear to still be a nation of genial bumbling idiots (although that does now conjure up an image of an army of thousands of Boris Johnson’s spreading out across the globe!)

Part of the reason for this liking of the English (and for this I can only assume the usual mistake of lumping all “British” as English, ignoring that the Welsh and Scottish (and Cornish, and Northern Irish, and Manx and Yorkshire and Essex and...) are separate nationalities) is the fact that it was “English” troops that liberated Denmark at the end of World War II and this really came home today when I visited the Occupation Museum (Besættelsesmuseeti) and saw the display on the outpouring of emotion that was shown when in May 1945 after five years of occupation, the English rolled into Denmark and asked the Nazi’s to leave (“I say old Hun you wouldn’t mind tottering back off to Germany would you, there’s a good chap”)

I don’t want to break the spell that the Danish have, but isn’t it about time that we told them the country has changed a bit since then. Perhaps it’s time we let Sky TV export some of their “factual programming” to Denmark, then let’s rerun the survey and see how many still want to be English.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Hope the trip was worth it.

As I boarded the train south to Århus from Aalborg I noticed a number of people getting on who had obviously just come from the airport and were heading deeper into Denmark and it reminded me of the lady I had seen at the baggage reclaim belt at Aalborg on Sunday.

Her bag came off just before mine, and as she was taking it off the belt it was pretty obvious that she had just come off of a mammoth trip.

I think the longest tag I’ve ever had has had two airport names on it (Tallinn via Helsinki, Hammerfest via Tromso) but this lady had two tags on her bag as one was full and they had had to go onto a second tag.

In order the tags were LAX, FRA, CPH, AAL. In short to get to Aalborg airport at 1pm on a Sunday afternoon she had come into Aalborg on the flight from Copenhagen, where she had arrived from Copenhagen, where she had arrived from Frankfurt, where she had arrive from Los Angeles, where she had arrived from who knows where.

Firstly I dread to think how long she had been travelling and I hope that the trip was worth it, and secondly it shows that the system does work. The bag was loaded into the system at an airport somewhere within a single flight of Los Angeles and has transited through three separate airports never once missing the connecting flight.

What’s the betting that if one of those flights had been with British Airways that the bag would currently be going round the baggage carousel in Kuala Lumpur with the confused baggage handlers going, Aalborg, Aalborg, where the hell is Aalborg?

Monday, 2 August 2010

Out of the Darkness, Light

Denmark suffered, for five years (the Dark Years as I have heard them described on a number of occasions) the land was under the control of Nazi Germany.

As with other places they invaded the Nazi’s wanted to protect their gains, and where there were coasts involved keep them secure.

And nowhere needed to be kept more secure than Grenen at the top of the country.

At Grenen the Skagerrak and the Kattegat meet. These are the entries (or exits) from the North and Baltic sea respectively and so a vital area to control.

With carefully built fortifications and big enough guns you can stop anything you don’t want entering the Baltic Sea entering.

Move forward over 60 years and the sand dunes on this part of the coast have helped Mother Nature reclaim most of the area, with many of the fortifications long since buried and slowly being crushed by the dunes.

But a couple of the bunkers have survived and today they are still serving their original duty of providing excellent views over the peninsular, only today rather than Guns it’s camera’s firing off regularly as holiday makers clamber over the ruins to reach their roofs for the views.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

I hope they are just errors

I have a lot of respect for the people who have to write guidebooks. The have to do a lot of work, much of which ends up getting condensed into a short sentence. Perhaps not quite as bad as the Hitchikers guide to the Galaxy where the whole of the earth is condensed into the phrase “Mostly Harmless”, but it still must be quite hard and at times pretty unrewarding (especially if you’ve got lumbered with updating the guidebook to a crime riddled dump, not that anyone has published a guide book to Croydon yet!)

However, occasionally, I’ve come across real howlers of errors that have caused me to think that not much research has gone into some sections. Today I think I may have come across one such incident.

I’m not going to name the guidebook series, but the errors imply that there is a chance the person doing the work either forgot to check when they were in Aalborg, or never even went.

The first error was the frequency of busses from the airport. The guidebook said every 15-30 minutes, it’s actually every 60 minutes.

The second error was on the opening times of the Aalborg tower, they claimed during July it’s open until 7pm every day, except at the tower they show they close at 5pm every day.

I actually asked the person at the tower about this and they gave an explanation which slightly concerns me:
They have never been open to 7pm, but they did, a few years ago, for a couple of weeks, have an error on their website which said they were open until 7pm, rather than 5pm.

Looking at the website for the local bus company you can see that there are buses on route 2 every 15 minutes during the main part of a weekday, but route 2 splits and goes to various different places, only some of the buses actually serve the airport.

I have a nasty feeling that a lot of the research might have been gleaned from the internet without being checked for accuracy or that they were even reading the correct information.

I would gladly like to be proved wrong, but at the moment, I’m not convinced.

When two worlds collide

I witnessed an interesting interaction on the bus yesterday which threw into stark contrast the different approaches to organising transport around the world.

Copenhagen, in line with most other sensible cities (and I deliberately exclude everywhere in the UK in that statement), operate a single ticketing system with tickets that are interchangeable between any form of transport in a set period of time after stamping. The system works on honesty as there are no barriers, the only difference to the system in say, Rome, is that when you board a bus you have to do so through the front doors to show your valid ticket to the driver.

I picked on Rome specifically, as it was two Italians who had the interaction with the driver (I’m assuming they were from Rome, they could have been from anywhere in Italy, but it’s only in Rome that I have seen similar disregard to signage)

On the rear and middle doors there is a no entry sign. It’s not a complex sign in Danish, it’s the international red circle with a short white line in the middle.

In Rome, no attention is paid to this and boarding takes place through any available door, in fact the only people who follow the signs appear to be tourists (after a couple of days in Rome I found even I had given up on bothering to queue up for the correct doors with the other tourists and was leaping on through any open door.)

However, this isn’t Rome and the bus driver was less than impressed with these random people ignoring a no entry sign. There were some words said in Danish, with no response. In the end the entire interaction was played out in English. It was almost like being on a bus in London when someone fare evading gets caught by the bus driver boarding by the back doors. The shrugs, the mangled used of the English language, and then the international signal for an unhappy driver, the engine being switched off.

At this point a helpful Dane who obviously spoke some Italian (so not satisfied with being fluent in both Danish and English they had obviously learn Italian as an extra!) let them know that they needed to get off the bus, and board properly.

Once they had done this, all was fine, but I suspect that when they get back to Rome it’s going to take them a little bit of time to get back into the swing of boarding through any door that’s open.