Blog England

A Trip to the Capital with Megabus

London has been in the news a great deal lately.

Our capital has been battered this year with what has felt like an endless stream of protests, attacks and terrible accidents.

When each incident arose, I would find myself gravitating to the closest smart device so that I could compulsively check that all my friends and family there were safe – they always were. Still, with this slew of events, it’s made London feel like a destination that might not be worth the risk, especially when you consider how much it costs to stay there.

Before I went on my travels with work, out to the far flung countries of Asia and Africa, I made my money in London. Back in the 90s, if you had a decent enough job, you could make a good living there and still have enough cash to enjoy the city with – something that’s become increasingly difficult over the last few years. Put simply – the cost of just existing in a place like London has significantly increased over the last two decades. Everything from rental prices to pints, to the price of a bacon sarnie has sky-rocketed, which has resulted in it becoming something of a rich person’s city.

With this in mind, and with a whole bunch of friends that I’d not visited in ages hollering at me to make a trip to the city, I decided to challenge myself to enjoy a weekend in the Capital for less than £100…including travel.

Now, I understand that the parameters of this challenge are somewhat loosely defined.

£100 is all well and good, but ‘enjoyment’ is something that’s very much up to interpretation. The most expensive part of the weekend could thankfully be booked well ahead of schedule. I’d not taken a coach for a very long time. The last long journey that I had used one of these for was an 11-hour trek through the hills of Vietnam; certainly a very scenic route but not the most comfortable. That journey cost me the equivalent of £3 back in 2005. I booked my Megabus from the nearby city of Liverpool, a return ticket to London that set me back £25 – not too shabby for 2017.

My Mum was kind enough to drop me off at in Liverpool, before the coach arrived on the Friday morning at an eye-watering 6am. Once I hustled myself onto the bus, all thoughts of comfort soon dissipated as I slipped into unconsciousness. 6 hours flew by, by the time I woke up, I was in London and it was lunch time.

So many of the big costs of taking a holiday in the capital can be negated if you have friends living there. Accommodation, food and drinks can all be covered at a much smaller price if you stay with friends in the city. Luckily, I had a string of mates that I’d not seen in a while, so there were plenty of couch options at my disposal. After dropping my gear at their flat Clapham and wolfing down a couple of sandwiches, it was off into the city for an evening of culture, drinks and food.

Some of London’s most iconic attractions are completely free to enter, something that many people are always surprised by.

Although you’ll have to pay a pretty penny to gain entry into some of London’s more sensational attractions (The Tower of London, Madam Tussaud’s etc.), some of the more interesting (and often quieter) attractions are completely free. As it had been so long since I’d visited the capital, a day spent enjoying the National Portrait Gallery and the National History Museum was more than enough for me and it didn’t cost me a single penny.

Enjoying London on a budget is certainly achievable – you might not be able to live the high-life, but you can certainly survive for a weekend.

Blog England Wales

A Liverpool Birthday with the Trainline

There are a few things in life that are really worth paying for…

When you get to my age you come to realise that there are certain things that you should never skimp on.

Whilst my parents have always advocated frugality above all else, I’ve taken a somewhat different approach to the way that I spend my money over the years. When I was younger, still fresh out of University, with the weight of my student-debt hanging over my neck like the proverbial albatross, I often obsessed over the cost of my weekly shop and would regularly decline invitations to parties or events – often months in advance.

Back then, I felt that every penny that I frivolously spent was another I would have to diligently save to pay back to the loans company. As a result of these penny-pinching tactics I found that my life became an increasingly predictable string of events that would revolve around my 9-5 job and plain pasta-based meals at home whilst watching the telly – not exactly the most exciting way to live out your twenties…

I eventually learnt my lesson though and, after a helpful pay rise at work, soon discovered that I had quite the flair for flashing my cash should the necessity to do so arise. Such a need cropped up recently when my Mother (who’s never treated herself a day in her life) turned 80. We decided to celebrate in style and catch a first-class train up to Liverpool to have a meal out and (more importantly) get some shopping done!

Liverpool has undergone quite the transformation in the last 40 years, dropping the shackles of poverty stricken ex-industrial power house and picking up the shiny, new crown of blossoming metropolitan city of culture (it claimed the European accolade back in 2008, whilst it was still ascending).

As a result of this meteoric rise in status, exciting startups, restaurants, bars and retailers have made their humble beginnings in the city, bringing thousands of visitors eager to snap up everything from Swedish meatballs to social media marketing in Liverpool.

For my Mum, though, the allure of Liverpool is still wrapped up in the warm, fuzzy glow of Beatlemania. She was obsessed with the band when she was a teenager and spent all the money she had on their merchandise and records – she amassed so much Beatles memorabilia, in fact, that my bedroom was turned into a shrine of sorts for the Fab Four after I left home. Although the city has undoubtedly changed since my Mum’s heyday, the spirit of the swinging sixties is certainly still alive and kicking there.

After being thoroughly pampered on our first-class train ride up from Conwy, we alighted in Liverpool Lime Street a little light-headed from the complimentary champagne and feeling dangerously careless with our spending money. The Liverpool One shopping centre, one of the more recent additions to the city has brought dozens of high-end brands and designers into centre of the city, bringing shoppers from all around. There’s a real sense of occasion here and it’s probably due to that sense of occasion that my Mum and I fritter away a lot of money in a matter of just a few hours.

Thankfully, we were able to save money for our wonderful dinner that we enjoyed at Jamie’s Italian. By the time we rolled ourselves back onto the last train home, we were both exhausted – it’s just a good thing that we didn’t miss our stop!

Blog England

Embracing Winter with Millets

Can you feel that? There’s a chill in the air and it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.

That’s right, Winter’s here and by gum can you feel it!

Although this time of year usually heralds a choir of moans and groans from the older generation, I always look forward to the arrival of the colder months. During this magically frosty time, sunrises sneak up on you unawares and there’s no guilt in heading to bed early, especially when you know that there’s going to be a stunning sunrise gracing the landscape as early as 7am. Of course if you’re not well kitted out before Winter begins, you’re probably going to find it all decidedly less enjoyable.

Before I set out on my first excursion of Winter I’m always sure to have a thorough check through all my wet-weather gear – making sure that there are no critical tears in anything and (most importantly) that the waterproofing is still working well. There’s nothing worse than driving long distance through rather dismal clouds to discover that your waterproof coat has given up the ghost whilst in storage and that you’re going to have to spend the rest of the day in a state of constant dampness.

During my ritualistic Autumnal run down of my waterproofs I was rather disappointed to find that my boots were nowhere near as waterproof as they needed to be.

As sad as I was to throw this tatty pair of shoes into the bin, there was a small part of that me that was excited to jump into Millets and see what kind of deals I could pick up.

I would never describe myself as a ‘kinky’ person, but I think I can get an idea as to the excitement that is borne out of inanimate objects whenever I step into a shop like Millets. This might seem like an odd reaction to walking into something so pedestrian as a high-street retail shop but it’s true nonetheless. As you walk into a Millets outlet the first sensation that you are greeted by is the familiar rubbery smell of new waterproofs, similar to that ‘new shoe’ smell you get in a place like Clarks. Next, you hear the sound of helpful assistants guiding customers through their selection of rucksacks until, finally, you witness the glorious sight of bright tags with the words ‘SALE’ on them.

I probably get a little too much out of my annual trip to Millets and I know that they certainly get too much out of me. It’s the classic case of too many good offers to turn down.

I went in there last weekend with the intention of just picking up a cheap pair of walking boots, but I left with so much more. With many brands bringing out their new ranges this month, there are loads of great discounts to pick up on all of their ranges – this is why, although I only came in for a pair of boots, I ended up leaving with a new day pack, a pair of socks and a new pair of gators that weren’t even in the sale.

Before you go anywhere this Winter, make sure you’re geared up – it never hurt to be too prepared!

Blog England

May Day Bank Holiday with My Parents

Both of my parents should have retired a long time ago.

They got married incredibly young (my Dad was just 18 when he proposed) and have always cited their busy work lives as a driver behind their marital bliss.

Even at the ages of 60 and 62 they both still insist on pulling full time shifts. Dad used to be a mechanic, but the job proved to be too physical for him later in life. He now loves working down the local supermarket, talking to people all day and keeping active, stocking shelves. Mum’s been working as a receptionist at the same GPs for her entire working life, keeping order behind her desk and ensuring the most needy patients are seen first.

Bank Holidays tend to not mean much to people who live overseas for any great stretch of time, after all, it’s not like you can demand to have the May Day Bank Holiday off whilst you’re living in Dubai, just because everyone back home is taking it off. When I finally made it back to Blighty, after nearly 20 years spent abroad working, I had to remind myself (as well as my parents) all over again about the joys of Bank Holidays. These wonderful 3 or 4 day stints pop up throughout the year offering the British public a well earned break and a chance to indulge in extended weekend adventures.

When Bank Holidays come around, my parents usually like to indulge in a lie-in, get the papers and catch up on some television. However, since I returned to Conwy, I’ve insisted on them making the most of their time off. That’s how we found ourselves bundled into my car with a picnic hamper, rolling down the M6 on our way to glorious Devon.

Although Wales is full of great places to visit, not to mention some truly epic landscapes, my parents often have to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the country, even when we have the luxury of long weekends.

When I was a child they were always content with taking me to the beach and hiring a couple of deckchairs for the day. As much as I can still find huge nostalgic thrills from walking down our local waterfront, I don’t mind getting into the car and taking my parents out of their comfort zone.

Staunch patriots that my parents are, it takes a lot to convince them that there might be better beaches outside of Wales. However, they were pleasantly surprised by what we found on the gorgeous coast of North Devon.

With miles of coastal trails and paths to explores, there’s more than enough variety to appease even the most stubborn Welsh nationalist. After a day of breaking in and out of stunning moor land, my Dad was more than a little pleased to stumble across The Village Inn in the town of Lynton.

Lynton is one of those quintessential coastal towns that makes you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. There’s a functioning Cliff Railway system (the highest of it’s kind in the world) that hauls happy tourists up throughout the warmer months of the year and you can even a watch a movie in the adorable Lynton Cinema, a 68-seat capacity theatre that usually puts on two showings a day.

In addition to these charming diversions, there’s also the picturesque High Street that is home to some lovely cafes and souvenir shops.

After a long day of exploring Exmoor, it would have been nice to hole up in a pub for the evening and settle into a B&B for the evening, however this was May Bank Holiday and my parents were eager to get back to Conwy.

Within minutes of setting off from Lynton, the half pint of ale had taken effect and I spent the drive back to Wales listening to the soft rhythmic snores of my Mum and Dad.