Archive for the ‘England’ Category

My new favorite wine is wienerful!

December 19, 2009

I have a new favorite wine — the most wienerful wine in the world! Alas, from what I can tell, it’s not available in making its way throughout the Northeast and, soonish (2011/12) across the United States. I’m counting on my readers to investigate and report back.

I spotted the French wine Longue-Dog Grenache Syrah while checking out wines in the Netherlands, at the Super de Boer, a basic Dutch supermarket chain (just bought by Jumbo, FYI). I screamed, in that way that I do when I see something so wienerfully wonderful.

Here are the things I love about Longue-Dog. First, the dachshund, duh. Its image is not only stretched across the front of the label but continues around the back. Snazzy. There’s also a cute little wiener head on the neck label.

Longue-Dog Grenache Syrah, the most wienerful wine in the world

The name, too, is fun. It’s a play on words — for the Languedoc region of France. Languedoc, in the south, supplies a third of the country’s grapes and is France’s largest wine region — though its least known. I assume (but don’t know) that Longue-Dog comes from Languedoc grapes. Apparently the region is trying to become more known by consumers.

I have a brilliant idea. Start selling Longue-Dog in the United States. That would bring tail wags all around!

The bottle label has a tail-wagging part two

According to the small print on the back of the label, Longue-Dog is made by Boutinot, a wine producer and distributor based in the UK and started by Frenchman Paul Boutinot. I emailed Boutinot’s customer service address, but didn’t hear a bark back. (UPDATE Jan 22, 2010: Heard from Boutinot today. They’re “nearing” a launch in US. Yee-haw! )

Can anyone help, s’il vous plait?

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Lady Anne showed him the way

November 21, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Oct. 26, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

John is like the Energizer Bunny — with a backpack. I know I couldn’t keep up with him.

John takes a break after a steep climb to an ancient track known as The High Way.

John Mellecker checks the map after a climb to the ancient track "The High Way" on his hike along Lady Anne`s Way.

WHO: John Mellecker, 74, of Holden, Mass.

WHERE: England.

WHEN: 12 days in May.

WHY: To tackle his 15th long-distance walk in the United Kingdom since he retired from the financial-services industry nine years ago.

FOR THE LOVE OF . . . : “I never planned to make a hobby of this,” said Mellecker, who has logged more than 1,700 miles on foot in the UK. “I did the Coast to Coast Walk after I retired, and I was just smitten.” Mellecker is married but does his walks alone. He stays at bed-and-breakfasts and sometimes uses luggage transport services, as he did for this trip with Contours Walking Holidays.

John in front of the entrance to Brougham Hall. Lady Anne restored the Hall's chapel in 1659.

John at the entrance to Brougham Hall. Lady Anne restored it in 1659.

ANNUAL THEME: “Every walk, I look for a theme,” said Mellecker, who this time traveled along Lady Anne’s Way, a route that follows the footsteps “sometimes in spirit and sometimes on the actual road,” he said, of Lady Anne Clifford. Born at Skipton Castle in 1590, the 15-year-old Anne was denied her inheritance because she was female. She got justice at age 53 and spent the rest of her life restoring her castles, rebuilding churches, and creating almshouses.

FINDING HIS WAY: “The walk is very obscure,” said Mellecker, who walked 103 miles in eight days. “The challenge is it’s not marked in the traditional sense but is cobbled together on country lanes and existing paths and there are no signs.” He used a guidebook, a GPS device, and a compass. “To do these walks, people should have a real comfort with using compasses and maps.” The first half was in the Yorkshire Dales and then into Eden Valley in Cumbria. “I had a pretty good altitude gain and loss, with a tremendous variety of terrain.”

Lady Anne`s favorite castle. She died there in 1676.

John at Brougham Castle: Lady Anne's favorite castle. She died there in 1676.

ANCIENT TO MODERN: “The weather was beautiful, but there were always thunderstorms lurking around in the afternoon,” he said. “England is so compact that history is compressed. I walked through Iron Age villages, checked out 19th-century mining operations, saw prehistoric forts, and walked on the same roads Roman legions walked on.” A more modern sight, and sound, occurred in Eden Valley, when Royal Air Force fighter jets flew overhead on training missions.

HERE’S TO LADY ANNE: At the end of each day, after checking in to the B&B, Mellecker would visit the local pub for a celebratory pint of beer. Towns he stayed in included Skipton, Grassington, Buckden, Askrigg, Appleby, and Penrith. In Appleby he visited an active almshouse Clifford built. “She kept a diary of everything she did, which was the basis of the walk, and in it she describes laying the cornerstone in that almshouse. There was a resident reading in the courtyard, and I felt like I’d stepped into the 1600s as an intruder and then went back through the arch to the 21st century.”

They’re loving London, aren’t they, love?

February 12, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(published Dec. 23, 2007, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: This is a little catch-up piece, as it ran before I started posting my Globe column on the blog. I wanted to make sure I added it because I think it’s a great example of family travel that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Well, maybe just an arm. It is London, after all.

WHO: Scott Weighart, 44, and Ellie Boynton, 46, and their children Hannah, 11, and Timmy, 8, of Brookline, Mass.

WHERE: London.

WHEN: One week August.

WHY: The family initially planned to visit Edinburgh, as Weighart is of Scottish heritage, but their passport applications were caught in the national backlog, and they had to cancel the trip. “They came two days after we were supposed to leave,” Weighart said. “I’d worked in London for three months after college, and we thought there would be a lot to do there for the kids. It was their first international trip.”

LOSING POUNDS: “It was a challenge trying to do a fun family vacation in a city where it’s easy to hemorrhage money,” he said. “Maybe we’d pay $8 for hamburgers here that would be 8 pounds there, which was $16.” They rented a flat in the South Kensington neighborhood. “It was near two kid-friendly museums, which were free, and near three tube lines.”

GAINING POUNDS: “We’d have breakfast at home, and take snacks for the night,” he said. “One of the fun things is going Timmy in grocery storeto grocery stores. We’d go to Sainsbury’s every morning for fresh and relatively cheap croissants and have fun trying new things, like rhubarb yogurt. Also, the English do unhealthy food really well. The kids loved Cadbury bars and the funny flavors for crisps, like prawn. We ate dinner at pubs a lot. There’s no smoking now, but you can smell the residue of decades of smoke.”

WEIGHING OPTIONS: Weighart packed a kid-friendly London guide, and with his laptop he also would check out activities beforehand on TripAdvisor. Hannah and Timmy on Platform 9 3/4One day they went to the Camden Lock Market and took a canal boat ride to the London Zoo, but skipped the zoo because it would have cost the family $100. They also passed over the Tower of London for the same reason. Also deemed too pricey was a black-taxi Harry Potter tour. “It would have been $400 with a tip. We couldn’t stomach it,” Weighart said. “We went on our own to the rail station at King’s Cross, where they have Platform 9 3/4,” the fictional embarkation point for the train to Hogwarts (there is now a sign at the station but not a true platform).

DOUBLE FUN: The kids loved the double-decker bus rides,” he said, and they saved on public transport by purchasing a discount booklet. “We had to have seats at the top front, of course. The kids started counting all the double-decker buses they saw; my son got to 1,000. Our book recommended taking bus No. 15, which goes all through downtown.” The kids enjoyed watching traffic on the left, and found the accents interesting, as well as names for things, like “toastie” for toasted sandwich.

MANY MUSEUMS: They visited the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which they reached by boat, as well as the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood. “It’s in East End London and has games, toys, and dolls from the last 300 years.”

Hannah on the London EyeAN EYEFUL: The family splurged on the London Eye, about $80 total. “It looks like a Ferris wheel but is these huge glass pods that hold about 20 people. You book time in advance. You wait about a half hour and ride a half hour. From there I could even see the office I used to work in.”

Cycling the ‘Great Wall of Britain’

January 30, 2008

This was first published in the Boston Globe on Jan. 27, 2008, but you’ll find links and a lot more photos in this version. Surprises in England: It really is as expensive (for Americans) as everyone says it is. Beware that most lodging prices are listed *per person.* I loved being in a foreign country where I spoke the language. I hated cycling on the “wrong” side of the road, especially in roundabouts! But I was impressed with the cycling infrastructure, both on roads and dedicated paths.

By Diane Daniel

GREENHEAD, England – “OK, you can stop staring now,” I called out between labored breaths. The sheep kept their eyes on me as I pushed a bike weighted with a week’s worth of gear up the steep path next to their pasture.
Sometimes, when you’re on a bicycle and the hill is vertical, you just have to get off and push. My husband and friends were too far ahead to witness my surrender. Instead, I had an Hadrian’s Wall at Walltown Crags near Greenhead, Englandaudience of 50 or so sheep following my every move.
The reward for tackling one of the few punishing grades along the 175-mile Hadrian’s Cycleway was Walltown Crags, which gave us our most impressive view of the week of “the great wall of Britain.”
Begun in 122 AD by the Emperor Hadrian and his Roman soldiers, Hadrian’s Wall marked the army’s northern frontier in Britain for nearly 300 years. An engineering marvel of stone and turf that ran 73 1/2 miles from the North Sea to the Irish Sea, the wall Hadrian envisioned was to be 10 feet wide and 15 feet high, though those dimensions varied because of materials and manpower as the wall extended westward.
The wall was completed in about eight years and bustling civilian communities sprang up around it and its milecastles (fortlets) and garrisons to do business with the soldiers. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While only small parts of the wall are visible, ongoing excavation turns up new finds yearly.
We, however, assumed we would be cycling along the wall for days. Instead, we didn’t spot it until our fifth day, after 100 miles of riding. But the route is filled with archeological stops – forts, churches, museums, and ruins. Best of all, we were treated to an eclectic sampling of northern England, from its haunting coasts and sheep-speckled countryside to thriving cities.
Hadrian’s CyclewayThe national cycleway, which opened in 2006, was routed using mostly country roads and bike paths. Save for a few spots, it is well signed. For walkers, there is the 84-mile Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail, opened in 2003.
It was early October when we met our friends in Newcastle, then paid for private transportation across the island to the Cumbrian coast. (Because of prevailing winds, most cyclists ride west to east.) My husband and I rented bikes, while our friends brought their tandem. We carried all our gear and winged it with lodging, but shuttle providers are available for those wanting baggage transfer and nightly reservations.

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Bathroom blunder

October 27, 2007

One of the reasons I was excited about traveling to England last month was because it was the first time in years I’d be in a foreign country where I could actually speak the language. How relaxing! On Day One, I was reminded how being fluent didn’t mean being attentive. I could blame jet lag, but my friends would know better.The trip went like this: By plane from Durham, NC, to Atlanta to Munich to Manchester, England. By train: Manchester to Newcastle, a three-hour ride. About halfway through the trip I got up to use the loo.automated tubular contraption It was an automated tubular contraption, much like the one pictured here, but in this case tucked inside the hallway area between the conductor and the first car. I pushed the “open” button and the door slid open on its track, much like an elevator. Inside, I pushed the “close” and it closed.

As I was doing my business, I was shocked to hear the whir of the door as it slowly slid opened. While quickly but only partly pulling up my pants, I instinctively stood and reached to close the door, which was as ineffective as reaching for an automated car window on its way down.

I looked up to find an elderly woman watching me, while the male ticket taker had been polite enough to turn away.

“I’m so sorry, love, I guess you didn’t lock it, did you?” she said.

I guess I didn’t, did I?

I mumbled something while I found and stabbed at the “close” button, which, it turned out, was right next to the “lock” button.

“Leave it to the Yank,” I said with a red-faced smile as I exited.

Trying to be a regular bloke

October 14, 2007

Most of the newspapers I write for don’t allow journalists to take any sort of press trips, press rates, or any sort of subsidies. The ethics of subsidized travel is a huge topic in the press and travel industry. I do think it is impossible to take “freebies” and not feel somewhat beholden to the giver. But my top argument for traveling as a traveler and not as a “travel writer” is that I want to get the full experience, as any “regular bloke” would, thereby providing, I think, a much better service to my readers.

I did go to tourism officials for non-financial assistance when I planned an early-October cycling trip with Wessel and two Dutch friends, Victor and Marlene Benard (who co-own Free Spirits, a smashing travel/outdoor store in Amsterdam). I wanted information on the route, lodging, and bike hire (“rental” for you Yanks). I said I wanted no discounts whatsoever. Because I was writing an article on the Hadrian’s Cycleway, tourism officials would have been happy to set me up with heavily discounted or perhaps free bikes, lodging, and probably even meals.

I used the bike-rental company recommended by the tourism folks. The company,  it turned out, subcontracted to another company, therefore increasing the price. Annoying!  They did know I was a writer, so in that way I realize I’m not completely “regular.” But I did ask for services and prices that “any regular bloke” would receive. Wessel and I rented bikes, while Victor and Marlene brought their tandem over on the ferry from the Netherlands.  The bikes cost $220 each for the week. I made sure they’d be equipped with water bottle cages and front and back panniers, as we would be carrying our own gear.  I also arranged transportation for us all from Newcastle, on England’s east coast, to Ravenglass on the west, and the official start of the Cycleway — that cost $550!! 

Diane packs panniers in Greenhead, UKWhen we met our driver and got our bikes, we discovered that Wessel’s bike had no front panniers or water bottle cage. Had everything been free or discounted, would I have expressed my annoyance? Maybe a little, but maybe not. But because I was a regular bloke, I felt free to raise a little hell. It didn’t get me far. Wessel went without front panniers, and Victor and Marlene loaned us one of the water bottle cages from their bike.

What I found ironic was that the bike company, which had been willing to give me a steep press discount, didn’t do for free what would have impressed me most — provide  great service.

In the end, after our marvelous trip was finished, I contacted the company and ended up getting a refund for one of the bike rentals — $220. They offered to refund both, but I felt that was excessive, and likely special treatment based on my being a travel writer. I will say that the bike company has a very good reputation and I think my experience was unusual.

Despite my pleas to be treated like a regular bloke, here’s the final irony. Although the bike company owner said he wasn’t making excuses for the service issues, he did say this: “We don’t normally do just transfers [as opposed to shuttle service *and* accommodation arrangement] because by the time we have paid for the driver, fuel, vehicle costs there is no margin to cover any of our costs. Given you are a journalist and the fact we are keen to promote our region, we were keen to help despite the fact we knew we weren’t going to make money on your tour. “

The moral of the story: when someone knows you’re a travel writer, they’re probably not going to treat you like a regular bloke, even if you ask them to.

Back from England, aren’t I, love?

October 11, 2007

Crikey! I’m home after 16 days in northern England. Today, whilst driving at home in Durham, NC, not to be confused with Durham, England, I got in the left lane when I should have been in the right. I didn’t drive in England, but I did bicycle and it took many days to remember to “stay left!” England_Hadrian’s Cycleway_National Cycle Network_route 72I guess I remembered a little too well. Mostly while cycling there I felt like an owl, turning my head almost 360 before making any move in traffic. When it came to the roundabouts, however, I couldn’t wrap my American brain around the logistics and simply followed just behind my husband, Wessel, who is better at figuring out traffic things. (Though I think I’m a better driver, but we haven’t held an official contest.) He’s Dutch and lived in the UK at one point, plus he’s just better with directional things, although I did get him good one day in Durham, England, not to be confused with Durham, NC, when he was turned around and I wasn’t. I love when that  happens! (Once a year or so.)
Start of Hadrian’s Cycleway in Ravenglass, UK
From left: Marlene, Diane, Wessel and Victor at the start of Hadrian’s Cycleway in Ravenglass, England.