On Margate Sands. 

Today I am off to Margate to meet my Nan who is visiting there on a coach trip with her social club. Whilst she is travelling several hours to get here, I’m just popping a little along the coast on the train for a few quid return. So. My question here is: Is Margate worth a visit? Either for £3.80 return, or a few hours stuck in a coach enduring (though she seems to enjoy it) bingo. 

The title comes from T. S. Eliot’s poem ‘the wasteland’ where:

“On Margate Sands.

I can connect

Nothing with nothing.

The broken finger-nails of dirty hands.

My people humble people who expect

Nothing.”

 

I’m not going to go into an analysis of this here, but even for someone who hasn’t taught lectures on it and seminars and spoken to reading groups (yes. I know. I’m very cool) it’s probably clear that this isn’t an overly positive happy reference. ‘Nothing with nothing. ‘Dirty hands’ etc. 
Well, does this have a resonance with Margate today? Others seem to think so. Or, at least, did think so.

Take this article for example: 

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/books/2009/nov/09/ts-eliot-waste-land-margate

Boarded up windows and a complete lack of inspiration. Since then, however, the town has seen lots of money pumped into it and a regeneration. The (new) old town is quaint with (new) old English pubs where sawdust strategically adorns the stools and floor and the local guest ales scream tradition and greatness. However; this alone is enough to scare me off entering today as well as the fact that antique shops in this area are selling simple old deck chairs for 45 pounds(!!!!) making me question the cost of lunch… and lunch is on me. So. Onwards we go… 

… To the pier! The pier is full of eateries and bars with the great added bonus of having communal seating – meaning one of the group can get a salad from one end, another can get cheese smothered fries from a different shop and the third person can get a local ale (or two) from the pub and skip the wasted carbs of solids. Then of course there’s the view out from this seating. It’s lovely. It’s sand, it’s sea, it’s little boats, its sunsets, its birds soaring. It’s the coast. You can sit here for hours of relaxation with a pint connecting nothing with nothing as you simply enjoy your surroundings and detach yourself from the world’s stresses. See what I did there? I twisted the words and made them positive. Isn’t English literature fun? 

If you want to laze on golden sand and enjoy the sun and go for a refreshing, invigorating, English swim and have ice cream or fish and chips whilst stared at intimidatingly by seagulls then be my guest. Margate appears the perfect destination for this and there hundreds doing just this today. 

This isn’t for me though. I’m more likely to be up on the pier with the raised up view and the pint wondering after a while if there is anything more to see as I get a little bored. And now that I’ve had lunch up here with my Nan I am wondering just this. Should I just go home now? Or is there other stuff to see whilst I’m here? 

Well, there is other stuff! Of a sort. There are footpaths that seem to stretch all along the Kent coast meaning I could get from here along to other haunts like Ramsgate or Whitstable. But it’s half 4 and I only have 12% battery. So not today. There’s also the Turner Contemporary gallery which has a fabulous view out to sea from the safety of its inside cafe. Fully recommended for a winter’s day. All the food is local. And the delightfully camp chap behind the counter is always a charmer. The gallery itself can also be wandered around for free with rotating exhibitions occasionally worth looking at. Sadly, today they are not worth looking at. And I’m out of here by 4:36 – Which included a stop at the toilets and a perusal of the gift shop. 

There are also a few quaint streets around the old town worth a stroll with nice old buildings and the like and coffee shops etc away from the coast. 

So maybe this is indeed a destination centred on the beach and its views. But then, it’s the seaside… so I guess this is in fact ok! The beach is clean, the water is the colour English coastal water should be – greeny bluey brown, and there are plenty of places to eat and drink with coastal views. For my £3.80 I am more than pleased! 👍🏻. For the price and access from Canterbury I’d give it a 4/5. Travelling from further afield for a day trip then I’d say there are better places. But if you’re already holidaying nearby or if you’re in London and want a day at the coast then here is perfectly good. 3.5/5. 

HOWEVER if you are fortunate enough to come on a day with a gorgeous sunset then this is a 5/5 star destination! Check this out! 

So there we have it :). Next month I’ll be having a similar day meeting Nan for her coach trip to Ramsgate. So keep your eyes peeled for a similar post of there. 

Peace out, 

Matt. 

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Why Travel? Building on a discussion in the pub… 

Anyone who has been to any sort of socialising event will no doubt have come across the well travelled person who loves to talk not necessarily about where they’ve travelled, but about how it has changed them. How it has made them find themselves and made them realise what truly matters. I was recently positioned with such a person at a gathering, with them the least-worst option of mingling, and it got me wondering… if this person’s view of travelling/oration of travel experience annoys me so much, why do I personally then travel? After all, it’s expensive and takes up a lot of time so there must be a damn good reason why I like it so much AND why I choose to spend my free time blogging on it too. 

Well, straight up the thing that comes to me is simply that you get to see beautiful sights. I’ve been lucky enough to get to see some of the world’s most travelled to locations, from the natural beauty of The Grand Canyon to the manmade impressiveness of cities like Rome and its colosseum. But what is it that makes me compelled to go see these things? It can’t simply be the superficiality of ‘these things are beautiful’ – can it? Well, yes, actually, it can. Why does a sight have to change you. Why does an experience have to be valued based on how it impacts you, not on simply how enjoyable it is. 
From browsing pyschologytoday and brainyquotes quotes on beauty it seems that most ideas revolve around the eye of the beholder and about beauty not being skin deep and simply visual. However for me Keats has got it right: 

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness.

– John Keats, Endymion

It’s not why something is beautiful that matters, simply that it is and to enjoy it. Take for example this photograph taken by me of Budgies J and Al walking in the Swiss mountains. 


The location was stunning and together we got to stroll through this stunningness for many hours: Stopping on the side of a secluded waterfall for a packed lunch, resting on the sheer rockface for a drink of water and simply stopping for no reason at all to just admire the view. This stopping and admiring is key. Stopping to admire the beauty around us. When do we get this chance when we are not in ‘travelling’ mode? Yet when we travel we get to to do it a lot and this is what is special about travelling. 

For example, budgie Al is a clinical, cold, rational Slytherin of a man whose heart is barely in his body yet alone on his sleeve. Yet, when I’ve been travelling with him I’ve seen him physically stop in his tracks and moan out a ‘wow’ from a view: a hidden and surprise lake on Mount Tamalpais for example and the first glimpse down into the Grand Canyon come to mind. He’s also said these very words which I think sum up in many ways what I’ve been saying: “let’s just stop and look. No photos, no phones. Let’s just look and admire.” (Said whilst looking out from the Golden Gate Bridge). 

And yes, there is a part of me now concerned that this is potentially crossing into the ‘travel changed me’ areas with me realising that beauty is awe inspiring and makes you stop and think… But no, let’s face it, this is still actually quite shallow. I’ve always known that I’m attracted to attractive things. I didn’t need to travel to realise this. It’s just that travelling is one of the only times when you’re allowed to appreciate beauty and that allows you to see it. So I guess this post’s message is twofold. 

1) appreciate beauty because it’s beautiful. 

2) don’t feel ashamed of the fact that you simply want to travel to see beautiful things. Just because others (genuinely or not) talk of their life changing experiences from travelling doesn’t mean that this is the correct way to travel. It’s just as important to stop and smell the roses. 

Thanks, 
Matt (the beautiful). 

Torre del Lago: My Second Home

By Al

You probably have not heard of the small Tuscan beach town of Torre del Lago Puccini. Settled between Lake Massciuccoli and the Mediterranean, I would call Torre del Lago my second home. Every summer since I was 3 months old, I have spent time here, staying with my grandparents in their summer house, enjoying home cooking and being a little bit spoilt. Though this is technically cheating, it certainly is budget friendly!

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From June – September each year, Torre del Lago comes alive with tourists. August, and particularly during the public holiday of Ferragosto*,  sees the town’s numbers swell, as Florentines, Pisans  and other city-dwellers flood the town. Whilst nearby Viareggio offers more in terms of night-life and entertainment, Torre del Lago is very popular with the LGBT community, with the highly regarded beachfront nightclub ‘Mamma Mia’ packed to the rim throughout August.

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As a child I would have told you that Torre del Lago was quite boring, with limited activities for children available. However, as a young adult, it offers a fantastic break from work. My recommended itinerary would be as follows.

10.30: After a lie in, cycle languidly to the beach. If you’re staying in the centre of town, this is just a 10 minute cycle ride away. Beware Italian drivers, they are notorious for good reason.

10:45: Arrive at the seafront. If you’re on a strict budget, then you can head to one of the free beaches. Otherwise head to one of the privately owned beaches where you can hire a sun lounger for the day. Either way you get golden sands, and views of the Mediterranean stretching beyond the horizon.

13:00: After a dip in the pleasantly warm sea, and gently cooking in the sun (please do wear suncream – you will burn) head to the restaurants lining the beachfront. For a traditional lunch, I highly recommend Fritto Misto**  with a bottle of Peroni lager.

14:00: Head back to the beach with a full belly, and smile on your face. You won’t find many Italians being active during the hottest part of the day, so follow their lead and find some shade to read a good book or for a pisolino (nap).

17:00: With the sea lapping around your ankles, the beach will stretch far in the distance to your left and right. Pick a direction, and go for a nice stroll and another dip in the sea. On your return treat yourself to a strong Italian coffee.

20:00: Having left the beach at a leisurely pace, head to La Rotonda, the town’s best place for pizza (in my opinion!). Head to the restaurant’s rooftop to enjoy your dinner whilst watching the sun set into the Mediterranean.

22:00: My favourite way to end the day is always with an ice-cream and drink. You will find lots of ice cream parlours, offering a multitude of flavours. Be brave and treat yourself to 5 scoops of 5 different flavours, for a truly mouth-watering experience. That diet can wait until the end of your holiday.

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Summary

Torre del Lago is not as glamorous or well known as its neighbour Viareggio. However, if you want reliably warm weather, golden beaches, and good food then you can’t go wrong.

If you are the kind of person who cannot stand the idea of lying on a beach for 7 days, then Torre del Lago is also an ideal base for visiting a number of Tuscany’s gems. Lucca, Florence, Pisa, and Cinque Terre, amongst many other areas are easily accessible by a surprisingly reliable train network.

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Whilst unfortunately my grandmother cannot provide you all with free accommodation, don’t let this stop you visiting Torre del Lago and the surrounding Tuscan localities, as it is a truly beautiful part of the world.

4.5/5 Budget Budgie Al rating

*Ferragosto – an Italian public holiday celebrated on 15 August, coinciding with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary. By metonymy, it is also the summer vacation period around mid-August, which may be a long weekend (ponte di ferragosto) or most of August.

**Fritto Misto – fish, squid and prawns deep-fried in a crisp batter.

A Budget Budgie Walking Tour of Canterbury.

For the last year or so I have lived in Canterbury having never visited the place before, so I have been an extended and happy tourist exploring its crevices and discovering its secrets. The place is simply steeped in history with it a UNESCO World Heritage Site owing to its stunning and significant buildings including the Cathedral, where Archbishop Becket was murdered, the ruins of St Augustine Abbey and the oldest church in the English speaking world! (St Martins) Only the church of these is free to visit however, with the Cathedral a costly visit (though not for me as a local student) and the Abbey setting you back a few quid also. There are other ways to spend your money in the city too with punting trips along the Stour and a number of fascinating museums exploring the history of the place including the Heritage museum and the Roman museum. However, here I am going to give you a cheap walking guide for the place on a sunny day starting from the main station where you can get a javelin to London in under an hour.

Stepping out of the station stretch out in the glorious Kent sun (which we always have) and then take a right along the road towards the town. At the end of the short road turn to your left and you are instantly facing the city centre. Right before you is the imposing Westgate that grants access into the city through its thick walls. Opened in 1380 it still grants access to the city with cars driving through its 18m arch and pedestrians walking through it on the left hand side. Once you’re through the arch you are in the city walls and its pedestrianised high-street. This is a narrow street of modern shops and cafes, some of which are fantastic and good value, but if you look up you will see the old buildings that remain – some hanging over the street, others set back in their splendour. There a couple worthy of special note. The first is tucked low on your right and is Eastbridge hospital. Founded in 1190 it was a hospital for pilgrims and then a school and church. Today its almhouses remain and you can have a look round this small piece of history for just a couple of quid. Soon after this on your left you cross the river and have gorgeous views of one of its little inlets over the railings on your left. Certainly a key photo opportunity. Further along on the left is The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge. This is a very impressive building from 1899 and was designed in the Tudor Revival style as a gift to the city in the form of a venue for knowledge. It still holds this role today with free galleries, a free museum and exhibition space upstairs and the public library at the back.

Keep going up the high-street enjoying the views and stop off at any of the cafes or pubs that grab your fancy now for your drink if you fancy – but no need to get anything to eat!

This is because we are going to get a packed lunch from one of the conveniently located supermarkets in town in the modern shopping section which is clearly signposted – Whitefriars. Options include Tesco and Marks and Sparks. Once you’ve got your food, and of course at least a bottle of water each as we are about to go for a country walk, take the road to the side of Tesco out of the centre. Go left at the end and then look to cross the road and enter Dane John Gardens. These free gardens date back to 1551 and are always expensively and exquisitely maintained. Walk along its central path enjoying the landscaping and look to your left and you will see the high city walls which run the length of the park and help the feel of safe cosy seclusion. These walls have surrounded the city since the Romans first built them in around 270 AD. They have since been built up and restored by various people including the Normans who built the Castle. When the children’s play park is on your left, look for one of the sloping paths up onto the wall and take it. Follow this path all the way up and you will find yourself upon the Dane John Mound. This is an old Roman Burial mound believed to be from the first century. On a clear day the view from the top lets you see 360 the entire city and its surrounding villages and countryside. Just lovely.

Once you’ve had your fill of the view and taken your snaps, head back down and walk right along the top of the old city wall stepping down off it at the end. Cross this road and take the alleyway, cross the road at the end and you are at Gas Street. Walk down this road and you will be at the Norman Castle! Begun by William the Conqueror in around 1070 it is now a ruin, but it is free to walk around with lots of information boards. You can also head inside it and go up a little way into one of the old turrets. Once done, head out and further down Gas Street. There is an old church at the end, go left at this and then right. You are now by a busy main road but don’t worry, this is for just a very short amount of time. Walk along the path and you will hit the river, go over the bridge and under the underpass into the park. Follow the path, cross the river and then go left at Toddler Cove Playground. You are now entering The Great Stour Way which is a stunning country walk of three miles between Canterbury and Chartham. River, Fields, Sheep, Wildlife, Horses, Stunning old Kent thatched houses backing onto the river and punters along the water. Its just lovely. Walk along here as long as you fancy until you find a spot for your lunch and set up shop with the sun on your faces and the birds singing around you.

Head back the way you came when you’re done but this time go straight past the Toddler Cove and follow the river into Westgate Gardens. These garden spaces can be traced back to the Roman time and have in them a plane tree over 200 years old and a Victorian Tower House. Punters continually go along the river here and have to duck very low to get under the small bridges. By now you are entering the evening probably, so go back right into the high street and this time take a left off of it and head towards the signposted Cathedral. Whilst it costs during the day, once the clock has struck 5:30 however it is free to enter the grounds and get up close and personal to the building. Head on in and get your snaps here – it can look gorgeous especially with the sun setting behind.

Now it depends on which train you wish to get back and what your plans are. Either head back to the station the reverse of where we began, or head to one of the pubs or restaurants for your dinner!

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual walking tour of Canterbury. Keep checking the blog for future posts as I will no doubt share more of Kent’s wonders.

Matt.

 

Stockholm: The Broken Capital

By Al (and Matt, in pink) 

The Broken Capital is not reference to any alleged political instability, or social unrest, rather it refers to the fact that the capital and its surrounding areas is made up of approximately 24,000 islands and islets – the Stockholm Archipelago.

The biggest towns of the archipelago, apart from Stockholm, are Nynäshamn, Vaxholm and Norrtälje. The village of Ytterby, famous among chemists for naming no fewer than four chemical elements (erbium, terbium, ytterbium and yttrium), is situated on Resarö in the Stockholm archipelago. This is where we stayed for 3 of our 5 days in the area. We are not chemists. There was simply a good deal on Airbnb!

Stockholm

The city architecture reminded me a lot of Prague (future blog post to come!), with a distinctive Gothic theme. This perfectly juxtaposes the general tranquillity of the city, with commuter boats and ferries meandering through the waters surrounding the city’s iconic sites, including Parliament, the Vasa Museum and Djurgarden.

If you like history, then I’d highly recommend visiting the Vasa Museum. You’ll find a full sized 17th century vessel, 95% of which is original material. The boat sank 10 minutes into its maiden voyage, but fortunately sank in the Baltic Sea. Due to the sea’s low salt composition, the boat was almost fully preserved.

The first day was unexpectedly warm in the capital, and you could tell the locals appreciated it.  Stockholmers lined the streets, chins raised and eyes closed facing the sun that has largely eluded them for the last 6 months. However, the rest of our holiday was very cold. Snow threatened for the majority of the time, but sadly did not settle. Winds clipped off the waters’ edges, making sightseeing a chilly challenge. Fortunately, you’ll find lots of boutique shops to duck into; a personal favourite was the beeswax candle shop found in Gamla Stan (the ‘Old Town’). I liked the Viking shop, also in Gamla Stan, which is full of drinking horns, iron metal work to Viking design and various other trinkets nodding to Scandinavia’s Viking past. 

I was disappointed with the availability of local cuisine. We scoured the streets looking for restaurants serving traditional (cliché!?) dishes, such as meatballs and fish. We searched in Gamla Stan, and Sodermalm (the trendy south of the city) but were unsuccessful. If you like Mexican, Italian or Texan food, you’re in for a treat. We did manage to have dinner on a hotel-cum-boat (I for one certainly don’t remember a cum boat! Would have made for a very different experience) along Soder Malarstrand which was quirky, and surprisingly affordable (if you like tap water!). If you’re willing to stretch your budget and crack into the overdraft then you can eat local in one of the few establishments offering such – but we were unwilling to wince with every bite at the prospect of the bill. 

Vaxholm/Resaro

Vaxholm is considered the ‘capital’ of the Archipelagos. Undoubtedly pretty, it was rather quiet and deserted at this time of year. We walked around most of the island in under an hour before hopping on the bus back to Resaro (where we were staying).

You’ll find Resaro north of Vaxholm. A very quaint and rustic ‘suburban’ commuter town is the best way I can describe it. Again, very quiet. However we did enjoy a beautiful sunset looking over the waters. Romantic, I know.

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Uppsula

About an hour north of Stockholm, and 20 minutes away from Stockholm Arlanda Airport, you’ll find the historic university city of Uppsula. Pretty enough, with an old silo shaped castle.

We walked along the river, wandered up the hill to the castle with its high views over the city and then headed back down to the Cathedral which is free to look around with its beautiful stone figures to kiss for luck. Well worth our morning visit! 

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Sigtuna

If your plane isn’t until late in the day you would be a fool to waste it hanging around the airport or lazing at your accommodation as late as possible instead head to Sigtuna which is just a bus journey away and is the oldest town in the country. As we came to expect from what we saw everywhere else, Sigtuna has stunning views over the water and the yonder scenery and is pleasant to stroll around even in the cold wind that welcomed us in March. 

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Review

I would advise visiting the country in winter (Dec-Feb) or high summer. On the one hand you’ll benefit from picturesque snow scenes. On the other hand you’ll experience long days, and hours of sunshine. Whilst the weather did not mask my experience, it was rather grey (except for the first day, which was unexpectedly, but pleasantly, warm). On 3/5 days it snow/sleeted, but did not settle.

I got the impression that the country is slowly awakening from its winter hibernation at this time of the year (late March). A lot of the popular outdoor tourist activities were either not operating at all, or operating a reduced schedule. Sightseeing boat rides were not running yet, and I did not see anywhere offering kayaking in the archipelagos. Admittedly, falling into the bone-chilling Baltic sea would probably have ended my holiday early, so perhaps this was a good thing!

This is a budget travel blog. Sweden is, no doubt, an expensive country. Fortunately for me, Matt has family in Stockholm, who were able to offer us free accommodation for part of our trip. The other part of our trip we stayed in an Airbnb. If you’re willing to sacrifice eating out, then you can save a lot of money cooking for yourself. 400SEK (approximately £35) for a main course is astronomical!

Whilst the country was indeed ‘sleepy’ as Al continually mentioned and has done since to everyone and their cat, and is expensive in many respects, it is in fact very friendly to the budget traveler. This is because of one reason – the public transport and the great value you can get on a 7 day pass! We got one each and it enabled us to bus across the islands and head into Stockholm from our rural island retreat for free*, get a discount on travel to Uppsula and also travel to Sigtuna for free from the airport. The public transport also gave me plenty of opportunities to smash Al at numerous games on my phone including Monopoly and Poker. 

BB Al’s Review: 3.5/5

BB Matt’s Review 4/5

*technically not free, you do have to pay for the 7 day pass which cost 330SEK (approximately £30). But certainly good value for money!

Dublin! Small city, big personality.

If you don’t like drinking, or literature, don’t bother visiting Dublin. The city is obsessed with Arthur Guinness’ famous stout, and equally proud of the revered Oscar Wilde. The Guinness storehouse offers a very interesting insight into the production of the ruby red (apparently it’s not black!) drink.  You end the tour with a free pint and panoramic views of the city. The views aren’t fantastic, but the drink’s good.

We spent New Year’s Eve evening in Temple Bar, the beating heart of the Dublin nightlife. You’ll find Temple Bar by the throngs of other people heading there south of the river and O’Connell Street. We took our own drinks with us, hidden under our coats. Paying €13 for a double vodka Red Bull is not the Budget Budgie way. There was a very friendly (drunk) vibe, with numerous street performers and musicians. Expect lots of Brits on ‘lads’ holidays, unfortunately.

Make sure you have an Irish coffee when in Ireland, particularly after a heavy night out. Hair of the dog! We’d also recommend a traditional steak and Guinness pie as a great way to warm yourself after getting wet wondering the streets. A nice city, but the weather isn’t ideal.

Top 5 things to do

  1. Guinness Storehouse
  2. Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour
  3. Christ Church Cathedral
  4. Trinity College
  5. Dublinia museum

Flights

London Luton Airport à Dublin (£100pp return) over New Years!

Accommodation

Private double bedroom with ensuite, Airbnb in the Docklands (€60 p/n)

Budget Budgie Rating

A compact city, steeped in culture and history, with plenty to see and do for a short break. We’d recommend taking a trip to the coast if you’ve got the time.

4/5