Santa Cruz, CA. (USA).

Somewhere between San Francisco and LA on the California coast is Santa Cruz. Before visiting the place I had never heard of it, or if I had it was quickly forgotten. However having now been a couple of times I thought I’d share this charming Oceanside town with you.

Downtown Santa Cruz is a charmingly cosmopolitan and stereotypically Californian ‘hippy’ feeling highstreet of independent shops and cafes. As wiki puts it: ‘Pacific Avenue serves as an outlet for the artistic and unique culture that Santa Cruz possesses.’ You can always find a locally made gift, for both yourself and others, here – with prices ranging from the upper end of budget friendly to the lower end of eye-watering for a millionaire and you can always find a high quality dirty mocha chai latte in generous sized glasses in any number of cafes. There are also usually some street performers and other things to produce a pleasant and vibrant atmosphere. So a thumbs up here.

Whenever I’ve been here I’ve ended up downtown after visiting one of the other beautiful spots that are in and around Santa Cruz first.

Perhaps the most popular of these is Natural Bridges State Beach. This state park is a nice sized piece of Californian coastal beauty. The main beach offers a cove of golden sands, sun and stunning views across the bay. And, whilst this is on offer in much of the surrounding area also, this particular beach has the added feature of the natural bridge. In the old days this was ‘bridges’, but sadly now the archways across the sand and ocean have fallen away to leave a single remaining true arch. However this is still a lovely sight with it regularly attracting a constant stream of people taking selfies – often beautiful people in swimming costumes; though often not so beautiful people in swimming costumes – and when the sun sets and you capture it at the right angle this can be truly spectacular… so I am told… but I have never been here at that time of day :/

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The state beach is also a dedicated area for wildlife and there’s always an abundance around you to see. Well, there has been on my few trips there anyway. The list includes mammals like the whales, seals and sea otters which can be glimpsed from the beach often on the horizon, and a plethora of little critters to see in the rock pools/tide pools. The main draw, however, is the monarch butterflies. I have mentioned these before when writing about Pacific Grove so I won’t go into too much detail. But here in Santa Cruz at the state park is a second reserve for their winter migration and they get up to 150,000 butterflies come to their reserve for protection each year. Whilst PG has the reserve tucked away in the town, here it is in the state park near the beach meaning you’ll often see them fluttering around you as you sunbathe which is just lovely.

The second area I wish to talk about is a little different, though it does still have the stunning backdrop of golden sand, blue ocean and brilliant sun – the beach boardwalk. This is California’s oldest surviving amusement park and is beautifully located along the oceanfront 😍. Opened in 1907 it still has classic carnival games and an old wooden roller-coaster nestled amongst newer rides and experiences. And of course there are booths selling all the sorts of food you would expect at a place like this – most popular of these when I’ve been seemed to be potato on a stick… odd. What’s great about the amusement park is that you can pop in and out of it between swimming and sunbathing on the beach – meaning you’re not always stuck with the rides and noise and can come and go as you please, thus alternating sun with screams. Having said this the ocean can be pretty chilly so you do get screams sometimes when people first dive in. Its very entertaining and made me feel as though I was back home in Britain.

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So there you have it. Santa Cruz. A town with a lovely feeling and well stocked highstreet, natural beauty and a delightful amusement park on the perfect sands. If you’re ever in the area I recommend you pop on by 👍🏻.

Oh, and, Happy New Year!

Matt.

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Tech and Travel.

Whilst we at budget budgie are money conscious and like to grab a bargain and save money where we can, we still like our tech when we travel. I can’t find it now as I’m away on fresh travels and not at home, but somewhere there’s a photo of all three budgies on a train travelling through Poland with us listening to music on one device and playing Fifa on an ipad using phones as the controllers. No doubt with a couple of cameras handy to the side too in case a particularly good shot appears out the window. During a ‘back in my day’ sort of conversation with my parents over coffee, it occurred to me that even in my very youthful life technology has changed significantly since I started travelling. So I thought I’d share a few ways where modern tech is a great plus for the budget traveller.

1. The research and planning. This is maybe a no brainier as in this day and age it is farcical for anyone to imagine planning and organising a holiday without using the internet and price comparison sites and the like. But let’s not take this for granted. Also this isn’t just useful for the preplanning stage, but also for planning whilst you’re out there and doing stuff. The ability to use your phone as if you were at home is incredibly useful for maps, looking up things to do nearby and for Instagram and keeping in touch. We thank you the gods of the internet 😍.

2. Travel entertainment. Often the budget option of a journey is longer and less comfortable than the more expensive version. Be this a bus instead of a train, or the local train instead of a fast commuter one, or cramped second class instead of standard or first. Therefore it’s great to have something to keep you entertained. And here comes the tech. I’m a great lover of books. Of feeling the page. Of having something real. Of smelling the ink. However for travelling this sucks, as if you’re going away for a while you either need a huge book or several standard ones. This is all weight and clutter. So an Ereader is your friend. Or audiobooks on your phone which take up even less space. Or games on your phone. Or music. Or podcasts. Or, well you get where I’m going here – tech brings you joy to ease the tedium. It can also bring you some comfort with better noise cancelling tech than ever before and cooling eyemasks and all sorts of sleep aids.

3. If you don’t have a budgie Al with you on your travels who is highly educated and skilled at languages, then tech is a fantastic tool her with translation aps and websites so you can both learn before you go, and translate whilst you’re there. Whoop

4. Photography. There are a few points to make here, but the two key ones for me are about the great advances in storage of photos and battery life. In the old days I’d have to carry a few memory cards with me. Now I have one huge one which does a full months travelling for me without needing to delete 😍. And I’d have a few batteries too and a bulky charger. And still have annoyances at times of the battery dying. Now, however, my camera is some sort of miracle worker as the battery in my DSLR has currently lasted me two different holidays spanning a few months and over 3,000 photographs. I don’t dwell on this and I don’t ask why – I simply thank whatever god it is enabling this to happen. Asides from this and stepping away from DSLRs which aren’t necessarily budget friendly, the phone cameras are now insanely good. At times my phone pics beat my big camera and it’s fancy lenses. This is just simply brilliant.

5. And five. The ability to both easily share your travels with others via blogs like this and read about other people’s travels is just swell ✌🏻👌🏻.

So there we have it – 5 quick budget budgie thoughts on tech and travel.

Have a good one,

Matt.

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. 

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.