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. 

“When in Rome…

…see the sights, and then write a blog about it.”

By Al

Rome is a fantastic short-break idea for Europeans, and perhaps my favourite city in Europe (thus far). This article explores some of the reasons why I hold Rome in high regard, but also some of the less good things. Every silver lining has a cloud. Perhaps.

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The Roman Stuff

Rome has lots to offer, and if you’re a history aficionado, then you must visit Rome. The Colosseum, for a reasonable fee of €10 (make sure you buy in advance to avoid LONG queues), is breath-taking. Literally breath-taking, there’s quite a few steps.

You can buy entry to the Colosseum, and then explore the stadium at your own leisure. Walking out into the stands, looking down into the arena, you begin to truly appreciate the spectacles which took place here almost 2000 years ago.  The steep banks of the stands filled to the rim with up to 80,000 blood thirsty Romans, watching as men fought animals and each other. Modern day entertainment is positively tame in comparison. Unlike many pieces of historic architecture, you can get very close and personal with the structure of the Coliseum. Touching the walls, I felt a charge of excitement knowing that people for almost 2000 years have touched this structure. I wondered about these people, who they were, and how they lived. You can truly live and breath history within the  Coliseum.

Also check out the Roman Forum, and The Pantheon.

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The Religious Stuff: The Vatican City

I’m not religious. I’m not arty. I’m not particularly cultural. So, visiting the Vatican for a second time didn’t particularly fill me with much joy – particularly when I had to part with €30. Not budget friendly, but necessary to appease my girlfriend. Small price to pay for an easy life!

I’ll be careful here to avoid upsetting those readers who may be religious. So, I’ll review it from my girlfriend’s perspective. As a non-practising Catholic, she loved it. She loved the art, the history, the sculptures, the tour guide, the buildings. Everything. Like a love-struck puppy, she stood there doughy-eyed, lapping up the knowledge being shared by the rude – but in an endearing kind of way – tour guide.

I have no doubt that the Vatican is an amazing place, but I have visited once before. The art is very beautiful, so much so, and so plentiful, that you begin to take it for granted by the end of the tour. “Oh yes, another marble sculpture of a well built, but not particularly well-endowed man, interesting hmm hmmm”.

We ended the tour in the Sistene Chapel – the room tightly packed with people looking at the ceiling. Again, the art is pretty good. The atmosphere wasn’t very serene though. Police officers in the corners ‘shush’ the crowd every couple of minutes, others patrol the floor looking for people attempting to take photographs, before being swiftly expelled. I presume they’re taken to the Pope’s office, before being given a verbal reprimand. Perhaps detention after school too.

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Other Stuff

Fontana di Trevi – the famous fountain is ruined by all the people, selfie-sticks and dictatorial Fountain Police*. Fancy a seat on the fountain wall? Want to stick your hand in the inviting blue water? You’ll have to be quick, because the fountain police are watching YOU. The Fountain Police don’t allow you to do these things, and to show their disapproval, they will BLOW THEIR WHISTLE at you. Fancy a risky game? Do some stretches, throw your loose change in to lighten your load, and take a seat on the wall. The Fountain Police will come for you from both directions – how long can you last? Before they get to you, flee into the crowds. Forever gone, like a true Machiavellian.

*They aren’t really called Fountain Police, I think. Just Police.

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Palace of Justice – the seat of the Supreme Court of Cassation – the highest court in the land – this is an impressive building. The building screams money and power, rather than ‘the rule of law’.

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Summary

Rome (including the Vatican) is the 3rd most visited city in Europe. It is clear why. The city is teeming with things to see and do. Avoid July-August if you don’t like crowds, but you won’t go wrong if you take the plunge and come on a short break here.

BB Rating

4.5/5

 

 

 

 

 

Ibiza: an island with a lot to offer

Whenever the Spanish island of Ibiza is mentioned, it is difficult to dissociate it with images of hordes of drunken, drugged up young people jumping around in clubs and sprawling on the beach in all their pink sunburnt youthfulness. Ibiza is of course famed for its clubs, of which it has several world-renowned ones, like Pacha, and for the excess which goes with it. But since reaching the lofty age of 25, clubs and all that stuff have lost any appeal they once had with me (if they ever did, I’ve never been too sure about them).

As my girlfriend is from Ibiza I have visited the island several times now, in all the seasons, and I’ve made an effort to see the other side to the island that is so often ignored, and discovered that this hot, humid, pleasingly green island is rich in history and blessed with great natural beauty (which everyone, from tourists to developers seems fairly determined to destroy). It has a lot to offer a traveller who is interested in an experience that won’t leave your head ringing like it had been used to chime the bells of a cathedral.

First of all, exploring Ibiza off-season is quite a strange experience. From June until September the island, and especially the towns of Ibiza and San Antonio, burst into life, but in the other months many of the shops, restaurants, bars and hotels shut up shop and curl up into blissful hibernation. The streets are pretty empty and the atmosphere is sleepy, and it offers a great opportunity to explore the towns and countryside unmolested. From my experiences, late September or mid-spring are ideal times to visit, as the crowds have dissipated but it is warm enough to enjoy the beaches and sea, and most of the places are still open. Take a walking or cycling tour of the hills in the island’s interior in spring to enjoy the lovely blossom colours, while the ground is carpeted in striking yellow flowers. It’s a good time to explore as there are very few cars, and most of the reckless rental cars with drivers unaccustomed to driving in the right hand side that plague the summer have moved on.

Ibiza’s rich history is also there to be appreciated. It has passed through the hands of, among others, the Phoenecians, the Romans, the Muslims, Catalans, and Castilian Spanish, and they have all in some way left their mark. The town of Ibiza has a Phoenician necropolis which can be explored: there is always something to be gleaned about a civilisation by seeing how they treated their dead, so it’s worth visiting. Meanwhile, the necropolis sits in the shadow of Dalt Vila, with its large defensive structures sprawling high over the town, and can be seen from all around. Its streets and structures take you through some of the story of Ibiza. Developed by the Muslims who ruled the island, it was conquered by the Catalans, whose breach through the walls has been saved and preserved. They, and later the Spanish, built the battlements and bastions which today stand to offer exceptional views to us pink, crisping tourists. The streets are steep, cramped and deliciously atmospheric, and exploring the warren of white buildings and old facades is certainly worthy of your time. There is also a large medieval market in May, which is fun.

Aside from history and walking, there are of course the beaches, and there are many to choose from. I shall here give a very quick review of the ones I’ve been to, having visited purely for research (I know, I know, the sacrifices I make for you, dearest readers):

Playa D’en Bossa is where all the drunk people go on the south-east side of the island

Talamanca, which is quite peaceful, in the south

Figueretas, which is ok but not the most luxurious location

Las Salinas, by a natural park, and one of the more pristine beaches. Nice place to walk too

Benirras, which is quite small and secluded, and has utterly breathtaking water that is so clear the boats look like they’re levitating

Sa Caleta, which is surrounded by orangey cliffs and very secluded. Small and a bit stony though

D’hort, a lovely beach with views out to a rocky island jutting from the sea. Go early as parking is a challenge

Of course, there are many others, and I shall in the name of research try and add to this list in the future.

 

From many of the beaches and towns you can get boat rides, a thoroughly relaxing way of spending time. There is something so intoxicating about boats and gliding effortlessly over the waves, and the boat slipping its way through the swelling, sparkling sea (I really want a boat, ugh why is this Budgetbudgie and not Mega-rich budgie?). One nice option is to hop on a sea bus that takes you from Ibiza town to some of the nearby beaches. It’s a good way to get around, and you get the views of the coastline while you go (and you get to be on a boat, the best thing in the world. Yay boats). Or take a boat to Formentera for the day.

Now, for the night, should you wish to do the sensible thing and refrain from clubs, food is a perfect alternative. Ibiza, being an island, does seafood very well, and of course try paella (a few places will even do vegetarian ones). One place I would also recommend is Can Bass, near San Jose (the sans, or saints, are everywhere in town names in Ibiza; it’s exhausting and confusing, and also kind of endearing). The atmosphere there is so relaxed, and the place is beautifully designed. It’s a little pricey, but to spend an evening outside in pleasant surroundings it’s worth it. Also, in Ibiza town, try the pincho and tapas bar Can Terra Ibiza. It gives you a bit of a taste of Basque cuisine, and the wine is excellently cheap (so cheap I could save enough money for that boat in maybe 500 years instead of 1000, which isn’t so bad). Wherever you go, make sure you have some bread and ali oli, a garlicy sauce which is very typical of the Balearic islands.

Ibiza really has a lot to offer, and isn’t just a summer island for clubbing. Its beaches are diverse and beautiful, it has history to explore, and beautiful countryside to roam. The food isn’t bad either, and there’s the bountiful joys of the sea to enjoy too. Maybe it’s time to take back this island from the young club people, and appreciate the many other pleasures it has to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

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.