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

 

 

 

 

 

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