Category Archives: Travel

Train Service or Train Business?

TrainPostImage300x200Public transportation is a crucial service in any modern society, and vital for the economy. Not only does public transport facilitate workforce mobility, but it does so without the excessive costs to our health and environment that come with private automobiles. Therefore, it’s paramount that the politicians who run the United Kingdom understand this, so they can ensure the best possible service to all of us.

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Snowdon – Mountaineering, great pub food and helicopters.

This weekend a dozen of us went to Wales to climb Snowdon. We had booked a bunkhouse at Snowdon Basecamp close to the pub Cwellyn Arms. We knew that if the weather was so bad that we couldn’t make the ascent, at least we could spend the time in the pub that carries the ambitious slogan “9 real ales 9 days a week”. Most of us set off from Cambridge Friday at about 14:00 after half a day’s work, but didn’t get far before we ran into serious traffic. I took us several hours to get out of Cambridgeshire! Luckily after that the traffic wasn’t too bad, and we made it to the pub for 21:50. Fortunately, we’d called them and asked if they could keep the kitchen open until 21:30 as it normally closes at 21:00, and even though we arrived even later than that, they were still happy to serve us and the food was amazing. The last couple of mountaineers arrived just after midnight, so some of us had to stay in the pub and sample the real ales, poor us.

Saturday morning we had a quick breakfast in the bunkhouse and managed to get started on our walk at 9:00, as we had hoped. It was a very grey and rainy morning, but spirits were high as we set out to conquer a mountain several of us had never actually seen, as it was shrouded in a massive, rainy cloud. Maybe this helped keep the group going as it meant we weren’t able to see how long a journey we still had ahead of us. Soon after the ascent started we entered the low-hanging cloud and weren’t able to see further than a dozen metres along the path. We had to keep alert to stay together and avoid anyone disappearing in the clouds behind or ahead of us.

Gill on the cloudy path

Gill on the cloudy path

About half way up the mountain (at least that was our estimate though we couldn’t see anything) the track suddenly disappeared in a wet, grassy plateau. We had a break while trying to make out which way the path continued, but we noticed a couple of other groups continuing up a steep bit where there seemed to be something like a path. The other groups had proper maps and compasses, and one of them looked like a leader guiding the others. So we followed them up some increasingly steep and very wet bits of grassy ledges before they suddenly stopped in front of us. After a while it was clear that they also didn’t know where the path was. They decided they had to backtrack a bit and try a different way around some very steep bits. We followed them together with the third group. After another failed attempt we all decided we’d have to go way back down to where we last knew we were definitely on the track and attempt to find our way from there. It was mentioned that if we couldn’t find a proper track from there the only safe thing was to give up and start heading back down. Morale was not as high any more and while the group with a leader headed downwards, we and the third group had a bit of a break. A few minutes later when we were heading down ourselves and were just about to start backtracking the first and steepest bit of our uncertain ascent, one of the members of the group with the leader came running down to us from a different direction to tell us they’d found the path. We got the third group back up to where we were, and we were all guided round a flat grassy bit to where suddenly we could see a clear path with rocks and stones and we were finally on our way towards the top again. It was a joy to feel how sudden camaraderie and solidarity had developed between us three groups of strangers.

We were now certain the summit would be just around the next boulder or over the next scramble. However, it stayed hidden in the cloud as we continued upwards, and suddenly the path changed character significantly. It was now no longer winding it way up the side of the mountain, but had turned into a narrow path along the sharp ridge of the mountain. We knew this was a good sign as it signalled the last part of our climb, but it also brought on some moments of vertigo for some of the members of our team and once again it was probably for the best that clouds were hiding the otherwise beautiful but also scary view below the sharp drops on both sides. One thing that made us feel safer through it all, was the omnipresent sheep that seemed to watch over us.

A sheep on the ridge

A sheep on the ridge

Finally we recognised the top of the Watkin path merging with ours from the right, and we knew that there were only a few minutes’ walk left. It was a few steep climbs, but shortly after we could make out the roof of the cafeteria building on the summit. After the mandatory touching of the triangulation point we quickly huddled in the busy cafe and tried to get rid of as many wet clothes as possible while we enjoyed some hot drinks.

When we had all eaten and rested a bit we set out again. We wore more clothes as the descent was expected to be colder, though some extra clothes had been soaked by the rain already. Off we went, back into the cloud. After missing our path, but quickly recovering (thanks to Androids and Google Maps), we were well on our way down the mountain. Then the miracle happened that made the whole journey worthwhile. First it felt like it was just getting slightly brighter. Then we saw small patches of blue sky. Then suddenly, like curtains drawn aside, the clouds opened up to a magnificent view and a warming sunshine. It’s hard to describe in words, so instead here are some photos:

Clouds spreading

The clouds starting to spread

Clouds spreading

Katie and I with the spreading clouds

Clouds spreading

The magnificent view revealed by the clouds

On the way down we met Katie’s parents and their new dog Callum who live just next to Snowdon in the lovely country of Wales. We all had a rest and chat with the dog, who was very excited to see so many people. Not as excited as he was to see the sheep and get to drag Katie the last bit of the way down the mountain, one of the fastest descents ever seen. After we got back to the bunkhouse and had a shower, we headed to the pub. Here we enjoyed a well deserved feast and lots of lovely lovely ales and Winter Warmer.

Sunday we had a relaxed start to the day with cooked breakfasts at the pub and after checking out we headed to Caernarfon to see the castle. It was interesting enough, and we enjoyed scaling the many walls and towers to get some nice views. However, we didn’t expect the excitement that this old castle had in store for us. Upon arrival we saw an ambulance parked outside and we gave up on one of the towers, as there were paramedics on the stairs. Later we also saw some firemen, but didn’t give it very much thought. While we were busy admiring the many medals in the museum tower, we heard the sound of a helicopter that didn’t seem to just fly by, but the sound was hanging close to the castle. We quickly went outside to see a massive, yellow RAF rescue helicopter hanging over the castle grounds. It was an impressive noise and it seemed surreal hanging over the old castle. After hanging completely fixed for a long time, like some oversized insect, it hovered to one side where a man was lowered onto the castle wall as seen in the video below:

I’d like to mentioned that we at this point knew that it wasn’t anything too serious, but “merely” a broken ankle. It was a relief, as I would have felt bad about having filmed and photographed it all if someone was dying, even if there were scores of other people doing the same (just count the number of videos on youtube). After the guy had introduced himself to the firemen, paramedics, the injured person and their companion on the wall and had spent some time preparing the hoists the companion was lifted up into the helicopter. This can be seen in the next video below. Katie was saying as she was ascending towards the big bug in the sky, that she probably hadn’t expected that when she was having her breakfast! In the end the rescue man was lowered up together with the injured person in a stretcher.

Before leaving for home we went to Black Boy Inn in Caernarfon for lunch. This is one of the oldest pubs in North Wales, and to my joy they seem very fond of the Purple Moose brewery, which happens to be one of my favourites. Also, the food was amazing and was served in very large portions.
That’s all from a wonderful holiday in Wales. It was a great contrast to when Katie and I climbed Snowdon in June where we had sun all the way up and could see our goal ahead of us. It was much more of an adventure with the uncertainties and the possibilities of getting lost and the rain and cloud made the revelation of the view when the clouds parted so much more breathtaking. I recommend it! And I recommend climbing Snowdon, Cwellyn Arms both as a pub and for a place to stay either in the bunkhouse or just camping and I recommend going to Caernarfon, both for the castle which is worth a visit even without helicopter rescues taking place and for the food of the Black Boy Inn.

Bruges – the loot

A great weekend in Bruges came to an end yesterday. It was very hard to leave, but at least we didn’t leave empty handed. Below is a photo of the loot!

Loot from Bruges

I really recommend Bruge as a holiday destination to everyone. There’s lots to see and do, and definitely plenty to drink and eat, and not just chocolate! Saturday night we went to a very nice restaurant where we had moules frites. For starters we had some very tasty, juicy snails and a lovely creamy fish soup. Here’s a couple of photos just to show that it wasn’t all about the beer and chocolate (or food). Bruges is full of amazing historical buildings and the canals give it an extra cosy atmosphere.

A house at night by the canal

The bell tower

The bell tower - famous from the film "In Bruges" (and through hundreds of years of history)

Summer House Traaen

It’s now several days since we arrived at the family summer house near Hulsig and it’s been lovely. We’ve been swimming, built dams, seen lots of wildlife and had lots to eat and drink, and it’s almost time to say goodbye. Here’s a bit about some of the experiences we’ve had here.

When we arrived Friday night we had a feast of crab claws with some lovely white wine. Personally, I would prefer crab claws over lobster any day. The meat is so tasty and firm and juicy and building a pile on top of the bread is very satisfying. The only problem is that you run out of appetite and we didn’t seem to have eaten half of them. On Sunday night we had even more 🙂

Saturday was the big Hesselholt party, where everyone brings a dish and we all dig in. To the right is a photo of all the food when it was lined up (except the cake). There was frikadeller, two tarts (salmon and chicken), smoked salmon and tuna mousse which is a mixture of tuna, egg, peas, something creamy and more. Of course this just wouldn’t go down properly without some lubrication, so there was an almost equally appetising table in the corner of the room: the drinks table. I took a photo of it, but I’m not going to post it here, as it was mostly a lot of cans and bottles of beer and wine. Nothing quite as exciting to look at as the food table, even if it was at least as enjoyable.

Feast


After we’d feasted and rested for a bit, we all went to the beach to have a swim in the sea. This is a tradition and normally we’re lucky with the water temperature rising to the occasion. This time we were just lucky with the weather. In spite of the forecast predicting grey cool weather, we had lots of sun and it was very pleasant on the beach. The best way to describe the water was to say it was very refreshing, and it made the air and sun seem that much warmer. Afterwards we went back to the summer house for cake and coffee (or beer or wine). There were two large blueberry cakes with loads of blueberries picked in the heaths around the summer house accompanied with creme fraiche and more fresh blueberries. I had some more beer from my brewery Skagen Bryghus which I own (2) shares in.

After having eaten a lot of cake, we all felt like getting some exercise. This led us to undertake what has been a tradition up here since I was a child: dam building. It wasn’t quite as simple as that, and hasn’t been in the later years, where simply damming the stream isn’t challenging enough. Instead we decided that we would change the flow of the stream by cutting off its two long bends and driving it straight into the sea. This wasn’t a small task and it took a lot of hard work from quite a few eager “engineers”. In the first of the photos on the right you can see everybody hard at work, though some of the smaller kids didn’t quite share the vision of the project, and set up a protest dam in the middle of the new canal. However, after some clever diplomacy from the parents, they were persuaded to let progress progress. The second photo shows the final result just before we went home to avoid the many mosquitos that were showing up shortly after the sun ducked behind the dunes.


We had succeeded in changing the path of the stream and it was now flowing straight into the sea, apart from the lake on the right. When we returned the day after we were surprised to find that the stream was still flowing along our new path, though it had flooded the right hand dam and created an even bigger lake in the bend of its old bed.

This is all for now, for even though I haven’t described all our adventures at the summer house and in Skagen, we’re going to Skanderborg Festival tomorrow, so I might have to catch up on the blogging after we get home.

The end of this adventure

A couple of days ago we realized that it wasn’t long before the end of our Swedish adventure and we would have to return to Cambridge and work. However, the holiday and its wonders had far from ended and Sweden still had a few tricks up its sleeve.

After a couple of slightly rainy days, yesterday started out as a dry and pleasant day. After our elk safari, we decided to row out to the little island in the lake for a picnic again, and this  time we brought  a lighter as well. We sat around the fire for several hours (some of the others taking the kids back earlier). When we returned as well we had a barbeque by the lake. It was now both sunny and very warm.

Later my sister and I were enjoying the last of the evening sun and taking sunset pictures. Just after my sister mentioning that she’s never seen a European beaver in the wild she notices something square-ish swimming across the lake. It was coming our way. We hid in the door and behind the windows taking pictures through the door and on the closer ones you can make our the eyes and nostrils. It seemed all of nature was teaming up to make our last evening a special one.

But it didn’t end there. This morning was as sunny as last night, and when Katie went to say goodbye to the lake, yet another creature came to say goodbye to us. A long grass snake was lying very elegantly in the aft of the little rowing boat. It patiently lay the for all to get a good look, posing for lots of photos. All these photos are of the kind needing much processing, so I’ll have to add them to the post later. For now, here is a drawing Katie made of us fishing


On the way to the bus two cranes joined in the big goodbye from just next to the road. It is still sax to say goodbye, but we feel very lucky to have been here at all.

Elks

This morning we defied laziness, as our wish to see elks combined with the short time we have left here became dominant, and woke up at 6:00 to go for a drive.

We went up some small forest roads and after only half an hour our early start was rewarded. We’d all been paying a lot of attention to the forest, checking every clearing for anyone looking back. The expectation of seeing one almost made it feel impossible that it would actually happen. But suddenly there were two odd faces looking straight at us with very big ears and huge noses. One was significantly bigger than the other and the smaller one soon lost interest in us and started walking away. It was a mother with a calf, and shortly after we realized the little one had a twin. After 5-10 min or so and a lot of photos, the mum got up as well and they all slowly walked off. Funny how it’s obvious that they aren’t scared of us but just think we’re a bit annoying and would rather be alone. And in spite of their size they’re surprisingly good at disappearing.

About five minutes further on the drive another elk walked out on the road a bit ahead of us, followed the road a bit and went back in between the trees. As soon as we got to where it had left the road it was already out of sight, though there seemed to be a 5 meter rock wall where it would have gone.

Although, as I mentioned earlier, we took a lot of photos, you’ll have to wait a bit before they’ll be on here, as they have to be processed before they’re ready for publishing. So long for now!

Berries

Just to following up on my previous post, we didn’t see an elk on our walk. However, we found 3 kg of berries (that’s about 6.6 lb). This was mostly blueberries and raspberries with some wild strawberries as well. See the photo 🙂

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Sweden part 2

Here is more from our holiday in Sweden. Since my 20 MB of internet seems to be lasting well there’ll be some photos too 🙂

The first photo documents something that is very important on any holiday we go on (and our everyday life): food. This is the famous smörgåsbord with schøøødbullarrr, lots of herring, blood sausage (like black pudding, but with different herbs and spices) and more. This goes with lots of light Swedish beer and fruity ciders. Of course we’ve also had lots of pike, even though the fishing since the first day has been fruitless.

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Another thing that dominates our holiday and Sweden in general, is the wildlife. My sister and her husband are enthusiastic birders, and the species list has just reached 71. This includes exotic and exciting birds like cranes, osprey and a woodcock. But it’s not limited to birds as we’ve also seen hares, foxes, deer and a chick-hunting mink (that really shouldn’t be here). And we’ve seen paw prints from a lynx, which is probably as close as we’ll get to seeing one … but we still haven’t seen an elk (moose for the Americans), and if that doesn’t change it would be the first elk-less Sweden holiday of the family, which could possibly be attributed to the size (and audio volume) of the kids 😉 Now we’re off for a walk up a mountain, so maybe we’ll be lucky…

I’ll leave you here with a photo of a giant Vespa wasp that came through our door this morning. It’s about 5 cm long or about 10 times as big as a normal wasp or “scary big”. And the noise it made was that of an approaching speedboat.

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