The lure of the bi-annual Status Quo convention was strong and we finally decided to make the trip when the Vegan Campout was announced, giving us the perfect ways to end and start our time in Europe. A trip of almost seven weeks then got planned, spent mainly in the UK but also with some time in Vienna, the Czech Republic (partly for work for Lee) and Spain.
This is a long report so the links below chunk it up by each week to make for easier reading in smaller parts.
Our trip kicked off on Thursday 22nd August with our usual Geelong taxi driver picking us up at 10am for the short trip into central Geelong to catch the 11.30am Gull Bus service to Melbourne airport, arriving just before 1pm. Check-in to our Royal Brunei flight was quick and easy leaving us with plenty of time before our 4.15pm departure. A quality coffee from the new ST.ALi and takeaway lunch sourced the day before from our awesome Geelong vegan cafe, FacePlant, helped to pass the time. Our flight left on time and the Dreamliner service up to Brunei was excellent thanks to perfect seats at the back of the plane with plenty of room. It was a short stop in Brunei before another on-time departure for the long leg up to London Heathrow. We arrived slightly earlier than scheduled at 5.40am on Friday morning. Terminal 4 was remarkably quiet at this time and we enjoyed using the automated passport control for the first time (previous visits haven't allowed Australian passports through the system). Our luggage arrived super quickly as well so it was a world record twenty minutes from leaving the plane to being in the arrivals hall! This efficiency was unexpected and fortunately our pre-booked taxi - through the ever-trusty British Airport Transfers - booked for 7am was very early so we could hit the road just after 6.30am. Traffic heading into London was heavy but we still reached our home for the next week, Premier Inn London City (Old Street), at just after 8am and it was a very comfortable trip in an E-Class Mercedes! We were of course far too early to check-in to the hotel but could at least leave our luggage, so we set off in search of breakfast after our long trip. Luckily, vegan cafe Good To Go was very close by and a yummy bowl of loaded porridge was perfect. After breakfast (and a coffee!), we walked the short distance to Islington to get a new 3 SIM card for mobile internet, before returning to near the hotel to stock up on some supplies for the week from the excellent As Nature Intended organic supermarket. A first wander along popular Brick Lane followed before another much-needed coffee from the excellent New Zealand outfit, Allpress at the Redchurch Espresso Bar in Shoreditch. We'd planned long before arriving that we'd go for lunch at Unity Diner in Hoxton so we headed there next (it has now moved to Spitalfields). The day was lovely, sunny and warm so we enjoyed lunch at a nice table outside this fabulous cafe run by well-known British animal rights activist, Earthling Ed, and it's great to know that eating here results in much-needed funding for his organization, Surge, which does so much for the movement in the UK. After lunch, we headed just around the corner back to our hotel where we could now check-in and finally freshen up! Aiming to stay awake as long as we could, we headed out for a walk to check out the popular BoxPark container pop-up shopping and entertainment area before sampling another coffee, this time at the Canvas vegan cafe just off Brick Lane. Tiredness was finally catching up with us and we headed back to the hotel at about 5pm, crashing for an early night by 6pm!
Saturday dawned clear and sunny, on its way to a lofty 32 degrees! We'd arranged to meet Quo friends at 1pm, allowing plenty of time for a good night's sleep before heading out. We walked to the Vx vegan shop/cafe for a coffee (and a long chat with the staff there!) before enjoying a walk along the Regents Canal to reach the Kings Cross area. We finally managed to find The Betjeman Arms pub inside the amazing St Pancras station to meet up with friends Yvonne & Paul and Gary & Bethan. It was great to see them again and we had a drink in the pub before wandering together to the nearby Little Creatures. This brewery is actually based in Geelong but now has this London offshoot and we got a lovely table outside but in the shade. The staff were super helpful and we enjoyed many drinks and an all-vegan lunch selection which everyone enjoyed! Late in the afternoon, we wandered back to St Pancras to catch the tube to Piccadilly Circus where we all went shopping in the new Hard Rock Cafe. A drink in the very crowded Moon Under Water on Leicester Square followed before we tottered into Chinatown for dinner at New China. We had a decent vegan set menu meal there and we finally said farewell to our visitors at around 10.30pm to catch the tube back to our hotel. This was a great way to spend our first proper day in London - good friends, good banter and nice food and drinks.
Sunday was another clear, sunny and hot day with a top of 33C! We decided to head out to Portobello Road to check out their new Sunday vegan market. Taking the tube from Old Street, we didn't realize until disembarking that the Notting Hill carnival was on! Most roads and several tube stations were closed and the carnival was just starting as we arrived. The crowds were already massing, the "music" awfully loud and the streets were filled with the smoke from jerk chicken stalls. While it was good to experience this event briefly, it didn't feel like the best place to spend our Sunday and we wandered out of the area to the wonderful serenity of the La Suite West Hotel (where we have both stayed and eaten before) for lunch at its vegan restaurant, Cafe Forty One. We both enjoyed lovely meals there as always and the peace and quiet was much appreciated amongst the madness. From there, we caught the tube to Pimlico and visited the impressive Tate Britain. The impressive building on the side of the Thames offered us welcome respite from the heat and the free entry (common to almost all London museums and galleries) made it an easy visit. Before leaving Australia, we'd become members of the National Trust of Australia in order to gain access to UK Trust properties for free (and the Aussie membership was about half the price of the UK version but with all the same benefits!) and first on our list of places to visit was Carlyle's House, a townhouse in Chelsea. It was a long walk along the Thames from the Tate to find the property but it was worth the walk. The house was in a lovely quiet area and Carlyle's story made for interesting reading! With dinner in mind, we walked on to Kensington (another long walk in the hot afternoon sun) to shop at Whole Foods Market, buying supplies for a pleasant picnic in nearby Holland Park which was busy with locals enjoying the fine weather. While there, we also visited the delightful Kyoto and Dutch gardens. Winding our way back towards a tube station, we eventually rejoined the carnival masses at one of the few open stations in the area so it was a very crowded, hot and uncomfortable tube ride back to the hotel from Shepherds Bush.
Unusually for a Bank Holiday, Monday was another sunny and hot day. We kicked off with a good quality coffee at the Kiwi-owned Ozone near the hotel before heading out for a big day of exploring new areas on foot. We got a tube and then DLR service to Star Lane to access The Line, an art walking trail in the East End. This walk along canals and through industrial areas was certainly different, if not particularly well signposted. We reached the end of the trail at the massive Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home to the London 2012 Olympics. The day was well on its way to the top of 32 degrees as we explored the park before then finding our way to Mother Works for lunch. This was a great vegan place in a nice spot, albeit very crowded on this busy holiday Monday. After lunch, we walked to Stratford International station to catch a DLR and then tube to North Greenwich where we found some more of the art pieces from The Line as well as checking out the new The Tide linear park. We also wandered through the vast O2 Arena before catching a tube back to the hotel. After freshening up following our long day of walking in the heat, a cold drink was in order and The Green Vic was the perfect spot to relax before dinner. This pub aims to be "the world's most ethical pub" and has "Planet over profit" as its slogan. All of the staff have been hired from difficult circumstances and all of the food and drinks contribute in some way to a good cause. It was good to see this place doing good business in what is a perfect location in Shoreditch. After a cold cider, it was a short walk to Redemption, one of our other "must do" places in the area. The lovely courtyard was a great spot to enjoy the ambience and excellent quality healthy food on offer here, we ordered too much but got through it all before retiring back at the hotel after a big day.
We decided to have a day doing entirely new and different things on Tuesday. It was another scorcher (reaching 33 degrees!) and we set off pretty early with a tube ride to Waterloo to visit The Vaults, an area of street art in tunnels near Waterloo station. This was an impressive area to wander around with some amazing pieces of work and we then enjoyed a coffee at the eclectic (and Kiwi-owned) Scooter Cafe. Our main plan for the day was to visit the Tate Modern and we headed there next. This incredible building on the banks of the Thames - previously a power station - was busy and had a huge range of art to explore. We enjoyed a couple of hours there before lunch called and a new branch of Tibits, one of our stalwarts in London, had conveniently opened very close by recently so we had an excellent lunch there (made even better by the fact that every dish on their buffet on Tuesdays is vegan!). After lunch, we headed back to the Tate Modern to complete our tour there before walking along Southbank and towards the City to check out a hidden gem in the shape of the delightful gardens in the ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East church. This lovely little spot was peaceful and picture perfect and a good place to relax for a while. We also checked out the splendid architecture of the nearby Leadenhall Market before heading back to our hotel on the tube. After all that walking, a cold one back at the Green Vic pub went down well before we wandered along Brick Lane to have dinner at Vegan Yes. This is probably the only vegan Italian-Korean fusion restaurant in the world and we had a fantastic meal there (kimchi lasagne anyone?!), something genuinely different and a really friendly owner. A stop at Unity Diner on the way home for a cocktail rounded out a packed day.
It was a surprise to see a little rain as we surfaced on Wednesday, but it was very shortlived and had cleared by the time we had breakfast and a coffee back at nearby Good To Go, where we also grabbed some food for lunch later in the day. Our plan for the day was to make more use of our shiny new National Trust memberships so we were soon on a tube out to Hampstead, a lovely leafy area of London to explore for the first time. Our first stop was the modernist home at 2 Willow Road and we managed to get onto the first tour of the day at 11am. This was a great home to wander through, still looking modern, light and functional (despite being built in 1939( and in a great location right on the edge of Hampstead Heath. From there, it was a fairly short walk - through lovely back streets in Hampstead - to our next Trust property and a very different proposition from Willow Road, in the shape of 17th-century Fenton House. This lovely old house was nice to wander through and it housed a truly amazing collection of musical instruments (seemingly with a harpsichord in every room!). The walled gardens were lovely too and we enjoyed sitting in the now warm sunshine in the orchard to eat our lunch. Well rested, we then walked through Hampstead Heath to Parliament Hill and the climb in the heat was worth it for the fine wide views over London from the top. Heading back down, we walked to The Third Estate shop, a vegan and ethical store in Camden stocking good quality clothes and shoes. Ky was looking forward to stocking up here given that we rarely if ever shop at mainstream shops anymore. The owners were very friendly and we both ended up with some new wardrobe items as well as new shoes from the shop. Lugging our bounty, we walked to Caledonian Road tube station and headed back to the hotel to drop off our bags. After a big day of exploring on foot, we decided to stay close to home for dinner, so it was yet another meal at the busy Unity Diner.
It was another sunny and warm day on Thursday and we enjoyed breakfast at Cycle Lab, a bike shop and vegan cafe just a couple of minutes' walk from our hotel (we only spotted the place by accident when walking past on the way back from Unity Diner, their entry on HappyCow wasn't up-to-date so it wasn't even on our radar!). We had a good feed in this friendly little place before hopping on the tube, this time out to Covent Garden. This area is always good to explore and it was quiet enough early on to be enjoyable to wander around. A coffee from Aussie-owned Abuelo kept Lee going before exploring the area around the theatre district. We were killing time really before we could justify going for lunch at the highly-regarded Wild Food Cafe in Neals Yard. We managed to squeeze into this busy place and had a good (if not remarkable for the price) meal before resuming our walk, heading over to Southbank and returning to the Tate Modern to pick up a nice poster we'd spotted in the shop during our visit earlier in the week. Being in the area, it was a good excuse to head back to Tibits, this time just for a drink. We then caught a tube from Southwark back as far as Angel for a quick shopping stop at Holland and Barrett in Islington before finally returning to the hotel. Being our last evening in London, we were keen to pay a visit to the city's first all-vegan cheesemonger before we left, so we walked to Brick Lane and found La Fauxmagerie nearby. This great little shop is quite new and had an amazing range of cheeses, many of which were available to taste and the owner has clearly done a lot of research and effort to source close analogues to dairy cheeses. We bought a few small pieces of various cheeses before heading back to Redemption for dinner. We had another high quality and healthy meal there, but left enough room (i.e. no dessert!) to have our own little cheese board back at the hotel!
We were leaving London around lunchtime on Friday, so we could make a leisurely start. Breakfast back at Cycle Lab kicked things off before a quality coffee at Aussie coffee shop, Lantana. It was a lovely sunny day again and we'd really been blessed with a great spell of weather during our full week in London. Popping back to Good To Go to buy takeaway food for our train journey, we then returned to the hotel to grab our luggage and caught the tube just a couple of stops to Kings Cross. Our 1306 train up to Newark Northgate was busy but left on time and arrived into Newark on time on 2.30pm. This small town was very busy thanks to the event that we'd headed there for, the Vegan Campout. The station was very crowded with many people struggling to find taxis, but we got very lucky and our longer fare up to Lincoln (to collect our hire car) certainly helped and we were soon on our way. Picking up our wheels for the next couple of weeks (a Renault Clio) from Budget was easy and we then drove back to our digs for the weekend, the Premier Inn Newark. Checking-in at 4.15pm, the hotel was also very busy by virtue of being the closest hotel to the Newark Showgrounds hosting the campout - it turns out that not everyone wanted to camp (including us)! Given the taxi issues we'd seen at the train station earlier, we decided to head back there to see if we could give anyone a ride to the campout. The situation had eased somewhat but we still found a passenger, in the shape of a solo female traveller from Austria who turned out to be a very active animal rights activist from Graz and she was very happy to get a free ride! It was a very (very!) long queue for entry (and issuance of wristbands)into the campout by the time we got to the showgrounds and parked. We didn't enter the main showgrounds area until 6.30pm and then headed straight to the massive food stall area. There was certainly no shortage of choice and the queues weren't too bad. We both decided on Indian food from Sheila's Vegan Kitchen before deciding on which talks to attend for the rest of the evening. A yummy ice cream from Booja Booja was a nice treat before we headed off to the 8pm sessions, with Lee enjoying a frank and entertaining talk from Matt Pritchard (aka Dirty Sanchez/Dirty Vegan fame) while Ky went with James Hoot and his Planet Vegan screening. We came back together in the massive main hall for the headline talk of the first day, the hugely popular, credible and passionate Earthling Ed (of Unity Diner, Surge, etc.) He gave an inspiring hour-long talk and he really is an amazing spokesperson for the animal rights movement. As the young folks got ready for a big night of partying, we drove the short distance back to the Premier Inn for about 10.30pm.
It was an early start on a cloudy Saturday to get back to the Vegan Campout for the start of a massive day of talks. After shovelling down our overnight oats for breakfast, we jumped in the car for the much easier drive back to the showgrounds and entry was quick since we were now armed with our wristbands for the weekend. Talks started at 10am and we attended a really enjoyable and well-presented introduction to Anonymous for the Voiceless to kick off the day. Next up was a talk on the new organization (adjunct to Extinction Rebellion), Animal Rebellion before we managed to enjoy a break for an early lunch. We enjoyed the healthy food on offer from Birmingham-based BA-HA before heading into the main hall in time to catch Aussie activist legends, That Vegan Couple. They delivered a very professional talk to a big crowd and Lee even managed to snag a photo with them afterwards! Next up on the big stage was another of our favourites from the vegan YouTube scene in the shape of Mic The Vegan. He impresses on his YouTube channel with his deep research and witty delivery, but he was even better in person and took to the big stage very well, an entertaining and informative session. A blustery change swept the showgrounds and sent people scrambling for cover, but the squall thankfully passed quickly leaving the rest of the day fine and sunny. We took the chance for some fresh air then, popping out for a coffee from popped out for coffee from Fields Beneath (the only coffee place on the whole site, so it was always a massive queue) and a cheeky pie and chips from Mr Nice Pie. Heading back into the main hall, we caught part of Juliet Gellatley's talk (from Viva!) before one of the highlights of the event, Alex Hershaft with "From the Warsaw Ghetto to Animal Rights - One Survivor's Journey". Alex's unique experience as a Holocaust survivor has informed his animal rights activism and his story is compelling, emotional, distressing and uplifting, all at the same time. At times, the massive crowd was dead silent as he delivered his story and messages, an extremely powerful presentation.
The atmosphere was lightened considerably when Gaz Oakley (aka the Avant-Garde Vegan) took the main stage next. His laid-back style was a delight to watch and his story and passion for vegan cooking was inspiring (and great to see a Welsh lad up on the big stage). We then took a short break from the talks to get some more food. Dinner was a combination of sushi rolls from Happy Maki (we'd tried their food before during our last visit to Brighton) and a tempeh dish from Club Cultured, rounded out with another Booja Booja ice cream! Heading back into the talks, we enjoyed an informative session from the legendary Dr Michael Klaper and unfortunately the next scheduled talk - Erin Janus of Dairy is Scary fame - was cancelled (it later transpired she'd had bad experiences with a stalker at the event), so there was a break before the headline act, in the shape of Aussie activist, James Aspey. He did a fine job of expressing his activist opinions strongly while also involving the big crowd throughout, good job done! Our day still wasn't done, though, as we opted to attend a secret movie screening, the 2006 story about the UK's Animal Liberation Front Behind The Mask. We headed back to the hotel after the movie for a very late finish after a massive day.
After our big day at the Campout, we took the chance to sleep in on Sunday. There were no talks on the final day of the event, so we decided not to go back to the showgrounds. It was a fun event to be part of, with about 7500 vegans in attendance and a great selection of food, talks and other activities to choose from. As the morning showers cleared, we drove to Lincoln to explore this historic city for the afternoon. Our first attempt at scaling the aptly-named Steep Hill was cut short by a coffee stop at the vegetarian cafe, Pimento. Wandering back down into the city centre, we headed to the city's only vegan eatery, in the shape of Shanti. This small place soon got packed for lunch and the whole experience there was wonderful. The menu was a bizarre mix of Nepalese and British food and what we had was delicious. But the welcoming and friendly nature of the staff was even more impressive and this has obviously led to this little place becoming its own community in the city. People on the next table engaged us in conversation and we were soon involved in a big group chat that lasted much of the afternoon - it was actually hard to leave the place! This was a memorable experience, one of the simple highlights of our trip. When we finally extracted ourselves from Shanti, we took the opportunity to stock up on supplies at the local Holland & Barrett before heading back up Steep Hill to explore the 11th-century castle and Cathedral. This historic area was lovely to wander around and quite busy even on a Sunday afternoon. A sharp shower or two saw us ducking for cover but they soon passed and warmer sunshine followed in the late afternoon so we wandered back down into the city and explored the Brayford Waterfront area before driving back to Newark. We'd wisely acquired some takeaway food from Shanti so had a relaxing evening at the hotel enjoying their good food.
We made a fairly early start on Monday to check out of the hotel and head off to meet Stuart and his family at a National Trust property. A nice sunny morning made for a pleasant 70-minute drive and we arrived in the car park at Kedleston Hall right behind Stu! It was good to see Stu, his wife Tam, son Henry and also Tam's grandma (visiting from the Czech Republic) and we enjoyed catching up over a morning coffee while waiting for the first house tour of the day at 11.10am. The tour was excellent and the interiors were impressive - and young Henry seems to love going through these places too (just like his Dad!). After the house tour, we had a decent lunch at the property's cafe before exploring the church, more of the house, and also the expansive gardens (just before some showers arrived). An afternoon drink back at the cafe brought our time together to a close with the Brown family heading home at about 4.30pm and then we drove onto our next destination, Matlock. We arrived at the Premier Inn Matlock by 5pm and checked-in, before shopping at the nearby large Sainsbury's supermarket to source enough supplies for a simple meal back in our hotel room.
Tuesday would be another National Trust day and we again left early for the drive to meet Stu (without the rest of his family on this occasion) at Sudbury Hall & National Trust Museum of Childhood. Our timely arrival meant we again had time for a morning coffee before joining the 11.10am house tour. This was a very different property from Kedleston but just as enjoyable to wander through and learn more about the families who've called this place home over the centuries. After the tour, we checked out the gardens and also the Museum of Childhood, which contained a lot of memory-jerking toys from our UK childhoods! We headed to the courtyard area next to the Trust property for lunch, in a lovely setting at the aptly-named Sweet Little Cafe, and this was another good chance to properly catch up with Stu. We took some more time to explore the main house again after lunch before an afternoon coffee and a wander through the church before parting ways at about 4.30pm. These National Trust properties are a great day out (especially with membership as they cost nothing to visit or park at) and having two full days to spend with Stu and his family was a real treat. Heading back towards Matlock, we stopped off at Matlock Bath for a nice walk along the River Derwent gorge before continuing on to Matlock town centre, where we had a delicious vegan meal at Thailand No. 1 before calling it a day.
We headed South into the Midlands on Wednesday, another sunny and mild day. Checking out of the Matlock hotel, it was an easy drive down to Lichfield and we were parked up there just before 11am. We'd arranged to meet Lee's old neighbour, Roy, and his partner, Anne, at midday so we filled in the time with a nice walk in Beacon Park. We also spotted a coffee shop called Melbourne In Lichfield, so just had to check that one out! It turned out that the owner is from Melbourne and was keen to bring quality coffee to Lichfield and the shop is decorated with some very Melbourne artwork (including, erm, borrowing the official city logo!). It was then only a very short walk to meet Roy and Anne at Lichfield's new and only vegan eatery, the Ultimate Vegan Cafe. This new cafe served us up a lovely lunch and we really enjoyed catching up with Roy & Anne and we were grateful to them for making the effort to travel to see us and also for agreeing so readily to eat vegan! At about 2.30pm, we said our farewells and then drove the short distance to Cheslyn Hay to visit Lee's relative Trevor. His daughter Lorraine also joined us so it was a great afternoon with both of them and we appreciate how supportive they always are of us. As we headed off, we popped into the cemetery to visit Lee's grandparents' grave before continuing on to Shrewsbury, arriving there at 6.15pm. We stayed at the same convenient hotel as our last visit to this lovely historic town, the Premier Inn Shrewsbury Town Centre. We quickly dropped our luggage and freshened up before walking into the town centre for dinner at Japanese vegan restaurant, Itadaki Zen. This was also a return visit and the delightful peaceful surroundings of this restaurant housed in a very old property were still as welcoming. The menu was sadly much smaller than the last time we visited, but the dishes were still delicious and a relaxing dinner was a good way to round out our day.
We made a fairly early start on Thursday morning as we'd arranged to meet up with Chris's sister, Ellie, for breakfast. It was a chilly and drizzly start to the day as we walked the short distance from the hotel into the town centre to meet her at the same place as last time we caught up, No. 4. It was great to see her again and this vegan-friendly place fed us well for breakfast. When Ellie headed off to work, we stocked up yet again at Holland & Barrett before buying some takeaway food for dinner later from the wonderful Plantkind. We'd eaten here during our last visit to Shrewsbury and their fresh and healthy Middle Eastern-inspired vegan food is delicious - plus the owner-operators are really friendly and have created a lovely community space around their food. After dropping off our supplies at the hotel, we drove to Llangollen for about 12.30, our first time visiting this popular town on the edge of Snowdonia. The day was on the improve as we explored the town before heading to meet our lunch booking at the small new all-vegan eatery, Phoenix Bistro. It's always good to see a new vegan place opening up and the young owner was friendly, serving up simple but tasty vegan fare in a historic old pub setting. After lunch, we drove out to visit Telford's 18th-century engineering marvel, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This was an impressive sight and we enjoyed a decent walk down to the River Dee for a fine view of the aqueduct. On the way back to Shrewsbury, we whipped out the National Trust membership cards yet again to visit Chirk Castle. This was another lovely spot, with great gardens and imposing rooms in the castle itself. It was then an easy drive back to Shreswbury for about 6pm and we enjoyed a nice walk along the River Severn to The Quarry in the evening sunshine. Heading back to the hotel, we tucked into our splendid food sourced earlier from Plantkind.
It was a cloudy start to the day on Friday as we walked into the town centre at just before 9am, ready to purchase the new Status Quo album, "Backbone", on its day of release. The HMV store had a good display of various formats and a CD format was soon purchased (with all the other more interesting formats already on order for delivery to Australia in our absence) and ripped onto our phones for listening pleasure during our travels! After checking out of the Premier Inn, we hit the road and it was a comfortable - and very familiar! - drive to Aberystwyth. As usual, it was wet in parts especially the mountainous latter sections over Plynlimon but, also as usual, the sun came out as we entered the outskirts of Aber! We would be staying at a different hotel this time and in a different part of town, the Starling Cloud just out of town. We arrived there at shortly after midday and parked the car, then walked into town to meet Niall & Ruth for lunch at Aber's new vegie restaurant, Dragonfly Bistro. The food was great and the company also great, it was good to see both of them and to welcome them back to Aber after an absence of a few years from our regular reunions. The mandatory walk along the prom followed and we also popped into the Old College to check out parts of this magnificent building we'd never seen during our many years living in Aber as students. The plans for the conversion to a hotel were also on display and maybe this will one day be our "go to" for reunion accommodation?! We then left Niall and Ruth in town while we headed back to our hotel to check-in and then drove to the station to pick up Chris and Mel from their train. After dropping them back at the hotel, we walked back into town together to meet Niall & Ruth at 4pm for drinks at The Glengower. The views across Cardigan Bay from a window table were splendid on what had turned into a fine and sunny afternoon. Tearing ourselves away from the pub, we wandered along the Prom and enjoyed a decent meal at the Olive Branch. Niall & Ruth headed back to their accommodation on South beach, while we headed back to the hotel with Chris & Mel for a nightcap in the adjacent pub.
It was a lovely sunny morning on Saturday as we walked together into town to meet Niall & Ruth at Coffee #1. We then met up with Andy and Caroline at midday and returned to Coffee #1 for lunch (our traditional lunch spot, The Treehouse, had sadly closed down as a cafe). It was a great chance for us all to catch up, such amazing friendships between us all. The requisite walk along the prom followed and we stopped to check out the scrutineering area for the Rali Bae Ceredigion set up near the bandstand. It was good to see the wide variety of cars getting ready for the rally on Sunday. As we got to the bar at the end of the prom, a large deckchair had been set up, perfect for silly photos (see below!). A climb up Constitution Hill followed, with some of the group opting for the easier Cliff Railway route! The views across town and coastline were stunning on such a clear afternoon and we soaked them up over drinks from the cafe. After tearing ourselves away from that view, we headed down the hill and enjoyed drinks back in The Glengower. We then all converged on Dragonfly Bistro where we'd decided to shout everyone a nice dinner in recognition of thirty years of friendship since we all started our Aber Uni careers back in 1989! It's a remarkable thing to have maintained these great friendships, especially when one of the group decided to move to the other side of the world, and we never take them for granted. Andy & Caroline headed home after dinner and Niall & Ruth wandered back to their accommodation (and we said our farewells as they would be leaving early on Sunday morning). A nightcap back at the Starling Cloud with Chris & Mel rounded out a fantastic day with great mates.
It was an early start on Sunday with Lee meeting Chris to walk up to the National Library to watch the start of Rali Bae Ceredigion. It was a lovely crisp and clear morning and it was fun to watch the various cars setting off for the morning stages of this new closed road rally (held a few miles out of town). Wandering through campus, a coffee in what was Penbryn canteen (now the much fancier TaMed Da complete with a Starbucks!) followed before we walked down the hill to meet Ky and Mel at Coffee #1. Heading back up Penglais Hill, Mel introduced us to a lovely woodland route that Chris and Lee never even knew about and we were soon at the Arts Centre (in part to track down flyers for Francis Rossi's gig there in 2020, to no avail) and we sourced takeaway sandwiches, enjoyed from out the front of the National Library with its fine views over Aber as well as the rally cars exiting service. We managed to wolf down our lunch and walk back down the hill in time to catch the 2pm Vale of Rheidol train out to Devil's Bridge. This favourite of Chris's was very pleasant on a warm sunny afternoon and we got back feeling very relaxed at 5.15pm. A walk to and along the prom was then in order before a cold one in The Glengower. We opted for tradition when it came to dinner with a tasty feed at Shilam Indian near the station before retiring back to the Starling Cloud for a drink before calling it a day.
It was a drizzly start on Monday morning as we packed up and checked out of the Starling Cloud. With Chris & Mel on board, we drove the short distance into town and went for a coffee at the Coliseum Coffee House. The rain had all but cleared up so we had one last walk along the prom and we popped into the Old College again to give Chris & Mel the opportunity to share the new parts of the building we'd discovered on Friday. Farewelling Chris and Mel (with a short wait for a later train), we headed off and drove as far as Cardigan. The weather had turned pretty nasty as we drove down the coast so it wasn't the beautiful coastal drive we might have liked and it was quite wet as we parked up in Cardigan at 2pm. The short walk into the town centre soon saw us finding our lunch spot, Bara Menyn Bakehouse. We had a lovely vegan meal there and also took the chance to procure a large sourdough loaf. Moving on, the weather cleared as we headed South so we decided to continue onto the UK's smallest city, St David's. It was at least dry - if cloudy and chilly - by the time we got there and it was certainly worth the detour to explore the amazing 12th-century cathedral and "city centre". The last part of our journey for the day saw us heading to Tenby with a brief stop at the windswept (and hence aptly named!) Newgale Beach, arriving into this gorgeous little Welsh seaside town at 6.15pm. It was a short walk from the preferred carpark to the Premier Inn Tenby Town Centre and we decided to enjoy a walk along the waterfront under sunny evening skies. A quick shop at Sainsbury's and we had enough food (with our delicious sourdough) to make dinner in our room.
It was a perfect sunny morning as we headed out on Tuesday. We enjoyed a nice long walk along South Beach before visiting St Catherine's Island. This island is only accessible at low tide and has recently reopened to the public with the fort offering informational talks. It was fascinating to learn about the fort's history and its various incarnations including time fairly recently as a zoo before falling into disrepair. It was great to see the restoration work and have the chance to explore this unique spot, with great views to Caldey Island and back over Tenby itself. Wandering back into town, we enjoyed a takeaway lunch over at North beach before a relaxing coffee stop near Harbour beach. A walk through the town centre (pleasantly pdestrianized during the daytime) and one last walk along South beach followed, before we finally tore ourselves away. It was hard to leave this pretty little town on such a lovely day. Returning to the car, we drove the short distance to Llanelli to stop off at its first all-vegan shop, in the shape of Kind Earth. The shop was well-stocked and well-priced, with a very friendly owner doing his best to introduce a good range of vegan goods to the town. We stocked up there, including a stash of vegan Welsh cakes and some more sourdough bread. From there, it was an easy drive to Swansea for about 6pm and we returned to the Premier Inn Swansea Waterfront for an overnight stay. It was a lovely evening so we walked along the waterfront and into the city to stretch our legs, before enjoying dinner in our hotel room thanks to the supplies we'd sourced from Kind Earth.
It was a cold and wet start on Wednesday as we checked out of the hotel and drove across town for a morning coffee stop at the vegan cafe, Canteen 18. This friendly little place also knocked us up a hearty salad to take away for lunch before we headed out of Wales and back into England. The day cleared up as we approached Bath so we decided to stop off at another National Trust property, in the shape of 17th-century baroque mansion Dyrham Park. It was a long walk from the car park down to the house itself and we had our picnic lunch first before exploring the lovely gardens and the main house. It was another interesting property and quite different to the ones we'd seen before on this trip. As we wandered back to the car, we were lucky to spot a large herd of deer. It was then just a short drive into Bath city centre to find the preferred parking for our hotel, then a short walk to our overnight stop, the Premier Inn Bath City Centre. We explored the city centre for a short while after checking in, but annoying drizzle saw us heading back to the hotel to relax for a while before we had to go out again to make out 6.30pm dinner booking.
Our main reason for staying in Bath was to experience one of the most awarded vegan restaurants in the UK, Acorn and we had very high expectations after seeing all the great reviews and awards it's won over many years. Arriving at the restaurant (near the Abbey), we were surprised by how small it was but we got a lovely table with a view of the Abbey and the interior was beautifully presented. Service was friendly and welcoming and we had no hesitation in choosing the seven-course taster menu. What followed was simply the best vegan meal we've ever had. The dishes were genuinely different, stunningly presented, and providing some real taste sensations. First up were dumplings made from almond meal (which had the consistency of ricotta) but the star of the dish was the pea sorbet, what an incredible flavour! Next came the grilled broccoli stem with a lovely broccoli mouse, finished with burned broccoli dust. An explosion of tastes followed in the shape of radish sorbet with samphire, pickled mustard seeds (oh so good!) and a sourdough crisp. The next dish was cauliflower stem (cooked to perfection) with a sauce-like nutty polenta. If we had to choose a standout dish, it would be the next one, a mushroom parfait with king oyster mushroom, Chinese mushrooms, beans and roasted chicory leaves, a truly amazing example of culinary skill. As we moved onto desserts, first up was strawberries with fennel sorbet and the meal closed out with a rich chocolate ganache with parsnip sorbet! It was hard to fault the ambience, quality, taste and service at Acorn, it was a highlight of our trip. We walked home very satisfied and felt privileged to experience the amazing food at Acorn, highly recommended (and great value really for the high standard of food and service on offer).
We had a hefty cross-country drive ahead of us on Thursday so we made a relatively early start to the drive over to Canterbury. The trip didn't got off to a great start on a showery morning, with very heavy traffic in Bath due to a burst water main in the city centre. Escaping the city centre, we didn't make it far along the A46 before we hit very long queues again due to an accident. We managed to finally get to the M4 after almost ninety minutes! Progress was much better once we hit the motorway and we stopped off for lunch in the nice Hampshire village of Great Bookham at the Crazy Bean Cafe. We had a really nice meal there and the day had improved a lot, mid-20s and sunny, so the rest of the drive to Canterbury was pleasant and we arrived at our home for the next couple of nights, the Premier Inn Canterbury City Centre by about 3.30pm. The city centre was only a short walk from the hotel and we enjoyed coffee and cake at the local vegie stalwart, Veg Box Cafe, before exploring the city. The area around the Cathedral was very busy with tourists and we had a look around it from the outside, before wandering along The King's Mile with its interesting range of shops and historic buildings. We then enjoyed the delightful surroundings of Westgate Gardens with its variety of different garden setups and the pretty Great Stour running through it (with punting being a popular activity there). Walking slightly out of the city centre from the gardens, we found The Monument pub, Canterbury's first all-vegan pub. It was still sunny and warm and a little early for dinner, so we enjoyed a drink in the sun in their beer garden before heading inside for a junk food vegan meal, with Ky opting for their enormous (seitan) doner kebab! A walk back through the city centre to our hotel rounded out the day.
Friday 13th wasn't at all unlucky - it was a lovely warm and sunny day, perfect for our planned excursion into the Kent countryside to spend some time with animals. To kick the day off, we returned to Veg Box for a morning coffee before the pleasant country drive out to Buttercups goat sanctuary. We were surprised by how many people were there shortly after opening and this was a lovely spot to visit, with a large number of goats enjoying the safe confines of a big sanctuary. It was lovely to spend time with the goats and see lots of children getting to bond with them too, maybe some future compassionate and vegan adults! We spent about an hour with the goats before continuing on to the fairly close-by Retreat Animal Rescue. This was a much bigger and more varied sanctuary, on the site of a former dairy farm. By the time we arrived, we decided to have lunch first before exploring the sanctuary and their on-site cafe was doing a great trade and fed us very well for a reasonable price (and it was great to support the sanctuary by buying our food there anyway). We spent the next three hours or so exploring the sanctuary with its wide variety of animals, including horses, donkeys, pigs, cows, chickens and ducks! The pigs were very entertaining (as usual) and enjoyed belly rubs, while the baby male calf rescued from certain death as a waste product of the cruel dairy industry was particularly endearing (and enjoyed his afternoon bottle feed from Ky!). It's always good for the soul to spend time in the company of such innocent creatures and we had a really nice afternoon at this sanctuary doing such good work for so-called food animals. It was an easy drive back into Canterbury for about 5pm and, after freshening up at the hotel after our day with farm animals, we walked into the city centre to have dinner at Wagamama. We were aware that this popular Asian restuarant chain had recently added a dish by Welsh vegan chef, Gaz Oakley (aka The Avant-Garde Vegan), who we'd seen at the Vegan Campout so we were keen to give it a try. The restaurant was very busy on this Friday evening but we got seated quickly and both ordered his Avant Gard'n dish, complete with the famous vegan egg. It was a healthy and tasty feed and it's great to see a large chain like Wagamama making vegan food so accessible (they also have a separate vegan menu featuring many other dishes). Back at the hotel, we packed (again) and prepared our luggage for returning the car the next day and making our onward train travel as easy as possible.
We checked out of the Premier Inn on Saturday morning at about 9.30 and it was a nice sunny day for the sub-hour drive to Maidstone to return our hire car to Budget. It was then a short walk to Maidstone East station, where we comfortably made our pre-booked 11.29am train to London Victoria. London felt busy and we had a decent wait for a taxi to take us the three miles or so to our home for the weekend, the Danubius Regents Park hotel. Arriving there by 1.20pm, we checked in and our room was ready - a surprisingly large and quiet room in this big, older but well cared for hotel just next to Regents Park. We then walked towards Oxford Street and stopped for coffee and cake at Deliciously Ella Deli. This was a lovely little cafe just one block off bustling Oxford Street and great to see a plant-based cafe in an old corner dairy! Wandering back towards the hotel, we synched with Chris & Mel, meeting in Regents Park and enjoying a coffee at the Boathouse Cafe next to the boating lake. After freshening up back at the hotel, it was our pleasure to treat Chris and Mel to a lovely dinner at The Gate in nearby St John's Wood in celebration of their engagement. While we had dined at The Gate in Islington a few times before, this was our first time at the St John's Wood version but the food was excellent and the venue very nicely done, in what turns out to be a pretty fancy part of London. We all enjoyed a quality dinner with great service and, of course, great company! Heading back to the hotel, we wrapped up with a drink in the hotel bar.
We were pleased to find a dry and sunny day as we surfaced on Sunday, as it was a Quo Day - and an outdoor Quo Day at that! Meeting up with Chris & Mel, we walked to Marble Arch to meet Yvonne & Paul and Gary & Bethan at 11.15 before entering Hyde Park for the BBC Radio 2 Festival In A Day event. The massive crowd was managed well and entry was surprisingly easy. We found a decent spot fairly near the front, to stage left - convenient for the toilets, food (including vegetarian/vegan vendors this time, good work!) and, importantly, the bar! It was a packed programme and offered a lot of variety in the music on offer through the day. Quo appeared at 5.45pm and rocked out an awesome fifty-odd minutes, focused on classic hits for the 60,000-strong crowd to enjoy! A full review of the day can be found on Lee's Access All Areas website. The event closed out with headliners, Pet Shop Boys, and they were very impressive in the live setting (to Lee's surprise). Heading out with the masses, we walked back to the hotel by about 10.30pm and Lee & Chris enjoyed a nightcap in the hotel bar before calling it a night.
It was a cloudy start on Monday as met Chris and Mel and wandered back to The Gate for a fine breakfast to kick off the day. From there, we caught the tube to Monument and walked to the 38-storey skyscraper commonly known as the Walkie Talkie to visit the Sky Garden. This viewing deck offered fine views over London and, remarkably, was free to visit - but tickets "sell out" quickly and we were fortunate to find out about it shortly after we arrived in the UK and could snare tickets just as a new allocation was released. It's a great spot to visit and we enjoyed a coffee there before heading back down to earth. Returning to the hotel (and spotting a few posters for Quo's new album "Backbone" along the way!), Chris & Mel then headed off while we returned to central London by tube and tried to dodge the showers in getting to Tibits just off Regent Street for a late lunch. It was very quiet and we had another nice feed there. It wasn't far from there to the Leicester Square area and we soon found the Prince Charles Cinema where we had tickets for the premiere of The Game Changers movie. There was a big queue when we arrived and a few familiar faces were near us in the queue (including Aussie animal rights activist, Joey Carbstrong). We entered the cinema at about 5.15pm and really enjoyed the first UK screening of this important documentary, which focuses on sports folks who are vegan to dispel the ridiculous myths around meat, protein and strength. We were hungry by the time we got out of the cinema, so we headed directly to the very close-by Vantra for a pile of their healthy vegan food before catching the tube back to St John's Wood.
It was time to leave the UK for a while on Tuesday and our pre-booked taxi to Heathrow was on time at the Danubius hotel at 8.30am. Heading against the traffic, it was an easy run and saw us checking in to our British Airways flight a 9.20am. Security checks were quick again and Heathrow has definitely upped its game in recent years. Our flight left on time at 11.35am and landed in Vienna at 2.50pm. Waiting at the luggage carousel, we received a text message from BA to say that one of our bags hadn't made it onto the flight! We collected Lee's bag and lodged the required details for Ky's bag to have it delivered to our hotel. It was a cloudy but mild afternoon as we caught a bus for the 45-minute journey direct to Westbahnhof, and then it was just a few minutes' walk to our hotel for the next three nights, the Ruby Marie hotel. After checking-in, we were pleased to find our room was modern and quirky, just what we expected! The in-room wireless speaker was actually a Marshall amplifier, so we were definitely in the right place! Our first walk towards the Old Town followed before an early dinner at the nearby Maran Vegan and we stocked up on supplies from their attached organic food store.
We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day to explore Vienna on Wednesday, with lovely clear, sunny and warm conditions. We headed out early and were in the World Heritage-listed Old Town by 9am, taking in the State Opera House, the Gothic masterpiece St Stephen's cathedral and Mozart's house before welcome liquid refreshment in the shape of a morning coffee at the excellent and welcoming vegan cafe, Veggiezz. From there, it was only a short walk to the canal (not to be confused with the River Danube!) to check out the famed street art before returning to the centre of the city to look at Hoher Markt and its famous clock. We decided to go back to Veggiezz for lunch and we had a great meal there before resuming our tourist trail around the city centre. Next stop was the splendour of St Peter's church and then onto the Albertina, Rathaus, Parliament Building, Natural History museum and Votivkirche. We'd had a big day of walking around this beautiful city and headed back to the hotel to freshen up before our dinner booking. On the way back, we happened across an Anonymous for the Voiceless cube of truth on the busy pedestrianized shopping street, Mariahilfer Strasse. We had a long chat with the good people organizing it and were amazed to learn that in Vienna alone, they are now running four cubes a week! On finally reaching our hotel, it was good to see Ky's bag had arrived safely and then we could get ready for dinner. It was an easy walk to the restaurant for dinner and we felt lucky to secure a booking at the well-reviewed Tian Bistro. We were in the lovely covered courtyard at the back of the bistro and the vibe of the place was excellent. Rather than pick and choose from the menu, we opted for their "Sharing Chef's Garden", where the chef chooses two appetizers, two warm dishes and a dessert. The food was beautifully presented and the service was great too - and, most importantly, was all very tasty! It was a relaxing place to spend a couple of hours over dinner before the short walk back to our hotel after a big day on our feet sightseeing around the city.
We made an early start on Thursday in an attempt to beat the crowds at the very popular Schönbrunn Palace. It was a clear and crisp morning as we caught the tube out to the palace and we were pleased to find no queues to buy entrance tickets. It was an indication of its popularity, though, that the Palace entry ticket was only valid for a 15-minute window so we were mindful of the time as we first explored the lovely gardens and orangery near the Palace before returning there in plenty of time for our 10.50am entry. The self-guided audio tour was excellent and meant we could explore the interiors at our own pace. It was quite crowded inside but still enjoyable and the opulence was certainly impressive. It took us well over an hour to wander through the open rooms of the palace before returning to the sunshine and walking up to the Gloriette. This ornate feature building offered great views back towards the palace and over the gardens and was a perfect way to wrap up our visit. Although it's very busy and always full of tourists, we were still glad we made the trip out to Schönbrunn Palace, it's worthy of a spot on the itinerary of any tourist to Vienna. We were getting quite hungry by the time we'd finished exploring Schönbrunn and we caught the tube back a couple of stops as far as Längenfeldstrasse and then walked the short distance to Vegana Indiana. This restaurant had been recommended to us by the organizer of the AV Cube we'd spoken to in the city the day before, so we took his advice and opted for lunch there. Despite the name, it actually specializes in vegan versions of Austrian food so we enjoyed a couple of traditional Austrian dishes "done vegan" and we were certainly not hungry by the time we left! We caught the tube again, this time to visit Prater Park. This turned out to be more of an amusement park than a walking one, but it was good to see the 1897-built Wiener Riesenrad giant ferris wheel, quite a contrast to the more modern big wheels popping up in every city in the world these days. Leaving the park, we crossed town via the S-bahn to the Belvedere Palace. This baroque palace was stunning and the surrounding gardens equally impressive. It was a lovely spot to explore, even if we didn't pay to actually enter the palace itself. It wasn't far to fit in one more landmark for the day so we walked to Karlskirche with its curious mix of architectural styles, then rewarded our efforts with a delicious ice cream from Veganista (who have an incredible eight outlets in the city centre!) before walking back to hotel (via some supply shopping at Maran Vegan again). We were pretty tired after so much walking around so decided to stay very local for dinner, heading just around the corner from the hotel to the Loving Hut opposite Westbahnhof, where we had a filling and very reasonably-priced meal before calling it an early night.
Friday would be our last day in Vienna but we weren't leaving until late afternoon so we had time to enjoy the city before heading off. It was another lovely sunny day and we started off by exploring various incredible pieces of street art in the areas near the hotel as part of the Calle Libre "festival for urban aesthetics", before walking to the famous Naschmarkt on our way to the remarkable Secession building, a very different piece of architecture to what we'd become used to wandering around the city. We returned to Veggiezz for lunch before making our way back to the hotel via the Street Art Passage. After collecting our luggage, we caught a tube to Erdberg and found the rather grandly named "international busterminal". Our pre-booked FlixBus coach left on time at 4.30pm and it was a pleasant trip to Brno, arriving on time just before 6.30pm. The scenery en route was spectacular at times, especially near the Czech Border where the hills were lined with vineyards and many hot air balloons were enjoying the views. It was good to return to familiar territory in Brno and we easily found the same hotel we stayed at in 2018 after a twenty-minute walk from the coach station. Check-in at the Hotel Europa was quick and we again had a nice clean room in this modest hotel, a bargain at just 50 Euros a night. We also stuck to familiar ground for dinner especially given the time, wandering literally across the street to the great co-op bar and cafe, Tri Ocasi. As usual, we got a decent feed at a very reasonable price before retiring to the hotel.
We were blessed with warm sunny weather again on Saturday as we walked into the city centre. It all felt very familiar, having only been just over a year since our last visit. The city was fairly quiet mid-morning and the relaxing vibe we felt last time was still there. We stopped for a coffee at Vegan Sweet before heading back to the hotel to meet Graham & Renata at about 12.30pm. It was fortuitous timing that meant we could meet up, with them enjoying a year off work to travel around Europe and they just happened to be in Czech at the same time as us. It was great to see them and we caught up over lunch at Tri Ocasi. Walking back into the city, we stumbled across the Babylonfest, a festival highlighting the culture and traditions of national and ethnic minorities living in Brno. Continuing on, we checked out the wine festival taking place in Liberty Square and Lee tried the famous burcak, the first batch of "young" Moravian wine each season. From there, we explored some areas new to both Graham & Renata before ascending the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul (aka Petrov). Back on terra firma, we figured we'd earned a treat so returned to one of our favourites for an ice cream, the cute Tutti Frutti in the Forky's, before returning to our hotel - well fed and watered!
Breakfast in the hotel with Graham & Renata got Sunday off to a good start. We were headed to the Punkva Caves, a drive out of the city and we made it there eventually (with a few wrong turns along the way, so it was great to have a native Czech speaker to ask for directions!). Arriving at the top car park, we had a great view of the chasm and it was a pleasant woodland walk down to the visitor centre, from where we would start our tour. It was a nice warm day again so we relaxed there for a while before it was time to join our 1.20pm tour. The walk through the caves was amazing and then followed by a short boat ride to reach more difficult to access areas. The whole experience was excellent and we're indebted to Graham & Renata for booking us in well in advance to get a chance to see the caves. This is a big tourist attraction (especially with Czech locals) and tours book out months in advance. Walking back up to the car, it was a much more direct drive back into Brno. We shared a late lunch (or early dinner?!) back at Tri Ocasi before Graham & Renata headed off, after a great couple of days together. We collected our luggage from the hotel and walked back to the coach station to pick up another FlixBus service, this time to Ostrava. The coach was again on time, leaving at 6.30pm and arriving at Ostrava's familiar main train station at just before 9pm. We didn't have to wait too long for a taxi for the short trip to our usual hotel (albeit changed in brand from our last visit, from Park Inn to Quality Hotel), the Quality Hotel Ostrava City. After settling in, Lee headed down to the hotel bar for a couple of drinks with his manager, Pat, before calling it a night in preparation for a few days in the office.
Monday and Tuesday saw Lee working full days in the office (next door to the hotel), while Ky enjoyed wandering into Ostrava and eating at Black Kale, the sole remaining vegan eatery there. Lee took lunch in the hotel's excellent Bamboo restaurant each day and we spent our evenings walking back into the city centre, exploring and dining back at Black Kale. A half-day in the office on Wednesday rounded out Lee's work commitments and we took a taxi at midday back to the main train station, this time to catch a train to Prague. Ky had had time to walk into town during the morning to buy lunch to share from Black Kale, so we enjoyed that before boarding our train at 1.15pm. The fast train service continues to be excellent, efficient and frequent, even if we got into Prague about twenty minutes late on this occasion at just before 5pm. We'd opted for the same hotel as on our last visit, so it was a familiar fifteen minute walk in the nice afternoon sunshine to reach the lovely Deminka Palace Hotel. After checking in and freshening up, we headed out for the short walk to a favourite eatery from our last visit, in the shape of the healthy and good value Forrest Bistro. We had a hearty feed there and then took the opportunity to wander down into the Old Town and across Charles Bridge on this lovely late Summer evening. A walk back to the hotel rounded out our day - and our time in the Czech Republic.
We had an early start on Thursday to pack, check out and meet our pre-booked taxi to the airport at 8.45. It was a quiet run out to the airport and we were checked in by 9.30am in plenty of time for our 11.15am British Airways flight back to London Heathrow. The flight was on time at both ends and our passage through Heathrow terminal 3 was again effortless. We had almost no wait for a shuttle bus out to the Budget car rental office and we were soon loading up our last hire car of the trip, a quirky (but almost brand new) Citroen C3 Aircross. We hit the road at about 1.30pm and it was a straightforward largely motorway drive to our overnighter, the Bristol Marriott Hotel City Centre (booked on points thanks to business travels staying at Marriott hotels). Check in was probably the most friendly we've experienced anywhere in the world and we had a great conversation about veganism with Charlie - she would later excel even further by slipping a note under our door with suggestions for places to eat, great to see such "above and beyond" service! We quickly headed out to the nearest Holland & Barrett to stock up on supplies and also dropped in to Collection & Co, a small ethical shoe and accessories shop where we enjoyed a long chat with the friendly owner - and Ky acquired a pair of shoes too! Returning to the hotel briefly to drop off our spoils and freshen up, we headed out again in search of dinner. Our route took us through the edgy and busy Stokes Croft area and we stopped off at community co-operative Cafe Kino for a coffee before finally managing to snag a table at the super popular and relatively new all-vegan Koocha Mezze Bar for dinner. We'd chosen this place as the Persian food sounded genuinely different and it certainly lived up to expectations. We ordered a few different mezze dishes and all were flavoursome and tasty and unlike any dishes we'd tried before, so we really enjoyed the variety on offer here. The long walk back into the city centre was welcome after our big feed.
We left Bristol at a reasonable hour on Friday morning for the drive over to Minehead to attend the Status Quo convention held at Butlin's. It was an unpleasant drive for the first half due to very heavy rain that almost made even motorway driving impossible, but thankfully it cleared somewhat and was mostly dry by the time we parked in Minehead town centre at 12.30pm. We headed straight for lunch at the only vegie place in town (and where we'd enjoyed nice food back in 2015 when we last attended the convention), Toucan Wholefoods. The shop had recently been taken over by new owners and things were still a little disorganized, but the food was really good and we also grabbed some food to sustain us later on at Butlin's. We then drove along the seafront to Butlin's to check in before hitting the pub there with some familiar faces. It was great to catch up with old friends and the time passed quickly unitl 4pm when the mad rush to access accommodation started. Once that was over and done, the real fun started in the main convention venue. It was a big night (surprise surprise!) and more details can be found on Lee's Access All Areas Quo website.
Saturday was fully consumed by convention activities. Ky walked into town in the morning to stock up on food from Toucan Wholefoods and this would keep us going all weekend (although it was pleasing to some a few vegan options on the menus of all Butlin's venues this time). The convention schedule on Sunday was a little lighter so we walked along the promenade into town in the morning for a drink at Coaster Coffee. It was an unreal sight on the high street as almost everyone was wearing Quo attire of some sort, the Quo fans had taken over Minehead! Heading back to Butlin's, the rest of the day was spent conventioning and the event finally wrapped up with headline act, John Coghlan's Quo.
There were a few sorry looking souls wandering around Butlin's early on Monday morning as we all packed up and made our exits. It had been a great weekend catching up with so many old Quo friends and enjoying the awesome selection of music, but all good things come to an end. Our only task for the day was to get to Gatwick airport, a hefty cross-country drive. We decided to break our journey and trusty HappyCow put us onto an excellent place near Basingstoke, House Twenty8 in a lovely little Hampshire village called Sherfield-on-Loddon. Lunch was a welcome break after three hours of driving and this excellent vegie place in the old village post office was delightfully furnished and served us up a very nice meal (so much so that we grabbed more food to take away for dinner later). We stretched our legs with a short walk around the village before driving the short distance to Hook to shop at Tesco for a few supplies, then completing our big drive to Gatwick's South terminal to return our hire car to Budget. From there, the public G2 bus service scooted us around to our hotel for the night, the Premier Inn London Gatwick Airport (A23 Airport Way). We checked in just before 5pm and had a chilled evening, enjoying our food from House Twenty8 and packing our luggage for the next day's air travel.
It was an early start on Tuesday, seeing us checking out of the Premier Inn and catching the bus back to the South terminal to check-in to our British Airways flight to Malaga at just after 7am. A little later, Yvonne & Paul and Gary & Bethan arrived and we met up at Wetherspoon's where they devoured a quick breakfast before we headed to the boarding gate and enjoyed an on-time departure at 9.20am. It was a relaxing flight and everyone was ready for some rest after the hectic convention weekend, so the time passed easily before we landed on time in Malaga at 1.20pm. Exiting the airport was straightforward and we were soon on a train for the 40-minute trip down the coast to Fuengirola. Paul & Yvonne's apartment was literally five minutes' walk from the station so it was good to arrive there and dump our luggage - and start to enjoy the unbroken sunshine and temperatures in the low 30s! We all then walked along the seafront to the marina area and had an excellent (if somewhat late!) lunch, before walking back to the town centre for a few drinks at O'Brien's Irish pub. The local supermarket was the next stop for us all to stock up on supplies and we then had dinner together back at the apartment. The sensible ones (Yvonne and Paul in this case) called it a night, while the youngsters(!) decided to head back out for more drinks, first at O'Brien's and then the Britannia pub. A nightcap at the apartment saw the diehards finishing up at 3am, with Lee taking the honours as the first one to be "broken" during the trip!
It was a slow start on Wednesday morning (especially for some of us!) and the clear sunny skies and hot temperatures were a challenge. We eventually left the apartment and headed to the seafront, where we fueled up with a very late breakfast/early lunch at Vintage Food, Friends & Fun. This place also had a decent pool table so a quick bite to eat turned into a three-hour pool session, a fine way to recover from the night before. From there, we returned to O'Brien's and also checked out one of the newer areas nearby. Dinner was a splendid affair, with a roast vegetable stack followed by vegan paella thanks to the good folks at Bar de Tapas El Capricho Andaluz Fuengirola on Fish Alley and the rest of the evening was spent at Titan's with some Quo videos on their big screens. This would turn out to be Gary's night to be "broken"!
It was a glorious sunny and warm morning as we all enjoyed breakfast on the apartment terrace on Thursday. The plan for the day was to visit the hillside town of Mijas, so we got ourselves organized and caught the bus up to this gorgeous little town tucked into the hills and overlooking the beach resorts below. We started off with drinks on the Plaza Virgen de la Peña at Restaurante los Arcos, before climbing up into the old town proper. The Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción church was unremarkable from outside but quite stunning inside and then we enjoyed the stunning vistas across the beaches from the castle grounds. We'd all worked up an appetite by now (even Gary!) and we chose well with a nice Italian meal at La Cucina di Nico followed by a vegan sorbet from a nearby ice cream shop. Heading back to the bus at about 4pm, it was a scenic ride down to Fuengirola and we returned to the apartment for a lazy evening of eating, drinking and playing cards - till 2am!
It was of course hot and sunny on Friday and everyone was in the mood for a very lazy day, so after breakfast on the terrace, we headed to the beach and hired loungers. It was warm and relaxing down by the water and a few of the group even got massages while they were there! Several hours passed easily before we headed for a late lunch at the nearby seafood restaurant, Rancho Playa. Famous for its paella, they were less capable when it came to inventing a vegan dish but it was a pleasant spot overlooking the water for a couple of hours. We eventually headed back into town and into the more original Spanish areas for us to treat the group to dinner at an all-vegan restaurant, in the shape of My Lola. This local little place was friendly and quiet and we all enjoyed a variety of dishes before wandering back into more familiar territory. A couple of drinks and a few more games of pool at Smokey's Bar (just off Fish Alley) rounded out the day.
Our final day in Spain on Saturday was again sunny and warm. We opted to go out for breakfast, at the English-centric Stones Cafe & Bar and they did a decent job of providing a veganized English breakfast for us. Heading back to the apartment, it was all hands on deck to get the laundry done as well as cleaning. With all that done by early afternoon, we headed to the historic centre of town and had a relaxing lunch at Bar La Plaza on Plaza de Constitución in the shadows of the Church of Rosario. This was a pleasant spot and they fed us well before we returned to the apartment for our last opportunity to relax on the terrace. An ice cream down on the beach went down well before we left the apartment and caught the 5.17pm train back to Malaga airport. We checked-in to our return British Airways flight, this time to Heathrow with the others on a slightly later flight to Gatwick. We chilled together over a coffee at Costa's before it was time to bid them farewell and head off. We'd had a fantastic time with these easy-going and welcoming friends, a great way to relax at the end of our holidays and we really appreciated being asked to join them! Our flight left a little late at 8.50pm, but landed on schedule into Heathrow at 10.10pm. We caught the public bus 490 to terminal 4 and then walked via the undercover tube system there to our hotel for the night, the Premier Inn London Heathrow Terminal 4. It was almost 11.30pm by the time we checked-in, so we soon hit the sack when we got to our room.
Our final day in the UK and it dawned sunny on Sunday, albeit much cooler than in Spain! Since our flight wasn't until the evening, we decided to pack up, check out and leave our luggage so we could go explore for the day. We caught the tube out to Hounslow Central and then walked to Mr Singh's for lunch. This busy little vegie fast food place was great, very friendly and accommodating. We enjoyed a nice meal there before walking the short distance to yet another National Trust property, viz. Osterley House. The house was set in a massive park, quite a surprise find next to what seemed to be a pretty avergae suburban area. The Georgian house was impressive and we enjoyed a wander through it, with the tapestries being a highlight in the opulent upper rooms. This was a bonus property to visit, discovered by accident while looking for a vegie place for lunch within a short distance of the airport - and it was certainly more fun exploring this place than waiting it out in the airport! The day was changing by the time we'd looked around the house, with some drizzle starting to fall so we decided to head off. The walk to Osterley tube station saw us dodging a thunderstorm but we made it without getting too wet and caught the tube back to terminal 4. Collecting our luggage from the Premier Inn, we were checking-in to our return Royal Brunei flight at 3.45pm giving us ample time to make its on time departure at 6pm. It was a long but uneventful flight to Brunei, landing there a little early at 2pm local time. The airport is very basic with no food and drink outlets so the three hours-or-so wait passed pretty slowly before an on time departure at 6.30pm, arriving into Melbourne as one of the first flights of Tuesday morning at the ungodly hour of 4.30am! The airport was very quiet at this time and so we just made the 5.30am Gull bus (as opposed to the 6.40am we'd booked onto) for the return ride to Geelong. Joan and Al picked us up at about 7am and we were home safe and sound by 7.30am - with a long day ahead of us to try to stay awake!
We enjoyed our time in Europe very much and the opportunity to have an extended holiday (with only small amounts of work for Lee) was welcome. The great weather across the whole trip helped a lot and the variety of places we got to explore was fantastic. Vienna was a lovely city to explore for the first time and our relaxing time with great friends in both Czech and Spain was a bonus! We also really enjoyed making the most of our National Trust memberships by visting so many properties across different parts of the UK. The opportunity to see a Quo gig as well as the Quo convention were also highlights (for Lee!) and attending the Vegan Campout for the first time was also a great experience.