Journeys – Welshpool to Aberystwyth with Arriva Trains Wales:

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Welshpool station is an unmanned station with direct services to Shrewsbury, Telford, Birmingham New Street and Birmingham International to the East and Newtown, Machynlleth, Aberystwyth, and all stations to Pwllheli to the West. 
My first piece of advice would be buying your ticket at the information centre in Welshpool or on the train itself. There is an automatic ticket machine on the station itself but when I traveled it was taking people’s money but not issuing tickets (fellow travellers told me that the machine was regularly broken). 
The second bit of advice is to sit facing forwards on the right-hand side of the train. This will give you the best views of the countryside, the river Dovey and the estuary across to Aberdovey. You will also get to see the National Library of Wales as you pull into Aberystwyth. 
The journey time was approximately 1.5 hours and when I travelled, the trains were all on time. The train was made up of four carriages that divided at Machynlleth with two carriages continuing to Aberystwyth. A refreshment trolley was available and made two trips through the train during my journey. 
The train itself was very clean inside, although I wish the windows were a little cleaner to see the passing countryside. The staff were very friendly and made sure they helped their customers when necessary. 
Overall, I enjoyed the journey especially the lovely Welsh countryside we travelled through on our way to the coast. The train was on time which is so important and the staff were great. Well done Arriva Trains Wales. 

Castle’s of Wales – Powys Castle

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So many people (me included) love castles, be they ruins where you can imagine what they once were or where they are magnificent family homes. Powys Castle is the latter and one of the finest places to visit if you are in Mid Wales. At number of castles in Wales were built by the English to keep the Welsh at bay, however Powys Castle was built by a Welsh Prince in the 13th Century. Finally in the 18th century the castle passed into the Clive family and is now managed by the National Trust. 
The first impressions are amazing as you drive from Welshpool and see the fine castle on the hill. As you drive into the estate you get another fine view through an amazing gate (with of course the Welsh Dragons) of the gardens and castle. As with the majority of National Trust properties, there was plenty of parking (including spaces to charge electricity cars) and a free mini bus shuttle to the main entrance for those that couldn’t walk from the car park. You can choose to visit the gardens and/or the castle itself with the fine artifacts in the Clive Museum.

If your lucky, the beautiful peacocks will welcome you into their domain.

 Through the main gateway is the external courtyard with the far reaching views across Powys. Personally I would visit the castle first as this doesn’t take long, giving you more time to enjoy the world famous gardens. You can wonder around the castle at your own pace or take a guided tour with very knowledgable guides. Not all of the rooms are open to the public, but those that are, are well worth a visit. 

The main feature however, is the famous terraced gardens. With its colourful borders, yew trees and topiary and lawned areas, the pictures just don’t do it justice and is a garden you have to see for yourself. 

Overall, it is an amazing place to visit for all ages. The is a National Trust shop and cafe available should you feel the need to shop and relax with a coffee etc. For more information on opening times and prices, please visit the National Trust Website.

The Bowes Museum

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The Bowes Museum, Bernard Castle, County Durham, DL12 8NP
I had heard about this museum but never visited, until now. I was not disappointed and this museum should be on the list of things to do for anyone in the area. As soon as you drive in through the main gates, it was ‘wow’, ‘wow’ and ‘wow’ again. Here in the middle of County Durham was a magnificent French Chateau. I parked the car and just stood there looking in amazement at such a wonderful building. 

As you walk around the museum, you begin to appreciate that the chateau was built purely to house the museum, rather than a family house for John and Josephine Bowes. The museum houses the sculptures, paintings, furniture, books, glass etc collected by the Bowes family over the years. 
I am not usually a fan of museums. Usually I fine them too big and I end up going just to look at specific items. The Bowes Museum was different, but part of that for me was undoubtedly the building itself. 
In the collection itself, one item really stood out for me – a mechanical mouse. A gold life size mouse inlaid with pearls. It was exquisite.

There was a decent museum shop and a very nice cafe serving a good selection of hot and cold food and some very yummy cakes. 
I would definitely recommend this Museum if you are in the area, you won’t be disappointed.

My first review – Radisson Blu Hotel, Durham, UK

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Radisson Blu Hotel, Frankland Lane, Durham, DH1 5TA

This is my first ever review, I hope it is useful, but any comments to help me improve my reviews are welcome. Never having been to Durham before, I choose this hotel because of its central location and my experience of other Radisson Blu hotels. So how did this hotel compare and would I stay here again?

The hotel was easy to find on the banks of the river Wear and there were plenty of car parking spaces in the hotels (chargeable) car park. Walking through into the main foyer and reception area gave me my first impression of this hotel. Light, spacious, clean and friendly instantly sprang to mind. Next to the reception were tourist information leaflets, newspapers and jugs of iced water flavoured with different fruits. 

The staff were very welcoming, found my reservation quickly and upgraded my room to a superior room overlooking the river – now that was great customer service. The staff booked my car in, checked my paper requirements for the following morning and checked if there was anything else they could do to make my stay a pleasant one. The health club and spa looked very nice, but not something I was able to experience on this trip.

My room was great but nothing more than I expected. It was clean and had all the amenities you would want – toiletries, robes, slippers, tea and coffee tray, and complimentary bottled water. There were a good selection of channels on the TV and a room safe was available if needed. The room had its own air conditioning but for those of you who like fresh air, you could also open the windows. What I did notice about the room was it appeared to be well soundproofed. I didn’t hear other guests in their rooms, slamming doors, people in the corridor etc that I can in some hotels. This aided a very peaceful nights sleep and a comfortable bed with feather pillows (these could be changed if you were allergic). 

My only experience of the restaurant was at breakfast. It was a buffet breakfast, but other items were available to order freshly cooked I.e. Scrambled eggs, omelette etc. There was a very good selection of cold ham and cheese, cereals, pastries and hot food. A variety of teas was also available for you to help yourself to, but coffee was just coffee and was brought to the table. My only two criticisms at what otherwise was an excellent buffet was some of the hot items were not as hot as they should have been and secondly was the self service toast maker. Now it maybe just me, but the last thing I really want to do at breakfast is stand by a toaster and make my own toast on a machine that doesn’t always toast on both sides. If you step away from the toaster for a moment you risk your toast being swiped by another guest. It just doesn’t add to improve the breakfast experience for me. 

Overall, would I stay here again, yes I think I would. The location, room and the staff more than made up for the minor criticisms at breakfast. I do wish however that the hotel provided free car parking. 

5 things I liked about this hotel:

  • Free wifi – available across the hotel and very good speeds
  • The staff – just brilliant and know how to look after their guests
  • Location – excellent location, on the river a few minutes walk from the town centre 
  • Room rate – I thought the hotel was good value
  • Room service – a nice room service menu

3 things I didn’t like about this hotel:

  • Charges made for the car parking – if a hotel has its own car parking facility, in my view it should be free to guests. 
  • The self service toast machine
  • Some of the cooked breakfast items were not as hot as they should have been.

You’ve found me 😀 – Welcome

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IMG_0006I am a slightly overweight (ok fat) guy who loves to experience new places, people and cultures, so why don’t you join me? I would especially like to invite you to join me on the Camino walk which I am due to start later this year. This will take me (approximately 490 miles) from St Jean-Pied-de-Port in southern France to Santiago de Compostela in North Western Spain.

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