28 June 2011

Travels in Finland

0540: Newcastle airport is surprisingly busy at this time in the morning. The rest of the city looked quite sleepy as the taxi zoomed through, but the airport was jumping. There are lots of people heading out on holiday (folks, the hats and acres of skin are a bit of a giveaway), and even more business people standing around looking shifty in suits.

0755: BA’s scoring points for a very comfy aircraft for the trip down to Heathrow. Sadly it’s a bit cloudy, so you can’t see much en route – although by the time we’re coming into London you can grab a quick glimpse of the Thames.

0930: I’d forgotten how much I hate Heathrow. Terminal 3 is awful – far too many people, far too few places to sit, dirty and hideously expensive. Welcome to Britain, everyone. It does get better.

1045: I’m sat on a Finnair plane, en route to Helsinki. Or I would be had we not missed our slot for takeoff – we sit on the tarmac for a good 40 minutes. I manage to fall asleep and miss the safety briefing, so I’m hoping we don’t crash.

1130: Top marks to Finnair for their sandwiches. They’re edible – although that may be because I’m starving.

1522: We land in Helsinki. A top class landing (unlike the bumpy BA one at Heathrow, which woke the passengers up a bit). Helsinki is warm. Very warm. I’d even go so far as to suggest a national stereotype, and say it’s like a sauna.

1645: Not enjoying the packed bus from the airport to downtown Helsinki. It’s far too hot, there’s too much luggage stacked everywhere, and I’m desperate for a cup of coffee.

1800: Helsinki central station. The train bound for Moscow looks suitably knackered and Russian, and there’s a huge stall in the middle of the platform selling fresh peas, cherries and strawberries. You don’t get that kind of thing at King’s Cross.

1920 I’m in the middle of the Finnish countryside, doing 160km/h. More trees than you could ever believe possible are flashing past, making Kielder Forest look like a bit of a copse. I’ve just seen a ski jump (they look quite surprisingly concretey in summer when you’re used to seeing them on the telly covered in snow), lots of lakes, and more trees.

Finnish trains are pretty impressive – double decker, air conditioned and amazingly clean if you’re used to East Coast and Virgin. I’m sat in a ‘work cabin’ – a two-seater compartment with seats, electric sockets and tables.

2030: Ok, I might be a bit blasé about the tree thing now. Ooh look: lakes!

2200: Not dark

2245: Arrived in Joensuu! Hurrah!

2345: Still not dark…

12 June 2011

Chopwell Woods

We did the blue (Outside Line) mountain bike trail at Chopwell Woods today, which was hard work - too many hills for little legs, which meant we had to help push. It wasn't helped by the usual pathetic Forestry Commission signage - Chopwell's generally pretty good, in comparison to some other FC places we've been to, but there were some areas closed off due to logging, and no clue given as to which way to go.

But the ride through the pine trees was lovely (especially the downhill bits). Bizarrely, you could smell strawberries...

06 June 2011

05 June 2011


What do you do when you've got up at 5.45am, flown a couple of thousand miles and spent all day swimming in the pool in the sunshine? You go out for moules frites for tea, of course.

So we did. With added souzaphones...

This was the Nuit des Bandas, in Pineuilh (nope, still no idea how you say it) not far from Sainte Foy la Grande. It's quite a festival...beer tents, moules/poulet and frites, and more souzaphones than you've ever seen in one place before, as five bands roamed around competing for an audience. This lot above were Les Pourquoi Pas - who were (a) very loud but (b) rather good fun!

Finchdale Priory

Miraculously, it was warm on Friday too, so on the way to the airport we stopped at Finchdale Priory. It's hidden by a river in what feels like the middle of nowhere in County Durham (actually, it's only a couple of miles outside Durham). Bizarrely, the site is next to what looks like a deserted MoD camp (lots of bunkers and tangled barbed wire). Must look it up and see what exactly it was.

But back to Finchdale. It's an English Heritage site, but it's free to go in and stomp about over the ruins - as long as you don't mind paying the £3 parking charge (a bit steep). There's virtually no explanation of what's what - but it's certainly an atmospheric spot.

02 June 2011

The first day of summer

It was incredibly hot and sunny up at Druridge Bay today - it looked like the middle of the Caribbean. Even the sand was warm on your toes, which I don't think I've ever experienced on a Northumberland beach before.

So we played the obligatory beach games, dug some *massive* holes and paddled in the freezing cold sea. That bit wasn't so Caribbean.

If only the north east would look like this every summer's day...

01 June 2011

Corbridge Roman Fort

We had a lovely trip out to the Corbridge Roman fort this afternoon, which made me quite nostalgic for my trowelling days (I worked on a couple of Roman and Iron Age excavations as a summer job while I was at university). I really liked Corbridge - it feels rough around the edges like the archaeologists have just left. You can wander about all over the site, clamber over the walls, and explore the nooks and crannies. Here's Orb and M peering under the granary floor...

What I also liked was the way the tiny on-site museum had made itself child-friendly with the minimum of expenditure. We hunted for Grricola the lion's favourite items (which were nicely interpreted and explained), and did a couple of jigsaws. It's not rocket science, but the addition of 10 small cuddly lions suddenly made the rather dry display cases far more exciting.

Sadly, there were no bath houses (I have a soft spot for these, having spent what felt like months cleaning out the hypercaust in one), so we might have to try Chesters, the next major site along Hadrian's Wall, before our English Heritage cards run out.