søndag 1. september 2013

UK Roadtrip

The alternatives for our summer holiday this year was either a) road trip to Switzerland through Germany and joining Debconf (Linux conference) at some point or b) road trip to the UK and joining the LinuxBeerWanderung there. The Debconf organising was slightly unorganised, and the LBW being more dog-friendly, we took the dogs, car and spent two weeks driving to and in the UK.

Friday, August 9th
We started out by going to Larvik Friday the 10th of August, spending a few hours walking in the famous Beech tree forest with an irc-friend and his dog before we headed down to the ferry. Arriving in Hirtshals in the evening, we went straight to the nearby camping park where we had booked a room for the night.

We spent long 14 hours in the car on Saturday, going from Hirtshals, through Denmark, Germany (with an hour queue north of Kiel), Netherlands and Belgium, before we decided to find somewhere to stay for the night. Surfing booking.com and calling up hotels that allowed dogs, we called Holiday Inn, and was answered that they only had executive rooms left, for the price of €160, but dogs were allowed there. The receptionist answering the phone claimed that the booking.com saying rooms were available was wrong. We booked there anyway, and checked in 20 minutes later, with no comments from the receptionist.
Except for the return trip, it will be a long time before I decide to go the long way around again...

On the Sunday morning we made the short trip to Calais, and was put on an earlier ferry, and arrived before schedule in Cambridge. We settled in at the Stationroomz hostel before going off to a large green to give the dogs a run. There were free walking cows that made the walk a bit interesting, but the dogs got to run and play for a bit. Odin rolled himself in cow droppings, and when Tollef turned to look at him, Kovu ran off towards another dog, and Tollef got his hand badly burned from the long leash trying to stop him. We went back to wash off Odin and Tollef, feed the dogs, and then headed back to the green and the nearby pub where we had agreed to meet friends. We had a very nice evening in the pub garden with friends, dogs and dinner.

We arrived at Denton in Oxford short time before lunch, and was greeted by my previous employers. Nothing had changed, and everything was just as lovely as ever, and very green from the warm summer and som recent rain. We walked the dogs to a field where they got to run, and had a nice lunch at the house. Afterwards we drove into the city centre for some shopping and the important fudge and milkshake. In the evening, we met friends in Banbury and ordered curry, before we stayed the night at one of the best inns during the trip, Fairlawns.

Tuesday was our first day roaming the Welsh countryside. We had lunch in St. Fagans and then went to the open air museum. The museum was really great, the only regret was that we were a bit late so we did not have time to really enjoy the village and some of the exhibitions there. They had buildings, gardens and exhibitons from various times, a castle, woolmill, cider workshop and a lot of good information. It was also very accessible and the dogs enjoyed coming with us.
After the museum we drove up to Aberdare and Dare Valley camping park, which also was really great. The tent area was nice, flat and clean, there were riding stables nearby, and the park was just at the edge of the national park. We could probably have enjoyed staying there for several days, if we did not have other plans.

On Wednesday we started out driving to Penderyn and visiting Wales' only whisky distillery and had a tour there. The tour was short, but interesting. We continued on to the Brecon Beacon Waterfalls visitor centre, which is supposed to be a good starting point for walking to any of the many waterfalls in the national park. We had lunch at the ancient inn across the road before we went off. According to the guy in the reception there was a nice 5 km walk (there and back again) where we could see 5 of the nearest waterfalls. We headed off in rainy weather, during nice green forests, along a quite large river. We found the first (very nice) and second (somewhat boring) waterfalls, and then we had already walked 3,6 km of the supposedly 5 km walk. The path was quite uneven and I was tired, so we decided to turn around. Still, it was a very nice walk, and the dogs enjoyed it, if not so much having to be cleaned for all the mud afterwards!
From the waterfall centre we drove down to the southern coast of Wales, and camped near Pendine Sands, one of the longest beaches in Wales.

In the morning we took the dogs to the beach and let them run, particularly Kovu enjoyed running around on the beach, in the water and in the sand. We continued driving up to St. Davids, visited the cathedral and saw the castle ruins. St. Davids is Britains smallest city, and sits on a quite hilly spot on the western coast of Wales. There was a lot of old, small shops and steep roads. After lunch, we headed up to Castell Henlleys, an iron age fort, which appeared to be a very pleasant experience. We could bring the dogs, and walked through a nice nature park, before coming to the top of the hill. There were several round houses with exhibitions and showing of practical crafts, storytelling, woodworks, weaving, how to build a house, and much more. I could have used a lot more time there, even if we got to see a bit of everything!

We continued on our way up north, and when we started to get hungry for lunch, there were no pubs or eating places along the road. After a bit we found a lonely hotel with quite expensive, plain food. While we had dinner it started to rain outside, and before we were leaving it really poured down. We considered whether to camp for the night or find a B&B, but ended up finding a quite nice camp site. The rain even eased for a bit when we put up our tent, so we weren't quite soaked before going to bed, but the wind and rain picked up again, and it was a restless, noisy night.

Friday was spent mostly in Conwy. We parked on the wrong side of the city, and walked to the castle. Conwy castle is very old and quite nice, but the visit was not really worth the money. There could have been so much more information about the history and layout of the castle. Also, the guide could have made some more effort, or at least left his plastic sword and fabric chain mail at home. To anyone coming after us, just do the town wall walk instead!
After the castle we had ice cream and I visited the smallest house in Britain. A nice little place, where actually a whole family lived at some point!

From Conwy we drove to York, and tried to find an open camping park that answered the phone and also had available tent pitches. After some tries we ended up at some farm camping by the marina that also had free walking chicks. Exciting! In the evening we took both dogs to the pub where we met another friend of Tollef. Apart from when the dogs discovered the cat on the roof, it was a nice evening.

We packed up on Saturday and headed to Newcastle to visit my cousin. Underway we called some camping parks but all were full, so we ended up booking an inn for the night. At my cousin's place we first inspected his new apartement, which was really nice, and then went to a nearby pub and had lunch. The guys went off afterwards to walk the dogs in a park, and I went to the city center to do some shopping. A few hours later we met up and were all happy with the day. We found a nearby Indian restaurant where we had dinner, before we said goodbye.
The inn we booked was nearby the airport, and quite busy with partying people on a Saturday night. We were in the quiet corner of the building, according to the landlady, so the surprise was quite big then police woke us in the middle of the night. Someone at the inn had noticed the door of our car being open, and called them. Nothing was gone, so we probably had forgotten the door in the hurry to check in and get to bed...

Finally, we arrived in Castleton to stay there for the next four nights. All my doubts about the cottage that we had booked were gone when we found the owned in the next door cottage, got the key, and entered. Beech croft cottage was really beautiful, apparently recently refurbished, and quite large.
After getting settled and grabbing some lunch, we ended up spontaneously joining the LBW people for an afternoon walk. It was longer than we were told beforehand, so we turned back after a while, but at least started to let the dogs become used to the other dog that was there.
The landscape around was beautiful, and the village was really busy with all the people that came there to walk in the area. It did quieten after the weekend, but was still a lot more busy than I expected.

The experience of sleeping in a lovely bed with nice, clean linen, knowing that I would stay in the same bed for the next few nights, was just lovely. On Monday morning we started doing some shopping for the organised dinner in the evening. Then we joined our first long walk, about 10 km long, to a nearby top. We walked through fields and hills that were crowded with sheep, so the dogs had to stay on leads, but were mostly ok with passing the sheep peacefully.
In the afternoon (after a long, nice showed in the very nice bathroom in the cottage) there was an organised dinner where everybody brought some food. Tollef made pancakes, and we brought some Norwegian sweets and drink. We got to taste a lot of nice and special food from many places.
After dinner there were movies, and I saw Monthy Python and the Holy Grail while beating some others in Carcassonne with some new, special rules (I did not like them much, though).

On Tuesday my feet were really sore from the day before. Odin, Kovu and I hung out at the village hall with the other lazy people while Tollef joined another long walk. Before lunch, one of the other participants joined me and we took the dogs for a walk to Peveril Castle, a 15 minute walk away. It was quite expensive, even if nice. There was some information on the history and layout of the castle, and it was fun to imagine how it would have been.
After lunch (Milkshake from a local bar, not impressed) the dogs and I hung around the Village Hall, awaiting Tollef's return. About seven in the evening he arrived, and we had a quick dinner and a short evening at the Hall before falling into bed.

The last full day in England. Both ready to start for home, but sad to leave too. Tollef and I took a walk on our own around the back of the castle and across some of the fields we walked on Monday. At one point we met a bunch of full-grown but very curious calves that wanted to say hi to Kovu. I knew Odin would trigger on them, so we stayed a bit behind while Tollef took the opportunity to work som contact and calm with Kovu. One of the calves was as close as one meter away, Kovu went down in a play-bow, the calf jumped back a few metres but came back shortly. We stayed there for a while before we chased them off and walked back to the village.
Back in the village hall I just played computer games, while Tollef attended the beer tasting. In the evening we had our last dinner on a pizza place that was recommended, and appeared to be very nice.

On Thursday morning we packed the car, and headed off just at the same time as the days hike left the village hall. We headed down towards and through London, doing not too bad from what we expected might be a long queue on the M25. We made a last stop to do some shopping for dog-stuff, and were just in time for the Dunkirk ferry. The ferry was a bit late in crossing, and we arrived at the hotel quite late in the evening. The dogs, having spent most of the day in the car, got a nice run on the nearby beach before we went to bed.

Tollef took the dogs down to the beach again and let them run, before we had breakfast and headed north. The day was mostly like the trip out, long and boring, with a few pit stops. We found a very idyllic camping site in the evening, where we had booked beforehand. The staff had left for the night, with a note on the door for us to find the key and linens in cabin number 5.

We had a not very exciting breakfast before driving the last two hours to the ferry. There was some roadworks and queues, and I was a bit nervous even though we had left in good time. Of course there were no problems, we made the ferry, and then arrived at home not too late after the last couple of hours drive from Larvik. Happy to be home, but looking forward to our next trip to the UK!

onsdag 1. mai 2013

Les 2 Gazelles

Les 2 gazelles

Day 1: I fell off!

The day started too early, with a shuttle to Terminal 5 and flight from London to Agadir, and then a 90 minute drive along roads of variable quality to the ranch called Les 2 Gazelles. The driver didn’t speak much English, so we spent the time watching the dry landscape and half built towns.
On our arrival we were met by Leila, who spoke a little bit English, and showed us around and offered lunch. After lunch we already had our first ride, a short lesson in the school and then an hour riding out. I got a big mare called Tamazirt that was really lazy in the walk, fine with trotting and full speed in canter and gallop. Tollef got a smaller mare called Tizlit who were more forward going in all paces. We rode down to the beach and along it, and it was obvious that the horses normally run a lot there. We didn’t do any trot or canter before we turned off the beach and along the tracks back to the stable. At some point the guides horse shied during a canter, and my horse followed suit. I was somewhat prepared, but didn’t manage to stay on. Well done for a first ride! The fall was not really bad, and I got up and we walked nicely back to the stables.
Dinner was nice enough, and we both withdrew early, tired from the travel and riding.

Day 2: New horse, new possibilities

The second day started with a two hour long ride along the beach and back across the dry inner land, to my disappointment still on Tamazirt. We had some long canters along the beach, and the horses really enjoyed it. I have not often become tired from cantering! Tamazirt was really strong and pulling a lot on the left rein, so I spent some time fighting her before we finally agreed.
We had lunch and a new arrival, an Englishman that had done a lot of riding holidays. It was lovely having someone to talk to that actually understood English properly. He joined our ride in the afternoon, where I was allowed to change horses for a red Arab stallion named Queiss. He was so much better than Tamazirt, following the others in a nice pace, and quite controllable in trot. We did not canter at all, as we came through a town that had some kind of festival, and we rode through crowds of people, down a narrow track, all of this with loud noise from speakers around us. Queiss got really nervous, and took a long time to calm down. Then, on crossing the road before the last stretch, he was startled by a motorbike, and almost got me off for the second time on my part. Luckily I stayed on this time.

Day 3. Storms, and yet another horse.

In the evening the wind caught up, and we had a storm during the night. I didn’t sleep much, as the dog was barking a lot in the yard, and the wind made a lot of noise. Luckily we didn’t have any water coming into our room, like some of the others had.
I asked if we would have a lesson in the morning rather than riding out, as I was very unsure how the horses would be in the strong wind. Leila said we would, but when we were to saddle the horses we were told that we were going out anyway. I agreed to take Tamazirt again, as she could be expected to be calmer with the wind. Better with lazy than jumpy. We barely got out through the gate though, before she started jumping around and making problems, and I decided to go back inside and rest for the morning. At that point I was not very happy with the horses or the guides, the main instructor being the only one able to pick out a horse for me that I could be comfortable with. I rested until the others came back, and not unexpectedly, it had been a lively ride.
Before lunch I spoke to Leila, and in the afternoon I got Tollef’s horse, Tizlit. I felt really bad about that since he was so happy with her, but apparently it was the only horse they meant would be better for me than the two I had already tried, and the alternative was to break off the whole riding thing and go to Agadir for touristing (I was that tired of everything, lack of sleep didn’t help at all). Tollef got my horse and rode out with the others, while I stayed for a lesson together with a younger girl who also stayed at the ranch. It was not very complicated instructions, mostly controlling the horse in trot and canter, but I got to know the horse and got quite comfortable with her. She is just the kind of horse that I like, small, quick and eager. I still had some problems controlling her in the school, so waiting to see how riding out will be in the coming day. Tollef was also happy with “my” horse, so in the end it was a successful switch.

Day 4. Testing, testing.

No less stormy, but at least more sleep during this night. My plan was to ride out in the morning to get to know Tizlit on the track, and a lesson in the afternoon because it is less tiring, saving my energy for the trail ride.
The English-speaking guide took us about the same route as Youssuf on Sunday, down to the beach with some canters, and back through a village and over the dry lands. We had various levels of strong wind the whole way, and on our way back we had some heavy rain showers. Today’s challenge was a gallop along the beach against wind and rain. A bit after we had to stop and turn the horses with their backs to the rain, as they are not used to this at all. All in all Tizlit proved to be a good and steady horse, though I am not sure if I could have kept her back if the French couple behind me had started racing, as they tended to come side by side during the canters.
In the afternoon I was having a lesson with the girl from yesterday and the French guy from the earlier mentioned couple. Luckily I was in the school before any of the others and got some time all to myself to work on the trot and halts that I struggled with yesterday. When the other two came the lesson more or less consisted of the three of us riding around trying to avoid each other, the French guy changing directions a bit randomly, and the other two of us trying to control our horses to pass him and each other without causing any trouble. My horse appeared quite tired and protested quite heavily against the trot and canters in the end, so we made it a short lesson (if it counts as a lesson without any instruction?).
After a shower (including various water temperatures) I had my appointed massage, which at least was very good. Hopefully a full body massage will help me relax my muscles and sleep better the last night before the trail ride. Apparently we are going about 30 kilometers every day, by 5-7 hours of riding. I expect that we are not doing much trotting or canter as the horses will be having long enough days anyway. Looking forward to see how this will be! For dinner we also had the company of Rene’s daughter and her friend, who will be joining us on the flight back to London.

Day 5. To ride or not to ride (in the rain).

Against all expectations, Wednesday started out with strong winds. The rain came just as we took the horses out to get up, and within the first hour horses and riders were soaked. We discussed whether to turn back, as it was supposed to rain all day, but when it cleared up (just as we decided to return, of course) we decided to go on for lunch and then consider the course.
We walked beside the horses up a steep rocky mountain part, before we mounted again and rode along country roads in the hillsides. Nice view, with threatening clouds from all sides. We rode through a couple of towns with a lot of attention from the inhabitants, and crossed a mostly dry river. The rain didn’t come again until we had lunch in the middle of an open field, but it wasn’t too bad and we continued the trip. The car with our luggage and equipment had gone before us and set up tables and prepared lunch for us.
After lunch we rode in a dry riverbed for some time, before we got back up on the road and had a good long canter before we started to ascend the steep mountainside. From the top of the mountain we had a terrific view of the Moroccan savannah and other mountains, even one that looked like Lonely Mountain! During the descent the horses got really tired, and we walked them the last bit to the camp that was almost ready set up. Everything was a bit damp from the rain, but the skies had cleared up and we could change to quite dry clothes and get some rest.

Day 6

We woke up to the prayers in the nearest village, rain on the tent, and luckily a swiftly clearing sky. The second day of the ride we rode through hilly landscape, and a long rocky stretch from the camp and up on another mountain. We walked the horses again quite far downhill, and it was good for the horses to get some rest. In a town we ended up chasing a cow away, and then we came down on the earlier viewed savannah, rocky fields with bushes and trees, where we had lunch.
After lunch we rode mostly on flat land, with some nice canters and trots along the roads. My horse was quite tired, and on the last few canters she refused to do anything but trot (possibly partly to do with the horse in front that had really uneven speed because the rider was fighting the reins all the time).
Even though the second day had been easier, I was really tired in the evening. I had a “wet wipe shower” and a fresh change of clothes, which felt incredibly good. We had some cooked chicken and mint-tea (served after most meals), and then flat out in the tent.

Day 7, there and back again.

The last day of the trail ride. The morning was a bit cloudy and chilly, but it soon cleared up and we had a really nice and warm sun that easily uncovered the spots we missed with the sunscreen... Not unexpectedly, we headed towards the coast still across the flat land. A lot of the parts were rocky, so there was little speed the first half of the ride. Some parts had large puddles from the rain, and some of the horses were really uncomfortable with the slippery ground. The advantage of the rain for our part was probably that there was no dust at all! A dog followed us for a long time, but stayed behind in a town we went through. After riding through a tourist area we came down to the beach, where the car waited with lunch, including strawberries for dessert! We untacked the horses and let them have a good roll in the sand, which was really appreciated.
After a long nice picnic on the beach, we headed towards the ranch. Both horses and riders were tired and eager to get home, and expected to have some good gallops along the beach. For my part the gallops were slightly spoiled because the rider in front of me still didn’t have control of his horse, but it was very nice anyway. I also managed to take some nice photos beach between the speedy parts. At the very end of the trip it started raining again, so much that we had to stop and turn the horses against the wind, as they were not used to the rain and quite nervous about it.
Back at the ranch we washed down the horses and equipment before taking a long awaited shower. In the evening there was a big dinner, with some other guests, and a lot of food and new dishes. Still, I was happy when we finished and could go to bed and have a good night's sleep before going home the next day. At the end of the week I was not sure if I was happy with the holiday or not. Some time later, having digested it all, I think I might have gone somewhere else, and made some other choices, but I also got some experiences that I am happy to take with me.