All posts by karen

Czecheap Challenge – Home to Hull to Zebrugge (Day 1)

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We left home at 10.40am and met up with Rob ‘Cafe CremeÂ’ Grimmer and Al ‘DuffÂ’… I donÂ’t know his surname, friends weÂ’d made on Barcelona Bangers in 2013. IÂ’ve kept in touch with Grimmer through Facebook, but IÂ’ve not seen or heard from Al in almost a year. 51 weeks actually. It felt like weÂ’d just woken up from a good sleep and were carrying on with our driving journey.

We reached Scunthorpe and met up with some of the other ralliers, we met some new people and got to see many of the cars before we all set off across the Humber Bridge to Hull, for the overnight ferry.

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I was really worried that my best banger buddies, Rob and Si, werenÂ’t going to be able to make it as SiÂ’s sister had been taken seriously ill. We were waiting for news to see if sheÂ’d started making an improvement, Si was really worried about leaving her. As the Rally Events organisers started to get us together to leave, I got the good news phone call to say that theyÂ’d meet us at the ferry terminal.

We got to Hull and RobÂ’s girlfriend Sarah was there with their beautiful little girl, Lauren. I was really pleased to meet Lauren as IÂ’d heard so much about her. She is brilliant! She has the most lovely voice and a really thoughtful tone. SheÂ’s super clever and super cute!

As we neared the ferry we were selected for a security check by a man who said, “Scrapyard’s that way mate!” and laughed at his own joke.

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We boarded the ferry and then waited for about 3 hours while our departure was delayed by the tides, apparently. It was weird to be sat in the port amongst half-drunk people listening to mediocre cabaret. Later there was bingo, and other things that made me want to jump overboard!

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Adam and I went to the ‘World FlavoursÂ’ buffet for our dinner. There were all sorts of random things on offer and I could have made up a very odd meal-concoction – as it was I went for lemon chicken, macaroni cheese, cucumber and cherry tomatoes… oh, and two puddings!

We spent the evening chatting to our friends, and making new ones. Last year Colin came on Barcelona Bangers for his Stag-do, and this year he brought along his wife, Ashleigh!

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There were lots of bikers in Hells Angels style gear, and too many cool skull back-patches on jackets. One of them won £125 on the bingo.

Later that night I was to be found in the Casino betting GordonÂ’s money on Pontoon… someone said you could win chips! After a few games I managed to get the hang of it. I reckon I made him at least €2.50. Then I went to bed.

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Adam took the top bunk, and I was actually quite happy nesting in the bottom bunk. I liked the red and white colour scheme, even though the ‘room’ was much smaller than the photos had made out and was about the size of a cupboard. It also smelt a bit cupboardy.

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Strangely, and much to my surprise, the bed was rather comfy and I quite liked the lumpy, waviness (it reminded me of airplane turbulence), but it was noisy, and hot, and there was too much light coming under the door. By the time I got off to sleep it was time for tannoy lady to announce “ItÂ’s 8am European time and breakfast is served.”

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Breakfast was a buffet mountain. Sleepy people shuffled around with piled-high plates. I opted for Alpen. I did try a pastry, but it was stale beyond belief and tasted of meat fridge. Shudder.

Czecheap Challenge – This Time Last Year!

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So, we’re off to Prague on the Czecheap Challenge, in our trusty, crusty, totally rusty VW Polo, but this time last year we were heading off to Barcelona with the Rally Events guys. We managed to raise over £1700 for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices while we were at it, too.

Barcelona Bangers was amazing fun, so I thought I’d share some of the gazillion photos I took on the journey… see you on the other side!

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We took Lisa the Tigra up to Grimsby Signs to get stickered, so on the way home we stopped off at Louth for a photo with this amazing building. We also stopped at the Admiral Rodney for a Rodney Burger. That’s right, a Rodney Burger!

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We dressed up in our best ‘Glitter Mitten’ gear and hung around in Calais, watching exceptional French television in our hotel room.

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Our first destination was Tours, on the way we went to Le Mans and visited the amazing museum. There were things that I wanted to bring home, many things.

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In Tours we met up with some of the other drivers, and went for dinner in an Italian Restaurant. It wasn’t very Italian. The food was vaguely edible. Adam had his steak knife thrown at him by the waiter, and then a strange little French man asked a group of Scottish guys to serenade his wife/girlfriend/female… and they did! It was truly bizarre and wonderful.

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In France they have the best net curtains.

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And the best names for pubs.

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The following day we headed off to Toulouse. We took more of a scenic route and stopped off at many random supermarches on the way.

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Simon found a race track out in the countryside, so we headed there and watched the fast cars go round. Then we drove electric go-karts. I’ve never been in a go-kart before, and I can’t say I was very good at it. Apparently it’s not the done thing to stop when another driver has gone off and ask them if they’re okay and need any help getting started again. I’m learning!

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After a night in Toulouse, where there was a very cool break-dancing event going on in the city square (I didn’t take part!), we headed off through Andorra, on our last leg of the journey, to Barcelona.

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I know it’s wrong, but this was my favourite car – his little arm waved when the wiper was on! There was also a missile on the roof.

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Andorra was beautiful. I got stuck in a toilet in Andorra, and I didn’t mind. That’s how nice it was.

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I forgot about that tax disc holder. I miss that tax disc holder.

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The weather was magnificent, and so were the roads. We stopped for lunch, chatted with other drivers, and watch some of them sledge down the icey mountainside.

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Finally we arrived in Barcelona and parked up in the beach-front car park. We watched the rally organisers cars get shrink-wrapped and then headed off to our hotels.

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We had an amazing night out with everyone, one of the best nights. I danced like a right pillock and had a lovely time. And then I got to eat cake and fruit for breakfast.

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We stayed in Hotel Attica 21, in Barcelona. Apparently this is the swimming pool they used on the Trivago advert. I don’t know. I don’t believe anything they told me. They told me the water was 15 degrees celsius, but when I got in and thought I was going to have a heart-attack I realised they might have meant 5!

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We spent the Monday wandering around Barcelona in the sun. I was so disappointed to find that the Museu Blau was closed, but we did visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, which was another spectacular building.

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And of course, a visit to Barcelona would not be complete without a walk along Las Ramblas to La Boqueria Market. 

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On Tuesday we packed our bags, got back in our banger and made the epic journey from Barcelona to Calais, via the Millau Viaduct.  The weather got more and more stormy the closer we got to home.

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We made a few ‘Yop Stops’ on the way, and stayed the night at Calais, before catching the ferry back to Dover and coming back to reality! I still can’t explain what a wonderful time we had, and although these photos serve as a reminder to me, they don’t express half of the fun, glee and freedom we felt.

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If you want to follow our Czecheap Challenge journey I’ll be adding pictures to instagram (harveyhotdog) and facebook (glittermitten)

A Night at Verzon House Hotel, Ledbury

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I arrived in the village of Trumpet, after three and a half hours of driving in the rain, the sun came out and I rejoiced at the name of the village.

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Verzon House is a beautiful Georgian residence, built as a farmhouse in 1777, it is an imposing three storey building with some attractive original details, such as the rams head cornicing, sash windows and shutters.

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I was met at reception and shown to my room, the Bloody Turk. The room, although well appointed, was less characterful than I had imagined it would be from what I’d seen in the shared areas. The new owners are working on a full refurbishment and I am sure they’ll make the rooms much more individual and fun. Much of the communal space has been completed with beautiful style and colouring, and as I type the decking and outside spaces are being revamped, along with fantastic plans to update the bedrooms, put down new carpets and hang a magnificent french chandelier in the galleried entrance hall.

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Within the room there was everything I needed – a large mirror, two chairs, a desk, stool, wardrobe, bed and a mini bar. All very clean and well presented. The bathroom was a good size; plenty of space, plenty of decent toiletries, plenty of soft white towels and two large bath robes.

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Tea and coffee were provided in the room in the form of coffee grounds and three types of tea: Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Peppermint, along with sugar cubes and dinky homemade biscuits. I was delighted to find fresh milk in the mini bar (next to the gin).

My room was at the front of the building, and the double aspect windows allowed me to keep one eye on the beautiful countryside, and the other on my little car!

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The desk was perfectly positioned to enjoy the views, however the wifi signal wasn’t strong enough for me to get on the internet. The owners are fixing that, and the connection was pretty speedy in the bar, so it all worked out fine!

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The food at Verzon House is excellent, and I mean excellent. Almost all of their produce comes from within a 30 mile radius of the hotel, and it’s beautifully prepared and presented. I did a LOT of eating at Verzon House! You really should pop over here and have a look at the lovely food and dining room.

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I think the bed may have been in the top 3 of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept in. It was firm enough for me to not sink into it, but soft enough for me not to feel bruised. The feather pillows, feather duvet and soft white bedding were perfect. Sadly I could hear every word spoken by the bellowing raucous women in the room next door and it was gone 1.30am when they stopped slamming about and calmed down. I think they were exceptionally loud and heavy footed. The thunderous footsteps of one raucous woman actually shook my bed! The fire door on the landing also disturbed my sleep. I think some foam stoppers for the door, and perhaps some thicker underlay for the floors, would make a huge difference. As would a shot gun. I’m tired.

After the raucous women woke me up, I listed to the birds singing outside my window, before going down for breakfast.

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I used my new tactic of sweet then savoury to allow me to fully benefit from the breakfast experience, so after the little warm Pain au Chocolate I ordered Eggs Benedict. It was flavourful without being overpowering and the eggs were beautifully soft. I also enjoyed a glass of local apple juice and my tea came with unhomogenised milk! That won’t excite everyone, but my mum will be very pleased to hear that I found somewhere with milk that still has the cream on the top.

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The raucous women left, and peace was restored. The hotel has a very calm and relaxed feeling. Its a place for fun, a place to enjoy good food and wine. There were other guests milling about, taking it easy, talking about their well-stocked and now depleted mini bars, sharing breakfast, laughing and chatting. It’s a lovely place and the team are working hard to make it even more lovely. They are obviously very proud of what Verzon House has to offer, and rightly so.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Verzon House and really couldn’t have been more well looked after.

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Verzon House Hotel is situated in the village of Trumpet, just outside Ledbury in Herefordshire.

The rate for a Superior Room (like the one I stayed in) is £120 per night including breakfast.

Thank you to the lovely team at Verzon House for the most lovely stay, and delicious food. Hoping to see you again soon!

 

A Taste of Spring at Verzon House

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I was absolutely delighted to be invited over to Verzon House in Herefordshire, to taste some of their new spring menu. Verzon House is a beautiful hotel, and they are not let down by their kitchen.

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Head Chef Callum McDonald is a absolute master of local produce. He has created a really wonderful menu, marrying magical flavours and filling tummies with delicious food, all sourced from within 30 miles of Verzon House (except for the fish!)

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The restaurant was comfortable and relaxed, I felt absolutely fine scoffing my way though everything that was put in front of me!

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I’ve done a lot of eating in my time, but I must say, this was some of the best food I have had in a very long time.

So, why don’t you sit down and join me as I work my way through enough food for both of us!

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Wye Valley Asparagus – Pheasant Egg, Golden Cross Goats Cheese

Mmmm. Delicious! The battered asparagus was salty (but not too salty), balancing beautifully with the non battered kind, and all being complimented by the rich, creamy goats cheese. I’ve never eaten a Pheasant egg before, I was surprised by how light in flavour it was. All together a delicious and light starter.

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Smoked Madgetts Duck – Confit Leg, Gingerbread, Rhubarb

The sharpness of the rhubarb and the richness of the duck balanced perfectly. The dish was sweet, but no overly so. The ‘gingerbread’ crust was soft, crunchy and enjoyable, I don’t think I tasted the ginger, but that may have been something to do with the speed in which I tucked in! This was definitely a more substantial starter that the asparagus, but so well balanced it left me wanting to try more flavourful foods from the menu.

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Huntland Farm Pork Loin – Black Pudding Rosti, Braised Cheek, Perry Jus

I had to be a little bit careful with this dish as I can’t really eat pears, so I worked my way around the jus, only tasting it a little! The braised cheek was soft, with a strong, deep flavour. Big sticky raisins sat in the Perry jus. The carrots, cooked perfectly and glazed in ale, had a hint of aniseed to them. The pork loin sat on top of a sharp and tangy apple sauce. The contrast of the rich cheek and the light loin really worked well. And, the Black Pudding Rosti was a thing to behold! Perfectly seasoned and delicious. This is meat, veg and spuds done to its utmost best! Simple ingredients working in unison. The colours were stunning too, the blackcurrant colour of the cheek against the bright carrot puree – beautiful!

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Cornish Plaice, Parsley & Lemon Crust – Samphire, Smoked Bacon & Cockle Butter

I don’t often eat seafood because it can sometimes make me pretty poorly – that’s if its not been prepared right (something to do with an enzyme or whatnot), but having seen behind the scenes and tasted the other fantastic dishes, I knew I could trust this kitchen.

The colours shouted ‘Spring!’ – delicate pale pink radishes, rich dark bacon lardons, pale pea greens and cool crisp white. An interior designer’s spring mood board! The very subtle flavour of the fish, encrusted in lemon and parsley, was enhanced by capers and cockles and samphire (my favourite green food of all time!). There was spinach, and beautiful crushed potatoes, with chives and garlic and cockle butter. Yum! Such a light but heartily filling dish. A proper treat.

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Sticky Ginger Pudding – Clotted Cream Ice Cream

Luckily, even after sampling those other gorgeous dishes, I’d left room in my pudding stomach for this weighty beauty. The pudding had a thick and sticky outer, which once broken into revealed a soft, dark sponge flecked with pieces of date. (Sounds like something a parrot would say!) This was surrounded by chunks of stem ginger and sticky sauce loveliness. Even though the icecream was rich, it was so in a different way to the pud. So the cool, thick, creamy ice cream met the warm, sticky gooey sweetness and got on just fine!

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After enjoying some truly excellent food I retreated to the decked area, in the sun, overlooking the fabulous countryside, and sampled some Chase Rose. This is the Chase Distillery’s first wine, beautifully presented in their signature-style bottle, it’s the prettiest Rose I have seen – the colour is just amazing. It tastes very nice too. It’s not in their shop yet, but it will be very soon.

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Later, in the bar, Tim made me a cocktail and for a moment I thought he was Tom Cruise. The Kiss Chase was delicious, sweet and summery.

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You want one, don’t you?

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Go on, you can make your own!

2 shots of vodka, 1 shot of elderflower liqueur, a squeeze of lemon, plenty of ice and a top-up of apple juice if required. Lovely job!

Thank you to Head Chef Callum and the team at Verzon House for a lovely afternoon and some excellent food and drink. Just let me know if you need me to eat anything else!

Fancy some incredibly good grub? Check out the Verzon House menus.

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship – MIRA (Round 4)

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Saturday was the 4th round of the Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship, this time hosted by the Bentley Drivers Club at the MIRA Proving Grounds, Nuneaton.

It was an amazing venue, and there were some absolutely incredible cars there, including Bentleys, TVRs and Austin Healeys. In total there were 94 cars competing, and it was a real privilege to be a part of such a wonderful day of driving.

MIRA have a very strict rule on no photography, so strict that they took my camera off me at the gates and stuck a tamper-proof sticker over the lens of my iphone. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but when I drove into the paddock the only space free in the LOTRDC area had a rainbow painted on the tarmac! I PARKED ON A RAINBOW! I parked on a rainbow and was unable to document this for posterity!

The Bentley chaps had a proper big marque, the sort of thing you have at weddings, with proper chairs in it, and a really cool touch screen time machine that told you your times and all sorts. The portaloos were pretty impressive too, with their faux marble walls and faux walnut vanity, floral art and and 3 types of hand wash to choose from!

We had two practices and two timed runs, I managed to knock 10 seconds off my time and my first timed run was 66.97. I knew what I was doing wrong, and I knew what I wanted to correct (I can’t always control myself as much as I’d like to!) but on my second run I was annoyingly 2 seconds slower. The reason? I got cramp in my right foot – I know, it sounds like a really lame excuse!

I came 10th out of 10 in my class, just 1/2 a second behind the next driver apparently.  I don’t mind.  It was a good day. A chap called Hugh was celebrating his birthday and gave me a flapjack.

Overall I placed 67 out of 94, which I think is alright really.

Anyway, I can’t share any photos of the day, because I don’t have any, but what I can do is show you some random pictures of the cheap and cheerful, but not cheerful, hotel we stayed in the previous night!

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So, the Royal Court Hotel, hey? A country house built in 1874 by William Hillman (as in, Hillman Motor Company), sounds pretty nice, right? Ha ha ha!

From the reviews on Trip Advisor  that I’d read, I imagined it was going to be like staying in a hotel where the owners had died 30 years ago, but no one had noticed. It wasn’t even that fun!

Hillman’s beautiful residence has been eaten up by an ugly monster. The original ‘Keresley Hall’ is swallowed up by a kind of ‘Eastern Block’ extension of mammoth proportions.

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When we checked in we had to pay up front, not just a swipe of the card, but a full payment. I asked if this was because they’d had a lot of guests who’d not paid their bill? They said no, but I had my suspicions.

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Our room was a room, and it had a bed in it. We really only needed somewhere to kip for the night, so it was okay. I suppose. (It was only £52 for bed and breakfast for two).

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The restaurant only served carvery, I suppose I should have realised that the ‘Carver Restaurant’ was nothing to do with carver chairs. According to the hotel brochure, ‘The Stately and spacious Main hall is now the Carver restaurant and still maintains its original windows and front door. This is now situated behind the carvery unit.’ 

Carvery unit? We wondered if they had a condiment station too.

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Neither of use wanted to eat a carvery dinner. Apparently, if your not having carvery your not coming in the restaurant, so Adam and I ate our bad meat and chips dinners in the bar, at low tables. There were some women there on a ‘Groupon deal’ and they asked to have their photo taken with Adam. It was a strange evening and I was glad to get my Kit Kat pudding from the vending machine and go to bed.

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We got up at 7am and went for breakfast. It wasn’t carvery, but we were allowed in the restaurant. I felt sad for the house as I ate my coco pops. What a beautiful place, ruined. There were some woman in their dressing gowns eating sausages. One woman was wearing an Iron Man onesie, which was impressive.

According to another hotel brochure, and under the heading of Elegant Rooms –  ‘All 210 En-suite Bedrooms have been decorated to reflect our surroundings. All have Colour TV, Direct Dial Telephones, Hairdryer, Trouser Press and Complimentary Tray.’

Complimentary Tray?!

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I was glad to leave. The room was really awful. You could see where the door had been broken open, there was a big join in the carpet which didn’t quite meet, the old square TV (I wouldn’t mind, but when there were supposed to be 3 people on screen we could only see this middle one!) was plugged into a big blue coiled up extension lead and there was something brown on the mouthpiece of the vintage 1980‘s phone. Now, I’m not saying it was poo, but I don’t think it was chocolate!