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Best of 2019 (5)


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Winter Gardens

Winter Gardens

Sports travel is the category for this award.

2019 brought several sports travel trips, mostly linked to my son’s ice hockey team’s games.

Those took me to Sheffield three times, and to Nottingham, Manchester and Dundee.

Downtown, Chinatown

Downtown, Chinatown

My visits to Sheffield now have a pattern - I stay at the Novotel. I take the train, although I did fly to Manchester once and take the train from there.

I went to Krefeld via Brussels and Köln on a sentimental journey to see ERC Ingolstadt play ice hockey. It was fun and they won. It was another journey combining plane and train.

DB Bahn ICE

DB Bahn ICE

Belfast hit my itinerary twice - also for ice hockey. In March it was to watch the home team play Dundee Stars, and in August to see them take on Augsburg.

Pub Life

Pub Life

As with previous years, I was looking for an opportunity for trip to watch rugby or horse racing, but nothing suitable ever came up. I did go to see Glasgow Warriors play in the final of the Pro 14 (rugby), but the game was in Glasgow and that hardly qualifies as travel.

My visit to Yerevan was a sports trip in a sense, as climbing Mt Aragats was a key part of it. I would have gone anyway, so the climb was not the only purpose in going.

Mt Ararat (Turkey) in Background

Mt Ararat (Turkey) in Background

This category produces an easy winner. It is my trip to Sheffield in April to watch my son playing ice hockey. The match was the playoff for the British Universities Division 1 Championship. Edinburgh (his team) as winners of the North group played against Cambridge as winners of the South pool. Edinburgh won.

Winners!

Winners!

It was the biggest achievement in his ice hockey “career” and it was wonderful for me to be able to be there to see it.

Posted by IainT 23:33 Archived in England Tagged trains england germany sport ireland transport belgium ice_hockey manchester köln krefeld belfast dundee yerevan armenia aragats sheffield Comments (0)

Sheffield - Love or Hate?

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Winter Gardens

Winter Gardens

Sheffield is on my “frequent visit” list.

It is not entirely a matter of choice. Apart from one occasion, I have always been there to watch my son play ice hockey. It is where British Universities ice hockey has its end of season tournament, and Sheffield Universities’ team has always been in his team’s pool for the league competition.

The city suffered badly during the Thatcher era, losing a lot of its heavy industry, although steel is an important part of the economy even now. Ice Sheffield is in the Don Valley, so past and present steel industry is all around.

Canal Basin

Canal Basin

The city centre has been redeveloped to a significant degree, and lots of it looks great if you enjoy modern architecture. A lot of it remains quite grimy, however.

Although several hotels are available close to Ice Sheffield, I almost always stay in the city centre. I could mention one dreadful hotel experience there - the Holiday Inn - and one which was disappointing - the Hilton. I usually stay at the Novotel. It is modern and stylish and it does not have a function suite, so it is quiet. I have found it to be reliable. It is a short walk from the railway station, so it is convenient for me too.

Novotel

Novotel

Finding something good to eat in Sheffield has been a problem. I have tried several places, and usually end up disappointed to some degree. A few times I enjoyed good food at Café Rouge, but it is gone now, replaced by another chain restaurant - which is what the city centre seems to attract.

On my last visit I found a great wee coffee shop close to the Novotel - HowSt in Howard Street.

HowSt

HowSt

I also tried a Malaysian place - Noodle Doodle - for a dinner. It was a mixed experience and I am in no rush to go back.

Noodle Doodle

Noodle Doodle

The end result is mixed feelings about the city. I have some good memories of the place, and some dreadful ones.

Posted by IainT 12:10 Archived in England Tagged england sheffield Comments (0)

Nottingham - Travel Tips

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Hopkinson - the Store

Hopkinson - the Store

The city is not easy to get to from central Scotland, unless you enjoy 5-6 hours driving (mostly on very busy English motorways) or the equivalent on a meandering cross country train.

I was in Sheffield anyway, so getting to Nottingham was just a 55 minute journey… on a rambling cross country train. I paid £4.60 for my one way ticket on Northern Rail. I got discounts for paying in advance on a “this train only” basis, and for having a senior railcard. It was fine, and ran on time, even if it stopped a lot.

Nottingham College

Nottingham College

In that part of England you have to be very aware of whether your ticket is valid with other train operators. East Midlands Railway (EMR) also serves the route, and my ticket was not valid on their trains.

Downtown Nottingham

Downtown Nottingham

I flew home from East Midlands Airport with Loganair. The airport is 40 minutes by express bus from Nottingham. The service runs every 30 minutes during the day and costs £6.50 single. It is not very “express” in fact, and snakes around quite a bit on the way to stop at a university, a park and ride, a business park and a freight distribution centre.

East Midlands Airport

East Midlands Airport

The airport is small and was very efficient, no doubt on account of being almost deserted. I suppose Monday lunchtime is off peak.

Airport Lunch

Airport Lunch

Loganair was fantastic. The flight to Edinburgh left 20 minutes early, and arrived 30 minutes early. Within 10 minutes of the plane arriving at the gate I was on my bus to Fife, to connect with a train home. I paid £58.92 for the one way flight (hand luggage only) which is just about half what I paid for my train ticket from Fife to Sheffield.

Scotland's Airline

Scotland's Airline

In between, I stayed at the Ibis in Nottingham. After being used to Novotel’s level of service, Ibis feels quite cheap, but it was - £40.85 including breakfast. My stay was a Sunday night, and I imagine that will be the cheapest night of the week. It was clean and comfortable, and it was a buffet breakfast with hot food. The location was ideal for me - in the city centre close to the railway station and the ice arena.

Ibis Breakfast

Ibis Breakfast

I did not venture into any of the city’s restaurants - the massive hotel breakfast I had in Sheffield skewed my appetite a bit. However, I did enjoy a coffee shop near the railway station as I recovered from the journey.

Hop's - the Coffee Shop

Hop's - the Coffee Shop

Hop’s is quirky. It is part of a small second hand “department store”. I did not test my bargain hunting skills, but enjoyed the coffee and cake in a relaxing and friendly venue.

Posted by IainT 13:54 Archived in England Tagged trains england sport transport flights ice_hockey airlines nottingham Comments (0)

Sheffield - Travel Tips

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Victoria Quays

Victoria Quays

Sheffield has been a regular destination for years - it is a centre of excellence for ice hockey. This month I have been to the city twice to support my son and his ice hockey team.

I have used a few of the city's hotels, with mixed results. The Holiday Inn a few years ago was dreadful. Last year the Novotel was a big success.

Novotel

Novotel

For this month’s first visit, I had one night in the Novotel. It was expensive. £184 including breakfast. That is almost double what I would usually be paying - anywhere, never mind a Novotel. As before, it was very good. The location suits me - a 5 minute walk to the railway station and about the same to the tram line which takes me to and from Ice Sheffield.

I had dinner at the Novotel when I arrived - it was great. £14.99 for a 3 course menu, so it was good value for money too. I blew any savings on a couple of glasses of wine.

Novotel Dessert

Novotel Dessert

I travelled there and back by train. I used Trans Pennine Express on the way south from Edinburgh, with a change of train in Manchester. Journey time was about 4.5 hours, with a 5 minute connection!

The return journey was on CrossCountry Trains via Newcastle, but I did not have to change. The journey time was just over 4 hours.

All those trains were right on time.

TPE

TPE

Prices are a bit meaningless as it all depends how far in advance you book, and whether you are flexible enough to travel when it is cheapest. I have reached the time in life where a Senior Railcard comes into play, so I get big discounts.

Winners!

Winners!

On my second trip I stayed at the same Novotel for two nights, at half the price per night.

I drove to Sheffield and back. It takes about 4.5 hours each way - in distance it is 295 miles (472 km) in each direction. I would always prefer the train (or a plane) for that distance but it was Easter weekend and the British trains are often madness at this time. The flight times just did not work out.

I only drive about 750 miles in a month, so it was a bit of an adventure for me. I reckon I spent about £60 on fuel, and my lease costs for that kind of mileage would be about £100. The train would have been cheaper. So would the plane.

Supertram

Supertram

Sheffield has two tram lines - or light rail, I think. The yellow line goes past Ice Sheffield - £2.50 each way or £4.20 for a day ticket. They have conductors on board to sell you tickets, so there is no need to worry about messing around with ticket machines.

Posted by IainT 09:52 Archived in England Tagged trains sport transport ice_hockey sheffield Comments (0)

Manchester

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Downtown, Chinatown

Downtown, Chinatown

As it turns out, my second trip of 2019 was also for ice hockey - Manchester this time. Junior’s team had a Friday night game last week against Manchester Universities in Altrincham, close to the airport.

It is a long way to travel just for a game which will take 90 minutes, so I was unsure what to do. In the end, I went for it. The ease of getting there was a decisive factor.

To drive would have taken 4 hours. It is 266 miles (425 km) and motorway all the way. One tank of diesel, so a cost of about £55. However, I hate the motorways around there - busy and often congested.

I opted to fly there, and take the train back. It was more expensive, but much more pleasant and relaxing for me. FlyBe has a service from Edinburgh to Manchester, so I got a good one-way “hand luggage only” deal at £52 on their 10am flight. It was on time, and totally hassle free.

My journey home was on Trans Pennine Express. They have a service between Manchester Airport and Edinburgh. My train - the 10:10 on a Saturday - only stopped at 3 stations on the way, so it took 3 hours 15 minutes.

Comfort

Comfort

My ticket in 1st class cost £51 using my senior railcard. It was another good choice - fast, comfortable and on time.

I stayed in the Radisson Blu at the airport. There were cheaper options, but I have always enjoyed the Radisson Blu brand going back to when they were SAS hotels in the 90s. Location was a factor again, as it is 100 metres from the airport railway station.

Paradise, Paved

Paradise, Paved

I enjoyed it. The room was big and comfortable. I skipped their overpriced breakfast and used the nearby Caffè Nero instead. Why pay £13 for coffee and croissants if you can get the same thing for £5 by walking 100 metres?

Relaxed

Relaxed

I did have their room service pizza while killing time until Junior’s 23:30 face off. It was excellent - I was surprised - but not good value for money at £15.20. The room was expensive at £153, but I expected to spend most of the evening in it and decided to go for comfort over price.

The ice arena in Altrincham - also home to the Elite League’s Manchester Storm - is just 15 minutes from the airport by taxi. That cost me £16 to go, using Arrow - the airport’s designated private hire company. It was £14 to return (at 1am) using a local Altrincham service.

Warm Up

Warm Up

The best bit? They won 6:3.

Posted by IainT 23:15 Archived in England Tagged trains transport flights ice_hockey manchester airlines Comments (0)

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