Sunday, 13 March 2011

Two short UK trips

I had a bit of training to do on Saturday in Cardiff and rather than get up at O-dark hundred to get here and leave at O-dark hundred to get back, I decided to treat myself to a couple of nights in the capital of Wales, after a bit of a struggle to find a smoking room, I ended up deciding to go non-smoking in the Hilton for the quarter 1 promotion points. Amusingly enough, smoking rooms had opened up again. 

Luckily, there is a direct service from my workplace to Cardiff, once an hour, so I booked a ticket and reserved a seat via the dire "Trainline". I got to the station on time, but as it was just after work, everything was running late and very, very full. I swiftly turfed a chav out of my reserved seat and found to my joy that it was broken.  Feck all room in Standard on a Cross-Country Turbostar which was full to the gunnels and no trolley service either. It was warm and unpleasant on board and I swiftly necked a bottle of water on arriving at Caerdydd Canolog.

I received a warm reception, access to the Executive Lounge and a nice castle view. The room was otherwise ordinary, but I suspect they haven't got any smoking premium rooms (this is increasingly common, I will have to give up one day). The room was very comfy, if a little over heated and had a great bathroom with a walk in shower, the bed was pretty decent as well.

I then heading out for dinner with an old friend who moved to Cardiff a few years ago, we went to Casanova on Quay Street which was described to me as "a family Italian", it was very nice and I greatly enjoyed my tagiatelle with cheese, potato and sage. My companion very much enjoyed his risotto, my only comment would be that I found the wholegrain tagiatelle a little too al dente. We had a pleasant but undistinguished bottle of wine to go with it, as a couple of groups of loud lady diners had moved in, we skipped dessert and went back to the hotel for coffee in the lounge. Sadly, the Cardiff Hilton removes the booze at 8pm at weekends. Nice and quiet in there with a lovely view of fireworks at about 10pm.

The next morning I was up early, had a light continental breakfast in the lounge (some hot options, good coffee, very nice staff). The training went well, including a pizza lunch, so when finished, I dived off to look around the new developments in the centre, raided TK-Maxx for a Ralph Lauren jacket and ended up with room service sandwiches in my room - which were very good and very large. I do miss the old Cardiff I used to know *mumble* years ago when I was a student. I horribly overslept not rising until 9am and ended up scooting out sans brekky to make my train back to Birmingham. A nasty sarnie and coffee at the station had to make do, but at least the Turbostar back was nice and empty and I had room for my Sunday Times.

The next weekend saw another quick tripette, to go to the Parteitag in Sheffield. Sadly, there is no direct service, so on leaving work it was a quick trip on the Cross-City to Barad-Dur Hbf New Street and then transfering onto a Class 221 "Super" Voyager to Sheffield. Voyagers are nasty, so I had taken the precaution of booking in First Class - where they are marginally less nasty, unfortunately, the previous HST had been cancelled and it was so full that there were people from Standard Class standing in the aisle of First Class all the way to Sheffield. As usual, there was that slight nasty smell from the toilet systems which defines this class of train for me. Due to overcrowding, there was no at seat catering, however this time, I was prepared and had water with me. 

I swiftly wheeled my bag from Sheffield station to the Sheffield Hilton, it was a slightly longer journey that I remembered, but still only 10 minutes or so. This Hilton is a former Stakis and therefore on facilities struggles to make four star, however I remembered that like its cousin the Hilton Islington, it had very good staff and it was not too far away from where I wanted to be, but far enough away as to not have to mingle too much with my fellow delegates. My room was basic and sadly a twin, but was clean and had a new bathroom. I was given free internet access and some bar vouchers which I didn't use, I also got complementary water and newspapers. After having a wash and unpacking, I went out in search of proper Yorkshire Fish and Chips (and I don't mean bloody Harry Ramsden's), it took a little while to locate somewhere that looked right and I was soon sat down by the quays on a bench enjoying a very nice bit of Haddock, some decent chips and sadly the mushy peas were nasty. 

Anyway, I was up early the next morning in order to get inside the Ring of Steel before the Trots turned up, so I went downstairs for breakfast. The breakfast staff are very friendly, very pleasant and very good at their jobs. As usual, the Hilton provides a buffet, which has both hot and continental items, as we were in Yorkshire, the continental side looked a bit weak :-) Anyway, one full Yorkshire later and with a sensible sized pot of tea on the table, it was off to do my democratic duty for a few hours, I even cheated and took the Supertram three stops - because I like trams.

After that was done and having had wander around the City Centre - which has some very nice smart areas, some well done up older areas and some manky grotholes, I returned to get washed up and then went out to dinner with a friend. We said he'd booked somewhere out in the country and we ended up at  The Chequers at Froggatt which was a very nice country pub/restaurant with a nice locally biased menu (but not totally localvore). I had good sardines with a sort of pico di gallo salsa, followed by a selection of sausages (one pork and herb, one beef and one venison) with some very rich mash and finally, the dessert - which was Bakewell Pudding with Custard. A lovely meal with good company in nice surroundings.

After another decent nights sleep and a full Yorkshire, I headed back to Birmingham via another Voyager, as is usual on Sunday mornings, it was fairly quiet and I did get a free cup off coffee - no food was available but after a full Yorkshire, I didn't have room for any food. The journey back was via Lichfield City which is an usual routing, but I was head down in the Sunday Times.

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