Business Trip to Stockton-On-Tees, England

resized.20190119_0924472055484381

Last week I went on a business trip to Stockton-on-Tees in England, UK. The great thing about living in Europe, is that you can pretty much get anywhere else in Europe in only a few hours.

One of the things that I found particularly interesting, was the fact that there were two faucets in the sink, one for cold and one for hot. This meant of course that the cold gets really cold, and the hot gets really hot. Since the faucets are so far apart, the water basically never mixes unless you first hold your hands under the cold water and then move your hands under the hot water. Washing your hand and face in this manner becomes rather inefficient, if not down right annoying.

resize.20190119_0926311949187307

Another interesting fact is that Guinness is served “extra cold”. I was always told that Guinness was served “warm” in the UK, but nope this is not the case. I am not complaining, however, because the extra cold Guiness was really good. From my understanding, there is very little gluten in Guiness, although there is some. Since I am gluten intolerant (but this mostly seems only to matter with solid foods rather than liquids) I waited until the last night of my trip (when all I had to do the next day was travel) just in case there was an issue. I am happy to report that all was well.

resize.20190119_0926581872210011

I drank the Guinness in this pub call the George and Dragon. You may not be able to read it from the picture, but apparently the George and Dragon was the meeting place of the Promoters’ of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in February, 1820.

According to Wikipedia, the Stockton & Darlington Railway “was a railway company that operated in north-east England from 1825 to 1863.” According to my English colleague (and the sign outside of the George and Dragon), this railway was the first public railway in the entire world. Additionally, the building where the pub was located used to be a market inn and coach house, with stables for horses. Lastly, this pub won the “Cask Marque”, which pretty much means they pour a freaking great pint of beer. I can attest to this because the Guinness, as mentioned above, was really good.

resize.20190119_0928581201909886

My colleagues and I stayed in the Best Western Parkmore in Stockton-on-Tees. The hotel was sufficient for our purposes, but wasn’t anything fancy. About a fifteen minute walk from the hotel was this cute little town called Yarm. According to Wikipedia, “Yarm is a small town in the ceremonial county of North Yorkshire, England. The town is on the south bank of the River Tees and is historically part of the North Riding of Yorkshire.” I found it really cool that they still had the old style red telephone booths (on the right of the above picture) and the red post boxes (on the left).  The red post boxes had the initials “ER” on then, which means “Elizabeth Regina”, for the Queen of England. Yarm was a gluten-free paradise. We ate at restaurants called Muse and Cena. Since I was in England, I had to get the rice pudding at both places — the one at Muse was much better. At Cena the gluten-free pizza is simply amazing — you would never know it was gluten free.

resize.20190119_0925371194758444When we got back to the airport, we were rather surprised that we had to pay 6 pounds as an “airport fee”. Durham Tees Valley Airport is a very small airport with only 3 gates or so. I am not sure why they require this additional fee from people who are flying out of the airport. Maybe it is seldom used or doesn’t get proper federal funding? Whatever the reason it was annoying because the fee machines only accepted EXACT change. I only had a 20 pound note and a 5 pound note, so I had to get change from a change machine — which only dispensed 1 pound coins. Sigh. As an interesting aside, the 5 and 10 pound notes are made out of plastic rather than paper, just like in Canada.

All in all, I would say the business trip was a success. The training I gave to my colleagues went well, and I was even able to get in a little bit of site seeing. Stay tuned for the next business trip installment: Japan and China.

 

 

Bratislava, Then and Now

When I first visited Bratislava 18 years ago, it was not yet part of the European Union.  I had traveled to Europe with my High School German class during winter break.  After visiting Vienna, Austria (see post My First Austrian Encounter), our bus traveled to Slovakia.  Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is about a 30 minute drive from Vienna.  There isn’t much to distinguish the two countries, especially now that there is no border control to speak of, except for the Soviet Era architecture of the buildings.

Back in 2000, however, it wasn’t so simple.  I wrote in my diary that our bus was boarded by boarder guards, who collected a passport and $20 from each person.  Reflecting on it now, it was probably the fee for the Visa to enter the country.  In my diary I remarked that lunch was cheap, only about $4.  I didn’t write the name of the restaurant in my diary, but I can report that lunch is no longer as cheap (but it is in no way expensive).

Having returned to Bratislava in February, 2018, I can highly recommend it for a weekend trip.  According to Google Maps, the drive from Linz to Bratislava takes about 2 hours and 28 minutes.  We left on a Saturday morning and arrived in Bratislava around early afternoon.  We stayed at the Falkensteiner.  The hotel room was decent, and the price we paid was about €60 per night.  If you want to eat breakfast at the hotel, there would be an additional fee.  We did not chose this option.

Interestingly, the Falkensteiner rooms were designed to have a window between the bathroom and the bedroom.  In the photo below, I am in the bathroom, and my boyfriend is looking in at me from the bed.  Needless to say, this feature was fun, if not also slightly creepy.

20180303_180140

 

After checking in and playing Peeping Tom, we went for a walk in Old Town, which is only about a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel.  On the way we found cute little shops like the one pictured below.

40941669472_3e0fbcc1e2_z

We had not pre-selected a place to eat lunch and we figured that we would just walk around and find something.  Since Old Town is a very touristy spot, we were expecting many tourist places.  We were surprised to find a cute cafe on the main street called Enjoy Coffee.   This place sold its own blends of tea (both to enjoy at the table and to take home).

20180303_134904

As a person who is both vegetarian and gluten intolerant, I was able to find several options on the menu.  I had the mushroom buckwheat risotto with feta cheese.  My boyfriend, who is not vegetarian, had the duck sandwich.  If one has kids, this place was also extremely kid friendly, with a small play area in the back.

20180303_135914.jpg
Mushroom buckwheat risotto

After lunch, we walked around Old Town.  Since the town is rather small, it is possible to see all the tourist sites within one afternoon.  To see some good suggestions on what to do, check out this article from The Huffpost.

We had no itinerary, and found that walking around had its advantages.  Along we way we spotted:

  1. Statue of the Man at Work.  20180303_160504
  2. Old Town Hall.  When we were in Bratislava, we tried to purchase tickets to walk up to the top of the tower, but it was closed.  If you would like to do the same, go through the archway (bottom right hand of below picture).  On the other side you will find a small square.  To the right are glass doors.  You purchase the tickets inside from a very unfriendly woman who doesn’t speak any English whatsoever.  Don’t worry, there will be signs posted in English if the tower is closed.20180303_155017
  3.  Michael’s Gate:  20180303_153005

In the square by the Old Town Hall, we found (purely by chance) an awesome wine bar called Wine Not.  They have literally hundreds of different wines from all over the world, including from Slovakia.  One in particular that we absolutely loved was called Vulcanica.  It was a white wine that was self carbonated due to the fermentation process.  As lovers of all things fermented, we just had to try and we were not disappointed.  Price per bottle was around €26.  We loved it so much we ended up taking a bottle home with us.

This place is cool not only for its enormous selection, but also due to its ambiance.  It was warm and inviting, and the staff was super friendly.  They answered all of our questions regarding the wine.  If you visit on a weekend night, it is advisable to make a reservation, especially if you want to sit in the front room looking out on the square.

20180303_164715
Back room of Wine Not

For dinner, we walked from our hotel to Lemon Tree, a Thai fusion place.  Unlike the other places we had been to, Lemon Tree was a little on the expensive side.  It is located next to the American Embassy on the top floor of the building.  We stopped to take pictures in front of the American flag (because MURICKA!)–the guards with the automatic rifles were watching us closely from the other side of the fence.

40586002582_2726476117_z
Outside of the heavily fortified American Embassy

The view from the restaurant (in the background of the picture below) was of the St. Martin’s Cathedral, which I visited in 2000, but did not have the chance to again in the 2018 trip.  My fruity Prosecco drink pictured below is topped with cotton candy.  It was very tasty.

26757066648_44dba32ae0_o

The St. Martin’s Cathedral can also been seen from the Bratislava Castle.  In my diary from 2000, I wrote that the inside of the cathedral was much plainer than the cathedrals of Austria, but more decorative than the ones in America.  I also wrote that “the wooden pews were so rigid that when you sat in them, you were forced to sit straight up.”    I remarked that I was not allowed to take photos of the inside, but purchased a post card (which has been since lost to time).   Had I remembered I had visited the Cathedral back in 2000, I would have made a point to go inside for comparison.  Next time.

20180304_134820

If you like dancing to Latin music, drinking cocktails, or even smoking cigars, the place to visit in Bratislava is Cuba Libre.  This place was packed with what appeared to be locals as well as tourists.  I even observed some high local drama, as a man escorted the scantily clad woman he had been closely dancing with out of the bar.  10 minutes later he reappeared with a more demurely dressed, plainer woman, who could only have been his girlfriend.  Crisis avoided(?) People watching is hilarious.

The next day before heading back to Linz, we ate brunch at Ranno Ptacka.  The food was good, but the service was horrendous.  The waitress forgot to put my order in.  After finally noticing that I had not gotten my food (as everyone else’s food was dropped off by another waitress), she asked me “if I still wanted my food”.  To which I answered, “Of course!”

Finally, after everyone had finished eating, I received my food.  It was good, but I am not sure it was worth a 30 minute wait to receive it.  In any event, if I even find myself in Bratislava again, I would still go back there.

Lastly, on the way out of town, we visited Bratislava Castle.  We didn’t go inside, as we were tired from our previous night out.

20180304_133420

All in all, Bratislava is a great weekend trip, and one that I would recommend to anyone.