Travel apps we used.

During our time away in Hong Kong, Sydney and Tokyo, we decided to use iPhone apps whenever possible to get by. These are the apps we found useful:

  • Instapaper – brilliant for keeping light reading to hand.  The pro version is needed unless you can live with just a small number of pages.
  • Dropbox – for travel documents, and entertainment.
  • Built-in Maps app – generally filling the cache when we had WiFI and then using the GPS on the 3GS to find our way around.
  • The built-in Screen shot (hold iPhone menu button and power button) – great for capturing images of maps  with a route on when you have WiFi but think you might lose the map or directions out of the cache later.
  • Todo – for getting junk out of our heads so we could forget about stuff and enjoy ourselves.
  • FelaurPDF – transport maps which were too large to view on the in-built PDF viewer.
  • Power Plug – visual reference for the power sockets around the world.
  • Metro – for finding our way around Hong Kong and Tokyo.
  • Weather Pro – use this everyday to plan for the weather.
  • Currency – handy for converting back to GBP.
  • The built-in camera app – obviously, but useful to snap route information to look at later.
  • Sydney Travel Guide  from Fidesereef
  • HongKong Travel Guide also from Fidesreef.
  • Tokyo Travel Guide from Fidesreef, again.
  • Tokyo Zuti for getting around the train system.
  • Tokyo Cool City Guide
  • Transit Sydney
  • Sydney Street Map – offline map with GPS support.
  • Hong Kong 720 (useful before we went)
  • NHS DrinksTracker – for keeping score.

We also had TripIt, Dopplr and TripAdvisor apps, but I don’t think we used them.

We picked up one paper guide: at Sydney airport we did a Loney Planet “print and bind” of a chapter of Tokyo from one of their travel guides.  This was so that I had something to use on the flight to figure out what we were going to do in Tokyo in a limited amount of time.  As a bonus, the guide was bound in an anonymous brown card, making us look less touristy if we needed to refer to it.

Jane paying for a printing a Tokyo guide
Jane paying for a printing a Tokyo guide

Le Tour de France 2010

I started following the Tour de France in around 2002 thanks to sharing an office with an avid tdf fan, Jeremy. A few years later we got to see a couple of stages when it was in the UK. I’ve maintained an interest over the years, and thought I’d share the various media I’m using this year to keep in touch.

  • ITV’s excellent Tour de France highlights programme – pretty much the same familiar format every year – ITV also have live coverage on their website, but I’d generally rather watch the highlights in an evening
  • ITV’s podcast – nothing different to the tv really, but still comforting.
  • Radio 5 lives sports extra’s broadcasts – 3 scheduled during this years tour.
  • Tour 2010 iPhone app – I couldn’t justify paying £5.99 for the official app, especially when the free taster app seemed so slow and unresponsive, so I went for this bargain 59p app instead. It is pretty responsive, seems to handle the live updates reasonably well, and seems pretty accurate and provides at a glance views of tables, stages etc. Screenshots (taken in relation to stage 4) are below for those looking for a review of this app.
  • Twitter list described as “Riders, management, photogs, journos likely to be at the Tour de France 2010” and quite a good way to see what the people in the know have to say

Review: The iPhone app – Tour 2010 by Simu Soft


Classification View
This is a splash screen showing a yellow, green and polka dot jersey. Clicking on one of them takes you to a detail page. It doesn’t give the White shirt details – which is shame as the UK’s Gerraint Thomas is currently wearing it, but it does show the GC, green jersey and king of the mountains, in each case offering a rider view and a team view:



Stage View
The stage view changes according to whether the stage has happened yet.

Before the stage: gives an expected start time, and highlights the interesting points (mountain points and sprint points)
During the stage: visual indicator of proportion of race completed, information about gaps between breakaway, peleton and any other groups along with a second page showing further details


After the stage (there is a delay between the stage finishing and the data updating): shows the top 3 placed riders in the stage plus the holders of the yellow, green and polka dot jerseys. A second page shows the order the riders finished in, and their time differences.



Calendar View
The calendar view shows a view of about 5 days at a time of distance, start and end points, expected start time and an idea of the profile of the stage. Great for getting an idea of who the stage will favour.

The application has a few words which haven’t been translated into English, for instance opdated, gruppe etc, but they don’t stop me from following what is going on. The application has also crashed a couple of times, whilst getting updates during the race (it updates at a different rate depending on how much of the race is left). At a price of 59p, these are issues I can live with, but it isn’t quite my ideal app, I would, and have, recommended it to others based on these issues though.

Instead, my ideal app would have:

  • All jerseys listed
  • Team view for classification
  • Ability to view where a sprinters points have come from
  • Ability to see where the king of the mountains points have come from
  • Details on each rider – when a rider is mentioned, you can select the rider in the app, but it doesn’t do anything – would be great to have a fact page including their standings in the various competitions

If anyone knows of an app that does all of what this one does, and my extra bits, then please let me know.

Big Wine Thing

On Tuesday Richard and I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Big Wine Thing. This was an extension of the usual, monthly or thereabouts, Geek Wine Thing but instead of purely wine tasting, this was a food and wine matching event. Again held at Hotel du Vin in Brighton, and this time led by both James and Fergus from Majestic and Pierre, the assistant Somellier.

The evening started with champagne as the participants arrived and settled down ready for an evening of food, wine and education.

Our meal started with a smoked salmon starter served with a lovely, clear, crisp chenin blanc, a Vouvray Coulée d’Argent 2008. This was a delightful wine, and another wine which will be finding it’s way into our fridge over the next few months (to join the albariño and the gavi di gavi from the previous tastings).

Our main course (for the carnivores) was lamb with dauphinois potatoes served with a vibrant collection of vegetables and served with a Chilean Syrah ‘Las Kuras’ 2007 Casa Lapostolle. This met with mixed reviews. It certainly smelled wonderful, really powerful, but the flavour didn’t quite live up to the bouquet.

Dessert was the biggest Creme Brulee I’ve ever encountered (and I managed to scoff the lot) served with a pleasantly surprising dessert wine, Beaumes de Venise ‘Domaine de Coyeux’ 2004. I say surprising because I’m not a big dessert wine fan, often finding them too cloying and syrupy. But this was clean and youthful and had a lovely smell of lychees and grapes.

We gained three wine facts from the evening:

  1. Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape, just labelled differently
  2. Many wines are organic but aren’t labelled as such due to the 10% charge that the soil association charge – this was the case for the Chilean red
  3. Muscat smells of grapes – as evidenced by the Beaumes de Venise

All in all another great evening, and certainly an event I’d be keen to participate in again.

Brighton Festival 2010

So, May came and went, and with it the Brighton Festival. This year it felt a bit like we didn’t make a lot of use of it (at least in comparison to previous years), but actually, looking back, we didn’t do so bad if you include the fringe too :

  • Open Houses – a friend and I visited a couple of open houses on the first day of the festival. A particular highlight was a 6th floor flat in Embassy Court which had a wonderful view over the West Pier and beyond
  • 77 Million Paintings – the Brian Eno installation in Fabrica. I visited this 4 times in total, twice with friends where it was a quick few minutes in and out style visit, and twice during lunchtimes where I sat down and let it absorb me. The latter was the better, and it felt like a kind of meditation.
  • Speaker Flower Sound Installation – another Brian Eno installation, this time in Marlborough House on the Old Steine, and another one I visited during my lunch hour. Was an interesting installation, but was more fascinating to wander around the Grade 1 listed building which has been out of the public eye for a while
  • Nicholas Parsons Happy Hour – held in a tent on the grounds of a church which meant that road noise and sirens interrupted. He had some fun guests – a comedy song guy and a Spanish magician – both of which were fun. Part of it was a question and answer session, and we wished we’d known ahead of time so we could have prepared some good questions
  • The Penny Dreadfuls – excellent sketch comedy show. We booked tickets purely because we’d enjoyed the Guy Fawkes play broadcast last year on Radio 4, and this was a wise move. I’ll definitely keep my eyes out for The Penny Dreadful’s visiting Brighton again.
  • Before I sleep – a wonderful piece of theatre which has been extended until 13th June. It is hosted in the Old Coop building on London Road, and its wonderful to see this building reused, even if only on a temporary building. This is the 2nd dreamthinkspeak production we’ve seen as part of the festival, and I’m planning on looking out for anything they do here again, they have an interesting take on classical literature which is quite intriguing

As we’ve previously mentioned, the whole ticketing system is a bit ridiculous, especially for the fringe. Buying tickets on line, getting a print out with a bar code on it, which then get exchanged for a real ticket at the venue all seems a bit long-winded.

Dog friendly rest stops between Hull and Brighton Part 2

Last November I blogged about the dog friendliness of a couple of places we stopped on our drive from Brighton to Hull, and back again.

We did the same trip again this Easter, and stopped at 2 completely different places but using a similar strategy to last time – avoiding motorway services.


On Good Friday we stopped north of Peterborough in the village of Elton and did a 7.5km circular walk from Elton to Nassington and back. It was inspired by a walk named Elton to Yarwell and Nassington which I found when looking for walks around Peterborough.

Stepping Stones

It was a very pleasant walk, following along the Nene way for some of the walk. There were no amenities where we parked, but we drove past a pub on entry to the village though I don’t know if it was dog-friendly or not.

Saffron Walden

On Easter Monday we headed down around Cambridgeshire and stopped at the pretty market town of Saffron Walden. We parked at the free long-stay car park near the football ground, and managed a 5km circular walk following the walk entitled Park and Gardens Walk, again found on the internet.

Saffron Walden Council Offices

Another pleasant stroll, combining parkland and town streets. The Bridge End Gardens looked very nice but weren’t dog friendly so we didn’t investigate. The Audley End Park area was very pleasant and worth a stroll. We spotted a few pubs, cafes, tea rooms etc during our walk and would hope that at least one of them would be dog friendly, but we didn’t stop and find out.

So, as with last time, 2 very different places and 2 very different walks. The Elton walk was more like our normal hikes around fields and countryside, whilst the Saffron Walden walk was much more town and street based.

Guardian Interactive Chalkboards

Thanks to Information Aesthetics for pointing me at the Guardian Interactive Chalkboards on-line application to look at the in-depth analysis of my favourite premier league team.

Hull City vs Burnley - shots
Hull City vs Burnley - shots

Look, Hull City did have some shots against Burnley the other day, some were even on target. Its just a shame that this is Premier League only, and its unlikely I’ll be able to use it to view Hull City’s stats next year 🙁

A year of dog ownership

One year ago today we brought Skitters home from Shoreham Dogs Trust. Over this time we’ve enjoyed getting to know our 4 legged friend, and building up a relationship with her, and both Richard and I were surprised at just how quickly she became one of the family and how attached we became.

Skitters in Abbots Wood

We’ve had 2 holidays together, one in Filey, East Yorkshire and one in Gower, Wales, both in self-catering dog friendly places. We’ve seen more of Sussex than in the previous 7 years discovering places like Abbots Wood, Friston Forest, the Downs Link, Lancing beach at low tide etc clocking up in excess of 1000 miles of walking each (and much more than that for Skitters).

Skitters at Seven Sisters

I’ve uploaded 314 photos of her to flickr, there are currently 400 photos of her and she even has her own camera (thanks to the Goulbourn family who bought it as a Christmas present) which she wears on some of her walks and uploads photos from to her blog.

She has generally shown herself to be a smart, affectionate dog who loves running around, playing fetch and trying to chase after rabbits. She has a problem with people coming to the house, turning into a bit of a guard dog, and never fails to bark at the postman. She also doesn’t really like bearded chaps (as Danny found out one day). We have spent quite a bit of time training her, but we still have a long way to go – her recall is good in safe areas, but once she gets a sniff of rabbit, squirrel or small bird there’s no way she’s coming back. We also have to work on her door manners and stopping her barking at every new visitor.

Skitters at sunrise on a low tide Brighton beach

As a result of discovering the fun to be had on Brighton beach at a low tide, Richard wrote a twitter feed to show the low tides every day, which is published at 6.30am, just as we’re thinking of getting up to take Skitters out for her morning walk.

It has been a great year.

A week in Gower

Following on from my retro-blog the other week about A week in Filey, I thought I’d follow up with a review of our September holiday in the Gower Peninsular.

As I mentioned last time, we’d seen the Britain’s 10 best dog-friendly beaches list, and there, hogging the limelight at #1 was Rhossili Bay, Swansea which it described as

Let’s start with a real classic. This spectacular sandy beach offers miles of pristine sand at the tip of the Gower Peninsula in west Wales. There’s enough space for dogs to run free and there’s usually a good selection of kites to bark at. The beach even has its own shipwreck – the remains of the Helvetta, wrecked in 1887.

Well that sounded pretty good, and coupled with the fact that Rhossili Bay, and nearby Oxwich Bay also made it into our Time Out Seaside book, a book which had previously resulted in us enjoying visits to Bedruthan Steps, Praa Sands, Kynance Cove and St Ives Bay in Cornwall, and Saunton Sands in Devon, it sounded like an area that we could happily explore for a week.

Our holiday home

Our criteria for accommodation was similar to last time, dog-friendly (obviously), a decent kitchen (after eating in quite a lot in Filey), a bathroom with a bath (we only have a shower at our house so a bath is a lovely holiday luxury), a garden area and opportunities for walks from the front door. After quite a lot of searching around, we settled on Three Elms, in Middleton. This was a large house, much bigger than our home in Brighton, with a really pleasant feeling to it. There was bookshelf after bookshelf of books, and good books too. The sofa in the living room was long enough to lie out on and while away a few hours reading one of the books, or having a well-deserved afternoon nap. I say well-deserved as most days found us out walking Skitters along beaches, or moors, or both. The only thing we’d forgotten to check was the dog-friendliness of the nearby pub (a 10 minute walk away). It wasn’t, so we ate in most evenings, or stopped off on our way back after a walk. There was also a lack of grocery shopping for anything other than absolute essentials, resulting in us heading to Swansea to find
supplies. The grocery shop at Scurlage stocked enough for us to top up on things like bread, milk and basic vegetables, and the fish and chip shop next door, Chips Ahoy, provided us with a good helping of fish and chips.

Grass on sand

We visited both Rhossili beach and Oxwich bay and can testify to them being beautiful and long and clean. But my favourite beach was actually Whiteford burrows. We approached this area through the pine plantation, walking through trees with sand surrounding their roots and trunks. Really beautiful, tranquil and there were very few other people around. Definitely worth an explore if you’re ever out that way. The scenery is a bit reminiscent of Cornwall, only with all the beaches being much closer together – for instance you can walk between Oxwich Bay and Three Cliffs Bay along the beach when the tide is out, visiting two beautiful areas at once. It is also much less crowded than Cornwall, at least in early September. A week is long enough to visit the majority of the dog friendly beaches, and to take in some really good walks. It is an area that I can definitely see me returning to after a few years for another week of exploration.

Rhossili Bay

Horse trotting off into the distance

As usual, there are lots more photos on flickr.

Geek Wine Thing – La aventura Española

On Tuesday evening Richard and I headed off to the Hotel du Vin for our first Geek Wine thing in quite some time. This one was the second of the new format Geek Wine Things, now being organised and orchestrated by Fergus De Wit and James Reina from Majestic Wine.

There were 8 wines for tasting, 4 white and 4 red, made up of 4 classics and 4 bright young things.

8 glasses for tasting from

It was a great evening, and as when in the Hunter Valley recently, I made a series of notes. These are made up of “wine facts” and tasting notes. Some of the more useful are:

  • The Spanish wine system is really focussed on the aging process – so Reserva and Gran Reserva have clearly defined meanings on a bottle of Spanish wine. This isn’t the case when these words are applied to many other nations wines
  • Good vintages for Rioja are 2001 and 2004
  • The younger a red wine, is the more breathing time it is likely to need
  • When thinking about wine and food matching, a good hint is to choose the kind of food that is served where the wine is made
  • If you buy a Spanish Reserva or Gran Reserva, then you’re probably on to a winner

Checking the colour

Out of the white wines, my favourite was the first we tasted. This was Albariño Martin Codax 2008 Rias Baixas. Albarino wasn’t a wine that I’d knowingly tasted before, and is indigenous to that particular area of Spain. It was described as being a good halfway house between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

Wine #5

Out of the red wines, there were 2 that I really liked. These were Emilio Moro 2006 Ribera del Duero and Muriel Gran Reserva 1996. The Ribera del Duero is an up and coming wine area, and the Emilio was a lovely drink. The recommendation was to buy two bottles, drink one now and bury one in the bottom of your garden for 3 to 5 years to age further. Apparently Robert Parker gave it a score of 92 – which marks it out as being a good buy. The Muriel is ready for drinking now and was a lovely smooth wine. As Richard said, if either of these were served to us we’d be delighted.

Apparently, Majestic are running a promotion on Spanish wines next month, so I’m sure we’ll be heading down there to pick up some of these for our drinking pleasure.

In Hunter Valley

Two-ish hours north-ish of Sydney is the wine destination of Hunter Valley where we spent a lovely couple of days with Lisa, Mitül, Ash, Jono and Anna.

If you drink a little wine from time to time you’ll recognize the name “Hunter Valley”, but it turns out there’s just a handful of boutique vineyards left here.  The region contributes just two per cent of all Australian wine.  The upshot is: it’s tourism that’s the real industry in Hunter Valley.

These facts were given to us by our tour guide and minibus driver, James. He’s an English ex-pat, and former travel agent, with a brisk, dry manner and cavalier attitude to driving. I liked him a lot.  He’d take us over dirt roads to some great wine tastings, prepping us on the eccentricities of the owners, while we bounced around in the back of the bus.

With four vineyards to hit in the day we needed to make at start  at 10am.  Kicking off a wine tour so soon after breakfast wasn’t something I’d fully thought through—I’m not yet at that stage of life where I wake up thinking I could really do with a nice glass of red.  However, when the minibus arrived and we climbed on-board the immediate concern switched to defending ourselves from the hoard of mosquitoes in the minibus.   “Are there mosquitoes back there?” asked James in a tone of surprise that suggested he knew damn well there was, had a pretty good idea of how they got there, but wasn’t comfortable explaining the cause. I may have read too much into his tone.   Not that it mattered much, as we’d nailed most of them by the time we arrived at our first vineyard, Ernest Hill.

Jane made notes on the wines, so I don’t have to mention them, other than to say there were some lovely wines, once you get passed the problem of tasting wine while minty toothpaste still lingers in your mouth.  That problem goes away pretty quicky, but for me was replaced with a different problem.  How much wine was I drinking?

I’ve started using the NHS drinks tracker (iPhone app) and it doesn’t have a category for wine tasting, and as you taste more it becomes increasingly difficult to translate wine strengths and tasting measure volumes, or “standard drinks”, into “units” used in the UK.  It wasn’t until the third vineyard that I found a handy leaflet which at least told us how much was in a tasting measure:

By about the third vineyard, I’d probably had enough wine tasting for the day.  Ash and I started wandering around a cellar with a calculator working out how these people make enough money from selling wine to people like us, or from wine clubs.  “They don’t”, was the short answer from James.  I guess it’s all about the wine passion then…

The tourism side has warped some people’s minds a little.   At an ice cream place there was a no photography sign. WTF? Jono asked the question of a member of staff and she said the rule is there because the competition had been copying their designs.  Although she added “….but I don’t care”.

But if you’re out that way, I’d definely recommend heading out there.  We stayed at a lovely place in what I’d describe as the middle of nowhere, and I could have probably enjoyed another day or so there.   But I’d have to drink less wine.