Travelogue Newcastle 2

NEWCASTLE 2
08-11 Nov 2015

Our walk to the bus station in Reykjavic at 5.30am (!) was easier than both our arrival walk and our expectation. Apparently bloody cold doesn’t feel any bloody colder bloody early! As if by way of an approving farewell after our awesome adventure, the Northern Lights blinked green flashes on the few clear patches of the otherwise cloudy sky, by way of farewell.

We made good time and immediately boarded the bus (with 15 minutes to spare) to nap on the 40 minute commute to the airport which, as usual, was a waiting game with little but foraging for breakfast to keep us entertained until departure.

It makes good sense to be knackered for an Easyjet flight though. The seats are wide and comfortable enough but with no reclining and no entertainment, it’s best to be tired enough to sleep away the journey. Fortunately, my niggling cold and antihistamines from the airport rendered me unconscious, so I’m sure it was a lovely enough flight for those that were “there” to enjoy it.

Manchester Airport is another thing entirely. The car hire is at an off-site ‘village’ so we were guided to a shuttle bus stop that would lead us to the chariot that would get us back home to The Toon. It took forever to come…

And then – horror of horrors! – I found out that Alex had booked with Europcar… which anyone who lived through our Spain Great Car Hire Saga of 2013 would know was questionable territory for us. But, when we made Christian co-driver on the rental agreement our agent, Yakov, said he was already loaded on the system and upgraded us to a large Skoda stationwagon “for all our luggage”, which totalled 2 small carry-on cases and 2 togbags. Still, it was very roomy and comfortable so small mercies from the karmic wheel turning.

The English countryside is prettier than its given credit for and we all wondered why we never road trip the journey rather than mapping the destination.

We made it back to Tynemouth in one piece, largely thanks to Alex’s tireless driving and navigating (with a small special mention to the Burger King at the truckstop), in time to refresh and jump on the Metro to Newcastle Central for our concert.

The concert venue, the O2 Newcastle, has the feel of a converted theatre in size and layout, but must’ve been a concert hall for a fair amount of time based on the lived-in wooden flooring and the smell of stale beer.

The tickets had advertised starting time as 7pm – which seemed fitting with Bad Manners’ frontman (Buster Bloodvessel) well into his sixties – so we were relieved on arrival to see it was still a supporting act on stage. There was, in fact, still another supporting act to follow – a band called The Extra Specials, who specialise in covering The Specials’ songs – and soon the fatter aging fans were huffing and puffing from their pogo’ing and carrying on.

Most of the audience had made efforts to dress the part for the evening and there were more Oxblood Doc Martens in one place than I can remember ever seeing, even in our heyday. Braces, brogues, monochromatic outfits – the uniform for the non-conformist!

Bad Manners gave an excellent (and lengthy) performance and the crowd gave an equally enthusiastic response, with some of the older fellas taking survival breaks along the way.

We shouldn’t point fingers too much though since after the concert, early hours of Christian’s birthday ‘n all, our after-party of choice was to go home and midnight snack on toasted cheese sarmies!

This weekend’s arrangements in general were much looser since we’d done all our sightseeing the previous weekend. We’d already made plans to meet Natalia and Uncle Bill at Lui’s for a coffee at 11 and Lucy, Mick and the kids at the new fish shack on King Edward Bay for lunch, so had the luxury of a lie-in and breakfast of choice for Christian’s birthday, bacon sandwiches. Alex and Robbie had been nice enough to sneak out and drop off the car (in Newcastle Central) so met up with us at Lui’s.

It’s always nice to meet in person people who you’ve heard so much about or sort-of know from Facebook. Feels like you’ve got so much catching up to do with people you’ve never even met before!

Our coffee date went all too quickly so we convinced Natalia to come to lunch with us. Uncle Bill was having none of that (“in my day fish ‘n chips were for poor people!”) but was easily talked into a lunch date for noon the following day for a carvery at The Gibraltar Rock, so there was no need for long goodbyes and we all had something to look forward to.

The fish shack was quite a surprise – far off the usual greasy chippie, the choices were mackerel, red mullet or monkfish all served in a paper basket lined with a wood-fired oven bread akin to a naan, with the fish and 3 scoops of 3 different salads nestled around the edges and an artistic swirl of 2 different sauces to top it off. Everything was fresh and crunchy and between the naan-like bread, the sambal-like salad and the curry-like sauce swirl, Christian was pleased as punch with his birthday lunch!

We’d been very lucky with the weather (enough so that there had been half-naked swimmers at the fish shack! Not that it was anywhere near warm enough to warrant that, mind!) so decided to make the most of the clear day and enjoy a beer at a pavement table in the sunshine on Front Street. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea and the only available table was at the Working Man’s Club, which was good enough for us.

As soon as the sun started setting behind the church it started to get chilly, which was perfect impetus to get us moving to get home and into warmer evening gear for the trip to Newcastle for the New Zealand vs Tonga game.

It was the last game of the day so, at a 7.45pm, allowed us opportunity for a civilised dinner in Tynemouth, rather than competing with the crowds in town.

The pie, mash and gravy at the Turks Head was so good it felt like it was MY birthday! The menu format is very simple and effective, guiding you through choice of pie flavour (chicken & mushroom, steak & ale, venison or potato & leek), choice of mash variant (plain, cheesy, horseradish or mustard), choice of side (peas, mint peas, mushy peas or beans) and then sauce (gravy or red wine sauce) so you get the exact combination you want. And for a fiver it was a quality bargain meal! It was so filling that we were all a bit sluggish on the journey and the boys didn’t even have a drink in the first half of the game!

There had only been 2 rugby tickets for this game so Alex and I had a wander around the town and the fan park then cut through the China Town to get to Harry’s, where we’d planned to meet the boys later. Even with our walking, we were still a bit full so nursed a drink while we people-watched.

The boys joined us soon after and showed us a video of the stand-off between the Kiwi’s Haka and the Tongan equivalent. The stadium was pin-drop silent during the performance but roared in appreciation when the players were done. I zoned out on the rest of the feedback from the game since NZ always win, don’t they?

We caught a cab back to Front Street, where it looked like things were winding down… but we still managed to get in last rounds with Mick at a spot we hadn’t yet tried, called Lola’s.

Our last day allowed us a very leisurely start, only needing to be at the carvery for noon. Of course, this also meant we were *ravenous* when we got there and dished up *way* too much food… and finished *all* of it. Three roasts, four veg, two (types of) potatoes, Yorkshire pud; all swimming in gravy and all gone very quickly!

The Cain contingent across the table (Uncle Bill, Natalia and Aunty Mary) had dished more conservatively, but seemed to enjoy their meal just as much so we can conclude that it’s a winner even when the meal isn’t as much of an emergency life/death situation. (And a bargain at 2 people for 10 Pounds!)

Even with the frenzied feeding upfront, we still enjoyed a leisurely lunch date and a lengthy chat. We bid farewell to Uncle Bill and Aunty Mary from there, but Natalie caught the Metro into town with us because she had a shopping date planned with her friend, James. She also tipped us to visit the Grainger Street Market if time allowed after the game.

We made it to the stadium in the nick of time, hearing the Samoan anthem as we were walking in and getting to our seats just in time for the opening bars of “Flower of Scotland”. Our seats were near the front of the section behind and just to the right of the posts that saw all the action in both halves – the Samoan offensive in the first half and Scotland’s in the second. To my mind, we could not have asked to be better placed for a game that seemed to have more than the usual tryline action.

After the game we made our way back to Grey Street so the boys could watch the Australia game while we went to investigate the market. It was relatively late for the market so most of it was shut already, but there were still a few shops worth investigating.

Intent on (another) curry dinner, we made our way back to Tynemouth to have a sit-down at Gate of India. It had other ideas however and we were put off by the long queue for both in-dining and take-away so cut our losses and headed for home for sausage sandwiches instead.

Our quiet night had us up and fresh early on Sunday for our final packing and cleaning before meeting Mick and Lucy at Lui’s for breakfast at 9, so that Alex and Robbie could be off for their 10.30 train, Mick could get to work and Lucy and the girls could get Christian and I to the airport for 11.

Another brilliant holiday all wrapped up; thanks to all the people that made it possible and special!