Hinch Travel

Staying In Britain?

Some jottings from a working journo's notebook. Recently, I spent ten days in the U.K. on assignment in my new (wonderful) job as a reporter for the Seven Network's top-rating public affairs program Sunday Night. My feet had hardly touched home turf after a whirlwind trip to Hollywood to interview Oscar nominee - and ex-wife - Jacki Weaver. Thanks for sacking me 3AW.

In just over a week I was in London, Liverpool, Blackpool, Winchester and several places in Wales. Obviously, this article won't be a travelogue because I didn't see much of England or Wales outside of hotel rooms and highways. Most of the travel was with the crew in a van (thanks, Steve Edwards) and some by train. See the footnote.

But I can pass on some tips on three great places to stay: one in London, one in Liverpool and one above the village of Llangedwyn. Yep, you guessed it. That tongue-twister is in Wales.

It's actually an early 18th Century mansion called Plas Uchaf, now a lovely bed and breakfast , perched above the Tanat valley which had snow and lambing sheep when we were there. It nestles into the hillside of LLwyn Bryn Dinas, a Bronze Age fort protecting the valley with it's perfectly trimmed miles of hedges.

According to legend, the oak floors in the high-ceilinged rooms were retrieved from beams in the vanquished Spanish Armada. It's run by an English couple. Chris and Julie, and it is more than a B & B. The two nights we were there they turned on three-course dinners including roast beef. So we had an English couple serving Yorkshire pudding to a bunch of Aussies in Wales.

They even had an honesty bar next to the fireplace in the lounge. The next stop jumped a few centuries. The Carriage Works in Hope Street, Liverpool.

It also has a history. As the name implies, it was once a carriage repair workshop (opened in 1869) and later home for Armstrong-Siddeley - coach makers for Rolls-Royce. Now, it is a decidedly modern hotel. I hate to use the word 'minimalist' because I stayed in one of those trendy joints in New York once and 'minimalist' translated as uncomfortable and unworkable. A bit like 'cuisine nouvelle' in the 1970s meant 'go home hungry'.

The Carriage Works works. Large, airy rooms with pale wooden floors and the smell of hemp (not pot) from the corridor carpets. Comfortable, big bed with lots of plump pillows and a bathroom with a huge door-less shower and giant shower rose for the best hotel shower in years.

The minimalist cleverness stumped me once when I couldn't find the hairdryer. (Hidden on a shelf behind a life-sized wall mirror.) The building was rescued from a derelict state in 1998 and opened as a hotel in 2004. Large chunks of Liverpool these days are derelict. Mersey is a depressing disaster area. When Gerry Marsden was singing about a 'ferry 'cross the Mersey' he must have surely have been paying tribute to one that was leaving. Teenage unemployment must be 30% (my guess) and I have never seen so many shuttered corner pubs. Your average Skouse is still drinking but I guess at home with plonk bought from discount liquor stores.

The Carriage Works is across the road from Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall and near the famous hotel of the same name. The 'Philly' boasts it is the most ornate pub in the United Kingdom. I believe them. When the arse fell out of the shipbuilding industry, which crippled Liverpool, the craftsmen apparently turned their skills to creating shipboard dining and drawing rooms ashore at the Philharmonic. The men's urinals are an incongruous marble talking point.

And then there's London, where I hadn't been for about 30 years and this visit only saw Kensington and the surrounds of the Royal Garden Hotel. Stayed there at the start and end of the sortie and loved it. Good rooms, good view of Kensington Gardens and of Kensington Palace where Wills, Kate and Bub will shack up. The staff were obliging - especially when I left my passport and money locked in the room safe -- and there are heaps of essentials within cooee:

A pub, the Greyhound, to watch the rugby (England beat France) , a casual noshhouse - Giraffe - across the street. And an impressive Japanese sashimi, sushi, gyoza and noodle house called Wagamama.

One thing hit me at all stops. I couldn't get over how much the English eat for breakfast. I looked decidedly effete with my fresh fruit, yoghurt and a cranberry juice.

Mountains of fried food with toast and croissants and jam. An example from the Carriage House. A breakfast 'snack' they call ' a Liverpool breakfast'. Try this: 'Two eggs cooked as you like, served with traditional dry cured bacon, Old English pork sausage, black pudding, vine tomatoes, chestnut mushrooms, sautéed potatoes, served with tea or coffee'. Now, that's a breakfast.

And a personal memory from one hotel. I tweeted it: Had to happen. English town. Marriott Hotel. In room 007. Walk into breakfast. 'Room number?' '007' 'This way Mr. Bond'. Footnote: It's official. British Rail serves the worst coffee in the world. Not a big hot drink consumer but the slop they served up even for First Class from Swansea in Wales to London was undrinkable.

To add to the woes -- though not much of a disadvantage if the coffee was any yardstick - they announced all buffet services were suspended half way down because ' the catering staff has to get off at Reading'. That came after an apologetic explanation that the heating wasn't working in two 'standard class' carriages and one First Class carriage.
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