Embrace the British seaside tradition: why Blackpool is so much more than chips and stag parties.

“So where is it this half term?” I was asked several times “Vegas…Egypt…Dubai?”

“Blackpool” I answered with some trepidation in my voice, prompted by preemptive thoughts of neon lights, run down souvenir shops and rowdy stag parties (fyi I saw just the one stag party and was quite impressed by the groom’s Colonel Kentucky outfit). Oh and that freezing northern climate 🥶

Dusk on the North Pier #nofilterneeded

Give Blackpool a well-deserved chance folks. A lot of money has been spent on its regeneration over the last few years, and Blackpool has managed to give itself a facelift whilst preserving a lot of its Victorian seaside charm. The promenade is immaculate, following a £100 million regeneration project, and the town itself is an awful lot smarter than many other UK beach resorts that we have visited over the years.

My favourite part about Blackpool is how it retains its authenticity as a traditional British beach resort. Wooden Victorian piers with family show bars, copious fish and chip shops, donkey rides and traditional fairgrounds still stand loud and proud, all under the watchful eye of the iconic Blackpool Tower.

The Tower complex is a great slice of history in itself, and is like stepping back 125 years in time. In a world of modernity and innovation, we genuinely enjoyed embracing tradition as we visited the circus, the ballroom, and of course the top of the tower itself (each of which is worthy of a potential blog post in its own right).

At the top of the tower

We were blessed with dry, clear weather, and the nippy temperatures were easily combatted with hats, scarves and gloves (there was the odd hardcore pair of shorts spotted at times😱-clearly not on the bottom half of a southerner!). And whilst the temperatures were cold, the reception was consistently warm. Blackpoolians are a friendly bunch who are proud of their town (a positivity which disguises the fact that Blackpool has 8/10 of the UK’s most deprived neighbourhoods: a valuable lesson for those of us who are often negative about our own, more affluent towns).

So thumbs up to an autumn visit to Blackpool from The Griffalo trail. Absorb the bustling atmosphere under the evening illuminations, eat fish and chips with a wooden fork on the seafront and get sucked into the hypnotic effect of the arcade 2p machine 😂

Braving the ‘Skywalk’ at the top of the tower!

More information can be found at Visit Blackpool, Visit Lancashire, Visit England, Blackpool Piers and the Family Adventure Project. For accommodation we always use AirBnB and managed to secure a great caravan at the local Haven Marton Mere park. All of our activities at the Tower (and also Madame Tussauds and the Sealife Centre) were included as part of our Merlin Annual Pass, and was one of the primary reasons for our visit.

The Speakeasy bar: a celebration of 1920s US rebellion

To me ‘Speakeasy’ bars conjure up images of enigmatic and illicit glamour, with the name itself going back to the whispered access passwords required during the 1920s prohibition era. Having managed to have a rare weekend away sans children a few years ago, we finally had an opportunity to visit a bar styled as a ‘speakeasy’, and went scouring the streets of Barcelona (not the classic setting I am aware!) looking for a dimly lit doorway, with a disguised bouncer awaiting our excited whispers of the secret password.

Unfortunately our expectations were not met. This ‘secret’ bar, only accessible through a fridge door inside the frontage of a pastrami bar, was lit up like the Blackpool illuminations, with a queue of at least twenty tourists waiting for their bit part in Bugsy Malone. After a thirty minute wait, we did eventually get let to a couple of recently vacated seats, but whilst the atmosphere was great, the premise was more of a ‘one cocktail photo opportunity,’ rather than spending a whole evening reliving the 1920s; sipping spirits, smoking cigars and listening to the gravelly tones of the local jazz band.

You cannot deny however, the colourful and almost revolutionary history behind the concept, which started off with the abolition of drinking saloons, which were only open to men. The prohibition era made alcohol a contraband substance-it was available for ‘medicinal’ or ‘religious’ purposes although I am not quite sure how this was governed. Those who liked a tipple would have had to resort to bootleggers or speakeasies, the latter of which taking the revolutionary step of welcoming female patrons. Table service, live music and an emergence of Italian cuisine actually made many of these venues a far cry from the dingy basement establishments that are often associated with the era. On the downside, importation of illegal alcohol led to an explosion in organised crime: it is rumoured that Al Capone made $60 million yearly through supplying and controlling speakeasy establishments in the 1920s.

‘Speakeasy’ bars represented freedom. Young couples were allowed to meet without parental introduction, women did not require chaperones and what went on behind those concealed doors, stayed behind them (with the help of a few bribes exchanging hands on a regular basis). Whilst I am entirely aware that bars and alcohol are a lot more accessible now, and that authenticity may be a little hard to find, I would love to try one or two more ‘Speakeasy’ bars around the world, just to see if there are any that have preserved the enigma of their American origins (yes I know, maybe the States may be the best place to start!). And even if there aren’t, a little bit of imagination in reliving and understanding their exciting past may be the key.

For more historical information about the Speakeasy tradition, visit these interesting articles from The Mob Museum, History.com and BBC News. Advice on visiting Barcelona can be found here and you can find the best things to do in this city in this blog post. Those interested in cocktails will find this article from Vinepair very informative and an extensive range of cocktail recipes can be found at TheBar.com. TheNudge.com brings you a guide to hidden bars in London, with further detailed guides at The Bon Vivant journal and WhereTraveller.com.

Disneyland Paris. Malaysia. Sierra Nevada: the travel fails behind holiday photos

We essentially live in a fake photographic world at times, where filters brighten up a dull day, grumpy kids are bribed for that ‘perfect shot’ and the bad bits of the day: well they’re just never captured and merely filed into the depths of our memories. Sometimes negative travel experiences pop up as anecdotes at a wine-fuelled dinner party a few months later, when the dust has settled and they have made the transition from being disastrous to hilarious. So thinking about this has given me the inspiration to give a snapshot of some of the back stories behind our photos, and to share a few of the non-instagram worthy ones just for laughs…

Buffet dinner at the Hilton Doubletree, Johor

Take this photo of Owen in front of a delectable meat buffet in Johor for instance. The reality was that we had not had a decent dinner for THREE DAYS prior, due to a combination of takeaway deliveries that disappeared into a black hole, exasperatingly fussy kids and jet lag that put us out of synch with restaurant opening times. We hoofed down our buffet like a pack of hungry wolves, a vast contrast to the night before when we were grumpy, tired and lamenting our runaway pizza.

When the rain finally stopped at MGM Disneyland Paris

I love this photo of us with my parents, taken this February at Disneyland Paris. What it doesn’t tell you, is that it rained solidly for three hours, starting right from the time that we arrived at 8:30am for our magic ‘Magic Hour’ as Disney hotel guests. And that when I had frogmarched the whole family to the Ratatouille ride that I was so desperate to get on, it was shut. I can still remember how grim it was standing waiting for one of the shows, penned in like cattle with the rain lashing down. Luckily the weather and the day improved thereafter…

Sierra Nevada. The one sunny day; kids are only smiling for the photo!

We have tried to go on a skiing trip to enjoy it. Twice. And we had one day of decent weather from our two long (too long) weekends (pictured: funny that!). I still remember going up on that ski lift in what was essentially a giant fog, and believe that my crippling fear of heights (I keep trying to fight it!) did not kick in because I could only see two metres in front of me. The kids were freezing and our boots were giving us raging blisters. And yet we tried again. The actual worst memory from that trip was not the fact that it was too crowded to get on the green runs and I was too scaredy to get on the red. Our accommodation was only accessible by a single track road that ran down the edge of a cliff. There were no safety barriers, it was snowing hard and we actually got stuck on the second day. I still remember a) getting out the car and refusing to go any further and b) looking up on YouTube how to put on snow chains, whilst stuck half way up the cliff face, praying that no car came the other way. No wonder when we ask the kids if they prefer skiing or camping, the answer is always the latter!

And I’ll leave you with two classic shots of my daughter: the first when she did not get to be the princess in the lovely smiley family picture, and the second when I took her onto the Wickerman rollercoaster at Alton Towers, without realising how fast it was (don’t worry, she was fine straight afterwards!).

An unhappy pirate at Gullivar World Milton Keynes
On a rainy day on a rollercoaster that took us a little by surprise

Links to places mentioned in the article/articles of further interest: 1. Hilton Johor Buffet 2. Disneyland Paris 3. Sierra Nevada Ski Resort 4. Alton Towers 5. Gulliver Land Milton Keynes 6. Villages Nature Resort Disneyland Paris 7. Wickerman Rollercoaster Review 8. How to put on snow chains 9. The best things to do in Johor 10. 101 Disneyland Paris tips

What did I learn from Malaysia, Singapore and Dubai?

So we’ve been back for a few weeks now, the kids are back at school, and whilst the weather Gods have blessed us with a relatively sunny September so far, our holiday seems yet a distant memory. Distant but solid, I would hasten to add.

I have now had the time to ponder some of the new knowledge that this year’s travel has given me, and also how it could possibly shape our travel choices in the future.

Malaysia. Land of contrasts.

What did I learn from Malaysia? A cliche that can possibly apply to 80% of the countries on earth, but it’s diversity. Had we have stayed in Johor and never visited Tioman island, we would have had such a single view of this multi-faceted country with its towering city silhouettes and dense jungle just 30 minutes down the road. Time permitting, new countries for us in the future will need to have at least two stops, and we will try to pick the most contrasting environments possible in which to stay.

The paradise that is Tioman island was somewhat marred by the lack of thought that has been given to recycling and sustainability. Whilst there is a long way to go in the UK in terms of plastic use and recycling, we are twenty years ahead of some of these places. Litter and plastic were an unfortunate reality in some of the ares that we visited in Malaysia, and I wondered what the root cause of this may have been. Apathy? Lack of understanding about environmental damage? Who knows, but seeing litter and plastic on the beach and on the jungle paths made me wonder what some of these islands and coral reefs will look like in twenty years time without intervention.

Malaysia is the 8th worse country in the world for plastic pollution. Photo courtesy of juice online.com

Singapore. Efficiency personified.

From Singapore, I learnt how antiquated our London Underground is. Their metro system is light years ahead of the tube. I did wonder how it must feel for some of these high-flying Singaporean executives to be getting on the Bakerloo line, and exiting a sweaty, squashed mess, with the smell of urine clinging on to their nostril hairs.

I also learnt that it really is a safe place to be: we stayed in the red light district and whilst a little precarious perhaps five years ago, I did not feel unsafe walking around with my family. Yes, we saw ‘business occurring’ all around us, but I think that the only downside from being in an area like this is having some choice questions from your kids. In the future though, I would do a greater level of research as to why we have procured an apartment at half the regular rate of all of the others!

Photo: visitSingapore.com

Dubai. Opinions from trodden paths.

I refer back to my previous post about Dubai, wherein I sung its praises and marvelled at how different it turned out to my expectations. The one main lesson that I learnt from here, is to let go of preconceived ideas about future visits, and to realise that every body’s view is subjective and strongly based on situational circumstances. For example, had we not stayed ‘all inclusive,’ would we have hated the high costs of wining and dining? If we had not stayed centrally, would the constantly travelling around impacted our enjoyment?

Only form opinions on the paths that we have trodden. Empty your mind of expectation and create your own memories, without the undercurrent of opinion affecting your own perceptions (I feel like this needs to end on Amen!).