Surfing in Newquay

‘Surfing isn’t really in my blood. It’s hard to catch a big wave in Billingham’ – Jamie Bell

I’ll be the first to admit that a bad habit of mine is having a tendency to have unrealistic ideas about things. I convinced myself once that harem pants would looks good on me, or i’d be able to pull off dark ginger hair. Oh how wrong I was on both counts. When I was away for the weekend in Newquay for my cousin’s hen do in June, I was completely convinced that i would ace surfing; I have good balance, strong legs and love being in the water. In my deluded little bubble, I was born to do this.

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We booked through Escape surf school which cost around £25 for a two hour group lesson. We arrived and got into our wetsuits, which let me tell you is a workout in itself! We took our boards down to the beach and split into smaller groups of 5 where we went through a few basics on the beach. Pigeon, our instructor was brilliant fun a made a special fuss over Liz, our hen. I’d always been concerned with surfing lessons that, especially for the first lesson, you’d spend more time on the beach than you would in the water, however after about 15 minutes we were straight in.

 

We started of small, learning how to catch a wave and ride it to the shore whilst still lying on our front. So far so good. It didn’t feel too cold either, the wetsuits were nice and thick s protected you against the bracing Atlantic Ocean pretty well and when the water did hit your hands and face it was nice and refreshing. After plenty of practices in the water it was back to the beach to learn how to stand up.

 

This was what I was desperate to get right. My main ambition was to get up on my feet at least once, even if it was only for a couple of seconds. We went through the theory and were straight back into the surf (after one lesson i’m practically a pro, so know all the lingo – naturally!). This is were my delusions became all too apparent. Getting up onto the board from lying down is near on impossible and needless to say the furthest I got up was on to my hands and knees. Upper body strength has never been something I have possessed and no matter how good your balance or your core strength may be, if you can’t haul your massive pizza obsessed caboose onto the board, that balance doesn’t mean jack.

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Still i persevered and the instructors were in the water with you the whole time to advise on potition and waiting for the right wave. One of the down sides of being is a lrage group was we were all trying to surf in the same area of the water so a few times i found myself ploughing into one of the other girls, or vice versa. That possibly has more to do with our lack of control as well of course but it did mean I left with some pretty corking bruises.

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The two hours we had  was ore than enough time as I was pretty shattered by the end of the session. In fact with about half an hour to go, my arms were so done with trying to get my fat arse upright that I just decided to body surf the rest of the time, which was good fun in itself.

Above all of my frustrations though I’m really pleased I gave it ago because I love trying new things especially if they’re sporty or water based and I would highly recommend Escape Surf school who were ultimate pros. The glasses of prosecco that awaited us when we finished were certainly well received and well deserved!

 

 

The Joiners Arms – Newton by the Sea

‘When you get into a hotel room, you lock the door, and you know there is a secrecy, there is a luxury, there is fantasy. There is comfort. There is reassurance’ – Diane von Furstenberg

Since we got married in 2013, and despite our anniversary being at the end of March, we always try and go away or do something special. For the last couple of years we’ve just been out for dinner  but this year we decided to treat ourselves to a night away at one of our favourite pub hotels, The Joiners Arms in Newton by the Sea.

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One of the only things I dislike about the Joiners is that it’s not actually where we got married, however everything else ticks all my boxes. From the outside it looks like your standard country pub. White and black with a generous beer garden at the front. The bar/restaurant is also your standard cosy country fayre, big windows that let in lots of natural sunlight, good food and a fully stocked bar with local real ales and an impressive wine cellar.

More about the restaurant later but the absolute show stopper, the hidden gem of this place is undoubtedly the absolutely beautiful guest rooms. This was out third visit and we always try and stay in a different room each time. This time round we were staying in Silver Beach which is one of the more expensive rooms that looks out towards the gorgeous Northumberland coast.

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The room comes with a beautiful four poster kingsize bed, a Juliet balcony, dark mahogany desk and wardrobe, and large bathroom with walk in power shower and gorgeous natural local toiletries. Honestly I could have stood under that shower for hours, it was probably one of the nicest showers I’ve ever had!

Because we were celebrating, and had visited before so knew how beautiful the rooms were, he hung out there for a while before going down to the restaurant for dinner. On check in I was a little disappointed when they didn’t offer us a complimentary drink like they have done on previous visits however they have replaced this by putting ingredients in your room to make your own french martinis, which actually is a really nice touch – you can have a large glass of white wine any time, anywhere (like in my kitchen for example).  We’d been kindly given a bottle of moet from my brother and sister-in-law for our anniversary so we enjoyed that (and the french martinis) as our pre dinner drinks in the room.

We were having such a lovely time that we almost forgot to go down for dinner, however once in the restaurant our rumbling tummies took over as we perused the menu over (even more) drinks from the bar.

It’s a traditional gastro pub with a traditional menu and it’s coastal location means that fish dishes feature heavily on the specials board. When we visited the special was tuna steak however all our celebratory drinks meant we were after something a little more substantial so we started by sharing the camambert.

For mains we both decided to keep it simple, as in our minds, you simply can’t beat good hearty food done well. Dave paid homage to the fact it was a Friday night and went for fish and chips and I had the burger. Both hit the spot perfectly, the fish was meaty and not too greasy and the burger was just the right amount of pink to be able to really taste the quality of the meat.

After all of that there simply wan’t room left for pudding so we sat and finished our drinks then retired to our room. The hotel offers a complimentary turn down service so we we got back to the room the duvet was pulled back, the lights dimly lit and smooth radio on. I’m not sure what kind of behavior they were encouraging with that kind of decadence but it was straight to sleep for these full, drunken cats!

One of my favourite things about staying in food hotel in undoubtedly the breakfast and the meal the night before must have stretched my stomach because I was well up for my devilled eggs on toast the next morning. Now I’m sad to say despite being my favourite meal of the day this time the Joiners Arms let us down where it previously excelled. On our last two visits breakfast has has been served in your room and you were presented with a list of items on arrive and could just tick what you wanted. They even sourced me some marmite on my toast on one occasion even though it wasn’t listed. However this time breakfast was served down in the restaurant and you ordered off a menu.

That said breakfast was pretty lovely and there wasn’t much that wasn’t available. I’m just disappointed I couldn’t eat my breakfast in my pjs.

So whilst there were a few little perks that the Joiners seem to have done away with which is what made us so taken with it in the first place, it still stands up as a really high end b&b and we’re still on a quest to sleep in every room!

Contact:

Address: B1340, High Newton-by-the-Sea, Alnwick NE66 3EA
Phone: 01665 576112
Website: www.joiners-arms.com

Excalibur Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas

‘Las Vegas is the boiling pot of entertainment’ – Don Rickles

I’m lucky that throughout my travels in my adult life I’ve been able to visit Las Vegas 4 times now so by all accounts you could safely say I’ve ‘done’ Vegas. However when Meagan and I found out the lifelong childhood heroes The Backstreet Boys were doing a residency there, I knew I’d be heading over to the strip indulge in the craziness once again.

In previous trips I’ve stayed at the (now defunct) Sahara and the Stratosphere, both at the north end of the strip, which you usually find is the cheaper end. We almost booked into Circus Circus which always comes up the cheapest of all the big hotels in the strip, however the Trip Advisor reviews were putting me off and as lady luck would have it, Booking.com had a 40% discount on some better options so we plumped for the Excalibur.

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Visually, Excalibur has always been my second favourite hotel on the strip after New York New York; cheesy and tacky and built to look like a Disney ye olde English castle and the red and blue turrets stick out a mile off, but it’s Vegas, and unless you’re a millionnaire or won big and can afford to stay in somewhere a little more classy like the Bellagio, then you need to embrace the tacky.

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We booked a queen room, which came with two free buffets, for 4 nights which came out at about £250 each. The day we arrived I was sent an email with the option to check in remotely, this helped a ton as we ended up getting slightly delayed getting there so when we eventually did arrive, we were all checked in and all we needed to do was collect our keys.

 

The room (26126); which faced south so you could see the majority of the strip, was a decent size with two large queen beds, a TV and separate bathroom with toiletries. It was basic (no fridge for one) however spotlessly clean and in all honesty, for the amount of time you’re going to stay there, what more do you really need? The room was serviced and cleaned every day and once you’re up in your room and away from the chaos of the casino and strip downstairs it’s like a different world – so quiet and peaceful!

Throughout our stay we visited some of the newer hotels like The Cosmopolitan and Planet Hollywood, whilst in comparison they did make Excalibur look a little old and tired, they were all a bit too shiny, glitzy and trendy for me. I loved Excalibur’s old school feel, with it’s 1970s carpets and brighter lighting. Let’s be honest, we’re not in out 20s anymore and weren’t going to be strutting around in skimpy dresses and heels. The Excalibur was exactly the kind of vibe we were going for.

 

The entrance level is the extensive casino as you might expect along with a couple of bars, the front desk, guest services, Dicks Last Resort restaurant and Johnny Rockets burger joint (top tip: Johnny Rockets serves wine and beer which is a good couple of dollars cheaper tan the bars so if you want a drink to walk around with this might save you a few $$). Up one level is a food court which is where the buffet is as well and lots of other fast food type places, an Italian restaurant, Starbucks, Cinnabon etc. The level below the entrance level is where the Medieval tournament is held (this level is referred to as The Fun Dungeon – which just founds like a euphemism for something if you ask me!) and there’s also a Dairy Queen down there, just in case you haven’t have enough calories already!

 

Facilities wise, there’s everything you would expect. We were lucky with the weather and despite it being March, managed to spend an afternoon by the pool, which has plenty of facilitates for all; a kids pool with a water slide, and an adult only pool area (for an extra cost). Towels are free or you can use towels from your room. There’s a couple of pool bars where you can get wine, beer, spirits or cocktails in plastic cups (if you keep your cocktail cup you can get a refill for half price). There’s also a gym, which we did’t visit because you know we were on holiday but it looked a decent size and well equipped!

 

Location wise we couldn’t fault it, you’re right next door to some of the biggest hotels on the strip; New York New York is connected by a walk way and across the road is the MGM Grand which has a monorail station in if you wanted to go down to the other end of the strip without walking the 4 miles. To get to Planet Hollywood, where the concert was, it was about a 15 minute walk, but there’s so much going on along the way it really doesn’t feel like it. This means you’re an only 20 minute walk away from the fountain show at the Bellagio, which really is worth a watch!

I’m really struggling to find fault with anything about our stay, it was exactly what we needed for the perfect girls trip away, and I’d definitely go back, once I’ve paid off my massive Kate Spade credit card bill!

 

Royal Ascot: The Pros and Cons

‘Horse racing is one of my favorite sports’ – Elizabeth Banks

Just like the Grand National or Wimbledon, Royal Ascot is a British tradition that, if you play by the rules and know what you’re getting into before arriving, can be a fantastic day out. However, there are a handful of considerations to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to attend Ascot.

Why you should attend Royal Ascot

The perfect excuse to get dressed up
Most of us spend our entire week working and, come the weekend, find it difficult to get motivated to do anything, including going out for a nice dinner or even a drink at the local pub, which is why you should take advantage of the British events calendar. Royal Ascot has a formal dress code which makes it the perfect excuse to get dressed up in your finest clothes, including extravagant hats, and enjoy yourself with a glass of wine in hand and a few bets on the table.

You might win big
The main draw of Royal Ascot is that it’s a chance to win some money. At its heart, Royal Ascot is a very British gambling event where betting is, in most cases, celebrated. If you enjoy the thrill of gambling, Royal Ascot is a fantastic place to place some bets and, if you’re lucky, take home a generous sum of money. No matter how much you’re betting, always bet smartly to ensure you don’t lose too much money – only bet what you’re happy to lose or don’t bet at all.

Keep an eye out for the Queen


Every year, the Royal Family descend on Ascot for Royal Ascot, including our Queen and the rest of the family. If you’re in the Royal Box, the most exclusive and, therefore, expensive of areas, you’re almost guaranteed to see the Queen and Royal Family. You may also see members of the Royal Family walking around Royal Ascot so, if you’re a royalist, it’s worthwhile attending.

Despite the thrill of adorning yourself in all your finery and placing some honest bets, there are a few downfalls of attending Royal Ascot, too.

The cons of attending Royal Ascot include:

It can be snobbish
Slowly, the attitude surrounding Royal Ascot is changing; however, we can’t deny that there is an air of snobbery at the event which may make those on lower incomes, for instance, feel a little out of place. Although, this shouldn’t be a problem providing you act sensibly, dress properly, follow the rules, and avoid discussing money with those around you – Ascot is a fantastic place to socialise, however, as often is the case, politics and finances are not topics of conversation.

Royal Ascot isn’t cheap
Ticket prices for Royal Ascot start at £37 per person, per day, however, that’s for the Windsor Enclosure. When attending, if you want to be right in the heart of all the fun, it’s best to purchase Queen Anne Enclosure tickets for £75 per person, per day. There are several higher-tier tickets, too. Once you have set aside your betting money and purchased your tickets and formal outfits, plus any food and drink you want throughout the day, Royal Ascot isn’t a cheap day out. Also, if you’re hoping to stay in Ascot during the event, hotels and B&Bs will be costlier than usual.

The rules are strict


There is plenty of room to enjoy yourself at Royal Ascot; however, the rules are strict and must be adhered to ensure you gain access to the venue. For instance, there is a dress code to be kept, and while you’re allowed to take one bottle or wine or champagne into the grounds with you, no other alcohol is permitted, ensuring you purchase your drinks from stalls within the grounds.

If you haven’t been to Royal Ascot before, the best thing to do is to attend and see what you think – different people’s opinions of the event vary, so all you can do is explore Ascot for yourself. For exploring you may consider a minibus hire.

*this has been a collaborative post with coachscanner.com

Owl & Hawk Experience at the Coniston Hotel

‘We learned to be patient observers like the owl’ – Tom Brown Jr

Since I was really young I’ve always been obsessed with owls. I seem to remember some wildlife conservationist came in to school to do a talk and I’ve found them fascinating ever since then. So much so actually that one summer holiday when I was bout 10 I got all the owl books out the library I could find a did my own summer project in a scrap book – needless to say I wasn’t all that popular as a kid.

Despite having such a keen interest in them, I’ve managed to make it almost 35 years on earth without ever actually meeting one or holding one so an owl experience is something that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time! There are quite a few you can do in an around Northumberland, near where we live but they all seem ridiculously expensive. We were looking for somewhere to go for a weekend away in February as it was and found a deal at the quaint little Grassington Lodge near Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales. About 20 minutes away from Grassington was an Owl and Hawk experience at The Coniston Hotel and Country Estate, and it was only £35 for two people. What a bargain!

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We arrived on a drizzly Sunday afternoon and drove the mile down the road on the Coniston Estate to the falconry centre where they also offer full day hunting experiences and a falconry safari. We were met by Matt and allowed to look around the barn looks at all the different owls, hawks, and eagles (they all look so impressive up close and you forget how big some of the birds can get!)

We were lucky in that there was no one else booked on the experience so we got the full hour just to ourselves with loads of time with the birds. We started outside with a barn owl, are were each given some (dead) baby chicks – which is like McDonalds to owls apparently and stand side ways on to the birds so as not to appear threatening. They fly always instantly to the glove for the food and stay there a good couple of minutes before flying off to another perch.

Next we met an Eagle Owl. The size difference was quite incredible really as was the weight difference as the fly onto the glove. We chatted away with Matt the whole time who really knows his stuff. I was really curious to know how they get the birds and whether they’re bred on site. Most are bought from UK breeders or people who have an interest in birds of prey and one of the eagles they have was even sent over from America. He also told us that it’s a misconception that owls are wise and nocturnal, as most species are neither. I of course, already knew this from my personal owl project from 1992.

Finally we go to fly one of the hawks which was done across the car park and the hawks for some reason prefer to perch on the roof of the barn. Owls are most definitely my favourite however it was still pretty cool seeing the hawk as well, they’re still quite impressive birds, very heavy and have a hooked beak you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of!

The whole experience went over in a flash and was fantastic value for money. We were lucky that there was only the two of us booked on that afternoon however is worth noting that they can have up to 10 people in one session which of course would limit your time physically handling the bids, you’d probably only get to hold each one once, where as we have about 5 or 6 turns each.

It’s always great to get something ticked off your bucket list and this was the perfect way to do it, certainly beats paying to hold some of the random ones you see on Northumberland Street from time to time!

Contact:

The Coniston Hotel
Coniston Cold
Skipton
North Yorkshire
BD23 4EA

Tel: 01756 748080

Twitter: @conistonhotel

Web: http://www.theconistonhotel.com/falconry.html

 

 

 

Bahia Principe, Costa Adeje Tenerife

‘A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking’ – Earl Wilson

When it comes to spending money Dave and I are at polar opposite ends of the spectrum. He would happily live the minimalist lifestyle if it meant he’d saved enough to retire at 45 where as cash burns a physical hole in my pocket as soon as I get it. One of the few things we can both save or make sacrifices for though is our holidays as we both adore to travel.

Over the last few years we’re tried to work on the power of 3 concept; 3 foreign holidays and 3 weekend breaks. I wanted to kick off this year by going skiing. I skied a lot as a child and Dave has been snowboarding but we’ve never been skiing together. However having both been royally fed up with work, and not really that keen on going somewhere even colder than the North East of England so we packed up for a week in sunny Tenerife at the end of January.

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Tenerife would never traditionally be my first choice of destination, I went to Playa de las Americas when I was 18 on a girls holiday and it was basically Whitley Bay in 30 degree heat. However we were only able to get a week off work so it seemed the best shot of nice weather without having to fly longer than 4 hours from Newcastle.

The Resort

 

We chose the Bahia Principe in Costa Adeje because it was the cheapest 5* resort that got decent reviews. We’ve stayed in All Inclusive places before which have been on the cheaper end of the scale but food and drink reviews came up good on Trip Advisor and the fact that you got to visit 3 of their 4 a la carte restaurants per week was a big sway for us to break up the monotony of  the buffet every day.

It’s a massive complex with over 400 rooms which all sit around the edge of 3 large swimming pools (1 is a infinity pool – swish!) and also boasts 3 bars, 4 a la carte restaurants, a gym and spa and little shopping village which includes a pharmacy and tourist shop.

 

Visually it’s stunning, overlooking the Atlantic ocean and the grounds are kept impeccably clean. We didn’t see one bug or creepy crawly, which meant no annoying bites or stings. All the staff are also incredibly friendly and attentive, we even had our lunchtime waiter trained to just top up my wine without me even having to ask. I half considered offering him a job as my personal wine butler back home but not sure he would want to cope with the temperature change!

The Rooms

 

We stayed in a standard room (room 8004 to be exact) which was situated at the far end of the complex furthest away from the reception and near the sea; a small block of 6 bungalows. Despite being right outside one of the main pools, the room was absolutely silent (apart from the aircon – which is free) and for being a standard room was really big. The king size bed was one of he biggest we’ve ever slept in, there was a fridge and small mini bar which was stocked with beer, coke and fanta each day as well as a litre bottle of water.

 

There was a  large bathroom with double sinks, jacuzzi bath with shower head, toilet and bidet. A sign of a super posh hotel for me is a phone next to the bidet should you ever come into peril whilst washing your bum – now that’s living!

Rooms were cleaned and serviced daily with new towels and linen.

Food and Drink

As I say we’ve done AI before with varying degrees of success but the Bahia Principe is all inclusive done properly. Despite them saying that the bars are open from 11am to 11pm you could get an alcoholic drink 24 hours a day if you really wanted one as they have self service cava and bucks fizz laid out at breakfast time. Wine and beer are served in plastic cups around the pool area which is understandable, however you can get proper classes at the main bars and restaurants which feels so much classier. Wine and beer is also self serve, with spirits and cocktails available at different bars around the resort and spirits and mixers are self serve in the main bar in evenings.

My only small gripe (and this is going to make me sound like a right plonky) but I’m pretty convinced that the wine is watered down. For what is supposedly 13%, if i’d had two large glasses of that at home i’d be smashed in half an hour however I was drinking multiple, multiple, glasses on holiday without feeling much effect at all. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, it meant I was never really too drunk, therefore never really had a hangover, but it feels a little dishonest if that is in fact what’s going on.

 

The food was also pretty spectacular and apart from some marmite for my toast at breakfast I can’t imagine what you’d want that isn’t provided. There’s 4 a la carte restaurants; an italian, asian, brazilian and mexican. We tried all but the asian and all were really high quality, especially the Brazilian where the waiters come round with swords of meat cutting it off fresh for you until you tell them to stop! The buffet restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and although have theme nights to keep things interesting, there’s also always staples like pizza, paella, pasta and fish dishes should you want something a little less exotic. Everything seemed incredibly fresh, nothing looked like it had been sitting out for hours and I got very used to having donuts and churros for breakfast every morning!

 

 

The Amenities & Entertainment 

The problem with winter sun is that it can be a bit risky. I don’t like lying out if the sun isn’t out as it turns sunbathing into essentially lying outside in your bra and knickers. We were lucky with the weather which although has cloudy patches, the sun was pretty much out most of the time at a very sunbathable 20-ish degrees everyday. If the sun isn’t out there’s little else to do than sit around and drink (which is pretty much what we do every Saturday anyway so not too much of a stretch!) there’s a gym (which i went to once for research purposes) and a beauty spa (which is chargable). They also have a very lively animations team organising table tennis, archery, bingo etc round the pool during the day.

We went with Thomas Cook who did offer different excusrions from the hotel. If we’d been staying longer than a week we possibly may have ventured out but I don’t get chance to top up my vitamin D as much as i’d like these days so we just stayed by the pool the whole time. It bothered me that wifi was only available in the reception area, which only has a few seats in. If you wanted wifi throughout the resort you had to pay daily for, boo, skinflints!

 

The evening entertainment was good. It was all live music of varing quality; singing wedding band favourites but all seemed to be able to get everyone up dancing night after night (or perhaps that was all the wine?!) The highlight for us was without a  doubt a Beatles Tribute band who were really excellent

 

There wasn’t much we didn’t like about the Bahia Principe to be perfectly honest. It was exactly what we needed to escape the dreary January blues and for the amount of free flowing food and drink it was extremely good value for money. I would hate to see what it looks like in peak season, it was hard to get a seat for the entertainment as it was in January however i’m sure they make provisions for that and put out more tables, it will undoubtedly create bigger queues at the buffet though I’m sure.

Despite that though we would definitely go back, and I’m absolutely converted to the idea of winter sun over skiing too!

Horse Racing in Melbourne and Hong Kong

‘There are other things that I could do, but there’s really nothing that I love as much as horse racing’ – Chantal Sutherland

*A guest blog from my Dad!*

When planning our once in a lifetime trip to Singapore, Melbourne, Canberra and Hong Kong Siobhan and I had two aims really – to see our great friends Greg and Elaine in Canberra and to sample the cultural, culinary and alcoholic delights of the far east and Australia. It was only when booking accommodation in Melbourne that we realised that our visit coincided with one of the great global sporting events – the Melbourne Cup! Not only that, there was racing in Happy Valley Hong Kong while we were there. Being big racing fans, this gave us a unique opportunity to see how these things that we love doing at home are presented on the other side of the world.

The big sporting event of the year for us is the Northumberland Plate, the richest two mile handicap in the northern hemisphere. The Melbourne Cup is the richest in the world. I love the staying races, A five furlong sprint you can see your money disappear in a very short time, at least over two miles you can hope for a bit longer. We had heard about ‘the race that stops a nation’ and this was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. Tickets were booked online for $A70 each (about £45, very comparable to UK for this type of event).

We arrived in Melbourne the Friday before the race on the Tuesday. Cup fever was already in full swing, there was racing on the Saturday – Derby day, and then the build up to the big day really started. The hotel we were staying in had a healthy number of racegoers staying and we saw them gathering in the bar area on Saturday morning. A short stroll from the hotel and Flinders Street station was teeming with immaculately dressed people of all ages.

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A days racing in Australia starts much earlier that in the UK, first race being 10.40 and everything was really well organised, almost as if they had done this before! So we were at Flemington in time for the first race. Crowds were manageable at this time and a seat could generally be found so it was ideal for us to look around, soak up the building atmosphere and see something of the racecourse with the stunning backdrop of the city. The food and drink at Flemington was no more expensive than in downtown Melbourne and in fact very reasonable for an event like this although it doesn’t appear so to locals and it is the fact that the pound has been in steady decline against the Australian dollar for many years now that makes it appear so to us.

Not being familiar with the majority of horses in the race I had decided to concentrate on jockeys that I know. Kerrin McEvoy and Hugh Bowman are Aussies who have both ridden in UK so I short listed them. James MacDonald had won the Northumberland Plate and was riding the favourite, so he went on the list and how could I now overlook Heartbreak City after meeting the traner in the hotel bar a few nights before, so he completed my betting slip. Siobhan, much more conservative, chose Qewy, widely tipped to go well at a big price.

Wins in races 2 and 3 set me up nicely, so I was in confident mood for the big race. As is often the case with these events you seem to be waiting for ever when all of a sudden they’re off and running. The race is very difficult to read until about two furlongs out and a horse makes a break for the line. “It’s Heartbreak City” I said to Siobhan, “COME ON MY SON”, but hang on, there’s another horse gone with him, who is it? I couldn’t make out what the commentator was saying above the din. Agonisingly, Heartbreak City is caught with 50 yards to go and goes down by a neck. Now I like to win a bet, but I confess that I was not totally perked up even when the winner was announced as Almandin – ridden by Kerrin McEvoy. James MacDonald came in third and Qewy fourth so Siobhan and I headed off to the TAB (Tote) with thoughts of champagne. To say that Siobhan took the news that the TAB only pays three places in a 24 horse race well would not be true. I explained to the TAB lady that in UK the Tote would always pay at least four places   and she gave me a look of genuine concern and empathy – or perhaps I misread that. Undaunted, we had had a great day and won enough for it not to be termed expensive.

One week later, it’s Tuesday morning and Siobhan and I are in the Hong Kong Jockey Club Museum. I asked the young man about Wednesday’s racing. “You just turn up and pay $HK10” (about £1!). With a tram fare of about 25p we decided we could just about stretch the budget. Turning up about 20 minutes before the first race the crowds were comfortable. There were food and drink concessions all along the rail and with the lights and the towering city blocks overlooking the course the scene was stunning. We found a seat, had a couple of bets and won a little bit. The public areas were now very crowded. Notwithstanding I went under the stands to make a bet (Race 4 – Sharp Hunter – 13/1). The bedlam that was the betting area was the worst I have ever seen – and I’ve been to Cheltenham on St Patrick’s Day! I couldn’t get my bet on. Never mind it won’t win. Five minutes later and not even the best hot dog I have ever had in my life made up for the fact that Sharp Hunter got up on the line and cost me $HK320!

HongKong

So that was it, two very different racing experiences. The Melbourne Cup was wonderful and in many ways the same as the experience Siobhan and I have each year at the Northumberland Plate. People recreating scenes that have been seen since the middle of the 19th century, dressing up, having a drink and revelling in a sport which is a wonderful spectacle.  Happy Valley I’m not so sure about. It’s not the lost bet, it was only £30, but after initially being very struck with the visual wonder of it all it became obvious that there was very little – if any – genuine love of the sport or the horses. The track is obscured by the concessions so that anyone at ground level or the first few rows of the seats has to follow the race on the screen. I’m not saying I wouldn’t go again but it wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t.

I certainly would make sure I got my bet on in time.