Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mixed Markets

I remember when car boot sales were interesting places to visit. There were always bargains to be had - and the sellers benefited by getting some cash for stuff they would otherwise throw away.

It's been some years, though, since I've been to a car boot sale that has had anything useful. They now seem to be dominated by repeat sellers hawking the same old tired tat, or "professionals" looking to make a profit.

On holiday in Rome, we went to a Sunday Market. Another dead loss - some sellers doing a good job of selling to locals, but also significant numbers of stall purely aimed at ripping off gullible tourists.

Back in the UK, we went to a bank holiday Monday market. And that was even worse. Absolutely nothing of interest, lots of rip-off merchants selling substandard goods at excessive prices (by which I mean significantly more than you can get fully guaranteed on the high street).

It's not all doom and gloom. We went down to London for the afternoon, and went round Camden Markets. And while there is a bit of trash, and you see the same items on multiple stalls, it's got a lot more character, and feels a lot more wholesome. While I didn't come away with anything, I quite enjoyed it.

Roasted in Rome

After our trip to Wales, with the girls back from camp, we headed off to Rome for a short week.

It was dry (we just had one sharp shower) and pretty warm. I'm not overly keen on hot climates - but at least it's better weather than some of the apathetic stuff we have here in the UK that passes for summer!

Rome wasn't quite what I expected. I don't think we saw any of the modern city. What did impress me was the sheer size and extent of what's left of ancient Rome: some of these buildings are huge and were obviously built to last. And it's not just the odd bit of wall, there's acres and acres of buildings.

The Vatican and the Sistine Chapel were a huge disappointment. We queued for hours (continually pestered by tour guides promising us that they could get us in without waiting), and it's largely a tourist machine. The Sistine Chapel was particularly disappointing - OK, it's a decent bit of painting, but it's overrated. And we're all crammed in like sardines into the chapel, with security guards yelling Silence every few seconds, and shouting at and hassling people who ignored the prominent 'no photography' signs.

There was some really interesting stuff in the Vatican museum, that you get pushed past as the throng pushes you through the sausage machine to the Sistine Chapel. I was fascinated by the Gallery of Maps in particular. But generally the whole day was a bit of a washout.

It was late afternoon when we left the Vatican, and we decided to eat locally before heading back to the hotel. And then what I found interesting is that for every block away from the main tourist route, the prices fell basically linearly. So we walked a couple of blocks and ended up in an excellent local restaurant with excellent service and had an excellent meal - a lot less frantic and a lot less expensive than a similar place a couple of streets away. (This pattern was repeated all over Rome - just go down a side street and you'll get a better meal for less.)

We also went to a local water park. And even though it wasn't all that sunny, and I took care to keep in the shade as much as possible, I still got sunburnt.

Wet in Wales

The girls were off to guide camp, so after a couple of decent restaurant meals, we headed off to Wales for a few days.

We stayed at a fabulous self catering place - The Gwalia - not far from Ruthin. It's tucked away now narrow single-track roads, but it's a great place to relax and unwind once you've got there.

We didn't just sit back, though.

One afternoon we went Quad Biking. Just tore around a muddy field on a quad bike for an hour.

Then a couple of mornings White Water Rafting and Gorge Walking. I'm probably getting a bit old for this lark - or, rather, my gammy knees and bad arm are, despite my mental willingness.

Then on the last morning Melanie went off to have a pamper session at a local hotel and spa while I had a ride on the Llangollen Railway.