There was a promotion for cut-price train tickets back in January, so I thought that I'd plan a day out and travel as far as I could for a £20 day return.
Of course, several weeks later, come 6am, on a foggy morning, I'd have happily rolled over and gone back to sleep. Never mind, coffee and a cinnamon Danish and I'll revive ...
Last time I went to Newcastle was about 10 years ago when I visited the once great Swan Hunter shipyard to see what sadly turned out to be the last ship they ever built on the Tyne.
But I'd only ever been there for work and I'd never gone sight-seeing.
It is a strange mixture of civic pride and splendid Victorian architecture, visible poverty and decay and trendy regeneration.
First stop, the historic Lit and Phil almost next door to the station, founded in 1793 as a 'conversation club.' Now, imagine a library that's still about books ...
Where somebody says hello as you walk in the door and shows you the counter where you'll get a proper mug of tea and a digestive for £1 ...
And it's still a conversation club for nice old men chatting about when their wives were alive.
I could happily have stayed there all afternoon. I settled into a chair with tea, Thomas Bewick's memoir My Life and a Tunnock's teacake ...
And thought that with a bus pass and membership of the Lit and Phil, I wouldn't mind retiring here.
But I couldn't sit around all day. I had things to see.
Lots of Victorian tiles, in the station bar that used to be the first-class refreshment room -
More tiles on pubs. Even if you don't much fancy going in for a drink.
And in this simply stunning Edwardian arcade.
There was bustling Grainger Market, one of those wonderful northern covered markets that have retained all their character, knocking spots off tourist traps like London's Borough Market (and its fancypants prices).
I sighed over fish stalls where you could tell that the fish had been splashing in the North Sea only the day before.
And although I've never been able to fancy tripe - yeeuugggh, I can still remember the smell of my Dad's favourite dish, simmering in milk - I'm glad that in a nambypamby age there's somewhere to buy it.
Oh dear, the temptations ... okay, I came away with a crab (£3), a lovely ham hock (£2) and lugged them around for the rest of the afternoon. (There is a corner of England where Green&Black's chocolate costs 60p a bar and it is probably just as well that I don't live there.)
Now for a stroll down Grey Street. 'I shall never forget seeing it to perfection, traffic-less on a misty Sunday morning. Not even old Regent Street, London, can compare with that subtle, descending curve,' said Betjeman, and he was right.
Nothing I love more than discovering the treasures of a provincial art gallery. The Laing was smaller than I expected. (Pronounced Lay-ng, who knew!) I knew there would be old friends. Just look at the lustre on that watering can.
|Isabella and the Pot of Basil, William Holman Hunt|
Then this caught my eye ...
|Geordie Haa'd the Bairn, Ralph Hedley, 1890|
I was so pleased to find a lovely little watercolour of my friend Thomas Bewick, 'As he stood at the fire (for a Wonder) with his hat off' - I've been rather smitten with him since reading Jenny Uglow's biography - but I can't find an image except for the tiny one here. (Scroll down.) So I set off on a little pilgrimage to find the site of his old workshop tucked behind the cathedral. Long gone but it was nice to think of walking in his footsteps down that quiet alleyway. And I wondered how he got on with his neighbour, the Vampire Bunny.
Of course, I walked along the Quays, where lassies were already revving up for a hen night - those fake tans must put hairs on their chests because the wind was whipping up the river and they were only wearing T-shirts. Then over the Millennium Bridge to the Baltic Centre. Where the 5* ladies' loo with a view is a wee gem ...
And the art, though it wouldn't win the Turner Prize (I hope!) might win a Blue Peter prize for effort. Think collages of pasta/dried cat food/cushion foam/stickybackplastic ... and no, I'm not joking.
And then? Then it was time to go home.