From San Seb beach days to rain, pastries, rugby and wine in France

After farewelling pretty Portugal, we boarded our next overnight train with bated breath, the memory of the last overnight train persisting..
However, this time we had fortunately remembered to book a cabin with actual beds. In fact, things went so smoothly on the 12 hour trip to San Sebastián that we slept right the way through, waking up only 15 minutes before our destination station!
We found ourselves on the banks of the river winding through the city to the coastline, and experiencing a distinctly chillier climate than we had so far been enjoying. We managed to duck into a cafe seconds before the heavens opened and drenched the sidewalks. Luckily our next air BnB host took pity on us and collected us in his car to save us lugging our stuff up the very steep streets in the rain.
Eventually the rain stopped, and we set out to explore to beautiful city which, as we discovered, was not the rustic surfer town I had expected (we had clearly over estimated our abilities to learn how to surf) but a sophisticated, chic city, encompassing beautiful beaches, excellent food, (shopping), and Parisian architecture – I quickly decided that if I was moving overseas, this would be the spot!
So to my favourite topic: the food! San Sebastián is famous for pintxos – or tapas. Eaten as an aperitif from 830pm to tide over famished Spainards from their very late (3-4pm) lunch to their extremely late (10-12pm) dinners, bars and restaurants of the Old City set out plates filled with tiny, beautifully constructed morsels. It’s typical to take one or two from one place before moving on and trying some thing new at a different place, pairing everything with some delicious Spanish wine. By the time we were done though, there was no way we were going to be able to stay for a dinner, so tempting did everything look!
In a city with everything, the beaches are obviously beautiful. There are two, a surf beach to the right of the city, and a sandy swimming beach to the left. A promenade flanks the entire beach, and we strolled to the end and caught the funicular to the top to check out the view, discovering on arrival that it was a prime location to watch the boat race that was going on.
By then, the day had heated up and we lay out our towels for our last beach day of the trip.
From San Sebastián we crossed the border into France. Our first stop was an impossibly short stay in Bordeaux, where the highlight was a half day wine tour to the Entre-Deux-Mers wine region. We visited two Chateaus that had been in their families for generations. One in particular was built in the 17th century and included an incredible limestone cave that served as a cellar – the limestone interior naturally maintaining a consistent temperature perfect for ageing the wine.
Next on the agenda was Lyon, the so called culinary capital of France, and therefore a must do for this hungry couple!
We booked a market tour and cooking class with @chef_lyon who taught us how deceivingly difficult those light, crispy (buttery!) croissants and brioche are to make. But we persevered and the next day we enjoyed our very own homemade pain au chocolates and croissants for breakfast!
Also fabulous was the recommendations for where to go for traditional Lyonnaise and French food in Lyon, which did not disappoint! Kelly and I entered an unassuming restaurant with a multitude of mural painted rooms, and an extensive French menu. The star was the Lyon croquette – described as a soufflé crossed with gnocchi – served in a lobster sauce. This came piping hot and exquisite – quickly becoming the highlight of trip!
After three nights exploring Lyon, we trained on to Chambery to visit my cousin who is currently ensconced in the adorable French village with a rugby contract. Despite arriving on the first rainy weekend he had seen (something of a theme me for this leg of the trip – we also got drenched in Bordeaux!) we had a fabulous time watching his team play (and win!), experiencing a taste of the local nightlife, and exploring the winding streets and history of the village. I almost came home alone, such was Kelly’s height, the fact he was from NZ and acquainted with David, that a rugby contract was seemingly imminent! Nevertheless, it was such a treat to catch up with family abroad.

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San Sebastián, you doll!

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A very busy Sunday at the beach

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The boat race action 

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Pinxtos!

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Bordeaux – the lights came on and the heavens opened

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Cheese choosing at the local market 

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The speciality in Lyon – praline!

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The finished product 💯

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Visiting the vineyards

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Hey there Lyon!

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It doesn’t look like much, but the croquette was soo good!

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Chambery! 

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Rainy day exploring

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It sure was rainy!

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Portu-pals!

After the la Tomatina festival, we recovered in Valencia for the night, making the most of the comfortable hotel room before what we knew was going to be a horror night train experience.
Unfortunately for us we failed to book a compartment for the 10 hour journey and instead settled into our average train seats for the night. Snoring, coughing passengers, loud 2am conversations between the train conductor and sleepless children, undimmed lights and stops all through the night were not particularly conducive to a goods night sleep, and we stumbled bleary eyed into Lagos, Portugal the next afternoon, blinking at the sunsoaked coastline.
But one thing was obvious, even to our sleep deprived minds – Lagos was stunning. Beautiful limestone cliffs carved out private swimming coves, and turned the waves of the Atlantic Ocean buffering the golden sand a delicious green. We walked along the headland exploring this beautiful coast line, and sunbathed and swam all of the days we had there.
A highlight was also meeting up with pals from Croatia, who arrived in Lagos on our last night. We were adopted by their hostel mates and went out to relive our sailing tour days, lethal Long Island iced teas in hand!
We then travelled up the coast, an hour north of Lisbon to meet our free spirited university friend Hamish Lee. He kindly offered up the double bed in his converted van and we set off in search of the surf, travelling back down towards Lisbon. Lee even attempted to teach us to surf – some of us more successful than others (While Kelly claimed the easy beginners board and showed real promise, I mostly spent the time paddling around and/or getting dunked under the waves). After sadly realising I did not harbour an undiscovered talent for surfing, we made it to Lisbon where we spent the afternoon exploring the beautiful old town and gorging ourselves on the famed Pasteis de Belem – a variation of the Portugese pastel de nada, a type of custard tart that is seriously good!
Below are some of our photos from stunning Portugal!

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Pastels and palm trees in pretty Lagos

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Amazing cliffs of Ponta da Piedade

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Beaches and beers with Lee

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We 💜 Bertha

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Lisbon

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Catching some culture in Lisbon

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..then well deserved pastries! As you can see from the photo of the line above, they were very popular!

 

French pastries and Spanish tomatoes

Our early morning train took us along the French Riviera, where we spied the pastel sunrise as we zipped past Cannes, stopped for our first French pastries in Marseilles and finally arrived some 7 hours later at Argeles-sur-mer. A town near the French and Spanish border – having traversed nearly the entire French coastline.
Argeles-sur-mer was again a destination chosen more for its location en route to our fixed plan of attending La Tomatina festival, than for any real knowledge about the place. It turned out to be a resort town bordered by a long sweeping beach and promenade, well serviced by a festive summer marketplace.
We stayed here for a few days, lazing on the beach, catching up on some exercise and eating some veggies – having a bit of a rest from the full time travelling we had been doing – (a break from the break if you will!).
Revitalised, we boarded another train (you’re sending a pattern here, I’m sure!) and crossed over the Spanish border to spend two nights in Valencia, our base for the long awaited La Tomatina festival.
For those of you who haven’t heard of it (and indeed many Spanish didn’t know what we were talking about) it’s the worlds largest food fight. Thousands of people descend on the small town of Buñol one day at the end of August each year, to spend an hour pelting each other with tomatoes. It was as insane and amazing as that sounds.
We started at 6am, hurrying through the quiet streets to the bus depot to meet our 200 strong tour group. We were bussed to the scene of action and let loose on vats of sangria before cramming into the narrow main streets, sensibly lined with tarpaulins to protect the store fronts.
The starting point was either a cannon at 11am, or upon the reaching of the ham strung from the top of a greased pole in the centre of the town square. Notwithstanding the attempts made, the ham was not grabbed and at 11am, at the cannon fire, the trucks descended on the town, filled to the brim with tomatoes.. How it went next, see for yourself in Kelly’s GoPro video – click the link to view! (Note – click the words below it, not the picture as its only a picture and I’m not fancy enough to make it work!)
Needless to say, washing my hair afterwards was essentially tomato soup, our clothes were quickly abandoned as lost causes, and the disgusting smell of warm tomatoes that seemed to permeate everything meant we were firmly sworn off tomatoes!

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Click for the video

Under the Tuscan sun

After bidding bon voyage to our new Croatian sailing pals, Kelly and I boarded a ship bound for Ancona – back to the gelato and pizza filled shores of Italy!
Having just spent a week on board a boat, (and also recalling the endless journey from Italy to Greece) we embarked with a trepidation that (as we were to discover) was not unfounded.
Our 10 hour trip turned into 14 (two of which were spent standing in line for a bottle of water!!), our cabin was windowless, bathroom-less, definitely not cat swing-able, and two floors below the car parks. Safe to say my first order of business was finding out where the life boats were!
After a night spent rocking and rolling in our povo cabin (not helped by my imagination replaying those scenes from Titanic where the cattle class passengers were locked in lost causes) we finally made it to Italy and onto our train to Florence. After ditching our bags we ventured straight out on our first order of business – finding gelato!
The food tour didn’t stop there as the next day we joined an Italian market tour and cooking class. First we explored the two storied Mercado Centrale, learning the difference between Tuscan and Parma prosciutto, what Chianti wine is, what type of meat works best in bolognaise, and the efficiency and importance the Italians place on knowing where their food came from.
After purchasing ingredients, we made our way to the kitchen, where the awesome chefs and hosts showed us how to make first bolognaise and tomato sauces before we moved on to the main event – pasta!

Kelly’s technique earned him much praise from the chefs (which of course went straight to his head, but has meant I’ve managed to get out of cooking a lot since!). After we cut up the tagliatelle and squared off the ravioli, we were shown how to layer up a perfect tiramisu – again with praise for teachers pet Kelly- but best of all was getting to eat it all at the end!
We used Florence as a base to do a day trip to beautiful Venice. We took a gondola trip through the canals, strolled across the sinking bridges to admire the views, marvelled at the sinking streets and of course visited the market for lunch!
After the ease of visiting Venice, we also decided to train to Cinque Terre hoping that the limited time we had was going to be enough to enjoy it. On the way, our trains changed in Pisa with just enough time for us to pose in front of the tower, keeping an eye out for surprise hail storms as we did..
Back on the train, the first glimpse of the beautiful coast of Cinque Terre piqued our excitement, the cliffs and azure water zipping by below. We hopped off in Riomaggiore and wandered the tiny, colourful fishing village, before jumping back on the train intending to go to second village – me thinking that was all time would allow. To our despair, we zipped by all but the last village (and that was a relief – suddenly we saw ourselves arriving in Genoa some hours later!) a more developed resort town than Riomaggiore, Monterosso was a long umbrella filled beach, bound by dramatic cliffs at each end. We climbed down to dip into the beautiful deep water and sun ourselves on the rocks, before reluctantly boarding the train(s) back to Florence.
Our whirlwind tour of Italy gave us one more night, in a town on the border between France. Planned more as a break between train journeys as we travelled ultimately to Spain for the La Tomatina festival (more on that next time), Ventimiglia was an unexpected paradise. A stunning beach, backed by dramatic and unique cliffs, with a restaurant lined promenade that was packed for Friday night festivities, including an extremely impressive fireworks display! I was very sad leave – particularly given we had to get up before 5am to catch our first train of the day (an entirely unsatisfactory hour when on holiday!).
So that concluded our Italian chapter – with waistlines definitely expanded, tans topped up, and a new appreciation for high speed trains!

Apologies for the limited photos – we have had a travel casualty in the form of a missing camera cable! Hopefully  it will be replaced soon so we can show beautiful Cinque Terre and Ventimiglia.

Kelly’s pro travel tip:

Travelling through Europe can be expensive. Especially when one of the best bakeries in Florence is sat directly outside your apartment. Best croissants ever. So when you find some activity that you can do for free, it really pays to check it out. One such activity I can recommend: People watching. Whilst more than often this does not pay off, sometimes you stumble upon some absolute gems.

Whilst on the 2nd floor of AirBnB apartment in Florence getting ready for another day exploring, we notice a commotion outside on the street below. “Trelise!” I yell. “Come hither. There’s a hubbub at our local Pasteria”. Outside our newly acquired bakery there was a scene unfolding. A wailing Italian woman was in hysterics, being comforted by some locals. However as she was yelling in Italian I had no idea what she was saying. She was cursing and yelling, gesticulating wildly. All in the direction of our bakery. How could this be?! Maybe she’s unhappy with the pain au chocolat? Madness. Oh shit. Here comes an old lady with the broom. Said old lady lines up the wailing woman. In the nick of time a baker comes out of the store to restrain her (damn you baker boy). Wailing woman has had enough and throws her handbag. Old lady ain’t having none of that and try’s to rip it open and throw it away. At this stage I’ve got my iPad in hand and am leaning halfway out the window, google translate working in overtime trying to figure out the the fuck is going on. Hold my feet Trelise I need to get closer. I look up and every window in the street is full of people. All showing a high degree of nonchalence to the whole scene unfolding below, one guy is just chowing down on a bowl of cereal. I can only gather this is a common thing in the streets of Italy.

Oh lord, here comes a new player to the game in the street below. A nun! What the hell is going on here?! The Nun saunters right into the mire (oh shit here we go!), the gathered crowd thinks it’s all over and the nun is about to dole out some of the lords gospel. Don’t hold your breath Jesus. Nun pushes right through everyone and enters the bakery. Move heathens! the lord demandeth his croissants. Step into her way and he shall be smite you from this world. Jesus must love his pastry. The nun then returned with a full bag of pastries under one arm, not even sparing the peasants  tussling on the street the slightest of glares. Y’all need Jesus.

In this time the old woman had returned after being foiled with the broom, with a bucket of water. Classic move to snap a woman out of histeria right? But again foiled at the last minute. God damn it baker boy! Go cook something, that nun must have cleaned you out anyway. Historical woman tries to fight some ransom guy. Siri can’t keep up with the translation and has refused to go any further. After another ten minutes of wailing most of the residents have had enough and the crowds disperse. What a morning! I’m worn out already.

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First order of business after arriving in Florence

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Kelly impressing the chefs with his pasta skill

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Touristing in Pisa

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We 💜 Venice

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Stunning Florence sunsets

Sailing Croatia

I fear I may have painted our Croatia sailing adventure in a poor light last week – the truth however is that while there is a lot of alcohol involved, so too did it involve an amazing group of people, a beautiful coast line, swimming, sunbathing and simply being on holiday!

We started in Dubrovnik where we were able to meet up with lovely Dana (you will remember as our London tour guide) who was just finishing her own Croatia sailing trip and was able to once again impart words of wisdom over dinner and drinks with her sailing companions.

We explored the walled city, including seeking out the setting for iconic Game of Thrones scenes (fan girl!) before heading to the nearby port to meet our own sailing group. We had a bit of time to kill, so sat in the park near the port surreptitiously checking out other likely looking candidates and crossing our fingers we weren’t the only couple/the oldest/the least party-partyers.

Luckily our fears went unfounded and we met what turned out to be an amazing group of kiwis and Aussies (one token Brit also) – and also our awesome guide Mon – ready to swim, sunbathe, enjoy beautiful Croatia and party the nights away!

Our first group activity was heading back to Dubrovnik old town where we were given a tour of the city by a permanent resident. She was adorable and hilarious and who told us about her own harrowing experiences of the war which I was ashamed to say I had never even realised had occurred, despite it being during my lifetime.

That night was our first dinner as a group where, much to the disapproval of the other diners, our newly elected ‘captain’ tried out the ‘rules’ of the boat. These included (but were not limited to) ‘earthquake’ – which involved everyone dropping to the ground – last person to do so being subjected to progressively more interesting punishments as the week wore on! This proved endlessly hilarious while walking through streets, in restaurants, clubs. Variations became ‘man overboard’ where everyone had to jump into the water (not as fun as you would think three times in a row when you really just want to go back to sleep), and ‘Ducks’ where we had to follow the captain in line, waddling and quacking. Again, hilarious.

Our first full day took us to the Island of Mljet where we anchored for a swim, boated ashore to check out the beautiful national park lakes, before a pirate party of such magnitude that I slept through breakfast until half an hour before the three course lunch that we were fed every day.. Something that became something of a pattern as the week wore on!

The tour took us to Korcula which has a mini walled city similar to Dubrovnik, where we had cocktails at sunset, before on to the famous Hvar. After our morning swim spot, we walked up to the fortress for a view of the city. After, seeking out one of the daytime bars that line the beach front. Later, we drank Long Island iced teas and danced in the street before water taxiing to amazing party Island to continue the night!

The next night Kelly had been nominated captain for his stellar (and hilarious) pole dancing performance in Korcula (one of the clubs featured novelty stripper poles, which naturally became part of the antics) with a big job ahead of him of motivating the team for a third night, this time for the rave in a cave at Makarska.

By this stage, breakfast had become something of a myth, jumping off the upper deck of the boat was replaced with gingerly plonking into the water to float on inflatables and everyone was thoroughly ready for a quiet night. Pity then that 3/4 of the boat woke up more sick than ever, having either obtained some sort of virus, or succumbed to food poisoning from the burgers at an (apparently) dodgy sandwich shop! One of the Croatian crew members recommended a shot of vodka to cure them – alcohol to kill the bugs! While this was laughed off, it didnt escape my notice that that has been the only night alcohol had not been consumed.. Maybe there was some truth in it!

I fortunately didn’t succumb to the lurgy sweeping the boat and while the others (Kelly included – I wasn’t very nurse-like) I walked up the trail to the pirate fortress with two others who had managed to escape illness to catch a view of the bay.

That afternoon we docked in Split, our last night of the sail. Unfortunately, things had still not improved much, with some seeking beds in hotels with proper bathrooms and showers and air conditioning to assist their recovery. While it was a rather miserable end to a fantastic week, we have hopes to catch up with some of those we might be crossing paths with further on our travels!

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Dubrovnik

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Game of Thrones scenes

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Our home away from home

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Stunning swimming spots in Mljet

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The crew being active in Hvar

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Makarska

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Omis

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The rave cave

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The pirate fortress in Omis

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Outside the city walls in Split

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Fabul-Ios, Amazing Athens and Heavenly Hydra!

I write this from the decks of the Jerkic (say Yerk-ich) from Omis on the Dalmation coastline, where we are currently in the midst of a sailing tour. A town that has a long pirate history that I am unfortunately not discovering, due to the week long hangover that is the Croatia sailing tours! But that’s a whole separate post, for I have yet to tell you about our Greek escapades on the beautiful Mediterranean island Ios and our Athens adventure..
Getting to Ios turned out to be a drama in itself – the six hour ferry from Athens scheduled to depart at 330pm did not leave until 6pm, the huge almost galactic-looking catamaran not berthing until after midnight. We found a bench each under a tree in an unkept park near the port in Athens and spent a couple of hours looking for all the world like a pair of homeless people. Luckily our very kind host was there to meet us when we finally showed up in Ios as we were far too tired and cranky to attempt finding our way in the dark! Making us feel even more welcomed was the adorable homemade cookies and a jar of local oregano which grows in abundance over the island.
The first day we took in the beautiful white towns and explored along with the stunning beaches.
The second day saw us hiring an ATV which we used to explore the furtherest beaches of the island, poor Matilda as we dubbed her working like a Trojan to haul our not particularly petite selves up the mountains at 5km an hour!
This showed us views of the dramatic blue coast, the dust from the barren hillsides rendering the horizon hazy.
That night we drank far more than we (I) should and checked out the infamous bars and clubs. As it turns out a very poor idea as I then spent the rocking ferry ride back to Athens in misery.
Luckily we arrived at our Airbnb apartment in Athens with little trouble, the comfy couch, Tv with Netflix and efficient air conditioning a savour!
The next day, recovered and ready for action we wandered through the streets of Athens towards the Acropolis. Passing through the central market which was fantastic (Oh how I love a market!) and stopping along the way for sandals from a handmade leather shop (the first blow out of the trip was in Ios when my current sandals gave up the ghost – never mind! Any excuse for shopping!)
When we finally reached the Acropolis and saw the endless line stretching to the ticket booth it became clear that we were not organised nearly as well as we had been in Rome, and we had a several hour wait in the heat ahead of us if we wanted to enter. Daunted, we climbed a hill with a good view of it, declared it seen and traced our steps back to the market to buy fresh olives, bread, vegetables, feta and houlumi cheese, avocado and capsicum and tomatoes for lunch!
The next day we again headed to the port, this time bound for Hydra, an adorable island just off the coast of the mainland, a two hour journey from Athens. Instantly we were in love. Terracotta roofs clustered along the hillsides above the port, restaurants and bars and shops lining the promenade. Best of all is that vehicles are essentially prohibited, so the islanders employ mules to carry guests luggage and other loads to and from the port. Although I did start to feel sorry for them as the day wore on and the sun beat down.
After hunting out pastries at a bakery (line was out the door – always a good sign!) we started walking around the coastline, rounding the corner to views of the cliffs, dropping into azure sea. Shortly, it got too much to bear and we scurried down the steps to the tempting waves to join the others splashing around.
We later walked to another beach where you could hire sunbeds and umbrellas and order food, which we did for a while, before wandering back to look around town, finding gyzo for lunch (hard to believe we hadn’t tracked them down before!!) and setting off the other way around the island.
Unfortunately, the swimming spots on this side of the island proved elusive, and after my newly purchased jandals had worn away an excruciating blister on my toe we turned back in desperation to find one last swimming spot before the ferry returned to take us back.

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Ios

 

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Swim perfection in Ios

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Excellent Athens market!

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The Acropolis – tick!

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Hydra taxi service

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Kelly making friends with the locals

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Irresistible swim spots

The Aegean dream

From Rome we boarded the train with seconds to spare (literally – the sophisticated Italians looked at us with distaste when we burst on to the train, red faced and panting, having sprinted up four sets of stairs and across the expanse of the station to leap on, the whistle blowing and doors shutting behind us) and travelled south to Puglia, to stay in the coastal town of Brindisi.
We got off the train on a Sunday afternoon to find our selves in a beautiful ghost town – the palm tree lined streets deserted in favour of traditional family Sunday lunch. Our stomachs rumbling and fearing the worst, we managed to stumble into a pizzeria with mere minutes before closing. Luckily, they took pity on us and served us up Margherita pizzas oozing with mozzarella and dotted with devilishly hot cherry tomatoes.Relieved, we ventured back out into the blazing streets to get our bearings.
Brindisi is an old port town, with ancient trading links. The streets were lined with white stone worn smooth and slippery by centuries of pedestrians. The town seemed more traditional village than Rome, a welcome relief after the hordes of tourists in the city. The afternoon rests were observed strictly, and we were recognised immediately as being outsiders – even before we attempted to speak!
We spent three nights here, venturing to the beach one day where we hired an umbrella and beach chairs and read our kindles for hours between dips into the waves to cool off. Our first swims of the holiday!!
We also took a day trip to the nearby town of Ostuni, known as the white city. The old town perched on a hill overlooking the coastline, the terraces of white rise like a castle, the steep and narrow lanes a maze, dotted with hidden shops, restaurants and cafes.
The food in Puglia was as delicious as we had come to expect! We visited the local market one morning, where one stall holder waved away my payment with a grin after kindly helping me select the best pomodoro for our bruschetta lunch. Searching for somewhere to eat on our final evening, we rounded the corner to where the market had been, and found that chairs and tables had been set up in place of the market stalls, diners clinking glasses by candlelight. Treating ourselves we dined on crumbed mussels, octopus from the crockpot and seafood linguine, washed down with a carafe of delicious house white wine.
Another notable dinner was again stumbled across, noticing a long line coming from a seemingly nondescript pizzeria down a lane. We found the diners enjoying fritte, a pizza folded in half and deep fried and something of an institution in Brindisi. Even wrapped in brown paper, the Italian version of takeaways!
Our final day we tried again to head to the beach, but the wind had picked up, leaving the beach deserted and a far cry from the packed expanse of the day prior. More depressing was that the lack of people made the amount of rubbish washed up on the beach apparent – piles of plastic, like seaweed, along the sand, that had been hidden (caused) by the bathers when we were there the first time. A few die hards braving the wind even had their beach chairs casually set up amongst the plastic.
We returned to Brindisi, disheartened, and i also with apprehension, wondering whether the wind that had prevented our beach day was a hint that we might be in for a rough ride when we embarked on our 17 hour long ferry to Greece that evening.

As the boat pulled away from the harbour later that evening, I stared out the window at the receeding lights of Brindisi, nervously checking and double checking for the tell tale rocking and rolling of large swells – a dicey cook strait crossing with green faces forever giving me anxiety about ferry crossings, despite my past island life!
Eventually I closed the curtains and willed myself to get some sleep. A few hours later I woke with a start, to find we had pulled into a Greek port, the sky and hilly landscape pastel pinks and greys against the blue sea. Relieved to have survived the night, I fell back asleep as we continued the journey to our Patras destination.
From there we caught a bus to Loutraki, a gorgeous Greek resort town. With a magnificent pebbly beach, with the kind of water that is perfect for swimming, gets deep instantly and beautiful and clear, we made the most of the sunshine. Even better was the rows of beach recliners and umbrellas free of charge, and waited on from the bars and restaurants that lined the beachfront. We even found a gelato place!

Kelly Pro Travel Tip:

is hot in summer. Freeze a big bottle of water and put in your bag. You’ll have cold water all day. What? I can’t do a serious one?

 

 

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Ostuni – the White city

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Bye Brindisi!

 

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Lovely Loutraki

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Attempting to recreate the local culinary fare

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The road to Rome..

After our Trolltunga adventure we left Odda and it’s terrible showering facilities behind us, boarding first a bus to Voss, to meet the train taking us to Oslo. It was a long journey, but booked because it was supposed to be the most beautiful train ride in the world, and it did not disappoint. The ever-present tunnels (side note: on the bus to Voss we went through tunnels that were so massive they had roundabouts in them!!) acted like a camera, giving us snapshots of the beautiful countryside as we whipped by: scene one – beautiful lake, green hills, adorable red wooden slat house, scene two – huge green expanse, snow tipped mountains..
We arrived into Oslo in the evening and made our way to Grunerlokker, where we were staying in an apartment with air BnB hosts who, to our delight, were cat sitting! Nothing makes you feel at home as a pet!

Grunerlokker was a great area, quite a young scene with lots of bars and restaurants. We only had one night there, and the next day we walked all around the city. Highlights were the architectural opera house on the harbour front, and the fortress we stumbled across which was beautifully maintained and had beautiful views over the water.

That evening we boarded a ferry, the Pearl Seaways, which took us from Oslo to Copenhagen. More a cruise ship than the Cook Strait interislander, we waved goodbye to Norway from the Sky bar with drinks in hand, treated ourselves to dinner in a restaurant and later toured the duty free shops – such luxury!
Our arrival in Copenhagen the next morning was met by confusion – no customs to pass through?! And then a bit of navigating to find train tickets, the train station, somewhere to stow our bags for the day. Activities which took quite a bit of organising and with my empty stomach fast turning “hangry”, Kelly beelined us to the nearest cafe for some much needed coffee and breakfast before things took a turn for the worse!
After that (mood improved you’ll be pleased to note), we wandered the streets of Copenhagen, walking the long High street packed with beautiful shops, street entertainers and shoppers to the Palace garden.

Later, after checking in to another air BnB, we wandered to nearby Christiania – not knowing what to expect, but a place that had come recommended as a must visit by many we’d encountered. The first sign we were in the right place was the man dressed military-esque striding from street side Copenhagen down a slightly overgrown path, joint in hand, cannabis scented smoke trailing behind!

I should probably explain.. Christiania is a free city in the heart of Copenhagen – where cannabis is not so much permitted as tolerated by city officials.  Overgrown trails winding around the lake revealed pretty open spaces with many relaxing in the sun. We walked through the town where sellers offered their wares from behind face coverings (perhaps things are not so complacent as they once were). Most amazingly is that within metres of crossing the city border of Christiania, we were back in the midst of Copenhagen metropolitan! No photos were allowed, but this place truly was a marvel!

The next day saw us boarding a plane to Rome, Italy, and the end of our Scandinavian escapades.

This part of the trip we had initially planned to go to Turkey, but due to recent events, and issues with our insurance, we decided it would be easier to reroute to spend longer in Italy and Greece, saving the lures of the Blue mosque and those hot air balloon filled Cappadochian skies for another time.
Because of the rearranging, things became a little fluid in terms of our itinerary, and we arrived in Rome not quite sure of our plans. But first, pizza!

..And gelato, and buffalo mozzarella, and tomatoes, and prosciutto, and wine, and pasta. And it was delicious! The first full day took us to Testaccio, an old part of Rome where food used to get prepared for the city, to partake in a food tour.  We met up with Gigi our food tour host who showed us, and eight other tourists, some of the great culinary delights of the town. Along with visiting some iconic places, we learnt something of the food as well – that Margherita pizza was made to reflect the colours of the Italian flag, and named for Princess Margharite, and amazingly that there is literally a hill made from broken amphora (vessels that carried all food stuffs). Apparently, given olive oil is a devil to clean out of the clay vessels, they decided it would be much easier to break them up and chuck them in a pile – over 100 years a hill was formed! The temperature inside the hill was discovered to be a perfect store for wine, and served that purpose for many years, though now has restaurants burrowed into the base of all enjoying a perfect temperate respite from the beating Roman sun.
And the gelato! Our final stop on the tour was at a gelateria where we learned that sadly 80% of gelato is not real gelato, and how to tell (naturally, we have now become gelato connesseuirs, minded to screw up our noses when confronted with ‘poofy’ impersonates – however, I still think that there is an argument for trying the fake stuff, if times are tough, you know, from an educational perspective..)

The site of our lesson was at a very prestigious gelato establishment which had been in the family for many a generation. The patron was a true professional – he veto’d some of our companions choices with a very firm non, much to the chagrin of the group! (But truly, who puts coffee and lemon together?! ) I can honestly say that Iv never felt so unsure of myself when picking a dessert!

The food aside (again – fabulous) we spent many hours touring the impressive colosseum, the gigantic Palintine hill and Roman forum, all of which were fascinating and overwhelming in their size, the quality and quality of the ruins.

We also toured Vatican City, joining the throng wandering the halls of the museums to the Sistine Chapel to gaze at the exquisite ceilings, and then to take in the enormity of St Peters Basilica. On our final night we treated ourselves to pasta at a recommended trattoria and then took the metro to visit the Trevi Fountain lit up under the night sky.

An impressive city, amazing to wander around, with hidden treasures to be found around every corner, in seemingly unsuspecting locations! It was hard to squeeze so much into one post, harder again to pick just a few photos to go with it, especially of the museums, and the attractions we visited! There will be more on Facebook if any one is interested! Ciao! Xx

Kelly’s Pro Travel Tip:

We witnessed someone having a seizure in the central train station! Well, I thought it was a seizure until I realised the guy was still upright and what I thought was slurred speech was him actually talking on the phone, the rapid arm movements thought to be uncontrolled spasms were merely an illustration in Italian sign language. This bizarre spectacle confused weary travellers and while knowing Italians gave this flailing man plenty of room, hapless foreigners that strayed too close were repayed with a stray backhand from his wild gesticulating. Italians are by nature very passionate and if you think the above example demonstrates this, you wait until they are talking about food. Such brings me too our friend the gelato man Trelise has mentioned above.

Rome is a large sprawling metropolis home to millions with a crime rate to match. Trelise had inadvertently booked accommodatation in a neighbourhood that would later be described by one local as “ah, the place with the prostitutes”. So you’d think, and rightly so, that I would be very nervous about getting robbed, stabbed or the like. Well friends let me assure you, that this pales in comparison to the paralysing fear that is the simple task of choosing two gelato flavours. Yes that’s right, the delicious creamy treat loved by all. Not a stabbing, not walking through prostitute infested dark alleyways or getting kidnapped. Gelato. Let me set the scene. We’re in a working class neighbourhood in Rome, no one cares to speak English and one is so very passionate about food. Here we are getting our last entertaining speech on gelato when our host has but one final comment “these guys take gelato very seriously, so if you suggest a combination that they do not like they may… direct you to pick another flavour” to which the group laughed and I thought great, here we go, a bit of Italian banter. Boy was I wrong.

Trelise and I were 3rd and 4th in line, an in depth analysis and thought provoking discussion had broken out between the two of us, the pros and cons of each flavour acknowledged and commented upon, as usually does when we decide on food, when the first unsuspecting victim attempts her order. The guy behind the counter is probably about 6 foot but must weigh about 150kg.  Possibly a result of the gelato before him but who could really blame him. Let’s call him Luigi. Anyway, “I’ll have… Coffee and… Lemon” she said. An odd choice I thought but each to their own. Well. No. Not each to their own, luigi’s eyes bulged, face turned red and he let out a barrage of words which luckily no one could understand, dropping his gelato scooping thing he walked away in disgust. The group shrunk back and this poor girl was cowled. SHIT JUST GOT REAL. It was intense, I imagine the atmosphere similar to being held at gun point, one not willing to move should they make a mistake and anger the other.

Luigi, somewhat calmed after a furious discussion with another patron, walked back to the bar. His stoic glare struck fear into every heart. His intention not needing translation. Pick. Another. Flavour. The girl faltered, who could blame her, she started rambling, mumbling through the flavours. She’d obviously slipped into a panic, finally she let out a squeak. “hazelnut?” all eyes in the room shifted to Luigi, his gaze had not left the girl. He moved, everyone held their breath, he shrugged his shoulders in indifference. Acceptable. We all let out our breath.

The game had changed and Trelise and I knew it, we no longer cared about getting what we what we simply wanted to survive. Our collective brain power now turned to compatibility. Does pistachio go with hazelnut!? Jesus Christ, is it OK to go nut on nut?! The next person was up. She shuffled to the bar and let out a barely perceptible whisper ” coffee and… Berry” WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU WOMAN THAT WONT BE OK!? And it wasn’t. Luigi hit the roof. His yelling barely comprehensible to the natives in the bar, he gesticulated wildly, someone near the back of the line started sobbing. It was a messy affair. Once he had calmed down she picked again, “Hazlenut”. Thank god. Go for what you know works people! Trelise looked at me in despair, sweat had broken out and was pouring down our foreheads. She looked to me for help and so I did the only thing I could. I pushed her towards the bar. I’m not proud of it but at this stage it was every man for himself. She meekly made her way to the bar, her frightened expression meeting luigi’s. The odds weren’t in her favour and Luigi knew it. She mustered everything she had “pistachio (good start, yes) and … ricotta.” HOLY SHIT WOMAN THAT IS BOLD. My heart stopped, time seemed to slow, everyone in the room knew this was a gamble but none knew the outcome. Luigi let out a wry smile, someone clapped. It was amazing. Trelise skipped out the door like a school girl having bested a bear. I was next, my heart was racing, knees weak, arms were heavy, there was vomit on my sweater already, Flávio Al Vellavevodeta’s spaghetti (which was delicious, by the way). Luigi stared at me, f$&k it I’m going nut on nut. ” Pistachio and Hazlenut”. He glared and me. I glared right back. He grabbed a cup and filled the order. Grazie, I said as I scampered out the front door.

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The view from the Oslo Opera house – little did we know, it was our ferry in the background!

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Cheers Oslo!

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No photos inside Christiania, but the outside looked like this..

 

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Tasting the fritte

 

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St. Peter’s basilica

Slàn Ireland, velkommen til Norge

Our stay in Belfast was sadly way too short! On our way out of town, on a deadline to get our rental car back to Dublin, we tracked down some of the amazing murals that have been created in tribute to the conflicts that have beseiged the city in times gone by. They were incredible, and only piqued our interest in what had happened in the fascinating city. We both confessed to knowing almost nothing about these, and having ran out of time to take advantage of a Black cab tour or otherwise learning about the city, we had to be content with reading the Wikipedia page on the drive down!

We are fast learning that we need longer in places than we have booked – a whirlwind visit to Belfast and then also Dublin, where we had time to visit the Guinness Storehouse but not much else before our time in Ireland was complete. Good thing we did have time for it though as another thing I have learned on this trip is that Guinness is delicious!

On to the next stage of the adventure, we safely stowed our definitely-more-than 8kg backpacks onto two planes (Kelly possibly incurring injuries from the surreptitious whack needed to squeeze my fat little bag into the available space – never before has needing to get on the plane early have quite so much significance!) first to Oslo and then on to Bergen, Norway. We arrived on a beautiful sunny day to the stunning Bergen – think Queenstown, but bigger – with the dark green mountains lined with picturesque white trimmed wooden houses, giving way to the harbour where massive cruise ships were in port.

We lugged our bags up the pretty streets to our air BnB and after quickly navigating the nearby supermarket (Google translate is a wonderful invention) we sat out on the terrace with our dinner to watch the very late sunset, sighing with the delight of it all.

The next morning, our plans for exploring the beautiful city were dashed – the heavens had opened and within minutes of stepping outside the door we were drenched. We spent a miserable hour navigating the narrow, maze like roads to the Harbourside where we attempted to enjoy the Fish Market, supposedly an attraction selling local delights as well as fish, but instead mostly attempted to stay out of the rain like the other hundreds of tourists who had recently come ashore from the cruise boats.

Deflated, we trudged back to our accommodation. While we had only booked a room in an apartment on air BnB, our hosts were actually away at the time, leaving us with the whole place to ourselves – fortunate in the circumstances perhaps, since we spent the rest of the day camped on the couch reading our books – not the sight seeing extravaganza I had envisaged! Ah well, we shouldn’t have been surprised, apparently Bergen has the highest rainfall in Norway – locals say there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. While I agree in principle, there’s nothing quite so defeating as soaked, clinging jeans..

Infuriatingly, the next day dawned stunning – as it must of course, given we were spending it travelling! But it was stunning, and the view from the bus was incredible. Half the time we gazed out at lakes and fjords surrounded by mountains, dotted with the most adorable colourful wooden houses, each belonging in the pages of storybooks. The other half of the time was spent underground in increasingly extensive tunnels – 10km tunnels are apparently unremarkable in this part of the world! The bus trip also included a ferry ride – the bus itself zooming onto a barge which immediately chugged to the other side of a fjord – such efficiency! I was very impressed.

We arrived in the township of Odda in the afternoon. We donned our backpacks and began the 1 km trek to our next accommodation, a cabin at the Odda camping ground, and our base camp for our hike Trolltunga. While only 1 km, this walk was probably the first time I have truly appreciated our decision to carry on only. It appears that Odda is located at end of an ancient glacier, while the Odda camping ground is to the end of the moraine pushed along by the ice. As we marched directly up and over the hill, red faced and puffing, I looked over to a fellow traveller lugging almost twice what we were carrying and breathed a sigh of relief!

But that brief trek was to be only a warm up for our next days adventure. The hike to Trolltunga while not the highest we have done, but, at 23 km, definitely the longest.

We departed at 7am, clambering up through the trees to gain some 700m of height within 4 km. From there, another 7km around the ridge line to reach the iconic slab jutting out hundreds if not thousands of meters above the glacial pond below. Having reached the rock at just on 1130, my knees turned weak as I peered over the edge at the people posing on the rock – how the hell was I going to stand on that tiny stone?!

Thankfully, Kelly bravely volunteered to go first while I rustled up some courage and stared in horror at those with death wishes dangling their feet over the edge, convinced that at any second someone was going to tumble off into the nothing below..

Then it was my turn – all of about two seconds of it, was all of my already shaking legs could handle before I scurried back to solid ground, as you’ll see below, token snap ticked off!

Kelly’s Pro Travel Tip: Strap yourself in team this is a long one. Always be Organised. Isn’t it an absolute delight to de-stress after a long hard day with a well earned shower. How one can walk in feeling out of sorts, dirty and tired only to walk out a fresher, newer version of ones self. Such simple pleasures we take for granted. Well friends this much anticipated daily task only becomes more rewarding when travelling the dusty, crowded trails of Europe and so naturally they charge you for the experience. One such place we stayed at has the price of happiness set at around $3.30 for 5 minutes or, in other words, 40 dollars an hour. So what was once an enjoyable experience has now turned into a stress inducing episode in time management. I refer you briefly back to the past Pro Travel Tip in which my worldly advice noted the need to carry coins in ones pockets. I must revise this to ensure the correct coins are carried. After finding the shower, a task unto its self (unisex showers? Bloody hope so) I find an open cubicle. Stress the word cube-icle, swinging a cat in such an enclosure would result in a bloody tail in your hands and scraped knuckles. You then haphazardly stack all your belongings on a shelf designed to hold nothing more than the tail of the above mentioned cat, dubiously close to the actual path of the water. Once pleased nothing will fall onto the waterlogged floor, your own feet positioned a few perilous millimetres above care of some questionable quality Warehouse havaianas, you then proceed to insert the coin into the box for the shower currently occupied by some singing German. Damnit. Once you get the right coin, in the right box the timer starts. Like an episode of 24 the time starts to tick away, precious seconds are lost just walking back to the cubicle. Once in, you realise you’re still fully clothed ( why did you wear a jersey to the shower!?), your gear on the shelf is about to fall in the water, you haven’t yet worked out how to turn the Norwegian shower on and you wonder how the hell you get your pants off while keeping your Jandals on so as not to touch whatever is growing on the floor or the pile of hair gathered in the corner making plans to escape. AND FOREVER THE CLOCK TICKS ON. So you muster everything you have left mentally and the inevitable panic sets in, a bead or sweat forms on the brow. You start undressing only to realise you haven’t locked the door, you manage to take off your pants with Jandals on (magician) throw the clothes onto the shelf hoping nothing falls and proceed to slip slide your way closer to the shower, what that German must have thought was happening next door who knows, perhaps a bear attack, invasion of Normandy? The singing had definitely stopped I’ll tell you that much. I’ll save you the next part in the story but it was a flurry of hands going hell for leather with the soap.
After all said and done you emerge, a fragile emotional wreck, barely clean yet sweating still. An experience to say the least.

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We write from pretty Odda (or over the hill from there)

 

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Belfast murals

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Well deserved Guinness at the Guiness Storehouse

 

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Beautiful Bergen 

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To not-so-beautiful Bergen 

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Trolltunga – we did it!

 

Castle hunting

We write from Belfast, having left you in Galway, and having spent the last few days taking in so much more of the dramatic Irish landscape, incredible history and delicious food!

We toured The Burren, an area south of Galway where there are a number of amazing castles, monuments and historic landmarks. We visited Dungaire Castle, a tower house that has been restored and maintained and now is a venue for medieval banquet nights – how I wish we could have gone to one of those! But we were able to climb right to the roof and gaze out over the harbour it fronts, trying to spot Hookers, the iconic Galway fishing boats.

Next up was a rock monument called the Poulnabrone dolmen. It is a portal tomb and dates back to between 4500 and 2900 BC. It’s set in a karst landscape, where the limestone ground has been eroded by way of chemical reaction with rainwater (Kelly says for those interested: CaCO3+H2CO3→Ca2++2 HCO3− ) to form channels and deep holes along the ground. Apparently, in 1985, it was discovered that there were bodies buried underneath it dating from the Bronze Age, around 1700 BC.

As fascinating as all of that was, I have to confess that I was much more excited by the adorable horses that came over from the neighbouring field for a scratch!

Next on the list was the iconic Cliffs of Moher, and they truly were fantastic! On this trip there has been no shortage of dramatic landscapes – but the cliffs, with their sheer drops hundreds of metres straight into the snarling waves was something else! Even the weather, grey and moody, seemed only to add to the effect. We were able to walk right up the edge and peer down (no handrails!) searching for the red beaked puffins from the puffin colony perched below.

Speaking of impressive, Friday took us to the Kylemore Abbey in the Connemara. Like something from a fairytale, the huge castle is set against a backdrop of a beautiful forest and overlooks a lake. It was bought and converted from a lodge into a family home (a castle!) for a very wealthy English family, though was later sold to Benedictine nuns who escaped the horrors of WWII and who remain there now, until recently running a prestigious boarding school. The grounds are extraordinary – 10,000 acres of land, and complete with a Neo-gothic chapel, mausoleum and huge walled garden that is being restored to its glory. We were allowed in some of the downstairs rooms of the castle, and while I was dying to see upstairs (apparently there are 33 bedrooms! Only four bathrooms though – that doesn’t seem enough?!) the authentically decorated dining room and drawing room were enough to fulfil my Downton Abbey dreams!

Knowing we had a big drive ahead, we stayed at an air BNB in a small village called Newport which was further along our path. We had taken a chance and booked a listing that had only just started and had no reviews, and it totally paid off! The hosts were so kind to us, the room was beautiful and in an incredible restored 1840s Georgian mansion set on the river, and we were even given a box of chocolates to celebrate us being their first guests!

Well rested and well fed from our luxurious stay (we were given Irish soda bread, coffee and croissants for our breakfast – a run is looking necessary, but food is definitely the key to this Air BNB guest/reviewers heart), we set off towards Nothern Ireland and that other iconic feature, the Giants Causeway. Being the weekend, it was understandable that it was packed, but packed it was, making taking a photo without getting another selfie-snapping tourist in it quite a feat!

But The Causeway was amazing – giant rectangular paving stones forming evenly laid paths, stacked in neat columns, or thrown haphazardly into the tide – conjuring visions of perfectionist mythical giants working tirelessly at their tasks.

We drove past the site of the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, another place we wanted to visit, but our wallets lighter after the Giants Causeway (expensive!) and spying the car park groaning with tour buses we decided against a wait in the rain and turned our car south towards the City of Belfast, and our home for the night.

Kelly’s pro travel tip: Always carry a few coins in your pocket, toilets are few and far between in Ireland so when you see one you best use it. Walking through the mall in Galway I see the sign and think yes, best take advantage of this little gem, so after ten long minutes of trying to find the damn thing I get to the door only to realise there is a turnstile and a 20 cent entry fee. What the hell is this then!? Let me tell you there is nothing more soul destroying then trudging back to find your girlfriend in the ladies clothing department (which is awkward enough for any guy – where are you supposed to look anyway?!? God help you if you make eye contact with someone, take it easy lady I’m not here to try anything on) and holding your hand out and asking if you can have 20 cents to use the toilet.

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Selfies outside Dunguaire Castle

 

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The Cliffs of Moher

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The amazing Kylemore Abbey

 

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Finally a  Kelly-sized door!

 

 

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The Giants Causeway