Category: Travel-tastic

First (Greece) impressions don’t always count

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram (if not, why not?!) you’ll know I’ve recently returned from a 10 day trip to Greece.

This was split into two parts; 3 nights in Athens on mainland Greece, and 7 nights on the island of Santorini. It had been in the planning, technically, for 13 years; the Santorini part, at least, since we first got together. I included it on a travel bucket list a couple of years back. The Athens part was an add on – a “makes sense to do it while we’re in the area”, if you will. .

Oh, and it was also our 10th wedding anniversary trip. No pressure then!

So, here’s the deal. When you build something up in your head, you want it to be perfect, right? And when it’s not immediately perfect, it freaks you out, right?

Welcome to our holiday to Greece.

Athens

We arrived in Athens and it was raining – strike 1. The hotel room looked nothing like the pictures on the website – strike 2 (although kudos to their photographer for polishing what wasn’t quite a turd, but wasn’t the luxurious dwelling we’d been led to expect).

Although it did have the promised Acropolis view from the balcony.

View of the Acropolis from the Metropolis Hotel in Athens

The husband couldn’t get a draught Mythos (Greek beer) as we sheltered from the rain – strike 3.

It wasn’t the positive start to our trip I’d hoped for.

Now, whilst this is completely irrational (as am I), when things don’t go smoothly on holiday I feel responsible. As the organiser it’s my responsibility to make it great. I know I can’t control everything (e.g the weather), but I also take that as a personal affront. It’s one of my quirks.

But when the sun came out and a rainbow appeared, I hoped for the best!

Rainbow from balcony at Metropolis Hotel Athens

Santorini

Fast forward then 3 days, to our arrival on the beautiful island of Santorini. Our pre-booked private transfer wasn’t at the airport when we arrived – strike 1. Once again our hotel room wasn’t as expected – strike 2. But the biggest kick in the teeth of all, Oia, the “village” we were staying in, was really really crowded. Uncomfortably so. There were selfie sticks, and walking tours, and cruise ship visitors desperately trying to cram in the essence of the island in a few short hours.

Obviously you can’t tell from these pictures!

View of white buildings, sea and caldera islands in Oia Santorini

Caldera view from Oia Santorini

But neither of us felt the burst of love we’d hoped for after 13 years of wanting to visit.

It was gutting.

The outcome

I’ll save you the sleepless nights until I share my full travel posts, but it all ended well. Better than well, in fact. The Athens room was just a base, so not the end of the world. The beer got better. We saw some amazing sights. And, as for Santorini, the room was really really nice, once we adjusted our pre-conceived expectations. And Oia is the most beautiful place I have EVER been to in my life. It’s just a case of timing it right and avoiding the crowds, which we managed on multiple occasions.

Stay tuned for more…

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

3 days in Dubrovnik

As I gear up for my next holiday (3 nights in Athens and 7 nights in Santorini, starting Saturday, whoop!) I realised I haven’t blogged about my last trip, to Dubrovnik. It’s not like I haven’t had time or anything, the trip was 2 months ago and I’ve been off work for 5 weeks now <<sore point>>. But I didn’t so I’m going to correct that fact and tell you about it now.

I’m not sure when and why going to Dubrovnik became one of my travel priorities, but it was definitely already right up there back in April 2016 when I wrote a list of places I wanted to visit. The architecture, city walls and coastal location made it a really appealing city break; small enough to get around in a few days but enough to do and see to fill the time and feel the city. Of course, later we started watching Game of Thrones, some of which is filmed in Dubrovnik, and my interest was piqued.

We stayed outside of the city walls, in the Ploce area of the city, which means we woke up to the iconic city view of Dubrovnik from our terrace each morning.

Dubrovnik city view from our apartments

This, to me, was more important than being right in the city centre, because it meant we could choose accommodation with outside space (more of a rarity in the city), enjoy a sea view, get dropped off and picked up right outside our accommodation (no taxis or private vehicles are allowed inside the city walls so you could face quite a walk with your luggage) and it was cheaper too.

Looking right from our terrace was a view of Lokrum island.

Lokrum Island view from our apartment

I’d recommend the Ploce are for the above reasons BUT do be aware that it is very steep with hundreds of steps; think about it – to get those iconic city views you need to be quite high up. Walking down is tough enough, but walking back up in the heat of the day (in fact, at any time of day!) is a killer.

Steps from Ploce to Old Town

I’d read before we went that Uber taxis are plentiful and cheap so, after doing the walk once, we used a cab every time. Most phone providers allow you to use your phone plan including data in Croatia, so just download the app and let them take the strain. It usually cost about £3 for a one way journey, which was nothing between the three of us, and in a short break it doesn’t really add up too much. Plus, steps. Seriously. Without the cab I’d have spent a lot more time in the apartment, with broken hamstrings.

Speaking of the apartment, I found it on Booking.com which has a good range of accommodation of all types. Ours was a 2 bedroom apartment with a lounge, kitchen diner, bathroom, and a huge terrace with those city views.

Suzy Apartments terrace

Suzy apartments covered terrace

It made the trip feel a bit more like a holiday than just a city break, because it meant we could eat breakfast outside in the morning, or sit and relax in the afternoon and evening sun after a day of sightseeing. From what I saw during my research, much of the accommodation in Dubrovnik is in private independently owned apartments which are quite dated in style. Don’t be surprised to find a blue bathroom suite or 80s décor. The larger, more cosmopolitan hotels are further away from the Old Town. Inside the City Walls expect to have to carry or wheel your suitcase over bumpy cobbles, and potentially up many narrow stairs if you’re staying on one of the steep side streets.

So, the city itself. As I said, the main part of Dubrovnik is inside the City Walls, accessible from Ploce Gate on one side and Pile Gate on the other. Ploce Gate was, in our experience, the lesser used of the two entrances and a more dramatic (therefore enjoyable) experience.

City Walls and Ploce gate

Ploce Gate Dubrovnik

You have views of the sea, and the old harbour, and Lokrum Island, plus of course the steep walls surrounding the city and back towards Ploce.

Dubrovnik harbour view from Ploce Gate

View through Ploce Gate wall

Dubrovnik Old Harbour looking back to Ploce

Pile Gate is the one used by most cruise ship arrivals (of which there are many in high summer) and is so busy there’s an operational one way walking system for in and out. Don’t be confused about entering the City Walls (to get into the city centre, which is free), and visiting the City Walls (which is a walk around the summit of the walls and is chargeable).

The Old Town is fairly compact and it’s easy to get your bearings and to get around. The main street (Stradun) runs from the Ploce Gate side to the Pile Gate side, and the smaller streets mainly form a grid system, with narrow passageways crammed with eateries which occasionally open up into larger squares. It’s incredibly clean with beautiful architecture.

Dubrovnik Centre

Dubrovnik church

For a different view of the city, take to the sea! The ferry to Lokrum Island (more on that another time) will give you a different perspective on the port, but it’s also worth going on a speedboat trip which takes you to the other side of the city walls along the coastline.

Speedboat City Walls from the sea

Speedboat trip City Walls from the sea

Speedboat trip Dubrovnik City Walls

It then heads out to and and all the way round Lokrum (the Lokrum ferry only goes to the port, so you won’t see the “back” of the island, including the stunning cave below with crystal clear water) before sailing back along the Adriatic coastline.

Speedboat trip looking back at the City Walls

Speedboat trip heading towards Lokrum Island

Lokrum Island inland cave

Adriatic Coast

Speedboat trip Adriatic Coast

We paid 40 euros total for a private 45 minute trip for 3 people (it was 30 euros total to share with other people, and we don’t really like other people so it was a no brainer!) There are lots of boat trips available from the Old Town harbour. You’ll see from the pics you can also do sea kayaking over to Lokrum, but no thank you!

Dubrovnik is just as beautiful by night. Everything is lit up and reflections twinkle in the water. The white marble floor of the main street (Stradun) glistens; there’s almost an other worldy glow about the city.

Nighttime in Dubrovnik Old Town

Stradun at night time

Dubrovnik old town harbour by night

Dubrovnik by night

Dubrovnik city walls by night

Stradun by night

In my next Dubrovnik post I’ll talk about visiting the city walls (hint, there were a lot more steps!) and the cable car to Mount Srd.

Have you been to Dubrovnik? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

A visit to Moffat and the Annandale Arms Hotel

Remember in my life update post I mentioned that I’d been to Scotland? The purpose of the trip was a meeting the husband needed to go to in East Kilbride, but he suggested we stay in a little town called Moffat. He’d been there before so was familiar with the area, and he booked us into the Annandale Arms Hotel, right in the middle of the High Street.

We arrived to a very warm and friendly welcome and, even though we were earlier than the allocated check in time, our room was ready so we were able to settle in. The hotel has a comfortably furnished reception area, good size dining room and a small bar.

Annandale Arms reception desk

Annandale Arms hotel reception

Annandale Arms lounge area

Annandale Arms cosy corner

The room was bright and airy with two huge sash windows, and the bathroom had a large powerful shower. It was quite obvious that everything had been recently refurbished, and to a good standard.

So, what’s in Moffat?

Not a lot really – as I mentioned it’s only a small town, but it’s very quaint. Picturesque houses, bunting in the street and some nice independent shops; unfortunately we hadn’t realised that Wednesday appears to be a half day for most of the retailers so we were restricted to browsing through the windows (of the shops, not the houses!)

Moffat quaint house

Moffat side street

Moffat Weavers Tweed Shop

Moffat pub and rooms

I did pick up a couple of good planting tips though. This chair planter would be easy to recreate – I’d paint it a bright pink colour I think.

Moffat chair planter

This quirky record planter made my vinyl purist husband shudder, such a waste of records! It wouldn’t hurt if they were rubbish ones though I don’t think?

Moffat record planter

There are a handful of teashops and quite a few pubs – we had lunch at the Rumblin Tum cafe, and then stopped off at the Black Bull for a drink – again recently refurbished and a lovely place to drink, eat or stay.

The old cemetery in Moffat is home to graves from the 1800s. I find old cemeteries fascinating – the detail on the graves of the family and the ages they died.

Moffat cemetary

Moffat cemetary view

There was a large memorial in the middle of the cemetery.

Memorial in Moffat cemetary

And this plaque outside on the gates.

Moffat cemetary sign

Devils Beef Tub is a 500 ft deep hollow formed by four hills. It’s a popular tourist walk these days, but in the 1800s it was obviously less traversable. John McAdam, mentioned, was the inventor or “macadamisation” – an effective and economical method of building roads which did much to improve travel and communication.

St Andrews church has been in situ for 125 years.

Moffat church

The Star Hotel is the narrowest hotel in the world! It’s in the Guinness Book of Records!

With the onset of rain and a strong breeze (typical that our trip coincided with the end of the heatwave!) we headed back to the Annandale Arms.

We ate dinner and breakfast in the hotel, and both meals were amazing. For dinner I had pate to start, and the husband had haggis moneybags (haggis wrapped in thin pastry). For main we both had venison which was absolutely sublime. Tender, well cooked, just incredible, and served with black pudding mash (yum).

At breakfast we both went for kedgeree, which again was fresh and flavoursome and delicious.

Both dinner and breakfast menus were very comprehensive, with lots of choice. The hotel obviously prides itself on the quality of it’s produce and it shows through.

One last highlight was the duvet, which is the best bed cover I have ever slept under IN MY LIFE and, when we checked out, one of the staff members kindly went back to the room and took a photograph of the label for me so that I can track one down to recreate the Moffat experience here in Birmingham!

It was a short but very sweet trip, and I’d have no hesitation in recommending the town and the hotel to anyone. It would be an ideal stop over when heading further up to the Scottish Highlands, which is something we’ve talked about doing in the future (just add it to the ever growing list of places we want to visit!)

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

A visit to Port de Soller, Majorca

When we started planning our long weekend in Palma, I began researching feasible day trips that would compliment our visit without taking up too much time. It’s nice to get out of a city and see some of the surrounding areas if your visit permits (like the time we went to Cannes and Antibes while staying in Nice, or when we took the train to Annecy on the French Swiss border from our base in Lyon). I read a blog post by Stephanie at Priceless Life of Mine singing the praises of Port de Soller, and another by Sima at The Curious Pixie and Port de Soller became art of our travel itinerary.

What we didn’t bank on was a last minute change to our itinerary thanks to rain on our arrival, then road closures in Palma on the morning we planned to take the open top bus tour because of a public running race meaning we brought the train journey to Soller forward a day. Which is why we missed an earlier train than I would have liked!

The trainline from Palma to Soller has been operational since 1911. Port de Soller was starting to boom in the late 1800s but, being quite isolated on the other side of the mountains, links to the capital Palma were slow and limited. The trainline tunnels through the mountains, making the journey a palatable one hour long, with some lovely scenery along the way. The train itself is old and wooden and leaves from the Ferrocaril de Soller station in Palma just 6 times a day. It’s a popular tourist attraction with a limited number of carriages, so arriving early to book your ticket is recommended (we actually just missed the previous train, because it was fully booked).

Inside the train there are no real comforts! Seats are bench style on either side of the carriage and there are opening windows. That’s pretty much all you can say! No air con, no toilets and no refreshments. And it’s wonderful for it.

Inside the train

Wooden train to Soller

As I mentioned, the journey takes around an hours, during which time you snake through countryside, alongside the Serra de Tramuntana mountains (a world UNESCO site) and through tunnels before emerging on the other side at the inland town of Soller.

Now, the original plan (in my head) had been to have a wander around Soller – there isn’t an awful lot there but the architecture looks pretty and there’s a nice church and some botanical gardens. But, as I said, we were already later than we’d have liked to be, plus there appeared to be a cycling race happening in Soller (more plan scuppering healthy people!) and, in truth, we were hungry, so we hopped on the first tram which took us down to the port.

Wooden tram to Port de Soller

The trams are also wooden and run on electric from the town in the hills about 3km down to sea level and along the beach front. It pays to keep your eyes open to avoid finding yourself in the path of one (ears are less useful as they’re very very quiet).

Open tram at Port de Soller

There isn’t an awful lot to do in Port de Soller really, but sometimes that’s nice, don’t you think? We ambled along the front, watched people braving the sea (although it was a beautiful day the water is still cold in early May), looked at the boats and found a nice place for lunch where I had Majorcan aubergines and 2 large glasses of sangria.

I’d already decided that we should get the bus back, because the return train timetable to Palma is as intermittent as on the way there, with long waits between trains if you miss one. It also afforded us some different views as we snaked along the mountain paths.

The bus stopped off at the mountain village of Valldemossa, you can see how high it is in the mountains by the clouds hovering over the top of the buildings.

Again I would have like to have had a walk around, but it was getting rather late and we’d already walked quite a lot that day (my Mother in Law was with us, so I had to be considerate – not my strongest point when we’re sightseeing!) so we stayed on the bus back to Palma.

Imagine living in this house! Beautiful, until you get home and realise you’ve forgotten the milk (or wine!)

House in the Serra de Tramuntana mountains Majorca

It was great to see another side of Majorca; it has a reputation for being just a beach destination but I hadn’t realised how green and mountainous it is away from the coast, which is a great draw for hikers and mountain bikers.

Missed my other Palma posts? Read an overview of our visit here and about Palma cathedral here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Palma Cathedral

Building work on Palma Cathedral or, to give it it’s full name, the Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, started in 1229 and wasn’t finished until 1601. It’s Catalan Gothic style has undergone work and changes throughout the centuries to bring it to the point it’s at today. It has one of the largest rose windows in the world (known as the Gothic Eye) and is the main focus of Palma’s coastline, overlooking the Parc de la Mer and the port.

As often happens with me and tourist attractions, I got so engrossed that I couldn’t stop looking at it and taking photographs. Even though we passed it multiple times during our short stay, I never tired of marvelling at the detail or the sheer scale of the building.

Palma Cathedral in the sunshine

In truth, for me, the outside was probably more impressive than the inside, purely from an aesthetic point of view. I mean, just look at that detail! The intricate carvings and turrets are incredible. But the Gothic Eye and other stained glass windows are very beautiful and bathe the light stone interior in lots of colours, and for just 7 euros entrance fee it’s certainly worth a visit.

It’s also possible to book a tour of the cathedral terraces, which aren’t open to the general public, but we didn’t get chance on this occasion.

There’s always next time…!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

A weekend in Palma de Mallorca

I’m quite the fan of going away for May Bank Holiday weekend – you get an extra day “free” and generally the weather in Europe is better than at home so its good time to soak up a bit of culture and avoid the wash out that is usually a UK bank holiday.

Imagine my chagrin then, when the weather forecast in the lead up to our weekend in Palma last month was predicting rain, while the UK was in for a heatwave? That’s not how it’s supposed to work! (although, thinking about it, our May Bank Holiday trip to Lyon a couple of years ago came with rain and wind, although at least the UK had the decency to be having the same weather at home).

Ever the optimist (seriously, I’m the kind of person who will look through ALL the weather forecasts until I find one I like!) off we went on our early morning flight to Palma with me declaring it would “all be fine” and if it does rain “it won’t last long”.

Well, it was raining when the plane touched down, raining when we left airport arrivals and absolutely torrentially bucketing down by the time the taxi dropped us off at our hotel about an hour later. It was too early to check in and we were only in the city for 3 nights so we left our luggage at the hotel, dug out our brollies and headed out into the narrow cobbled street (me in open toed sandals, told you I’m an eternal optimist, I didn’t pack any wet weather shoes!)

It rained all the way through lunch in Placa Espanya (although I still insisted on sitting outside “because were on holiday” even though we got dripped on from the welcome but not completely covering us awnings) but by the time I’d finished my second goldfish bowl glass of sangria the clouds had started to break and that was that for the whole weekend.

Palma de Mallorca is the capital of Majorca, largest of the Balearic Islands and around 2.5 hours flight from Birmingham. Lots of people land on the island and head straight to the beach resorts, and of course there’s the hideous party town of Magaluf that doesn’t do Majorca’s reputation any favours but the island is very beautiful, with so much more to offer than white sands, cheap beer and a really good climate (arrival day excepted). Just 20 minutes in a taxi from the airport, the capital is a maze of cobbled streets, bright plazas, a bustling harbour with cruise ships coming in and out and the piece de resistance, Palma Cathedral. It has a wealth of great shopping opportunities (we weren’t there to shop, but if you were you wouldn’t be disappointed), some great food and wonderful architecture.

We did our usual open top bus tour to get a feel for the city, wandered through narrow streets, ate delicious ice cream, looked up at the buildings, looked out at the sea, took a train journey away from the city and up through the mountains (more on that in another post) and generally just had a lovely time.

Here are some pics.

Palma Cathedral

We stayed at the Dalt Murada hotel which is in the Gothic Quarter and very well located for the cathedral, seafront and lots of places to eat. It’s a 16th century building situated on a very narrow side street which would, at some point, been lived in by a well to do family. There’s lots of dark wood, stone floors and old paintings, a bright breakfast room opening up on to an internal courtyard (we didn’t eat breakfast in the hotel) and a rooftop terrace with views towards the cathedral. It was reviewed in The Telegraph and I’d say it’s pretty bang on. I’d always rather have a bit of character than a faceless place to stay, given the choice.

Have you ever been to Palma? Or to Majorca? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

A visit to Wollerton Hall Gardens

Ever since my garden has become my new favourite thing, it’s fair to say I’m obsessed with all things horticultural. I spend at least one lunchtime each week in the garden centre, I like nothing more than potting up pretty plants for my patio and I’ve started collecting shrubs for my newly cleared borders which are a wonderful blank canvas for me to start planning.

So when I saw that Gardeners World had a 12 month 2 for 1 gardens entrance card in their May magazine, I was all over it.

I’ve only used it once so far, when I went to Wollerton Hall Gardens last weekend.

The entrance fee is £7, or just £3.50 each with the 2 for 1 card. It’s probably quite expensive, for what it is, if like me you just wanted to have a meander and a bit of a nose. It’s certainly not a whole day out, but there is a nice tea room so you could probably get a couple of hours out of it. It’s a shame the (grade II listed, timber framed) hall isn’t open to the public but it’s beautiful to look at from the outside, and everything is immaculate.

The gardens are separated into “rooms” – each one with a different theme and/or colour scheme.

Poppies Wollerton Old Hall

Topiary Wollerton Old Hall

Lessons from our visit:

a) I need some poppies

b) I need some alliums (the purple ball shape flowers, top left)

c) I need to train my climbing roses

Are you a garden fan? Visiting, doing? I’m already looking for places to visit next!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

 

Rome – where we stayed and where we ate

It’s my final post about Rome, promise (until I go back again – which I most definitely will). I thought I’d do a quick round up of the more practical things – sleeping and eating!

Hotel Antica Dimora delle Cinque Lune
This hotel was marvellous; situated on the top 3 floors of a 6 story building, I can’t honestly remember how or why we chose it (which is unusual for me) but it ticked the boxes in terms of location (5 minutes one way to Piazza Navona, and 5 minutes the other way to the bridges crossing the River Tiber for the Vatican City) and quirkiness (the room was very gothic).

 

The lobby area on our floor had an opulent lounge area.

 

And the wooden shutters in our bedroom opened up on to candy coloured buildings and pavement cafes.

 

 

 

Breakfast was served on the roof with views across the city.

Hotel Antica Dimora del Cinque Lune Rome breakfast terrace view

Breakfast was standard continental fare – pastries, yoghurts, fruit, boiled eggs, cooked meats and pizza slices (when in Rome!). The staff were super helpful; storing our bags before check in and after check out so we could make the most of our time in the city, supplying maps and recommendations and generally just being really friendly and approachable. I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Rome.

Caffe Bianco
Caffe Bianco RomeOur first meal in Rome was at a little bistro near Piazza Navona, where we ate bruschetta and pasta with a glass of wine for just 12 euros each (our expenditure on food increased massively after this point!) We sat outside under patio heaters and watched the world go by and it was lovely. It is possible to eat cheaply in Rome, contrary to my expectations, but with it being my birthday trip we splashed out on some nicer places which made the break more expensive than it could have been.

433 restaurant
433 restaurant RomeWe spotted this place whilst wondering back to our hotel on our first evening, and said immediately we’d go back there to eat. It was all lit up with fairy lights, had warm welcoming patio heaters outside and just looked so quaint and pretty, plus the menu ad us drooling before we’d even got through the door! This is up there as one of my most memorable restaurant experiences ever; we sat tucked in a corner by the window, drinking chianti, and had the most incredible steak wrapped in bacon and truffle. It was PHENOMENAL.

Caffe Sant Anna
This was the lowest point of our dining in Rome, and kind of our own fault for not researching in advance. We had time for lunch in the Vatican City between our Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica visits so stopped off at this place as it “looked nice”. Big mistake. We ordered a glass of wine each and the guy bought us a bottle. No matter; I’m not averse to daytime drinking and we thought perhaps they didn’t serve wine by the glass. The husband ordered a salad, and I ordered gnocchi, and while we were waiting for our food I checked TripAdvisor where there was review after review about the poor quality of the food (microwaved), and the discrepancies in final bills, people being overcharged, people being charged for things they hadn’t ordered – the general consensus was AVOID THIS RESTAURANT! Too late for us, we hoped for the best, but their poor reputation was proven when I watched my gnocchi be spooned into a bowl from a deli counter and then microwaved until it was so hot I couldn’t eat it, the husband’s salad was pretty much devoid of anything other than leaves, and the final bill showed 35 euros for the bottle of wine, when I knew it was only 25 euros on the menu. I challenged the wine price while the husband used the bathroom; the waiter gave me some bullshit excuse about having given us someone else’s bill by mistake (how convenient other people were eating what we were but drinking a more expensive wine?!) and the husband came back with reports of blood smeared all over the toilet. 55 euros down, no tip and a very sharp exit, as well as a lesson learned!

Osteria Dell Anima
We’d spotted this on our wanderings as well, and put it on the list to visit purely for the veal in truffle sauce (I do love how restaurants in Europe display their menus outside so you can make sure there’s something you want before you’re seated at a table). We arrived fairly late, and the restaurant was empty, but we were assured they were very much open and very much still serving. The lack of atmosphere and surly attitude of the staff, along with the fact I was trying to order a replacement oven online because our builder at home, in the final phases of work pre-Christmas, had told me by text that I wouldn’t have an oven for Christmas Day (we were hosting both Christmas and Boxing Day dinners!) made for quite a strange dining experience, but the meal itself was incredible. Truffle sauce – yowsers!

Clemente Alla Maddalena
Situated in one of Rome’s many piazzas, we stopped here for lunch on my birthday. Undeterred by winter, the restaurant had placed the outdoor terrace undercover and supplied blankets and patio heaters which added to the lovely atmosphere (I’m a big advocate of sitting outside whenever possible). We drank rose wine under the fairy lights and ate spaghetti bolognese (small portion, but very very tasty) and I decided that being 40 wasn’t so bad after all.

Cantina e Cucina
The husband had researched my birthday meal and found a lovely restaurant but, when we arrived, they had a private party on and weren’t catering for anyone else. He was understandably gutted, but I suggested we head back down the road to Cantina e Cucina which I’d read very good reviews of on TripAdvisor. The restaurant was lovely; very rustic Italian with checked table cloths, candles in wine bottles and herbs hanging from the ceiling. So welcoming and cosy with very friendly staff.

 

To start I had deep fried artichoke, which is a Roman speciality,  and the husband had the biggest bucket of calamari – we couldn’t actually finish it all. We both had  veal saltimboca for main. It was all ok, just not what I expected (my fault for ordering off piste) but the wonderful atmosphere, and the candlelight, and the chianti made everything amazing anyway, even if the food wasn’t the star of the show. Oh and I got a tiramisu with a sparkling candle and the waiter sang Happy Birthday; what’s not to like?!

Napoletano’s
Taken as I was with the Pantheon, along with it’s proximity to our hotel, it made sense that our last lunch of the holiday would be eaten at one of the restaurants facing the magnificent building before our car for the airport arrived. We settled on Napoletano’s for it’s perfect positioning, outdoor tables and a very welcoming waiter. Even though it was barely lunchtime (about 11.50am!) I was determined to finish the holiday with a lasagne and…you guessed it…more chianti!

 

And it was magnificent. Really rich sauce and perfectly al dente pasta. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, a busker was playing songs that filled the piazza, and we both swore that we would be back again to this most fabulous city.

I feel kind of sad that I won’t be blogging about Rome any more in the near future, but I had a wonderful 4 days there and I’ve been reliving it for almost 5 months through these posts so…until next time…

If you missed any of my previous posts about Rome, click the links below:

A trip to Rome (aka the holiday that almost never was)

Day 2 in Rome – Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica

Day 3 in Rome – The Colosseum and Roman Forum

Rome’s hidden treasures – Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

 

 

 

A weekend in Whitby – part 2

Whitby is easily “doable” on foot, which meant we could park up at our B&B on Saturday and not have to use the car again until we set off for home 2 days later. As I mentioned in my part 1 blog post, Whitby is situated on two sides of the river Esk, with attractions on both East Cliff and West Cliff, and our B&B was on West Cliff, a 5 minute walk from the harbour.

After a chilled Saturday afternoon of fish and chips, ice cream, amusement arcades and a live pub band in the evening, we set off with intent early on Sunday morning to see the sights. It was a beautiful morning with bright blue skies, the sea was sparkling and, with a spring in our step, we crossed the bridge over to the East Cliff side of town and headed for Whitby Abbey.

The cobbled streets were deserted as we followed the signs for the 199 steps which climb to the top of East Cliff, through St Mary’s churchyard, and towards the abbey ruins. I didn’t count the steps on the way up, I was too busy gasping for breath and willing my lungs not to collapse, but I did get a few pics looking over the town.

At the top of the steps the churchyard looms large, with it’s ancient gravestones all worn away and gnarly from years of exposure to the elements of sun, wind and rain. I can imagine it would be quite eerie on a grey day, but the blue sky was perfect for taking some photographs and enjoying the best of the morning.

The Abbey had only been open for about 15 minutes when we arrived, which meant that we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We declined the audio guide, preferring instead just to wander at our own pace and marvel at the sheer size, scale and detail of the architecture. It’s very impressive. I always find things like this pretty mind blowing when you consider how old they are and that modern machinery and construction didn’t exist when they were built. The weather conditions were just perfect for photographs, so I took a lot!

Whitby Abbey

Look, it’s me!

Me at Whitby Abbey

After a slow meander back down through the gravestones and the 199 steps (still not counting!) we crossed over to West Cliff, and headed towards the beach.

At low tide the beach is accessible from sea level, across and round the rocks, but we had to climb up the hill and back down again, much to the sorrow of our already aching lower limbs! The whalebone arch is another Whitby tourist attraction, and is an actual whalebone – the 15ft jaw of a Bowhead whale shared with Whitby from Canada.

Whalebone arch Whitby

Whitby has a history of whaling, whereby all parts of the caught whales were used in industry – skin for leather, blubber for oil, etc; and also has a strong maritime connection, being the home of the infamous Captain Cook who moved to the town as a fishing apprentice in his teens. All of the boats used in his great journeys of discovery were built in Whitby, and there’s a statue of him on the same site as the whalebone arch, looking out to sea.

We were thrilled by the colourful beach huts!

Beach huts Whitby

And stood soaking in the rhythmic to and fro of the sea. It’s just so calming, don’t you think?

There were some crazy people having a paddle; I know I said the weather was unseasonably good, but I can’t imagine the sea would be very pleasant in mid October!

We stopped off to play the 2 pence machines in the amusement arcades – a must on any visit to the seaside – before walking along the pier out towards the sea. Imagine my delight when I saw that the lighthouse was open to the public!

Whitby lighthouse

I’ve never been up a lighthouse, you don’t get many of them in landlocked Birmingham! I gladly handed over my £1.50 (such a bargain, it’s cheaper up North) and began the climb. Not gonna lie, it wasn’t that much fun, it made me very dizzy (it’s a small and narrow lighthouse with nothing but steps inside, so you just go round and round and round) and very out of breath, but it was worth it at the top for 360 degree views across Whitby and out to sea.

There was a hairy moment on the way back down when we had to cross paths with people who were climbing up (think about a very narrow spiral staircase with wedged steps and two humans going in opposite directions) but it was well worth it, and something I will always look back on with a smile.

Feeling like true seamen (snigger) we then decided to follow in Captain Cook’s footsteps and head out on the open water. There are lots of pleasure boat trips moored up on West Cliff offering a 25 minute trip out of the bay for the princely sum of just £3, and we settled on a traditional wooden looking boat with a pirate flag!

The trip was both bracing and informative, with details of Captain Cook’s background, voyages, and eventual demise at the hands of Hawaiian natives in 1779. The boat was a 40% size replica of the Endeavour, used by Cook in his first voyage of discovery to Australia and New Zealand from 1769 to 1771.

We rounded off our day with the most delicious late lunch at the Abbey Wharf restaurant (read about that in my part 1 blog post), enjoying the last of the afternoon sunshine and congratulating ourselves on having the best time!

I would 100% recommend Whitby for a weekend away; there’s enough to do to keep you occupied without feeling overwhelmed or rushed, and the seafood alone is worth the journey.

Plus, it’s very pretty by night too! (photo credit to the husband)

Whitby at night

Whitby harbour at night

Thanks Whitby, we loved you.

Read part 1 of my trip review here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

A weekend in Whitby – part 1

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that part of my birthday present from the husband last year was a weekend in Whitby. You don’t remember? You don’t memorise every post I ever share? I’m disappointed…

Anyway, with getting our flat ready to sell (i.e. painting everything shiny new and hiding all the bad bits with rugs and furniture) and then moving into our new house, and then holidays and general stuff, I only got around to cashing in my trip the weekend before last, having booked it a few weeks before. If you follow me on Instagram (what do you mean, you don’t? More disappointment…) you’ll already know a bit about my trip.

Headline – it was AMAZING! Seriously one of the best weekends away I’ve had in absolutely ages. I didn’t stop grinning like a loon and making happy noises all weekend. Of course, the fact that we had great (if unseasonal) weather helped a lot, because while the British seaside in the sunshine is quaint and enjoyable, in rain and cold it just involves dodging from amusement arcade to amusement arcade and stocking up at the off licence before snuggling in bed back at your B&B.

Where we stayed

The British seaside is rife with B&Bs, which can range from delightful boutique rooms to out and out scabholes (I’ve stayed in both types, over the years). Using Whitby’s association with Dracula as a basis for our stay, the husband suggested Bats & Broomsticks which is a themed B&B without being tacky or cheesy. With only 3 bedrooms it has a cosy homely feel (as homely as a room with a four poster bed and a bat hanging from it can feel!) and the décor is incredible; moody, gothic, snakeskin wallpaper, wooden fireplaces, stone gargoyles, leopard print towels, a basement breakfast room where a beautifully cooked full English breakfast is served by candlelight and eaten with cutlery with grim reaper carved metal handles. Very quirky, certainly an experience (a good one!) and it’s position at the top of a hill gave our legs a good workout too.

Where we ate

Fish and chips at the seaside is practically the law, and Whitby apparently has 2 entries in the top 20 fish and chip shops in the country in 2017. However, with the good weather on Saturday came lots of day trippers and tourists (like ourselves) which meant long queues and few spare benches or places to sit and enjoy our national dish. So, instead, we took position on an outdoor terrace at The Pier Inn, overlooking the bay, and had pub fish and chips, which was so so good (which shouldn’t have been a surprise; if you’re positioned by the sea you have to make sure your seafood game is strong).

On Sunday we ate at Abbey Wharf, on the opposite side of the bay, again sat outside on their upstairs terrace, and both ordered their seafood paella off the specials menu. It’s a dish that will live on in my memory for a long long time; huge chunks of white fish, salmon, giant prawns and so many mussels that we built a jenga style tower of shells by the end of our meal, all encompassed in creamy flavoursome rice. Just stunning.

I’ll tell you more about what we got up to in another post (I have a lot of pictures and stuff to say!) so look out for that. Until then, here are some photographs I took in the town.

Seagulls are rife, as you’d expect, which is another reason it made sense not to get fish and chips and sit on a bench! (we saw one man get swooped upon from a great height, and I don’t share food!) and you can just smell the sea. The town is on two sides of the port, connected by a bridge. West Cliff has a big beach and is probably more touristy (traditional amusement arcades and fish and chip shops), while East Cliff has quaint cobbled streets, cute shops and the Abbey. More on that next time!

Have you ever been to Whitby? Do you like the British seaside?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x