Category: Travel-tastic

Day 2 in Rome – Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica

Long ago, before Rome was even on my radar, I read a blog post which mentioned the Scavi tour, which is the underground necropolis at St Peters Basilica. It isn’t open to the general public – you have to send an email to the Vatican to ask about availability and, if there’s a space (only 250 people are allowed through each day, with a maximum of 12 per tour, compared to the 30,000 per day that visit the Vatican Museums), they will book it for you and send an invoice which you pay online. I kept this piece of knowledge in the travel portion of my brain (which is a lot bigger than, say, the common sense portion) to be used at a future date.

Fast forward then to September 2017, when plans for our trip were taking place, and I unearthed this memory and sent an email directly to the Vatican (I like to think the Pope himself opened and read it) who confirmed our booking in writing, with a request for payment of just 13 euros each. Although neither myself or the husband are of any religious persuasion, we do enjoy religious architecture and history and not missing out on ANYTHING (OK, the latter is just me) so this was a no brainer. We were booked for 1.30pm so it made sense to visit the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel in the morning. Checking on the website I found that you can also book and pay for timed museum tickets in advance, which made sense as we knew our itinerary and I guessed that the queues may be quite long (more on that later).

It was another beautiful morning with bright blue sky so we set off on foot across the Ponte Umberto bridge to the other side of the River Tiber. St Peters Basilica is visible from quite a way away, its dome dominating the skyline as you walk down the long wide road towards it.

Approach to St Peters Basilica

We were approached a few times by people asking for money; old and disabled brandishing a paper cup towards us, which I found especially disturbing considering the location – isn’t the Church supposed to look after everyone? I was even more disturbed after our museum visit, because the amount of wealth is catch your breath obscene. Perhaps the Vatican City could rely less on harbouring so many priceless historical artefacts and more on looking after it’s own. But that’s a whole other post!

All around the area are ticket touts trying to sell tours, but also lots of tourist information people who are there to offer advice and directions, which was very helpful because, as expected, it’s incredibly busy with hundreds and thousands of people. As we rounded the corner to the street leading up to the museum entrance, our decision to prebook tickets really came into it’s own – the queue was 4 people wide and a good 300 metres long. We approached a tourist information person and showed him our booking, and he advised us to go right to the front, result!

Security is akin to going through an airport; you have to put your belongings in trays that go through an X Ray machine and then walk through a full body scanner (we felt safe everywhere in Rome; all the main attractions had armed police nearby, and the size of their guns would be a deterrent to anyone).

I’ll be honest here, I didn’t really know much about the Vatican Museums. OK, anything. I’m aware of the Sistine Chapel but hadn’t anticipated everything else that made up the attraction, and it was mind blowing, and somewhat overwhelming. We’re talking gallery upon gallery of priceless paintings, tapestries, sculptures, historical artefacts – even the ceilings are complete works of art. The amount of gold leaf was akin to nothing I’ve ever seen and we marveled at how so much of what was on display was completely priceless – how do you insure an Egyptian mummy?!

The sheer volume of stuff, for me, meant that I became a little bit complacent about what I was looking at. In a long narrow gallery full of sculpted busts and statues it became a little bit “oh look, there’s another centuries old piece!” which is bad but understandable, because its impossible to take it all in, and you find yourself drawn to the bigger pieces which means you could be missing out on something amazing next to it because it’s a bit smaller in size.

By selling off even 5% of the collection, the museum would still be an absolutely amazing place to visit but maybe, just maybe, the poor and needy begging outside would have homes to live in and food to eat.

Another thing I was surprised by – it’s a bloody long way to the Sistine Chapel! I’m talking thousands of steps on your FitBit! You keep following the signs, thinking it will be in the next room, or the next room, but instead there’s another gallery of statues, or more irreplaceable artwork and while it’s amazing, I started to think, just get me to the Chapel already! And then, when I got there, another honest admission, I was totally underwhelmed. Like severely “is that it?” Which is probably very heathen like of me and, if I believed in him, I’m sure God would strike me down but I’m not going to pretend I thought it was amazing when I didn’t. I expected it to be a wow moment, which I’m sure for religious people it is, and maybe it was because we’d already seen so much amazing stuff, but in contrast to the bright colours and intricate artwork of the galleries we’d already walked through it was a bit meh (there’s God, trying to strike me down again). For a start off it’s very dull and poorly lit (presumably to protect the paintings) and the ceiling – arguably the main attraction – isn’t at all what I expected it to be; I thought it comprised mainly of the Creation of Adam but actually it’s lots of different paintings in a collage. I know Michaelangelo and this ceiling are highly revered, but it didn’t tick any boxes for me.

I was much more impressed with everything that came before and afterwards.

Every ceiling was incredible!

The walls of this hall were lined with tapestries depicting the Italian coastline and dated back to the 16h century. Look at the ceiling as well!

Tapestry Hall Vatican Museums

I would recommend the museum to everyone visiting Rome because it really is quite something; even if you’re an atheist, critical, non arty heathen like me!

After a quick lunch it was time to join the aforementioned Scavi tour; again we were thankful of the tourist information guides as the location wasn’t immediately obvious. More security ensued and we joined our group of 12 people in a courtyard behind St Peters Basilica ready to embark on a part of the Vatican City that not many people get to see.

Our guide was incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable, talking us through the history of how the excavated space came to be. The Vatican commissioned excavations to be carried out there before Pope Pius IX was set to be buried in the space, in the 1940s, expecting to find very little, but archaeologists found a burial ground (aka a necropolis) dating all the way back to the 4th century; the temple of Emperor Constantine who had ruled at that time, and a funerary monument with a casket engraved with wording that translated as Peter is here (Peter is believed to have been crucified upside down in Rome during first century AD and his remains were interred in a tomb on the Vatican Hill. Bone fragments proven to belong to St Peter have been found and are now kept in a shrine deep underground which you get to see on the tour. He’s important because he’s said to be one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and so to religious folk he’s quite a big deal – hence having a whole basilica built in his name).

The necropolis is basically a city of the dead, and was the part of the city where people built mausoleums for their bodies to be interred after death. You can still see the layout of the Roman streets and the decor on the walls of some of the mausoleums (it reminded me, in a way, of parts of Herculaneum which we visited a couple of years ago). It’s crazy to think how old it all is, and that you’re actually walking on centuries old ground. The reason it was built over is because there was a huge fire which destroyed parts of Rome, but because it didn’t cross the River Tiber, this area of the city wasn’t damaged. Emperor Constantine gave the order to build on top of the Necropolis, and it wasn’t disturbed for thousands of years.

It’s very warm in the necropolis (you’re quite a way below ground level) and a lot of the areas are quite small and cramped. The tour takes around an hour and I would wholeheartedly recommend it, even if you’re not a religious person. Strict rules apply – no large bags (they have to checked in at the entrance and collected later), shoulders, arms and legs covered (this is a very religious space, whatever your own beliefs or non beliefs) – this wasn’t a problem for us as we visited in Winter, but one to consider for summer; and no photographs. The pictures below are taken from official sources because, although I wanted my own photos, I also didn’t want to get chucked out for breaking the rules!

Scavi tour underneath St Peters Basilica

You exit the tour in the crypt where lots of previous popes are buried; many of them have their own altars, some were restricted public access and there’s a lot of marble. When you exit the crypt you can enter the Basilica without the need to queue, which was fantastic because by that time of day the queues were thousands of people deep. For that reason alone it’s worth booking the Scavi tour – queue jumping and a behind the scenes look at parts of the Vatican City very few people have ever seen.

Inside the basilica is less impressive than expected, if I’m honest, it’s certainly not up there with the most beautiful places of worship I’ve ever seen (or maybe I was still reeling from the amount of artwork in the Vatican Museums!)

I was much more impressed by the outside, which really is stunning, especially against the clear blue sky. The columns are immense!

The Swiss Guards, who are solely responsible for protecting the Pope and must be of Swiss birth, Roman Catholic and between 19 and 30 years of age, were the only burst of colour against the stone of the building, and very snazzy they looked too!

Swiss Guard at St Peters Basilica

Would I recommend visiting the Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica? Absolutely. But more than the visit, I would wholeheartedly recommend prebooking tickets for the museum and Scavi tour, even more so in high season, to avoid the lengthy queues.

Did you see day 1 of my trip to Rome?

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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

If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed that I went to Rome for a few days before Christmas, to celebrate my 40th birthday.

You may also have noticed that we almost never made it out of Luton airport.

In case you don’t follow me on insta (you should, by the way, shameless plug of link to my account here) or if their silly algorithm means you don’t see my posts, here’s what happened.

Our flight from Luton was at 6.40am on the Monday morning, so we travelled down the day before and stayed in a hotel near the airport. Early start (3am alarm, eek) was fairly uneventful and we checked in and went to buy some currency (because dimwit here had forgotten to collect the euros I’d pre-ordered from the Post Office, d’oh!) I bought some bits from Boots (2 more travel plugs to ad to our growing – but missing – collection) and had a tasty breakfast with a cocktail to start an exciting and momentous trip. All was well, so with 20 minutes until the departure gate opened we had a browse in WH Smith to buy some magazines for the flight.

When we came to pay, we of course needed one of our boarding passes, which of course wasn’t a problem because they were safely in an envelope in my handbag alongside the passports. Except they weren’t. No boarding cards, no envelope and no passports. Cue frantic retracing of steps to the restaurant and boots (to no avail), heart in mouth and panic sweats. The husband, it must be pointed out, was taking things remarkably well (for him) and stayed fairly level headed and non-angry, despite the fact that the look in his eyes said otherwise. We raced back to security in the hope that someone had handed them in (as I reasonably pointed out, if you found some travel documents in an airport you’d have to be a total shit to throw them away) and THANK GOD a smiling security lady located them under a desk and gave them back to a calm-on-the-outside-frantic-on-the-inside me! I hadn’t even left them in the security tray after scanning though, no, they hadn’t even got that far. When I was putting my liquids in a bag, before the security check, I’d left the envelope on a shelf. An envelope which, with being shoved in and out of my bag on the journey so far, could easily have been mistaken for some tatty old rubbish,

Total muppet – it was almost a birthday to remember for all the wrong reasons…

Needless to say I wasn’t allowed to keep the passports for the rest of the trip, even though I’m usually Chief Security Officer; they remained securely in the husband’s inside pocket of his coat, and I was the butt of multiple jokes as a result!

I’m glad to report that the rest of the trip went by without incident. We arrived at Rome Fiumicino airport at around 10.30am, collected our luggage and headed out into the arrivals lounge where we were met by our pre-booked driver (I always try and do this, where possible, it saves lots of hassle and is usually cheaper than getting a cab at the airport, plus you get to feel a little bit like a famous person for a nanosecond!). The transfer to the city centre and our hotel took around 30 minutes, and the closer we got to the centre, the more evidence of Roman architecture started to appear; like random columns in the middle of modern buildings. That’s one of the things that surprised me about Rome, many of the tourist attractions are just in the middle of the working city, not on a dedicated site with a big wide open space around them. We stumbled on both the Pantheon and the Trevi fountain in this way; we turned a corner and there they were, in the middle of a piazza. It’s quite strange!

We arrived at our hotel – Antica Dimora dell Cinque Lune (I’ll review that in another post) – at around 11.30, which was too early to check in, but the receptionist was incredibly helpful and stored our luggage so we were free to set off and explore. We spent a few minutes getting our bearings, but knowing we were just steps from the River Tiber and the Palace of Justice meant we already knew where to head to if we were to get lost!

Spotting a number of hop on hop off bus tours on the main road alongside the river, we set off to find a bus stop, and by midday we were upstairs on a double decker, earphones firmly in place to listen to the commentary, and heading off on a 90 minute round trip of the city. We find that this kind of bus tour is a great way to see the highlights, get a feel for a city and an overview of what’s where, and then delve into the deeper sightseeing after that. On this occasion we used the Big Bus company, and paid 35 euros each for a 48 hour ticket, but other companies run within the city too (although your ticket is only valid for the bus company you buy it from).

As suspected, the bus tour was a great place to start. We went across the river, marvelling at the architecture of the city, winding through Via del Corso, the main shopping street, saw centuries old churches and buildings, detailed sculptures, statues and fountains, felt blown away by the magnificent sight of the colosseum at the bottom of a busy thoroughfare and imagined the site of the chariot racing on Circus Maximus.

Then we got off the bus where we’d started and stopped for lunch in a little bistro on the side of the road who did a lunch menu of bruschetta, choice of pizza or pasta and a glass of wine or beer for just 12 euros – not at all what we’d expected from reports of Rome being expensive. We sat outside on the terrace under a patio heater and it was just fabulous!

After checking into the hotel we headed out once more; this time over the river on foot and past Castel Sant’Angelo, with St Peters Basilica in our eye line. As our Vatican and St Peters visit was planned for the next day, we crossed across the River Tiber, meandered through tiny cobbled side streets, just soaking up how fabulous Rome is, declaring that we already loved the place and beaming with happiness.

 

Our hotel was just round the corner from Piazza Navona, which we’d read would have a Christmas market. It was all running remarkably late, setting up but not at all Christmassy, but the Fountain of Neptune and Fountain of the Four Rivers in front of the Santa Agnese in Agona church were beautiful to look at.

We found a beautiful bistro, covered in fairy lights with a rather gorgeous menu and decided we would head back there later that evening to eat, which we did – the most delicious medium rare steak wrapped in bacon with shaved truffles, accompanied by a bottle of chianti. Heading back to our hotel through Piazza Navona and past the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi it’s fair to say we were giddy with happiness and giddy with Rome.

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi and Santa Agnese in Agone church at night

Coming soon – day 2 at the Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica.

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

Thanks, as always, for reading, x

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2018 travel plans

I like to always have at least one trip planned or booked in advance, which is why it’s very rare for me to enter a New Year without knowing what some of our travel plans will be for the coming 12 months. 2018 is no exception!

2018 travel plans

These are the trips we have booked so far:

March – North Wales
The official reason for the trip is that we’re going to the 2 day Hard Rock Hell festival in Pwllhelli (staying in a caravan, yay!) but it makes sense to have a little nosy round while we’re up there. Despite having been to the event a couple of times before we’ve never visited Criccieth castle which is just a few miles away, so that’s one for this year, and of course some bracing sea air in a walk along the beach.

Criccieth Castle

We’ll catch up with friends, watch bands and ask ourselves why it’s been such a long time since our last caravan break – we love them!

May – Palma, Majorca
Taking advantage of the early May Bank Holiday, we’re going to Palma for 3 nights and my Mother in Law is coming with us. We’ve been on short trips with her before and she’s a great travel companion – she wants to see everything but isn’t a control freak (that will be me, then) so she goes with the flow and doesn’t question my itinerary (I’m making it sound like a bootcamp!) I haven’t been to Majorca since I was a little girl, and that was a beach holiday with my Mom and Dad, so I’m looking forward to exploring the capital city, wandering through the gothic quarter, oohing at the cathedral and eating tapas.

Palma de Mallorca

We’ll also get out of the city for a day and take a train to Port de Soller and possible Valldemossa. Temperatures should be nice without being too hot, and I’ve booked us into a 16th century traditional hotel with a rooftop view over the Cathedral. Happy days!

September – Athens and Santorini, Greece
When the husband and I got together almost 13 years ago, we used to talk about Santorini and how beautiful it looked and how much we’d like to go there. Yet somehow, in all this time, we’ve never got round to it, even though it’s on my list of top 5 places I’d like to visit . So, for our 10th wedding anniversary this coming September, we’re spending a week on the island, with a few days in Athens first (Athens was on my 2nd list of places I’d like to visit!)

Athens

We’ll fly from Birmingham to Athens, enjoy visiting historical sights, wandering the streets of Plaka (the district where we’re staying) and of course fantastic Greek food, before a 45 minute flight to Santorini where we’re staying in Oia (many of the photographs you see of Santorini on websites and in travel brochures are taken in Oia; it’s a beautifully picturesque town built into the side of the volcanic crater with stunning white and blue domed buildings).

Santorini

There’s lots to see on the island so we’ll need to get the balance right between doing and chilling but, being in Oia, we’ll get the very best sunsets every night!. Definitely having some lazing by the pool days, but also keen to get down into the caldera, maybe take a boat trip to appreciate the scale of the volcanic crater, and visit some of the smaller traditional villages.

So excited!

The trouble with loving travel is prioritising where to go next, as there’s always somewhere else on your list (hence why it’s taken us so long to get to Santorini!) I’d like to squeeze in another overseas break but the husband doesn’t like to tie up all his annual leave, and he keeps talking about spending time at home now that we have a lovely private garden to enjoy.

In truth, with 2018’s main trips already wrapped up (unless I get my way!), I’m already thinking ahead to 2019…

What trips do you have planned so far? Or where would you like to go? I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A happy travel ending

You may recall a while ago I was pondering about how and where to celebrate my upcoming 40th birthday. After some online research and option weighing, we did decide on Rome. Cue huge amounts of excitement! Flights, hotel and time off work were booked, and we started to look forward to our December Roman holiday.

Monarch flight

Until, just a few weeks later, when I woke up to the news that airline Monarch had gone into liquidation. Guess who our flights were booked with?

Because it was a flight only booking, we weren’t covered under ATOL, but initial reports were that, as I’d booked by credit card, I’d be covered under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. I must admit that I only book flights on a credit card if there’s no fee. If there’s a charge I’ll book through my debit card with my savings and then replace them, but this experience has DEFINITELY taught me a lesson! Off I went to Barclaycard who sent me some forms to fill in detailing my original booking with costs and receipts.

Step 2 was finding some replacement flights. Because the hotel was already booked (non refundable, for the best price obvs) we couldn’t change our travel plans. Unfortunately there were no other direct flights out of Birmingham on the day we were due to travel, and the connecting flights had too long a layover in a connecting airport which would eat into our city break, and be a laborious and patience testing start to my birthday trip (the husband isn’t known for his tolerance). There were flights that fit from Manchester, which would mean staying at an airport hotel overnight, but they were with Ryanair who were having their own issues and cancelling flights left, right and centre due to lack of pilot availability, so I just couldn’t risk it. Having our trip cancelled for a second time wasn’t an option.

Eventually I found flights with EasyJet from Luton. It’s not ideal (our preferred option is always a cab to the airport from home, rather than a 2 hour drive, and Luton’s a pretty grim airport) but the departure flight is earlier than the original Birmingham ones which means more time to enjoy Rome. We’ll travel down the day before, stay overnight near the airport and then check in early doors. The early start means we land at 10.30am, so we’ll be in the centre and seeing the sights by lunchtime.

Phew.

That wasn’t the end of our woes though. As well as our trip to Rome, we’d also booked flights for a long weekend in Palma next May, with my Mother in Law. And the airline was…you guessed it…bloody Monarch! Once again our hotel was booked on a non refundable basis. Replacement flights for this trip were harder to find, because with avoiding Ryanair for the aforementioned reasons, the prices were coming in at £70 extra per person with Jet2. A 40% increase on the original flights is a big chunk to swallow, especially as it meant it would cost my Mother in Law more than I’d promised (or the husband and I would have to pay her share, as well as our own). But, as prices crept up day by day, I just had to bite the bullet and book them.

Back then to Barclaycard. When I was completing my claim forms for them to (hopefully) refund my £731 in Monarch flights, I felt very cross and indignant that the whole thing was leaving me considerably out of pocket. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel for the staff who lost their jobs (and got suitably chastised on Twitter when I complained about the liquidation rather than the wellbeing of Monarch’s employees) but closer to home this was hitting me where it hurts (I could buy new shoes with that extra cash!) And so I cheekily included the additional Palma flight costs on my claim.

Well, bugger me, if Barclaycard haven’t paid up! Yep, they’ve credited the original flight costs, and made an additional payment to cover the extra I’ve had to pay out to Jet2. The beauties!

What’s the moral of the story? I don’t know whether it’s always pay by credit card for financial protection, don’t book non refundable hotels, or chance your luck and be cheeky because you might just get lucky! Either way, hurrah for Barclaycard!

Have you ever had travel plans messed up or rearranged?

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

 

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Cheers, Steve!

I had an email from the CEO and co-founder of TripAdvisor, Steve Kaufer, the other day – thanking me for posting my 150th review. Wasn’t that nice?!TripAdvisor logoNow, the cynics amongst you might think that this was a computer generated email because Steve Kaufer is far too busy and important to email ickle ol’ me. But I like to think otherwise.

On a serious note, TripAdvisor is a site I rely heavily on when planning trips and I really value the insight shared by other travellers. I never book a hotel without referring to TripAdvisor as it’s a great way to get real people’s opinions, and I think it’s important to contribute as well.

A while ago I posted my top 5 tips for writing a TripAdvisor review. You can read them here.

I recently found out that you can also review flights on TripAdvisor, so have been doing that too. I couldn’t speak highly enough about Malaysia Airlines after our trip to Penang (read about that herehere, here, here, and here) and Kuala Lumpur (read about that here, here, and here) – the service, comfort and food were all faultless. On the flip side, our flights to and from Greece (trip report here and here) with Thomas Cook were really uncomfortable; all squished in with hardly and leg room or arm room. Ironically the inflight magazine boasted how all of the fleet were now lots more comfortable with great inflight entertainment – not on our metal bird they weren’t! I reviewed both honestly and truthfully, to give future travellers an idea of what to expect.

TripAdvisor has also been instrumental in planning our trip to Rome for my 40th birthday, and our trip to Santorini for our 10th wedding anniversary next year. Super exciting!

Are you a TripAdvisor fan? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

 

 

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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

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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

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A day out in the Mani Peninsula, Greece – part 2

After spending the morning visiting the Diros Caves and Gythio, we started heading back towards Stoupa, planning to stop at Areopoli on the way. Areopoli is a small mountain village with typical stone houses, small winding streets and small nooks and crannies. There’s very little to do there, and wandering round doesn’t take more than about 20 minutes (even with photos) but it’s a super quaint and picturesque place that we were very happy we visited.

Take a look for yourself!

Isn’t bougainvillea just the prettiest flower? I wish it would grow in the UK, I’d cover my house in it!

Imagine having this little nook to swing in?

Areopoli archway swing

 

I loved the umbrella avenue. These had actual lightbulbs in, I bet they look so pretty at night.

With the afternoon heading towards evening, we started the long winding mountain drive back to Stoupa, having had a fabulous day, but somewhat relieved that the mountain driving on the opposite side of the road was over!

Read part 1 of our day out in the Mani here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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A day out in the Greek Mani Peninsula – part 1

Despite having been to Stoupa 4 times previously, I’ve never really explored any of the surrounding area (unless you count the 2km coastal path walk to the neighbouring village of Aghios Nikolaos). I’ve read many times that that the scenery is incredible, but I choose not to drive when I’m overseas (never done it) and the public transport is nigh on non existent (there are 4 buses a day which run on GMT – Greek Maybe Time, I kid you not!)

On this year’s trip, however, I decided to bite the bullet, hire a car, and get out and about.

I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. Not quite as nervous as the husband (who, until a few days before, had said he wouldn’t come in a car with me driving “on the wrong side of the road”). He’s not a great passenger in the UK, so on unfamiliar winding mountain roads (and I mean winding), with sheer cliff drops and crazy Greek drivers overtaking on bends, he was something of a nervous wreck!

First stop, about an hour’s drive from Stoupa, was the Caves of Diros.

I first went to the Caves of Diros with my Dad on my first visit to Stoupa many years ago. We went on an organised coach trip, which I always find quite restrictive because you have to stick to a set timetable, and there’s lots of people on the coach, and the bendy roads can feel quite sickly in a big vehicle. This time we went at our own speed, stopping on the way to take come photographs from the top of the mountain. The colour of the sea in this part of Greece is just incredible, it looks photoshopped, even to the naked eye.

After a winding descent we followed the signs to the caves, spotting some beautiful ceramic shops along the side of the road.

The journey through the caves is done on a small rowing boat carrying up to 7 people and the man in charge. It takes about half an hour and covers 2.5km. At times you really have to duck down so as not to hit your head on the rock formations above, and the boat can be a little wobbly in the water, which is crystal clear below. It’s hard to comprehend that you’re looking at millions of years of stalagmite and stalactite formations.

I tried to get some pics, which was difficult because of the lighting and the momentum of the boat, but you can get an idea of how impressive they are from the handful that turned out ok!

When you leave the boat you walk through another lengthy stretch of caves, before coming out into the bright sunshine and the aqua sea and bobbing boats of Diros Bay.

On leaving Diros, we headed from one side of the peninsula to the other to the seaside town of Gythio, which had been recommended to me as a pretty place to visit. Gythio is a harbour town with some cosmopolitan seaside restaurants and bars, and pretty coloured buildings. It was fairly quiet when we were there, during the heat of the day, but we had a little wander and some lunch. For me it had more of an Italianate feel than Greek, with the pastel buildings and the intricate balconies, but it was nice to sit right on the seafront and have some food and a refreshing drink.

By now it was early afternoon and time to start heading back towards Stoupa, with a stop at Areopoli planned on the way. More on that next time!

Have you been to mainland Greece? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A week in Greece

Last week I flew to my happy place in Greece, a small village called Stoupa; nestled in the base of the mountains on the Mani Peninsula. I first blogged about Stoupa here. Whilst I’m not usually a fan of going back to the same place multiple times (it’s a big wide world out there, after all) there’s something to be said for finding a place in which you’re completely at ease, completely relaxed in an instant, with incredible food, scenery and people.

That place, for me, is Stoupa. Which is why I’ve been there 5 times.

It’s testament to the village that it’s hardly changed at all since I first went there around 16 years ago! And that’s the appeal of the place. Whereas holidays, for me, are often about exploring and finding where everything is, the beauty of Stoupa is that you already know everything there is to know. It’s like putting on a comfy jumper and cosy slippers.

I first went with my Dad, then my Dad and his wife went, then my husband and I went and so, after my Dad died last year, it seemed fitting that his wife, me and the husband would all go together, as we all love it so much.

With no further ado, here are my pics!

Do you have a favourite place in the world where you feel instantly relaxed and at home?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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