Tag: church

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

When I say hidden treasures, I obviously don’t mean in the true sense of the word; the Pantheon, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are all very well known Roman attractions. But I was super surprised by their location within the city, and how unobvious they were!

Let me explain. On our first day in Rome we went on a city bus tour. We like to do this on most city breaks because it gives a good feel for the city, the highlights, etc and then we generally go back in our own time to visit the places we want to see. During our bus tour around Rome, the commentary pointed out that both the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps weren’t visible from the bus, and we’d need to get off at the nearest stop and walk to them, which we resolved to do at a later point.

That same afternoon, after lunch, we were wandering around the area near to our hotel and I said we should go the the Pantheon. Do you think we could find it? Even the power of Google maps on my phone wasn’t enough to locate this world famous landmark (admittedly my map reading isn’t the best, I have to get in the map like Joey in Friends). We were tantalisingly close and we knew it but just couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Later on we would find the reason why – it’s tucked away in a piazza with no fanfare or big signs or feel of a huge tourist attraction – it’s just there. We rounded the corner and there it stood in front of us.

The first time we went in was dark, so when we looked up the dome we couldn’t tell whether the black dot in the middle was a window, or something else.

Insisting on returning the next morning, we found that it’s an oculus – an opening into the sky with no glass or covering. Rain falls through the hole and is then carried away by the drains inside the building. I found that pretty amazing; that it’s existed for all those years with such a design. The Pantheon has existed, in it’s current incarnation, since 126 AD.

Inside the Pantheon Dome

Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Wow!

I loved the Pantheon. It was possibly one of my favourite buildings in Rome, which is quite a bold boast. Maybe it’s because we tried so hard to find it! Or because we saw it most of all (once we’d come across it the first time it felt like we passed it 3 times a day!) but I never tired of taking photos of it!

It was certainly special enough to be the host to our final lunch, where I ate unctuous lasagne and drank chianti and bathed in winter sunshine and the glory of an amazing trip.

The Trevi fountain is similarly tucked away, more so than the Pantheon (although better signposted). Walking down narrow streets we could hear a hum of people, and then turned a corner and there it was, in all it’s carved, watery glory.

It’s very beautiful, and very crowded – both due to it’s popularity and the limited space (as I said, it’s in a small piazza surrounded on 3 sides by buildings). As such it’s difficult to get many good photos, but just looking at these brings back the amazing memories.

We also went back during the daytime, because I like to squeeze every last drop out of every trip, but I preferred it in the evening because of how beautifully it was lit, and also because the bright sunshine cast shadows over the incredible detail (not that I’m complaining about the sunshine you understand; we were incredibly lucky with the weather and it made everything even better).

And finally, the Spanish Steps, tucked away at the end of a long shopping street (where I spent some of my birthday money on Pandora charms). Again we’d struggled to pinpoint the area, and it was our last stop before our final lunch at the Pantheon, and the poor old husband’s legs and back had given way after days and days of me walking him all over the city.

I didn’t know what to expect and that’s probably to my detriment because I guess I thought it was a tourist attraction in it’s own right, but really it wasn’t. I climbed the steps to the top, because I was there, and the architecture surrounding them is beautiful, but there’s no wow factor as there is in all of the other tourist attractions in the City (and there are a lot). The steps are just steps, and very crowded too.

Trinità dei Monti Cathedral is the imposing building at the top; I didn’t go in but it’s twin spires were very imposing against the beautiful blue sky (there’s me banging on about the weather again).

Catch up on my previous Rome posts below:

Day 1 in Rome

Day 2 – Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica

Day 3 – Colosseum and Roman Forum

Have you ever been to Rome? Did you have a favourite attraction? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

 

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

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 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

My first…wedding anniversary

Another first of another month!

This month the husband and I will have been married for 8 whole years. Wowsers! We have a way to go to catch up with Chris and Charlotte, who I posted about yesterday, but it’s pretty good going for an unmarriable handful (me) and a previously engaged twice commitment-phobe (him!)

There are two things that stick out in my mind about our first wedding anniversary. The first is that my Dad actually said “I don’t know how you’ve made it to a year” with the reasoning that I am the afore-mentioned unmarriable handful. I mean, he had a point. But still!

The second thing is that we went to Marseille

Based in the South of France, Marseilles has an enviable climate and a very Mediterranean feel. We totally fell in love with the place. It’s small enough to get around quickly with a great public transport system, lots of pretty buildings and great architecture, harbours, beaches and we got door to door in 6 hours. We declared it our new go-to weekend break.

Unfortunately, after we got back, Ryanair ceased the Birmingham to Marseille flight route and we haven’t been back since.

My top tips for visiting Marseille:

  • Pre-plan your airport transfer. Stupidly I didn’t, thinking it would be cheap enough to grab a cab on arrival. All the drivers wanted between 60 and 70 euros; no way! So we jumped on a bus, me blagging the husband that I knew exactly where we were going, when actually I had no idea (if I’d ‘fessed up he’d have panicked and just thrown money at a taxi). Between a printed map and some pigeon English to the very French bus driver we established he was only going as far as the main bus station. So from there we jumped in a cab to our apartment; which still ended up costing us 20 euros for what would have been a 5 minute walk, had we known where we were going.
  • Jump on an open top bus tour. This is something I recommend wherever you go on a city break, as it gives you a really good feel for a city and you can then decide which bits you want to revisit. The audio guides are usually pretty interesting too for some history. If the weather’s good try and sit upstairs for the best views.
  • Do consider going for longer than a couple of days. Ours was just a flying weekend visit but there are lots of beaches with watersports and activities in Marseille, so you could easily have a mix of city and beach break.
  • Get familiar with the underground metro system. There are only 3 lines (from memory) so it’s easy to use, very cheap and very convenient with little to no crowding and comfortable air conditioned trains.

On that note, here are a few pics! I have less than I would like, because 8 years ago phone cameras were pretty naff and I didn’t blog or live my life on instagram – if I went back now I’d be snapping everything!

Have you ever been to Marseille?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

A week in Greece

I’ve finally just about emerged from the fuzzy fug surrounding my week in Finikounda and the inevitable readjustment to real life so I thought I’d tell you all about it.

If you read my last “first of the month” post, you’ll know that I love Greece.

If you didn’t read it, here’s a précis. I love Greece. The people, the pace of life, the food, the climate. All of it. It’s probably my holiday destination of choice for a summer break.

This time we chose a new (to us) destination; a small Greek village on the Messinian Peninsula called Finikounda. We chose it knowing it was tiny, with one supermarket, one cash machine and a handful of restaurants. We chose it knowing that there were no loud bars or crazy watersports. We chose it knowing that the village is little more than one main street with a few shops and the demographic is largely Greek families holidaying and older people relaxing. And we loved it for all of those reasons.

We stayed at a relatively new aparthotel called Tsokas Hotel which was about 5 minutes walk from the beach. Unusually for Greek accommodation it was very modern; with large open plan bedrooms fully stocked with a small kitchenette, air conditioning, a power shower and a large balcony. With only 15 apartments overall the feeling was intimate and relaxed, with no fighting for sunbeds or noisy guests. The hotel has a lovely kidney shaped pool which was a godsend in the incredibly hot weather (it was 35 degrees wen we arrived on Sunday lunchtime) and by late afternoon it was like dipping into cool bath water. Bliss.

So, what did we do? Pretty much nothing! We I had hoped to go and visit a nearby town with venetian castle ruins, but in truth it was so ruddy hot that that the thought of doing full on sightseeing was too much to bear! So we settled into a delightful routine of breakfast in the apartment, lounge by the pool, walk to the village for lunch, an afternoon nap for me, a spot more sunbathing and then dinner in a different restaurant in the village. It was the perfect antithesis to the real world and, because every day was something of a mirror image, the time lapsed slowly in a delightful blur of nothingness – a feeling of complete escapism where the only thing that mattered was what to eat for dinner and whether to have a quarter or half litre of wine at lunch. We weren’t back at the hotel later than 11pm any night, and were fast asleep by midnight at the latest!

If you follow me on instagram you’ll have already seen a lot of these pictures, but in case you don’t (you should, by the way!) and also to indulge myself and relive the delightful memories, here are some snaps from our week.

Would I go back? In a heartbeat! There’s something quite comforting in knowing you have a destination in your travel bag that you can 100% rely on when you need a certain kind of holiday. Plus there are still all the things and places that we didn’t manage to visit last week to bring a different dimension to the trip when we go again.

Do you have a favourite country to holiday?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Our trip to Lyon – what we did

Lyon is the third biggest city in France, after Paris and Marseilles, according to the commentary on our bus tour of the city. The open top bus, where everyone was crammed downstairs because the weather was so bloody awful…

Thank goodness for overpacking. As I mentioned in my previous post the weather forecast for the first two days was cold and rainy, followed by warmer temperatures and sunshine for the next two. There’s always the hope that the forecasters have got it wrong, and in fact they had, it was colder than suggested!

Our first stop was the Basilica de Notre Dame, situated high on Fourviere Hill on the old town side of the River Saone. We took the (impressively clean and organised) Metro and then the funicular railway to the top of the hill. The Basilica was built between 1872 and 1884 and is one of the most breathtaking churches I’ve ever been in – from sheer scale through to attention to detail.

Inside was mind blowing.

I spent so long looking at the mosaics – each one must have been 3 metres long and was made entirely out of tiny half centimetre squares. The dedication and attention to detail is hard to comprehend.

Mosaic fresco at Basilica de Notre Dame Lyon

On a good day you can see Mont Blanc from Fourviere Hill. On a cold, rainy, windy, 6 degree day, you can’t!

Vieux Lyon, old town, is a maze of cobbled streets and little squares with restaurants and traditional Lyonnais bouchons – tiny eateries serving rustic cuisine from the region. It was very pretty, but hampered by the weather even though we struggled on in the face of adversity!

You can get a perspective of how high the Basilica rises above the city from this picture.

Vieux Lyon with view of Basilica

Parc de la Tête d’Or covers 290 acres. It’s huge! I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a multi faceted park in my life, and we spent 2 hours just wandering around.

It has a lake where people can boat in summertime, a beautiful fountain surrounded by flowers, and there’s a big velodrome in the grounds too!

There’s a small deer park, which randomly also has some ostriches?!

A zoo with flamingos, a giraffe (who we didn’t see, unfortunately), lions (who wouldn’t stand up for a photo!), a variety of monkies who I couldn’t photograph through glass, buffalo, toucans and tortoises! An eclectic mix!

The park is famous for it’s rose gardens, although we were slightly too early as they weren’t fully in flower. I can only imagine what a riot of colour there is in high season.

And the Botanical Gardens which, although not my thing (too claustrophobic) were  very impressive.

There you have it, an overview of our time in Lyon! We didn’t mange to see everything we’d have liked because of the weather, the fact that 1st May is Labour Day and there is no public transport running (WHAT???!!! I didn’t know that when I booked!) and also my Mother-in-Law, who was our travelling companion, isn’t at 100% health right now so we were tourist dawdlers rather than striding out all over the place and walking miles like we usually do.

Special mention, before I finish, to my first time of eating snails! Which I enjoyed so much I had them a second time too! They’re fiddly to get out of the shells and not very filling, but they were so tasty and enjoyable. A similar texture to mussels, they were cooked in garlic butter and I loved them.

Tomorrow I’ll share some pictures from our daytrip to Annecy, in the Alps.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Amalfi and Positano (aka the day we wore kagouls)

I mentioned during my packing post that the forecast for Italy wasn’t great and that I had invested in waterproofs. In the first few days I’d only used mine to walk from the bedroom to the bar (and therefore it was already a worthy investment!) By Thursday, it was worth it’s weight in gold.

The Amalfi Coast drive is renowned as being absolutely beautiful, with sheer cliff drops, sea views, and towns precariously built into the rockface. There are the usual organised trip options, which we always avoid where possible, plus the local SITA buses and the red sightseeing bus. The SITA bus, although cheaper, makes quite a lot of stops between Sorrento and Amalfi and is renowned for being very busy and hot. The red sightseeing bus stops just once at Positano and then again at Amalfi – a 90 minute journey overall. It also has the benefit of audio description in 5 different languages, which is useful for finding out what you’re seeing and a bit of history.

By the time we got on the 10.45 departure there were only 4 seats left – all of which were on the left side of the bus, The right side is the place to sit on the outward journey for the best views. Luckily, at Positano (which is where the best views of the coastline start) some people got off, so I pushed the husband into grave jumping action and we got to see more of what was going on.

It had looked overcast when we had breakfast that morning but seemed to be brightening up (in my little optimistic head) by the time we left the hotel. I’d checked the forecast and Positano looked to be getting better weather during the day than Amalfi, but I was confident (in my own naive manner) that we’d get away with it.

My little optimistic head was wrong; alas it wasn’t to be. I’d be lying if I said the weather made no difference, as visibility was reduced and everything looks better in the sunshine, but the coastline was beautiful nonetheless.

Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast 2

Amalfi Coast 3

Amalfi Coast 4

Amalfi Coast 5

Amalfi Coast 6

Then came the rain. Full credit to the driver, who’s dexterity around the sharp bends and twisty turns made for a comfortable drive as we meandered our way along the coast.. I couldn’t have navigated it in a car, let alone a great big bus! Just look at them!

Amalfi Coast winding road

As we headed down towards Amalfi the weather took a distinct turn for the worse and the wind started to howl; leaving the harbour looking grey and uninviting rather than the pretty blue sea we’d imagined. The harbour itself was a myriad of buses and coaches, and people huddled under canopies to escape the weather – not the picturesque scene we expected and made for a rather gloomy destination.

We hadn’t planned to spend too long in Amalfi anyway, wanting to get back to Positano, but the weather made our decision easier and we stayed just long enough to snap a few pictures and christen our kagouls before jumping back on a dry bus.

The cathedral is a fabulous building.

I don’t want to do Amalfi a disservice, as I’m sure on a dry day it’s absolutely beautiful, but it’s not much fun squelching around and getting rain in your eyes while trying to sightsee (believe me, I tried). I would definitely give it another try next time I’m in Italy.

Frantically looking for the light at the end of the tunnel (literally!) I used the wifi on board the bus to check the weather forecast in Positano, which suggested the rain would definitely be stopping! Clinging to that hope we took the 45 minute drive back along the coastline, laughing and freaking out at some of the terrible driving on this crazy road!

I’d read that Positano was a must see for it’s prettiness and higgledy piggledy cliffside development. And so we got off the bus once again, into the rain, with the dogged determination to see what all the fuss was about.

Wearing my kagoul (again!) with an umbrella up (it was that wet) we set off down the hill. The rainwater was running down the gutter and the views across the bay were somewhat obscured by a myriad of tourist umbrellas but it was impossible not to fall in love with the tumble of pastel buildings, ceramic shops and restaurant terraces with gorgeous seaviews.

 

Positano 5

Positano 4

Positano 3

Positano 2

We followed the natural slope of the town down towards the harbour, pleased to note that the rain was easing.

We took refuge in a beachfront restaurant where we ate bruschetta, aubergine parmiagiana (me – boy was this good; one of the best meals of the holiday for me), spinach and ricotta ravioli with butter sauce (husband said this was delicious) and drank wine and beer.

Bruschetta La Cambusa restaurant

Aubergine Parmiagiana La Cambusa restaurant

Spinach and ricotta ravioli La Cambusa restaurant

After lunch the rain had stopped and we had a mooch on the beachfront. There are some great boat trips available including a trip to Grotto Smerelda which I’d love to see.I’d happily base myself in Positano next time in Italy. You can visit Capri by boat, as well as being a short drive back to Amalfi where there are bus trips to other villages along the coast like Raffaello and Maiori.

It’s just so pretty!

Positano painted tables

Positano painted tables 2

Positano walkway

Positano building

Positano flowers

Positano plants

Positano shrub

Positana Santa Maria Assunta

We jumped on the SITA bus back to Sorrento as it arrived just as we reached the bus stop, and it’s fair to say the driver was a lunatic! I was glad we hadn’t taken that bus all the way along!

It’s unfortunate that we did the drive on a rainy day, but it was either that or miss out (as it was our last full day) and I’d rather have seen it not it’s very best than not seen it at all.

Have you ever been to this part of Italy?

 

 

 

Back from beautiful “Betsy” – what a weekend!

Wow, what a fab time I’ve had in North Wales. The beautiful Betws-y-Coed, or “Betsy”, is the gateway to Snowdonia National Park and is a pretty green and mountainous haven for a City girl like me.

We spent a weekend there last year, with my Mother in Law for her birthday, and were so taken with the village, the guesthouse and the scenery that we vowed we’d be back. Despite my wobble a couple of weeks ago (and thanks to Lisa for talking words of wisdom to me!) we approached it with much excitement. It turned out to be even better than expected.

The River Llugwy runs through the middle of the village, and can be crossed by one of two bridges – the iron Waterloo bridge at the entrance to the village, and the stone Pont-Y-Pair bridge in the middle.

River Llugwy Betws y Coed

Pont Y Pair bridge Betws y Coed

St Mary’s church is a big imposing structure right in the middle. It dates back to 1873.

St Marys Church Betws y Coed

St Marys Church 2 Betws y Coed

As well as being picturesque and well placed for sightseeing, mountain climbing and venturing further afield to the Isle of Anglesey, the village has some really good restaurants, which we were surprised at last year. The quality of the ingredients and imaginative menu listings aren’t what you would expect from a small Welsh village.

It’s been a visual and gastronomic delight.

Where we stayed  Mount Garmon View Guest House

Mount Garmon View Guesthouse Betws y Coed

This is, without doubt, the best guesthouse I’ve ever stayed in. It’s perfectly located, beautifully decorated and extremely relaxing. More than that, the owner is fabulous! One of the reviews of TripAdvisor describes her as the Welsh Mary Poppins. Nothing is too much trouble – from special breakfast requests through to lending maps and advising on days out; she always has time for a chat and her wealth of knowledge and passion is amazing. Afternoon tea and scones on arrival, fresh mineral water and biscuits in the bedroom and fresh flowers everywhere make for a delightful stay. I absolutely cannot recommend this place enough, if you were thinking of visiting the area.

Where we ate, evening one Ty Gwyn

This 17th century coaching house is positioned at the entrance to the village and is very popular – booking is essential.

Ty Gwyn Betws y Coed

We missed out last year as we didn’t book in advance and so were determined to not make the same mistake again. There is a restaurant – which is slightly more formal – a lounge and the alcove, which has just three tables. The menu is the same across all three rooms. They also have rooms, including romantic four poster bed rooms and a honeymoon suite. The decor is rustic and welcoming; white washed walls, oak beams, lots of brass and rugs and low lighting.

Inside Ty Gwyn Betws y Coed

We both started with king scallop, prawn and crayfish gratin; followed by lamb and duxxel wellington for husband, and fillet mignon roulade for me. The roulade, rather than being wrapped in pastry, was wrapped in bacon! And stuffed with cheese and spinach before being smothered in creamy peppercorn sauce. There were lots of yummy noises coming from our table. Because I was on holiday (!!) I had already decided I was indulging in a dessert and the honeycomb, ginger and chocolate cheesecake did not disappoint.

Cheesecake dessert at Ty Gwyn Betws y Coed

I magnanimously shared it with husband, even though I could have happily wolfed the lot. Delish.

Where we ate, evening two Llugwy River restaurant

This restaurant is part of the Royal Oak Hotel; there is also the Grill Room and the Stables Bar. We hadn’t booked, stupidly, but were told that if we just turned up we’d be seated when a table became available. We ate in the Grill Room last year and the food was very very good, although the restaurant was very hot. The River restaurant looks more formal, but that’s where we seated this time. Actually we needn’t have worried, because although the restaurant itself is decorated quite opulently, the clientele is very laid back. After all, “Betsy” is a base for walkers, climbers and outdoorsy types, so no-one is dressed up. We ordered from the Grill Room menu – scallops with black pudding and pulled pork, slow cooked rump of lamb with braised red cabbage and really really slow cooked pork belly. More yummy noises. There is also an a la carte menu served in the restaurant, which we’ll be sure to try next time.

As well as restaurants there are pubs and cafes – something to suit all budgets. I had a rather delicious lunch of beef and ale pie in the Stables Bar when we arrived, and a good old cheese and pickle sandwich in the beer garden at the Pont-y-Pair Inn on day two. Both were great!

I already can’t wait to get back there; I have a feeling it will become a yearly pilgrimage for us, and would happily go for longer next time. I’ll post tomorrow about what we got up to during our time there; the scenery is outstanding.

A trip to the seaside – Weston super Mare

My husband is a big fan of the band The Wildhearts. Front man Ginger Wildheart has been doing a Song and Words tour, where he talks about his life, his experiences, and plays songs from his albums across the years. More of that tomorrow, as it deserves a post of its own.

Anyway.

For one reason or another, husband didn’t make it to the Birmingham show, and was suitably gutted as he’s a massive fan (of both the band and Ginger). Being the good wife that I am (!!!) I kindly offered to accompany him to the last date of the tour in Weston super Mare, which just so happened to fall on a Saturday night, meaning we could have a mini weekend coastal break.

Selfless, eh?

Weston is the closest beach location to Birmingham, and is often known locally as Birmingham on Sea. We tend to drive down once a year, when the weather starts getting better, for some sea air and to eat fish and chips on the beach. It’s become a bit of a standing joke and a yearly pilgrimage.

There’s nothing cosmopolitan about Weston. It’ a typical English seaside town – faded in places, past its best, with donkeys on the beach and shops selling buckets and spades, rock and fishing nets all along the front.

But we really like it!

Husband has childhood memories of trips to see family and all the sentiments that surrounds it. And I love it because he loves it. His happiness makes me happy (sorry, vom-tastic moment). And also, well, ‘cos it’s seasdide innit?!

So, we headed down yesterday afternoon and checked into our B&B; the delightful Florence Guesthouse.

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Situated slightly back from the seafront, my eyes were immediately opened to a side of Weston I hadn’t seen before. I’ve only ever walked along the promenade. Away from the beachfront there’s a plethora of fabulous buildings set back into the hills. Our guesthouse was a stunningly pretty terraced villa building with original features in the breakfast room and a well tended basement garden. I found it on hotels.com and booked the last available room – a superior double. It was a great size, with a comfy sofa as well as the bed, an immaculate en suite bathroom and strong wi-fi connection (such a sign of the times when that’s a selling point!) We were welcomed by a very friendly lady who is the perfect guesthouse host, I certainly couldn’t do it. Imagine going to bed at night knowing strangers would be sharing your roof??!!

From there we headed down to the front. It was a beautiful day according to my camera – clear blue skies. In reality it was mega windy and pretty cold. But it didn’t matter, ‘cos it’s seaside innit?!

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Work on Weston Pier started in November 1903 and it opened in June 1904. That’s pretty good going when you consider how long things take these days.

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I remember reading in the news that the pier had set on fire in 2008. Everyone suspected arson, but it was recorded as most likely to be an electrical fire.

In a good move for the British tourist industry, the pier was rebuilt. Weston also has a permanent Big Wheel “Eye”. More than Birmingham has, but that’s another post…

So, what next? Fish and chips, obvs! We always get takeaway and sit on the beach wall, but it was actually too blinkin’ cold, so we went to Tony’s – a fish and chip café set just back from the promenade and on a downward slope to protect from the wind. Bloody hell, what a decision! Cod for me, plaice for husband, curry sauce to share and the sunshine warming our bones without the harsh wind in the more exposed food establishments. It was as close to the ultimate fish and chips as I’ve ever had. Gorge.

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Today we explored more of Weston, away from the seaside.

Nature is so persistent. The prettiest flowers growing out through stones.

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Where do these steps lead?

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Up to these lovely houses. They have a fab view of the beach.

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Finishing the day with obligatory seaside drinks photos.

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On Sunday we went for a post breakfast stroll (big mention again to Florence Guesthouse for the breakfast..I sensibly availed myself of EVERYTHING! Including cereal, yoghurt, toast, full English and tea).

There was a vintage car show in Weston Gardens..

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And so endeth Weston.