As I gear up for my next holiday, 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. 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. Dubrovnik is small enough to get around in a few days. That said, there’s 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.
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
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.
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).
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!)
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.
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.
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.
If you’re going to have to turn 40, there are worst ways to start your day than waking up in Rome with a visit to the Colosseum on the cards. Once again my pre-planning had come into it’s own, because I found through research that the Colosseum has bookable private tours of areas not open to the public. I wanted to get tickets for the undergound tour, which are are only released a few weeks in advance; I knew they were in high demand and unfortunately missed out. Fortuitously though, a new tour has just been launched – the Belvedere tour – which takes visitors up to the third and fourth tiers of the structure giving incredible views and a real feel of the size of the arena, so we still got to do something “extra” than most people have access to.
As we approached the Colosseum it was so strange to see the contrast of modern construction against such an old and important point of interest (a new underground rail line is being built to service this area of the city).
I underestimated the walking distance from our hotel (much to the chagrin of the husband and his aching bones) so we arrived just about in time to go through security and meet up with our tour guide. Everyone was given a headset to listen to the very interesting commentary as we walked around. The tour starts in the same entrance used by all visitors and then proceeds to the higher levels which are behind locked doors and only accessed by venue officials.
We learned that, despite depictions in films, gladiators fought other gladiators (highly trained fighter who went to “Gladiator School” in an attempt to gain fame and fortune) and not animals (that was reserved for criminals). We learned that it was not only lions that were shipped in for these fights, but also larger African animals like elephants and giraffes! We learned that, to celebrate the opening of the Colosseum in 80AD (known the as the Flavian Amphitheatre), a 100 day ceremony took place which saw events and fighting every day for the length of the opening ceremony. Tickets to attend events at the Colosseum were free, on a first come first served basis, and carved into a stone tablet, apart from upper class seats, right at the side of the arena, which were reserved for the ruling emperor, politicians and wealthy upper class members of society. We looked down from the highest possible point of the structure, looking at the tiered seating and the underground portion of the arena where you can still see evidence of the labyrinth of corridors which would have been hidden by the stage; where fighters and animals were kept until such time that they were due to perform, when they would be propelled up onto the stage by an elaborate (for the time) lift contraption and through a trapdoor.
After the tour we were free to wander around at will, looking at some of the permanent exhibitions and just feeling the sheer size of the space, marveling at the construction (it’s so symmetrical! And so well preserved!) And obviously taking all of the photos!
After leaving the Colosseum, we headed across the cobbled courtyard to the entrance to the Forum and Palatine Hill, which is included in the costs of the standard Colosseum entry ticket. The ticket is valid for 2 days, so you could do one attraction on one day and the other the next, which is very useful if you’re pushed for time. It also represents really good value with everything you get to see for one price.
The Forum was the centre of ancient Rome, originally a marketplace and now surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government ruins. Shrines and temples, columns, both intact and in pieces, carved stone – it’s amazing to see the layout of the area still as it once was, even after all these years.
These doors are 2000 years old, and the lock still works! (that blew my mind)
The Arch of Titus was commissioned by Emperor Titian, in memory of his brother.
I wonder what this says?
Upon leaving I took even more photos of the Colosseum because, honestly, it was just breathtaking and just incredible to see.
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.
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.
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?
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!
One of the great things I find about French cities is how well connected they are, and how cheap the public transport is. So it made complete sense for us to take advantage of that and plan a daytrip outside of Lyon.
Annecy is a pretty town very near to the Swiss border, in the Alps. The old town has lots of coloured buildings and a river running through it. It’s sometimes referred to as the Venice of the Alps. I’ve seen pictures of it and read about it in the past and, although it’s a 2 hour train journey, the tickets only cost us about £45 return which was well worth it.
If you follow me on instagram you’ll have already seen a lot of these photos, as I was very taken with the place!
Lake Annecy is the biggest lake in Europe, and surrounded by pretty lakeside towns and mountains. We went on a boat trip.
There are flowers everywhere in the town and on the bridges across the river.
This is tartiflette – a speciality of the region. A gratin of potatoes, onions and bacon lardons smothered in baked reblochon cheese. It was pretty spectacular!
We had a beautiful day in the sunshine, breathing in the mountain air and enjoying life, before getting the train back to Lyon in time for dinner!
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.
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.
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.
Wowsers, another first of the month. Where is the year going?!
Continuing my series, and as I’m currently in Lyon, I thought I would talk about my first city break abroad.
I’ve been holidaying overseas since I was a little kid, and the excitement of those 2 weeks a year in a big hotel in the sun was always immense. But as I got older travel started to become more accessible, with low cost airlines and the internet opening up all sorts of possibilities that would previously have been much more expensive and complicated.
The first city break I ever went on (by which my definition is not a holiday with the purpose of sunbathing!) was to Prague. It was also the first holiday that the husband and I ever went on where it was just the two of us. We travelled at the end of November on a cheap as chips flight. I remember vividly when the flight landed, at around 8pm, that there was a light dusting of snow on the ground, which I was so excited by!
We stayed in an apartment on the top floor of a stunningly ornate old building which had an aged charm and an eccentric owner. The small terrace was too cold to sit out on, but you could see the beautiful roofs and domes of the city, all glistening in the cold frosty air.
After dropping our bags we went straight out to have a look around and get some food. Our apartment was 5 minutes walk from Old Square which was buzzing with people, despite the cold. Restaurants had outdoor seating with patio heaters, and people were eating and drinking al fresco bathed in the lights of the square and the bars.
We fell in love with it instantly.
Over the next 4 days we wandered around the city, visited cathedrals, crossed Charles Bridge many many times, drank cheap beer, went on the funicular railway, cried at the Jewish war museum and cemetery, marvelled at synagogues, did a bit of shopping, ate hearty winter food, drank absinthe in an underground bar and went to a sex museum!
But, best of all, was on our last day. I was really upset to see that the Christmas market was being set up in old square but wasn’t yet open. As a firm Christmas fan, I was bereft that we hadn’t planned better.
And then, on our last night, the Christmas tree was lit and the market opened! I was beside myself (and very vocal!) It was the best end to a stunning break I could have asked for.
It was bloody freezing (as you’d expect) but we’d planned accordingly and wrapped up in multiple layers, hats, gloves and scarves. I’ve always thought of Prague as a winter city anyway so wearing chunky boots and a furry russian hat epitomised what I had anticipated in my mind.
Prague is an absolutely amazing city and I would love to go back, perhaps at a different time of year. I’d avoid summer due to the unfortunate proliferation of stag parties looking for cheap booze but I think springtime would be very beautiful.
I can honestly say that trip opened my eyes in terms of short breaks and seeing a different side of the world, and we haven’t looked back since.
Have you been to Prague? Do you love city breaks? Let me know!
When I booked our trip to Lyon, I had visions of wandering cobbled streets in maxi dresses and sandals and sitting at riverside cafes sipping cold wine.
The weather has other ideas.
Despite being May on Sunday, Lyon seems to be suffering with same crap weather affliction as the UK. I’ve trawled multiple forecast websites to find something more favourable, but all of them seem to be suggesting cool evenings and showers.
In a confusing state of mind though, in the past two days it’s improved slightly, with the temperatures creeping upwards. Not one to miss any opportunity to make the most of the sunshine, this now means I have to pack for two types of weather, just in case. As I don’t have two lots of luggage allowance (damn you Flybe) I’m going to have to get creative.
I’ve come up with a list of jeans, boots, maxi dresses, tops, maxi skirts, leggings, scarves, a hat, sunglasses, hi tops, sandals, a leather jacket and a denim jacket.
That’s pretty much every eventuality covered!
Now all I need to do is persuade the husband he doesn’t need a 50% share of the luggage space…
I’ll probably be sharing some pictures via Instagram whilst I’m away (free wifi dependant, obvs) so if you want to see what I’m seeing then give me a follow.