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.
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!
Look, it’s me!
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.
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!
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!
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)
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.
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.
Two weeks ago, on our way to Looe Music Festival, we visited Polperro. It’s a little fishing village just about 5 miles away from Looe, with restricted vehicle access. You have to park your car at the entrance to the village and walk down to the harbour. It’s a twisty turny maze of little streets, cute buildings and eating places, and very very pretty.
Here are some pics
The stream runs down to the sea, between the street and houses, so people have to cross individual bridges to their homes!
Polperro is still a working harbour. Back in the 1300s it used to be rife with smugglers.
I bet there was some loot in this cave!
The village is dotted with rowing boats filled with flowers, and pretty colourful hanging baskets
We had lunch – look at that for a fish pie!
My sentiments exactly, ha ha!
I’d definitely recommend a visit and a wander around Polperro if you’re ever in the area.
It’s relief that finally, at last, after weeks of deliberation and stress…
…we’ve booked a summer holiday.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a predilection to being dramatic, but in this case rightly so. I truly believe that we have never struggled to agree on a week away as much as this year.
Timing was an issue; we have so much on over the remaining summer months (I know, diddums) that we were struggling on when to go (and no point shoehorning something in for the sake of it). Realistically we don’t have time until mid October, by which point many of the traditional resorts in Europe are too cool temperature wise to guarantee a great holiday (not that it’s all about lying in the sun, but for what we were originally looking at that would probably have been the case).
Expectation was also an issue, because neither of us would commit to what we actually wanted from a holiday – was it just lying around doing nothing at all, or maybe with some sightseeing thrown in, or total sightseeing? We’ve danced around each other nervously, with husband eventually telling me that he would go along with whatever I wanted to do (probably because I was getting this wild woman of Borneo look in my eye and started twitching whenever a week off was mentioned).
Egypt was on the list; Sharm el Sheikh for late season sunshine and a day trip to the Pyramids as we’ve both always wanted to go. But recent horrors in Tunisia made us rethink that plan. Even if we scrapped the pyramid visit and just stayed in the resort, where there’s increased security, Egypt is a bit too close to the conflict for comfort; especially when attacks have happened from the sea. And do I really want to be sunbathing and watching an armed security team from the corner of my eye. Er, no.
Hong Kong was also on the list, but then with even more things popping into our calendar that require time off here and there, we don’t really have enough annual leave to do it justice. And it’s a bloomin’ long flight to only have 5 real usable days once you take travel time into account. Plus it would be full on doing and seeing stuff, which I don’t think is what husband really wants (although he’s too scared to say anything – negative or positive – by now, in case it finally tips me over the edge!!) So that was shelved.
Greece was a real contender, as it’s still warm into October and they really need tourist investment right now. But we’ve been to Greece for the past two years and weren’t sure if we were just considering it because we didn’t know where else to go.
And then I came across an amazing deal in Italy. Flying into Naples, staying just outside Sorrento in a cliff side hotel. Free minibus to Sorrento multiple times each day. Excursions to Vesuvius and Pompeii. A boat trip to Capri. A drive along the Amalfi coast. All options that are open to us, if we want them. OK, it’s not going to be scorchio in October. But it will, at worst, be t-shirt and shorts weather in the day, perfectly nice for sitting outside overlooking the sea and reading a book. Ideal temperature for sightseeing. And should the worst happen, and it rains, we’re staying at a fabulous all inclusive hotel so we can sit inside and eat and drink all day long.
I’m thrilled. Beyond thrilled, actually. I’ve been wanting to visit the Neopolitan Riviera and always just assumed we’d do a city break. This way we get the best of both worlds – relaxing AND sightseeing, It’s a really economical way to do it as well, which is always good (OK, that’s all relative, but cheaper than a city break and a separate chilling holiday, and also great value due to being all inclusive, as food and drink in Italy is expensive). We’ll probably eat out a couple of times, and obviously spend money on some excursions. Pompeii!! I come over all Frankie Howerd (oo-er) just thinking about it!
(and now my poor attempt at humour in the title of this post makes sense as well, no?)
Meanwhile, to get me even more excitable, here are some pics. Just wow!