Well it’s the last day of what has been the strangest year of my life. I don’t feel there’s any point in saying here’s to 2021, because I can’t see things changing much if I’m honest – at least not for the first half of the year – but in time honoured tradition I’ve generated my top nine most liked photos from the year on Instagram, which has reminded me that 2020 wasn’t a complete shitshow!
Most of the pictures are in someway campervan related. Bodhi Bongo was the highlight of our year; despite the fact that campsites were closed until early July.
Shall we look at the stories behind the photos? Left to right, top to bottom, here we go!
Top left – this taken at Easter when the weather was beautiful…and the country was in full lockdown with nowhere to go. Instead we had an at home break in our garden, with the campervan set up as a chill out zone for shade, naps and general relaxation.
Top middle – taken on our first overnight trip in July but posted later as I reflected on how I’d adapted to camperlife. This picture hides what came later; I flipped out and had a cry because everything hadn’t gone to plan. It’s been a learning curve!
Top right – our first overnight stay; outside our house in February in a storm. Fuelled by vodka. The end.
Middle left – sulking about the UK tourist industry grinding to a fault in our first year of camper ownership. At this point Bodhi was an expensive ornament sitting outside our house!
Middle middle – the husband chilling out on our 4 day break to Dorset. That was when everything came together for the first time and I really felt cut out for vanlife.
Middle right – the day we bit the bullet and booked our first trip. I was auditing everything we needed to buy for a home from home experience. We don’t travel light!
Bottom left – taken on our first overnight trip away, in Much Wenlock. It’s a really pretty town which we weren’t able to make the most of, because of the effing virus, so we’ll definitely back.
Bottom middle – the only gig we went to this year! A road trip to Nottingham to see Twin Temple. I was really poorly, husband had some health issues and it wasn’t the best. We didn’t know it would be the last though!
Bottom right – the stunning Durdle Door in Dorset, which we visited in August in…you guessed it…our campervan! It literally took my breath away. An absolute highlight of 2020, which I haven’t yet blogged about so I must get round to it.
So that was the year that was and wasn’t! In fact this post has reminded me things weren’t so awful, and actually I fared better than many others. Something to be infinitely grateful for.
What will 2021 bring? More campervanning, hopefully!
Stay safe everyone and thanks, as always, for reading. x
Bridgnorth is a town in Shropshire which I’ve long been aware of. It isn’t very far from where I live now or where I grew up, maybe 30 miles, and I think my Dad started or finished a boat race on the River Severn there when I was a kid. I was convinced I’d been there in adult life, until we went there recently and I clearly hadn’t.
With 2020 being a funny old year (to say the least), exploring more of the UK has been on the agenda when it comes to a change of scenery. We didn’t venture out until mid July, hoping that the initial hoards of thoughtless marauding idiots who thought lockdown meant carry on as normal and social distancing was not talking to your friends on Facebook would have dissipated by then.
Bridgnorth has a high town and a low town, separated by the River Severn and literally doing what it says on the tin – lower town is low (duh) whilst high town is elevated on sandstone cliffs with views over the river and beyond. The two are connected by a funicular railway – the steepest in the country, if you’re interested – but we avoided that due to touching of surfaces and breathing of other people’s air, and took one of the multiple (steep!) sets of steps up and then back down again.
We parked by the river, which runs a wide and sludgy greeny brown between High Town and Low Town. It wasn’t the prettiest on a grey day, but having been cooped up for so long just the sight of water in nature was a pleasure!
We walked up the hill towards Lavington’s Hole, which dates back to 1646 and the Civil War. Parliamentary forces dug through the rock in an attempt to burrow under St Mary’s Church, where the Royalists kept their gunpowder and blow up the church. The tunnel was never completed, and you can’t enter it due to safety reasons, but it’s an interesting little area with other caves that have been carved out for dwellings over the years, and some nice gardens.
In High Town you’ll find some high street shops, a marketplace (there was a market on when we visited on a Saturday afternoon), the church of St Mary Magdalene, and the castle grounds and gardens. There isn’t much left of the castle now, and what does exist looks like it could fall over any minute (I’m sure it couldn’t, not casting aspersions on the safety of the town!), but it’s very pleasant to wander round and take in the views.
There’s some nice architecture to look at; some lovely Georgian styles, beamed buildings, teeny tiny front doors and cute front door knockers, and many people seem to have a lot of pride in where they live, with pretty gardens, pots and hanging baskets.
We didn’t stop for lunch as we had other plans, so probably spent no more than a couple of hours there, but it’s always nice to get out and about somewhere new, even if you I didn’t know it was new to you me until you I got there!
Next stop was the medieval market town of Much Wenlock, where we set up camp for our first ever campervan overnighter! (more on that another time). We were staying a 5 minute walk from the town, so went for a little wander (and in search of a pub!) Unfortunately the pub we had our eye on was closed until August thanks to our beastly enemy Covid, and Much Wenlock itself seemed to be in hibernation despite it only being 4pm. Being a city dweller it’s easy to forget that small towns and villages aren’t always open!
The town itself is quaint, with a history spanning over 800 years. Unfortunately the church was closed (Covid), and the priory was closed (Covid) so we couldn’t do much else than have a wander round and look at the outside of stuff.
Look how quaint the police station is?
And I was intrigued by Bastard Hall!
It’s so easy to neglect places that are relatively on your own doorstep in favour of travelling further afield, but this year has certainly given me a new appreciation for the UK and seeing more of it.
Have you visited anywhere close to home that’s new to you this summer?
Any season that isn’t summer is not my bag. Summer is the absolute dogs danglies. Autumn is, in my opinion, the worst season. Spring means summer is coming, and winter at least has Christmas. Autumn? To me it just signifies the end of the good stuff (summer) and the beginning of the cold of winter. I don’t understand how people get excited about autumn.
I’ve already posted about my dislike of September (the beginning of Autumn, if so many are to be believed!) a few years ago.
I read about pumpkin spice lattes (I don’t drink long coffee drinks), jumper season (I prefer t-shirts), wrapping up in hats and scarves and boots, sitting in front of the fire and going for autumn winter walks.
And I Just. Don’t. Get. It.
You don’t really see autumn colours when you live in the suburbs of a city. Sure, my garden is covered in leaves and they’re a range of colours, but that doesn’t bring an appreciation of the beauty of autumn. It just brings a mulchy mess that ruins the grass!
And as for winter, it’s barren and cold, with no greenery, dull dark days and the only brightness in months of darkness is the excitement of Christmas.
Confession: I may have changed my mind a little bit, all thanks to Bodhi Bongo!
Overnighters in our campervan are very much for longer days and warmer weather. But as a day van, Bodhi has opened up new possibilities for us outside of summer. Our van has a twin gas hob, we have a kettle and a griddle pan and lots of space, which brings a whole new dimension to going out for the day.
In November I experienced a whole new take on Autumn. The husband suggested driving down to the Forest of Dean for a scenic drive and a wander. I was enthusiastic but wary. Autumn isn’t really all that, right?
The drive alone was beautiful. Being in the campervan you’re much higher than a normal car, so you can see a lot more. More colours, more streams, more bridges and tree lined roads.
We parked up in Speech House Woods, which is maintained by Forestry England, changed our shoes, and off we went!
It wasn’t long until I stopped in my tracks, looked all around me, and declared “this feels like an autumn fairytale!”
I’ve never seen such beautiful shades of orange, rust and gold, interspersed by blue skies and evergreen leaves. The air was crisp, there was a blanket of leaves underfoot and trees of all shapes and sizes.
It definitely turned me into a fan of Autumn walks! So much so, that, a couple of weeks later, we headed up to the Clent Hills, which is just a short drive from Birmingham. At their highest point, Clent Hills rise to 1037ft, with 360 degree views over multiple counties.
And so to Winter, where surely the drop in temperatures and bare branches would hold no interest for me? Well, such is my new zest for outdoor life (!!) that the suggestion of a post Christmas drive to the Wyre Forest was jumped upon by me. I adorned myself with coat, scarf, hat and gloves (all the things I sneer at!), packed our campervan bag with all the essential (teabags, sweeteners, kettle, bread and sausage) and off we went.
Turns out that even winter in the forest is a joy! There’s a surprising amount of green thanks to coniferous trees, and the low winter sun creates beautiful shadows and casts a glow through the trees.
How does our campervan make autumn and winter walks more enjoyable?
When you’ve been for a walk in bracing temperatures, you (I) need a little downtime before bundling back in the car to go home. Having Bodhi Bongo means we have plenty of space to take off all our layers, change our muddy boots and stretch out (and stop sweating!) before we head back. We can have a cup of tea and some food sitting at a proper table. So far we’ve cooked bacon sandwiches, cheese and ham toasties and sausage sandwiches, all fresh and hot. It’s a real novelty and makes it so much fun. Who thought I’d look forward to watching a kettle boil on a gas stove?
Buying our campervan at the “worst” time of year means that we still have the very best to come! But,, rest assured, when autumn rolls around in 2020, I’ll be chomping at the bit for days out. This is a year round hobby for us, and I’m excited to see where we end up in the future!
I mentioned in my previous blog post that we wanted to experience the fjords without the length and cost of a fjords cruise from the UK. Whilst researching the best way to do this, I came across the Norway in a Nutshell trip.
Norway in a Nutshell does what it says on the tin – it’s designed to show you the best of what Norway has to offer in one short trip. Now I’m sure purists will say you couldn’t possibly experience the best of a country in a day, and I’m sure they’re right, but for us this was a great way to get what we wanted from our long weekend.
If you google Norway in a Nutshell you’ll find tour operators offering the trip; just select your date and times and book a ticket through them. This is, of course, an option, but don’t be mislead. NiN is a trip concept put together for visitors, but actually comprises of different travel operators with coordinated timescales, meaning you can transfer from train to narrow gauge railway, to ferry, to bus and to train again with relative ease. If you pay a tour operator for your NiN trip, they will book it through the individual operators and issue you with one ticket – obviously for a fee! But, with some research, it’s easy enough to do it yourself.
Tripadvisor is your friend
There are multiple threads on the Norway travel forums with people offering advice on itineraries and timings. I found it invaluable in gathering together information to plan our trip.
Also, do refer to companies offering Norway in a Nutsehll, as they will show their itineraries and times so that you can then go and book the various elements independently.
First things first; decide on your start and end point. You can travel from Oslo to Bergen, Bergen to Oslo, or do a round trip starting and ending in Bergen, which is the option we chose.
Our journey itinerary was to be as follows:
Train: Bergen > Myrdal
Narrow gauge railway: Myrdal > Flam
Ferry: Flam > Gudvangen
Bus: Gudvangen > Voss
Train: Voss > Bergen
Originally we’d planned to do the NiN trip on the second day of our visit, but certain trains weren’t running on Sundays, so that wasn’t possible. This meant we needed to do it on our first day. After not getting to the hotel until the small hours, it made sense not to start too early,. We caught the 11.59 train from Bergen Central station, heading to Myrdal, up in the mountains.
The scenery as you leave Bergen and head into the mountains would have been beautiful, but the weather was poor with lots of mist and low visibility. We did have moments of great views, but it wasn’t all I’d hoped it to be, unfortunately!
Myrdal station is 867 metres above sea level, and even in early June there was still snow on the mountains. There’s nothing at all to see or do here; just a small station with a shop and cafeteria. Again everything is mega expensive – they wanted £5 for a Norwegian pot noodle!
We had around a 30 minute wait at Myrdal station until the train to Flam came into the station. The Flåm Railway is one of the steepest standard gauge railway lines in the world, with 80% of the journey running on a gradient of 5.5%.
You’ll pass through 20 tunnels, have a short stop at the Kjossfossen waterfall where you can get off the train and see the falls from a viewing platform, and then head down the mountain into the lush green valley of Flam with it’s picture perfect wooden houses. The journey takes about an hour, and is very beautiful.
Thanks to the impeccable timing we didn’t need to kill any time in the harbour; instead going straight to the ferry which was to transport us during the main event – the fjords. Now I don’t have a lot of ferry experience, but this one was absolutely fantastic! I didn’t manage to get a picture, but have found this one as I just had to share!
The ferry was electric, so it was all but silent as it glided through the water. This made the whole trip so much more enjoyable, because there were no distractions. It’s zig zag design means that there is sufficient viewing space on the vessel so that every guest has at least 1 metre of space, even if it’s at capacity. Inside there were plush leather seats, good toilets and a snackbar serving tea, coffee, beer, wine, sandwiches and pastries. Because the ferry wasn’t fully booked we were able to move around to different seats during the 2 hour journey, as well as venturing onto the outdoor deck and different levels for photographs and to soak in the majestic landscape.
From Flam we travelled through Aurlandsfjord before joining the narrow Nærøyfjord, both of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage list. We passed small coastal villages, towering cliff sides, and more waterfalls than I’ve ever seen; some tiny trickles seemingly appearing from nowhere, others gushing into the fjord.
It was an incredible two hours.
We arrived at Gudvangen and once again the next step of the journey was easy to access – the bus was sitting waiting for us. This was the only part of the trip that couldn’t be pre-booked as the buses only accept cash payments, which wasn’t a problem as we were already aware of it. The coach took us through very narrow hairpin bends (such driving skill required here!) and past yet more powerful waterfalls, mountain views and green valleys before dropping us off at Voss station for the final leg of the journey.
Not going to lie, by this stage we were all pretty tired – turns out that sitting around and looking at beautiful scenery for hours is exhausting! The train from Voss back to Bergen had multiple stops which made it a longer journey, and the scenery wasn’t that great so this was a matter of just waiting to get off, stretch our legs and find somewhere for dinner!
As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m sure it’s impossible to capture the wonder of a country in just one day, but the fact that the Norway in a Nutshell trip is so widely revered and traversed is testament to it’s popularity, and we certainly felt satiated by it.
How I booked our Norway in a Nutshell daytrip
Train travel – this was all booked through NSB online. For the first leg of the journey (Bergen to Myrdal) there was an option for NSB Komfort seats costing just an extra £6 (ish) each. I was able to select our seats in advance and the price included free hot drinks for the duration of the journey. Knowing how expensive Norway is, this was well worth the money! There are no seat reservations for the Myrdal to Flam leg of the journey, but you are guaranteed a seat – they don’t overbook the train so there’s nothing to worry about there. We had prebooked seats from Voss to Bergen, but there was no NSB Komfort option on this train.
Fjords ferry journey from Flam to Gudvangen – I booked this at visitflam.com and was issued with an email confirmation which we used to board the vessel.
Bus from Gudvangen to Voss – as I mentioned this was cash only.
Create your own trip to suit your needs
As I said earlier, you can start your Norway in a Nutshell journey from Oslo if you choose, or go from Bergen to Oslo. You could do the trip in the opposite direction to the one we took, so the ferry would arrive into Flam and you would then take the narrow gauge railway up to Myrdal, rather than down into the valley as we did. You can also tailor the trip to take as long as you want – you could arrange overnight stays in Flam or at some of the fjords coastal towns (some of the ferries do stop offs between Flam and Gudvangen). It really is up to you.
We had a wonderful day, and the fjords really are an incredible sight. Nature at it’s best!
When you reach a certain age, you have most of the worldly possessions you want, and experiences become more important than “stuff”. That’s why, for my Mother in Law’s 80th birthday in June, we took her away for a weekend break to Bergen in Norway.
She’d mentioned a long time ago that she’d love to see the Norwegian Fjords, but didn’t think that her usual travel buddies would be up for it. I stored that nugget of information and dragged it out at the beginning of this year to form a plan.
Now I love my mother in law, and she loves me, but I don’t think either of us would want to spend longer than a few days together, so a Fjords cruise was out of the question (as well as being very expensive and not really appealing to me anyway). Instead I researched where to base ourselves in Norway in order to experience the Fjords for a day, and also see something else of the country.
We flew from Manchester into Bergen with SAS airlines
Our flight didn’t take off until 9.30pm, meaning we landed just before midnight and jumped in a cab to our hotel. We knew that Norway was an expensive country but here was our first experience – around £60 for a 12km cab journey. Ouch!
Day one – Norway in a Nutshell
Day one was a full one. I’d independently booked the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which involved a walk to the train station, then a train into the mountains, a funicular train back down the mountains, a 2 hour fjord cruise, a bus and then another train back to Bergen. It was an itinerary that took around 9 hours in total, but was such a wonderful day with the most incredible scenery. It sounds more stressful than it is; all we really had to do was sit down and then transfer from one method of transport to another! I’ll do a separate post about the logistics of the trip – it’s worth booking independently as it can save you money, too. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side (for the whole weekend, actually!), so some of the views weren’t as good as we’d hoped, but actually the clouds and mist made the fjords even more atmospheric. They’re incredibly beautiful and mesmerising, and photos cannot do them justice.
Day two – wandering the streets of Bergen
We spent day two having a mooch around Bergen. It’s not a huge city, and easily doable on foot.
One of the main attractions is the Bryggen old wharf and wooden houses. This area is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and dates back centuries as a trading point. Behind the house fronts are numerous traders and workshops which are worth wandering around, and a few gift shops which, you guessed it, are very expensive!
The centre of Bergen is dominated by the Fish Market, which is partially indoors and partially outdoors, with covered seating and heaters. We had a wander amongst it although we didn’t eat. I did have a chat with one of the lobsters awaiting it’s fate, though!
After lunch it was STILL raining (I hadn’t expected a tropical holiday, but apparently the weather was particularly bad for the time of year, according to a local). Umbrellas up and jackets fastened we took to the backstreets for some street art spotting, before heading back to the hotel.
Day three – Mount Floyen
Our flight home wasn’t until early evening on day three, so we’d saved heading to the summit of Mount Floyen until then. Floyen is classed as a “city mountain” and is 400 metres above sea level at its peak. There’s a super quick, super modern, super efficient funicular railway which goes from the centre of town to the top of the mountain in just a few minutes.
At the summit there are a couple of cafes, a children’s playground, some walks, some goats (rather random!) and views over all of Bergen. It was well worth the time, and definitely worth doing while you’re in Bergen.
Top tips if you’re travelling to Bergen
Don’t expect a budget trip.
Nothing is cheap here. We already knew it was an expensive city and had paid for as much as possible in advance. Food and drink is particularly expensive; there’s no such thing as a cheap bite. If you enjoy an alcoholic beverage I’d suggest buying a bottle at UK duty free and taking it with you – that’s what we did! A small glass of wine was around £10, and the husband paid £13 for a litre of beer. A 1.5 litre bottle of Sprite from the supermarket was £4.
Cash isn’t king.
It seems that much of Bergen is attempting to go cashless. Paying by cash isn’t particularly welcomed; in fact the restaurant in our hotel only accepted card payments. Be sure to have a method of paying by plastic just in case.
It doesn’t have a great cuisine.
I could be doing the city a disservice, because my mother in law is a fussy eater, so we didn’t go to any traditional restaurants. But there didn’t seem to be any dishes really synonymous with the area. In fact there were a lot of pan asian restaurants and places serving pizza. It wasn’t a foodie holiday.
We had a great trip and saw some wonderful sights. I’m not going to pretend that the weather didn’t have a bit of a negative effect on things (I bloody hate rain!) but mother in law was super chuffed, which is what it was all about!
Have you been to Norway? Let me know in the comments!
Of all the unusual things I’ve bought over the years, (a pair of maracas from eBay when drunk, for example, I didn’t know I’d bought them until they arrived a few days later), I never thought I would (part) own a campervan. You see, I’ve never been camping, or had any desire to do so. I’ve never stayed anywhere without a toilet and shower under the same roof as my bed. Yet here I am, indulging my husband’s dream, and feeling rather excited about the prospect!
His previous childhood itch, of owning a Harley Davidson, has been scratched. As beautiful as his bike is, it’s sitting mainly unused in our garage as the UK road conditions get worse and biking becomes less appealing to him. Now it’s time for childhood dream number two; a campervan, a mini home on wheels that will take us up hill, down dale and everywhere in between.
Most people associate campervans with the iconic VW, but that wasn’t an option for us. Original (old) models are rare and often unreliable, while the newer ones are hugely expensive.
Instead we’ve gone for a Mazda Bongo.
A what, I hear you ask? I’d never heard of them either, and admit that the name is quite comical. But the husband, being the nerd thorough fellow he is, has been researching campers for a long time. He confidently announced to me that the Bongo is the way to go. It also has a bit of a cult following, and a real community on hand to help. There are dedicated Facebook groups regular real life meet ups organised around the country.
Bongos were never sold in the UK market. All the ones on the UK roads have been imported from Japan. Sold as an 8 seater utility vehicle over there they’re prime for all sorts of conversions; with owners adding cupboards, beds, cookers and more. The DVLA is reportedly getting stricter on reclassifying newly converted vans, so we went on the hunt for one which had already been converted to our needs.
The Bongo community is big on naming their vans. Whilst ours will be known as “The Van” in the most part, we had to give it an official moniker as well. This comes purely from the husband, who has a love of the film Point Break and the main surfer character Bodhi, played by Patrick Swayze. Bodhi is also a Sanskrit name meaning “awakening” or “enlightenment”. The Buddhist concept of Bodhi is spiritual awakening and freedom from the cycle of life, which seems pretty apt (if all goes to plan and I take to campervan life!)
Bodhi has a sofa which pulls out into a full length bed, a two ring gas cooker, a fridge, a table and a sink. His roof lifts up sideways, which is quite unusual, but gives us full height for standing up all the way along the van. He has a leisure battery to power the electrics, but he can also be hooked up to a mains electricity point on a camp site! He has interior lights and plug sockets, and cupboard space for storing essentials.
I mentioned in my last post that the Jurassic Coast is on my travel hitlist. The husband has already found a campsite with seaviews overlooking Durdle Door, so that’s pencilled in as a to-do next summer. In the meantime we’ll find our campervan feet, work out what kit we need (I didn’t know that portable compost toilets were a thing, but having one of those in an awning next to the van rather than trekking across a field in the middle of the night after too much wine makes much more sense), and start our foray into freedom on wheels!
I also get to buy important pretty things!
Things like cushions, rugs, duvet covers, and fairy lights! Although this is proving more stressful than I thought, as we try to decide on a theme. Decorating a small space is a big responsibility!
Here’s me when we collected him last week.
I’m sure there’ll be many more Bodhi posts as time goes on; from interior pictures to our adventures!
I’ve been lucky enough in the past couple of years to tick some places off my travel hitlist (namely Dubrovnik, Athens and Santorini), so obviously I need to replace those places with more!
It’s been ages since I wrote my travel hitlist part 1 and part 2, so here’s an up to date version. Some are the same, some are new, and all of them look amazing!
I was inspired to visit Seville by Nina’s blog posts and photographs – she loves it so much she’s been twice. It has a reputation for fabulous architecture, incredible tapas and is the home of flamenco. Plus it has a very temperate climate so is an ideal year round destination.
This was firmly on my first list and remains there untouched; second only to Seville on the city break wish list. Traditional trams, small streets and pretty coloured buildings. Sign me up!
Jurassic Coast, Dorset
Closer to home, but seemingly harder to fulfil because we always look to going further afield when it comes to holidays (and summer in the UK is such an indecisive fellow). But plans may be afoot for this one…watch this space!
Another one that continually seems to evade us, and I appreciate that a whole county is being pretty vague, but highlights for me would be Tintagel (with the new walkway recently opened at the castle), Looe (I’ve only ever been there when the now defunct Looe Music Festival was taking place), and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I’d love to venture as far as Penzance and Lands End, but so long in a car really puts me off!
Golden Triangle, India
This has been on my list since forever, and will remain on my list until I’m able to go there. The husband ums and ahs about going there (the amount of travelling and potential of Delhi Belly put him off!). At some point this may mean that I travel without him. I feel that it’s probably the one trip on earth that I’ll regret if I don’t do it, so if I have to go it alone then so be it! (not alone alone though, obvs, on some kind of group tour where I’ll probably hate everyone and they’ll hate me).
This looks like one of the prettiest whitewashed Spanish villages I’ve ever seen, and I know people who have been there and said it’s absolutely beautiful. There’s nothing to do there so it would be a few days of good food, chilling by the pool (it’s in the mountains) and marvelling at just how picturesque it is. Maybe a day trip by bus into Nerja, which is the nearest coastal town. Sounds like a good use of time to me!
Obviously this is a bit of a sore point for me, as we were supposed to go this coming September; taking advantage of super bargainous flights and an incredibly good Airbnb deal. If you read this blog regularly (not that I’d blame you if you didn’t – my posting schedule is intermittent at best!) you’d know that the Airbnb fell through and left us high and dry. Despite my protestations that “New York can go fuck itself” I do still really want to go there, if only to say I’ve been! (especially as two people in my office are going soon and I will have the jealousy)
Of course there are LOADS of other places in the world I’d like to go, but I’d say these are currently the most pressing; the ones I’d like to tick off before any others. Which to do first? We’ll have to see what happens!
Do you have a travel hitlist? Where in the world are you just dying to visit? Let me know in the comments!
Mention Stoupa as a travel destination and most people will just look at you blankly. Only once, in the 18 or so years I’ve been raving about it, has anyone known where I was talking about.
In fact, mention mainland Greece to most people and they look slightly confused. “Whereabouts?” they’ll ask. Not many people have particularly good Greek geography, so if it’s not the capital Athens, or perhaps Halkidiki in the North, then most people won’t recognise it. My response of “in the Mani Peninsula, in the base of the Peloponnese mountains” usually elicits a vague acknowledgement and little else. In fact a work colleague told me this year that I’m the only person he knows who’s ever holidayed on the mainland.
I feel for Stoupa right now
It’s heavily serviced by Thomas Cook flights from the UK, and many of the accommodations have an affiliation to TC too. Because the accommodation owners get paid at the end of the season, there’ll be many who will have worked the summer season for nothing; at least until the financial mess can be sorted and creditors paid.. For a small village which needs to make the majority of its money in the summer in order to survive the quieter winter, that’s a heavy blow.
Some of the reasons I love Stoupa are reasons that others would find to dislike it. It isn’t fancy. There are no luxury hotels. Nothing is higher than two storeys. Apartment decor tends to be rustic, mismatched and basic. Bathrooms rarely have baths. Shower cubicles may not have a curtain, or a hook for the shower attachment. If it’s true that you go on holiday to experience something different then, for us, Stoupa is it.
Sunbleached cars and battered mopeds are the only (occasional) traffic that you see. Taxis are as rare as hens teeth. Electricity cables drape precariously from telegraph poles to houses. There are only a handful of shops. on the one main street. It takes no more than 10 minutes to walk from one end of the village to the other.
Cats wander freely amongst handpainted restaurant tables and wooden chairs. Wine is ordered by colour and quantity, not by grape or the bottle (it’s approximately 6 euros for a litre of very drinkable local wine – what’s not to like?!) Food is traditional and home cooked – no haute cuisine here. The most tender meat, the reddest tomatoes. tear and share bread with olive oil, seafood, tasty potatoes . Oven baked, freshly grown and always delicious.
There is no “picture perfect” backdrop of white sands and palm trees
The mountains are rugged and imposing; often clouding over with ominous blackness that rarely reaches the Stoupa coastline but provides a dramatic vista as you swim in the cool blue sea. The coast line is craggy in places. There are no water sports, just a few small boats and pedalos to hire. The stone buildings don’t have the curb appeal of Santorini’s white architecture, for example; so often portrayed in articles about visiting Greece. The silvery grey leaves of the olive trees look arid rather than lush. It’s beautiful, but not an Instgram dream, and it’s all the better for it (I didn’t see one selfie stick in the whole time we were there).
I love Stoupa not in spite of all these things, but because of them
These are the things that make it so inimitable to me. It feels real and authentic. It’s not showy or trying to be something it isn’t. It’s solid, dependable and welcoming. It isn’t exciting, yet I get so excited at the thought of going, precisely because I know what to expect. This goes against the grain for me when it comes to travel, because I love the thought of exploring new places and seeing more of the world, but there’s something about this little village that just has my heart.
Oh, and did I mention the sunsets?
I think that the Thomas Cook situation has opened a lot of regular visitors’ eyes about how precarious the livelihood of some of the accommodation owners is, and I think it will change how people book in the future. We booked directly with the apartment this year and will do so again in the future. I only hope that another airline picks up the Thomas Cook routes so that Brits are still able to visit and holiday amongst the Greeks, Germans, Dutch and other nationalities who love it as much as we do. While both BA and Easyjet currently operate flights from the UK, Thomas Cook was by far the biggest operator; flying probably a thousand people each week to Kalamata airport.
Have you got a favourite holiday destination that you love to go back to? Let me know in the comments!
When I bought tickets to the Making of Harry Potter for my sister’s 21st birthday, I hadn’t seen any of the films or read any of the books. I was never part of the Harry Potter phenomenon, as I was 19 when the first book was released, so it kind of passed me by.
In fact, up until a few days before we went, I still hadn’t seen any of the films. We established that I’d probably need to see the first three in order to appreciate anything about the studio tour, so I binge watched them over 3 nights and off we went.
I must admit I didn’t have high hopes for the tour; I expected it to be OK but not brilliant, and probably overpriced for what there is on offer. How wrong I was! There’s so much to see and do, with interactive attractions, photo opportunities and lots of different scenes and props.
It’s your birthday!
Excitingly for my sister, they asked if anyone was celebrating their birthday before we went into the Great Hall, and she was the only one, so she got to open the famous huge wooden doors!
I felt super poorly on the day, having the WORST cold, aches and pains, snotty nose and looking dog rough, all topped off with a 2 hour drive that took over 3 hours, but I couldn’t resist a couple of cheeky poses!
Diagon Alley was my absolute favourite – the lighting colours changed and it was really atmospheric. Just like the real thing!
The tour finishes with a model of Hogwarts, which was absolutely beautiful and mesmerising. The level of detail was incredible, with tiny lights and trees all the way round.
As I said earlier in my post, I didn’t have overly high expectations, and thought the tour wouldn’t be worth the cost of the ticket, but I was wrong. I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the Harry Potter series, because it’s so well done. The prop photos and videos which you have to pay for are expensive for what they are (standard for this type of attraction), and the gift shop is extortionate, but there are so many opportunities to do your own thing with photos, and staff dotted around to take pictures for you too.
Have you been to the Making of Harry Potter? Let me know in the comments!
Dubrovnik is famous for it’s city walls. Entering the city walls, through Ploce or Pile Gate to gain entry to old town Dubrovnik, is free. Walking the city walls is chargeable, but well worth doing. The walls were originally built as a fortification to protect the city, but are now one of Dubrovnik’s main tourist attractions, and a great way to get a different perspective of the city. They’re also home to some scenes from Game of Thrones, if that’s of interest to you.
The walls are accessed at periodic entry points around the walls. You can buy a ticket online in advance, or buy on the day, which is what we did – from memory it cost about £25 per person, but this also includes entry to Fort Lovrijenac. We started our tour at the entrance nearest to Ploce Gate, and were immediately greeted with lots of steep stone steps. There was moaning and groaning from ourselves and other visitors, especially a group of 5 women just ahead of us with epic hangovers – they got to the top and were already talking about turning round and leaving!
Top tip: try to avoid the heat of the day and take refreshments. There’s very little shelter or cover from the sun up on the walls. There are a couple of cafes which get very busy but aside from that you’re very exposed. We actually changed our plans and brought our visit forward a day to take advantage of some cloud cover, but that soon burned away and it was hot!
Here come the pictures!
There’s a one way system in operation on the walls, which helps to keep people moving and avoid awkwardness on some of the narrower steps. It makes life a lot easier! You can see the throng of people on the picture above, bottom left. It isn’t that crowded all the way around; it thins out as the paths widen and people amble at different speeds.
Because the walls circle the whole city you’ll get views of all vistas – across the red tiled roofs of Old Town, over to Ploce, up to Mt Srd and seawards to Lokrum Island and the horizon.
The picture below is looking back towards Minceta Tower, which was a filming scene in Game of Thrones. The base of Minceta Tower was used as the exterior of House of Undying in the town of Qarth. You can climb up the narrow stone staircase to the top for views over the city.
Over the water you can see Fort Lovrijenac, which was the filming location for the Red Keep in Kingslanding, for you Game of Thrones fans! Entrance to the Fort is included in the ticket for the walls, but we never got round to getting there. We’d climbed quite enough steps!
I’ll leave you with some facts and figures about Dubrovnik City Walls
The walls are 1,940 metres long; forming one continual structure. They reach a maximum height of around 25 metres in certain areas. The majority of the land facing walls measure between 4 and 6 metres in thickness. The sea-facing parts are less wide; measuring between 1.5 metres and 3 metres in width. The walls welcome over 1 million visitors each year – a number that is continuing to grow thanks to Game of Thrones, and increasing numbers of cruise ships which dock there over the summer months. Old Town Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1979.
Have you been to Dubrovnik? Let me know in the comments!