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A Guide to the Midi-Pyrénées: Part Une

A Guide to the Midi-Pyrénées: Part Une

Growing up as one of three girls meant that family trips were anything but calm. Someone would be breathing too loudly in the car, someone would be sitting too closely to someone else or a mass riot would ensue if a sister was seen wearing another sister’s dress/shoes/anything that wasn’t their own.

Nowadays we’re mature adults and Shannon and I are so cordial to one another you might find it hard to believe that I ever broke her nose when we were kids. Twice. But those turbulent times are over and now we are more than capable of surviving a short holiday together especially when that holiday involves eating our way through the villages of southern France and taking lots and lots of pretty photos.

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So with that confidence in mind, we decided to take a quick trip to France last month to stay with our aunt and uncle who have spent the last 10 years converting an old barn in to the most beautiful chateaux by the Pyrénées (trés middle class, I know). As they are fairly rural we decided to hire a car and after an hour long process (why do I always get the employee who has just started the job the day before?) we finally hopped in to our beautiful Toyota Aygo that just about fit us along with our carry-on bags.

The French drive on the right hand side of the road which made for an interesting journey to our uncle’s house. It took a few attempts to leave the airport (and Shannon couldn’t even bring herself to look out the window when we eventually joined the motorway) but we made it in one piece to maison de Donnelly in the late afternoon. After we were hugged and my uncle commented on the rental (“that’s some wee yoke there” – typical Irish man review), we were shown around their humble abode which wasn’t so humble and moved me to real-life tears. They have managed to create a home that is warm and still so full of character, each room decorated with gorgeous French vintage market finds at prices that made me shed even more tears. I immediately promised myself that I will be a regular pest of theirs for as long as they would have me.

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My aunt Bronagh is an incredible cook and once we were settled, we sat at a table overlooking the sunflower fields (am I making you sick yet?). The food was glorious and the wine even more so. We sat chatting until Shannon and I could barely speak with tiredness so with heavy heads we retreated to our beautiful bedroom to sleep in our beautiful beds. Turns out we are still kids at heart and we fell asleep in the same bed, talking until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. 

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On our first morning I trotted down to the village to get croissants for breakfast because that is what one does in France. We planned our route for the day over our crumbs and then set off for Fanjeaux, a little hilltop village with views for miles. The rain decided to show up for the first hour or two but I was ferocious in my cheeriness that the rain would soon clear off. I’m one of those travellers that vehemently believes that rain should never dampen sprits but really all that it does is convince my fellow traveller that I’m a bit mental (picture me in the pouring rain with a manic smile screaming “WE ARE HAVING FUN, AREN’T WE?!).

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Fanjeaux is an old Cathar town with old medieval walls surrounding the Dominican chapel. It was beautiful despite the drizzle with plenty of cobbled streets to get lost in (or do circles like we did). It was so quiet and felt a little eerie in places because we hardly saw a soul save for a few damp tourists. We didn’t stay too long because we didn’t have an umbrella but it’s a place I would love to go back to on a clear day.

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Luckily for everyone the skies cleared as we were headed to Limoux and as the clouds parted we could spy the Pyrénées in the distance. The valley between Fanjeaux and Limoux are covered in vineyards which makes it a little difficult to be the chief/only driver. The area is famous for a sparkling wine called Blanquette which is sold by the vineyards alongside the road or in all the local shops. If Shannon had have been driving I would have been making a pitstop at every vineyard but being the ever-responsible big sister I stuck to caffeine and saved the wine tasting to the evenings when I could guzzle guilt-free back at the barn.

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As we approached Limoux we could see that it didn’t quite have the same charm as Fanjeaux. It was a little busier and there were plenty of roadworks which don’t really scream rustic tranquility. However there is a lovely square there which was perfect for soaking up the delayed sun rays and drinking the first coffee I have ever actually enjoyed. After years of trying to like coffee (and failing), it seems all it took was a mocha in Limoux to win me over. I feel more grown up than ever now.

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After a charcuterie feast which was mainly eaten by moi, Shannon and I dawdled back to our car crossing over a very pretty bridge with fantastic views across the river. On our way we dodged a few lengthy gazes from French men who we soon discovered were unashamedly comfortable with staring. Oh how different they are to the typical Irish fella who would look anywhere but the woman he is interested in for fear of coming on too strong…

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Back in the wee Aygo we made our way to Mirepoix with a quick stop off in Luc-sur-Aude. Oh my, this drive was so spectacular. Trees seem to line the entrance of every town in the Languedoc but this road was truly special. Mountains seemed to appear out of nowhere with sheer cliffs towering over the winding roads. Shannon and I had our noses to the windshield as we gazed upwards in awe, not speaking save for tutting to ourselves like old women. We pulled in to Luc-sur-Aude to give our necks a break and again were so surprised at how quiet the little village was. We walked through the streets wondering where the people were and if there was some apocalypse we hadn’t heard about before heading up a hill to check out the spectacle. There were vineyards for miles surrounded by mountains and despite my attempt at taking a photo of the view, I couldn’t do it justice.

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The late afternoon sun was burning above us as we headed up the mountains towards the fairytale town of Mirepoix. Our ears popped as we climbed and we pulled over to drink in even more beautiful views. The roads were so quiet and when we sat overlooking the valleys below all we could hear with the cicadas buzzing in the heat. 

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We got to Mirepoix in the evening and as we hopped out of our car and walked towards the main square, we looked at each other with shared glee, silently agreeing that we had definitely saved the best place to last. The town looked like something straight out of a Disney movie set and I half expected people to burst in to song at any moment. Shannon and I grew up on these movies and you can imagine how giddy we were to see such a place in real life. We strolled through the market stalls and circled the old town walls before picking a spot in the square where we could soak all of the colours in. We sat with the golden light on our faces, barely speaking a word but feeling incredibly content with ourselves.

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Drunk on the day we just had, we headed back to the barn for another feast until the sky. Desperate not to finish the day just yet, we dandered down to the village to watch the locals play bowls (or boules if you want to get technical) and drank coffee while the stars came out. Finally shattered, we fell in to our beds, thoroughly satisfied that sisters really do make the best travelling companion. Even if their driving might terrify us.

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Stay tuned for a few more French posts coming soon…

Local Favourites: Dunluce Castle & Mussenden Temple

Local Favourites: Dunluce Castle & Mussenden Temple

I think there are a few things that come to mind when foreigners think of Ireland (according to Hollywood anyway):

  1. Rain. Lots of rain.
  2. Green fields as far as the eye can see.
  3. Old men drinking Guinness
  4. A random person playing the fiddle in the pub
  5. Castle ruins dotted everywhere

We Irish might roll our eyes at this glamourisation of our wee isle especially when a plastic poncho-covered American tourist insists on defining themselves as Irish or asks where the best pint of Guinness is (I usually direct them to the Harp Bar or The Duke of York). But the fact is that most of the expectations of Ireland are usually about right. It does rain here. A lot. And most aul fellas in a pub probably will be propped up by a pint of the black stuff. And we really are lucky enough to have hundreds of castle ruins scattered across our hills and rugged coastlines.

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But having so much history close to home can be a hindrance here because we can overlook these beautiful castles on our doorstep just because they are familiar. I grew up in Armagh, the ancient capital of Ireland and my childhood home was about a mile or two away from a burial ground that dates back thousands of years. I only just visited this site again for the first time since primary school and felt so ashamed that I’d forgotten about such an important piece of my history.

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I lived abroad for about 6 years and I think coming back to live in Ireland awoke me to just how many fascinating sites there are here that I haven’t even been to. I have been determined to rectify this since and so on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago I set off with a begrudging boyfriend to explore the ruins of Dunluce Castle and Mussenden Temple.

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You might not know the names of these coastal monuments but you will recognise them especially if you’re a Game of Thrones fan. It’s difficult to find a place along this part of the Irish coastline that hasn’t been filmed for the series yet which is evident by the throngs of tour buses that descend on these shores in the summer hoping to catch a glimpse of a set now famous around the world.

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Our first stop was Dunluce Castle, probably one of the most famous ruins in the North. The castle hangs precariously off the cliffs of Antrim as if carved out of the cliffs themselves but even in its decay it still casts a foreboding figure on the jagged coastline. The castle was first built just over 500 years ago by the McQuillan clan but was seized by the MacDonnell’s from Scotland in the 1550’s who later swore loyalty to Elizabeth I and became the Earls of Antrim. Today its ruins bear a reminder of a time when every piece of land was a prize to be won with consequences more violent than any Game of Thrones episode (GOT fans might recognise the castle as the home of the Greyjoy’s). But who needs TV eh?

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When we arrived at the castle the sun was uncharacteristically beaming down which meant there were even more tourists than usual. To avoid competing for a good shot of the ruins amongst the crowds, I wandered down the road to a nearby field and clambered over the gate. I might have been trespassing (I looked for signs, I swear) but the field was empty of animals and I was able to get uninterrupted views of the castle with the waves crashing against the cliffs beneath.

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After the castle we drove a few miles along the coast to Whitepark Bay to Bothy, a wee timber gem that looks like a homestead plucked from the American Midwest. I had heard a few things about this joint before but I had no idea just how charmed I would be by the food and the people there. There is a real warm welcome upon entering mixed in with a laid-back atmosphere that feels border-line Californian. We were there on a summer’s day so the doors were thrown open to allow the sea breeze to cool the place down while the back was opened up for the sun worshipper’s to eat outside.

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Andrew and I both ordered chicken melts with tobacco onions which we devoured within a few minutes and we spent the next half hour bathing in the afternoon heat not wanting to move at all. We noticed a pizza oven outside too so I would imagine this would be a great spot for a summer’s evening and a few drinks if you didn’t have far to travel. As well as that there’s also a wee stove inside too so it would be super cosy for a winter’s day – they’ve got it all covered here!!

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After being suitably fed and feeling super relaxed we hopped back in the car and headed towards Mussenden Temple which was about a half hour away. The temple forms part of the Downhill Demesne and although it has aged much better than the manor, it is perhaps built at an even more precipitous position than Dunluce – we Irish love our dramatics don’t we?! It was built in 1785 and was to be used as a summer library in memory of the Earl’s cousin Frideswide Mussenden. Imagine cosying up to a book with almost 360 views of the ferocious Atlantic – you wouldn’t leave! These days you can actually hire the temple out as a wedding venue which would be an absolute dream location for anyone – booklover or not.

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On our way to the temple we actually picked up a hitchhiker – Robin from Toulouse – who was hitchhiking his way along the Irish coast with a tent and not much else. We brought him as far as Limavady but took him along to Mussenden which he wasn’t aware even existed. It was so lovely to discover the temple alongside a foreigner because I felt like I was experiencing it as a tourist on holiday. With the sun warming my back and standing on the cliff edge admiring the views out towards Scotland, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. How lucky we are to have all of this on our doorstep.

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A Weekender’s Guide to London

A Weekender’s Guide to London

Just over a month ago, Andrew and I scooted over to London for a long weekend to celebrate his 29th birthday. He had been feeling a little wary about marking the occasion since he was starting to mourn his twenties like he was already an elderly man but I left him little choice!

We had both been to London a few times before but not as a couple so it was lovely to explore new parts of the city together. There is such an amazing energy in London, an atmosphere that picks you up and runs with you. Through streets heaving with the stories of millions. A few people were surprised at us deciding to visit after the horror the city has experienced in recent months but it’s resilience and the spirit of the people there is palpable. Fear just isn’t an option.

Our afternoons were spent lazily strolling from one park to another (with plenty of coffee and cocktails thrown in to save our wee hooves) and evenings were for catching up with old pals. Getting around London is so easy and now you can just swipe your debit card in the Underground cutting out all the hassle of getting train tickets and Oyster cards. We flew in to Gatwick Airport and just hopped on the Southern Rail to London Victoria for a standard rail price. Quick tip: don’t get the Gatwick Express because it’s £15 more expensive and is only 5 minutes faster.

We discovered lots of new places on this trip so I thought I would share a few that really stood out for us. London is huge but we packed in a lot without feeling like we were rushing around. We also got really lucky with the weather so we tried to stay outside as much as possible, avoiding most of the museums I would normally visit on a cloudy day. Of course there is so much to do but this was a great itinerary for a sunny weekend. Feel free to pick and choose a few things from it and I hope you have just as good a time as we did!

Where We Stayed

London accommodation can be super expensive so to save a little cash we stayed with Andrew’s friend our first night. As much of a life saver it can be to have a friend in the big smoke, it’s not hugely romantic so we checked in to the Grange Hotel at St Paul’s on the Saturday (a surprise birthday present for Andrew!). It was such a treat to stay somewhere a little swanky and they even had some wine and cupcakes left out as a birthday gift – so thoughtful!

 

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The room was super cosy to come back to and the bed was almost too good to leave in the mornings. The breakfast made it all worthwhile – there was so much variety you could take hours over breakfast if you wanted! We loved being able to come back to such luxury after a day exploring on our feet and we headed straight for the spa in our dressing gowns to soak our weary bones. I would definitely recommend this place if you can book it. Weekends tend to be cheaper because there’s less business-folk around so make sure to look out for deals then!

Where We Ventured

Friday

We landed in the morning so after leaving our bags off we went searching for some late breakfast. We tried to get in to The Breakfast Club in Soho but the line was ridiculous so we dandered off to Carnaby Market instead for a huge diner-style brekkie.

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After eating and strolling through the decorated alleyways, we walked towards the Natural History Museum. I’ve been to the museum before but Andrew hadn’t so I knew it couldn’t be missed. It’s easy to spend a whole day in there (especially if you have kids) but because the weather was so good we didn’t want to stay inside for too long.

 

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When we had managed to see both the life-size T-Rex and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition we reemerged in to the sun and made our way to Hyde Park. Visiting parks is my favourite thing to do in a new city because even tourists can blend in as locals. Bodies were lazily strewn across the grass basking in the afternoon heat and we found the perfect spot to have a nap.

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Feeling energised after our siesta, we headed towards Notting Hill via Kensington Palace. The street behind Will and Kate’s gaff has some of the most amazing mansions I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help but peak through the fences or over the walls to catch a glimpse of how the other half live (pretty well apparently). It was a fair walk from the Palace to Notting Hill but watching the buildings change from ordinary brick to candy-floss heaven made me glad that we were on foot.

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We kept going towards Portobello Road to check out the market and refuel i.e. welcome in happy hour. I also made sure to check out St. Luke’s Mews which is just parallel to the markets and an absolute Insta delight. You will recognise the buildings I’m sure since every London Instagrammer worth their salt has snapped the houses before and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re a fan of super delicious houses!

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Saturday

On Saturday we were in a mad rush to meet my cousin and her new fiancé for brunch in Hoxton which wasn’t easy since we were coming from Clapham Junction and the heat was already melting us. We managed to just be a half hour late (sorry Camille!) and then wandered around the Hoxton Markets towards Brick Lane.

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I loved Brick Lane despite the fact it’s revered as a hipster haven. There is such a great energy around and the vintage shops were incredible if a little overwhelming (I’m not used to such high-end vintage delights!). There is music filling every alleyway as well as the smell of food from all of the carts dotting every corner. After exploring the area and sinking back a much needed Pimm’s we headed towards Spitalfields Markets. I honestly could spend a weekend just exploring London’s markets and come home a happy woman!

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We had one last pitstop before heading back to the hotel which was Dunstan-in-the-East, one of my favourite spots of the trip. It’s a bombed out church found amongst skyscrapers that has been reinvented as an urban garden, providing a sanctuary for those looking to escape the hustle outside it’s walls. If I lived in London I could be found here often I think.

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Sunday

We were feeling a little dusty after our night out on Saturday (home at 4am!) so were a little slower to start. We managed to peel ourselves away from our cloud of a bed and headed towards the Sherlock Holmes’ Museum around lunchtime. Now, I freely admit that the museum is an absolute tourist trap and the admission at £15 is a little steep but there is such attention to detail here I couldn’t help but feel impressed.

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After exploring Sherlock’s house we escaped to Regent’s Park to rest our hangovers and find shade from the heat. We walked over the bridge and past the pedalos towards St. John’s Lodge Gardens, a secret haven within the park that is without the crowds of a sunny day. We made daisy chains and waited until we felt ready for a little more walking.

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Feeling a little bit more alive we hopped on a quick journey on the tube towards Little Venice, a canal network that is found in a quiet leafy suburb that feels a million miles away from the city. There are canal boats here that are of different sizes and colours but all equally beautiful. It’s evident that many of them are used principally as homes with mini gardens on the roofs and flowers everywhere. I would imagine it would be stunning in the autumn when the leaves that hang over the boats turn bright orange before disappearing in to the river.

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Monday

Our last day was another scorcher which made it that bit harder to leave. We managed to score free tickets to St Paul’s cathedral from the hotel (win!) and hopped across the road for a quick tour. It was a lot bigger that I had thought and so beautiful, especially the ceilings which sparkled in the sunlight and made my neck ache from all the craning. Andrew was even brave enough to go to the very top of the dome while I waited outside like the wimp I am!

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We headed towards Covent Garden via the Thames to enjoy a little bit more of the cityscape before our flight. We strolled through the shops and listened to the classical music reverberating across the walls from a quartet in the basement and took a break from the heat in one of the cafés.

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Our last stop was Neal’s Yard, another Instagrammer’s delight despite it being so tiny. It’s gorgeous and I wished I could’ve stayed there the rest of the afternoon but alas we had a flight to catch. Next time, maybe.

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Where We Ate

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Boqueria, Brixton

My mouth filled up with water as I was writing this just remembering the suckling pig alone. It’s a tapas place with the best service we had throughout the trip and it made for a lovely birthday dinner for Andrew. I would definitely come back here the next time I’m in London.

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Monty’s Deli, Hoxton

This is a fairly new joint and very popular so be sure to book a table! We ate brunch here with my cousin (I had the scrambled eggs with lox – so good!) in one of the booths that made me feel like I was in New York even though I’ve never been to New York.

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Honest Burger, Liverpool Street

When we go on holiday we need to fit at least one burger meal in to keep old Andy happy and man was he happy after this burger. It was perfect, not a thing wrong with it but afterwards we were in the mood for something sweet and it turns out they don’t serve desserts!! WTF? Wouldn’t hold it against them though. Oh, and their cocktails are the bomb-diggity.

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Bill’s Cafe, Baker Street

We had brunch here on Sunday and I was so happy because it was the perfect Sunday brunch spot. The atmosphere was so welcoming and relaxing I could’ve stayed all afternoon. The menu was perfect and I wanted to go for everything on there (that could have been the hangover though) but settled on avocados with poached eggs on toast. Never a bad decision!

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Leong’s Legend, Chinatown

Our friends took us here on our last night and although Andrew wasn’t a huge fan, I adored the dumplings. I fell in love with dumplings when travelling in Australia (Chinatown in Adelaide specifically) and Leong’s reignited that long lost love. Next time I would just order a few different dumplings with rice since they were by far the best thing I ate there.

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Wahaca, St. Paul’s

I will never say no to a quesadilla especially the chicken club quesadilla at Wahaca! Holy Moses it is delicious and super filling too which makes it a fairly cheap lunch. We ate in the St. Paul’s branch which is in the One New Change building. If you go there for lunch you should definitely pop up to the rooftop terrace where you can get uninterrupted views of the city with St. Paul’s cathedral towering overhead. Just don’t go on a Friday evening because we heard there are queues from the ground floor which is a little much.

Where We Drank

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The Distillery, Portobello Road

The Distillery was a gin bar we stopped in to on our walk up Portobello Road which was beautiful on a sunny day. The interior is stunning however the drinks were on the more expensive side. Not a huge shock when you’re in London but my drink was tiny and for £8 I thought it was fairly steep. A nice spot for one drink though!

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Hope & Anchor, Brixton

We hopped across to this spot after our delicious meal in Boqueria. It has a great outdoors area out the back with beach huts perfect for a group of people on a summer’s afternoon. The beer garden closed at around 10pm though (we weren’t too sure why) and the bar turned in to a club then which was too much for us oldies so bear this in mind if you go during the evening.

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Boiler House Food Hall, Brick Lane

We didn’t eat here but had a drink out the back in the beer garden which was buzzing with people. I had a Pimm’s to get in the spirit of things and felt really wild drinking at 12pm. Beer gardens are the best on holiday especially when the sun is out so would definitely recommend this spot on a good day.

Translate, Shoreditch

No photo for this place since we were out with a group of friends and fairly well oiled but I had to include it for the music alone. It has the best cheesy 90’s music so if you’re not in to that sort of thing steer clear at the weekends! We loved it though and sang our wee lungs out in between sips of our cocktails.

 

And that is the round-up for London! I hope you can make use of some of the knowledge we picked up on our quick break and if you have any insider trips of you’re own, please feel free to share in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Pink Wellingtons
Local Favourites: Glaslough

Local Favourites: Glaslough

A village that boasts a castle, cottage-lined streets and ivy-clad walls is always guaranteed to win me over but the village of Glaslough in Co. Monaghan is nothing short of just plain lovely. It’s a place I’ve been coming to since I was a child but the beauty of the village still manages to surprise me every time I visit. It’s without doubt my favourite village in Ireland and so had to be included in my Local Favourites.

 

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The village hugs the edge of the Castle Leslie estate which has belonged to the Leslie family since it was built in the late 19th century. Although it is more like a manor house, the castle is a Victorian vision set against the backdrop of the lake the village is named after. The castle is a very popular luxury wedding destination (Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills married here) and so it’s quite difficult to get a room on the weekends. Instead, my sister and I stayed in the ‘hunting lodge’ by the castle gates which are just as impressive and a little more convenient.

 

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The lodge has two restaurants, a spa and the stables that can be accessed via the basement. This makes staying here a little more appealing since we were able to just walk to the spa in our dressing gowns after our breakfast (AKA the best morning ever). The rooms we stayed in were stunning and were full of character just like the building’s exterior; all dark wood and heavy curtains. Double doors then opened up to a bathroom with a walk-in shower and a free-standing bath that I fell in love with immediately. The lodge is also pet-friendly which is great news to those who can’t leave their pooches for too long!

 

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Needless to say a night in the lodge is enough to delight anyone needing an escape but in case you want to wander outside or visit for the day, here are a few tips for those new to Glaslough.

 

Where to Eat

The village is tiny so outside of the castle there is little on offer. Within the Castle there are two places to stuff your face depending on how fancy you want the food to be. Snaffler’s the more upscale restaurant and is also where you eat your breakfast if you’re staying in the lodge. We didn’t eat dinner here but I have to say the breakfast selection was really impressive – make sure to grab the granola pots early!

 

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Connor’s Bar is on the ground floor and although it’s a little more low-key, the food is still incredibly yummy as the ingredients are locally sourced as they are for Snaffler’s. My sister and I took my Mum, aunt and cousin to Connor’s for Mother’s Day recently and my salad was so tasty that I found myself finishing way before everyone else! You can expect a lot more than just pub grub with the price not being too bad either.

 

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Although both of the above are great choices, my recommendation would be to dander out of the castle gates and down Barrack Hill to your right. Here you will find Ambledown Cottage which is just about the sweetest place to eat dinner. The cottage is adorned with flowers and old trinkets so I was in love at first sight before even trying the food. Inside there is an open fire and conservatory to eat in but it’s the back of the cottage that had me giddy with excitement. They have transformed the area in to a dream of fairy lights and candles with tables distributed in different outhouses making it just about the most romantic place in town.

 

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The menu at Ambledown is confined to mostly pizza but man are they scrumptious. I find it difficult to finish pizza on my own but I had zero problems that night! I also liked the fact that it was BYO which allowed us to totter back to our room and finish the bottle in our dressing gowns 🙂

 

Where to Drink

There are only two pubs in town and even on a Friday night they are very quiet. It didn’t bother Shannon and I since we were there to relax but in case you’re up for a party, you might be a bit disappointed. That said, the Coachouse Bar does have live music on a Saturday so it might be a bit busier then! It’s definitely busy on a sunny afternoon with the benches outside filling up fairly fast. Inside it’s like entering an old house with lots of wee rooms to while a few hours over some pints.

 

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The Pillar House Hotel is the second pub in the village and another place to enjoy a beer or two. I’ve been told it has a pool room if you fancied killing time on a rainy day or or doing a crawl of the two pubs in town!

 

What to Do

Cookery school – Castle Leslie has its own cookery school which offers one day or two day courses for up to 12 people. This would be a great idea to enjoy as a package when staying at the Castle, I can only imagine how amazing the ingredients would be!

 

Horse riding – there is a well-equipped equestrian centre by the hunting lodge with a trail that takes you across the entire estate. The horses are beautiful, we even got to meet a few after our spa treatments.

 

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Spa – speaking of spa, the Victorian treatment rooms were the perfect place to start our day. We both got facials which left our skin feeling like a newborns and then relaxed in the hot tub with blue skies above us.

 

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Walking – there are many walks and trails around the Castle Leslie and there’s even an app that you can download to listen to while on your ramble.

 

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Antiques & Crafts – there is an antiques shop in town to discover some preloved gems as well as an art gallery to wander through.

 

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Despite being such a small town, Glaslough has so much to offer anyone in need of an escape not far from home. It’s a village that packs in so much character without sacrificing it’s charm and will be forever my favourite village.

 

Do you have a favourite village in Ireland? Are there any places you feel are under-appreciated? Please share!!

 

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My 5 Favourite Belfast Bookstores

My 5 Favourite Belfast Bookstores

As I push open the door, I am transported back to my great Aunt’s house in Antrim. I’m leafing through pages, browned from years of use and neglect, wondering who had held them before me and where they had been. But it’s the smell that evokes the most memory. The smell of adventures, laughs, tears and lives lived. The smell of dusty corners and forgotten words. For me, entering a bookshop is akin to the devout entering their place of worship.; this is where I come to kneel.

 

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In a society where there is so much uncertainty, exploring a bookshop can provide us with the solace that we are robbed of in the outside world. In here we can gain anonymity and lose ourselves in someone else’s story. When I read the first few pages of a book I wouldn’t have discovered while browsing Amazon, I disappear in the aisle I’m standing in. I can’t hear anything but the words of someone who poured their heart and soul in to the pages I am holding in my hands.

 

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Being relatively new to Belfast meant that I had to go forth and discover places to while away a rainy afternoon and I was delighted to discover that there were plenty of literary caves to disappear in. Researching for this post also introduced me to a few more places that weren’t on my radar before and I feel like I’ve been welcomed in to a new clan. Because it’s not just about the shop, the smells and the books. It’s also about the people who inhabit them, who strive to keep the place alive and reignite that flame that may be lying dormant in the online traitors amongst us. For these people have stories of their own that are worth listening too just as much as the books that surround them.

 

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With the Belfast Book Festival approaching (7th – 17th June) I thought I might share a few of the bookshops and the community of bibliophiles I have joined since I moved here. And it is a community worth joining since this wee island has spawned the world’s greatest scholars, bards, poets and legends. I feel like I am in good company.

 

No Alibis

Located in Botanic Avenue, No Alibis is an established institution in Belfast, most renowned for their savage collection of crime fiction novels. Dave, the owner, is something of an institution himself as he supports and engages a whole community of literary lovers in the area. He hosts a wealth of events; book readings, poetry readings and caters to the future Heaney’s of Ireland through Saturday morning kids readings.

 

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You wouldn’t miss the front of No Alibis

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Some of their beautiful displays

On my last visit I found a signed copy of a collection of work by Paul Durcan (for £16 quid!!!) as well as my favourite local magazine, Freckle. Noticing my purchases Dave casually informed me that a local favourite, Sinead Morrissey, was reading her poetry up in Queens that evening and that I should take myself along. I could barely contain my glee that I had met this man!

 

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Making trees happy

As I was about to leave Dave asked me what genre I was in to – a question that induces a cloud of panic to come down over me because I never quite know the best/right response. Watching my eyes glaze over, he handed me a first proof copy of an historical fantasy he thought I might enjoy. I asked if it was anything like ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’ – a beast of a book which took me months to finish but adored completely. His eyes lit up and answered, “Spot on – it’s serendipity, you have to take it!!”. And what he meant was for free. No charge. For a first proof! I stumbled out of his shop with my books, in a lovely cotton bag which was also a freebie, giddy with excitement that I might have just joined a community I had been yearning to be a part of for quite some time.

 

Keats & Chapman

What struck me the most when I walked in to this joint on North Street was the depth of the place. Keats & Chapman looks quite pokey from the street but the shop carries on down a long and book-crammed corridor right to the most niche genres. You could easily spend a day in here if you had the time and the owner Bill is well aware of that since he has placed a few random chairs in quiet sections so no customer feels rushed.

 

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The shopfront of Keats & Chapman

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And on and on it goes

The second hand books here are very well priced (usually around £2) but with such a selection you will no doubt come out spending more than you had planned. My personal favourites were the amazing collection of old Irish wildlife guides, such an Instragrammers dream! Although be warned – there is no card machine so you will have to stick to traditional cash to pay for the armful of books you decide to take home.

 

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Books from floor to ceiling

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A favourite guide!

Belfast Books

John of Belfast Books is a man whose passion for literacy and community is contagious. Born and bred in North Belfast, he decided to open a bookshop on his home turf as a way to engage the local community and to bring some footfall to the streets he grew up in. North Belfast is an area of the city that has been neglected in the past but it’s locals like John that keep the spirit of the place alive and there is no better way to strike up a conversation than over a decent book.

 

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The shelves of Belfast Books

John runs his law firm from the top floor of the three storey building and the bottom two floors are dedicated to the housing the thousands of books they have constantly streaming in. The shop is a sight to behold and steps need to be taken carefully as to avoid the tower of classics as you come through the door. To a customer this would be seen as charming but John explained how desperate they are for volunteers to step in and help catalogue the high volume they are struggling to cope with.

 

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“Cheaper than that South American river”

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Peter, a loyal customer with a love for World War aircraft books, stops by the shop for a coffee and a chat

And there really is something for everyone in Belfast Books. The shop is mostly known for it’s huge collection of books on the Troubles (hello tourist trap) but there is pretty much everything you can think of; ancient history, ecology, classics, sci-fi and horror (the latter being hidden in the back of the first floor like a dirty secret) which you can all buy using your trusty Belfast Books loyalty card. If that wasn’t enough, John also helps host creative writing workshops, hosts a wicked Twitter account, provides book reviews and is working with the community to start a farmer’s market in a nearby warehouse. North Belfast won’t be short of footfall for much longer!

 

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The Bookfinders

The outside of this popular student hole in the wall may not look too appealing but inside lies a gem that is infamous among the students of Belfast. You’ll find the overgrown shopfront of Bookfinders just a stone’s throw from Queen’s University which boasts a surprising collection of second hand books as well as a wee café down the back.

 

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Worth the hoke if you have the time! 

The shop itself is a bit through-other but if you have the patience and time to have a hoke then you won’t come up disappointed. It’s worth all the energy spent for a slice of cake and a big mug of tea to enjoy your new purchase – and try and squeeze in amongst the students draining the place of their Wifi!

 

Waterstones

I know, Waterstones is a dirty chain and shouldn’t be included in list of esteemed independent bookshops but I can’t ignore how much of an impact this shop made on me. I still remember visiting the Dublin store as a child and being completely overwhelmed with how beautiful it was to see so many books in one shop – on multiple floors!

 

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The Belfast branch is just as lovely today and I like to go for a wander on an afternoon when I want a few hours to myself. I might not be quite as likely to pick up a bargain like in the other shops (or be able to stay for a half a day cross-legged on the floor) but I am still as inspired by the beauty of so many books as I was as an eight year old.

 

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Happy reading!

Local Favourites: Hillsborough

Local Favourites: Hillsborough

OK so I was supposed to make this a monthly feature but I am still getting to grips with actually running a blog and this whole consistency thing – and it’s SPRINGTIME! So forgive me please? Thanks.

 

Up next in this not-so-monthly series is Hillsborough, a wee village that’s just a stone’s throw from the big smoke. But despite it being so close to Belfast, I only visited Hillsborough for the first time last year – gasp! When I strolled through the pristine, flower-lined streets I felt a quiet, simmering rage knowing I had gone 27 years without the place. The shopfronts are flawless, every door is a dream and there are cafés-a-plenty to wet your thirst in.

 

There are so many reasons to visit this wee gem and I’ve listed a few to help you avoid the rage I had last year…

 

Architecture

A bit like Armagh, Hillsborough is well known for it’s Georgian buildings with townhouses to drool over. The main attraction is the Georgian mansion found on the top of the hill which just so happens to be the Queen’s place of residence when she takes the rare jaunt to the North. Lizzie has good taste because the building is beautiful and you can even take a tour of the house and gardens if you want to see how the other half live.

 

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Hillsborough Fort is where the town started Colonel Arthur Hill built it back in 1650. It’s a good place for a view of the town and the countryside around it as well as some creepy gothic additions.

 

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I’ve already mentioned the beautiful townhouses in Hillsborough but my favourite street has to be Arthur Street where, as it turns out, my Aunt used to live when she was a young thing. The wee cottages and their colourful front doors is a good place for a photo opportunity (if you’re anything like me and can’t resist a pretty house).

 

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Of course you can’t visit a town in Ireland without a church or two and St. Malachy’s is a symmetrical dream. It’s a good place for a dander up to the fort and then on to the lake.

 

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Space

Right behind the fort lies the lake and Hillsborough Forest Park which I had no idea existed until my last visit. Within a few minutes you can find yourself in a woodland getting lost amongst the oak trees.

 

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As Hillsborough is only a small village, you can find yourself in the countryside in no time at all. Just make sure to bring a good walking partner with you because mine bailed and went for a nap in the car!

 

Eat & Drink

Hillsborough is the perfect spot to take your Mum for a lunch because there are so many places that do a good scone and a cuppa. Out of Habit is a great spot for a break along with with Humble Pie and Meet & Thyme. Really you could do a scone crawl and taste them all which sounds like an ideal way to spend an afternoon.

 

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If you’re after something a little more filling then the Hillside offers a bit more on the menu – it should do as it’s the oldest pub in the town. The Parson’s Nose is also a favourite for a meal worthy of unzipping the old trousers.

 

Shop

My Mum told me recently that she bought her wedding dress in Hillsborough over 30 years ago and it seems like it’s still a favourite spot for brides making big choices – hopefully luckier ones than my Mum (haha divorce joke)! If you’re not a new bride there’s still a few wee places to bide a while in.

 

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Every time I’m in Hillsborough I have to call in to the Cheshire Cat to have a gander at what’s new. It’s the best place to pick up a gift for someone, usually for myself.

 

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Twig & Twine is another place to buy things you have to have but don’t really need. The shopfront alone makes me feel giddy with the flower arrangements and the general loveliness – Andrew wasn’t quite as excited.

 

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I hope all these reasons are enough to entice you to Hillsborough next time you’re stuck for an idea for a day trip. If you have been – go back! If you haven’t – go now because there’s nothing prettier than Hillsborough in the Spring.

10 Pubs To Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

10 Pubs To Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

Lá Fhéile Pádraig shona daoibh! Or Happy St. Patrick’s Day for those of you who aren’t as familiar with the Gaelic language – ye poor sods. Today is the day we celebrate the shamrock, the day we paint ourselves green and the day we permit ourselves to drink bucketfuls of Guinness (even though a lot of us out there don’t even like the taste that much).

 

Personally I actually love a pint of the black stuff and plan to consume several over the weekend while I act the young thing with my best friends. We’re headed south for our girl Louise’s hen party and I’m a big ball of excitement/fear for the activities ahead of us. What I’m most looking forward to is being wedged in between the gals. roaring over our drinks while we listen to the same traditional music that’s been listened to for generations.

 

It’s a cliché I suppose but there is no greater place to be in Ireland than in a pub on St. Patrick’s Day. When you pick the right one you find yourself not wanting to leave, soaking in the atmosphere that’s thick around you while trying to say sober enough so you remember it all. It doesn’t even have to be a session, it may only be for a wee sensible skiff of a drink but it’s sure to be enough to fill your heart with as much patriotism as you need.

 

As well as being lucky enough to be born here, I’ve also been lucky enough to have had my fair share of pints across the island so I’ve decided to share some of my favourites from over the years. Obviously there are hundreds of establishments that are stupendously wonderful so please share if you have any tips of your own but for now here are mine. Wishing you all of the luck today and a wonderful Paddy’s Day wherever you find yourself!

 

Fitzpatricks – Carlingford, Co. Louth

This is the best place to go for a pint with your Granny. It’s coming down with old artefacts from across the years and it even has a pet farm out the back to keep the kids entertained! If you don’t make it this Paddy’s Day be sure to pay a visit over Hallowe’en. The owners go all out with decorations and spooky scenes across the whole site – definitely something to be seen!

 

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Kelly’s Cellars – Belfast, Co. Antrim

As a new local to Belfast I could list a load of pubs here that are good enough to pay a visit to but for now I’ll choose my favourite. Kelly’s Cellars is a great spot for a lit fire and when you walk through the doors it feels like you’re in the middle of old Ireland. It’s a great place to escape the city pace and slow down over a few cold ones.

 

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Singing Pub – Downings, Co. Donegal

This is a gem to be found on the Wild Atlantic Coast and well worth the trek to. The place is family run and the manager, Tony, makes you feel like a local anytime you drop in. Whatever you do, please order the seafood chowder. It’s without a doubt the best chowder I’ve ever tasted and the portion size will surely soak up whatever you’ve been drinking.

 

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Matt Molly’s – Westport, Co. Mayo

I remember walking in to this place after stopping off on a road trip. We walked to the very back of the pub to pick out a seat and found ourselves parked beside the local musicians who had dropped in for a session. More and more players joined and soon the entire place was filled with music so amazing my eyes filled with tears. It’s a place I can’t wait to go back to.

 

Peadar Kearney’s – Dublin, Co. Dublin

This place has been hiving both times I’ve been in it but the live music was sensational. It’s a good place to start a night out but I wouldn’t blame you if you found yourself still there at closing time.

 

Tig Cóilí – Galway, Co. Galway

I was in this pub on St. Patrick’s Day in 2013. The sun was splitting the trees that day as we sat by the windows that were open on to the famous Shopping Street of the city. The pub was jammed with people and we were delighted to have scored some seats when all of a sudden the crowd fell silent. An aul fella who was propped up at the end of the bar had started singing an old Irish song, the words of which I can’t remember. What I do remember was the feeling in the room as every man, woman and child had been hushed by these gorgeous lyrics. Once he finished, the pub erupted and it was probably the best St. Paddy’s moment I ever had.

 

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Tynan’s Bridge House Bar – Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny

This pub is off the main street but I loved it for it’s simple charm. The floors were uneven which did nothing to help the inebriated among us but it was quiet and had plenty of dark corners to hide in. Sometimes the best pubs are the quiet ones; where you’re free to have a relaxed chat and the whole place is yours to fill with forgotten conversations.

 

Red Ned’s – Armagh, Co. Armagh

Of course I had to include Ned’s – a pub I’ve frequented since I was a child with a Club Orange upper lip and wee legs swinging from the benches. The pub has plenty of familiar faces for me but it also has some fantastic live music that would attract any from outside the town. Definitely a recommendation if you’re about the Orchard County.

 

The Mutton Lane Inn – Cork City, Co. Cork

We were in Cork for the Jazz Festival in October and this was the pub that stuck out for me. It’s one of the oldest establishments in the city which is just bursting with tradition. You’re really spoiled for choice though around the Oliver Plunkett area so you can find yourself doing a pub crawl that could last for days.

 

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McDermott’s – Doolin, Co. Clare

A class wee pub that I stumbled upon once with friends while visiting the Cliffs of Moher. Doolin is a really sweet village and this place is perfect for resting the hooves and whiling away an hour two with some drinks in hand. It’s also a great place for a feed if you find yourself staying on for dinner – which no doubt you will!

 

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A Guide to Lisbon

A Guide to Lisbon

The end of winter can be a hard time of year. The dark evenings feel ceaseless and even a crack of sunshine is enough to warrant a celebration. Which is why Andrew and I decided to break up the mundanity and book a last minute escape to Lisbon.

 

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Lisbon is a place I’ve been wanting to see for a while now as it seemed a little less touristy than other European capitals but with just as many stories to offer. When we saw Ryanair were doing super cheap flights from Dublin it felt like too good an opportunity to miss!

 

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I’ll break our trip down to our favourite spots since we packed in fair bit in to the 4 days we spent there. My biggest piece of advice though is to drop the map/phone and get a little lost in the windy streets. The city is massive and there are plenty of chances to go a little overtrack and stumble upon some great little gems. Just bring comfy shoes because the city is built on seven hills which will test your thighs for sure!

 

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EAT

Of course the most important part of a break is the food because it’s the one time you can stop off on as many refreshment breaks as you please without the guilt. We had plenty of pretty great foodie experiences and more cake than I’ve ever eaten in my life which is the sign of a successful holiday right?

 

Taberna da Rua das Flores

Hands down the best restaurant I’ve eaten in in a long time. From the moment we entered the place it felt special and truly authentic – the wine served were all from Lisbon, the menu was on a blackboard written in Portuguese (kindly translated in perfect English) and the chandlier was a collection of wineglasses glittering in the candlelight.

The food was tapas-style so we got three dishes to share; pink marlin, sliced beef and pork deep-friend in prawn cracker mixture. We cleaned our plates and washed the deliciousness down with the tastiest wine I had the whole trip. I forgot to take a picture of the wine bottle label but I think sometimes the best wine is supposed to be remembered like that.

If you want to eat here make sure to go early or on a quiet weekday. We tried to get in on a Saturday but there was a queue of people outside who had been waiting over an hour. We went back on the Monday at 6.30pm and were served right away and I will be forever grateful.

 

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Honoraro Burgers

For those wanting something hearty and quick then this place will do the job. We stopped off here for lunch after visiting the Belém Tower and wolved our burgers down in a matter of minutes! Cheap, cheerful and hard to beat.

 

Pasteis de Belém

After your burger make sure to save some room for the infamous pastries served next door. Pasteis de Belém are the bakers with the original Pasteis de Nata recipe which is why they have a constant queue outside their door. The pastries are little custard tarts that are so delicious you’ll want to grab a dozen when you’re there. We went to this place twice and my mouth still fills up with water when I remember them!

 

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Palácio Chiado

This restaurant blew us away because we stumbled upon it when we were starving and desperate for a big feed. The ground floor is the eating area which has 4 different kitchens that you can choose your food from but upstairs is where we are jaws dropped to the ground. The building was once mansion and the original stained class windows and hand-painted ceilings are still intact. Their house cocktail is also the best one I’ve ever had!

 

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Landeau

When you’re strolling around the LX Factory, ogling all the amazing Portuguese craft and design, you can seriously work up an appetite. Which was why I was so relieved to find this place to rest my bones and discover a chocolate cake so light I was practically floating afterward.

 

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DRINK

Bairro Alto is an area of Lisbon that is coming down with bars and clubs but there are still lots of choice no matter where you’re staying in the city. Since we’re oldies, we only managed the one big night out but we made a fair effort to sample as many Portuguese beverages as possible. The only thing I wouldn’t rate is the ginjinha – the local cherry gin. It’s basically Buckfast (a tonic wine favoured among some Irish folk) masquerading as an elegant liqueur!

 

Pensão Amor

This place was once a brothel located in the old red light district and it still has that dark and moody atmosphere that would have attracted those frisky sailors all those years ago. It’s a popular joint and was hiving when we were there on a Saturday. Brilliant fun and well worth a visit.

 

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Park Bar

This bar is a little of the beat and track because you have to get through a carpark to find it. It’s on the roof of the carpark which means the roof terrace has incredible views of the city. It’s the perfect place to watch the sun go down with a cocktail in hand.

 

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Pivalhão Chinês

This weird and wonderful place is a great place to stop for one or two drinks. It’s crammed full of random paraphernalia from toy cars to war memorabilia and there’s some pool tables down the back that you can enjoy a few beers over.

 

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SEE

There is plenty to do and see in Lisbon as the city is so crammed with history that any street could lead you to a different story. We chose to do a free walking tour – a little touristy I know but a great way to learn some quick facts and get your bearings over the place. Some buildings were more incredible than others but I’m sure there’s plenty we didn’t get round to seeing!

 

Alfama

Be sure to get lost in the streets of Alfama if you can because it’ll feel like taking a trip back in time. This is the oldest part of the city, the only part to have survived the big earthquake of 1755 and so the buildings here are dripping with history. We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Alfama and took a different street to the city centre every day. I woke up the sound of bells ringing and all the oldies chattering to each other from balconies (not so great if you’re a fan of sleep ins!).

 

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Belém

Not only does this area of Lisbon have their infamous pastries to offer but it also rich in history. The Belém Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage site found on a sandy beach by the Tagus River. Just a short walk away is the Jerónimos Monastery, another 15th century building to drool over and stand in awe of. Make sure to get some pastries after!

 

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Trams/Funiculars

Being a city of hills meant that the Lisbon folk had to be find ways to rest their wearisome legs. The trams themselves would be a relic in other cities (some date back to the 1930’s) but here the locals use it as a commute to get around the city. Tram 28 is the most popular for tourists but unfortunately it’s pretty hot for pickpockets as well so keep your wits about you. Tram 11 is quieter but just as lovely and can take you to Belém for the afternoon.

 

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Squares Galore

Every corner you turn in this city feels like the gateway to another square. They’re all beautiful and the perfect place to people watch with a drink in hand. My favourite was Praça do Comércio which overlooks the river and on to the 25 Abril bridge (which is basically a knock off of the Golden Gate bridge). Another great place for a sunset and to spy the school kids in their Harry Potteresque capes (the school is incredibly old and had capes as a uniform as a way to encourage equality amongst the children regardless of their background).

 

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Sintra

This village is only 30 minutes on the train and well worth a visit if you’re a history geek like me. This was where the Royals would spend their summer and the main palace, which looks like something from a Disney film, has been wonderfully preserved.

 

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SHOP

There is no shortage of places to drain your budget in this city and I had to restrain myself a number of times – good thing I only had carry-on luggage! From markets to vintage shops, there is

 

Markets

We are staying just around the famous Feira da Ladra or “thieves market” in Alfama which is on every Saturday and Tuesday. Everything under the sun seems to be sold here and there is definitely some diamonds to be found among the rough. Another trendier market is the Mercado da Ribeira which has been curated by Time Out. This is a great place to stroll around and grab a bite to eat while having a nosy at all the stalls.

 

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LX Factory

The LX Factory is a creative island that is found in a once abandoned industrial area of Lisbon. Now the hub is jammed full of galleries, design shops and restaurants that can keep you occupied for a whole afternoon. My sole reason for going was to visit a bookshop I had been lusting over since seeing it on Instagram. Ler Devagar doesn’t have a lot of English books but the wall to wall shelves covered in books will make your booklover heart swoon. One tip for the factory: don’t go on a Monday since this is the quietest day and a few places may be closed.

 

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Vintage

If you’re a hoarder of vintage clothes then a visit to A Outra Face da Lua is an essential pitstop. The shop has an amazing collection and the design alone will have you coming back again. There is also a wee café inside that serves some tasty snacks including chocolate cake with flakes of salt on top (I may have eaten chocolate cake every day in Lisbon – no lie). My favourite shop had to be A Vida Portuguesa – a shop that filled me with so much joy I wanted to cry a little bit. The walls are crammed with products of Portuguese design and showcases the most beautiful handcrafted goods. Perfect place for some souvenir shopping!

 

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I could ramble on forever about everything wonderful Lisbon has to offer but the best advice I can give is to get there to see for yourself. I can imagine it’s wonderful in every season but it was the perfect place to escape to for a little winter sun and some much-needed wandering.

 

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If you have any questions about Lisbon, please feel free to comment and I would be happy to answer any wee queries you might have!

 

xx

Local Favourites: Armagh

Local Favourites: Armagh

Up here in the North we have the fortune of having scores of towns and villages that can be so full of character and yet can go unnoticed by so many who may only live a few miles away. Cobbled streets and buildings older than Australia are just on our doorsteps however we choose to keep our heads down and take for granted what we have in front of us. I have decided to put some of my favourite towns in the spotlight to help encourage a little appreciation for these gems in our own backyard.

 

I live in Belfast but I’m an Armagh girl born and bred so I’ve chosen the Cathedral City as the first in this new series. Although the town is technically a city, the population is only around 15,000 so it can’t exactly be described as a metropolis. There was definitely a small-town vibe growing up here; I knew most people when I walked through the streets and I always felt incredibly safe even when I was a teenager running amok. Nowadays I feel a little more like an outsider after living away for so long but I think this allows me to see the town in a different light and admire the qualities of the Armagh I grew up in.

 

Here are the things I love most about my hometown…

 

Architecture

Armagh is built on seven hills which can be hard on the old thighs but can give you wonderful perspectives of the city and it’s countryside. The most notable buildings are of course the two cathedrals which dominate the Armagh skyline like two imposing grandfathers. Both cathedrals are named after St. Patrick (he was a popular man in these parts) however the older cathedral belongs to the Church of Ireland denomination and the younger is Roman Catholic. I adore both of these buildings for different reasons. The older dates back to 445 AD and has withstood monumental changes in Irish history – it even has a High King of Ireland in it’s grounds! The younger cathedral which dates back to the 19th century is also special because my own family history is tied to it. My parents were married here, I was christened here, made my first Communion and Confirmation here and I said goodbye to my sister all in the same colossal space. It’s gothic walls contain so many local memories within them and the intricate ceilings have my jaw hanging open every time.

 

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St. Patrick’s Cathdedral (The Older)

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral (The Younger)

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Armagh is also know for it’s Georgian architecture which can be best found around The Mall. The Mall is a public space with the Gaol on one end and the Court House on the other. Alongside it there are some beautiful Georgian houses as well as the Armagh County Museum – the oldest county museum in Ireland! Another example of some Georgian architecture is the local library found on Market Street where you can pick up a few spuds, a carpet and a bunch of flowers if the mood takes you.

 

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Georgian House by The Mall – swish!

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The Library on Market Street – a great place to people watch!

The Palace Demesne is another great place to explore especially during Autumn. The grounds are lined with trees that turn the most amazing colours around October and behind the palace itself are some gardens that many locals don’t even know about. By the gates of the Palace you can find ruins of a Franciscan friary which is a great place to take some snaps before nipping to Friar Tuck’s across the road (it’s a fast food joint so don’t get your hopes up).

 

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The Palace from the Palace Gardens

History

Armagh was named after the ancient goddess Macha (the Gaelic translation of Armagh is “Ard Mhacha” or “Macha’s Height”) who appears in a few different Irish myths. My favourite story of Macha is when she appears as a wife to Cruinniuc who boasted at a chariot race that she could run faster than even the King’s own horses. She begged him not to but she was forced to run despite her carrying twins. She won the race and gave birth on the finish line to Fir and Fial which means ‘True’ and ‘Honest’. She then cursed the men of Ulster to suffer her labour pains in the hour of their greatest need. What a woman!

 

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Armagh was also once the ancient capital of Ireland and you can actually witness a little piece of that history by visiting the Navan Fort, a ceremonial monument that was a royal site in Pre-Christian Ireland. There is a visitor centre here that has lots of information on the importance of this site and you can climb to the top and imagine yourself as a Gaelic warrior looking out over your lands. Or you can just take a wee photo for Instagram.

 

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Me pretending to be an Irish warrior

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View from the Navan Fort

Food

For breakfast you can’t beat a bagel and Armagh has the infamous Bagel Bean to ensure you start the day off well. There are now two Bagel Bean’s in Armagh on Market Street and English Street in case you needed a choice but most importantly the bagel you have to choose is the BC because it is AMAZING! They do some pretty tasty smoothies too in case you need to wash it down with something nutritious.

 

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There are more and more wee lunch spots popping up around Armagh including the Craic’d Pot which is an absolute gem. It’s not like anything else in town and to top it all off it moonlights as a wine bar at night – hurrah! Other great places include Embers and Rumours that both serve hot food that will warm your tummy in the chilly weather. The 4 Vicars is another wee gem that’s behind the Church of Ireland cathedral. It’s a tea room with quaint decor and great views at the back.

 

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If you find yourself in Armagh to catch a play or concert at the Market Place Theatre you will surely need to refuel beforehand. The Moody Boar is a favourite of mine even just for the surroundings alone. The restaurant is in the Palace Stables and the courtyard is just a little bit lovely on the off chance you get some good weather – and the food is super tasty! For a good steak then the Aussie restaurant Uluru won’t disappoint or The Castle Tower both a stone’s throw from the theatre for the wino’s amongst you.

 

If you are a hallion like me and might still have room for something sweet after a day of eating then please head to Macari’s for ice cream. The place is an institution in Armagh and I will forever have space for a tub of vanilla ice cream topped with melted marshmallow (insert pig emoji here).

 

Craic

Armagh is not short of pubs although there are a few that I would recommend more than some. Red Ned’s is an establishment that is a regular for many in the town. It’s argued they serve the best pint of Guinness in the town and they have regular folk and traditional music in the corner to keep the spirits up.

 

The Hole in the Wall is another classic and has been voted Pub of the Year on numerous occasions. The pub is set in an old jail that dates back to 1615, hence the bars on the windows, and is steeped in history. The pub is said to be haunted but what should give you more of a fright is the pub’s pet parrot, Casper, who will scare the bejaysus out of you when you come through the door!

 

Space

The beauty of a small town is that you don’t have to travel too far to be surrounded by fields and silence. There are a few beautiful locations so close to town where you can shower the head and see the county countryside at it’s best. Since Armagh is the Orchard County of Ireland, I have to recommend a visit during the apple blossom season in May when the county’s roadsides turn different shades of pink. Come again in September when the apples are ready for pickin’ and you get some of the best weather of the year.

 

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Some other great spaces are Gosford Forest Park or The Argory which is pictured below – no matter how many times I was dragged to this place for school trips I still love it.

 

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Well that’s Armagh in a nutshell. If you haven’t had a dander around the streets of saints and scholars yet then I hope this post might give you a bit of encouragement to get in the car and make the trip. It will be well worth it I promise 🙂

My Top 5 Travel Experiences

My Top 5 Travel Experiences

Since I was a small I have always had a deep desire to travel to new and faraway places. I used to trace my fingers across the seas and oceans of my Geosafari globe that had long lost it’s batteries and imagined all the places out there that I could one day explore. I especially remember a family holiday to Kerry which, although not exactly a faraway place, completely blew my 10 year old mind. We got out of the car during our tour of the Ring of Kerry and as I looked across the valley, I was reduced to tears. An odd thing to do as a child but it was just that the view was so incredibly beautiful and all of it was right in front of me.

 

The German have a word for this feeling I have had since then. “Fernweh” doesn’t have an official English equivalent but when broken down can be literally translated as “farsickness” or essentially as having an ache for a distant or unknown land. For years I identified wholly with this foreign word because it felt wholly natural to me. I felt restless for a place I had never been which only intensified the more I travelled.

 

I blame the genes really. My mum’s family are all travellers; my great-aunt lived in Kenya during the 50’s and 60’s and met her future husband there, my uncle left Ireland in his twenties and eventually settled in Australia , my aunt has lived in France and Bahrain but it’s my Granny Una who inspired my love of travel. She worked as a WREN in the Mediterranean around the time of WWII but, as was commonplace back then, her travels were cut short as marriage and motherhood took her in a different direction. She has travelled a great deal for a woman of her age (she is still hopeful of travelling to Australia again to see my uncle despite turning 90 this coming April) but I know she would have liked to have travelled more. I make sure to take her photos after any trip because I know it makes her so happy to know her grandchildren are seeing the world.

 

After 6 years of living abroad I finally returned to the motherland in 2014 with tentative feet. It’s been an adjustment but one I have found easier than I had anticipated which slightly unnerved me at fist. What I discovered was that although there are extraordinary places in this world, too many to see in one lifetime, there are some pretty special places that are not too faraway from home too. Just like my ten year old self I found that there are scenes that can move me in Ireland just as much as a tropical reef or an ancient ruin.

 

There have been some spectacular experiences over the years but I’ve managed to whittle them down to 5 in the hope I can inspire a few of you to step out and discover a place you’ve never known and feel a wee bit of this “fernweh”.

 

MADAGASCAR

I battled for a long time with how to describe this country and I still can’t find the words. As a 21 year old many would think I might have been too young to fully appreciate a land that holds so much magic because a place that looks and feels so different to anywhere else in the world is magical. But I did fully appreciate this amazing place and the opportunity to be a part of an expedition there because I was in complete awe the entire time. The animals I got to see, the people I got to meet and the jaw dropping views I witnessed will stay with me forever.

 

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I volunteered as a Research Assistnat in the north-western part of the country where the dry forests are located for a few weeks one summer. The aim was to measure biodiversity which involved recording sightings of birds, reptiles and mammals. I can still remember walking through the forest and knowing that most of the animals I was seeing couldn’t be found anywhere else in the world. Out of all the countries I have been to, this is the one place I would return to first. I hope I do one day.

 

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Highlights

  • Watching sifaka lemurs jump between trees with their long limbs swaying as they held their babies close.
  • Holding chameleons and leaf tailed geckos as they attempted to camouflage themselves against our skin.
  • Walking through the forest at night with our head torches only to see a mass of yellow eyes staring back at us through the darkness.
  • Watching the sunset at Boabab Avenue with a cold beer and watching local kids play totally oblivious to the spectacle before them.
  • Lying on our backs to see the whole of the milky way above us as well as countless shooting stars.

 

CUBA

I will always treasure the memories from our trip to Cuba in 2015 because it was the first holiday Andrew and I took together. It was an adventure for both us because we had such little Spanish and the island wasn’t exactly an easy place to explore. However it exceeded every expectation we had not just because of it’s history but because the landscape was breathtaking at every corner and the people were some of the happiest I have ever met.

 

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I have written about our travels in previous posts, one of which you can find here but in short our travels took us from Havana through Vinales, Trinidad, Santa Clara and Remedios. What struck me most was the colours of the country and when I think back it’s the first thing that I remember. The red earth, the lush green fields, the bright buildings. A colourful country with a colourful past.

 

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Highlights

  • Exploring the tobacco fields of Vinales on horseback before watching cigars being handrolled by local farmers.
  • Climbing the cobbled hills of Trinidad to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old Town and hiding under the rafters to hide from a tropical rainstorm.
  • Visiting Santa Clara, the site of the last battle of the Cuban Revolution, and learning just how incredible the achievements were of Fidel, Che and all of the rebels who helped change the course of their country’s history.
  • Taking a Chevy from Remedios to an empty white beach and lying in crystal clear waters.
  • Strolling the streets of Havana and drinking our body weights in rum.

 

AUSTRALIA

I wouldn’t necessarily call Australia a travel experience because I lived there for a couple of years but the moments I had there were so incredible they had to be included here. I landed in Perth in November 2011 with my two best friends, no money (spent it all in SE Asis on the way there), no job and no clue what I was doing. I should have been scared but I wasn’t because I had never felt so carefree before and my belly hurt every day from laughing so much that I couldn’t have cared if I tried.

 

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After travelling around the southwest and living on the east coast for a while, I finally found myself back on the west coast living in paradise. I’ve written a post before about what living in Australia taught me because being surrounded by the ocean and ending my days with a cold beer and salty hair changed me forever. I still hang on to the lessons I learned while living there because it’s easy to get sucked in to the grind over here and forget the importance of putting our own happiness first. I might not be throwing back the beers or swimming in the ocean half as much but I appreciate the things I have around me and the little of bit sunshine when we do get it!

 

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Highlights

  • Swimming with whalesharks – three times! – with one occasion resulting in an impromptu swim with a humpback and her calf. AMAZING.
  • Taking the boats out with friends and exploring islands, swimming and watching manta rays courting.
  • Road trip through Queensland and Northern Territory and seeing a rainbow over Uluru.
  • Living in hostels with my best mates.
  • Living with my family in NSW and being taken to the Blue Mountains.
  • Taking a road trip with my Mum down the NSW coast.

 

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa is a land of economic and environmental extremes. Witnessing such an unnecessary wealth divide in a country that is supposed to have progressed was incredibly frustrating but what I cannot deny is how welcoming the people are and how beautiful the country is.

 

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The South Africans are very proud of their country and the enthusiasm for the land is totally infectious. I completely fell in love with the savannah and was lucky enough to come close to animals I had only ever seen on TV or through glass. I had such respect for every creature I saw because they were exactly where they should be and reminded me that the world continues on the way it is supposed to despite humans trying to tear it apart.

 

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Highlights

  • Walking with a guide in the open savannah and on returning back to our hotel, noticing fresh leopard prints that were not there before (meaning there had been a leopard metres from where we were without us noticing).
  • Visting the vineyards of Stellanbosch.
  • Coming back from dinner on our safari trip and finding a warthog at the door.
  • Ending up in a shanty town pub on New Years Eve.
  • Seeing penguins on Boulders Beach.
  • Seeing Cape Town from Table Mountain.

 

SOUTH EAST ASIA

The trip where I laughed from start to finish. After graduating from university, my two friends and I decided to spend nearly two months in SE Asia before landing in Australia for a year. We landed in Bangkok a little innocent and unsure of where we were going but it didn’t matter because we knew it would all work out. And it did! We laughed our way through Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia before landing in Singapore without so much as 50 quid to take us to Australia.

 

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I would urge anyone in their twenties to backpack with their friends for even a few months because there is a small window in life where there is absolutely nothing to worry about other than where you’re going to go to next. It’s a huge luxury to have and one we were well aware of as we clung on to every ounce of joy. We may not have seen as much as we would have liked but we were young and a little bit reckless. I would relive it all in an instant if I could.

 

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Highlights

  • Sitting on the front of an empty ferry boat as we entered the Pulau Langkawi islands in Malaysia at sunset.
  • Walking through the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
  • Getting matching tattoos in Ko Phi Phi.
  • Climbing the trek to see the Erawan Waterfalls.
  • Eating the most delicious street food in Penang.
  • Being fined £250 for out staying our Thai visa and having no clue we did it (and later being told we could have ended in prison – had to laugh or we would have cried).

 

Being able to travel is a privilege I never plan on taking for granted because the world is too beautiful to experience from one perspective. I want to see it from every possible angle, drinking in cultures and expanding my mind so I can absorb all opinions and views. Life is a continuous learning curve that cannot be traversed from an armchair. We must get out there to really live.

 

Now excuse me while I go plan another adventure.