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What Not To Worry About #18

What Not To Worry About #18

Hello friends. How are we this Tuesday? Feeling fresh as a daisy or did you reach for the covers this morning to hide away from the morning light? I’ve been feeling a little knackered lately and my body has been telling me so in a few different ways; cough is a little worse, I have developed a very attractive rash on my belly and I have been in my PJ’s before sundown the 3 few evenings. Hot stuff.

 

So overall I have been better but at the same time I have definitely been worse. There are so many wee things that are lifting me back to where I am happiest – a few little ailments won’t tear me back down. The last few weekends have been permeated with sunlight, the coats have been shed and I have definitely welcomed the return of daytime cocktails. It’s all good right here.

 

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Last weekend was a mix of good and bad behaviour. Friday was spent with friends tasting delicious beer at a local brewery which escalated in to a night of dancing and a few too many whiskies. I tried to exonerate myself on Saturday with a yoga workshop at Flow Studio which was nothing short of tingly loveliness. I learned so much and forgave myself for the debauchery the night before until I wolfed a chicken goujon supper after and then I was right back on the road to Guilt Town.

 

On Sunday we discovered a new slice of heaven at Mahee Island which blew lots of good sea air in to my lungs and made me smile from ear to ear. I love stumbling upon new corners of this country especially when they’re so close to home. Mahee Island is actually a part of a bunch of tiny islands in Strangford Lough and is only about 15 minutes from Belfast so it’s the perfect Sunday escape from the city. The islands are connected by narrow bridges with water surrounding every view from the road – it felt like we were so much further from home.

 

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Having a quick jaunt to the water is the best way to clear the head of negative thoughts and these are the thoughts that Mahee Island cured me of this week…

 

Hearing My Voice Recorded

There is truly no other sound that can make me want to pull my own ears off than the sound of my own voice. When I hear it recorded I try to imagine why anyone speaks to me or why I have any friends at all. The reason I mention this is because I have recently started to record myself on Insta stories and so the fear is very real but like any fear I just have to get over it and hope that I don’t drive followers away in their hoards!

Hospital Appointments

I have THREE hospital appointments this week. THREE. Three times I will have to wait in a crappy waiting room with nothing to read but Woman’s Own or ancient posters about COPD. Three times I will have to talk to medical staff who have been whittled down to a point after years of listening to the moans of others. Naturally I’m super excited about it especially the extortionate car park charges which I never seem to have the change for. But I will not let the negativity get to me!

Man Cables

Andrew is a hoarder. He hoards the most random of technical stuff which he stores in most corners of our tiny house. He thinks if he puts a lamp on a drive drive he can try and disguise it as a table but he ain’t fooling anyone. This week I decided that his pile of cables/keypads/LED lightbulbs will no longer torment me so I shoved them in the cupboard under the stairs like a good housewife.

Itchy Feet

No this isn’t another ailment but refers to my wanderlusting ways of the last few weeks. In my spare time (and by spare time I mean when I’m shovelling my lunch at my desk) I have been researching a new adventure and emailing Andrew links and ideas. He seems to not care quite as much and every evening I browse Airbnb beside him in the hope it might interest him a little. I think I’m just going to have to book his flight to the Philippines which I think he might be OK with.

Deseeding Avocados

Is anyone able to do this without fear of decapitating their fingers? I can barely look down when I’m making my guacamole! Scary business.

 

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And that’s it for this week folks. Wishing you a super lovely week filled with copious amounts of cherry blossom pictures and a little more sunshine 🙂

 

A Guide to Copenhagen in Winter

A Guide to Copenhagen in Winter

Winter is the season to live slowly and with the movement of slow living grasping Instagram and beyond, the Danish word ‘hygge’ has become the fashionable word to use. There is no English definition of this word but generally it can be translated as a feeling that comes from taking pleasure in making ordinary, every day moments more meaningful, beautiful or special. This ideology is right up my street and I just knew Copenhagen was the perfect choice for a last getaway before my Aussie visitor ended her European travels. A bonus was that my baby sister Shannon was persuaded to tag along with us – a first trip away as adults!

We found a great deal on flights (£40!!!) with Ryanair from Dublin and booked ourselves an apartment on Airbnb. I know most people know all about Airbnb but if you haven’t, make sure to look the website up next time you’re booking a break. Andrew and I use it everywhere we go and it’s a great way to get a sneak peek in to local life. We were staying in an apartment in Vesterbro which is a little west of the city centre but super handy as we were right on the main street that took us directly in to town. The apartment was small but had everything we needed including a wee balcony to enjoy in the mornings – if you fancy having a nosy you can check it out here. The owner Janice was lovely and allowed us to check out at 5pm because our flight home wasn’t until 8pm – fab host!

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We had three wonderful days in Copenhagen so I’ll fill you in on what we did each day…

Saturday

We landed at around 7pm which was a perfect time to get to the apartment and start a quest to find somewhere to eat. The airport was only 20-25 mins away and I couldn’t get over the lack of traffic! We were at our new home in no time to meet our host Janice who gave us a quick tour of the apartment. With that over we headed out immediately in search of food and stumbled upon Restaurant Ngoc Linh, a Vietnamese that did the tastiest shredded pork! Unfortunately Belfast doesn’t have a Vietnamese restaurant (at least I’m almost certain it hasn’t although if I’m wrong please tell me!) so I was overjoyed to taste some authentic South East Asian food.

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After we were fed we of course had to be watered so I did what any good tourist does and searched for the best bars on Tripadvisor. I had read that the Meat Packing District was a new up and coming place however we found ourselves on what seemed to be called ‘Thai Corner’ amongst a street of strip clubs – not exactly what we had in mind! We found a few places but they were all ‘bodegas’ – bars that allow smoking inside – not a good idea for Shannon and I! Embarrassingly we ended up in Kennedy’s, an Irish Bar! We were just so happy to find a warm pub that we stayed here until 1am and to my amazement I was able to keep up with the young things and we carried on after to the clubs of Verstergrade until 4am!

Sunday

I was relieved to wake up feeling only semi-horrendous on Sunday morning but after a Berocca and a litre of water I was grand and ready for some brekkie. We headed out in the hope of getting breakfast at Granola, a popular place in the area, but to our disappointment it was jammed and so we headed off for an alternative. We found Café Phenix not too far away which served an amazing buffet breakfast and made our hungover hearts sing. Well mine and Shannon’s anyway – Holly was feeling so under the weather she had to go back to the apartment to rest!

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After a dose of pancakes, bacon, eggs, muesli and weirdly salmon, Shannon and I trotted down the main street to the Tivoli Gardens. I was incredibly happy walking along the street, peering in to all the wonderful shop fronts of so many wonderful small businesses. All the shops had their windows and doors adorned with fir and lights and candles were to be found flickering on steps to give customers a feeling of welcome.

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If the sheer abundance of candles didn’t give us a sense of magic then the Tivoli Gardens were sure to deliver and that it did – and more! From the moment I spied the gates of the second oldest theme park in the world, I knew I was about to step in to a truly special place. Christmas music was drifting intertwined with the smell of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts… I could barely contain myself.

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The sheer scale of the park was what shocked me the most. Everytime I thought we were coming to the edge of the park we would turn a corner and find new stalls, rides and games to discover. We ended up spending the day here because there was so much to see and for an entrance fee of only £13 I thought it was a bargain. Shannon and I stopped for a stein of beer in a few of the many bars and restaurants to warm up from the bitter cold outside and Holly joined us later when she felt a little more human. As she she arrived the lights came on around the park and the trees lit up the walkways and lakes surrounding us – it was like a Disney winter wonderland!

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We had dinner in Mazzoli’s, a rustic Italian joint that served authentic Italian food with incredible flavours. It was so welcoming and we stayed there for quite a well as we knew the temperature outside was dropping quickly. We finished off the dinner with some great hot chocolate and made plans to head back the apartment to have an early night and get cosy.

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Monday

We woke up fresher on Monday morning and full of plans to make the most of our last full day in the city. We headed out for breakfast at Café Obelisk and had the Danish version of a full fry (a slice of brie with breakfast? Yes please!) before a walk through the streets of the city centre. I spent most of the walk gazing upwards at the stunning Scandinavian architecture which proved slightly dangerous but the Danish are so polite they just got right out of my way. Speaking of the Danes though, they have it all figured out! Everyone cycles everywhere which explains the lack of traffic and they are super friendly that I felt so welcome despite my terrible and non-existent Danish!

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As we passed the City Hall and walked down the shopping streets with blinders on we headed towards Nyhavn. Before we flew to Copenhagen I had seen pictures of the canal of Nyhavn with the most colourful buildings dotted along it with the boats in the foreground but I had no idea just how beautiful it would be in real life. It was breathtaking because as we got there the sun began to go down and the sky started turning a cerise pink which only allowed the colours to become more saturated. Needless to say I took a million photos although none of them to do the scene justice.

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After a mega-large stein of beer to fuel us, we then walked across the bridge towards Freetown Christiana where the sunset had taken on a new level of amazingness. Freetown is an area that was once used as an army barracks but when the army moved out in the 1970’s, squatters began to move in and it has since been declared as autonomous from Denmark. It’s a pretty special place that embraced the hippie movement and was such a stark contrast to the military history of the land so of course we had to go there.

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We strolled through the streets as it started to get dark and because there are no street lights or cars in Freetown, there was an almost eerie feeling as the sun disappeared. We never felt in danger and despite getting lost amongst the wooden framed houses, a friendly local was happy to point us in the direction of a bar. Another thing about Freetown is that cannabis is smoked openly and so as we entered the bar we were greeted with a cloud of smoke and quite a few glazed eyes staring back at us. Luckily there was another bar that Shannon and I could breathe easily in so we headed there for another wee beer.

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As we began our trek back to the apartment we were overcome with starvation and needed respite from the icy cold winds. Luckily we spotted an Irish Bar called The Dubliner (how predictable I know and I can feel the head shakes as I type) but I had the best belly-warming beef and guinness pie so there were no regrets! We were back home at a reasonable hour to warm ourselves up and rest our tired hooves from a big day of walking.

Tuesday

This was our last day in Copenhagen and because Holly was flying to London at 3pm and we were flying a few hours after, we decided not to stray too far from the apartment. We managed to go as far as Kaffestuen for some lunch and a dander and enjoy our final hours in our Danish apartment.

I said my goodbye to Holly which was quite tough but I felt so lucky to have her for a whole month. This is the danger with having friends across the world – you feel like you’re constantly saying goodbye. Shannon and I were left on our own to pack our things before heading to the airport.

I didn’t feel quite ready to leave Copenhagen because I felt so at home there but I know I will be back again to explore even more. I couldn’t recommend it enough and if you’re ever in need of a winter escape, make sure to consider this city because it’s the perfect place to have a slow, relaxing time in a place that it is really brimming with magic.

 

 

 

 

Camping on the Antrim Coast

Camping on the Antrim Coast

So my Halfway Summer Bucketlist has been sitting all sad and unticked since I wrote it as I have been waiting unpatiently for the last of the summer sun to arrive. Turns out I might be waiting a long time because the weather has been relentlessly grey and unaccommodating. August has been hammering past us though so it’s time I realised I live in Ireland and to not ever depend on the weather!

 

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Camping has been my biggest priority this summer; I’ve been aching to sleep outside and wake up hearing nothing, absolutely damn all as the sun comes up. We’re so lucky to be close to many beautiful spots where heading off for a night’s camping is super easy, shameful really that I’m leaving it until now to finally get moving!

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Halfway Summer Bucket List

Halfway Summer Bucket List

How is it half way through summer already? I’m not sure if it’s because it’s been raining so so SO much but I don’t feel like I’ve been able to take advantage of the longer evenings at all. I know I will be kicking myself in October on those dark dreary evenings when it’s not only wet but freezing too, so I decided to put a little bucket list together to motivate myself to get out there and use my time a little more wisely.

 

Go Camping

My love for camping began when I lived in Australia where conditions are a little more favourable for sleeping outdoors. Over there I had a swag (a cross between a sleeping bag and a tent) that I would take along on camping trips with friends to different beaches on the west coast. I’m fully aware that it takes a little more preparation/layers to camp in Ireland but it’s still my favourite way to unwind and escape from the pressures of daily life. As soon as there is a weekend that is looks at all like it won’t be a constant rain-fest I will be packing the tent up (and marshmallows) and getting out there under the stars.

 

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Go For A Surf

As a birthday present before I left Australia to return home, my dear friends bought my my very own surf board that has been sitting sad and unused in the corner for a year and a half. It’s a foam board so perfect for a beginner like me and I feel so guilty that it hasn’t been in Irish water. This summer I’m going to brave the seas, rent a very very thick wetsuit and get dunked a thousand times while I attempt and fail to stand! Surfing is so much fun and even though it’s frustrating trying to get to up on the wave, when I finally do I feel like I’m on top of the world.

 

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Go To An Outdoor Cinema

Outdoor cinemas in Ireland are about as common as giraffes in Ireland – we just don’t have the weather to have cool Grease-style drive-ins! Some places in Belfast do have big screens outside when the weather looks like it might be staying dry for more than a few hours so I’m hoping to catch a film at some point, fingers crossed! Any excuse to have popcorn really.

 

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Have A Picnic

We went to Rathlin Island a few months ago and I got to use my picnic basket for the first time there. It hasn’t been used since so I plan on having a little beach/meadow/back garden feast so I can show off my adorable basket a little more!

 

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Go For A Hike

I haven’t hiked in the Mourne Mountains since I was a child which is shameful since I live so close! I’m determined to get my thighs to work and be amongst the trees and to see Silent Valley for the first time. We’re so lucky to have some beautiful forests around us here so it’s time I took advantage of them.

 

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I’m keeping my list small and attainable but if you have any ideas on how you will be making the most of your summer please share! Always looking for more inspiration!

 

A Guide to Croatia

A Guide to Croatia

Andrew and I arrived back from Croatia a few days ago and I still feel like I’m still recovering from our jam-packed week! It was a hectic time because as usual I like to see and do as much as I can when I’m in a new country which means lots of moving around and lots of sweating. It was all worth it though because we saw some spectacular sites and there were a few pinch-myself moments along the journey.

 

I will break our travels in to the different places we were so you can skip along to parts that might be more relevant to your getaway. As we only had a week we were only able to see Split, Hvar and Vis but this felt like more than enough without spending our whole holiday on a boat!

 

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Split

We flew in to Split, the second largest city in Croatia, and because we went in July the streets were bursting with people. As always we used Airbnb and we had a great wee apartment that was just up the hill from the Dicoletian Palace, which forms a part of the city centre, so it was really quiet. We even had a little courtyard out the back which we sadly didn’t get to make use of because we were coming and going so much.

 

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We only had 2 nights in Split although I felt like this was enough for me since it’s such an easy place to walk around and explore on foot. The Palace is an UNESCO World Heritage monument that was initially built by the Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the 4th century AD – fuckin’ old. Now the place is inhabited by locals and their businesses within the walls and the streets are hiving with activity. We landed at night and went straight in to the old town around the Palace and couldn’t believe our eyes – it felt like we had been transported back in time. The pavements had been shined with centuries worth of feet that had fallen on the limestone streets, there was live music with people dancing in the square, there was candles within the walls of hidden alleyways… Save for the fashion and designer shops along the streets, it would have been difficult to know what year we were in.

 

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The following day we decided to make our own way to Krka National Park instead of booking a tour. Smug with ourselves thinking of all the money we probably saved, we ended up spending too much time working out the Croatian bus system and wished we had have just booked a tour! This is something I definitely would advise anyone intending to pay a visit to the park! We had to go via Trogir in the morning which wasn’t so bad since Trogir is like a mini Venice and breathtakingly beautiful. However we quickly realised that the bus timetables in Dalmatia ain’t too reliable and ended up just getting a taxi to Krka for fear we’d miss out on too much at the park.

 

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The taxi cost us about 30 euro to travel about 70km which isn’t a lot but it definitely made us less smug. Our taxi driver was called Boris and although he had little English, he was super lovely. He stopped for us to take photos which made us forget all his unfunny jokes about him being an illegal taxi driver (HAHAHAHA). Once we got to the National Park it was another 15 euro each to get in and then get the bus to the trail that takes you to the main waterfalls.

 

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Out of all the things we did in on our trip, this is the one activity I wouldn’t be raving about because of how busy it was. The trail was really crowded at parts and you had to wait a while to take a photo at the best spots. Although the waterfalls were stunning and it was a great experience to swim in the crystal clear water of the river, the amount of people around us made it a little less serene than we were anticipating. I would recommend not going during peak season and maybe renting a car with some others so you can explore the park a little better. For us, July just isn’t the month to go here. As well as that we had to make the bus trek back through Sibenik and overall it took us over 2 hours getting home – knackering!

 

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That night we were in need of a well deserved drink or 10. We started off with a meal at O’zlata which was an open courtyard in the palace walls with live music. Andrew had the steak (really stepping out of his comfort zone here), I had the lamb ravioli and we had to stop ourselves from drinking buckets of the local wine. We tottered along to the Ghetto club after which proved tricky to find although I’m not sure whether to blame that on the wine or the labyrinth of streets. The bar was set outside between vine covered walls and the stars twinkled above us; not a bad way to end our night really.

 

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Hvar

Getting from Split to Hvar Town by ferry or catamaran is fairly easy from the terminal but I recommend getting there early in order to secure tickets no matter what time you intend on going. We had queued up to get the ferry at 11am about an hour beforehand and they had sold out – Andrew was like a grumpy old man after learning we would have to either get the ferry to Stari Grad, about a half hour from Hvar Town, at 2.30pm or just getting the next ferry to Hvar Town at 6pm. We chose the Stari Grad option and went to find a beach which was about 500m away. I wasn’t too bothered because it meant I could start drinking cocktails at midday!

 

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The ferry took about 2 hours and the bus was just waiting beside the dock ready to take passengers to Hvar Town which made it pretty hassle free. The roads were steep and wonderfully windy with dramatic views along the coastline. Hvar Town surprised me when we arrived because I had expected a little bit of westernisation since it’s a popular destination for parties but it looked like a traditional fishing village with super-yachts lining the harbour where the fishing boats should be.

 

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Our host, Sasa, picked us up from the bus station and was a whirlwind of information. He was your typical island entrepreneur that could arrange our whole holiday for us which was just what we needed. Our apartment, although fairly basic on the inside, had the most amazing views of the harbour and of the neighbouring Pakleni islands. We were keen to get see as much as we could straight away since we had arrived later than we intended so Sasa drove us up to the fortress for the sunset and booked us for a meal at his friends restaurant.

 

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The fortress was a fantastic spot to get some pictures of the whole town laid before the glittering Mediterranean. The sea of terracotta roofs spanned before the sea itself and it felt like there was just a quiet town below us. In fact, Hvar Town was bursting at the seams with people from all corners of the world and if it weren’t for all the yachts dotted along the marina, I don’t think there would have been any room for them all.

 

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Our first night was fairly low key since Sasa had arranged for us to hire a motorboat from his friend (the man has a lot of friends) but we soon learned that the average age of a lot of the bars was about 20. We had arrived during yacht week which is popular among the young un’s so unless you’re one yourself or don’t mind being amongst them, I’d advise to stay away during the summer months!

 

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The next day Sasa took us down to the harbour to meet his mate for a crash course in how to drive a boat. The lesson consisted of showing us how to start the boat, kill the engine and pointed towards the anchor before hopping back on to dry land and pushing us out in to the open seas completely clueless and completely terrified. We looked at each other in shock that we’d been left alone to drive this thing when we hadn’t a notion what to do!

 

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Turns out it was one of the funniest experiences of my life! We explored the different islands, making our best attempt at mooring a boat (which was awful) and dropped the anchor anywhere we fancied a swim. It was amazing to have such freedom for the whole day and roam about rocky beaches that were completely empty and so quiet that all we could hear was the water sloshing up against the boat.

 

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We also managed to find Carpe Diem, the infamous beach bar that transforms in to the biggest club in Hvar at night, on one of the smaller islands. This spot was incredible during the day and we spent the latter part of that afternoon on day beds drinking cocktails and eating the tastiest food of the whole trip – my spaghetti gambretti was so delicious we went back again the next day! What I wouldn’t recommend doing is going at night unless you want to be overcharged and underwhelmed. We made the mistake ourselves and we wish we hadn’t.

 

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A great spot though, if you’re in the mood for a party, is Hula Hula. This beach bar is only open until 10pm but after dancing for hours on top of tables to good music will tend to wear you out fairly quickly! We spent our last night here amongst the young un’s but not caring because we watched the sun going down while drinking our own buckets of mojitos – when you can’t beat ’em, join ’em eh?

 

Vis

After Hvar we were seeking a place of respite where we could lay our weary heads and enjoy our last few days. Vis was the perfect place to do this. We took a boat from Hvar to Vis  in the evening which was practically empty so we were able to sit on the bow of the boat on our own. We saw one of the most beautiful sunsets on this journey; one that hypnotised us in to a humble silence and that will be etched in my memory forever.

 

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We stayed in Komiza on the other side of the island and so hopped in to the first car we saw at the dock. The car was driven by a man no younger than 80 who had not a word of English. And no brakes. Once you get to Vis you will know how steep the hills are and when we were coasting down serpentine roads to the port of Komiza we didn’t know whether to cry over the fear of uncertain death or the stunning views.

 

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After he clipped a few cars on the way in to town and couldn’t get the boot door of his car open for 15 minutes, we were met by our lovely host Zrinka who guided us to our apartment right in the middle of town. Our accommodation here was very traditional in decor but we were so beaten with travel and cocktails all we wanted was a bed and air con! Our host was so so lovely, gave us some apple juice while she explained all we could do on Vis and we regretted not being able to spend more time there.

 

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We booked ourselves for a tour of the famous Blue Caves the next morning which in hindsight is a complete tourist trap. The taxi boat and then entrance in to the caves cost about 35 euro for the two of us but the tour lasted all of 10 minutes. The caves themselves are impressive, the colour the most electric blue, but the boats are in and out so fast that you don’t get a lot of time to really appreciate it. There’s no swimming in the caves so it’s all over very quickly so I’m not very sure I would recommend it to anyone.

 

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A positive note is that it only takes 2 hours in total so we were back in time to rent a moped for the rest of the day. This part of our holiday was both of our favourites because we had such freedom on the quiet roads, driving through valleys covered in vineyards, along coastlines of rocky and sandy beaches with the sea stretching out after them. We stopped off in Vis for lunch and ventured out to the old Yugoslavian submarine hold afterwards – it looked like something from a James Bond movie!

 

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I wish we had have had more time on Vis, it was the kind of place that feel so grateful to have seen with your own eyes and looking back it all feels very dreamy.

 

Croatia is a country worth exploring, so much to offer no matter what kind of person you are. The vineyards, olive farms, clear seas, friendly people, deep orange sunsets and dramatic coastlines will be my memories of Croatia. I hope you get to make your own some day.

 

 

10 Activities for a Rainy Day

10 Activities for a Rainy Day

You would think in the height of the Summer Solstice we would be frolicking in meadows until the late evening, unable to choose from an abundant amount of activities available to us during our weekends. Alas, we live in Ireland and the summer is fleeting and usually very wet so we have to be creative with our summer plans i.e. be very flexible or very close to indoors!

 

If you’re ever feeling at a loss of what to do as you wake up to yet another grey Saturday, I’ve thought of a few wee ideas to give you a bit of inspiration to get you out the door. If that fails I’ve also got a few ideas to keep you busy if you’re dead set on not leaving the house! Either way, having nothing to do should not be an option!

 

Visit Your Local Museum

The Ulster Museum in Belfast is right beside the Botanic Gardens but on a rainy day you might want to make a bolt straight inside. The museum always has a good exhibition on; right now it’s ‘Remembering 1916: Your Stories’. The exhibition celebrates the centenary of the Easter Rising and draws on the experiences of those involved in the Easter Rising including lots of local stories. The museum also has dinosaurs to keep the kiddos happy, artefacts from Ancient Egypt and a fantastic collection of modern art. Definitely plenty to keep you occupied for a few hours!

 

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St. George’s Market, Belfast

 

Stroll Through St. George’s Market

I love this market with all my heart. I go in to a bit of a consumer frenzy because there’s nothing better than buying local products and meeting the people who have grown/caught/made them. The atmosphere is always great; usually there’s a bluegrass band singing in the centre where you can find a spot to chow down your Cuban pulled pork sandwich (note: this is amazing and even more amazing if you’ve been out the night before!). Go along, buy some fresh flowers to brighten your damp day and restrain yourself from buying a crate of homemade fudge.

 

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Flow Yoga Studio, Belfast

 

Book Yourself In To A Class

I hate feeling like I’ve wasted a weekend when the weather has been bad and I’ve nothing to show for it come Monday. One way to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile is to think ahead and join a class to teach you something new. James Street South have a range of cookery classes teaching the amateur chefs amongst us how to bake bread or how to cook the perfect steak. If you feel like you cook enough during the week (I hear ya) maybe you could try a pottery class, yoga or even sewing. I have enjoyed a few sewing classes with Shanti at the Magpie and loved it!

 

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Explore Your Local Bookshops

This is one of my favourite things to do on a rainy day. I can spend hours upon hours wandering around the aisles, flicking through all the pages and, if they’re second hand, imagining who owned them before they graced these shelves. In Belfast I would recommend visiting No Alibis, Belfast Books and The Bookstore then bringing your new purchase to a coffee shop for a read while you watch everyone outside getting soaked – mwah ha ha!

 

Tour Your Local Brewery

Hilden Brewery in Lisburn is the oldest independent brewery on the island of Ireland and can be explored by us laymen who get thirsty on the weekends. You can learn about the local craft from the master brewer and taste the whole collection if you have the stomach for it. Molly’s Chocolate Stout sounds amazing! Make sure to book ahead on their website.

 

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Create Your Own Indoor Herb Garden

I have a windowsill which gets all the afternoon light and is the perfect spot for growing some herbs that don’t require an awful lot of TLC. The herbs I have had great success with so far are thyme, coriander and basil – all low maintenance which is an absolute must for me. I’m thinking of branching out to mint and or maybe going completely mad and getting my own little chilli plant. On a rainy day it’s a brilliant chance to pick up a few from the local discount shop (Home Bargains is a great place to start), get some pretty pots while you’re there and get to potting. If you’re feeling extra creative, get some clay pots and chalk paint to make your herbs extra chic.

 

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Homemade Coconut Oil Scrub – Recipe Here

 

Get Those DIY Projects Done!

We all talk about how we will get those chairs painted/cushion covers sewed/candles made but we never make the time. A rainy day is the perfect opportunity to get a start on these and make a whole day out of it. On my next rainy weekend I am hell bent on getting shelves up in our dining area – the brackets we bought in a sale have been sitting in the corner gathering dust for the last 3 months! Making something for your home is a great way to add your personality, especially if you’re renting like me, so feel free to release your inner Picasso!

 

Create A Den

Now I know full well that I’m 27 and that making a den in the living room may no longer be socially acceptable but when it’s raining and all you want to do is watch movies and eat salty popcorn and maltesers (the world winning combo) then why not? Get all the cushions in the house on the floor, make a tent from a sheet and snuggle up with your duvet and download all your favourite childhood classics. My personal favourites are The Goonies, The Father of the Bride and Cool Runnings – they will never get old!

 

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Bake Up A Storm

Maybe there’s someone’s birthday coming up, you’ve a mate that’s got the flu or you just feel like making 5 different kinds of bread. This is the day to make a complete mess in the kitchen, cover yourself in flour and eat batter from the bowl. Andrew has recently taken up baking which is a bit strange because he’s not known for his cooking skills (I once had to help him make a Caesar salad for which he’d forgotten to buy Caesar dressing) but it turns out he’s a great baker! I think it’s the scientific side of things that he enjoys, measuring everything out to the exact gram. Anyway, if it’s raining today, watch an episode of Great British Bake Off and go get your Mary Berry on.

 

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Make A Scrapbook

Last year I made a commitment to start printing off photos and keeping them in albums and scrapbooks rather than losing them to the social network stratosphere where they are forgotten about. I realised that if Facebook ever randomly crashed I would lose so many memories because I have gone through so many computers and hard drives over the years. Bearing this in mind I printed off all my photos from Cuba and bought a scrapbook in preparation for a rainy day when I could glue in all my photos along with bits and bobs that I had kept from the trip. I enjoyed this so much that I decided to print off my favourite photos from 2015 to make another scrapbook!

 

Good luck with whatever you decide to do this rainy weekend – fingers crossed our summer will come back!

 

 

 

 

5 Lessons I Learned Backpacking in Australia

5 Lessons I Learned Backpacking in Australia

I lived and travelled through Australia for over 2 years after I graduated from university and there are times when it feels like my life there was all a dream. My memories are of days spent under the hot WA sun, swimming in the ocean chasing turtles and waves and not having a care in the world.  No shock that these memories tend to intensify on a rainy Tuesday morning in February while sitting at my office desk trying to warm up against the radiator – Irish problems.

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The majority of my time in Australia was spent in Exmouth, a small town found on a peninsula about half way up the WA coast. The town’s population is about 2500 people, many of whom are from other parts of Australia or far flung corners of the world. It’s a special place that has managed to stay under the radar of most travellers because of how isolated it is (it’s an 11 hour drive north of Perth and the nearest town is nearly 4 hours away) but those who do stumble upon this little gem amongst the desert rarely leave. My life was simple during this time; my biggest worry was what I would do on my days off – camp, snorkel, fish, surf, sunbathe.

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Exmouth will always have a place in my heart and I suppose I do look back with rose-tinted glasses because why would I have decided to leave? The truth is I surprised myself with how much of a home bird I actually was. I have always been a traveller (Croatia will be country #29 next month!) and I’m used to moving from place to place. But after a while I realised that although I love exploring new places, I craved the feeling of soft fluffy grass under my feet and the smell of rain.

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Australia wasn’t to be my forever home but it did change me forever. I came away with a different perspective on life and knowing the importance of doing what makes me happy. I’ve listed a few things that I learned during my time in the red dirt and how everyone should get off the beaten track and enjoy this amazing country at some point in their lives.

Lesson 1 – How Much I Love The Ocean

I was born in Armagh, a ‘city’ (the population is only 15,000 but because there are two cathedrals this somehow warrants a promotion) found in the middle of Northern Ireland and about an hours drive from the coast. My childhood memories of beach days were typical Irish seaside holidays; a handful of days each year spent between wind shelters (to protect us from a torrent of sand grains), eating crisp sandwiches (usually containing sand) and, if we were feeling extremely brave, running in and out of the Atlantic screaming with a mixture of sheer delight and horror.

 

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I never thought of myself as an ocean lover because I had never really experienced the magic it had to offer. That was until I lived in Exmouth and had the world’s longest fringing reef right on my doorstep. My love affair began after swimming with whalesharks on a day off from work. Exmouth is lucky enough to host these gentle giants in their winter months and I’ve swam alongside them several times. Each time felt more special than the last and even though they can be intimidatingly large when they get close, they’re completely harmless to humans. Watching them glide through the water instilled such a peacefulness within me that it felt akin to a religious epiphany. I was in love with the ocean from then on.

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My love affair with the ocean and I learned to surf (poorly), got dunked a thousand times and lost my temper until I finally stood up and nearly passed out with happiness. I snorkelled above corals of all colours following a lonely turtle or spotting a reef shark nervously out of the corner of my eye. I saw two manta rays performing the most intimate and graceful of dances. I swam close to a humpback whale and her calf, hearing her calls to make sure her baby didn’t stray too far. I caught my first fish!

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All of these things impacted me profoundly and since coming home I know how important it is that I base myself as close to the ocean as possible. I walk along the beach barefoot at Helen’s Bay and look out towards the Irish Sea and, even though I don’t see any humpies breaching out of the water, I feel happy and calm.

Lesson 2 – I’m a Small Town Girl

Growing up in a smallish town was at times a frustrating experience. Everyone knew you who you were and your business so gossip was rife, especially in all girl Catholic school! When I moved to Exmouth I quickly spotted the similarities; seeing the same faces every day, getting to know who was breaking up with who and who was pregnant. It wasn’t long before I was the subject of a rumour myself which I found out at a trip to the Newsagents:

Newsagent: Oh Alex, you’re really starting to show!!

Me: Em… Do you think I’m pregnant? *sucking in as I say this and thinking I am never having pasta for lunch again*

Newsagent: *colour drains from face*

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While rumours might not always be fun (and might make you drastically change your dietary choices), being welcomed in to a community when you’re far away from your own home can be incredibly comforting. I worked at the Council in Exmouth (i.e. Shire of Exmouth – sounds like a town of hobbits I know) and I got to know so many different locals. I realised that I actually love smaller towns, especially when I’m new, because you can create a little family of your own.

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Now that I’m home, I live in Belfast and that sense of community isn’t quite as strong. However I am a 5 minute drive from Holywood which has a lovely small-town vibe with a local butchery, florist and health food shop. I always end up striking up conversations with people and feel just like a local again.

Lesson 3 – I Need Girlfriends

I have had the same group of girlfriends since I was 13. We were, and still are, a fiercely tight knit group and so when I lived away I desperately missed them. I’m a slightly neurotic person and need girls in my life that I can talk about my fears and passions with, run free with and dance my little hooves off with.

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In Exmouth, bonds can be quick to form and friendships are intense, as is this case with most travellers. I met an incredible bunch of girls there who I will always be in touch with because they helped me through tough times when I felt a million miles away from home. There was Holly, the Kiwi who made me laugh every day and was always there to feed me junk food; Mia, who mothered me and gave me unapologetic advice when I needed it most; Alice & Vasia, the earthy ones who I practiced yoga and how to drink a beer while riding a bike with; Cat, the ocean girl who helped teach me the wonders of the ocean; Kirby who taught me so much about being kind; and Jo Lee, the wild and fierce musician who serenaded me on nights I didn’t want to end.

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Every girl needs another girl that will let her know how much she can shine, that whatever decision she decides to make, they will always be there to back her up. And to also tell her that she’s a maniac when necessary.

Lesson 4 – Always Keep a Travel Diary

Before I settled in Exmouth I travelled along the east coast and south west and learned how Australia was a country of contrasts. I drove through vineyards between Adelaide and Melbourne; I saw how the eucalyptus trees gave the Blue Mountains their name in NSW; I saw the tropical rainforests of Queensland; I saw a rainbow rising over Uluru.

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Although all of these sites have been etched in my brain forever, I really regret not documenting little details down and funny stories from my different road trips. Since I have been home I now keep diaries of all my new adventures no matter the destination. There’s nothing like recalling a memory that you had completely forgotten about and either recoiling with the embarrassment or beaming with happiness that you experienced it.

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Lesson 5 – Everyone Has To Backpack Through A Country At Least Once

I know it’s easier to backpack after or before university, before life gets serious and you join the ladder along with your peers. The thing is, getting away for weeks or months to explore a country doesn’t have to be so difficult. Or expensive.

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Australia was a great country to explore because it wasn’t entirely intimidating; it was English speaking, easy to get a work visa to fund the trip and well connected. I think it was the best way to see the country because it’s just so massive and to really visit and explore all these amazing places, a few weeks just isn’t enough. However I would recommend backpacking to anyone and everyone no matter what stage of their lives they are at because it doesn’t mean you have to go away for months and months.

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Smaller countries can be explored with a backpack in just a few weeks. I went to Cuba and explored the island (which was surprisingly much bigger than I expected!) in just over 2 weeks. Flights were only £420 return from Dublin and I spent around £800 on everything else – a bargain! However it was Australia that introduced me to my love of backpacking and for that I will always be grateful.

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A little piece of me will always call Australia home because it taught me a great deal and introduced me to people who, even years later, I still call family.

 

A Cuban Adventure Part 4 – Remedios

A Cuban Adventure Part 4 – Remedios

We got another taxi from Trinidad to Remedios; this seemed to be our preferred method of travel because the costs were pretty low and it meant we had more freedom to stop when we wanted to. Unfortunately our taxi driver couldn’t understand us any English and it was the first and only time in Cuba I doubted whether we were completely safe to travel on our own. The driver was VERY serious and blasted salsa music for 6 hours straight and by the time we reached Remedios we were on the verge of insanity!

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We had booked to stay in Hostal Buen Viaje after seeing some great reviews online before our trip. The hosts were Lester and Naty who were so accommodating that I felt like I was home. The room was airy which was great because we felt the heat up on the north part of the island a bit more. We also felt the mosquitoes too so I would recommend a net when you’re visiting these parts! I was running about like a mad woman one night trying to find the buzzing culprits.

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The Casa had the most beautiful courtyard where ate our breakfasts and dinner. Our hosts even placed a little St. Patrick butter knife out for us which had been a gift from their Irish friends – such a thoughtful touch! The food was amazing too. Naty cooked a local fish (I stupidly didn’t write it down) which we both devoured and Andrew isn’t even a big fan of seafood.

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Remedios also provided the best sunsets we saw in our entire trip. On our first time we were sitting in the town square drinking wine and the sky was the colour of electricity. A storm was brewing within the clouds the sun was setting in which produced the most intense orange colours. No photo would ever be able to do it justice.

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We only had one full day in Remedios which we spent on Cayo Santa Maria, a key which is just off the mainland and connected by bridge. When we were dropped off, we had to walk about 700m through mangroves which felt like a hike in the midday heat. However when we arrived on to the beach and saw the water we were awestruck. This was by far this most idyllic out of all the beaches we visited mainly because there was barely a soul there.

There was little huts to sit under out of the sun although I never wanted to leave the water. It was shallow enough to just sit and watch the dark storm clouds gather in the distance. A hotel was located up the beach so we could grab drinks when we needed to because there was nothing else bar the huts. A full day in the heat began to take its toll on us after a few hours and we started to make our way back to the hut to meet our driver. Through the mangroves an Italian couple were startled by a snake and had stopped in their tracks. We felt so knowledgeable when we told them that there were no poisonous snakes in Cuba – a wee tip our guide Eddie had told us in Trinidad!

I wish we had have been able to stay longer in Remedios, especially at our Casa because it felt like a retreat after all our travelling. If we ever come back to Cuba I know we would definitely make sure to return to see Lester and Naty!

A Cuban Adventure Part 3 – Trinidad

A Cuban Adventure Part 3 – Trinidad

It was a 7 hour journey between Viñales and Trinidad so we made sure to have books to read and a fully charged laptop to watch some movies to keep us occupied! Our new friends were rapidly becoming our biggest irritants and small quarters such as a Peugeot 407 will only enhance tensions! Andrew had asked for a toilet break and Walter refused him only to get the driver to pull over a half hour later (Andrew was not happy). When we got out of the car we couldn’t run away from them fast enough but because luck was not on our side they asked us to join them for dinner that evening – nightmare! Both Andrew and I are pretty bad at saying no so we shiftily said maybe, we were ‘pretty tired’ and we might see how we got on…

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After we checked into Casa Jorge Mendez we soon realised how hungry we were and heard the Belgians talking about a pizza place called San Jose. We decided we would go there early to avoid bumping in to them but after our starters in walked Innes and Walter… I didn’t know how to react when they came over and I was getting to the point of giving up and asking them to sit down with us! Andrew sensed this and gave me a kick under the table and a look to tell me he I would be killed if I dared ask. Then came the most awkward silence and I wanted to throw myself in to my delicious pizza. They got the hint thankfully but that didn’t stop us from bumping in them several more times during our stay there!!

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Our casa was really great with shutters opening to a courtyard and a massive room and ensuite. A pool had been promised but apparently it had been recently closed for renovation although something told us that the pool may have never existed! The roof gave us a great view of Trinidad out to the ocean and we watched the most amazing thunderstorm that night.

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I quickly found out that Trinidad was my favourite town in Cuba. I loved walking down the cobbled streets looking in to the different shops and colourful buildings. The town seemed to not have changed very much since the mid 19th century when it was a busy port and the buildings have kept its character. The old quarter is an UNESCO heritage site on top of the steep hill. It’s a struggle to make it up there in the heat but the views are well worth it especially for the sunset!

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We decided to get a taxi to Cienfuegos for the day – another old Chevy that probably hadn’t passed an MOT since 1964. Cienfuegos felt very different to Trinidad with lots of French influences and more western style shops and restaurants. The day was so hot we needed frequent refreshments so found a lovely spot by the pier to have mint and lemon slushies. After a dander round the town we thought we might try and make a trip to the Guanaroca lagoon on the way back to Trinidad. I had heard there was a wild flock of flamingoes based here and thought it would be an opportunity not to miss…

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And I’m so glad we didn’t miss the chance because this was one of my favourite times of our trip! We had a guide walk us down, pointing out native trees and birds before we reached the canoe. Our canoe guide didn’t have much English but he knew so much about the environment there. He rowed us to the other side of the lagoon, pointing out herons, snake birds, egrets and pelicans before I saw little pink dots in the distance. As we got closer we could see that the pink dots were actually a few hundred juvenile flamingoes – the most flamboyant splashes of colour against the tropical surroundings. It was eerily quiet but incredibly peaceful save for the distant rumble of thunder in the nearby. When we got close enough the flamingoes became unsettled and took off in unison making a circle around us overhead. All I could hear was their feet hitting the water and the flapping of wings – such an unforgettable experience!

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That night we went to Sol y Son, an old restaurant in a colonial home that still has all its original furniture including a bedroom at the front. There was great music while we ate although by this stage I was fully addicted to our chess app we’d been using since the beginning of the trip. Andrew taught me on our first few days and I was obsessed with beating him!!

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After our dinner we headed up to Casa de la Musica – an outdoor salsa club that has the best live music and dancing in the old quarter. Lots of amazing dancers made sure that we dared not dance and make a show of ourselves! We tottered on up the hill from the old quarter to the very top where there is an actual club in a cave – no joke! On the way up are little stalls selling mojitos for inflated prices although it’s a great way to take a break from the climb. When you get to the cave, there’s lots of steps down and then you enter a cathedral-like space with a bar. It’s pretty amazing to see although we would’ve preferred listening to music other than salsa for a few hours at least!

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The following day we hired out bikes to cycle to the Ancon peninsula which was 12km and seemed perfectly achievable. We packed lots of water and began to freewheel down the hill from the town towards the coast. Once we plateaued we realised fast how hot it really was. The sweat was soon streaming down my face and into my eyes. After 10km we were closed to heatstroke and our lives started to pass before us (cue dramatics). The water had ran out and we began thinking we were going to have to sleep on the side of the road but most important of all we had to find shelter. A hut soon appeared like a mirage before us and I had the tastiest lemonade of my life! After about an hour of solace we managed to get the energy to finish the trek.

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The beach was worth the near death experience – the water was a bright blue and the perfect temperature. There was so much coral and fish to dive down and see with a snorkel, I found it a lot better for snorkelling than Cayo Jutias. We didn’t get to spend too long there though because our epic journey took up half a day and we had to start looking around for a lift back to town before dark.

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We met a guy at the snack bar who despite sitting with a beer can was more than happy to take us back to town. With a fair amount of apprehension we agreed, we thought it less risky to get a lift home with a guy who may or may not be a bit sauced than cycle all the way back again. He threw our hired bikes in the back of an old Honda Civic and we sat in the back praying it was his first beer that he was still holding in his hand.

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We had booked to join a tour to Guanayara National Park and our driver, Papa Noel, picked us up in the morning. Turned out Papa was a big fan of Celine Dion and played her greatest hits all the way up the mountain. There’s something to be said about climbing up through a jungle with a view of the Caribbean in a car belting out ‘Don’t Think Twice’.

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We were in a small group tour with a guide, Eddie, who spoke perfect English. Eddie was a fascinating guide and it was great to have a conversation rather than just exchanging names in Spanish. He had studied in Santa Clara and had relatives on both sides of his family who had fought on opposing sides of the Revolution. He explained how the rebels hid in the mountains we were in and how the locals had helped them. He also knew an incredible amount about the flora and fauna of the jungle; I could have listened to him all day.

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We trekked around 5km before reaching beautiful waterfalls and then swimming in natural pools. These pools were the real deal, not like the puddles in Viñales! The water was crystal clear and we could dive underneath the waterfall in to caves. After our lunch we were taken to a coffee plantation which told the history of the coffee trade and all the different beans grown there. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of coffee but felt because of where we were I should give it a go. Mistake. I could barely drink it but smiled at the farmers anyway to show I wasn’t really repulsed by the bitterness. I took a sneaky stroll round the back and threw the coffee over the fence. I couldn’t bare to give them back a full cup!

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That night we bumped in to the Belgians – again – and decided that since we were leaving the next day we could manage one last night with them. We took them to Casa de la Trova which we had enjoyed before but they thought was too loud so made tracks to Canchanchara. This bar was very chilled although I wasn’t too impressed with our Cuba Libres, they used cordial instead of fresh limes which I thought was complete sacrilege. We said our goodbyes to Innes and Walter, promised to stay in contact (got to love these false holiday promises) and headed back to our Casa. We sat on the terrace watching the shooting stars and planned the next part of our trip to Remedios.

 

 

A Cuban Adventure Part 2 – Viñales

A Cuban Adventure Part 2 – Viñales

We planned on getting a bus from Havana to Viñales but realised too late that you had to pre-book (small piece of advice!). We managed to find a taxi driver that could take us all the way for $80 and for the convenience of having a car all to ourselves we were sold. The driver was an English lecturer and we had a great chat with him during the 3 hour journey through Piñar del Rio.

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It amazed me how the car managed to make it up the hills as we began to rise over the mountains. The roads were incredibly twisty which wasn’t doing Andrew or his car sickness any favours. The views were breathtaking, deep lush valleys and horse and carts carrying the produce. We arrived in to the town which is basically one street and fell in love with the place. We had booked to stay at Casa Nolo which was a bright pink house on the edge of the town and cost $25 per room per night. We sat outside waiting for our hostess Vana, watching the hens run about loose and local girls doing each other’s hair on the porches.

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Vana arrived and was the loveliest ball of energy. We were staying on the top floor which was so spacious and we had a massive terrace all to ourselves. The bathroom shower was a bit unique in it’s plumbing and electrics but we didn’t get any shocks so can’t complain too much. We had dinner on the roof which was a complete feast – soup followed by lobster with salad and homemade crisps and only $10.

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The next day we had booked a horse trek through the valley and tobacco fields. We met our guide Lazaro in the morning and he looked at our attire and shook his head. We stupidly hadn’t brought long trousers and he told us in broken Spanish that we would suffer for it later. We also met another couple who would be joining us – Walter and Innes both from Belgium. Innes was fluent in Spanish and proved an absolute lifesaver in translating Lazaro’s mumbles and the guide at the tobacco farm.

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Andrew had never ridden a horse before and I highly doubt I will ever see him on one again. When we met our horses there was this beautiful big black horse called Negreto and another smaller brown one called Dancer. Common sense made me assume I would be getting the smaller one but it turned out Lazaro had a great sense of humour and saw an opportunity. Andrew was assigned to Dancer and he quickly realised the reason for his name. Dancer didn’t trot like a normal horse but danced about the trek throwing Andrew every which way causing him to howl with pain when we burst in to a canter. We all laughed an awful lot, Lazaro included. Andrew was less impressed!

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Being able to see the valley while riding a horse was incredible. Looking up to see dramatic cliff faces and lush green crops against the red earth was something I will never forget. The tour of the tobacco farm was great and the guides were so knowledgeable about the land. We felt extremely cool lighting up the cigars they had just rolled for us and because they had dipped them in honey, they actually tasted really good.

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After the tobacco farms we were brought to a natural pool hidden in a cave. I think they oversold this place a tad because when we got there it was actually a dark pond with murky brown water. They had the cheek to ask us for an extra $2 to get entry but luckily Innes was able to tell them where to go in Spanish. The walk through the cave was a health and safety nightmare with a few random torches. We braved the water although I wasn’t sure what the hell was swimming beneath me! I would recommend asking to see photos of these ‘natural pools’ before you visit them!

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We a fantastic steak at El Olivo this night followed by several Ron Collins. We sat on the terrace sharing a cigar and thought we were the bees knees. Cue an embarrassing conversation with our hostess when we got back with Andrew repeating ‘Me llamo Andrew’ – cringe!

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The following day was one of Andrew’s favourite trips of the holiday. We had booked an old Chevy to take us to Cayo Jutias, a beach on the coast about an hour and half away, with our new friends Innes and Walter. The car didn’t travel above 30mph the whole journey although it was hard to tell because the speedometer didn’t work. It didn’t matter because the drive was so beautiful.

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What we didn’t expect was how stunning Cayo Jutias would be. The sand was white, the sea was the most amazing blue and there was a beach hut nearby ready to supply us with food and some cocktails – absolute heaven!! We were told that this was a great place to snorkel however this isn’t all that true. The water is crystal clear but the sea grass didn’t offer a wide variety of marine life and we gave up after about 20 minutes. There were some terrific walks along the beach though and we didn’t have to go far to have the beach all to ourselves. It was such a wonderful day.

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On the way back we ran in to a thunderstorm which proved how old the Chevy was. Andrew’s passnger window only went up half way and the driver had to cover the rest with a plastic bag. This didn’t work too well and it wasn’t long before Andrew was ankle deep in rainwater. The sound of the thunder and the intensity of the rain was such a sight though we loved every second.

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Despite us lathering ourselves in suncream we still got burned. Andrew’s feet were practically purple and only added to the injuries he had accumulated on the horse trek the day before. Note: bring plenty suncream with high SPF and effective aftersun!

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Our last night was spent with on the terrace watching the sun set and eating more of Vana’s great food. The conversation was starting to dry up with the Belgians and we were finding ourselves in the holiday predicament of being stuck with another couple. Unfortunately we we were spending the next day with them in a car travelling to Trinidad so we had to be as polite as we could!