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Bali: A Guide to Canggu & Uluwatu

Bali: A Guide to Canggu & Uluwatu

I am one of those travellers’ that researches relentlessly before a trip. I want to discover hidden secrets, places to eat in that locals rave about, beaches that won’t be crowded all because I’m terrified that I’ll miss something fantastic. This might take the joy out of it for some people but it’s almost my favourite part of a trip, to get to know a place before I even put my feet on the ground.

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Hindu blessings which decorate the streets all over Bali

Canguu (pronounced chan-goo) was where we decided we would begin our Balinese adventure since it was known to be a bit more chilled out than it’s noisy neighbour Kuta. Kuta is a popular spot but is renowned for being full of drunken Aussie’s and having mopeds bumper to bumper so we thought we would keep our distance and seek solace at a safe distance.

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I had mentally prepared myself for Canggu before we left, imagining surfers walking barefoot down the street, surfboard in one hand and chai latte in the other. I imagined trendy shops selling clothes that were too cool for me and yoga studios filled with flexible tanned bodies. And while all of this was definitely true, I hadn’t expected to love it quite as much as I did.

Canggu has an atmosphere that immediately relaxes you. Everything is slow-paced (sometimes a little too slow-paced for my hungry belly) and you never have to stray too far to find delicious food and even more delicious cocktails. We were also surprised by how spread out the area was even though it still had that surfer-village feel to it making it fun to explore on our moped in the evenings. In fact, we loved it so much we ended up coming back to stay on our last night in Bali!

Where to Stay

During our first time in Canggu, we stayed in this Airbnb which served us very well. We had a pool right outside our door which was shared but we only ever saw one other person there so it felt very private. The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, even dropping us to a restaurant one night to save us walking around looking for a taxi.

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We stayed there three nights and found it very handy to walk to nearby restaurants and cafés. They didn’t serve breakfast but this made us get up early and explore the area more in the mornings (always a good idea when you’re feeling a little jet lagged like we were).

My favourite part about this place was the bathroom which sadly I didn’t take a photo of. It was huuuge! The shower was open and in the middle of the room and the water felt like heavy rainfall which was perfect for washing the sand out of some tricky areas if ye catch my drift.

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On our second trip to Canggu we stayed in this joint for one night which was a little closer to Kuta than before. It was a bit tricky to find on the moped but that meant it was super quiet at night. We had our own private pool here, kitchen, two bedrooms and a massive bathroom that was probably the same size as our whole ground floor of our house!

We had staff come in and cook breakfast for us in the morning and the late check-out time meant we could swim in the pool and soak up the morning sun while we could. I loved it here and wished we could have stayed a little longer. Next time I guess!

Where to Eat & Drink

Scouting out places to eat is the best activity on holidays, isn’t it? And my oh my were there plenty of choices in Canggu!

Here are a few of my favourites:

Little Flinders

A great spot for a Nalu Bowl (I didn’t know what it was either until Bali but it’s the most colourful and delicious way to eat breakfast!). It’s an Australian-owned joint which has been finished beautifully so definitely an Instagram-worthy spot if you are that way inclined.

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Betelnut Café

Another healthy stop to un-do all the cocktails you had the night before. The upstairs area is open which makes it a great place to cool off and enjoy some kombucha or vitamin-packed smoothies. No one needs to know that you were actually a rum-swigging, table-dancing minx the night before.

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The Grass Terrace

We ate here soon after we arrived at our villa like a pair of ravenous hounds. The food was simple but really yummy and satisfied our weary bodies immensely. They also do an all day happy hour meaning 2 for 1 cocktails ALL FRIGGIN’ DAY. You can’t say no to that, can you?

Finn’s Beach Club

We spent most of our last day here drinking cocktails and watching the sun set in to the ocean which was a perfect finish to our trip. Unfortunately there is an entrance fee (around £15 for the whole day) but our accommodation gave us free passes which meant we didn’t have to pay in. The club has pools, a gym, spa and multiple restaurants to eat in as well as being right in front of the famous Berawa surf break. The waves in front of the club are easy to learn in which is what Andrew did while I read by the pool drinking multiple margaritas!

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Warung Dandelion

This was an authentic Indonesian restaurant with the friendliest staff we encountered in Canggu. The restaurant is beautifully decorated and feels very romantic with candles flickering everywhere. The food is just as lovely, I inhaled my tuna which was cooked in a banana leaf in about 5 minutes! This restaurant is a good choice if you fancy somewhere with a relaxed atmosphere that serves excellent local food.

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Potato Head Beach Club

Andrew and I were recommended this place by his friend who has been to a Bali a few times and we went along for dinner one evening, not too sure what to expect. What we didn’t expect was a swanky beach club bar that blew our little tourist socks off. To be fair, the prices here are a little more than what we were used to but it is very cool and we loved the laid back atmosphere. We found a day bed pretty easily as it seems to be quieter in the evening and dined like royalty for the night. It was definitely one of the most expensive meals we had but we both thought it was worth it, especially the cocktails which were divine!

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Old Man’s

We just had a few drinks here after dinner at Warung Dandelion but this was still a fun place to check out for some dancing and people watching. It’s a popular haunt for the surfer’s who drop by here on their back from the waves so it has a very chilled out atmosphere, perfect if you fancy going somewhere in your flip flops and shorts!

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Where to Explore

We only had two full days in Canggu so we didn’t have an awful lot of time to explore. On our first day we had a late breakfast and had a nosy through the many many shops that are dotted on the main streets before spending a few hours down at Old Man’s Beach paddling in the waves and drinking some very tasty Bintang (when in Rome, eh?).

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In the evening we were hoping to catch the sunset at Tanah Lot temple but we hadn’t anticipated the sun setting so early and so we actually managed to just miss it! I was a little gutted that we missed the opportunity for photographs but the sky was still a dusty pink and we were able to take a few just before the sky darkened. The temple is Hindu and is perched on a rock that becomes an island when the tide rolls in. It is definitely worth a visit if you want to see a temple that is hundreds of years old, much older than the hundreds of temples that are lived in by families throughout Bali. There are also markets on the path to the temple so it’s very handy for picking up a few souvenirs if you’re visiting towards the end of your trip!

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What I loved most about that evening was the drive there on the back of the moped with Andrew driving. As the sun was going down the colours around us seemed to deepen with the rice paddy fields turning this vibrant green. The air was warm and I just remember smiling and telling myself to never forget that feeling. I have a few videos from that drive which I will re-watch forever!

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The following day we took the moped down to Uluwatu which was a little more of a trek than we had realised. The traffic in this part of Bali is crazy and it took us a good two hours to get from Canggu to Nyang Nyang beach which was only about 20 miles away. What I would definitely advise if you’re renting a moped in this area is to invest in a mouth mask because the fumes are difficult to breathe and my lungs were impacted from not having one – rookie error!

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We also had a little scare when we thought Andrew’s wallet had been stolen from our bag which I had been wearing on the back of the moped. Luckily for us, Andrew was just having a senior moment and had forgotten that it was actually in his pocket (this was after he nearly had a meltdown as we were buying litres of water for the beach) but it served as a lesson because it’s very easy to get pick-pocketed on a moped. We were also sure to keep our hands close to us while we were trying to work Google maps on our phones because it’s so easy for someone to just take it out of your hand and scoot off!

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Despite the few hiccups, Nyang Nyang beach made it all worth it. There are no signs so you will have to use your phone and there’s also a fair climb down the cliff to get to the beach but the views are so beautiful you can stop as much as you want. There are people selling water and snacks along the walk but we brought our own because we’re stingy and were terrified there wouldn’t be enough snacks.

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When we reached the bottom we were greeted by a herd of cows who were taking a break from the sun under the trees like they too were on their holiday. The beach itself was practically empty and we found a spot to relax and take in the turquoise waters. We spent a few hours here, bringing the sensation back to our asses (mopeds are not kind to the derrière) and going back and forth from the water.

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There just so happens to be a boat wreck at Nyang Nyang beach which just so happens to be covered in colourful graffiti which had absolutely no reason for my decision to bring Andrew there at all. Promise. But since we were there I thought we might as well have an impromptu photoshoot where I skipped about like a so-called model and had no shame in posing since there wasn’t a soul to judge me (apart from Andrew which he definitely did but he took the photos anyway – what a guy).

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Not an ounce of shame there – spot the bikini line?!

After the photoshoot we started the climb back up the cliff, taking plenty of stops because we were sweating buckets, and then hopped painfully back on the moped to make our way to Uluwatu Temple. The temple is quite touristy and is famous for it’s beautiful sunsets so we tried to find areas that were a little quiet. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be any English guides and we missed out on learning a bit about the temple but it was still beautiful to walk around and see the views from the cliffs.

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There are a few rascals about the temple that we encountered and actually watched thieve a pair of sunglasses right from a man’s head. The monkeys are fairly brazen so I wouldn’t recommend visiting the temple if you are a bit skittish. They didn’t bother us but we were careful not to wear anything on our head because we didn’t want to give them an opportunity!

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And that’s the guide for Canggu, with Uluwatu thrown in for good measure! I hope you can make use of the advice but all I can say is ENJOY EVERY MOMENT. Bali is a place with extraordinary landscapes and beautiful people that will make you glow from the happiest part of your belly.

Have fun!

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My Irish Summer Bucket List

My Irish Summer Bucket List

I think most of us have a romanticised view of the summers of our childhood. The days were always warmer, longer and filled with adventure from the moment we woke up. The days stretched out before us in a haze of languid afternoons spent hiding amongst the fields, chasing the sun as it refused to go down. Being sent to bed was the worst punishment as the stubborn daylight continued to haunt us as we lay yearning to be amongst the laughter we could still hear outside.

 

As adults, the punishment now isn’t being sent to bed. It’s being sent to an office where we are forced to stay in and attempt to work while the stubborn daylight haunts us all over again. We are jailed by social responsibilities but are set free for the weekend and in order to make the most of the precious hours, we must think of as many fun things to do to save us from the guilt on a Sunday evening.

 

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Irish people can be a cynical bunch and many smirk at the mention of summer since the weather here is as reliable as our government. That sense of adventure has waned with age but Ireland has so much to offer and we can relive those childhood days, even if it’s just for the weekend.

 

I’ve rounded up a few things I want to tick off this summer in the hope that it might allow me to feel excited about the weekends and less flustered about feeling the need to fill every hour. Having these wee goals helps me look forward to the weekend and appreciate just how much this island has to offer – even when the rain tries to dampen my spirits!

 

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Go to a GAA Match

I’m an Armagh woman and the county football team was at it’s peak when I was a teenager. This meant that a lot of Sundays in the summer were spent on the side of a pitch, wearing the immutable orange jersey while screaming “Go wan Armagh!!” about a million times. I haven’t been to a game in forever and I miss the buzz of the crowd, the embarrassing insults the poor ref always endured and the terrible homemade sandwiches that were snacked on. This year I’ll make sure to don the jersey again and who knows, maybe Armagh might be within a chance of winning the Sam again.

Sleep Under the Stars

Falling asleep listening to the lullabies of leaves rustling or waves crashing might just be the tonic of the summer. I am a keen camper but I don’t make it enough of a priority to just pack up the car and get away for a night. But a night under the stars is always worth the hassle – even just for the melted marshmallows alone.

Run 5km

Running seems to be the trendy thing to do these days and for that reason I am severely unfashionable. I am not a runner and even though I have a good excuse not to be (the old CF lungs are easy to blame), I still really want to be able to run a decent distance. I have an aim to be able to run 5km in one session by the end of the summer so the practice will be starting this week. Just don’t expect me to to talk while I’m running – those freaks can stay well away from me.

Solo Picnic

I love a good picnic and Andrew and I will find time for one on weekends that will allow us to eat outside without being frozen. But this summer I want to take advantage of a little time to myself. Time to chill out, read a book or just listen to my own thoughts bumbling inside my noggin.

Island Hop

Although we live on on an island, there are still lots of little satellite islands that adorn our lovely coast and so I want to explore a few of them this summer. Last summer we visited Rathlin Island which was a blast and my first time seeing puffins up close (ish). This year I hope to visit an island or two off the west coast and get a good dose of that Atlantic air in to my lungs.

Surf

I learned to surf while living in Australia but only really stood up a few times. My lovely Aussie friends bought me a foam board as a birthday present and it has been shamefully lying in our box room gathering dust and no doubt feeling very depressed. This year the board will get wet and I will brace the ice-cold water that will surely have me wanting to dart back to dry land in an instant. I will be brave and I will try and stand up again even for just a second.

Attend the Fleadh

The Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is an annual music festival that displays the best of Irish traditional music. I’ve never been but every year I promise myself that I will go. This year is no different but I hope to actual make it this time!

See a Play

I live in Belfast but it’s embarrassing how little I appreciate living in a city with a thriving culture scene. There are plays and musicals every week to take advantage of and so I will be sure to get my thespian head on this summer!

Host an Outdoor Cinema

We have a projector that has been lying lonely alongside my dusty surfboard which will be of much better use when hosting our own backyard cinema. I hope to string up on an old bed sheet, throw a load of cushions on the grass and gather some good mates for an old classic or two. Let’s just hope the weather plays ball!!

 

If I manage to get even half of these ticked off then I feel like I’m in for a fun summer!

Have you your own summer bucketlist? Is there anything you’re hoping to tick off this summer?? 

 

 

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

Not so long ago a friend of mine took me to a secret woodland that lay hidden from the walkers of the nearby park. We followed an indiscriminate path that suddenly opened up in to a cathedral of trees and a carpet of bluebells and wild garlic. The scent was incredible (and my sense of smell is shocking) but it was the colours that moved me the most. It was as if the saturation was turned up wherever I looked as the sun streamed through the birch trees.

 

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We were there to forage for wild garlic before we reached the end of it’s peak season. I’d been wanting to start foraging for food for a while and wild garlic was a good place to start since it’s an easy substitute for other fresh herbs like basil. It’s also incredibly simple to find since you’ll find the stuff in abundance in pretty much every woodland. Luckily Rebecca (an extremely talented photographer/blogger who took all of these amazing woodland photos you see in this post) knew the perfect patch that was off the beaten path and on a slope which meant there was little human or animal footfall which makes it a little nicer to eat!

 

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I was planning on using the leaves in my recipe but you can add the flowers to salads to save any waste. Young leaves are the tastiest so I picked leaves with flowers that were newly opened or hadn’t quite opened yet. There was so much to choose from that I came away with a basketful – plenty to use for my pasta recipe!

 

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You can use the leaves in so many different ways; pesto, dip, soup, you name it. I chose to reinvent a favourite pasta dish that I cook by introducing a few cupful of leaves hoping that it might elevate it a little. It definitely did the trick! There was more of a kick of flavour (I used kale in previous recipes) and the smell when cooking was delicious. Cooking with ingredients that I hand-picked made it a little more special and I can’t wait to head out and collect more before the season finishes in a few weeks.

 

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I would recommend this dish for one of those spring evenings that has a chill in the air. We know this kind of evening well in Ireland; after a full day of sun the temperature suddenly drops and we find ourselves reaching for the winter blankets again. It’s warm, filling and a little bit indulgent but using foraged ingredients makes it a little less shameful!

 

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Happy foraging!!


Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta 

Feeds 2 – 3 people – depending how hungry you are! 

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 x chicken breasts, diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 1/2 cups penne pasta
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 cups of chopped wild garlic leaves
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Method:

  1. Heat olive oil in a pan over a medium heat
  2. Add onion and stir for about 3 minutes
  3. Add chicken and stir until cooked all over
  4. Stir in garlic and cook for an additional minute
  5. Add uncooked pasta, chicken stock, water, wild garlic and bring to boil
  6. Stir and bring to boil, then reduce to a lower heat, cover and leave to simmer for just over 20 minutes
  7. When all liquid has been absorbed, remove from heat and stir in cheese, double cream and lemon juice
  8. Serve with crusty bread

 

 

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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

20 Ways To Be Creative

20 Ways To Be Creative

I have never thought of myself as a creative person because I have always associated creative people with having masses of talent, high above the consistently mediocre folk like myself. Growing up I was average at most things but never outstanding and felt inferior when it came to any occasion where real talent was required. I can’t sing (although give me a few glasses of wine and I’ll crow my heart out), play an instrument, speak a second language (I can ask to go to the bathroom in Gaelic and little more) and I am definitely not an athlete by any means. What I have realised as I have gotten older though is that most people who can do all these things have had to hone this talent over years and practice over and over again. No one is born with these skills and so why should I rule myself out from learning them?

 

Over the last few years I have slowly allowed myself to unleash whatever creativity I have within me and appreciate that some things take longer to learn than others. While I find making my own products very easy, knitting on the other hand I have found a little trickier. The beauty about being creative is that you can take as much time as you need with it because it’s the enjoyment that you’re doing it for. Those quiet moments that we so rarely get to ourselves are some of the most important of the day and by flexing our creative muscles we are making that crucial time a priority.

 

Everyone can be creative – you don’t have to Van Gogh or Laura Marling to make or create things of your own. All it takes is a little time and patience, to live in the moment and enjoy every second of doing something just for you. Here are a few ideas to inspire you…

 

1 Try a New Recipe

I know I rotate a lot of the same meals now and then which can zap me of all inspiration but I get the most enjoyment out of cooking when I’m trying something new. How about dusting off those cookbooks that sit unused on your shelf and challenging yourself one evening in the week? Make sure you have all the ingredients you need and enjoy making a mess for once!

 

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2 Make a Playlist

When you have a little time one evening how about making a playlist of all the songs you used to listen to as a teenager? I recently did this for a friend’s hen party and laughed so much as I kept finding more and more terrible/amazing songs from my younger years. This is the perfect playlist for a day when you feel a little low and need some cheering up – if R. Kelly’s ‘Ignition’ doesn’t have you beaming from ear to ear then there is something truly wrong.

 

3 Learn to knit

Or sew! I bought a knitting kit last week and have been trying my hand to make some booties. Turns out my Granny made it look easy and I have the coordination of a T. Rex. I’m trying not to rush it though and enjoy the process even though I have images of jamming the needles in my eyes. Those moments pass though and I’m sure I’ll make a lovely pair of booties in the next few years.

 

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4 Write a Letter

Receiving mail other than bills has to be one of the nicest surprises. I wrote a post about how we should all write more and to be honest I need to start taking my own advice. Taking the time to sit down and write down words you know might make someone smile is such a rewarding thing and so much better than sending a meme.

 

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5 Start a Garden

It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular but even growing a few pots of herbs on the windowsill can plant a seed (GET IT?!) of creativity. Start with something non-threatening like basil or rosemary and go from there.

 

6 Take a Class

This takes a little more effort but the impact could be even greater. There must be something that you have been hoping to learn more about but never have had the courage to just get up and do it so you know what – do that shit. There’s no time like the present so start that pottery/acting/clown class, leave all your insecurities at the door and expose yourself to not just a new skill but some new friends too.

 

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7 Move 

You might not think of yoga or exercise as creative but you can inject a little creativity in to your normal routine. Take your yoga mat somewhere different or plan a new route to jog. Make it your own and fun.

 

8 Start a Blog!

Hey, if I can do it anyone can. If you feel you have stories or ideas that you’d like to share, then bite the bullet and create your own space to do this. The hardest thing is to share the first post for fear of what people might think but people can actually be lovely and it could be one of the greatest things you do.

 

9 Make Your Own Products

This is such a simple way to not only save money but also educate yourself on what’s good for your skin. I have been trying to introduce essential oils and natural ingredients in to my skincare routine for a while and the easiest way to do this is to make my own products. If you need inspiration, you can check some of my previous posts here and here.

 

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10 DIY

When Andrew and I first moved in together, I had such a ball restoring and painting our Gumtree furniture. We didn’t have a lot of money to spend on new things so we had to make pre-loved pieces our own. I borrowed a sander, took the tables and chairs out in the back garden and spent the best March weekend being a wee DIY-er. Your first project should be something easily achieved in a day so you’re not tempted to stop half-way. How about some new shelves or a spice rack? You’ll be a regular handy-andy in no time.

11 Paint

This is a tough one if art isn’t your thing but there are plenty of Youtube classes where you can learn the basics of watercolour. The kids can even get involved in this one in case you want to make it a family activity with the best pieces getting framed on the wall. Just don’t get angry if your child is more skillful with the paintbrush than you are.

12 Arrange Flowers

Seeing flowers throughout my house can bring my spirits up on the rainiest of days. I like to get a bunch on the weekend and then distribute them in different jars and vases. You can be even more creative by getting lots of individual stems from your local florist and designing your own bouquet as a gift – or for yourself obviously.

 

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13 Colouring In

I got an adult colouring book and I am not ashamed to say that it’s the best thing for winding down after a crappy day at work. It’s the one thing that really switches my brain off yet I’m able to use colour and imagination while doing it. Don’t bag it out as a trend but give it a go and let your inner child chill the feck out.

 

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14 Scrapbooking

I have started scrapbooking all the photos I have taken throughout the year as a way to archive all the memories that can get trapped on social media. It’s a great way to look back on all the happy times and serves as a reminder that things are pretty damn good. When you’re gluing in all your photos, try and write little stories to along with them and any tickets or receipts that you might have kept. It will be a much better way to hang on to the memories.

 

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15 Photography

With everyone having iPhones now there’s no excuse to not take advantage of having a decent camera in your pocket. For those who know me, I am always expected to take a photo at every possible opportunity which I can sometimes be a little conscious of. Having a love of photography means that you are constantly looking for the beautiful things in life, the small things that many take for granted. What I recommend doing is taking a long walk on your own, snapping anything that inspires you and then keeping them for your next scrapbook. Allowing yourself to be inspired is one of the best luxuries.

 

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16 Bake

Baking is a little different to cooking because your creativity is a little more controlled. There’s less opportunity to ‘wing it’ but when it comes to decoration, you can go wild. Next time there’s a birthday or special occasion coming up, how about offering to bake the cake? Spend an afternoon covered in flour and finish it off with a bit of bowl licking. Sure that’s why we bake anyway.

 

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17 Learn an Instrument

Could be something a little tricky like the guitar or go back to your primary school roots and pick up the recorder again. Making music doesn’t have to be intimidating but instead can be the chance to encourage a little confidence. Just don’t play ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ on repeat or your neighbour/housemate/partner may murder you.

18 Start a Journal

Starting a journal can be difficult because it’s hard to know where to start. There’s no point putting a lot of pressure on it but what you can do is carry a notebook in your bag and jot down any thoughts that come in to your head that day. Maybe start with a few lines in the morning describing how you’re feeling, some lyrics you heard on the radio or an idea you had in work. Journals don’t have to be that teenager epic with every emotion painfully analysed but can just be a log of all your wee musings of the day.

19 Bring Nature In

On your next adventure in to the wild/local park how about taking a few things home with you? You could collect some holly to decorate your fireplace, some shells from the beach or some berries for your dining table. Bringing nature inside allows us to appreciate the beauty of each season and all the colours that come with it. I even made myself an autumn wreath which I was really chuffed with which you can see here.

 

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 20 Try a New Hairstyle/Make-Up Routine

We can all get a little repetitive with our hair and make-up but how about spicing it up with something other than a messy bun? I’ve been wanting to learn how to do a proper crown braid for ages so I plan on sitting myself down in front of the mirror and taking the time to finally do it. Surprise your work mates with something new or at least get a laugh out of trying!

 

I hope these tips can encourage your inner creative to come out a little and that there a million ways to do it. Take the time to learn something new and above else, have fun doing it 🙂

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

8 Ways I Prepare For A Trip

8 Ways I Prepare For A Trip

Andrew and I are in the midst of preparing ourselves for a week-long break to Croatia and I could not be more excited. We both need an escape so badly, especially one that delivers heat! We have been feeling incredibly restless within our jobs. Miserable actually. Getting up every morning to drive in to a job that doesn’t fulfil you and you get no enjoyment from is a draining process. Thankfully we have new jobs in the pipeline and we both start on the same day after we get back – sweet relief!

 

I also found my hospital admission to be pretty difficult and a bit of an isolating time, despite the fact I have been through this so many times. I was able to finish off IV antibiotics at home which was great because I was out of a ward that was full of elderly people making all kinds of noises from dusk until dawn, but it also meant that I was on my own throughout the day until Andrew got home. It was a stressful time for us both; me frustrated with myself for feeling tired and useless and Andrew worried about me. I’m feeling back to myself again and I look back on those 2 weeks as if there was a little black cloud over our house. It’s well gone now and Croatian blue skies are right ahead of us!

 

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We fly in to Split and plan to spend a couple of nights there before heading to the island of Hvar where we will base ourselves for day trips and island adventures. It will be a holiday filled with sunshine, the sea and not much else! Before we go though I always like to make sure to make a few lists to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything because I am notorious for being a scatter-brain (on our last overseas trip in January I left my wallet on the plane…with all my money in it…d’oh!).

 

If you’re heading away soon and you’re a fellow forgetter then you might want to have a lend of my list here and check a few things before you go…

 

  1. Clothes

OK so you obviously won’t be naked on your holiday (unless you are going on a very different kind of trip) so you need to plan ahead. A few days before I go, I like to plan every outfit for every day and make sure I can alternate different items across for different looks. This means you will bring less stuff which is essential if you’re only bringing carry on. You should try everything on to make sure it still fits which can be an emotional process. You will also need to make sure everything is clean too so it’s always best to leave time to get everything washed and dried!

 

Clothes I like you bring along to for a week in the sun are:

  • 3 x day dresses (all they need is heels for the evenings)
  • 1 x pair of shorts
  • 3 x tops
  • 1 x maxi dress (always)
  • 2 x bikinis
  • 1 x heels
  • 1 x comfortable flats
  • 1 x flip flops
  • 1 x wrap (great for the beach, sun lounger and picnics)
  • 1 x cardigan for the chilly nights
  • 1 x hat
  • 1 x handbag
  • 1 x beach bag
  • 1 x towel

And that is it! I do pack underwear but I’m sure I don’t have to list that although do make sure to pack a strapless bra in case you need one for your outfits!

 

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2. Toiletries

I only like to bring the absolute bare essentials with me and things that I know I can’t buy cheaply over there. My bare essentials tend to be:

  • Moisturiser
  • Few make-up items (concealer, mascara, eyeshadow, bronzer, blush, lip balm)
  • Cleansing wipes
  • Deodorant
  • Dry Shampoo
  • Nail Polish Remover (sand can really mess those little tootsies up)
  • Nail Polish
  • Shampoo & Conditioner
  • Toothpaste
  • SPF (face and body)
  • Hair Oil
  • Soap

We’re carrying on our luggage so I’ve bought wee containers for my suncream, shampoo, conditioner and nail polish remover. It’s good to get the liquids already separated out in to a clear plastic bag and leave it at the top of your case so it’s easily accessed when going through security.

 

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3. Do Your Research

Before I go anywhere I like to do plenty of research on the area I’m staying in; where to eat, where to drink, activities available to us. Of course there’s lots of room for spontaneity but I always like to have a back up plan in case we get lost or have no idea what to do. Before we went to Cuba I printed off restaurants, bars and excursions I had read about so we knew where to go and how to get there – our Spanish was so minimal that this saved us a lot of stress!

I like to search travel blogs because I enjoy reading a traveller’s perspective with honest accounts of where they recommend to go and places to avoid as well.  I like to check out Tripadvisor too for the top rated places to eat and drink for all price ranges so, depending on how much we want to spend on a particular day, we have lots of choices.

Another great tool is a Lonely Planet guidebook. I love these guides because I feel like a proper traveller flicking through the pages during breakfast on my holiday, dog-earing areas of interest. It’s nice to collect these guides as mementos from travels and displaying them on shelves at home.

 

4. Get Your Money Sorted

The whole EU debacle has meant that the sterling has dropped and we’ll be losing out on some money when we convert our cash to the Croatian kuna. It’s a pain but we try to avoid losing out on more by choosing the best credit card that won’t charge us a fortune when we use it abroad. To be completely honest this area is Andrew’s forte, I don’t own a credit card because a. it terrifies me and b. it terrifies me.

 

Make sure you know what your bank charges are when you use a card abroad and if they’re extortionate, think of getting a travel card from the Post Office. It allows you to transfer money across easily with an app, there are no charges and you can withdraw using an ATM. The only thing is that there are only 8 currencies available so it means we can’t use it in Croatia.

 

5. Medication

Having CF can be really inconvenient sometimes, especially when I’m travelling! I’m lucky that I keep quite well so I don’t have to take a lot of medication with me but I do usually have to pre-empt and order some extras in case of emergencies. Fortunately for me nebulisers are small and easy to transport these days, the old ones would have been a nightmare to travel with!

 

I know most normal people don’t need to take as much on holiday as I do but it’s important to plan ahead – there is nothing worse than trying to sign out with your hands that you have diarrhoea in a foreign pharmacy crowded with people. Nothing.

 

A few things I pack as well as my own prescribed medication include:

  • Painkillers
  • Ibuprofen
  • Rennie’s (or any other heartburn remedy)
  • Imodium
  • Dioralyte (especially if you’re going to a hot country!)
  • Anti-histamines
  • Anti-histamine cream (the only thing that helped my mosquito bites)
  • Plasters

 

6. Insurance

Boring I know but so important because I’ve heard too many horror stories to wing it. Health insurance is obviously an important one for me but everyone should have it no matter how long they’re away for. At the very least and if you’re travelling through Europe, make sure and apply for the European Health Insurance Card. The free card enables you to receive medical treatment on the same basis as residents of the country you’re in including treatment for pre-existing medical conditions and pregnant women – #win. The UK leaving the EU has led to questions about the validity of these cards however the NHS is still distributing them and they will work until we are told otherwise.

 

7. Prepare Your House

This is also a boring one but it feels so wonderful to come home to a clean house that doesn’t reek to the heavens of stale milk and damp! A few things to remember when you’re heading away are:

  • Chuck out anything that will go out of date in your fridge and cupboards
  • Water all your indoor plants and herbs and place them outside where they might get some rain
  • Put some fresh sheets on your bed (not necessary but feels great after a long journey home)
  • Wash and put away all dishes
  • General tidy up

You will say a massive thank you to yourself when you come home and can just rest your weary bones in fresh sheets!

 

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8. Save room!

Last but not least try and make room for little souvenirs you might pick up on your travels because you will kick yourself for bringing those extra pair of heels instead of making space for those handmade gems. Oh and make sure to bring a wee notebook for a diary too – sometimes better than photos when recalling a holiday!

 

At the moment I am frantically trying to follow my own advice and get everything ready for tomorrow! Can’t wait to post a guide to this amazing country and give you some great tips!

 

Take care!

What Life in Australia Taught Me

What Life in Australia Taught Me

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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Driving Through a Hailstorm in the Southwest WA

 

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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Sauntering Between Dunes in Exmouth, WA

 

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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Looking Across The Blue Mountains, NSW

 

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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Green Pools, WA

 

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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Swimming With a Gentle Giant, Exmouth, WA

 

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Turquoise Bay, Exmouth, WA

 

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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Baby Humpy Says Hello, Exmouth, WA

 

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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At Least the Crabs Don’t Gossip

 

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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Mr. Koala on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria

 

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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The Girls

 

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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Holly Making Me Laugh As Always

 

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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Beautiful Uluru, NT

 

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Sadly I Was Too Busy Looking At The Rainbow & This Is The Only Photo I Have

 

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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Sydney Harbour Bridge on New Years Eve

 

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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Great Ocean Road, Victoria

 

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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Wave Rock, WA

 

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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Canberra, ACT

 

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Pit Stop On Our Way To Uluru

 

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

 

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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.