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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?? 

 

 

What Not To Worry About #22

What Not To Worry About #22

Happy Monday folks! So that’s the summer over eh? I woke up to the sound of rain this morning and I have to admit it was a little bit nice. Of course I’ll be wishing the sun back in a day or two but waking to the sound of rain pattering against the window isn’t a bad way to start the day and the week. Until I stepped outside to make a mad dash for the car, cursing myself that I always leave the umbrella in the feckin’ car.

 

Last weekend was a busy one, spent ceilidhing with friends and family as I performed my fortnightly whip-around Armagh. Although I’ve lived in Belfast for a few years now, most of my family and friends are still down in Armagh so I make the trek down the M1 as much as I can to avoid becoming known as the city snob – country folk can be cruel! It’s always a jammed weekend filled with countless cups of tea and biscuits but after living abroad for years I love being a short drive away from the folk that make my heart happy.

 

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I spoke in my last Instagram post about the concept of home and how transient the idea feels to me. As a child (is it weird to call yourself a child when you’re 28??) of parents who are no longer together and with no childhood home to return to, I often mourned the ‘home’ that I once knew. I used to feel a pang of jealousy when seeing friends return home for the holidays to the house they grew up in but why did I yearn for convention so much?

 

I decided that home doesn’t have to be built of bricks and mortar but can be found in relationships, experiences or even memories. Over the years I have created many homes for myself; in the student halls of Edinburgh living off potatoes and not much else,  in a hostel with my two best friends as we hilariously attempted to travel South East Asia, in the red dirt of Western Australia and in the ocean alongside it, on my sister’s couch watching trashy TV while we take turns cuddling her dog, playing Scrabble with Andrew in front of the fire on a winter’s night. And even after moving on I still left a part of myself in these places, with the people I chose as my family while I was there.

 

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And here I am, back within arm’s reach of the town I grew up in, frolicking in the orchards of my childhood (and getting pictures taken by photographer extraordinaire Rebecca) surrounded by the people I grew up with. This might be my home again for another while but just like the apple blossom that appears and disappears in a whisper, this too could be temporary. And that’s OK because a piece of me will always be here.

 

Here are a few more things I am choosing not to worry about this week…

 

Have a great week!

 

Crap Clothes Pegs

You know you’re getting old when you a sunny day delights you mostly because you can dry your clothes outside again. But why are clothes pegs the flimsiest things on the planet? I feel like Thor when they break at my very touch and then I have to fumble for another while I’m trying to keep the bedsheet up with one hand. You’d swear I was a Victorian housewife!

 

Junk Mail

I had an Avon rep come to my door to collect a catalogue she had dropped off and I had to confess that I’d thrown it in the recycling bin like an insolent child. She looked so hurt and I felt so ashamed that I’d thrown it out when I hadn’t even asked for it! This is why junk mail is the worst.

 

Duvets

We’re getting in to the warm nights where duvets become smothering devices and I have to hang one half of my body out of the bed to regulate my body temperature. It’s still too cold for just sheets so we have to live in this limbo until one of us chucks the duvet out the window in a sweaty hissy fit. I can’t wait for that.

 

Movie Nights

Andrew and I will settle ourselves in for a movie night once a week which I naively look forward to every time until I realise it takes us half a day to decide what to watch. We have bajillions of movies on the server waiting to be watched but we can never seem to pick one and furiously Google ‘best movies of all time’ for hours until we’re too tired to even watch anything. Couple joys!

 

Snooker

Who in their right mind can settle themselves in to watch that tripe on TV? Do you have to be male and over 45? It has got to be the most sinfully boring thing on this planet. In my own opinion of course.

 

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Local Favourites: Hillsborough

Local Favourites: Hillsborough

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

 

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

 

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

 

Architecture

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Space

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

 

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

 

Eat & Drink

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

 

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

 

Shop

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

A Guide to Lisbon

A Guide to Lisbon

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

 

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

 

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

 

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EAT

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

 

Taberna da Rua das Flores

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

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

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

 

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Honoraro Burgers

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

 

Pasteis de Belém

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

 

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Palácio Chiado

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

 

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Landeau

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

 

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DRINK

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

 

Pensão Amor

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

 

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Park Bar

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

 

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Pivalhão Chinês

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

 

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SEE

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

 

Alfama

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

 

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Belém

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

 

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Trams/Funiculars

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

 

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Squares Galore

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

 

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Sintra

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

 

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SHOP

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

 

Markets

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

 

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LX Factory

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

 

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Vintage

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

 

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

 

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

 

xx

Local Favourites: Armagh

Local Favourites: Armagh

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

 

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

 

Here are the things I love most about my hometown…

 

Architecture

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

 

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St. Patrick’s Cathdedral (The Older)

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral (The Younger)

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

 

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Georgian House by The Mall – swish!

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

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

 

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The Palace from the Palace Gardens

History

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

 

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

 

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Me pretending to be an Irish warrior

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View from the Navan Fort

Food

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Craic

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

 

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

 

Space

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

 

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

 

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

My Top 5 Travel Experiences

My Top 5 Travel Experiences

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

MADAGASCAR

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

 

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

 

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Highlights

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

 

CUBA

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

 

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

 

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Highlights

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

 

AUSTRALIA

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

 

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

 

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Highlights

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

 

SOUTH AFRICA

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

 

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

 

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Highlights

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

 

SOUTH EAST ASIA

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

 

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

 

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Highlights

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

 

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

 

Now excuse me while I go plan another adventure.

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 Weekend Guide to Belfast

A Weekend Guide to Belfast

Belfast is a city that has seen the best of times and the worst of times – you can see its past in the ashes of the shipping industry left in the docklands, in the murals on the walls of the east and west and in the songs of the aul boy in the corner of the pub. Now the city is firmly looking ahead and there are new places popping up every weekend – so many activities!

 

When I moved to Belfast about a year and a half ago I was starting from scratch and I have loved getting to know it, make it mine – the oases among the concrete, the independent shops, the markets. There are so many hidden gems that many people don’t get the chance to see here so I thought I’d create a little weekend guide so any newcomers can make the most of their visit and see the best of Belfast.

 

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Friday

If you’re landing in the evening try and plan ahead by booking a dinner and a show for the night. The Lyric Theatre has some fantastic productions run all year by local theatre companies and it’s a great opportunity to see Irish culture come to life. In August the Lyric is showing God Bless The Child, a play based on the stories of Frank O’Connor – I’m promising myself to book a ticket!

 

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Before you hit the play, grab an early dinner at Molly’s Yard. This small restaurant is found around the corner from Queen’s University and offers some great simple dishes that will fill your bellies up before your show. After dinner, take a walk through the grounds of Queen’s University and on through the Botanic Gardens. This little dander will not only help you walk off the calories you just consumed at Molly’s, it’ll also give you a look at locals going about their daily life. Once you’re through the park you you just have to walk along the river a little further to get to the Lyric – all very handy.

 

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If you’re still feeling a little thirsty after the Lyric, then take the short walk further down the river to Cutters Wharf – a bar that sits in the reeds of the Lagan. In the summer this is the best place to enjoy the long evening sun and watch the rowers from Queen’s University doing their practice runs along the river.

 

Saturday

When you’re in Belfast you have to make sure to find a place that does an Ulster Fry – the staple weekend breakfast for most of us here! Maggie May’s or Conor’s, both beside Queen’s University, are great places that see the hangover troops descend. If you fancy something not quite as greasy, then try 5A which is found a little further in to Stranmillis. This place does AMAZING coffee and AMAZING foccacias. Please don’t leave without trying their salted caramel brownie either because it would be absolute sacrilege.

 

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After your brekkie, you have many options. If you feel like doing a bit of shopping (or shappin’ as the locals call it) then you can hit Victoria Square. My favourite shop is Avoca just behind Victoria Square – it takes all my power not to spend my tiny fortune in there. For independent shops, I love the Kiln & Loom found on Ormeau Road. It’s a wee shop that sells fantastic local craft, jewellery, bath products and local magazines like Freckle.

 

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If the sun is out though, first of all count yourself lucky and second of all make the most of it! Cavehill is the spot to climb and get the best views of Belfast. The Antrim Castle lies up in the hills and from up there you can see across to Stormont, down to the docks and across the Belfast lough that carried the Titanic for the first time. Make sure to make the big climb to the top though, through the woods and past the caves, it’s wild but beautiful. A bit like Ireland really.

 

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If you fancy getting up close to where the Titanic was created then there are great tours to enjoy down in the Titanic Quarter. There’s a bus that can take you round the different spots and the Titanic Centre itself. You can see the Harland & Wolff cranes, Samson and Goliath, up close down here. These huge monuments as they now are, can be spotted across the city and when I spy them flying in to the City airport, I know I’m home.

 

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You’ll be deserving a cold drink after all that activity and the city centre is coming down with places to quench your thirst. For cocktails outside, the Perch Rooftop bar is a great spot that has a long list to keep the picky happy. From around the corner you can fill up on food at James Street South for a fancy option or there’s Coco’s, Deane’s or Stix & Stones that are only an arms throw away.

 

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For the rest of the night you can only choose the Cathedral Quarter. This an area in Belfast that seems to have sprung out of nowhere and there are countless bars to entertain yourself with. There’s the Spaniard for the rum drinkers, Muriel’s for the gin drinkers, the Harp Bar for the beer drinkers and the Dirty Onion for the anything drinkers. If you find yourself not content on going home when the pubs start closing, you can pop your head in Love & Death to dance those little hooves off until the wee hours.

 

Sunday

Sunday is a slow day in Belfast – you won’t catch people moving too fast for fear that Monday will come quicker. St. George’s Markets is a sheer delight for the weary Sunday head and the buzz will revive what energy you have left. There is food from all over the world (Cuban sandwiches are not to be missed), local products to be bought, fresh bread, art, books and homemade fudge that you will promise to save but you definitely won’t…

 

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If it’s the first Sunday of the month head to the Sunflower Bar to check out the vintage gear on offer or even just to get the cure if the headache hasn’t desisted yet. This bar is an historical monument in itself, still bearing the security cages featured on most pubs during the Troubles.

 

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What you can’t miss though is a good traditional music session before you go. Fibber Magee’s, The Garrick and The Duke of York all have sessions that start early in the day so you can get to your bed early. Listening to traditional music in the corner of a tiny pub packed with people is the ultimate Irish experience and it doesn’t matter how predictable it might seem, the music can move the hardest of men. Anyway, it’s a good excuse to get the last Guinness in before you go and sure what more could you want?

 

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A weekend in Belfast is a good way to introduce yourself to the city although there is so much to see beyond the things I’ve spoken of. There’s Black Taxi tours of the troubled areas, museums, gigs, or festivals that seem to be on all year. Whatever you do, come prepared to see a city that’s found its feet after years of being dragged down. And a place where the craic is always mighty.

 

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!