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A Weekender’s Guide to London

A Weekender’s Guide to London

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

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

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

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

Where We Stayed

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

 

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

Where We Ventured

Friday

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Saturday

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

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

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

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Sunday

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

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

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

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Monday

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

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

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

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Where We Ate

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Boqueria, Brixton

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

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Monty’s Deli, Hoxton

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

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Honest Burger, Liverpool Street

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

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Bill’s Cafe, Baker Street

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

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Leong’s Legend, Chinatown

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

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Wahaca, St. Paul’s

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

Where We Drank

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The Distillery, Portobello Road

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

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Hope & Anchor, Brixton

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

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Boiler House Food Hall, Brick Lane

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

Translate, Shoreditch

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Pink Wellingtons
Local Favourites: 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.

What Not To Worry About #18

What Not To Worry About #18

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hearing My Voice Recorded

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

Hospital Appointments

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

Man Cables

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

Itchy Feet

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

Deseeding Avocados

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

 

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

 

Mother’s Day Post – Part 1: How To Treat Your Mama

Mother’s Day Post – Part 1: How To Treat Your Mama

Happy Mother’s Day weekend! And what a weekend it is! The weather man was actually right for once and the sun is shining down on our wee island leaving us with bucket loads of stuff to do with our Mums. Sometimes it’s a little easy to just grab a bunch of flowers before a Sunday roast dinner (most likely made by her) but this year I’ve been trying to think of better ways to spend some quality time with the aul doll.

 

My Mum lives about an hour away from me so I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like and when I do see her it always feels too rushed. I try to squeeze so much in to my weekends sometimes that I forget how grateful she is when I take a minute to just have a cup of tea with her while we fill out the Irish Times crossword. My Mum is so undemanding of my time and yet she is so quick to be there for me when I need her so tomorrow is her day.

 

What are you doing with your Mums this year? If you need a little help in thinking of ways to spoil her with your time then have a gander at the below ideas I have been thinking about. Whatever you do, be present in the moment with her. Leave your phone in your bag and start a conversation that you don’t want to end. Let the memories and words fill your day together and allow yourself to remember just how lucky you are to have her.

 

Wishing you all a lovely weekend!

Happy Mother’s Day!


How To Spend Mother’s Day

Cook Together

Big T (our adorable nickname for our Mum, Theresa) is the champion of the Sunday Roast, queen of the beef gravy and chief of the spud. We so rarely cook for her so I’ve been thinking how great it would be if we prepared a meal together. Spending time in the kitchen with our Mum is where we can see her at her best and it’s a good way to pick up some tricks and tips too. Why not invite your Mum over this Sunday to cook a feast? Play music you used to listen to her cook to as a kid (The Lighthouse Family and M People were on repeat in our house) and shut the door so you get her all to yourself for an hour or too.

Go Through Old Photos

I love doing this with my Mum. We usually discover old albums when we’re supposed to be doing something else! We sit cross-legged for hours pouring over photos from an age ago and wondering what the hell we were thinking – who ever thought crimped hair was a good idea?! It’s a beautiful way to hear your Mum’s version of events, how she felt on that day or hearing stories you had completely forgotten about. Have a tea party on the floor while your Mum tells you about the time you chucked a fit at the fun fair (or some nicer stories) and remind yourself of some pretty wonderful moments.

Go on an Adventure

One of my favourite memories of my Mum is the time we took a road trip down the east coast of Australia. She was over visiting me at the time and we drove south of Sydney not really knowing where we were headed. We laughed so much over those few days (I still laugh when I remember the time she saw a sign saying ‘Horse Manure’ and thought it read ‘Horse Manicure’ – she thought that horses were getting their hooves filed!) and we both felt free to do whatever we wanted. I saw her at her most relaxed and I was so happy to have been a part of that. Why not take a spin with your Mum this year and explore a bit of the country with her? Don’t plan it too much – just allow yourselves to be free for the day together.

Try Something New Together

We all can get in a bit of a rut and our Mums especially can be reluctant to try anything new. Register the both of you in a class where you’re both beginners – learning something new together will surely bring you closer and might even fill you both with a little more confidence. It’s important to push ourselves no matter what age we are and your Mum might be a little bit chuffed regardless of how nervous she might be.

Go on a Date

Why not dress up and get a little fancy this Mother’s Day? Take your Mum to her favourite restaurant, just her, and treat her to a little decadence. We’re taking our Mum to Castle Leslie tomorrow and I can’t wait to be a wee bit posh for the afternoon. After that we’re taking her to the movies to see Beauty & The Beast – a childhood favourite in our household. I’m a little bit excited about it, mostly for the popcorn.

Remake a Childhood Memory

Did your family ever have a tradition or a place you would visit regularly as kids? Our Mum used to take us to Gosford Park in Armagh when we were tots and I have so many memories of climbing giant trees before getting too scared and wanting her to help me down. Pack up a picnic and take your Mum back to a special spot that will bring back lots of good memories and remind her that she was once a Mum to wee terrors!

 

 

 

What Not To Worry About #14

What Not To Worry About #14

It’s Friday! A day we can bounce out of bed knowing we’ve just about made it! A day we can look forward to a big old glass of guilt-free vino! A day we internally plan an entire weekend of activities in our head only to be secretly glad when it rains and we can stay in our pyjamas! Yay!

 

I feel like a bit of a con this Friday to be honest because I was only back to work yesterday after a few days stuffing my face with pastries in Lisbon. Feeling real-life heat on my face whilst giving my thighs a good old work out on the hills of a beautiful city really lifted my winter soul. It got me all kinds of excited about spring and all of the good things it brings along with it e.g. longer days, daffodils and, most importantly, outdoor drinking.

 

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Landing home yesterday reminded me that warmer days might be a little while away but my optimism is still here. Little cracks of sunshine are enough to get me out of the house and lug around my camera to snap at any signs of life. I am even planning another escape to Dublin this weekend – I do have the times of it I know. I’m seeing Billy Connolly tomorrow with Mumma T and my uncle Pete (this is an actual bucket list event for me and I am fully prepared to reach hysteria at the very sight of the wonderful grey Viking) and then I am having a girls night with my #squad (yeh I’m too old to do that) the following eve. I will be depressed for sure on Monday morning.

 

What will keep me going is a mind full of positive thoughts this weekend as it always does so I’ve switched it up and I am listing a few different kinds of people who I am choosing to not stress me out this weekend. It’s usually a Monday post I know but I can’t type a post with fingers covered in pastry crumbs so I thought it best to leave it for a few days. I’m clever that way.

 

Here goes…

 

Patronising People

I thought that once I was an adult that there would be no more moments of being made to feel the size of a raisin. Turns out, patronising people are not ageist and there are still moments when I feel like screaming in to a pillow when someone corrects a mistake I didn’t realise was a big deal. Oh, I’m sorry that I don’t know anything about cars Mr. Mechanic but please do not look at my boyfriend with a “women, eh?” look when I am caught side-blinded with your jargon. Now fix that metal bit that makes a weird sound please so I can drive without fear of my life.

 

Airport People

Airports can be a tense place at the best of times and I have had recent experience of this. There’s folks who choose to forget that they can’t take litres of liquids on a plane with them and suddenly remember this as they attempt to excavate their entire hand luggage in the security line in front of me. There’s also people who insist on starting the boarding queue about a half hour before the plane which riles up all the other passengers. I need to forgive these people and chill out with all the perfumes in Duty Free.

 

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Nasty People

You know the people who take great pleasure in the misery of others? I can never understand these people and I wonder if they could ever be truly happy if they can’t ever be happy those around them. It makes me a little sad but that would just be joining the sad gang and I don’t even wanna be in that gang.

 

Classy Women

The Audrey Hepburn’s, Grace Kelly’s and Jackie O’s of this world astound me. Elegant women can make me feel a little insignificant because I will forever be the ruffian who never seems to brush her hair and has holes in her clothes. I have learned to accept that I probably won’t ever look like a French woman on the streets of Belfast but that’s OK. Less pressure to look immaculate is probably a good thing.

 

Judgemental People

Yes I will be having that second cupcake Martha and please refrain from looking at me lengthways in the process. The judge-y folks can be the worst but I choose to laugh off the stares when I land to my yoga class in decades old leggings and an old work hoodie. Being you is the one of the bravest things you can do and I will rock whatever ratty clothse I choose thank you very much.

 

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And that’s about all the folks who I will refuse to let bother me this week – and maybe longer!

 

What kinds of people are you going to stop getting the better of you? Any tips on how you shrug off the negativity?

 

 

 

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 Medieval Carlingford

A Guide to Medieval Carlingford

Carlingford is like taking a step back in time and seeing the Ireland that would have been half a millennia ago. Except if you visit on a Saturday in the summer and then it’s more like taking a step on to a Geordie Shore night out. This is because the town has seen a surge in hosting hens and stags and because it’s so small, there’s not a lot of room to avoid them. Please don’t let this put you off though because the town is truly beautiful and if you go mid week or on weekends off-peak then you will experience the serenity it can offer.

 

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Carlingford is situated in Co. Louth on the east coast of Ireland and is only an hours drive from Belfast making it the perfect spontaneous destination for us city slickers. Andrew and I drove down on a random Sunday in February that saw the sun come out and gave everyone the hope that the winter was finally coming to a close. The breeze was cool and we were able to stroll in the sunshine through the ancient streets hunting for a good scone and a strong cup of tea.

 

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We managed to find the sweetest tea rooms called Ruby Ellen’s that had very tasty scones with fresh cream and homemade jam. It felt like walking in to my granny’s house with floral wallpaper, a dresser full of cakes and buns and mismatched teacups. Definitely a place to take the women in your life although Andrew didn’t seem to mind throwing the scones in to him at a rapid rate. They also had such friendly staff with an old doll manning the till. I think it took her a good half hour to calculate our bill but she was so lovely and the place felt even more authentic for it.

 

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The town itself was first settled in the 12th century and there’s evidence everywhere of a town that was once a thriving trading port. Some places you should definitely try and see are:

  • The Mint –  this limestone stone house dates back to the 15th century and has amazing Celtic design around the windows
  • Taafe’s Castle – thought to be owned by the Taafe family, a rich merchantile family who later became the Earls of Carlingford
  • The Tholsel – this is the town gate where the taxes used to be levied against goods entering the town. It’s amazingly terrifying to walk under – it’s bound to crumble on of these days!
  • Dominican Priory – believed to have been founded by Richard de Burgo around 1305 but after the dissolution of the monasteries the priory fell in to disrepair (blame Henry VIII the wee skitter)
  • Church of the Holy Trinity – this medieval church has been restored and has a heritage centre detailing the history of Carlingford dating back to the Vikings. It has an amazing stained glass window at the back which I loved 🙂

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There are also lots of antique shops dotted around the town that you can pop in to as well as artisan shops selling local products. It’s a perfect spot for a dander because of it’s size but there’s also a great walk between Carlingford and the neighbouring village of Omeath. The trail is about 7km and follows disused railway tracks that used to connect the marina to the village. It has some great views across the lough to the town of Warrenpoint and the Mourne Mountains towering behind it.

 

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Visit Carlingford if you fancy an impromptu adventure in to a forgotten past or pop down for a session on a weekend where you won’t be short of a few pints of the black stuff.

 

G’luck

 

xx

Picnics and Puffins on Rathlin Island

Picnics and Puffins on Rathlin Island

Have you ever seen a puffin in real life? Yes, they are real birds not imaginary creatures even though that’s almost what they look like. Wee red beaks on them, they look like they should be nowhere near the Irish coastline, much too exotic for our island. But you can find them here – on an even smaller island off the north coast of Antrim actually.

 

Puffin Credit: www.bto.org

 

Rathlin island is only a 20-minute ferry journey from Ballycastle and really you had me at ferry. Any excuse to be on a boat and feel the salty air whip around me, it can really awake something in you – maybe your breakfast if you get seasick like Andrew.

 

So we set our alarms on a Sunday morning (!) in May to make sure we were there brave and early to see these elusive sea parrots. The forecast was promising it be a good day and even though the sun still hadn’t appeared when we boarded the Rathlin Ferry, I was feeling optimistic. Sure I’d packed a picnic and everything!

 

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What struck me when we approached Rathlin was how it was much bigger than I expected. I half thought I could stroll quite easily around it and I had that anxious feeling I get when I know I might have to exercise. The horror! But there was a bus waiting for us when we got off that could take us to the RSPB seabird centre so sighs of relief all round.

 

The bus driver was terrifically cheesy, pointing out Rathlin University (the local primary school – hardy har har), the place where the last bus fell off the cliff (jaysus you’re killin us here) and the island’s all weather pitch which was actually a tennis court (OK now let us off). We courageously bought a single ticket even though I was eyeing up the picnic basket thinking there was no way I was carrying that for over 4 miles.

 

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We bought our tickets and trotted down the steps to the centre. Before I could see the birds I could hear them. It was like walking in to an ornithological metropolis – so much going on, birds on the move everywhere around me and so much noise. It was amazing. Then I was struck by the beauty of the coastline, the dramatic cliffs and sheer drops. It reminded me a little bit of the Cliffs of Moher, that dramatic end to the earth.

 

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I couldn’t get the binoculars on me fast enough. I haven’t got the best eyesight so I was worried I wouldn’t be able to see the puffins and I’d have to do the whole “Oh yeh I see them there, yeh over there near that thing” bit when I really can’t see a damned thing. I scanned past the guillemots, the razorbills and the kittiwakes (don’t get me wrong they are lovely birds but I wanted to see the top bill..pun intended) and searched for a splash of red. Admittedly I did have to be pointed in the right direction but I saw them! And they really are real!!

 

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I was so excited and watched a few of them flapping their wings, enjoying the sun and dipping in and out of their burrows. Yes, they nest in burrows – the mad eejits. Apparently they do so well here because they have limited predators so the burrows can remain protected. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a decent photo of them – the wee rascals stayed down on the flats and there was no amount of zoom that could capture them. I could’ve watched them all day but the 4-mile trek back to the harbour was looming and we wanted to get there by Monday so I said bye bye to the birdies and left with a huge smile.

 

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So off we went like the hobbits on an adventure practically skipping with the picnic basket. We stopped off for food at the first picnic bench we saw. It was a bit nippy when we sat down so Andrew draped the blanket around him like he was about to be shipped off from the famine. He cleverly forgot his jacket and TEA BAGS. He had to get Earl Grey tea bags from the centre and we used luke warm water from his flask. The most horrific cup of tea I have ever had. But at least I got to drink it from an adorable picnic cup.

 

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We also kept bumping in the same people. Although Rathlin Island was bigger than I had expected it took on a supermarket feel where you keep bumping in to people you’ve already said hello to. Eventually you get to the point where you do anything to avoid saying hello for the hundredth time, stopping short of hurling yourself over the nearest hedge.

 

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And do you know what else? The walk was really really nice! I enjoyed it! We dandered along the lane, talking and not talking. Mostly not talking but not because we didn’t want to but because we were so relaxed. All we could hear was the breeze, the trees and the waves. I have not been able to shut off like that for a long time and we even had a nap in the sun (it finally showed up).

 

By the time we reached the harbour I felt rejuvenated albeit a little blistered. To be honest I was blissfully happy. And I got to go on another ferry!! Good day all round.

 

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