We went to Malta to celebrate our first anniversary in 2013. It was a great mix of relaxation and culture.
Paceville is the nightlife capital of Malta. There are loads of colourful bars, clubs and cafes in this area that come alive when the sun goes down.
This is the courtyard of Palazzo Falson, the residence of a shipping merchants’ son who collected art and other tid-bits that are now on display in the house.
We went to visi the Cart Ruts which despite being given a nickname, Clapham Junction, are not in anyway a big tourist attraction. There’s only one bus an hour that goes past, so we were twiddling our thumbs a bit. We desided to wander down the road and eventually came to Buskett Gardens, which were absolutely gorgeous and completely deserted.
We took a day trip to Comino, which lies between Malta and Gozo, to the North. It is a tiny, virtually uninhabited island that gets swarmmed by tourists every day who come to bask on its golden beaches and swim in the azure sea. We both got super sunburnt, because the wind chill made it seem much colder than it was – make sure you wear your suncream people!
The Capital of Malta, Valletta is absolutely stunning, but the jewel in the crown is St John’s Co-Cathedral. I think it is the most intricately decorated church I have ever seen, and the art work on the ceiling depicting the life of St John is breathtaking.
We hopped over to Dublin to celebrate my birthday with one of our friends, and his new girlfriend that no-one expected to really exist (they’ve since got married – shocking)!
Johnnie Fox’s Pub is a traditional Irish Pub just a little way out from Dublin Centre and is famed for being the highest pub in Ireland. We had a brilliant night there with some great food, live music and even a magician!
The Leprechaun Museum was great fun, but calling it a museum is making it seem much more educational than it is in reality. It’s mostly some folklore stories and this ‘Giant’s Lounge’ for mucking about taking photos.
The LUAS is the tram system in Dublin, with only two lines. One runs East-West, the other North-South. We only found we needed to use it once while we were there, but it runs right through the City Centre, so it’s hard to miss. We still affectionately refer to as the Lucas, due to me binge watching all nine seasons of One Tree Hill at the time.
We waited for ages to get into Kilmainham Gaol, which was used as a prison for just over 100 years and is now a museum that principally documents prisoners held here that were involved in the Easter Rising in 1916.
A trip to Dublin is not complete until you visit the home of Guinness. These tiny pints are in the ‘Tasting Rooms’ where everything, down to the air pressure, is designed to make the Guinness taste better than anywhere else.
Paris was the first stop on our European Adventure. It was D’s first experience of hostels (which turned out amazingly well). Although we’d booked a dorm room, we ended up in a private twin with our own shower!
Obviously, it is essential to visit the Eiffel Tower at some point in your life and, if you are in Paris, it would be rude not to. We decided to use the stairs for three reasons;
1.) It saved us some Euros.
2.) The queues for the lifts were huge.
3.) We can gloat about it.
Compared to some of the other places in which we have climbed really tall buildings, like New York or London, Paris’ skyline looks different. There are no skyscrapers dominating the landscape and the majority of the old pale buildings still stand, instead of the endless sea of glass.
It was great to see the original love lock bridge before all the locks were removed last year. This is definitely the most impressive collection, although ‘love locks’ are attached to random bridges all over the world.
D and I are far too hipster to do anything as conventional as the Louvre! One of the museums we visited was the Musee des Egouts de Paris, which is actually a fascinating look at how Paris’ water and sewerage system came to be. The enterance to the museum is underneath the hut you can see in the back of the photo.
We bought tickets for a show at Moulin Rouge before we left the UK. We desperately wanted to see it, and knew that if we didn’t have the tickets in hand, it would feel to0 extravagant to pay when we got there. The seating was cramped, and I managed to spill a glass of champagne everywhere, but it was a really fantastic show (despite sitting on a table with a middle aged American couple who couldn’t get enough of each other – eurrgh!).
The only other museum we visited was the Museum of Chocolate. It was a really sweet (excuse the pun) look at the history of mostly hot chocolate. They do a praline making demonstration and you get a super tasty hot chocolate included in the price of a ticket.
Veggie Rating: 4/5 Some amazing veggie restaurants (I’m looking at you Loving Hut), and it was easy enough to find something to eat on the other menus.
For our anniversary last year, D and I went to relax at our friend’s apartment, in a small town on the coast of the Mar Menor. We were hoping for a relaxing week of fun in the sun, and it was brilliant.
Los Alcazares is a small town, and mostly populated by English and German ex-pats. It is so close to Murcia Airport that we actually walked there to catch our flight home.
The apartment is in a gated community centred around two pools. The two-bed apartment is fully equipped, including a kitchen and a balcony over-looking mountains in the distance. We sat out on the balcony on our final night with an Indian Take-away and watched a thunderstorm.
There is a main strip in the town, with several restaurants and shops, plus a hotel and a supermarket. We spent most of our time relaxing on the beach or sipping cocktails at the Orange Rooms‘ Happy Hour.
I’m not great with just relaxing, so we hired bikes one day to ride up the coast. There are lemon farms like this along the highway that joins Los Alcazares to Santiago de la Ribera.
We continued to cycle all the way up the western side of the Mar Menor to Lo Pagan, which is most well known for it’s natural Mud Baths. There are pictures in existence of both of us covered in mud, but I’m not feeling brave enough today to expose them to the internet.
In the picture above, the Mar Menor, which is warmer and calmer than the Mediterranean, is to the left with the Mud Baths on the right. The town in the distance on the horizon is Lo Pagan. The windmill you can just see on the right worked with a matching one at the other end of the promenade to pump the salty water from the Mar Menor into the salt flats which are behind the mud baths.
Veggie Rating: 3/5 There are more restaurants on the strip that cater to veggies than I assumed, plus there are a few supermarkets nearby which was useful to be able to cook for ourselves. Special shout-out to Bistro Heming-way who do amazing fajitas with superb service.
The place that we loved more than anywhere else on our mini European tour was Florence. We only spent a day and a half here, and sorely regret not staying longer. There was so much more to explore.
As I may have mentioned before, D and I are not great fans of art galleries, so we decided not to go and see the original statue of David at the Accademia Gallery. But this replica stands outside the Palazzo Vecchio, in the Piazza della Signoria; in the spot the original David once stood.
The 95m tall tower of Palazzo Vecchio gives the most amazing birds-eye view over the Piazza della Signoria. It was so interesting to watch all the people going about their business.
Made out of three different types of marble – red, white and green, the exterior of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo) is gorgeous. We spent a good chunk of our time in Florence admiring the Duomo whilst eating creamy gelato.
Although climbing the dome of the duomo was amazing (and hard work), we were a bit underwhelmed by the otherwise very plain interior of the cathedral considering how ornate the outside is. The crypt under the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore was really fascinating. Built on top of the site of a fifth century cathedral, renovations between 1965 and 1974 uncovered the ancient foundations.
The Boboli Gardens are the other side of the river, and so much bigger than I’d anticipated! We tried to sandwich Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli gardens in between visiting the cathedral and climbing the Duomo tower – which really was not enough time. We were tired after racing around and didn’t have enough water to counteract the blazing sun. Plus there are hills. So. Many. Hills. It’s a great place to visit, just make sure you give it the time it deserves.
Walking along the River Arno at night was one of my favourite bits about the short time we spent in Florence. It was so romantic. The view down the river in the daytime was just as spectacular.
Veggie Rating: 4/5
Central Florence has many great vegetarian restaurants, but our absolute favourite was Libreria Brac. The restaurant was hidden down a side street and looked like a small coffee shop. The seating area is out the back, through a courtyard. The menu came in a magazine and we had the fantastic value piatto unico, a kind of taste of a variety of dishes, all on one plate.
In 2014, we started to test out our backpacking muscles by going on a two-week whirlwind tour of France and Italy. We struggled getting all we wanted to take into our bags which are the same ones we plan to take round the world! I have no idea how we’ll cope for an entire year.
Our last stop was Rome. You may notice that I was as red as a lobster by this point in the trip, so Sun Cream will definitely be making it onto our packing list.
By the time we got to Rome, we were so shattered! It was our seventh city in about 10 days, which is absolutely NOT the way to travel. We had seen all the major tourist sights, but I now regret not spending more time feeling like a local, or just sitting in a cafe people watching.
We went to the Roman Forum. It’s crazy to experience different layers of history right before your eyes. You imagine it’s all just ‘history’, but there are structures in the Forum that were history to people thousands of years ago.
Obviously one of the most famous buildings in Rome is the Colosseum, which is just a magnificent feat of engineering. It is gigantic, and you can still feel the atmosphere that it would have had when filled, like a football stadium. But one where people were cooking and gambling, trading and chatting.
In the middle of Rome is a set of Roman ruins that are interesting enough in themselves, but the thing that makes Largo di Torre Argentina special (and of course why we went there on three separate occasions), are the cats!
That’s right. There is a Cat Shelter under the pavement at one corner of the square. It provides warmth, food and veterinary care to the stray cats of Rome. Most of them lie in the sun on the ruins, safe from passers-by who cannot access the square. A few of them like to interact with the public, for tummy rubs and playing with dangling string.
As I said, we hit up the major sites in Rome, and this had to have made it onto the list: The Vatican.
St Peter’s Basilica is another breathtaking sight. If you’re anything like me though, and just a little squeamish, make sure you have your eyes cast upwards. Admire the meticulous artwork on the ceiling, instead of turning your attention to the memorials (and corpses) of long-dead popes at ground level.
We also visited the Vatican Museums, which was a perfectly pleasant experience, and worth it just to say we’d been to the Sistine Chapel. As I’ve mentioned before though, we’re not really ‘art’ people, and I thought the most beautiful thing in the whole place was this staircase (massive engineering geek here!).
So there we have it, our Best Of: Rome. All in all, we were gutted to be back on the plane to England, but D had run out of clean pants.
Veggie Rating: 3/5. I’m sure we could have tried a little harder to find some really good food, but we were so exhausted by then I just craved pizza and beer every night. There was a really nice sandwich shop just outside the Vatican that did a huge range of tasty meat and non-meat sandwiches.
Not every trip needs a passport, and if we don’t fly, I don’t have to worry about baggage allowance. Plus there are some spectacularly beautiful places in England.
We went to Gloucestershire in August 2015, on part of our tour round the UK’s 29 Go Ape locations – more on that later. We stayed in Quedgeley, just outside Gloucester, and used that to explore the area.
Gloucester Cathedral is most famous for being used as a filming location in the Harry Potter films, but it is beautiful in its own right.
Gloucester was the inspiration of one of Beatrix Potter’s books – the Tailor of Gloucester. There is a lovely museum and shop now in the building in which the book was set.
The ‘aMazing Hedge Puzzle‘ was a really fun activity. The staff there are really lovely, and great with young visitors. We actually had to briefly drive into Wales to get here.
Clearwell Caves are first and foremost a mining museum, a real insight into the miners that have worked down here for over 4,500 years. But the nine caves open to the public are also gorgeous natural geographical features.
We made it, despite the torrential rain! Loads of fun in the Forest of Dean.
Veggie Rating: 3/5 – There were a couple of veggie options most places we went, but nothing terribly exciting.
Seeing as it’s a New Year, I thought I’d do a new thing and start posting on Fridays as well as Tuesdays.
From now until we leave, Fridays will be taking a trip down memory lane to past destinations – but mainly photos. Not so much writing.
This week will be featuring Majorca! D and I went to Majorca with my family in September 2015. We stayed on the east coast of the island, in a rented villa in a lovely little town called Canyamel.
We stayed in the gorgeous Villa Sarann. With its six bedrooms, two kitchens, a huge lounge diner, fabulous balcony and private pool, it was perfect for the ten of us to spend time together without feeling like sardines.
Canyamel sits right on the beach. It’s quite petite, a few restaurants, a couple of tourist shops, but it’s perfect for relaxing.
Nearby is a slightly bigger town called Capdepera, which is known for its castle. It was sitting outside this castle that we decided to ditch our ‘normal’ lives and go travelling.
Not far from Palma de Mallorca, is Aqualand el Arenal. Six of us went for the day and it was amazing! D’s favourite was this one called Banzai, which is an almost vertical drop on sledges that skim across the water.
Palma is the capital of the Balearic Islands, and has an impressive shopping district. The narrow pedestrian walkways eventually open out onto Avinguda Jaume III, a street lined with high-end designer shops.
Palma cathedral has a wonderful view over the bay. It’s very informative audio tour provides all the information you will need about its magnificent stained glass windows – something you can only appreciate when the sun shines through and throws a rainbow of colours across the nave.
Veggie Rating: 3/5
We mostly ate at the villa, with fresh food we bought from the supermarket. There was also a sweet little place in Palma – Cartina Vegana that was celebrating its birthday the day we went! Canyamel is almost solely focused on seafood, so not a lot of choice once you leave the capital and major towns.