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A Treehouse in Donegal

A Treehouse in Donegal

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived”

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond

I was 21 years old when I read this line for the first time. It was in the summer of 2010 and I was in a campsite in Northwestern Madagascar, swinging in a hammock with my dusty feet dangling over the side, gently scratching the many mosquito bites covering my legs. I had been in the Madagascan dry forest a few weeks as part of an ecological expedition and had already fallen in love with the landscape; the mangroves, the dense forest, the open plains. But it was the words in this book that seemed to awaken something in me and what caused me to promise myself one thing: to always live deliberately.

The thing is, it was very easy to honour this commitment back when I didn’t have any responsibilities and had what felt like all the time in the world to make mistakes. There were no bills to pay or people relying on me to make the right choices so it felt effortless to live in the moment. Now that I’m 30, I’m finding it harder to keep my promise and to remain present in my everyday life. I can get caught up in the grind with my head burrowed so far down that I haven’t really looked up for days.

When I feel a slump is lurking around the corner I usually always plan something that will wake me up again or remind me of the kind of life I want to live. It’s impossible to be always be sure of who we are or what we want because we’re in a constant state of flux; life is always changing and our hopes and dreams have to change along with it. When I feel like I need to reconnect with that promise I made back in 2010, I’ve found the best remedy is to pluck myself out of my little daily habitat and place myself somewhere new and that I know will inspire me. Well, what a better source of inspiration than living in a treehouse, right???

When I saw the Bird Box listing on a friend’s Instagram story a few months ago I went straight to the Airbnb website to book us a weekend. After checking it out we quickly realised that Andrew and I had actually stayed with the same hosts before a few years back and I had featured it in a recent blog post listing our favourite Airbnb experiences – small world!

The Old Cowshed

The hosts, Pete & Anna, are a couple who relocated to Donegal over 12 years ago to convert an old stone cottage and byre on a beautiful bit of land looking out across the Glenties towards Glenveagh National Park. Since moving there they’ve not only built a home for themselves and their family but built two lodgings as well as converting the byre which we stayed in all those years ago. The treehouse is their third and final lodging on their property and is certainly their crowning glory (in my own opinion!). The craftsmanship that Pete has taught himself is incredible and how he managed it all in the Donegal weather is even more impressive – the midges alone would break even the strongest of wills!

We booked the treehouse many weeks in advance because unsurprisingly it’s proved to be the hottest Airbnb home in Co. Donegal. I tried not to count down the days too much but by the time our weekend finally arrived I was more than ready to escape to the trees. We drove our tired bodies from Belfast as soon as we clocked off and as we edged across the map towards Donegal I could almost feel the tension leaving me – our favourite county was a-callin’.

We arrived at twilight with the sun just starting to fall behind the mountains. The sky was tinged with gold when Pete welcomed us in that warm Donegal way and quickly took us through our own personal gate and down the woodland path to our new home. The last of the bluebells were clinging on in their small clusters and the wind was weaker under the canopy of the trees. And then I locked eyes on the treehouse! The angular lines of the roof cut through the leaves so gently with the wood of the house blending with the bark of the trees so well that it seemed as if it had always been there, somehow waiting to be discovered.

I tried to contain myself as I walked across the bridge, knowing rightly that as soon as Pete left I would be running back and forth like an excited toddler. It’s hard not to let your inner child run riot there and since children aren’t actually allowed to stay here it makes it a lot easier to relax! There is a swing chair to read a book in under the trees, a mezzanine bedroom with a sky light up in to the trees, books to read and a stove fire to tend to each night after dinner – heaven!

We spent the first 24 hours of our trip cocooned in our nest. I kept the doors wide open while I watched the rain sweep across the glen, turning the mountains all the colours of a landscape painting or making them disappear completely. I kept the blanket wrapped around me with Andrew looking over from the mezzanine to check I was still alive. I was so transfixed that I only stopped to make cups of tea or to look down at the book I wasn’t able to concentrate on, the view was just too good.

The sound of rain woke us up in the morning and then lulled us back to sleep again. Everywhere we looked we could see the canopy surrounding us – even the shower had a little window that opened up in to the trees! It was magic to be spending quality time together in such a special space which encouraged us to make the last minute decision to stay an extra night. It was the Bank Holiday and we thanked our lucky stars that they weren’t booked for the Sunday and we got a whole extra night to hide away.

We managed to leave our nest on one of the days we were there to venture out to Árrain Mhór and down to Slieve League cliffs but we were itching to get back to our sanctuary. It was the purest delight to come home to this little piece of paradise, the sun glistening and dancing across the bark with the breeze singing through the trees. We were heartbroken leaving but we knew we would be back again.

Our weekend in the treehouse was the perfect cure for a disaffected slump and on the drive back home to Belfast we were the happiest and the most relaxed we’d been in a long time – a complete tonic for tired souls.

If you’d like to see videos of the treehouse then you can find them in my Donegal highlights on my Instagram page – you can find them here

 

My Favourite Airbnb Experiences

My Favourite Airbnb Experiences

Remember back in the day when you had to rely on a grainy brochure photo to book your accommodation? I’ve a few horror stories from across the years from a grotty apartment in Santa Ponsa (we were 17 so no surprise there) to a shower that comprised of a hose wrapped in electrical wires in Cuba (I’m lucky to be alive after that one). Now we’re in the digital age it’s almost impossible to book a bad place with Tripadvisor and Google reviews giving us the heads up if a place seems too good to be true.

I love finding places for us to stay any time we’ve booked a trip because we always like to go for something a little different. Big fluffy hotel beds can be lovely but when I’m visiting somewhere new I love to live like a local and get to know the neighbourhood around me. Airbnb is the best place to find those little secrets that make a holiday memorable and we’ve had some incredible Airbnb experiences over the years. Well, except for that one time in Lisbon when we lived under the noisiest Portuguese family who might as well have been sharing the apartment with us – that was definitely one of our Airbnb fails!

I share most of where we stay on my Instagram stories but I thought I would put together a list of our favourites from trips around Ireland and abroad. It can be hard to choose from the huge amount of properties on Airbnb and by simply choosing too many filters you could be missing out on a gem of a place that’s perfect for you!

Here are a few highlights we’ve had both at home and far away, just click on the links attached to each location and you can have a look at what takes your fancy…

IRELAND

Fintown, Co. Donegal

We stayed in this converted cowshed back in October 2016 and it remains one of our favourite places we’ve ever stayed. Maybe it was because it was early in to the relationship and it felt magic to be sharing a cosy den together for a whole weekend but looking back on the photos I can understand why we loved it so much.

It had been renovated by the owners of the cottage across from the old cowshed, Pete and Anna, who have since built their own eco-hut on the other edge of the property looking over the Glenties countryside. The eco-hut is on my wishlist but unfortunately you have to book months in advance because it’s so popular, I think the next available weekend is November!

It’s no surprise that Anna and Pete are listed as Superhosts. They were super friendly when we met the pair of them, full of knowledge on how to live sustainably and DIY tips with an inquisitive kitten who I fell in love with. If you’re ever looking for the perfect base for an escape to Donegal then this is it!

Dingle, Co. Kerry

I could stay in a hedge in Co. Kerry and I’d be happy enough purely to have the scenery wrapped around me but this spot wasn’t too shabby either. The apartment, which is part of a large house that had previously been a manor, has incredible uninterrupted views out to the sea and is on the doorstep of one of the most beautiful drives in the whole of Ireland around Slea Head.

We visited in July last year and hit the weather jackpot the whole weekend. The sun was beating down for the three days we spent driving along the coastline and sunbathing on empty golden beaches on our snack breaks – sunbathing in Ireland?! We ate our breakfast in the courtyard and enjoyed the views curled up on armchairs with the windows down and the sea breeze pouring through – absolute bliss.

North Coast, N.Ireland

I booked Archie’s schoolhouse for Andrew’s 30th birthday party last year and it was such a lovely spot to gather some mates together for a celebration. It’s been beautifully renovated by Claire (she of the gorgeous Bramble Green knitwear) who has added thoughtful touches that honour the history of the house.

It’s a perfect base to visit all the favourite spots along the North Coast; the Dark Hedges, Whiterocks beach and Carrick-a-Rede bridge. Claire is full of brilliant tips too for local cafés and businesses to stop in to, a perfect host for the North!

Even the loo is gorgeous! 

Galway City, Co. Galway

Usually we book the entire place to ourselves on Airbnb but this was a private room in probably one of the most sophisticated houses I’ve every stayed in. The hosts, Dee & Mark, used to run an art gallery out of the house but now they just show their own private collection throughout which is a real treat for guests.

Photo taken from Airbnb 

Their bedrooms are beautifully decorated with en-suites providing plenty of privacy. It’s a short walk to the city centre to explore all the craic Galway has to offer and if you have too much craic, well then you can recover after the delicious breakfast Dee and Mark prepare for you while they play soft classical music and give you the morning papers to read. Not a bad way to beat the hangover!

We stayed in this room overlooking the garden. Photo taken from Airbnb

Photo taken from Airbnb

Co. Down, N. Ireland

For my birthday a couple of years ago, Andrew surprised me with a night away in this eco cottage tucked away in the Mourne mountains (no wonder I’m marrying the guy!). The cottage is run as part of a small organic farm which guests can stroll through and meet the neighbouring hens and horses. The hosts even run workshops on weekends if you fancy doing a spot of basket-weaving!

You can explore the woodlands or mountains on your doorstep here or you can just play with the dog, collect some firewood and keep cosy for the night. A special place that feels further from home than it really is!

Ballycroneen, Co. Cork

When my pal was coming all the way over from Australia in October 2016 I wanted to take her to as many parts of Ireland as I could. I love showing visitors from overseas my favourite spots on this island but there’s just never enough time to see them all! I found out that the annual Cork Jazz Festival was on during her stay with us and so I booked this spot which was just a half hour away from the city centre along the coast.

The home had views across the field and then out to the sea which was breath-taking even in the mucky October weather. During the day we crawled through venues to listen to jazz but soon found ourselves heading back to this place to light the stove and reminisce about our time gallivanting in Australia. The homemade bread was a special touch too and ended up being the perfect midnight snack after a few pints of Guinness!

The pretty village of Cobh is about 30 minutes drive and from there you can take one of many scenic drives along the coast. Cork is the biggest county in Ireland and covers most of the southwest of the island so bear in mind that the drives can be long and it’s best to just stick to nearby towns and villages that won’t have you emptying your tank.

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OVERSEAS

Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy

I booked this trip as a present for Andrew’s 30th but didn’t realise just how expensive accommodation would cost during peak season – yikes! We went in July when the crowds fill the narrow cobbled streets – lots of cargo shorts and socks with sandals if you catch my drift. It was a stunning place though but I would recommend visiting during the quieter seasons either side of summer when it’s easier to walk the trails and enjoy the views with a little more peace (and get cheaper rates too!)

Photo taken from Airbnb

SOGGIORNO

Photo taken from Airbnb

I decided to book an Airbnb apartment in the quieter of the five villages, Corniglia, because I thought it would be a good place to have our evenings while the other towns tend to the masses. It was one of the best decisions we could have made because the apartment, which was on a tiny street with views out to the terraced hills, was a real retreat from the teeming crowds.

Well, it was quiet most of the time until the afternoon of the World Cup Final – Italians and football, eh? That afternoon, the local who owned the restaurant across from us pulled an industrial-sized TV in to the tiny street where a crowd quickly gathered to watch France v Croatia. It was a case of if you can’t beat ’em then join ’em so we bought a few beers and drank while watching the escapade below, cheering with everyone from the street and neighbouring windows when Croatia scored. Sadly Croatia ended up losing that game but the memory of drinking cold beer on our Airbnb windowsill will stay with me forever.

Bonus: our hosts even provided us with homemade limoncello which we enjoyed each night after coming home from dinner – it’s the wee things that make all the difference when choosing an Airbnb!

Dordogne, France

If you follow me on Instagram you will have seen me share photos and videos from this woodland sanctuary a few weeks ago. We were over in France to visit some venues for the wedding and I booked this Airbnb to use as our base in between days on the road.

This cabin is why I love Airbnb. It gives you the opportunity to stay somewhere totally unique and experience a place that you wouldn’t get to see otherwise. No electrical sockets or wifi meant this cabin was completely off-grid but was the fact it was totally unconnected to the outside world that made it so special. Instead of scrolling through my phone there was a pond to stroll around, a woodland to explore or a boat to take out on the water – I felt like a kid again!

While Andrew heated up the hot tub I took care of dinner in the fully-equipped kitchen. It was like a camping trip but with all the home comforts – big cosy bed, good shower and a log stove to keep us toasty. While we finished our bottle of wine under the stars I realised how long it had been since I watched the sky instead of my phone – wayyyy too long.

 Gers, France

After the woodland cabin we had booked a private room in this beautiful home close to Toulouse. We arrived late after a long day spent in the car and when we were offered to have a home cooked dinner we leapt at the chance. Catherine and Philippe’s house was spotlessly clean and our room was better than a lot of hotels we’ve stayed in! We actually had the entire upper floor to ourselves which was equipped with it’s own stove fire and dressing gowns and slippers to change in to for the hot tub!

After we dropped off our bags and lay in a heap for a few minutes we popped back downstairs to eat with our hosts. Their French country kitchen was everything I’ve ever dreamed of and the food was even better. Andrew proclaimed that it was the best meal we had during our entire trip – four courses of food so good I was ready to burst my the time we polished off dessert. They charged us 35 euro each for the dinner but it was worth more for sure just for the chance to chat with our hosts and learn a little about the area.

Unfortunately we were so full from dinner and knackered from the drive that we didn’t have the energy to sit in the hot tub after. We promised ourselves that we’d return again only for a wee bit longer, this home was a retreat worth coming back to.

Our breakfast was fresh fruit in wee jars with yoghurt and crusty French bread (which I slathered in local honey!)

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La maison et le jacuzzi

Hoi An, Vietnam

Andrew and I visited Vietnam and Cambodia in September last year and mixed our accommodation between hotels and Airbnb stays. Christina’s was a small complex we found on Airbnb located on Tra Que, a patch of land just outside Hoi An that’s been used for organic farming for hundreds of years (it’s the oldest organic farm in Vietnam!). Our room was huge here with two separate balconies looking out across the fields.

Nice and cosy

Photo from Airbnb

The staff at Christina’s were incredibly helpful, booking our taxis and renting us mopeds and push bikes to explore the farm and Hoi An. We even booked a cooking class with them at the farm across the road which turned out to be the highlight of our trip and super cheap too!

 London

Oh, London. Our favourite city that we love to visit any chance we can get. Luckily for us we have friends who we usually stay with to help with the cost but sometimes it’s nice to just book somewhere on our own in a new neighbourhood for us to explore. This Airbnb was a great find; super cheap for London with a garden to relax in after a day walking the city.

The flat had everything we could have needed and even had an apple tree in the garden which is a good way to get to an Armagh girl’s heart! I loved the sash windows which we kept open at night. We were there during the heatwave in summer 2018 that suffocated the city for weeks. Luckily our flat had a fan which we had by the end of our bed and gave us the relief our Irish skin needed.

The original floors in the hall of our London Airbnb

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

We were lucky to visit a few places in Bali back in 2017 but Ubud was the place I was most looking forward to seeing. It’s located right in the middle of the island surrounded by dense jungle and mountains – worlds away from our wee house in Belfast!

Our Airbnb was newly renovated and when we arrived it appeared as if everything was new. The rooftop pool was the reason we chose the place as it looked out over the jungle and seemed to be a good place to relax after sightseeing. When we got there we realised the pictures didn’t do the place enough justice because the sounds coming from the jungle were so incredible we just stood in silence on the roof gazing out.

The breakfast was simple but really good for what we’d experienced in Bali and was included in the room rate. We ate on the rooftop each morning, filling up on plenty of fruit before heading out for the day. The complex also had a tourist office where we could rent mopeds, book excursions and get tickets for the ferry across to the Gili islands. This saved us so much hassle and the staff were always there to help us if we ever had a question.

 

Thanks for reading through my favourites, I hope it helped give you some ideas and tips for your next trip! If you have had some great Airbnb experiences then please share them in the comments – I’m always looking for more places to add to our wishlist! 

The Full Shilling Guide to Canggu & Uluwatu

The Full Shilling Guide to Canggu & Uluwatu

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

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Hindu blessings which decorate the streets all over Bali

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

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

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

Where to Stay

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Eat & Drink

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

Here are a few of my favourites:

Little Flinders

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

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Betelnut Café

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

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The Grass Terrace

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

Finn’s Beach Club

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

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Warung Dandelion

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

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Potato Head Beach Club

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

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Old Man’s

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

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Where to Explore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun!

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A Cuban Adventure Part 1: Havana

A Cuban Adventure Part 1: Havana

We flew in to Havana at night with lightning illuminating the clouds around us, letting us know we had officially entered the tropics. Usually I’m not a fan of arriving in a new place at night because it’s a time you might see it’s dirtier dodgier side but driving through Havana at night was a great introduction to the city. There was such an energy about it and these beautiful buildings were lit up on the corners of palm tree-lined cobbled streets – amazing!

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We were staying at Casa Pedro-Maria in Habana Vieja (Old Havana) which was absolutely stunning. It was one of the most expensive places we stayed but we had decided we wanted to land somewhere comfortable that wouldn’t overwhelm us – it was $80 per room per night. There was a spiral staircase in the courtyard where we had our breakfasts that brought you to the rooftop of the Casa. Here you could sip on your breakfast smoothie with a view of the Revolution Museum and the surrounding terracotta roofs- not a bad start to the day!

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On our first day we took a bus tour through the city although we didn’t get much use out of the guide – the speakers weren’t working so we couldn’t hear a thing from upstairs. It was only $2 for the tour though and it was a great way to find our bearings and get our first taste of the Caribbean sun. Think we drank about 2L of water on the bus tour alone because it was so hot!

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We went straight to the San José markets after to purchase the obligatory Cuban military cap for Andrew to protect his head. This is a good place to pick up some souvenirs for home but I found it to be the most commercial part of Cuba. I preferred picking up little things across the whole trip like cigars from the tobacco fields (although I didn’t buy enough!).

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We were coaxed in to the La Familia restaurant on our first night which was a very lovely paladar on a terrace. It was a bit on the pricey side for Cuba – I think the whole meal cost about $20 but the live music was fantastic and the portions were massive. With full bellies we strolled to O’Reilly 304 – how typical of the Irish to be drawn to a bar with an Irish name. This bar was very very cool, it felt like we were in a major metropolitan city and they served the most delicious cocktails. It was a great place to meet people too and get tips on where to find great places to carry on the night.

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The following day it was raining which was a nice relief from the scorching sun and allowed for us to escape inside to the Revolution Museum. The building used to be the Presidential Palace and you can view the original office and the escape route Batista took when he fled the rebels in 1957. The scars from the bullets can be seen dotted around the Museum as a physical reminder of the the building’s past.

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The dilapidated museum was impressive although we should’ve taken an English tour because some of the notices weren’t translated. It’s definitely a worthwhile visit and to have the opportunity to be in the rooms where Cuba was reformed by Castro and Guevara was pretty special.

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After the museum we took a walking tour of Habana Vieja courtesy of the Lonely Planet guide we borrowed from the Casa and explored the many many plazas. The buildings are so beautiful and look completely battered by the salty sea air and years of neglect. Everyone seems to live on the streets, sitting on their doorsteps and balconies shouting out to one another and buying food from the mobile vendors. The buzz is incredible and welcoming although sometimes too welcoming. Another little tip: you will be harangued by jineteros trying to sell tickets to a “big festival” – it’s a massive con and you will hear it every day you’re in Havana.

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On our way back to the Casa we stumbled upon the Havana Club museum. Andrew’s staple booze at home is Havana Club rum with coke and lime so he was beyond excited about visiting this place. While we waited for the tour to start, we sat in the bar and had a few Cuba Libres and mojitos. There was a full salsa band playing and I felt I was very much in Cuba. I got pulled up by the band and learned how to salsa in dungarees, extremely embarrassing but very entertaining for Andrew. It was a fantastic tour although after all the cocktails my memory gets a bit hazy!

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That night we ate pizza in a little place close to our Casa (unfortunately I forget the name!). The tables were out on the cobbles and we ate the most delicious bruschetta. After the food and avoiding a few overly friendly cats at the table, we headed for La Floridita – the supposed birthplace of the Daiquiri. Hemingway is boasted as being a frequent customer to the bar and it seems insistent on clinging on to that era. The air is thick with cigar smoke when you enter and the band are crammed in to a tiny corner by the door. The whole bar looks like a set from a movie and it could be viewed as slightly cheesy but we loved it.

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After our last night in Havana we were destined for Viñales. We arrived back for one more night before our flight home and stayed with Casa Isel e Ilena. Isel was such a lovely woman and the private room had it’s own bathroom and balcony. It was a great chance to experience the loud streets of Habana Vieja one last time and we had the biggest breakfast with her at 4am before our flight home. We would definitely recommend staying with her however our limited Spanish meant we couldn’t understand most of what she said BUT she told the greatest stories with actions that made us laugh so much. She was the best host to give us a farewell from Cuba and it made it that bit harder to leave.

See my other posts for stories from Viñales, Trinidad, Remedios and Varadero!