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The Full Shilling’s Guide to Kerry

The Full Shilling’s Guide to Kerry

Summer holidays as a kid in Ireland can be a tense affair. Back when I was child our summer holidays were spent in the back seat of the car heading south or west, fighting for space in amongst everything our Mum packed (was there any need for the half of it?) while Dad swore he wasn’t lost when we all knew he definitely was. Most summers would be wash-outs but I only seem to remember the good ones when the sun beat down and we spent what seemed like eternity outside – mostly in the nip if our childhood photos are anything to go by.

One particular holiday that stands out is the trip to Co. Kerry. We made our way there by car of course, following the Atlantic coast through counties Mayo and Galway before stopping in Clare for a night in a B&B. We all kipped in the one room, all of us kids spread out on the floor at various angles while our parents got the bed. We didn’t mind though because at that age it felt exciting to sleep on the ground despite the hundred or so crucifixes gazing down at us from the walls.

When we finally reached Dingle it felt like we were a million miles away from our home in Co. Armagh. Tracing the map with our fingers over the pages (we had one of those maps which had a page for each county), we lost track of all the roads and coastline we took to get there. The mountains loomed ahead in the distance so we would make short trips to them, renting out ponies at the Gap of Dunloe and stuffing our faces with the freshest fish we ever tasted.

I remember one particular day we were driving the Ring of Kerry when we pulled over to a lake which was catching the last bit of sunlight of the day. I stood on the edge of the road just drinking every bit of the view in and I started to well up with tears because I realised I’d never seen anything so beautiful. I was only about 9 (sensitive wee soul) but even then I knew how lucky I was to be from this island.

To this day Kerry can still take my breath away. I’ve been numerous times since that holiday, all with people who are over visiting from overseas because it truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I have this deep need for foreigners to see it, nod with me and understand why I love Ireland so much, why I could never live anywhere else.

When my cousin was visiting from Australia a few weeks ago I knew we had to take her to Kerry. She is hugely proud to be half-Irish but to understand all those old songs that she listens to about Ireland we wanted to show her the places that inspired the songwriters to begin with. For that there is nowhere better than the Kingdom of Ireland!

While my knowledge of the whole county isn’t the best, I’ve highlighted a few spots that have given me great joy and know for sure that you would love too.

Best Drives

While the Ring of Kerry is breathtaking, it’s a route that can be very busy with tourists and can take a fair bit of time. Slea Head is a stunning drive out of Dingle with fantastic beaches and turquoise water. The last Star Wars movie was filmed in Ballyferriter, a village on the drive that is now bustling with a few more tourists than before. It’s still peaceful though and we managed to get the most beautiful beach all to ourselves for an entire morning before the buses arrived. If you make it here then you can take the boat out to the Blasket Islands for an excursion that will really blow the socks off ye!

Another drive is the Skellig Ring which takes you through Waterville, Portmagee and Glencar. You can even get to Valentia Island from here which is worth a day trip all on it’s own. Skelling Michael alongside Little Skelling tower in the distance turning completely white in the summer as the gannets take over to nest.

Ladies View is not far from Killarney and offers a glimpse of the Ring of Kerry without having to drive too far. The views here are one of my favourites in Kerry no matter the season but in the summer the drive there is incredible. Ferns grow ferociously, spilling on to the road and even through the windows of your car! There’s a multitude of photo opportunities on this drive alone so take it slow and stop as much as you can.

Best Beaches

Clogher Strand, Ballyferriter

My favourite beach in Kerry hands down. My cousin, sister and I spent nearly an entire day here with the beach mostly to ourselves save for the odd tourists coming and going. It’s not a great swimming beach due to the rocks and rip currents but the view alone is enough to keep you there – we had to drag ourselves away!

Derrynane Beach, Derrynane

Just off the Ring of Kerry drive this stunning beach is worth dipping your toes in to and feeling the white sand to calm you down.

Coumeenoole Beach, Slea Drive

On the Slea Drive route this narrow beach is perfect for swimming in the shallows. Just mind the currents because they can be a bit strong if you go too far!

Rossbeigh Beach

This beach has class views out towards Dingle and turquoise waters to swim in. It’s one of the best Blue Flag beaches in the region with a whole 8km so no worrying about feeling crowded!

Where to Eat

Out of the Blue, Dingle

We tried to get a table here but they were fully booked so unfortunately I can’t actually claim to have eaten here BUT I’ve been told by numerous locals that it’s the best spot in town. If you’re wise unlike me then make sure to book ahead!

Reel Dingle Fish, Dingle

A good spot if you fancy quick food and fish caught practically on the doorstep.

Páidi Ó Sé’s, Slea Drive

If you’re here in the winter this is a gem of a place to hole up in with great comfort to warm you up.

O’Carroll’s Cove Beach Bar, Ring of Kerry

The perfect stop if you’re tackling the Ring of Kerry drive and need to refuel.

Pantrí, Dingle

The perfect place for lunch and the most instagrammable too! The garden out the back even has a double seat swing where you can sip on your elderflower prosecco – yes, that is a real thing you can drink here.

O’Neill’s The Point Seafood Bar, Cahersiveen

If you’re on the Skelling Ring drive then be sure to call in here for delicious seafood and a spot to get cosy for an hour or two.

Murphy’s Ice Cream, Dingle & Killarney

If you’re still peckish after lunch or dinner then a cone from Murphy’s can never go wrong. The ice cream is made in Dingle and the staff are super friendly too offering advice on what flavour to go for.

Where to Drink 

J M Reidy’s, Killarney

This is my favourite pub in Ireland never mind Kerry! It’s an absolute labyrinth of nooks and crannies to hide in with the most delicious cocktails you’ve ever tasted. It used to be one of those typical Irish establishments back in the day when the grocer was also the hardware shop, sweet shop and bakery all rolled in to one. They’ve kept the old till amongst heaps of other gems from the old days which are just fascinating to look at but mostly it’s just a great place for music and a bit of craic.

Dick Mack’s, Dingle

A bit like JM Reidy’s with a huge range of whiskies that could do some damage. There’s also a pizza place and brewery out the back and even a leather shop at the side just in case you dance tap too hard to the music. Before you nab a wee seat behind the saloon doors though make sure to have cash because they don’t take card.

The Shire Bar, Killarney

Just for the sheet weirdness of it all this pub deserves a mention. They’re very much committed to the theme here with low ceilings and even some Hobbit juice to sip on while you wonder what the hell is going on. Worth it for the ‘gram if anything!

Kate Kearney’s Cottage, Gap of Dunloe

If there was ever an award for beer garden with the best view then this place might take it. Grab a pint and sit outside if you’re lucky before hiring a pony cart up the mountain.

John B Keane, the famous Irish playwright had this to say about being from Kerry,

“Being a Kerryman, in my opinion, is the greatest gift that God can bestow on any man. When you belong to Kerry you know you have a head start on the other fellow. In belonging to Kerry you belong to the elements, to the spheres spinning in the Heavens. You belong to History and Language and Romance and Ancient Song. It is almost unbearable being a Kerryman and it is an awesome responsibility”.

As a blow-in from the North I might not be able to experience the weight of being a native of Kerry but every now and again, just for a wee while, I can pretend that I do.

What To Do With 12 Hours in Amsterdam

What To Do With 12 Hours in Amsterdam

Stopovers can be a very strange experience. It’s as if you enter a parallel universe where water costs 5 euro a pop and it becomes totally appropriate to drink whisky at 10am. Some people relish the opportunity to kill a few hours in an airport but personally I detest it. I always feel grubby, like I need a good hosing down after getting off the last plane that was a container full of germs. And I get bored of the shops within the first few minutes (mostly because I feel like a peasant who can’t afford any of the products they’re selling!).

There is truly no look that induces as much shame as the one from the snooty cosmetics lady at an airport is there? Especially the moment when she catches you spraying yourself from head to toe in an expensive perfume, asks you with about as much sarcasm as one can gather, if you need any assistance. No I don’t need any help thanks but I guess you knew that from the fact that I’m wearing furry socks with flip flops and have a fistful of samples in my sweaty hands! Oh the shame!

 

BUT. Sometimes, if you’ve been blessed with a stopover of more than a few hours, then that strange experience can actually turn out to be one of the best parts of the trip. A gift that gives you the opportunity to escape the madness and tension of the airport and upgrade your holiday by spending a few hours in a city you weren’t expecting to see. Why suffer when you can pop in to Dubai for a bit of breakfast? Or Hong Kong for dinner? Or, in our recent case, lunch in Amsterdam?? We had half a day to kill in between flights on our way home from Bali last month and jumped at the chance to explore the city instead of just moping about its airport. It might have been a flying visit (hardy har har) but it felt like we were getting a little taste of the Netherlands for just one day and it really was the perfect way to end an already amazing trip.

Here’s a few things that we managed to cram in during our 8 hours…

Dam Square

We got the train in to Centraal Station which only took around 20 minutes on the Sunday morning and couldn’t believe how easy it was to get right in to the city centre. From there we walked down the eerily quiet main street towards Dam Square which at 8am on a Sunday morning, was completely devoid of tourists. It felt as if we had the city to ourselves, strolling through the square and gazing up at the Royal Palace wondering where all the people were. It was incredibly peaceful so we were definitely not complaining.

Nine Streets

A hop over from Dam Square are the most photogenic streets in Amsterdam. Known to locals as ‘The 9 Streets’, the area is jammed with trendy shops, cafés and restaurants that you could easily spend a whole day wandering through. What we came here for though was the opportunity to get the quintessential Amsterdam photo of canals and bikes (have you even been to Amsterdam if you don’t have that photo?). It was a beautiful walk because it was so quiet, only a handful of early risers out walking their dogs on the hunt for their morning coffee. We popped in to Pluk when we were on a stroll and I instantly fell in love, a definite recommendation for a coffee break.

Bloemenmarkt

When you’re done taking photos by the canal, potter on down to the world’s first floating flower markets just a few minutes walk away. In the summer it will be a tulip paradise but in the colder months you will see the winter flowers making appearances with the sellers wrapped up from the cold. It’s best to get there early when the stalls are full of colours and before the punters have descended.

Koffieschenkerij De Oude Kerk

I’m not even going to try and pronounce the name of this café out loud but what I will say is that it’s a spot you have to pop in to for a bit of brunch or tea and cake. It’s located within the sacristy of the Oude Kerk church in the middle of the Red Light District – a church that has seen it’s fair share of sinners I’m sure! We ate our cake in the courtyard under Autumn blue skies and feeling very much at home amongst the rest of the Sunday brunchers. A worthwhile pitstop I can assure you.

After our treats we headed towards the airport feeling conflicted because we were both wishing we had a few more hours for our stopover while at the same time, dreaming of a hot shower and finally getting in to our own bed!

The Full Shilling Guide to Ubud

The Full Shilling Guide to Ubud

I was asleep when we first arrived in Ubud. We had taken a taxi from Canggu and I had been lulled in to a nap by the motion of the car and the afternoon heat. When I woke up I could see nothing but green around us. The bright green of the rice paddy fields, the yellow-green of the jungle vegetation, the brown-green of the palm trees bending under the weight of the coconuts… My Irish soul felt right at home.

Ubud (pronounced oo-bood) is in the centre of Bali found close to the volcanoes in the north and about an hour’s drive from the busy Kuta area to the south. We had been urged to visit by friends who had been here before who had all experienced something special while they were there – just like Julia Roberts herself did on the set of Eat, Pray, Love! After the release of the book and movie the area saw a massive increase in the number of those seeking their own version of inner peace and while there is an abundance of mediation, yoga and silence retreats to enjoy, the real appeal for me was to explore a place that has been able to hold on to a culture so rich and unique that it’s different to anywhere else on the island.

While there is no denying that Ubud is a magical place, what surprised me most was the infrastructure and how much it is struggling to accommodate the mass of yoga-pant-wearing tourists that are coming in their droves. Ubud is actually a collection of 14 villages which have now merged and the centre of the area is continually congested with trucks and mopeds (usually with a whole family on the back) with fumes that would nearly knock you out if you’re in traffic for too long which makes it a little harder to cleanse the soul!

Although the pollution isn’t ideal, there is still so much beauty here that you just have to experience if you’re in Bali. There are hundreds of temples, too many to visit during one trip but there is every opportunity to immerse yourself in the Hindu culture, taste Indonesian food cooked by world-renowned chefs and drive alongside rice paddy fields so quiet it makes you forget the traffic you left behind. Just be sure to get a mask for your mouth and nose while on a moped!

Where to Stay

We stayed in this Airbnb which was about 10 minutes from the main centre and had just opened within the last few months promising a modern room which is always a win in Bali!

This place was Andrew’s favourite as soon as we walked up to the rooftop pool which overlooked the jungle surrounding us. We could see palm trees for miles and the cockerels were crowing in the quiet streets below. It felt like we were finally seeing the rural Bali we had missed in Canggu and we had to drag ourselves away to explore more beyond the villa walls.

We were given breakfast on the rooftop each morning and were even given breakfast early at 6.30am one morning when we were checking out. The staff organised everything for us; a volcano trek, moped rentals and our transport to the Gili Islands which took the pressure off of us and gave us more time to enjoy Ubud for the few days we were there.

Where to Eat & Drink

Copper Kitchen & Bar

We ate here on our first evening in Ubud, hoping to treat ourselves to something a little special. The view from the terrace is stunning and the setting is extremely romantic however it was a little over-priced for the serving we received. I would recommend this place if you were looking for something high-end because the food was truly delicious (the chef even came out for a chat before our meal) but if you’re on a budget then it might be best to opt for something a bit cheaper.

White Box

 

A great wee patisserie that sells tasty sweet treats. We picked some desserts to take home with us after our dinner at Copper and ate them in bed while catching up on Great British Bake Off (we are WILD).

Three Monkeys

We had a late lunch/early dinner (Linner? Dunch?) here after a mammoth day chasing waterfalls up north. We hoovered up the food which was simple but super yummy. The back of the restaurant looks over a rice paddy field so it’s quite lovely to sit out there with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down after a hectic day of sight-seeing.

Watercress Café

This was probably the healthiest place we ate while in Ubud but the dishes still felt hearty and filling. This is a good place to go before your yoga practice (or after a heavy night that you’re hoping to un-do!) with a great location in the middle of everything.

Mamma Mia

A great pizza joint if you’re after something quick and easy. We popped in here to kill some time before our spa appointments and shovelled the tasty pizza slices in to us within minutes. I would definitely recommend this place to families looking for no fuss and fast service.

Alaya Resort

A beautiful hotel that serves some very tasty cocktails with staff who make you feel like you’re a guest despite the fact you’re staying in an Airbnb at a fraction of the price down the road!

Caramel 

Another wee spot to grab some desserts to go! A huge variety of tasty treats to balance out all the walking and yoga stretches you have been putting that body through.

 

What to See

Campuhan Ridge Walk 

This is a beautiful walk near the centre of town which you can take at your own distance and pace. The walk is about 2km long so easy to do for those who aren’t quite as fit for a big hike but who want to immerse themselves in the jungle – definitely worth doing at sunset before dinner.

Gitgit Waterfall

Gitgit comprises of three different waterfalls, two of which has pools you can swim in. We drove our moped about 1.5 hours from Ubud, snaking up the mountain roads taking us north and in to the clouds. Rice paddy fields give way to strawberry fields where you can pick your own punnet to take on the journey with you. We arrived at the waterfalls in the late morning and were surprised at how few people were there and just how easy the climb down to them was. You only need to walk for about 15 minutes until you can hear the deafening roar of the water and feel the waterfall spray on your face.

We had the pools to ourselves, jumping in and out of the clear water that wasn’t quite as cold as we were fearing. It was one of the best experiences I had in Bali because it’s something I had never done before, swimming underneath this huge body slamming in to the earth. We could still hear the sound of the water ringing in our ears as we drove down the mountain back to the rice paddy fields.

As we were almost off the mountain we felt the moped starting to wobble and pulled over to find we had a flat tyre – not good when you’re in the middle of the countryside! Since everyone drives a moped in Bali we were hoping a mechanic wasn’t too far away and started to walk the moped towards the nearest village. All we could do was laugh as locals kept pointing us further and further down the road until we finally reached someone after about 1.5km that could repair it for us. The mechanic didn’t speak any English but he was wonderful and super quick. The repair cost us about £5 so a bit of a bargain considering he saved us from some serious bother!

 

Oh, one more thing, there is also a beautiful gateway on the way to Gitgit which is worth stopping by for pictures because if you haven’t taken a pretty photo in a gateway have you even been to Bali??? Make sure not to miss it!

Mount Batur

Mount Batur is an active volcano about a two hour drive away from Ubud and is a popular hike amongst those chasing a sunrise with a view. I was a little nervous about the climb because it was over 1700m and my lung function had been sitting around 70% before we left. It was something I was determined not to miss so I soldiered on and we began the climb about 4am in the pitch dark and chilly cold.

The trail is a busy one and there are times that we had to stop and wait for people up ahead which was a relief for me because it gave me a break! We reached the top as the sky was lightening and just before the sun began to peak over the mountains ahead, turning the sky a multitude of pinks and oranges and the lake below a mix of silvers and greys. After the sun was fully up and our bones began to warm up we walked over to the crater that still has steam escaping from it’s centre which was both terrifying and frightening! A wonderful experience that I was so happy I committed myself to.

Gunung Kawi Temple

Gunung Kawi is an 11th century temple about 20 minutes from Ubud and is perfect to do alongside the Tegallalang rice terraces in an afternoon. The temple is set across quite a big area and has beautiful stone carvings that each represent a member of the 11th century Balinese royal family. The sound of water is everywhere as a river runs directly through it which makes it feel extremely peaceful. Both men and women will need to wear a sarong but you can borrow one at the entrance for free.

Tegallalang Rice Terraces

This is an iconic site that most people will want to visit when they are in Ubud. It is very busy which can make it difficult to take that perfect photo but the trick is to go up and and around the back of the terraces where it is much quieter. You are asked to pay through a few gateways in the fields but we only paid to get through one and argued with the others since it is not mandatory. Definitely try and get a view of the wooden Titanic replica which is up at the top of the terraces – I spoke to the man who made it and he was so excited to hear I lived in Belfast where the Titanic was built!

Spa

There are plenty of spas to choose from in Ubud depending on what your budget it is but we chose DaLa Spa at the Alaya Resport which was super luxurious and worth the little bit extra. We opted for a couples Balinese massage but we were treated to a traditional foot ritual for free (which after a volcano trek felt friggin’ amazing!) and got to choose our own oils. It was a really special experience to share together and we lapped up our surroundings afterwards drinking ginger tea and feeling thoroughly relaxed!

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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The Full Shilling Guide to the Midi-Pyrenees: Part Deux

The Full Shilling Guide to the Midi-Pyrenees: Part Deux

Waking up in an antique bed and opening the shutters to see a field of sunflowers is certainly one way to start your day on holiday. And that’s just the way every day started while Shannon and I were in France in July. Our aunt and uncle’s house almost felt like we were staying in a boutique hotel except we were able to eat our breakfast in our jammies (boiled eggs, peaches and croissants – yes please) and snooze in for as long as we wanted.

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Our second full day was going to be a long one; we planned to venture a bit further as far as Lagrasse, Minerve and then back through Carcassonne on the way home. With this in mind we set off early with a basket my aunt had prepared for us including picnic blankets, bread and some beer. All the essentials for an afternoon in the French countryside of course.

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I think those drives through the valleys and alongside fields of all kinds of colours were my favourite parts of the trip. Road trips are always the best way to see a country I remember thinking as we watched how the landscapes changed from vineyards to mountains to crumbling villages perched precariously on ancient hilltops.

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We reached Lagrasse just before the markets finished which were abundant with local crafts, cheeses, meats and sweet treats. I purchased a wrap and we bought some souvenirs for the folks at home before finding somewhere to hide from the midday heat.

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We managed to find a place hidden in one of the cobbled streets called Les Trois Grâces with a wee courtyard out the back that provided us with just the right amount of shade. I decided to go very healthy with a pasta and Shannon opted for a lamb tagine which we washed down with a carafe of wine like true Europeans.

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After filling our bellies we felt like a little snooze by the river and so off we went, with baskets in hand to the river flooding with locals having a swim on their lunch breaks. We dipped our toes in for a little while but found it just as relaxing on the river banks where we could read and have a few beers (just Shannon to be fair – I was the ever-responsible designated driver).

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Feeling suitably rejuvenated and realising the time, we packed up our little Aygo and typed Minerve in to our Google maps. We left Lagrasse and turned up towards a mountain with a perilous lane curling up it’s side overlooking the valley below. I drove the car up the lane, not daring to look to my right and hoping that Google maps knew where it was taking us. It turns out the app was drunk and we ended up on a dirt track with a dead end and in very real trouble. Our wee rental was in danger of being completely ruined as we drove at snail speed over the rocks praying that we didn’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no signal.

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With Shannon directing me we eventually made it out of the (quite literal) woods and back down the scariest lane in the land. Once back down to a safe height, we decided to forego the plan for Minerve in favour of living and headed towards Carcassonne which was on the way home.

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Carcassonne is one of the biggest cities in the Occitanie region but the main attraction is La Cité, a medieval fortress which looks over the modern city which has grown around it. The castle is a stunning piece of architecture that was saved from dereliction in the 19th century and became a UNESCO  World Heritage Site in 1997. The streets are a labyrinth of shops and restaurants, very easy to get lost in which is exactly the best way to explore the grounds.

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The fortress has two outer walls and the best place to escape the crowds is between these two walls. Here you will find a space to roam in peace, admire the architecture and get the best views across Carcassonne. Shannon and I were completely enchanted, imagining the stories and lives these walls must have seen over a thousand years.

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After we ate some pizza and managed to recover from our near-death experience (slightly dramatic but we are a dramatic pair), we decided it would be best to get home to our aunt and uncle’s where we would be safe from cliff roads and less likely to suffer a tragic fate. Turns out driving on the opposite side of the road is even harder in the dark and my knuckles we white gripping the wheel for fear of drifting in to the wrong side of the road!

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On our arrival home, we were given some delicious hot chocolate (made with the really good stuff) which we took outside to drink under the night sky, spying a few shooting stars to wish upon before heading to out long-awaited beds. It had been a long day!

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The following morning we decided to keep close to the house, only nipping out to grab some roast chicken from the local stall in Castelnaudary and then to the Sunday markets in Saint-Michel-de-Lanès. Here I got to see just how cheap French antiques can be and I had to hold myself back from purchasing a huge vintage suitcase which I am sure wouldn’t have made it to Ireland on a plane. Instead I settled for 4 beautiful carafes which I stole for an eye-watering 5 Euro and 2 pipes for a Euro each because I liked the idea that they had been cherished by someone for a long time.

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After a Sunday roast that was eaten mostly with our hands, we finished the day lying outside watched the sun go down over the sunflowers and showering golden light over everything around us. We ate our desserts on the grass, not wanting to move inside because it meant our last day was over. Eventually the chill forced us inside to get changed in to something warmer as we took a spin to the canal for a few drinks by the water, swapping stories until we couldn’t avoid sleep any longer.

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We were awoken the morning after by the sound of gentle rain on the terracotta roof. Our flight was in the early afternoon and we soaked up the morning in our beautiful bedroom, packing half-heartedly and sitting on the windowsill to watch the rain. With a touch of Autumn in the air, our uncle decided to light the stove in the sitting room and brought the dining table inside so we could eat breakfast by the fire. It was the sweetest gesture and cemented our decision to return to this beautiful hideaway next year. Although next time I ain’t drivin’!

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The Full Shilling Guide to the Midi-Pyrénées: Part Une

The Full Shilling Guide to the Midi-Pyrénées: Part Une

Growing up as one of three girls meant that family trips were anything but calm. Someone would be breathing too loudly in the car, someone would be sitting too closely to someone else or a mass riot would ensue if a sister was seen wearing another sister’s dress/shoes/anything that wasn’t their own.

Nowadays we’re mature adults, you might find it hard to believe that I ever broke her nose when we were kids. Twice. But those turbulent times are over and now we are more than capable of surviving a short holiday together especially when that holiday involves eating our way through the villages of southern France and taking lots and lots of pretty photos.

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So with that confidence in mind, we decided to take a quick trip last month to stay with our aunt and uncle who have spent the last 10 years converting an old barn in to the most beautiful chateaux by the Pyrénées (trés middle class, I know). As they are fairly rural we decided to hire a car and after an hour long process (why do I always get the employee who has just started the job the day before?) we finally hopped in to our beautiful Toyota Aygo that just about fit us along with our carry-on bags.

The French drive on the right hand side of the road which made for an interesting journey to our uncle’s house. It took a few attempts to leave the airport (and Shannon couldn’t even bring herself to look out the window when we eventually joined the motorway) but we made it in one piece to Maison de Donnelly in the late afternoon. After we were hugged and my uncle commented on the rental (“that’s some wee yoke there” – typical Irish man review), we were shown around their humble abode which wasn’t so humble and moved me to real-life tears. They have managed to create a home that is warm and still so full of character, each room decorated with gorgeous French vintage market finds at prices that made me shed even more tears. I immediately promised myself that I will be a regular pest of theirs for as long as they would have me.

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My aunt Bronagh is an incredible cook and once we were settled, we sat at a table overlooking the sunflower fields (am I making you sick yet?). The food was glorious and the wine even more so. We sat chatting until Shannon and I could barely speak with tiredness and so with heavy heads, we retreated to our beautiful bedroom to sleep in our beautiful beds. Turns out we are still kids at heart and we fell asleep in the same bed, talking until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer. 

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On our first morning I trotted down to the village to get croissants for breakfast because that is what one does in France. We planned our route for the day over our crumbs and then set off for Fanjeaux, a little hilltop village with views for miles. The rain decided to show up for the first hour or two but I was ferocious in my cheeriness that the rain would soon clear off. I’m one of those travellers that vehemently believes that rain should never dampen sprits but really all that it does is convince my fellow traveller that I’m a bit mental (picture me in the pouring rain with a manic smile screaming “WE ARE HAVING FUN, AREN’T WE?!).

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Fanjeaux is an old Cathar town with crumbling medieval walls surrounding the Dominican chapel. It was beautiful despite the drizzle with plenty of cobbled streets to get lost in (or do circles like we did). It was so quiet and felt a little eerie in places because we hardly saw a soul save for a few damp tourists. We didn’t stay too long as we didn’t have an umbrella but it’s a place I would love to go back to on a clear day.

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Luckily for everyone the skies cleared as we were headed to Limoux and as the clouds parted we could spy the Pyrénées in the distance. The valley between Fanjeaux and Limoux is covered in vineyards which makes it a little difficult to be the chief/only driver. The area is famous for a sparkling wine called Blanquette which is sold by the vineyards alongside the road or in all the local shops. If Shannon had have been driving I would have been making a pitstop at every vineyard but being the ever-responsible big sister I stuck to caffeine and saved the wine-tasting to the evenings when I could guzzle guilt-free back at the barn.

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As we approached Limoux we could see that it didn’t quite have the same charm as Fanjeaux. It was a little busier and there were plenty of roadworks which don’t really scream rustic tranquility. However there is a lovely square there which was perfect for soaking up the delayed sun rays and drinking the first coffee I have ever actually enjoyed. After years of trying to like coffee (and failing), it seems all it took was a mocha in Limoux to win me over. I feel more grown up than ever now.

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After a charcuterie feast which was mainly eaten by moi, Shannon and I dawdled back to our car crossing over a very pretty bridge with fantastic views across the river. On our way we dodged a few lengthy gazes from French men who we soon discovered were unashamedly comfortable with staring. Oh how different they are to the typical Irish fella who would look anywhere but the woman he is interested in for fear of coming on too strong…

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Back in the wee Aygo we made our way to Mirepoix with a quick stop off in Luc-sur-Aude. Oh my, this drive was so spectacular. Trees seem to line the entrance of every town in the Languedoc but this road was truly special. Mountains seemed to appear out of nowhere with sheer cliffs towering over the winding roads. Shannon and I had our noses to the windshield as we gazed upwards in awe, not speaking save for tutting to ourselves like old women.

We pulled in to Luc-sur-Aude to give our necks a break and again were so surprised at how quiet the little village was. We walked through the streets wondering where the people were or if there was some apocalypse we hadn’t heard about as we ascended up a hill to check out the view. There were vineyards for miles surrounded by mountains and despite my attempt at taking a photo of the view, I couldn’t do it justice.

 

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The late afternoon sun was burning above us as we headed up the mountains towards the fairytale town of Mirepoix. Our ears popped as we snaked up the hills and we pulled over to drink in even more beautiful views. The roads were so quiet and when we sat overlooking the valleys below all we could hear were the cicadas buzzing in the heat. 

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We got to Mirepoix in the evening and as we hopped out of our car and walked towards the main square, we looked at each other with immediate glee, silently agreeing that we had definitely saved the best place to last. The town looked like something straight out of a Disney movie set and I half expected people to burst in to song at any moment. Shannon and I grew up on these movies and you can imagine how giddy we were to see such a place in real life. We strolled through the market stalls and circled the old town walls before picking a spot in the square where we could soak all of the colours in. We sat with the golden light on our faces, barely speaking a word but feeling incredibly content with ourselves.

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Drunk on the day we just had, we headed back to the barn for another feast until the sky. Desperate not to finish the day just yet, we dandered down to the village to watch the locals play bowls (or boules if you want to get technical) and drank coffee while the stars came out. Finally shattered, we fell in to our beds, thoroughly satisfied that sisters really do make the best travelling companion. Even if their driving might terrify us.

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Stay tuned for another French post coming soon…

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
The Full Shilling Guide to Lisbon

The Full Shilling Guide to Lisbon

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

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

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

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WHERE TO EAT

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

Taberna da Rua das Flores

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

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

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

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Honoraro Burgers

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

Pasteis de Belém

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

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Palácio Chiado

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

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Landeau

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

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WHERE TO DRINK

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

Pensão Amor

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

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Park Bar

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

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Pivalhão Chinês

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

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WHAT TO SEE

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

Alfama

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

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Belém

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

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Trams/Funiculars

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

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Squares Galore

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

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Sintra

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

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WHERE TO SHOP

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

Markets

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

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LX Factory

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

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Vintage

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

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

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Have you ever been to Lisbon?? What was your favourite part of the city?? Share your tips in the comments!!

 

The Full Shilling Guide to Copenhagen in Winter

The Full Shilling 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.

 

 

 

 

The Full Shilling Guide to Croatia

The Full Shilling Guide to Croatia

Andrew and I arrived back from Croatia a few days ago and I still feel like I’m still recovering from our jam-packed week! It was a hectic time because as usual I like to see and do as much as I can when I’m in a new country which means lots of moving around and lots of sweating. It was all worth it though because we saw some spectacular sites and there were a few pinch-myself moments along the journey.

I will break our travels in to the different places we were so you can skip along to parts that might be more relevant to your getaway. As we only had a week we were only able to see Split, Hvar and Vis but this felt like more than enough without spending our whole holiday on a boat!

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Split

We flew in to Split, the second largest city in Croatia, and because we went in July the streets were bursting with people. As always we used Airbnb and we had a great wee apartment that was just up the hill from the Dicoletian Palace, which forms a part of the city centre, so it was really quiet. We even had a little courtyard out the back which we sadly didn’t get to make use of because we were coming and going so much.

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We only had 2 nights in Split although I felt like this was enough for me since it’s such an easy place to walk around and explore on foot. The Palace is an UNESCO World Heritage monument that was initially built by the Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the 4th century AD – fuckin’ old. Now the place is inhabited by locals and their businesses within the walls and the streets are hiving with activity. We landed at night and went straight in to the old town around the Palace and couldn’t believe our eyes – it felt like we had been transported back in time. The pavements had been shined with centuries worth of feet that had fallen on the limestone streets, there was live music with people dancing in the square, there was candles within the walls of hidden alleyways… Save for the fashion and designer shops along the streets, it would have been difficult to know what year we were in.

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The following day we decided to make our own way to Krka National Park instead of booking a tour. Smug with ourselves thinking of all the money we probably saved, we ended up spending too much time working out the Croatian bus system and wished we had have just booked a tour! This is something I definitely would advise anyone intending to pay a visit to the park! We had to go via Trogir in the morning which wasn’t so bad since Trogir is like a mini Venice and breathtakingly beautiful. However we quickly realised that the bus timetables in Dalmatia ain’t too reliable and ended up just getting a taxi to Krka for fear we’d miss out on too much at the park.

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The taxi cost us about 30 euro to travel about 70km which isn’t a lot but it definitely made us less smug. Our taxi driver was called Boris and although he had little English, he was super lovely. He stopped for us to take photos which made us forget all his unfunny jokes about him being an illegal taxi driver (HAHAHAHA). Once we got to the National Park it was another 15 euro each to get in and then get the bus to the trail that takes you to the main waterfalls.

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Out of all the things we did in on our trip, this is the one activity I wouldn’t be raving about because of how busy it was. The trail was really crowded at parts and you had to wait a while to take a photo at the best spots. Although the waterfalls were stunning and it was a great experience to swim in the crystal clear water of the river, the amount of people around us made it a little less serene than we were anticipating. I would recommend not going during peak season and maybe renting a car with some others so you can explore the park a little better. For us, July just isn’t the month to go here. As well as that we had to make the bus trek back through Sibenik and overall it took us over 2 hours getting home – knackering!

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That night we were in need of a well deserved drink or 10. We started off with a meal at O’zlata which was an open courtyard in the palace walls with live music. Andrew had the steak (really stepping out of his comfort zone here), I had the lamb ravioli and we had to stop ourselves from drinking buckets of the local wine. We tottered along to the Ghetto club after which proved tricky to find although I’m not sure whether to blame that on the wine or the labyrinth of streets. The bar was set outside between vine covered walls and the stars twinkled above us; not a bad way to end our night really.

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Hvar

Getting from Split to Hvar Town by ferry or catamaran is fairly easy from the terminal but I recommend getting there early in order to secure tickets no matter what time you intend on going. We had queued up to get the ferry at 11am about an hour beforehand and they had sold out – Andrew was like a grumpy old man after learning we would have to either get the ferry to Stari Grad, about a half hour from Hvar Town, at 2.30pm or just getting the next ferry to Hvar Town at 6pm. We chose the Stari Grad option and went to find a beach which was about 500m away. I wasn’t too bothered because it meant I could start drinking cocktails at midday!

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The ferry took about 2 hours and the bus was just waiting beside the dock ready to take passengers to Hvar Town which made it pretty hassle free. The roads were steep and wonderfully windy with dramatic views along the coastline. Hvar Town surprised me when we arrived because I had expected a little bit of westernisation since it’s a popular destination for parties but it looked like a traditional fishing village with super-yachts lining the harbour where the fishing boats should be.

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Our host, Sasa, picked us up from the bus station and was a whirlwind of information. He was your typical island entrepreneur that could arrange our whole holiday for us which was just what we needed. Our apartment, although fairly basic on the inside, had the most amazing views of the harbour and of the neighbouring Pakleni islands. We were keen to get see as much as we could straight away since we had arrived later than we intended so Sasa drove us up to the fortress for the sunset and booked us for a meal at his friends restaurant.

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The fortress was a fantastic spot to get some pictures of the whole town laid before the glittering Mediterranean. The sea of terracotta roofs spanned before the sea itself and it felt like there was just a quiet town below us. In fact, Hvar Town was bursting at the seams with people from all corners of the world and if it weren’t for all the yachts dotted along the marina, I don’t think there would have been any room for them all.

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Our first night was fairly low key since Sasa had arranged for us to hire a motorboat from his friend (the man has a lot of friends) but we soon learned that the average age of a lot of the bars was about 20. We had arrived during yacht week which is popular among the young un’s so unless you’re one yourself or don’t mind being amongst them, I’d advise to stay away during the summer months!

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The next day Sasa took us down to the harbour to meet his mate for a crash course in how to drive a boat. The lesson consisted of showing us how to start the boat, kill the engine and pointed towards the anchor before hopping back on to dry land and pushing us out in to the open seas completely clueless and completely terrified. We looked at each other in shock that we’d been left alone to drive this thing when we hadn’t a notion what to do!

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Turns out it was one of the funniest experiences of my life! We explored the different islands, making our best attempt at mooring a boat (which was awful) and dropped the anchor anywhere we fancied a swim. It was amazing to have such freedom for the whole day and roam about rocky beaches that were completely empty and so quiet that all we could hear was the water sloshing up against the boat.

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We also managed to find Carpe Diem, the infamous beach bar that transforms in to the biggest club in Hvar at night, on one of the smaller islands. This spot was incredible during the day and we spent the latter part of that afternoon on day beds drinking cocktails and eating the tastiest food of the whole trip – my spaghetti gambretti was so delicious we went back again the next day! What I wouldn’t recommend doing is going at night unless you want to be overcharged and underwhelmed. We made the mistake ourselves and we wish we hadn’t.

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A great spot though, if you’re in the mood for a party, is Hula Hula. This beach bar is only open until 10pm but after dancing for hours on top of tables to good music will tend to wear you out fairly quickly! We spent our last night here amongst the young un’s but not caring because we watched the sun going down while drinking our own buckets of mojitos – when you can’t beat ’em, join ’em eh?

Vis

After Hvar we were seeking a place of respite where we could lay our weary heads and enjoy our last few days. Vis was the perfect place to do this. We took a boat from Hvar to Vis  in the evening which was practically empty so we were able to sit on the bow of the boat on our own. We saw one of the most beautiful sunsets on this journey; one that hypnotised us in to a humble silence and that will be etched in my memory forever.

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We stayed in Komiza on the other side of the island and so hopped in to the first car we saw at the dock. The car was driven by a man no younger than 80 who had not a word of English. And no brakes. Once you get to Vis you will know how steep the hills are and when we were coasting down serpentine roads to the port of Komiza we didn’t know whether to cry over the fear of uncertain death or the stunning views.

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After he clipped a few cars on the way in to town and couldn’t get the boot door of his car open for 15 minutes, we were met by our lovely host Zrinka who guided us to our apartment right in the middle of town. Our accommodation here was very traditional in decor but we were so beaten with travel and cocktails all we wanted was a bed and air con! Our host was so so lovely, gave us some apple juice while she explained all we could do on Vis and we regretted not being able to spend more time there.

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We booked ourselves for a tour of the famous Blue Caves the next morning which in hindsight is a complete tourist trap. The taxi boat and then entrance in to the caves cost about 35 euro for the two of us but the tour lasted all of 10 minutes. The caves themselves are impressive, the colour the most electric blue, but the boats are in and out so fast that you don’t get a lot of time to really appreciate it. There’s no swimming in the caves so it’s all over very quickly so I’m not very sure I would recommend it to anyone.

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A positive note is that it only takes 2 hours in total so we were back in time to rent a moped for the rest of the day. This part of our holiday was both of our favourites because we had such freedom on the quiet roads, driving through valleys covered in vineyards, along coastlines of rocky and sandy beaches with the sea stretching out after them. We stopped off in Vis for lunch and ventured out to the old Yugoslavian submarine hold afterwards – it looked like something from a James Bond movie!

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I wish we had have had more time on Vis, it was the kind of place that feel so grateful to have seen with your own eyes and looking back it all feels very dreamy.

Croatia is a country worth exploring, so much to offer no matter what kind of person you are. The vineyards, olive farms, clear seas, friendly people, deep orange sunsets and dramatic coastlines will be my memories of Croatia. I hope you get to make your own some day.