Moroccan mini-moon

p1050637Marrakech has always been near the top of my travel bucket list. It evokes mystery, and spice-laden air in my imagination, and so it was a perfect choice for my mini-moon. We’re saving for a Tanzanian safari, but didn’t want to miss out on Africa, so Morocco offered a cheaper alternative where we could get a great experience for a post wedding budget. We decided to opt for two different locations, a traditional Riad, a base for exploring, followed by a resort hotel where we could relax after all the wedding business. We chose our Riad carefully, as there are a lot to choose from, and were happy on arrival to find an authentic piece of Morocco. We were given hot mint tea on arrival in the courtyard and were then shown the rooftop terrace and to our room. It was all so beautiful. We were p1050943within the old town walls, so there weren’t many cars, but a lot of foot traffic and bustling people, it was a real oasis of calm in a noisy city.

The Medina, a walled medieval maze of alleyways with an infinite number of souks, can get confusing. We had to make sure we took notice of every street we turned down as our little Riad was not near a main road, and had a simple front door with no visible signage.  In traditional style, all the windows face inwards to a central courtyard, so we couldn’t even peer in as we walked past. We managed to negotiate the streets successfully and even picked up a few bargains from the souks.

p1050824We had to see the Sahara whilst we were there, and so booked an overnight camel trek to a Bedouin camp. The journey through the mountains to Zagora was truly awe inspiring. The views were astounding, and the road side cliff drops were eye watering. As was the speed of most of the drivers. But we arrived safely, and in no time were atop a single humped camel. It was an experience I’m glad we have done, but it wasn’t the most comfortable ride! We dismounted our nonchalant camels and entered the camp just after sunset, where we were served traditional tagine cooked food which was fabulous, and treated to traditional music by our hosts. Outside a million stars lit the night sky in a way I’ve rarely witnessed, it was p1050676phenomenal. Memorable sights was what this whole experience was about and so we were awoken early to see the sun rising over the desert dunes; it was such a special sight.

Back in Marrakech it was time to move from our traditional Road to our all-inclusive resort, it was quite different. We spent a day by the pool and enjoyed the food on offer, but quickly decided we’d had enough relaxing and so hired a car and drove to the coast.  Essaouira was our chosen destination as we had heard it was one of the best places to visit. One highlight of the trip was the tree we drove passed which was full of goats, something I can say I wasn’t expecting and will never forget! Essaouira’s local p1050970name means ‘the small fortress’ which is fitting as the fortress walls still surround part of the city, giving it a really authentic old feeling. We enjoyed exploring the harbour and the walled city, there was so much to see, and so many souks to haggle in. The old architecture was beautiful, and it was easy to get lost in exploration. This was the theme of our whole trip, which made it an unforgettable experience. Our little mini-moon was everything we could have wanted from a honeymoon.

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South Coast Adventures

P1060798Being an avid Jane Austen fan I’ve read all the books, seen all the tv and film adaptations and even visited many of the houses that inspired her work. On a cold rainy Autumn day I love to lay the fire and have afternoon tea wrapped up with Lizzie and Darcy. Having live in both Hertfordshire and Derbyshire I can picture the scenes perfectly. I’ve visited Chatsworth and Lyme Park, two of the more famous Pemberleys. I’ve even visited Bath like many of Austen’s characters. I haven’t however been to Lyme Regis, which seems like an oversite seeing as my favourite book is Persuasion. I had the perfect opportunity to remedy this when my bestie suggested another road trip. It could only be a couple of days, what with our work and family commitments these days, so somewhere within a few hours’ drive. Lyme was the perfect destination. We tend to head for the coast as we both love coastal vistas so much, and there’s nothing better than the traditional fish and chips on a British beach. Our plans were interrupted by the fact we couldn’t find a reasonably priced vacant hotel room- the curse of the last minute booker. So we looked west, to Beer. P1060794Any place named Beer sounded like the kind of place we would have fun. Our hotel room looked out over the beach, there was a bar and a restaurant and even parking nearby, what more could two girls want?

As was our tradition we explored all the beaches we could find along the Jurassic coast, from Chesil beach, though to Burton Bradstock, West Bay (of Broadchurch fame), Seatown, Charmouth and of course Lyme Regis itself. We strained our necks looking for fossils and sea glass and were rewarded despite the obvious enthusiasm of people before us. There are some huge and thankfully immoveable ammonites trapped eternally in rocks on Monmouth beach, they are quite a sight to behold. There are obvious landslides at the back of the beach so we avoided this area, even though this is probably the best place to find newly exposed fossils. I’d rather DSC_0066not become one myself just yet. We wandered all the way along the Cobb, bracing against little gusts of wind- you are quite exposed up there, so take heed of the signs saying not to walk it in strong winds, before meandering through the town. We were getting hungry though and we had found a delightfully sounding restaurant not far from our hotel: It was Thai-Italian fusion, and it tasted even better than expected.

One our last day we found Branscombe Bay on our way to Sidmouth. It is a really peaceful National Trust pebble beach with a café and a car park. We negotiated the stoney wave-created embankment and let the waves tickle the tips of our toes. The good thing about pebble beaches is you are less likely to be caught out by sudden large waves. The stones DSC_0040take the full force of the thrust of the wave and almost stop it in its tracks, so you feel a little safer to get closer to the tide line. I never tire of hearing the crash of the waves and the rush as the sea pulls the water through the stones back into itself. We found a small river mouth disappearing at the back of the beach, only to reappear at the tide line, so we sat on the small banks of the river and listened to the trickling of the water, echoed by the crash of the waves on the other side of the embankment. With the sun on our faces it was hard to leave that place and put our feet back on the homeward bound road. Looking over my shoulder I can comfort myself with the knowledge that beaches will always be there to explore and enjoy. They are always at the end of that road.

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Rhossili Bay

There are a lot of polls offering opinions on which might be the best beach in Britain. Naturally many beaches in Devon and Cornwall come up, but there are the lesser known ones in Northumberland and Scotland which are jaw-dropping. There are some truly stunning places on our very own shores, and if the weather was a little kinder it would be hard to find a reason to leave. It must be hard though to construct this best beach list, as not only are there hundreds of hidden gems, the ideal beach is surely subjective. Vistas, accessibility, ice cream facilities- everyone has a different priority. One beach that tends to make most lists is Rhossili Bay in South Wales, and it’s the place I’ve been planning to P1060508visit for some time. My bestie and I packed up the car and crossed the country towards the Atlantic to be able to put our feet on this beautiful sandy bay, and what an experience it was. Standing in the National Trust car park on the Worms Head promontory, the view stretches out below; pristine sandy, frothy waves bespekled with surfers, and a tiny cliff top holiday cottage surrounded on one side by four miles of beach and the other by vast green slopes of farmland. Looking at the vista its not hard to see how this place got its name, from the Welsh “Rhos” meaning moorland. It is a pretty special view, and despite the harsh January wind I really wanted to jump into the waves. There is a path leading down to the beach, but it isn’t the most accessible beach I’ve been to. But its worth the effort. Not only is the beach pristine and sandy, but there is a half exposed shipwreck protruding from the sand. Being made of wood, it won’t be there forever. In fact it’s now just the bare bones of the former Helvetia, which was wrecked on the beach in 1887. It looks like a speck from the cliff top, but it’s actually quite large, and well worth a ramble across the sands

There are lots more beaches to explore on the Gower Peninsula and using the fabulous P1060350King Arthurs Arms in Reynoldston as a base we roamed freely across this lush land. We found someone to feed us in Port Eynon, as Oxwich castle was sadly closed to visitors. Instead we found the beaches, and settled on a different castle hunt. The fourteenth century Weobley Castle proved more than satisfying. Being semi-ruined it is fun to explore and see how nature is reclaiming this once impressive fortress, which has beautiful views across the Llanrhidian saltmarshes. There is a simple honesty box for the admission, and no one was around one the day we visited so we had the whole place to ourselves. Except of course for the three farm collies which whist keeping a slight distance, barked at us as we made our way into the castle grounds. They settled down once we were out of sight inside the castle, as they’d done their job, raising the intruder beware alarm, and ensuring P1060576payment in case anyone was now watching out of the farm house windows.

On our way back through we stopped at the mumbles to explore the Lighthouse and Bracelet Bay, another very photogenic place. I was assured there were plenty of fossils to find, but I found myself surrounded by hundreds of rockpools to discover. I was only driven in by the rain, and just in time to avoid a sudden monsoon. We smugly drank coffee in the pier café whilst rain worthy of any perfect storm, lashed at the large windows. We were to have our comeuppance in the Swansea traffic, but at that moment with beachy adventures behind us, a plate full of delicious food in front of us and rainy safely on the other side of the glass, we felt pretty happy with the world.

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Exploring Madrid

1I have traveled far and wide across this bright and beautiful earth, but somehow I seem to have missed Spain time and again. As a child I spent a lot of summers in the South of France, and have since ticked many further a-field countries off my ever expanding bucket list. A trip to nearby Spain however seems to have been an oversight. So with the excuse of a hen do, I decided to remedy this. With a couple of bridesmaids in tow, we booked a long weekend in sunny Madrid, having strict instructions from the mother of the bride to not get any strap marks in the sun. Promising faithfully we wouldn’t we were released and we set forth on a cheapy flight towards our backpackers in the city centre.

Now I’ve stayed in a fair few backpackers in my time in places like Japan, New Zealand and Australia, so I was prepared for the worst. I was however pleasantly surprised with The Hat. It was clean bright and didn’t have too many beds crammed in. The bunks had a private feel to them as there was a wood partition one end which silenced my irrational fear of being watched as I sleep. It was even ensuite. Don’t get me wrong, this was no Emirates Palace bathroom, but the lock worked and it was pretty clean. Trustingly leaving IMAG1847our bags on our beds we set forth into the city, only to be blinded by the sun. After a quick pit stop back to our room we set forth again with sunglasses and sun cream in hand in search of the Parque del Buen Retiro. Now this is no ordinary park. It’s immense. Huge. And full of wonderful things like lakes, gardens, ice cream and sangria. We wandered through the trees appreciating a little respite from the sun, which dappled across our bare shoulders and still warmed the air around us. We painted our toe nails pink and snoozed in the grass before heading back to our temporary home, which to our intense excitement had an open air bar on top in the evenings. Watching the glittering specks of near and far Spanish windows dancing in the oncoming moonlight, we had a few cocktails to round off the toil of the day.

IMAG1868I had a brief love affair with the sunny streets of Madrid, which at night turn into vibrant bars and restaurants seemingly from nowhere, whilst my companion had a love affair with the bocadillo. These door stop, filling stuffed sandwiches were thought about at breakfast lunch and dinner, and as a snack if at all possible. The food in general was a delight, we found a food market not far from the hostel, and indulged a little more, whilst having a vague concern about the size of my wedding dress. But it was only one weekend of sin, after months of strict diets. What harm could it do? Well, quite a lot. But that’s another story. All you need to know is the dress fitted on the day, and everything went off without a hitch, except the part where we actually got hitched. That also went fine. Anyway, back to the tapas. Everywhere we turned there was more temptation to eat, so many enticing restaurants everywhere you look, so many cocktail and wine bars. I can highly recommend Madrid to the foodies out there.

Putting the food to one side, Madrid also is a city of rich history and fabulous architecture. Starting at the Puerta del sol, we took a free walking tour through the city which took us IMAG1888through many of the pedestrian streets passed the gates of the Palacio Real de Madrid and on to Cathedral of the Almudena, Calle de Bailén. Again a beautiful structure, well worth a visit. We wound our way through tiny backstreets, through a bar at one point, and back to the familiar area near our new home and said goodbye to our companions of the past few hours when we walked past a lovely looking restaurant in the middle of a plaza. As we chilled in the shaded sun I went through our photos and the stark reality hit me; Selfies taken in strapless dresses kinda make it look like you’re running around naked. Henceforth it became known as the nude tour of Madrid, and we found excuses to add to this suggestive album at every opportunity. I showed these photos to my mum explaining I had taken her “advice” to heart and that I didn’t want to come back with an uneven tan. I caught her for a fraction of a moment. Perhaps she’ll hold back on the advice giving in future. But perhaps not: she is my mother.

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Dominican Republic

We had been dreaming of a tropical Paradise for months now. After saving all our holiday for the best part of a year it was finally time chill on a beach for 2 glorious weeks. We had chosen the Dominican Republic as it seemed the most affordable place in the Caribbean, a chance to see paradise without putting ourselves into debt. It was a good choice. Looking out of the plane window I could see the glittering ocean meeting golden sands leading to lush green valleys. I literally couldn’t wait to get out of the airport. But it would seem I would have to. We queued, and queued and queued a little more to get off the plane, through passport control through to baggage claim. Being open air the airport was beautiful, but with that many people it was stifling. There were fans moving warm sticky air around and a zigzag of people in front and behind. We just focused on what lay ahead. Not literally, that was a queue; but what lay in front of that, beaches and adventure.

 

I loved the bus ride to the hotel, it allowed me my first glimpse of life outside the hotel complex, normal people doing everyday things, towns, roads, wild animals and domestic. Too soon we were behind the walls of the Grand Bahia Principe, and boy was it Grand- the sheer size of the complex was jaw dropping, it had a shuttle bus to take you from one end to the other as otherwise it would be a 20 minute walk from reception and food places to the beach, with all the villas in between. We set about exploring and found we actually had a pretty good location being 3 minutes from reception and the main food hall, 3 minutes the other way to one of the pools, and with a bus shuttle stop just outside so close enough in terms of time to the beach. The room itself was the cheapest they offered- a junior suite, which was bigger than my first flat. Our balcony faced the theatre which allowed music to float past us every evening and the bed was so immense that I had to roll over 4 times to get across it.

 

Our days were a dreamy mix of lying under sunshades by the pool reading, or sitting beneath swishing palm trees on sandy beaches. It was heaven. Cocktails and food were permanently available as part of the package, so we booked into each of the a la carte restaurants, and so sampled Japanese, Mexican, a Steak house, Dominican and Italian menus. It is hard to beat drinking a coco-loco in the sun at the side of a swim-up bar wondering what you might order at the Dominican restaurant.

 

Of course it wasn’t all sitting in the sun, we made sure we got out and saw some of the island. Our sunset horse rode along the beach was immense fun, as was the hour long journey to the sables in an open topped bus on the dual carriage way. Scott’s favourite part of the day was when he was allowed to gallop along the sand through the waves. I was quite happy to stay back and watch! We were served coconuts straight from the tree, and shown how to make an eating tool from the shell. It was so lush and fresh, nothing like the coconuts we’ve won from the fair.

 

We spent the whole of one day on boats and in the ocean- It was glorious. The boats all had open bars and snacks although I must admit they were fairly hard to get to on the speed boat. Luckily half of the day was on a catamaran so it was a little more relaxed. We were introduced to a starfish underwater, and almost had a fist fight with the tiniest crab I’ve ever seen- they are very brave creatures. Our BBQ cooked lobster lunch was served on the beach under the swaying palm trees of a private island and I think this might have been one of my favourite life time memories. It was just as you might imagine paradise to be; boats, sunshine, lobster, wine, a glittering ocean, golden sands, and my best friend. Just thinking back makes me so happy.

 

Our day trip into the “outback” was really interesting and gave us a taste of the real culture outside of tourism. We were shown a school, a small family run coconut planation and refinery, a family who produced coffee and were taken for lunch at a hilltop shack for more fabulous food, where we were also shown indigenous animals. We spent the day on an open bus and had to wear seatbelts, not for health and safety, but literally for safety, some of the roads were pothole ridden mud tracks, partially washed away by the rains. These villages and shacks we visited were truly in the outback, almost cut off from the richer tourist coastal towns. It was a good balance to see how people lived, when it’s too easy to get caught up in the paradise of beach life. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of this trip and would not hesitate to do any of it again. I’m already back there in my mind.

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Lake District Road trip

“There is a comfort in the strength of love; ‘Twill make a thing endurable, which else would overset the brain, or break the heart”. Wordsworth’s immortal poetry was largely inspired by the beauty of the Lake District. And roaming the hills and valleys it isn’t hard to see why. The sheer spectacular vastness of the mountains is truly awe-inspiring. The beauty of the green valleys and sparkling lakes is hard to beat; it’s a comfort for the soul.

DSC_9437We were staying in a lovely little B&B in the town of Bowness on Windermere. We were an easy walk from the town and close enough to the water to make me happy. Scott had never been to the Lakes, well not that he could remember as an adult. So as we drove along the A590 and the mountains appeared on the horizon, I watched his face. There’s nothing like the anticipation inspired by such a view. The imminent excitement of prospective exploration is something we share passionately, which is perhaps why we are both so driven by travel and adventure.

We had fish and chips on the banks of Windermere and watched as the sun lowered itself into bed as the sky went from pale blue to yellow to pink to twinkly. I closed my eyes and listened to the gentle lapping of the lake, a sound I could never bore of. The warmth of the sun had gone otherwise I might have fallen asleep there.IMAG0776

We took a slightly rainy trip through Troutbeck along the Kirkstone pass road and found ourselves at Aria Force, a lovely waterfall which is easily accessible from a purpose built National Trust car park. Further along we took detours into less explored mountains and imagined what it would be like to live in such deserted areas, so close to tourist hotspots. We made it to Kendal for a late pub lunch and enjoyed the market, and a little ice cream. Our road home was my favourite in the Lakes; the A591 past Thirlmere and Rydal water, through Ambleside and onto Windermere. We past the immense Helvellyn, a mountain my 60 year old mum had conquered a year before. I gave it a nod of acknowledgement as we drove past.

DSC_9487I say this is my favourite because you drive through an open valley with imposing mountains either side of you. When driving south there is a lake to your right at the foot of one mountain. . One other spectacular journey id driving into the Langdale Pikes. I always make a journey towards Old Dugeon Ghyll just before sunset, as it is such a magical place at dusk. High mountains making the whole place feel still and timeless. It’s so peaceful and spectacular, I highly recommend a visit here.

You can’t go to the Lakes and not spend some time on or at least by a lake. We chose Windermere as it was so close to us, and spent a sunny afternoon boating around the shimmering water. A picnic with Prosecco ensure this was a truly fabulous few hours, just the two of us, bobbing on the gentle water, being followed by seagulls, and waved at by fellow sailors.DSC_9439

Every mountain, valley, river and Lake evokes such a stirring repose in me. It is natural beauty beyond all else. We are so lucky to have so many of these beautiful natural places in England, and I pray we keep them special and wild for eternity.

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Hay-on-Wye Festival

DSC_0009Hay on Wye is a pretty little village just within the Welsh borders. As its name might suggest it is built on the river Wye, and has become famous for its bookshops, although now it is starting to get more of a reputation for its annual literary festival. The festival in question is why I found myself up early one Friday morning in our car heading westwards. With a brand new engagement ring sparkling on my finger I was feeling extra happy today; I was being taken to see Frank Turner in an interview and then on stage. And to top it off we were making a weekend out of it. I love our road trips, we’ve been on a few. Scott really is someone I can talk to and laugh with, and never tire of. I know I’m lucky on beDSC_0015 marrying one of my best friends (sorry Ellie, he asked first!).

We found our little B&B and checked into the attic room, which felt like a 70s Swedish spa-house, being made of
wood walls and “that kind” of décor. Heading on to Hay we were both really excited for the evening ahead. After finding the drinks tent we whiled away a little time people watching, and enjoying the sunshine, before finding seats in the make shift mini auditorium for Frank’s interview. It was pretty interesting having never seen a live interview, and of course I found the subjeP1040815ct matter engaging. He was speaking about being on tour for most of his adult life and how his relationships and view have changed and grown, and how music has been such an important part of his life. We later discovered Frank signing his new book in the main bookshop and so hung around until the crowds thinned out to get our book signed. The night was topped off in style by a solo show of both new and old songs, with a little dancing of course. I wasn’t ready for it to end, but then I comforted myself by the thought of the beckoning Breacon Beacons and headed for bed.

I couldn’t decide if it was the glorious sunshine or the smell of bacon and eggs that roused us the following morning, but they were both equally as welcome. After a Welsh breakfast we got in the car, map on knee and headed for the hills. We did a little driving, a little exploring and found a pub serving delicious food. We decided against a cream tea, as it had been an P1040838indulgent day and we just couldn’t justify it, no matter how hard we tried. We decided to go on a mini hike to a waterfall, and I must say I was a little alarmed at how steep the path was, as tis would be our journey back to the car. Perhaps we should have had that cream tea after all, it looked like we’d need the sustenance. We found the cool green, mossy valley after about 20 minutes, although we’d been able to hear the waterfall from the car park. It boded well; I like a good waterfall. We rounded the last corner, and crossed a bridge to find the spectacular waterfall and the plunge pool below. Having studied rivers I find them fascinating, noticing the way that centuries of running water has carved its way through the landscape leaving exposed rock formed thousands of years ago. It felt like a little piece of history, being in that valley. It was so green and enclosed, and so far from any settlements. Totally timeless. We took some photos, admired the view and skipped across stepping stones before facing that hill again. This was just what I had needed; A little escape to beauty, and Wales had delivered both festival excitement and nature’s tranquillity. As we hit the road again I felt calm and ready for the days ahead, whatever they might bring.

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A little trip to Dusseldorf

2015-05-24 17.29.16When Scott told me he was going to Germany for some training, I thought it would be rude not to go too. I’d been meaning to brush up on my German, and as he doesn’t speak a word it was a golden opportunity. I’d never been to Dusseldorf but doing a little online research it looked beautiful. I wasn’t wrong. I flew out alone as Scott had been in training for a few days already and proudly negotiated the public transport into the town centre. I bought a map and started my vague wanderings. I’m always drawn to water and found myself on the banks of the fast flowing Rhine. The promenade took me past the riverside cafes and bars which looked beyond inviting, but I had things to see.

The old streets of the Altstadt were my favourite, cobbled streets and ancient German buildings, the architecture was beautiful. After a little gawping wandering I took the promenade up the river before realising how late it was. I was meant to be meeting Scott at the hotel, and couldn’t leave him to speak slow English to a bemused receptionist. Luckily I walked up as his taxi dropped him off, and I was able to check us in. To be honest I was expecting the hotel staff to speak English, but they really didn’t. I was pretty proud of myself for managing to understand everything, and speak understandable German, despite not speaking any for over 14 years.

After dropping bags we went straight out for dinner on the river in one of the little bars that beckoned to me earlier. DSC_9848It was a hard decision but they all looked pretty cool. We even came back the following day for lunch before heading out on a river cruise. I spent the rest of the day showing Scott around my new city, where we stumbled upon a jazz festival in the Altstadt market square. There were deck chairs and pop up bars and plenty of good feeling. Couple with the sunshine it turned into a lazy afternoon. We could’ve stayed all week, but we had a train to catch to Koln. Despite the cocktails and beers we negotiated the German train station and found a packed double decker train heading for Koln, and made it to the hotel 2 minutes before the reception staff were about to give up hope and go home. We settled into little our room and realised how hungry we were, but what wold be open at 10pm? It turned out quite a lot. Germany seemingly has a lively night culture, to rival its mainland brethren. We found tapas bar serving tasty dishes and cheap beer and had a romantic meal on the pavement beneath the low lying canopy. The orange lit bar front gave an intimate Mediterranean feel to the street, nd the canopy blocked out the city buzz, so despite eating on a German pavement, it felt like we were in the heart of Madrid on a summers evening.

DSC_9972We inadvertently, and most excitingly, stumbled upon a wine festival in a market square the following morning. We wandered around and wondered aloud if it was too early for a quick tipple. Well, that’s all we saw of Koln. That day was spent making best friends with every German who sat at our table. We bought drinks, had drinks bought for us, ate pretzels and cheese and generally had a great time. The sun shone, the Germans laughed, my German impressed, Scott’s didn’t, and we only moved when our partners in crime had to go home to bed. It really was a day of festival spirit and German hospitality.

Our second boat ride on the Rhine was just as beautiful as the first. It was a completely different city scape and feel, but they still have waiter service on their boats. We saw green banks on one side, and apartment blocks in the shape of cranes reminiscent of the warehouse district in which they stood. We saw the immense cathedral dominating one side of the river, and riverside flea markets beneath its shadow. Excitingly I also saw the lindt chocolate factory, although unfortunately we didn’t bring our golden tickets on this fleeting trip, so it would have to wait. There will be time next time!

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The Big Island

DSC_0065We’re going where? Hawaii. Pardon? Hawaii. When, why, what? I was a little distracted with wedding shopping which didn’t help with the confused. I initially thought Scott was playing around with honeymoon destinations. But he had said June. We are getting married in August so that wouldn’t make sense.  I switched on my concentration. His work were sending us to Hawaii for a week, all expenses paid as part of the Infinity Club, which is a reward hard working staff. It took a little while to sink in, and I think it only really did when we were on the plane to LA. After spending a night in California we were back on a plane over the Pacific, it was a little surreal. I took a lot of photos out of the window of the vastness of America, but it has nothing on the Oceans.

Our private transfer took us to the Fairmont Orchid hotel on the big island, past black rocky lava fields and slow speed limits. On arrival we set about exploring. The hotel was a fair size, having a few places to eat and drink as well as a couple of shops, yet it still had quite an intimate feeling. It has been designed well in the environment allowing you to feel not too far from everything, yet far enough. Our room was beautiful and had a sea view across the lawns, we even had a balcony on which to enjoy the greens and blues around us.

At registration we were given gifts and information packs along with cocktails and a buffet, a P1040905sign of things to come! It turned out our first dinner with the work group was a fabulous outside buffet at turtle point, so called because of the sea turtles living on the rocky beaches. Despite a little tropical rain it was a great evening and useful for introducing us to the fellow workers. Our other group dinners included a Luau where we had food which had been cooked in a fire pit, followed by a traditional Hawaiian dance. We were given a BBQ on the beach as well as a cocktail dinner followed by the awards ceremony. It really was a special event. The days we had to ourselves to explore and relax. We spent a few days snorkelling and reading by the pool, and spent a little time sipping cocktails and watching the sunsets. It was such a privilege to be here.

My favourite day was when we hired a car and drove around most of the island. We saw the black rocky lava fields turn into luscious green valleys on the other side of the island, visited towns and villages and had a picnic in the car when it rained. We aimed to get to the Volcano for sunset, but when we got to the crater it was in a cloud. It was still an amazing experience, peering thP1040984rough moving cloud cover searching for lava. We saw a lot of steam and had gin and tonic to pass the time. We took the saddle road home and peered up at the immense star lit sky above us. There was no light pollution in the middle of the island and it was such a special sight, you just can’t imagine the volume of stars until you are swamped in darkness on a clear night.

What with the quad biking, snorkelling and our mini road trip I felt like my adventure-o-meter was topped up enough to go home. For now.

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Loch Lomond Road Trip

P1030760We’d already done our fair share of driving this Christmas. We have a big North South divide in our family, half being based in Hertfordshire and the other in Scunthorpe. But that was just the beginning; we were now bound for Hogmanay in Edinburgh. Celebrating Hogmanay in Scotland has been on my bucket list for quite some time so I was pretty excited as we put Christmas behind us and took to the A1 over the border. We spent New Year’s Eve eve in a bar, trying not to be distracted by Shrek 3 playing on the flat screen beside us. The wine and sizzling chicken fajitas made for a perfect start to this little road trip.

Despite the breeze, the chilly air didn’t make it through my new winter coat as we made our way along the Royal Mile on New Year’s Eve to pick up our Street party tickets. I’ve never been in such a well organised fast moving queue as the one in the Fringe office; I was suitably impressed. The day passed into the evening and the anticipation mounted as we found our way to the entrance of Princes Street, ready to face Hogmanay. Twinkly lights left from Christmas added a magical feeling to this already exciting evening, and add in some burgers, doughnuts, gluhwein and cider and it’s a pretty awesome evening. We even managed to find a stand selling the infamous deep fried mars bars- something I’ve always thought would be greasy and nasty. Turns out they’re pretty tasty, I can heartily recommend them as something to try in Scotland!

DSC_9379Soon enough the sky burst into life with hundreds of fireworks. It was an immense display that I’ve never seen the likes of. The whole evening had been really special, and although a Scottish Hogmanay has been ticked off my list, I know I’ll be adding it again! Perhaps next time in a castle in the Highlands.

We were up at a reasonable hour considering the late night and had our new car packed up and pointing towards Drymen before realising we’d forgotten breakfast. A big oversight on any road trip! As was the lack of pick and mix. We remedied both of these misfortunes at our halfway point, Stirling, and felt much happier and more fit to face the world. We had left the sea views behind us in Edinburgh as we started to climb into the hilly lowlands of mid-south Scotland. The car wound through the roads of the green open lands of Stirlingshire and we were fast approaching Loch Lomond and The Trossachs (or Pàirc Nàiseanta Loch Laomainn is nan Tròisichean  in gaelic).

P1030814Finding food was still high on our agenda, so on arrival at the Winnock Hotel I indulged in another local delicacy- macaroni cheese. I’ve never been presented with such a mound of food, with chips and salad on the side; if this is what the portions in our hotel were like I was going to remain very happy! Throughout the buildings there were tartan carpets, adding a real sense of occasion to every day, and our double room was furnished with a four poster bed: It felt very special.

Being that it was a bank holiday the celebrations were still in full swing and the whole village seemed to have come to the pub to socialise. There was singing, drinking and even bagpipes all through the evening. Feeling tired we retreated to the comfort of our four poster and ordered sundaes from room service. I should have guessed from lunch, but the portion was once again immense, and I confess I needed help finishing mine. It was hands down the tastiest ice-cream I’ve ever had. I still am not completely sure what was in it, so I can’t count the calories. Never mind.

DSC_9376The scenery of The Trossachs National Park is simply stunning. There were just so many photo opportunities afforded to us, rivers and lakes, as well as mountains. It is such a stunningly beautiful country, which can rival vistas of any of the faraway places I’ve travelled to. The shimmering lochs instil such a sense of peacefulness, and have inspired some great literary writers. And it’s not hard to see why.

We made our way in a loop around Loch Lomond, and I was so thankful that my fears about snow were unfounded. I’d been planning this trip for a while and I didn’t want to miss out on anything because of snow. I hadn’t however anticipated the amount of rain the area had had in previous weeks, resulting in quite impressive flooding. Luckily none of it was over the Road but when we stopped for dinner at Duck Bay the entire car park was hidden under a good few inches of water. The dangers of a lakeside restaurant I suppose. Luckily the food was unharmed, and we had a very tasty meal accompanied by hot chocolate with amaretto. It was blissful watching the sun setting on our last Scottish evening whilst the lake sparkled under the stars.

P1030988Travelling back East we passed Edinburgh and re-crossed the border into England. We were bound this time for Whitely Bay via the Angel of the North, a place I’ve always wanted to visit seeing as my mum grew up there. There is a beautiful white lighthouse on St Mary’s Island that is accessible by foot if the tide is out. My mum used to tell me stories about a little boy in her class who lived on the island and had to leave school early or risk not getting home at all. As a child I liked this idea of leaving school early and being cut off by the sea.

We headed there first to see the freezing foamy waves crashing against the rocks of the hidden causeway, just as the sun was setting. After a good few photo opportunities and more than a little cold we retreated to our seafront hotel to defrost, and were pleasantly surprised by the size of our well-appointed room. The bay window looked out on the promenade and grey wintery sea; it was truly picturesque. The Royal Hotel is nicely decorated, has an adjoining bar/restaurant and beautiful sea views, as well as a fantastic breakfast selection. If ever I’m in the area again this would be my first choice, it is highly recommended.

P1030891We passed the evening in an amusement arcade amassing tickets for prizes we didn’t want or need: a water pistol, a Barbie look-alike doll, plastic children’s bracelets: It was definitely more about the journey than the destination. On leaving we donated our tickets to an over excited young child and went in search of fish and chips: On holiday by the sea it has to be done. As expected the treat meal was very tasty and enhanced by the salty air of the coast. The next morning was bright and chilly, but feeling very satisfied after a cooked breakfast we went back to the Lighthouse and found the sea had retreated. We followed the now visible path up to the island and explored the beach rocks and grassy gardens around the island buildings. I braved cold hands and investigated the rock pools with my waterproof camera, and was fairly pleased at the colours and focus it afforded. The little secret worlds were interrupted only until my fingers turned white with cold, and I had to retreat to the warmth of our road trip mobile. Once again we were on the road home. It was a long and winding road that still had plenty of scope for adventure.

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