Two Beautiful Cities – York and Edinburgh

Holiday in full swing, it was time for the 5-hour drive to Edinburgh! But not before exploring York in an hour…

Already over an hour into our journey, it was time for a pit-stop in York. And an opportunity to try the “LADBible Famous” Yorkshire Pudding Wrap.

Nestled in the heart of York, we found one of the York Roast Co. shops. With a choice of Turkey, Pork, Ham or Beef with stuffing and sauces, our taste buds were spoilt. Settling on the Pork with applesauce combo, we did a quick tour of the main sights.

York Minister
York Minister

Stopping off to eat beside the Minister, we admired the architecture before trotting back along through The Shambles. A glimpse at the wall and it was time up. Back in the car and on to Edinburgh.

Angel of the North
Angel of the North

The next day presented us with a rainy morning that soon cleared for us to explore Edinburgh. Our host had kindly recommended a parking place half way up Arthur’s Seat, which made the trek to the top a whole lot shorter!

View from Arthur's Seat
View from Arthur’s Seat

The wind buffeting us off the summit, we were greeted with views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth.

Chris at the summit of Arthur's Seat
Chris at the summit of Arthur’s Seat

Turning west, we could see out towards inland Scotland. Truly a magnificent place to take in your surroundings.

Climbing back down toward Holyrood Palace, we decided not to go in with our muddy boots and instead headed to the tourist information. Chris had been wondering along our way what this large white dome was. We found out. Known as Dynamic Earth, it is a centre for interactive learning.

Dynamic Earth
Dynamic Earth

It was decided, that was where we were heading. But first, we stopped for some official Scottish Hog Roast at Oink. Definitely filled a hole.

Oink Hog Roast
Oink Hog Roast

Dynamic Earth was fantastic. Taking you on a journey through time, the exhibits discover how the Earth has changed, from the big bang to the future of space exploration. The interactive nature of the museum was incredibly engaging and, even as a twenty-three year old, I found it fascinating.

I would definitely recommend for children and adults alike.

20171024_141508
Dynamic Earth

The day wasn’t over yet. We headed back to our apartment to freshen up for the evening. A friend had recommended Bread Meats Bread as a dinner option. We cannot thank him enough.

Genuinely one of the best burgers I have tasted, it was well worth the twenty-minute wait to be seated. With only three restaurants across Glasgow and Edinburgh, this place is wonderfully original. The Maple Sweet Potato Fries are to die for – just thinking about them makes my mouth water! With the burger exceeding expectation, you need to try this.

Bread Meats Bread Chicken Parmigiana
Bread Meats Bread Chicken Parmigiana

Finished drooling, we headed to a local bar: The Beer Kitchen. Intending to try a few bars before a ghost tour of the city, we were side-lined by Scrabble and the ambiance of an open fire.

Naturally, this led to us missing the intended ghost walk. Able to join a later one, we took a late night walk by St. Giles Cathedral and the surrounding streets. Returning to our starting point, we joined the rest of the people on the ghost walk.

St. Giles Cathedral
St. Giles Cathedral

Our tour guide, David, introduced himself and outlined the itinerary. First, it was a visit to the underground vaults.

These vaults aren’t officially underground; they are a series of chambers formed in the nineteen arches of the South Bridge in Edinburgh. Completed in 1788, they were originally used for trade and businesses. However, as the condition of the rooms deteriorated due to damp, these tradesmen moved out, paving the way for Edinburgh’s poorest. Cramped into these tiny rooms, disease was rife and many died. It is believed to be haunted due to a number of stories circulating around the deaths of children.

At multiple points throughout the tour, we were left in these rooms in the pitch black. I won’t spoil it by saying what happened.

It was the third of these rooms when I began to feel a little frightened. We were told the story of a pregnant woman, who had experienced hearing a ghost rasp that she wanted her baby and ran scared through the passageways. In these slums, women (or child snatchers) would profit from the poor by taking their babies and selling them. Could this be a ghost of a child catcher?

Unscathed we continued on our tour of Edinburgh’s most haunted. This time, we were taken to Greyfriars Kirkyard. The graveyard holds many stories, from Greyfriars Bobby (the loyal dog that guarded his master’s grave) to the poltergeist of “Bluidy MacKenzie”.

“Bluidy MacKenzie” was Lord Advocate during the prosecution of Presbyterian Covenanters by order of Charles II. After the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679, Mackenzie imprisoned 1,200 Covenanters in the field next to Greyfriars Kirkyard. Some were executed, and hundreds died of maltreatment.

The graveyard was first recorded as haunted after the violation of MacKenzie’s mausoleum. A homeless man broke into the grave, which houses many important figures, with violent ghost attacks being reported thereafter.

We were taken through into the so-called Covenanters’ prison. Our guide divulged stories of these violent attacks and once more we found ourselves in the pitch black. I won’t tell you what happened next.

After a closer look at MacKenzie’s mausoleum, the door of which has almost been kicked in, we called it a night.

A little tacky and maybe a little too political at points, the ghost walk was worth it for the history. If you want to learn more about Edinburgh’s darker past, then enjoy!

Advertisements

Dynamic and Wild: Spurn Safari

It was my birthday week – cause who only sticks to a day?! So, we decided to go on holiday to Scotland making a pit-stop at my parents on the way. This provided the perfect opportunity to finally visit my dad’s workplace: Spurn Point. After over three years as Heritage Officer at the Nature Reserve, my dad was able to showcase his pride and joy to me as we joined one of his Spurn Safaris.

Spurn Point sits at the very tip of the Humber Estuary along the coast of East Riding of Yorkshire. An important habitat for bird migration in the spring and autumn months, Spurn is a key area of conservation. But it is also very susceptible to the elements.

During the tidal surge of 2013, the road to the point was washed away creating what is now known as the wash-over. At certain tide times, this turns Spurn Point into the only island in Yorkshire. With the loss of a road down to the point, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust invested in a Unimog to cross the sandy beach with passengers. This created the opportunity for Spurn Safaris: guided tours of the nature reserve.

Today, it was our turn.

A quick briefing and we were off across the sand. It was interesting to see the difference between the Humber Estuary on the right and the North Sea to the left. I don’t know of anywhere that offers such an insight into coastal diversity.

Spurn Point Lighthouse
Spurn Point Lighthouse

It wasn’t long before we reached the newly refurbished lighthouse: the tallest in the north of England. Here we were given the history of the lighthouse’s use in shepherding vessels through the mouth of the Humber Estuary. As we climbed the spiraling stairs, we found the rooms on each floor displayed the current shipping radar and how the landscape of Spurn has shifted over the years.

View from the top of the Lighthouse
View from the top of the Lighthouse

The Trust also houses an Artist in Resident who is showcased in the lighthouse. This season’s artists had created wild charcoal images of the nature reserve and a group of students had contributed some wonderful poetry. Dynamic, raw and ever changing being a common thread.

From the top, you are granted incredible views of Spurn and the surrounding area. Even on one of the windiest days of the year, the landscape was breath-taking. I fully understand why my dad loves it here so much!

View from the top of the Lighthouse
View from the top of the Lighthouse

Venturing further onto the point, we came to a number of buildings. Some were once the homes of the lifeboat crew and their families, these cottages now only house the on-duty staff since being cut from the mainland. Yet, it was good to see the RNLI still operational at Spurn.

Old army barracks and a VTS Tower also sit at the point but are now disused. A tour around this area revealed the artillery batteries positioned during the First World War as a line of defense. This expanded our understanding of Spurn as a military base, highlighting its position as more than a nature reserve.

Artillery Battery from World War I
Artillery Battery from World War I

Following our guide through the thick shrubbery, we were instructed on the significance of such a military history and Spurn’s importance in securing the Humber as a port. We also uncovered the natural prominence of this place as we spotted redstarts and chiffchaffs beginning their autumn migration.

Earthstar Fungi
We even came across some Earthstar Fungi

Thoroughly tired out, we bundled back onto the Unimog to return to the mainland. On route, a lovely grey seal decided to say hello. We watched him dancing in the waves as we crossed the wash-over.

A quick bite to eat at Spurn’s quaint café, the Blue Bell, and we headed back to the warmth of home.

Another one for the Bucket List – V&A Museum

Life has been a little hectic recently, but you’ll be glad to know that means lots of posts for you! A couple of weeks ago now, we did a mad tour of Northern England and Scotland, so keep your eyes peeled for those blogs. But for now, I will take us back to the beginning of October, when Chris and I explored the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Another one ticked off the bucket list (almost). Entering from the Tunnel Entrance, we found ourselves in the Europe 1600-1815 exhibit. If you’re a fan of the ornate and beautiful, then I would definitely recommend.

17th century dress
17th century dress

We were treated to seventeenth century silver and traditional clothing. I was blown away by the ornate carvings on the below harp and even got to take part in a traditional dance – much to the delight of bemused spectators.

17th Century harp
17th Century harp

The interiors took me back to the Palace of Versailles and its exquisite painted ceilings and gold trimmings. Of course, they are of the same era.

Ornate ceilings in 17th Century French style
Ornate ceilings in 17th Century French style

Taking a short excursion from the museum to find somewhere to eat – which I would highly recommend – we ticked off another bucket list item. Harrods.

Harrods exterior
Harrods exterior

Neither of us had ever visited the famous department store, so it was a little adventure into the unknown. Teaming with people, it has definitely become more of a tourist attraction than a place to buy your bedding from. But, of course, we were adding to that trend. We took some photos with the famous Harrods bears and enjoyed a little early Christmas shopping.

Speaking of which, as we are all already counting down to Christmas, I wanted to draw your attention to a fantastic site I’ve found for purchasing gifts!  Uncommon Goods are working to change the way business is done by making sustainability a part of every decision they make. This doesn’t just mean being “green”. They focus on creating a positive workplace for their employees; only sell hand-made, recycled or organic products; as well as being environmentally conscious in their business practises, such as sourcing paper from FSC certified forests. There is also an option to donate to charity at the checkout. Pretty awesome right?

With everything from ornaments to jewellery, homeware to toys, there is something for everyone. I love some of their Christmas Gift Ideas, Personalised Gifts and Stocking Fillers! Make sure you check them out.

Anyway, overwhelmed by the strong scent of perfume at Harrods, we returned to the V&A. As the museum is so large, we decided to stick to the European displays. A quick visit to Rome, we admired one of the first works of Gianlorenzo Bernini. In Baroque style, the sculpture dramatizes a scene between Neptune, the classical god of the sea, and his son Triton. Fitting since this sculpture was positioned within a fountain.

Neptune and Triton
Neptune and Triton

We moved through the exhibit, taking in the baroque style through to the history of the Thirty Year War and the firearms and armour that were used. I was amazed by the intricate carvings on the rifles. Everything in this era seemed to be over-the-top yet astonishingly delicate.

Engraved rifles
Engraved rifles
Decorated nautilus shell
Decorated nautilus shell

The final area of this section highlighted the interest of 17th and 18th century Europeans in the Asian and “Exotic”. Ming dynasty-styled vases and ornate cabinets, these objects were a sign of wealth and beauty.

Flower Pyramid
Flower Pyramid

Time to head back further in time. Crossing to the opposite side of the hall, we came to the Medieval and Renaissance 300-1500 exhibits.

The first room presented us with beautiful carvings and engravings from thousands of years ago. Stone and ivory were the main building materials. Naturally, religion was a huge part of the buildings and ornaments we uncovered here. From beautiful archways to the first whale-bone ornament, the religious motifs were present.

Medieval Oliphant (Ivory horn) derived from Islamic art
Medieval Oliphant (Ivory horn) derived from Islamic art

In this period, churches and monasteries were increasingly built or rebuilt in stone. Both inside and out, they bore images that were either didactic, with moralising scenes from biblical stories, or decorative.

Column from a raised pulpit with carvings of religious figures
Column from a raised pulpit with carvings of religious figures

In later years, the gothic style would take over. These stained glass windows are from various monasteries in France and depict many of the scenes of the bible, from the Virgin Mary and her mother Anne to St Peter, the Old Testament to King Louis IX.

Stained glass windows with religious effigies
Stained glass windows with religious effigies

At the end of this section, we came to a majestic tapestry. The Boar and Bear hunt is an incredible piece of work depicting the hunting practises of the 15th century. Hunting was popular amongst the aristocracy of the period. Bears and otters were hunted primarily for sport, whilst deer and boars were also prized for their meat. We were fascinated by what we learned when taking it all in.

Boar and Bear Hunt Tapestry
Boar and Bear Hunt Tapestry

We headed home exhausted after only covering a small section of the V&A’s collection. It is definitely a place that requires multiple visits.

Enjoy this post? Tick off more of my London Bucket List with me here.

Mystery Tour of Southeast England

August Bank Holiday, I finally had Chris all to myself for an entire day. And he had planned a mystery tour of Southeast England for us.

With only a slight idea of where we were going, we headed out in search of breakfast. We had hoped to find somewhere along the way, but one hour later (with a very hungry Hazel) we took a diversion into Royal Tunbridge Wells. Suddenly remembering a place he’d been before – which had a café – Chris took us on a wild goose chase. No name and only a slight inkling that it actually had a café, I wasn’t very hopeful. But he came through.

Dunorlan Park Lake
Dunorlan Park Lake

Dunorlan Park was beautiful. The bacon and sausage sandwich very much appreciated. Finishing our breakfast in the gorgeous 27C heat, we naturally headed straight for the ice cream. Then it was time to explore.

Dunorlan Park
Dunorlan Park

Idyllic in the summer sun, we wandered through the gardens spotting the ornamental fountain and impressive trees. Once part of the 78-acre gardens of the grand mansion built by Yorkshire millionaire, Henry Reed, the park is Grade II listed. The gardens contained within were designed by renowned Victorian gardener, Richard Marnock in the 1860s.

Ornamental Fountain
Ornamental Fountain

Another stunning feature is the 6-acre boating lake. Lots of people were out kayaking and playing in the pedalos. Definitely a place to revisit when we have more time.

Dunorlan Park Lake
Dunorlan Park Lake

Having had a nice break from driving, we continued on our journey to the main surprise. I tried to figure out where Chris was taking me. I knew it was close to Hastings, so I had some ideas, but it wasn’t until I saw the brown sign “Bodiam Castle” pop up a few times that I guessed.

Bodiam Castle is your classic castle. It’s the kind of castle that every young child imagines. A picture perfect monument with its symmetrical towers and large circular moat.

Bodiam Castle
Bodiam Castle

Upon arriving, we found multiple groups of people dressed in period clothing. There was an archery section where we watched some young children do worryingly well! As well as a number of tents and workshops set out like a battle camp. We never found out quite why there were these displays of 14th century England, but it definitely made the day more fun.

Battle camp
Battle camp

Crossing the bridge into the castle, we watched the gorgeous Koi Carp – with one rather spectacular orange one catching our attention. We explored the castle top to bottom, from picturesque views of the surrounding countryside to the servant’s quarters.

Koi Carp
Koi Carp

Bodiam Castle was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a former knight of Edward III, with the permission of Richard II. Its primary role was to defend the area against French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War.

Looking through a window at Bodiam Castle
Looking through a window at Bodiam Castle

However, the structure and details of the castle with its quadrangular shape and position in an artificial watery landscape suggest that it was designed to impress. Attractive as much as it is defensive.

 

 

Well worth a visit, the castle remains in good condition and certainly has lots of history attached.

There was one last stop on our mystery tour. The beach.

Hastings Beach
Hastings Beach

Our final destination was Hastings, a seaside town on the southeast coast of England – and landing place of William the Conqueror. It is most known for the 1066 Battle of Hastings, fought on a nearby field where Battle Abbey now stands.

Hastings Beach with Pier
Hastings Beach with Pier

Arriving around 5pm, we headed straight for the seafront. Met by a shingle beach, it’s not quite your ideal picnic spot, but it was lovely to be beside the sea again. We wandered through the amusements area, eyeing up the Crazy Golf and Go-Karts as we went.

Fishing net shops
Fishing net shops

Continuing along the shore, Chris showed me the old net huts. Originating from the 16th-17th century, these huts were traditionally used to store fishing gear made from natural materials which would rot if left in the open. They have vastly changed over the years, but were recently awarded Grade II* listing and are almost as they were in 1865.

Anchor
Anchor

We also found a huge anchor which had once held centre stage on the pier. It was here that we realised the East Hill Cliff Railway was still running.

East Hill Cliff Railway
East Hill Cliff Railway

Having been convinced it had fallen into disrepair, we had to go up. The funicular railway was opened in 1903 by Hastings Borough Council and originally operated on a water balance principle. The line was modernised between 1973 and 1976 with an electric system and new cars added.

View from the East Hill Cliff Railway
View from the East Hill Cliff Railway

Despite knowing it must be safe, at points you certainly felt like you could fall off! The view, however, was a fantastic distraction. There was a hazy mist hanging over the scene making Hastings appear dream-like as we looked down upon it. At the top, you can explore Hastings Country Park which is the perfect place to relax in the sunshine – there are also steps if you don’t fancy the (almost) vertical railway.

View from the Hastings Country Park

Unfortunately, it was nearly time for the last car down – and we didn’t fancy the steps – so we couldn’t spend too long at the top. Just enough time to take in the view.

Our stomachs rumbling, we headed for the nearest Fish and Chips shop – and it was divine. After incredibly efficient service and enough chips to feed an army, we were definitely satisfied. Thank you very much, Fish Hut. Much better than Wales…

It was getting late, but the lack of people on the Crazy Golf tempted us to stay longer. We couldn’t resist a game, our competitive edges coming out. Far too much fun was had, especially when I managed to hit a hole in one! With only one point in it, I think we were both winners.

The light fading on a perfect day, it was time to head home. But not before a stop at the arcades – and no, Chris did not get me the Iron Man toy…

Sunset on a perfect day
Sunset on a perfect day

Slowly ticking off the bucket list – Natural History Museum

I finally ticked off one of my London bucket list items in visiting the Natural History Museum.

After first getting lost – yes, we got lost… My friend from uni and I were crowded into a packed first exhibit: Mammals.

 

 

In an attempt to escape the crowds, we went upstairs to the Whales and Dolphins section. It was incredible to see the life-sized skeletons and not-quite life-size blue whale model. However, upon returning to the ground floor and trying to find a café through the throngs of people, we decided to find somewhere quieter.

And we found it, in the Images of Nature exhibit. We whirred away the early afternoon hours taking in images of dodos and SEMs of insects. It allowed for the majority of the visitors to filter through whilst we caught up on life.

 

 

Making a break for it, we made our way to the Dinosaur exhibit. Still rather crowded, we were rushed through reading about the various fossils and skeletons on display. Nevertheless, it was still pretty awesome to see all of the display and an animated T-rex, which was a little less scary than we had hoped!

 

 

Finally, we made our way through to the main attraction – the 25.2 metre blue whale skeleton. Positioned majestically above the Hintze Hall, it certainly was a centrepiece.

Blue Wale Skeleton
Blue Wale Skeleton

The hall itself is also incredible with its elaborate design created especially to represent all the wonders of the natural world. The ceiling is covered in delicate paintings of flora with carvings throughout the walls and pillars.

Hintze Hall
Hintze Hall

After admiring the architecture as much as the blue whale, we climbed up the grand staircase to the first floor. Here we entered the minerals exhibition. I am fascinated by minerals and crystals so we may have spent far too much time picking out our favourites from the many, many cabinets. It was also fairly empty by now – thankfully!

Minerals display
Minerals display

Realising the day was slipping by, we made a last visit to the Vault, where the most precious minerals are kept.

Thoroughly exhausted, we decided to home. We hadn’t even scratched the surface.

Any recommendation of when is best – and less busy – to visit the museum would be much appreciated! I will be going back.

Inspired by Italy – Painshill Park

A couple of weeks after my return from France, we visited Painshill Park. A grade I listed 18th-century landscape garden envisioned by the Honourable Charles Hamilton, 9th and 14th child of the 6th Earl of Abercorn. The gardens boast 158 acres of woodland, shrubberies and a vast lake, as well as a large Vineyard.

Inspired by his exploration of Italy and his Grand Tours of Europe, the gardens were one of the first designed in the naturalistic style brought about by the Landscape Movement. There are hints of this influence everywhere, from the Renaissance-style Crystal Grotto to the Chinese Bridge.

It was lunchtime by the time we arrived, so our first stop was the café next to the entrance. We enjoyed fresh sandwiches and a delicious lemon drizzle cake before exploring the walled garden. Teaming with vegetables and a lovely potting shed, it was very quaint, fully allowing us to immerse ourselves in the past.

Walled Garden Potting Shed
Walled Garden Potting Shed

There are a number of routes around the park, but we chose the historical route. Naturally, this path led us to most of the main features of Painshill Park – other than a slight detour to the ruined abbey. Almost immediately, we found ourselves looking down upon the Vineyard. Hamilton planted the two and a half acres with Pinot Noir cultivar, as well as Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc hybrids, to produce Hamilton’s Painshill Sparkling Wine. Stretching down the steep hill to the River Mole, the vineyard looked magical in the summer sun. You could easily imagine yourself in the Italian countryside.

Vineyard
Vineyard

Our first time around, we completely missed the Amphitheatre as we wandered through woodland to the Gothic Temple. The temple stands atop the hill presenting us with beautiful views down towards the Serpent Lake and its bridges. Later in the day, we saw a couple having their wedding photos taken there and I can completely understand why!

Gothic Temple
Gothic Temple
Gothic Temple
View from Gothic Temple

Making our way slightly off the trail, we came across the Ruined Abbey. The abbey looked surprisingly new for a ruin and later research revealed that it is, in fact, a mock representation. Nevertheless, the accompaniment of a couple of swans made for some idyllic pictures through the abbey’s arched windows. Not wishing to disturb a group having a picnic too much, we continued along our route.

Ruined Abbey
Ruined Abbey
Ruined Abbey
View through Ruined Abbey doorway

Walking through the woodland and carefully planted gardens, we came out into the open to find the Chinese Bridge. A couple of people were feeding the birds from the bridge meaning the area was teeming with ducks, geese and swans. Making our way through and over to one of the islands, we were faced with the Crystal Grotto. Unfortunately, due to lack of staff, the Grotto was closed on this particular day. All the more reason to come back again!

Crystal Grotto
Crystal Grotto

Undeterred, we got as close as we could in order to see the unbelievable structure. Completely man-made, the crystals were intricately placed to form the cavern by celebrated grotto maker Joseph Lane in 1760. However, during a period when the park fell into disrepair, the grotto roof collapsed meaning a full restoration was required.

Crystal Grotto
Crystal Grotto

In 2013, Heritage Lottery funding enabled Cliveden Conservation to restore the folly, which historically has been recognised as the finest stalactite Grotto in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of crystals – calcite, gypsum, quartz and fluorite – including originals recovered from archaeological works, were skilfully embedded with lime mortar onto a framework of inverted wooden cones, to recreate the incredible stalactite effect of Joseph Lane’s original folly.

I have never seen anything so unusually beautiful. Stunning in its strangeness, the grotto almost looks like skulls eroded together with shimmering chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

 

Serpentine Lake
Serpentine Lake

Wishing we could have gone inside, we continued along the historical route passing along the edge of the lake and back into woodland. It wasn’t long before we came across the Waterwheel. Still operative today, the Waterwheel was built by Bramah & Sons in the 1830s to replace the original and is one of the largest working wheels in the UK. It was restored in 1987 and continues to pump water from the river Mole into the Serpentine Lake.

Waterwheel
Waterwheel

Conscious of time, we decided not to visit the Hermitage but instead carry on towards the Gothic Tower through the Alpine Valley. Positioned upon a high-point in the park, the tower’s red brick stands out against the landscape. The tower is accessible to the public and there is a quaint café on the first floor where we stopped for a drink. We then trekked up the many steps, stopping on the various floors to find out more about the history of the park. Upon reaching the top, we were treated to picturesque views of the Surrey countryside – even despite the power lines!

 

 

Clambering back down the spiral staircase, we started the loop back towards the entrance passing through the Elysian Plain, which surrounds the Temple of Bacchus. Presumably inspired by Greek mythology, which can interpret the Elysian Plain as a place where heroes were sent when granted immortality, the area is full of colour. Hamilton’s Temple of Bacchus was originally home to a collection of antiques collected during his Grand Tours to Europe. It featured a seven-foot marble centrepiece statue of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, as well as 12 marble busts of Caesars. However, these pieces were sold in 1797 and the current foundations of the temple are currently undergoing restoration.

Unable to enter the temple, we continued on to the Turkish Tent: another feature of the park that has been recreated. There were no standing remains of the original 18th-century tent, so it was from drawings that the conservationists were able to reconstruct what might have been. With its beautiful blue edges and a fantastic view of the park, we spent a long time taking in the scene.

Turkish Tent
Turkish Tent
View from Turkish Tent
View from Turkish Tent

Making our way back to the café, we realised we had some time before the site closed. So we headed back to find the Amphitheatre where Hamilton would have entertained his guests. A cast of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines is the main feature which we admired whilst enjoying the late afternoon sun.

Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines
Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines

Paris 3 – Celebrating at the Palace of Versailles

This is Part 3, read Part 1 here or Part 2 here.

Earlier in the holiday, we had booked tickets to the Palace of Versailles. So we awoke early on my sister’s birthday to pack and give presents before the journey. The palace is roughly 20 miles from the centre of Paris so it took us over an hour to make our way there – especially with one of the underground stations being closed. By the time we arrived, there was already a pretty long queue meandering up and down the square outside the palace gates. This was when we really regretted not a having had breakfast…

Crowd waiting to enter the Palace of Versailles
Crowd waiting to enter the Palace of Versailles

Despite having pre-bought tickets, we had to queue for an hour and a half at least before finally entering the palace. Where we promptly found ourselves in another queue. It is very popular.

The Gold Gate
The Gold Gate

Finally, we were seated in the Palace restaurant, Angelina where Heather enjoyed a luxurious 21st birthday lunch. My favourite part, naturally, was this beautifully crafted patisserie that was pure decadence.

Patisserie at Restaurant Angelina
Patisserie at Restaurant Angelina

We then explored the palace at lightning speed. I would have liked to spend longer reading in all of the rooms but the mass of people was far too much to contend with! Still, it meant we had chance to see every public room in the complex and still get an hour to enjoy the vast gardens, which would quite easily take a day by themselves.

Everything is extravagant and intricately beautiful in its majesty. From the painted ceilings to the garden’s gold fountains, the gorgeous bedrooms to the incredible hall of mirrors, I cannot even put it into words.

La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
View into Chapelle Royale
View into Chapelle Royale
Salon d'Hercule ceiling
Salon d’Hercule ceiling
Salon de Vénus ceiling
Salon de Vénus ceiling
Salon de Mercure
Salon de Mercure
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors

We then went to sit in the gardens in the scorching sunshine. As I said earlier, you could spend a whole day in the gardens so we didn’t even scratch the surface. Nevertheless, what we did see was beautiful. At this time of year, the palace has it’s Musical Fountain displays, which I would have really liked to have seen. For another time.

South Parterre
South Parterre
Orangery Parterre
Orangery Parterre
Latona's Fountain & Parterre looking down towards the Great Lawn, Apollo's Fountain and the Grand Canal
Latona’s Fountain & Parterre looking down towards the Great Lawn, Apollo’s Fountain and the Grand Canal

Definitely somewhere I would like to visit again, I highly recommend the Palace of Versailles. But suggest you leave plenty of time to explore and potentially stay closer than we did!

Not wanting to carry our bags all the way around the palace, we had left them at the hostel (not realising they do actually have a baggage hold there). This meant we needed to return to the hostel from Versailles before jumping back on the metro to Gare du Nord.

It was terribly stressful in our fatigued states but we made it to the station with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, there were huge delays on the Eurostar and we ended up standing for an hour in queues waiting for the train to be ready. It has seriously made me question using the Eurostar again, despite its convenience and cost.

Nevertheless, despite the not so happy ending to our holiday, we left feeling like we’d had the best long weekend of our lives. Paris, we will be back!

This is Part 3, read Part 1 here or Part 2 here.

 

Paris 2 – Sightseeing along the Seine

This is Part 2, to read Part 1 click here.

On our second day, we decided to visit Notre Dame. Unfortunately, my sister really was not very well so we decided not to wait in the queues to go inside but continue on to find a river cruise along the Seine.

 

Making it to the western tip of Ile de la Cité, we jumped on one of Vedettes du Pont Neuf cruise ships. For €14, it was definitely value for money as we were taken on an hour cruise along the Seine. Our guide, dressed as a French maid, pointed out various landmarks and attractions providing the history alongside.

Padlocks at Pont Neuf
Padlocks at Pont Neuf

We were introduced to The Louvre with its more than 35,000 works on display at any one time and the Musée d’Orsay, where an impressionist exhibition was taking place.

The Louvre
The Louvre
Musée d'Orsay
Musée d’Orsay

We passed the Palais Bourbon with its classical colonnade added by Napoleon, which sits across from the Place de la Concorde where Louis XVI was executed.

Palais Bourbon with Eiffel Tower in the background
Palais Bourbon with Eiffel Tower in the background

As well as the classic Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais and many, many bridges.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower
Pont Alexandre III with Eiffel Tower in the background
Pont Alexandre III with Eiffel Tower in the background
Nymphs of the River Seine on the Pont Alexandre III
Nymphs of the River Seine on the Pont Alexandre III

Of course, there were also some incredible views of Notre Dame as we passed back around the island.

 

Despite minor sun stroke, we were very pleased with our short tour of the main Parisian attractions – they have all been added to the bucket list!

Our energy wavering, we headed for some lunch, coming across the quaint restaurant Frou Frou. Unfortunately, our French is pretty much none existent, so ordering was a little confused but the food was incredible. It may even have been my favourite meal of the holiday. Traditionally French with duck perfectly seasoned and a dip that I could die for. Needless to say, I was very impressed.

My sister was struggling with being unwell so we headed back to the hostel for a nap before venturing out again that evening. We headed out to see what was nearby to our hostel and found a delicious Tex-Mex restaurant called Indiana café. Now, I’m no expert on the whole cultural appropriation concept, but using Native American Indian masks as decoration didn’t sit right with me. Yet, morals aside, the food was tasty and we left feeling very content.

Indiana Cafe
Indiana Cafe

Deciding a little wander was needed to walk off our Burgers, we explored the area a little more. However, we soon were confronted with a homeless shelter and a lot of men in terrible conditions asking us for money.  It was quite horrible to see but an unfortunate reality of many cities. At least there was a shelter for them.

Wishing to get back to our room now, we hurried through the streets and crashed for the evening.

This is Part 2, to read Part 1 click here.

 

Paris 1 – Wandering the streets on Bastille Day

After a day breather from Wales, it was immediately on to celebrate my sister turning 21 in Paris. We took the 7.01am Eurostar from St Pancreas, arriving a Gare du Nord at 10.26am local time.  Unable to sleep on the train as it was so cold (like seriously, take at least 10 blankets. I had goose pimples!) we headed straight to our hostel, the FIAP Jean Monnet.

Navigating the metro system in Paris certainly was an experience – they have opening windows underground! With the help of google maps we managed to locate our hostel and the route we needed to take. Check in time wasn’t technically until 2pm but we were allowed immediately into our tiny room.

Everything was clean and tidy but the lack of air conditioning in the 27˚C+ heat was a little uncomfortable. Evenings were definitely noisy, especially on the Saturday night and the area was slightly more on the dodgy side in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris. The breakfast was a disappointment – we did not attempt it again. Nevertheless, for £67 a night, we couldn’t complain.

After a quick nap to recharge the batteries, we wandered through the streets of Paris to the Eiffel Tower. A nice three mile walk, it was perfect for fully taking in the atmosphere of Paris and exploring some areas we might not otherwise have done.

Graffiti artwork on our walk to the Eiffel Tower
Graffiti artwork on our walk to the Eiffel Tower

It was Bastille Day, France’s national day, and we spotted the dregs of the Bastille Day Parade travelling through the city. There was a fantastic feeling of patriotism, especially as we neared the Eiffel Tower where the evening celebrations would take place.

Before setting off, we stopped for a bite to eat at this Café/Restaurant called Fourteen and got our first taste of Paris. We sat outside in the earlier afternoon sun as our waitress ran across to the bakery across the road to retrieve our fresh baguettes. You really can’t get better than that!

On our journey we passed many beautiful buildings, including the Church of Saint-François-Xavier and the Hotel les Invalides.

Church of Saint-François-Xavier
Church of Saint-François-Xavier

The Hotel les Invalides is a collection of buildings all relating to France’s military history. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the tombs of some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte.

Hotel les Invalides
Hotel les Invalides

As we had approached from the southern side, we were unable to enter into the complex, which is only accessible (to our knowledge) from the northern side. Something for next time!

Finally, we arrived at the Eiffel Tower. We could not get too close as everything was fenced off for the concert and fireworks taking place that evening. Nevertheless, we found a spot to sit and wait as the crowds teamed in and the orchestra practised for a night of opera.

The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower

Our stomachs starting to rumble, we decided to get some tea. Wandering down the Avenue de la Motte-Picquet we found Le Bouquet de Grenelle. Looking perfectly tacky, the food here was nothing to scream about but the serving staff made our night. They were attentive the entire evening and a little bit of flirt goes a long way! I don’t think we stopped laughing.

A few glasses of wine down and the clock only just hitting 8pm, we decided to forgo the fireworks and head back to the hostel. We were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

Girl’s Trip – exploring Anglesey Part 2

This is Part 2, read Part 1 here.

Day 3 presented us with grey skies and drizzle. Thankfully, we were all feeling the need for a rest day. The worst of the rain was waited out “playing” snooker in the games room, reading and doing jigsaws. Because, yes, we are all old ladies.

View of Beaumaris Pier
Beaumaris Pier

Yet, a chilled morning gave us chance to book our cruise to Puffin Island in order to spot, you guessed it, some puffins! Our plans for the next day sorted, we headed into the pretty seaside town of Beaumaris where we had a lovely meal at the George and Dragon.

View from Beaumaris Pier
View from Beaumaris Pier

Wandering the streets, we window shopped and admired the multi-coloured houses along the seafront. Eventually making it to the pier where I remember crabbing with my Dad and sister many many years ago, we were mesmerised by the hundreds of jellyfish floating past. We must have spent an hour spotting the Lion’s Maine jellyfish as they floated past.

Colourful houses of Beaumaris
Colourful houses of Beaumaris

Luckily, we arrived back at the car just before it started to rain. Upon our return to Henllys, we continued to enjoy the games room and taught a couple of our friends how to play chess on the giant outdoor board. We made full use of the swimming pool, sauna and steam room again that evening.

Looking out from back of the boat
Looking out from back of the boat

The next day was once again a little miserable but we had booked onto the Puffin Island boat trip at 11am, something we’d been saying we needed to do since day 1. I would highly recommend the Seacoast Safaris. Their skipper was informative and intent on giving us the chance to see some Puffins – even circling out to sea in chase of these tiny birds.

Puffin Island
Puffin Island

We learnt some of the history of Anglesey and the Menai Strait, but the main focus was the many seabirds living on Puffin Island. From Cormorant to Kittiwake, the island was teaming and we almost ticked off our check list. Upon reaching the island, the boat slowed so we could squint to see the seabirds – scanning for any puffins. In doing so, we caught a glimpse of a seal resting below the rocks.

Puffin in the sea
Can you spot him?

You could sense the passion of the skipper as he meandered out to sea spotting puffins flying above and bobbing on the surface. We must have seen about twenty or more! Definitely impressed. Returning to the shore, we were all a little frozen so warmed up back at the apartment before playing some more chess and board games. A lovely last full day.

Trwyn Du Lighthouse
Trwyn Du Lighthouse

Our actual last day was spent playing more chess and board games before the long journey home. The sun had decided to join us again making for a beautiful departing view and even an ice cream once we were in Chester! All in all, a wonderful holiday spent with my best friends in a beautiful place.

View from HPB Henllys
View from HPB Henllys
HPB Henllys
HPB Henllys
View from HPB Henllys
View from HPB Henllys

This is Part 2, read Part 1 here.