Madrid, Part 3 (with a bit of an irrelevant ramble up the top)

HI! I still exist, despite having been very much off the social-media-radar for a little while. Turns out going to work the day after 36 hours in transit does not induce the best feelings in the world nor does it provide motivation for doing much other than sleeping… But we survived a full week back at work after what felt like just stepping off the plane and being back at our desks. I am finally getting back into the swing of things! Work has taken all of my energy, so personal life goals achieved this week have extended from ‘doing a load of washing’ and ‘buying a glass slide for the guitar I have borrowed from my friend down the road even though I have no idea how to use glass slides’, as well as ‘reading the 400-and-something bloglovin updates that were waiting patiently for me to log in again’.

But I digress… Onto more exciting things… Like an overdue recap of Madrid Part 3!

Madrid

For years my favourite restaurant was a very popular Spanish restaurant in Haymarket, Sydney, called ‘Encasa’… In fact writing ‘my favourite restaurant was’ in the past tense almost breaks my heart. I think this has to go down as my forever favourite restaurant.  I think I spent both my 16th and 17th birthdays there with my friends (because I was obviously a very cool 17 year old), I’ve used it as a great first date location, pre-theatre snacks, as well as many family dinners. Basically, any excuse to go to Encasa I will take. So. To say I was excited about experiencing real Spanish food in Spain is a huge understatement.

Madrid did not disappoint in the way of tapas. We shared an amazing patatas bravas, chorizos, pinchos morunos and of course croquetas galore – the croquetas were definitely a favourite, and something I had never had in my Australian tapas experiences. However, despite how much I just raved about loving tapas, that’s not what I’m here to discuss.

The surprise culinary highlight in Madrid for us was a trip to the oldest restaurant in the world. What? Did I just type ‘the oldest restaurant in the world’? Yes, yes I did. It’s incredible. Still standing having been built in 1725, Restaurante de Botin is a bit of a Madrid-ian hotspot for a good reason. The ovens they use today are the original ovens… Which to put into a comprehensible context for someone like me, means that people have been eating food from the same ovens since before Captain Cook even came to Australia so it’s a pretty long time ago. If sharing in an oven that is older than something you study in year 3 history class is not a reason to go there then I don’t know what is.

The restaurant itself is gorgeous, winding wooden staircases, stylish and rustic and old-fashioned all at once. It was packed, so take heed that you absolutely need to make a booking if you want to eat here, had such a vibrant atmosphere as waiters in meticulous aprons and suits flitted about taking orders and serving the hugest most amazing dishes of suckling pig I have ever seen. Being their specialty, we couldn’t turn it down and the three of us each ordered our own serve of suckling pig which turned out to be way too much food. Once again (this seems to be a running theme in my life?) I was too hungry to take photos, but I can assure you, it was really delicious. Please google image search ‘restaurante Botin’ immediately, you will not be disappointed. Am I disappointed in my lack of photos of the entire experience? Absolutely. Of course, the only thing to do after stuffing yourself with tender juicy pork is obviously to continue the feast back at your hotel with a variety of flavoured ice creams and great conversation. So eat ice cream and converse we did!

The following morning we sadly farewell-ed our wonderful host and spent the morning being miserable about saying goodbye, our misery intensifying further when we also couldn’t find a good place for churros. The Museo del Prado sorted us out though, you can’t stay grumpy at life for long when you’re confronted with a collection of some of the greatest art of all time. The Prado was one of the most incredible galleries I have ever experienced. We were on a bit of a time-limit so could only spend an hour there, but managed to squeeze in a whole bundle of sensational works, the highlight for me being Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights which I could easily have spent all day staring at.

Madrid

Goya

We’d love to go back to the Prado some day and spend a full day there – to do it properly and with the attention it deserves, you would literally need 8 hours there exploring. One day!

Our last stop in Madrid was to the famous Mercado de San Miguel, a hub of gastronomy and a big Madrid highlight for me.  We well and truly spent the last of our Euros in the aisles, trying everything from an assortment of tapas, olives and meats to oysters and desserts. The markets themselves are impressive but the food is a whole other level of amazing. The markets reminded me of a less cold and rainy version of the Borough Markets in London, but with the same, excited pulse of people happy to be snacking away and buying beautiful fresh produce.

Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San MIguel

Mercado de San Miguel

<< We had several of these, wanting to try different varieties, and they were like a party in your mouth I tell you. >>

<< We also had a few of these guys which varied in deliciousness. Not really knowing what we were in for, there was a pleasant surprise or two, although I think they had been sitting out for awhile and perhaps weren’t the freshest. But let’s blame that on the 34 degree heat… >>

The Mercado de San Miguel is a must-do for anyone heading to Madrid. Whether you’re a food-lover or not, it’s a great place to spend time checking out the food, taking refuge from the sun and soaking in the Spanish culture. We stocked up on a few treats and headed to the Parque del Retiro to share them. You could probably walk, but given our impending flight we jumped in a cab, excited to enjoy our picnic overlooking this majestic situation.

Had it not been so hot we would have used our time here to really see as much of the popular park as we could, but we opted this time to sit in the shade and do some people watching for awhile whilst enjoying our ridiculously expensive but super delicious Iberico ham and other bits and pieces.

iberico ham

Deliciousness

<<I promise he isn’t pregnant here. Unless you consider our passports to be children in which case, he was pregnant with 4 >>

And with that we found our way to the airport, jumped on a plane, and landed in freezing cold and stormy weather after three blissful days speaking Spanish, eating beautiful good and doing a lot of chatting and laughing with our dear friend. Did I mention we are the luckiest people in the universe? We can’t think our host and his family enough for getting us there, treating us to such a wonderful experience and allowing me to finally spend some time in a Spanish-speaking country after years of labouring over Spanish textbooks and a period of refusing to watch any movie that wasn’t dubbed/subtitled in Spanish. Let’s just say I can sing a fairly significant repertoire of Disney songs in Spanish now…

Madrid hasn’t heard the last of us… We will be back, hopefully sooner rather than later. Madrid goes down as one of my favourite places ever, for sure por cierto (see what I did there?) 😉

Madrid… Part 2!

Aranjuez

One day I promise I’ll go somewhere cool and manage to post about it in one part. We just squeeze so much in, plus I take about three million photos of everything, so narrowing it down is impossible! I’m sure you know the feeling…

Which brings me to a miniature post on…

The Royal Palace of Aranjuez! One of the (many) benefit(s) of being with Blake is his ability to find bizarre and often unpopular things to do which end up being completely amazing and so much cooler than the normal tourist trail. He did not let me down in terms of Obscure-Adventures in his decision to book us a train out to Aranjuez to visit the Royal Palace. It takes about an hour each way on the train, so we totally understand why it isn’t the hottest tourist destination in Madrid, but boy it was one I’d recommend to anyone travelling to Madrid, even if just for three days like us.

Aranjuez^^ Hashtag no filter, hashtag amazing, etc! ^^

Although Madrid is filled with palaces, the Royal Palace of Aranjuez is one of the few that still operates as a residence for the royal family, which makes it feel pretty special wandering through the halls. The beauty of this majestic place is highlighted by the fact that there were hardly any other people there, so we were literally tiptoeing through the King’s humble abode like we weren’t supposed to be there, or something! It was a lot of fun, and of course absolutely stunning and lavish on the inside. Room upon room upon room of beautiful furniture, carpets, walls and such vibrant and bright colours which was a nice surprise. We got an audio guide (recommended by Blake if you don’t speak Spanish, recommended by me if your Spanish has a few missing words, royal jargon is not something I ever specifically learnt I must say) and spent a good two hours meandering through the halls.

The surrounding area is beautiful  too – there seems to be a vastness to Aranjuez. Maybe it was just the weather but it felt quite arid and dry, but in a pleasant way. I couldn’t get over the wide open spaces and long, empty corridors that seemed to fill the town. Living in a studio apartment, catching the tube to work and generally existing in London you are constantly battling for a metre of space to yourself. You queue for everything, all the time, no matter what, and forget about it if you can’t handle crowds because as I learnt pretty quickly, you’re in one constantly. Aranjeuz is the opposite.

It also helps that the sun bounces off every surface and the beautiful pinks of the architecture in the area are contrasted perfectly with what happened to be a stunning clear blue sky. I tell you, we have someone out there looking over us weather-wise when we travel. Cheers whoever you are, we love you!

Aranjuez

Aranjuez

Aranjuez

Aranjuez

We spent a good ten minutes debating whether or not to have lunch in Aranjuez but decided against it, knowing that we probably needed to have some TAPAS {yummmmmmmmmmmmmmm!} considering we were in Madrid and a sandwich just wasn’t going to cut it thank you very much. So we jumped back on the train and back into central Madrid and we were so hungry that I didn’t even take any photos of our incredible tapas lunch.
Also, this is the kind of incredible view you get on the train trip back. Even if you don’t make it to Aranjuez, jump on a train and see some of Spain’s landscape. Completely amazing. True story, a lot of Western films were made in Spain. It really looks like Mexican dessert! It’s fantastic. I’ll be the first to admit it, these are not the best quality photographs you’ll see today, but gives you something of an idea of what you can expect to see on the journey out to Aranjuez.

So there we have Madrid part 2… Part 3 will bring you a decadent selection of photos from our experience at the Spanish food markets, a trip to the Prado and a picnic lunch spent people-watching in the Retiro park. But for now, I’m off to Birmingham to go and see James Taylor sing and I’m pretty happy about that too….!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

Madrid – Part 1

Hello – apologies for the radio silence, it has been a huge few weeks over here after very sad news about one of Blake’s best friends and someone who was also very dear to my heart who recently passed away. It has been hard few weeks, grieving for our dear friend and dealing with such a loss from so far away. We have been trying to share our best and funniest stories and memories of Brett, praying for him and his family and keeping him and his spirit in our thoughts as always. He was a good man and his passing is certainly being felt amongst his friends and family. I’ve got a post planned to talk about the wonderful, genuine man that he was, as well as a little bit of information about the illness that he suffered from that needs to be spoken about more, but I need a few weeks to work on that one…

So for now, I’ll keep things lighter and share Part One of a recent last-minute adventure we took to Madrid for the August long-weekend, because basically we are the luckiest humans on the planet!!!! Landing in Madrid was yet another reminder of what a brilliant idea it was to move over here. London to Madrid in 2 hours? Yes please!

Spain

One of our beloved family-friends from Australia is currently in Madrid rehearsing the cast and band of the Spanish production of ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’. We were planning to pop over and visit him at some stage whilst he was there but weren’t sure when we would be able to make it happen. To our great surprise and excitement, our friends very generously offered to fly us over as an engagement present (again, are we not the luckiest people on the planet?!) and we got to spend the weekend chatting and laughing, exploring Madrid and catching up.

Considering I have spent many an hour in the classroom learning Spanish, I was also pretty pumped to spend some time in a Spanish-speaking country, although I was a little scared I had lost a lot of vocab after a couple of years of no longer studying it… I brushed up the days leading up to our departure and thankfully although I was a little rusty at first I got back into it pretty quickly and managed to more or less freely converse with everyone we came into contact with across the three days.

Our first stop after landing was at the Nuevo Teatro Alcalá, to meet our friend and watch his Priscilla rehearsals for a couple of hours. It was bizarre walking into a rehearsal room with everyone speaking and singing in Spanish, with huge kookaburra props being wheleed in and out, references to Darwin and Uluru… Spain and Australia juxtaposed in a pretty crazy way! After rehearsal Blake and I waited for a little while in an empty room with a piano and a score… I was in heaven. Sadly my piano skills have not stood the test of time, but I clunked my way through a couple of songs before we departed for the afternoon.

After a bit of a grocery shop (did you know it is really hard to find cordial in Madrid? Fun fact.), we headed to his apartment and hung out there catching up on our respective lives and hearing about his take on Spain so far. After a little while Blake and I walked across to the National Library of Spain to have a wander and get a feel for the city.

Madrid

Madrid

We came across a series of incredible series of sculptures and monuments. The sun was blazing hot, 31+ degrees, and there wasn’t much escape from the heat out here so we flitted around and took some photos before seeking refuge in the nearby library.

Madrid

Madrid

Madrid

Madrid

Our immediate impressions of Madrid were that it felt like a cross between Rome and London, with the best bits of both and without the worst bits! The streets are wide and ornately decorated but they feel safe, free of clutter and chaos. It is well-kept and space is nicely manicured, yet it doesn’t feel clinical or boring at all. There is interesting architecture between beautiful old Spanish buildings, lots of greenery and trees and it feels old and important. It’s quite a majestic city, but not in your face at all… We felt entirely comfortable walking around without a map and not really sure of where we were most of the time.

Madrid

Madrid

We were pretty tired from a 5am departure and a big day so spent the evening chatting and catching up with family, dining from the local sushi place…. mmmmm good sushi… A strange London thing we’ve noticed is that it’s quite hard to find delicious sushi. Who knew, Madrid trumps London for sushi.

The next morning Blake and I headed out early into central Madrid in search of authentic churros before jumping on a train out to the edge of the city to visit a royal palace. The metro system in Madrid is almost exactly the same as the tube, and we were amazed at the lack of people and ability to get a seat. Another plus for Madrid!

Beautiful alleyways are plentiful in Madrid, often with second hand book stalls, little old ladies selling knick knacks and people taking photos. Blake navigated us towards the famous Chocolatería San Ginés where we enjoyed incredible churros, chocolate and coffee. And Blake bought a postcard (?!).

Chocolateria Madrid

Churros

I bring you poor quality iPhone photos of aforementioned churros…

churros

churros

After churros-ing to our hearts content we headed out to the fantastic Aranjuez, but that’s a story for the next blog post…

A wee trip to Scotland

On the back of our Italian adventure we visited Scotland to drop off Gran for the next few weeks, to see Blake and Courtney’s family and to spend a little time amongst the Scots, because, why not! In the true style of us, people who seem to attract chaos and peril in general, we were dangerously close to missing our flight from Venice. Having stayed up until very late the previous evening excitedly chatting to Courtney and alerting a small handful of family members about our engagement, we were completely exhausted and the added stress of an almost-missed flight was not great. That ride to the airport and manic sprint once we arrived is something of a haze now… But we drowned our sorrows in airport hotdogs and all was right again.

We were greeted at the airport by family I had only ever heard about second-hand and immediately knew they were basically the nicest people in history, so it was nice to know we’d be spending the next few days with them!

B and I had been to Edinburgh previously, but during Fringe-Fest season which is certainly not the most authentic Scottish experience… Roads closed, streets literally overflowing with the thousands of people who come to see shows, it’s intense and kind of overwhelming so we immediately breathed a sigh of relief at the quiet streets and peacefulness that oozes through Scotland. Edinburgh is gorgeous, and one day I hope to go there when I’m not completely exhausted so that I can really, truly enjoy it. Edinburgh is a great place. Edinburgh is like a quieter version of the most beautiful streets in London, and it’s also cheaper which is a bonus.

One one overcast (but still beautiful!) afternoon the three of us had brekkie in Edinburgh, also managed to fit in high tea at Jenner’s, did some Primark shopping including a strawberry shower cap and saw this very interesting, highly recommended Australian film at the Edinburgh Intl Film Festival, and got stupidly lost and almost killed on probably the busiest highway in Edinburgh. No worries. This is us in the depths of despair not sure how to get ourselves out of a mess. The smiles are deceiving people…

primarkhat

Needless to say we survived the ordeal, but the lesson I took away is that Courtney trumps Blake when it comes to google maps in future 😉 {NB this will definitely cause an argument, hehehe}

Blake and I were staying in a separate hotel due to lack of bed space with family, so the following morning after surviving the highway situation and a giant hotel breakfast of black pudding, eggs, beans, bacon and more {yowzaz!} the two of us set out on a little adventure to a nearby attraction, Almond Valley , set within the beautiful countryside of Livingstone. If ever there was a time where I thought ‘This would be a great place to bring future kids!’, it was at Almond Valley. What a brilliant set up! There was a little train (which of course we rode…), a fake-mine, interactive activities, beautiful old stone buildings with all sorts of things to explore inside, donkeys, the whole shebang. I enjoyed it as an adult but boy oh boy the bairns of Livingstone must surely go mental for this place.

I may be proud of myself for totally getting a handle on understanding thick Scottish accents without even a squint, but names like this are beyond me. So cool!

Scottish Oil
After learning way more than I expected to about mining (?!) we met up with family again and headed to Glasgow for the afternoon where we had lunch, wandered around, and Courtney and I managed to squeeze in a shellac mani thank you very much. After all, if one is going to wear a sparkly engagement ring, one must have lovely nails for the inevitable ‘let’s see your ring! let’s see your ring!’ questions.

After a fantastic dinner with these folk, we had another early night as we were all still recovering from a huge few weeks of Italian gallivanting.

The next way we headed to Loch Lomond, the inspiration for this little ditty. It was a beautiful drive through true Scottish countryside, I didn’t take any photos because I was half asleep (me being tired/sleepy seems to be a running theme in today’s post! Turns out Italy is tiring!) but I can assure you, it’s something everyone should see. Loch Lomond itself is beautiful too. We ate sandwiches on some benches, wandered through some cute markets and admired the view for awhile. There’s something about standing in front of a Scottish loch that pictures and words really don’t do justice. It’s pretty magical.

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

A slow drive back called for some castle-viewing, small-town-stopping including a visit to an all year Christmas shop, and finally a delicious dinner with friends which I did not photograph, in fact I didn’t pull the camera out very much at all in our brief Scottish trip… I will once more blame exhaustion.

The trip was not so much about doing things as it was spending time with family, and for Blake to see the places he has grown up hearing about. What an amazing thing for Blake and Courtney to be able to experience together, with their family and with me tagging along too… Thanks guys! Scotland, we will be back. Maybe even for Christmas!

Venice… Part 2… The proposal!

The next portion of Venice is now something of a blur, but in the very best way.

In some kind of sorcery, the sun came out that afternoon after having bucketed down for hours earlier. Blake and I set out for the evening to have dinner and a wander around just the two of us, in the newly gleaming sun. There seemed to be a peace in Venice that afternoon, not everyone had emerged yet after the torrential rain earlier in the day and it seemed quiet, like there was a secret being kept. We stopped for drinks at a little wine bar sitting against the Grand Canal, watching the token Gondolieri taking couples, tour groups and families out for gondola rides whilst sipping on a Spritz (me!) and a beer (not me!) and shoo-ing away pigeons which seemed more plentiful than people. We chatted and laughed, enjoyed the view before selecting a Gondolieri and Gondolier for a tour of the smaller canals, the back-alleys of Venice.

Venice

It felt like a dream slowly paddling through the water. We passed some incredible sights, aptly pointed out by our guide, as Marco Polo’s home, Cassanova’s home, the oldest building in Venice, and more. The water was still and you could hear faint chatter and laughter every now and then when passing an open window, but other than that there was a sense of still and quiet.

Blake started to say some lovely things to me, which was not exactly out of character but it seemed like a slightly odd moment to be launching into professing his love when there was so much history around us. Feeling a little awkward, I tried to change the subject and pointed out a nice building I could see (…it was nice okay!!! #spoiledthemoment), but Blake was not having any of it and dismissed my observation with a firm nod, before continuing with his lilting prose. Suddenly it hit me… Is he… Where is this going…….… so I sat back and listened and took in every word he said. Before I knew it he pulled out a beautiful ring and asked me to marry him. Many happy tears ensued! After sharing a few words back and forth and putting on the most beautiful ring I have ever seen, I sunk into his arms and we embraced for the rest of the gondola ride… which seemed to go way too quickly. We disembarked, thanked our gondolieri (who I don’t think had realised what had happened as he looked mighty confused), and stumbled off hand in hand, not sure what to do next.

<< Engaged! Weeeeeee!>>

Of course within a minute of wandering we came across this glorious shirt, perhaps a forewarning?

<< HILARIOUS joke, Universe. >>

Unsure what to do next in our roles as fiancees, we kind of just wandered for a little while smiling and being excited about stuff. I stopped for gelato, because what else does one do when one promises one’s self to another for all eternity, and the gelato was delicious so it worked out nicely.

We had a drink in an adorable little alleyway, took more pictures and spent a lot of time smiling and googly-eye-ing each other like gigantic dweebs.

All google-d out, we took it upon ourselves to find a restaurant that a friend had recommended, but decided to do so with minimal help from a map so it really involved about two hours of aimless wandering and chatting, and was really good fun, and we found ourselves at St Mark’s square which was a bit of a bonus.

St Mark's Square

<< Blake did this really nice thing when we were standing looking at the square, I turned facing away from it and hugged him, his eyes suddenly lit up, he covered my eyes with his hands and spun me around and revealed St Mark’s lit up…. Like he had just done it for me…! Such good timing, whoever times the lighting of the square – it was craaaaaazy romantic>>

In our excited/happy stupor we eventually made it to La Mascareta where we shared an incredible carpaccio plate, and two mains (one of which was delicious, one of which was not) as well as a bottle of wine and lots more smiling.

In yet another twist of fate as we walked back towards the water bus at St Mark’s, we happened upon a beautiful hotel from which we could hear jazz playing and an Italian voice crooning into the night. Having had one of our first and most memorable dates at a jazz club (and many more since), we couldn’t turn it down. What we wandered into was honestly one of the most ridiculous and incredible hours of my life. The hotel was stunning – ornate, embellished, everything seemed to be dripping in class, and as we walked into the cocktail bar and sat near the piano, our new fave Italian jazz singer Tiziano Zanella of course started singing ‘I Love You Just the Way You Are’. Two sidecars and many jazz standards later we walked away with his albums and even huger smiles on our faces than before.

With one final taxi trip back in the crisp, 1am Venetian air, we journeyed back to the apartment to get ready to share our news with our families. It was one of the best nights of my life.

Venice… Part 1!

Hello blog! I’m alive! I’m going to have to start strapping myself to our desk in order to get these posts out, because it’s now coming up to TWO MONTHS since we left for Italy and I’m only just on Venice. Luckily, we are currently saving like crazy for an impeding investment that I can’t talk about yet but it is really awesome and will be worth all the weekends we’re walking around instead of catching the tube, and spending only 4 pounds per meal for the both of us… The point is, not being able to spend much money means more time spent at home writing posts! So not all bad.

So! Venice!

Venice

Although our journey from Rome to Venice was slightly traumatic as per Blake’s post a few weeks back, we it was nice to be greeted by gorgeous weather and the fact that Venice is a fascinating and stunning place. It probably sounds ridiculous, but I had never really considered that Venice literally has no roads… There are no cars… ‘Of course you fool! It’s Venice!’ I hear you say, but I honestly thought there must be SOME roads somewhere… not so. The place is definitely built on water. So there you go.

Venice has a beauty to it that is unlike the beauty of Rome. It is gritty and sometimes  a little rundown, with many buildings along the main canal with a visible layer of mould creeping up from the water. When normally mould would make me run screaming, it somehow adds to the beauty and the uniqueness of Venice. It takes a little getting used to in terms of getting around and figuring out the layout, it also doesn’t help that a lot of the areas look fairly similar so if, like me, you landmark yourself by the general look of a place, you’ll definitely get lost in Venice. Again, that’s part of the beauty of it.

Venice

We stayed in Cannaregio, about a 5 minute walk from the Grand canal strip, and a 15-20 minute water taxi journey into the main tourist areas (seen above!). Generally this was a great idea, as we had access to some great restaurants and cafes that weren’t priced for tourists and weren’t packed with people, either. We did have one dud, which involved me fighting with our waiter over a badly cooked lobster and a sneaky double-price on our bill, but that’s another story.

Once again, we were graced with fabulous weather so Courtz and I got to wear our sun hats… Needless to say since returning to the UK, my sunhat has not spent any time in the sun.

VeniceVenice Rialto Bridge

It was incredible boating up and down, watching people go about their days on the water and checking out the incredible buildings, often with mosaics and gorgeous tiling lining the walls.

Venice

Courtney, Blake and I went to the Palazzo Ducale, the Doge’s Palace, which has an insanely long and luxurious history that is way too long for me to go into. But basically, it was gorgeous, and everyone should go there. We arrived at around 4pm and had a couple of hours before it closed, but there were very few people around and it felt like quite an intimate experience, which was nice after the hectic nature of Rome.

Some photos!

Venice

VeniceVeniceVenice

<< FYI, this is what most of the main squares in Cannaregio look like, so don’t use them as a point of reference. >>

VeniceVenice<< So many adorable gondolas!>>

IMG_Venice
Our next full day was slightly more miserable weather (aka it was pouring with rain for most of the day) but we didn’t let it stop us and started with a trip to St Mark’s Basilica which of course was amazing, and of course I didn’t take a single photo. We spent a bit of time boating up and down again, which is an experience in itself.

Venice

After a few slices of pizza at a local pizzeria we headed to the Palazzo Mocenigo, one of the highlight events of our trip. This incredible collection includes hundreds of historical costumes and fabrics, as well as a very impressive perfume collection. Normally this wouldn’t be my style but it was laid out beautifully and really evoked life as a Venetian in the Victorian era.

<< The building was filled with these magnificent glass chandeliers which I am convinced I will one day have in my life >>

Blake then took the below series of photos of the costumed mannequins that completely terrify me yet I also love, so, here you go.

And with that, we parted ways for the evening, dropping Courtney back at Cannaregio and getting changed just in time for the sun to come out, and Blake and I  headed out on what was to be a very special evening…

Rome… Part 3!

Trastevere

We were lucky enough to be in Rome whilst Pope Francis was in town (he is often away over the Summer) so couldn’t pass up an opportunity to head back to the Vatican on our last full day in Rome and see Il Papa in action. The weather continued to be glorious but also very, very warm, but we braved the crowds and the sun and stood in St. Peter’s square waiting for his arrival and for the blessing to commence.

St Peter's square

No matter what you believe, there is something so deeply sacred and humbling about standing amongst a crowd of people, a true mixture of life from tourists to locals selling paraphenalia to nuns and religious groups from all parts of the world. It was a blast and a very exciting moment to see him appear in the window very far away, but there nonetheless. Of course we couldn’t really understand much of what was being said but it’s safe to say we all enjoyed a spiritual moment standing there together.

Pope Francis

^^ You can barely see him, but he’s there, I promise! ^^

We recovered in a nearby cafe with gelato, coffee and paninis before heading out on our next adventure, to the Colosseum and Forum.

Rome tip:  Buy your Forum/Colosseum tickets and print in advance if you can, as once again it saves you from a huge line which in the July sun can be unpleasant. We were once enough able to walk straight in and were verrrrrrry pleased about it.

Colosseum

Obviously, Il Colosseo is a mindblowing place. It’s very easy to sit and imagine gladiator fights and lions roaming, which is precisely what we did for a good 30 minutes. You can book guided tours which allow you to roam through the section at the base, otherwise you can just walk around the outside. If you’re a Colosseum fanatic I’d recommend the guided tour but doing our own thing was perfect for us to take our own pace and sit and rest for a little while in one of the world’s most iconic buildings and an incredible piece of history.

IMG_3474

il colosseo

coliseum_montage

Il Colosseo

We headed back outside to grab some lunch, which we foolishly did from a vendor right outside the entrance. Rule Number 1 of Rome is never, ever settle for the touristey food. After we had paid almost 30 euros for three panini and three bottles of coke, we took it up a nearby staircase and ate overlooking the Colosseum to our right and the Forum to our left. Not a bad view, but definitely don’t rate the very average panini.

Next stop, the Roman Forum!
Roman forum

Roman forum

^^ This had to be the highlight of Rome for me. I mean look at it! Absolutely amazing.^^

Roman Forum
We were still quite hot and conscious of the heat not slowing up anytime soon, so took it fairly easy meandering through and finding our own path within the many options to explore Il Foro. This seemed like a really special experience, as there weren’t nearly as many people as there were in the Colosseum, and it felt like you had it to yourself in a strange way.

Roman forum

Roman forum

For dinner we took a taxi to Trastevere, where I had heard some great restaurants were to be found, and we went to another brilliant recommendation from a friend-of-a-friend.

Rome Tip: Go to Trastevere. Just do it. Trastevere is beautiful. It’s lively and fun but feels intimate and perhaps more authentically ‘Italian’ than some other areas in central Rome. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars, lots to do and see and great shopping. I honestly could have spent hours wandering through the cobblestone streets here.

Trastevere

^^ Look at that window-to-window clothes line! Too good. ^^

We ate at La Scala in Trastevere, which  turned out to be the source of one of the most amazing meals I have ever eaten in my life…. But it just so happens that it was Blake’s meal, not mine… Sorry Blake! All of our dishes were fantastic, but Blake’s hit the ball out of the park. Unfortunately this happens regularly, B seems to have a knack for ordering delicious things and then Courtney and I get food envy and end up eating most of his. Does this happen to anyone else..?! Surely. Courtney had the spaghetti carbonara, I had fresh pasta from Apulia with bacon, asparagus and sheep milk cheese, and the winner of the day was the gnocchi with black truffle and smoked provola cheese which I am still dreaming about today…

^^ Argh… That truffle! That smoked provola cheese! Be still my heart… ^^

After dinner we took a wander through more of Trastevere, Courtney bought some beautiful glass jewellery before we all squeezed ourselves back into a cab and jumped into bed.

Trastevere

Rome… Part 2

^^ Those pinks and reds everywhere, I tell ya, we are doing something wrong London/Sydney ^^

On our second full day in Rome, we awoke to  Gran feeling a little less exuberant. We thought it best to have a house-call doctor come to the apartment and give us their opinion on what we didn’t know at the time was a fractured rib. Task one for the day was putting my terrible Italian to the test… Somehow I successfully navigated the conversation to arrange him to come over, which he did after a few hours during which time we tidied up, chatted with Gran and picked up some groceries from our local supermarket. The doctor wanted Gran to have some scans done, so the group decision was that Blake would accompany her to a local medical centre to have her checked out. Courtney and I were sent off with everyone’s blessings to continue with the original plans for the day (as we had already booked our four tickets!).

So, we jumped in a taxi and made our way into central Rome to where we thought we were meeting the tour group (the Trevi Fountation) – not so, upon arriving at Trevi we realised it was actually a different fountain… the name of which is of course currently escaping me… but luckily weren’t too far away. It was already scorching hot, and we were definitely happy to stumble upon our fancy, airconditioned tour bus ready to drive us around on a Dark Rome tour of some of Rome’s Catacombs and the Basilica San Clemente.  Normally tour groups aren’t really my jam, I much prefer the idea of doing my own thing and having the freedom to wander as we please, but in this instance it was perfect for the day and perfect for us as we could just sit back, relax and learn all about what we were about to see. The tour guides were lovely and total brainiacs when it came to Roman history and general knowledge. At 60 Euros a head it was a little pricier than what we were used to spending on the trip, it really was worth it.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos within the catacombs, crypts or basilica because photography is not allowed in sacred places, and I didn’t want to be disrespectful (unlike some people in our tour group who I am still shaking my head at). But let me give you my word that the Catacombs are well worth a visit. Rome is incredible in that it is literally layer upon layer upon layer. The roads are crazy and the public transport is no where near as sophisticated as it could be, purely because it is too difficult to excavate land due to who knows what lying beneath our feet. The Catacombs are a perfect example of this, as you can wander through underground streets and houses of Rome that once saw the light of day, but have literally been buried by other buildings over time. If there ever was a time to use my favourite word that I learnt in year 11 English, it would be whilst in Rome. Palimpsest. Boom.

After finishing up our tour in the incredible Capuchin crypt which really has to be seen to be believed, we met Blake at a nearby cafe to digest both our respective days, and some fresh mozzarella and tomato sandwiches. Did I mention espressos? Because we had plenty of those. Next up we decided to take a wander through central Rome to the Vittoriano monument that Blake had spotted previously.

Sitting at this monument was one of those incredible travelling moments that you just wish you could relive every day after coming back. I’m not even sure what it was about it that drew me in but since returning I’ve thought about these fifteen minutes we spent there daily. The building itself is amazing of course, completely over the top to the point that it’s even a little garish, yet that’s what makes it so completely amazing. The sun was just starting to set and casting an incredible warm red onto everything the light touched. Courtney and I chatted and laughed whilst Blake and I alternated taking a bunch of photos…

^^ I feel like this one captures these two perfectly… 🙂 ^^

Next up called for a general wander in the direction of dinner because it had been almost a full 24 hours since we had last consumed pizza/pasta of any kind and that is just not on.

Upon recommendation from my lovely grandparents, we strategically walked through Piazza Navona at dusk, as people had easels out and were painting out in the square. There was some pretty incredible stuff going on artistically, and it was lovely to stand for a moment and take the place in. There are plenty of restaurants in the area which I’m sure are delicious but are definitely overpriced. In terms of food in Piazza Navona, the key is absolutely to just find a little side alley branching off and walk for a few minutes until you’re out of the tourist hub, where the real deal begins.


Walking through the alleyways surrounding Piazza Navona was like walking through a movie. The cobblestone streets, the higglety pigglety signs, doors and windows lining the buildings and the noise of laughter and chatter as people ate and toasted glasses of wine together. Yet another Awesome Travelling Moment that I’ll look back on fondly.

For dinner we totally struck gold and took the advice of a friend of a friend who had recommended ‘La Focaccia‘ restaurant on Via della Pace. This place was amazing. Your typical badly-lit indoor Italian kitchen but truly amazing food. We shared a carpaccio and ‘fritti’ (a Roman classic) and also had our own separate pasta dishes and I wish we had gone back here because it was really that delicious. It was extremely well-priced, great service, a fantastic atmosphere and I can’t recommend checking it out highly enough. It is not fancy or pretentious by any means, and was described to us as a go-to, which is exactly what it was. Reliable and delicious. This was my second favourite meal in Rome (the best meal was the following day and I CAN’T WAIT TO DISCUSS IT).

Everything was fresh and perfectly cooked. Two interesting food things we noticed on the trip.. Al dente really means al dente. We now cook pasta/spaghetti for a shorter time than we ever did before because the texture was quite different to the texture you’d get at any good restaurant over here. Also, red wine is often served cold! There you go.

And to round off a wonderful, delicious second day in Rome, here’s some pics of our food. Why not.
^^ Carpaccio ^^

^^ I fritti (Fried/crumbed vegetables)… SO GOOD! ^^

A message from Blake!

 

Hello, I’m Blake!  I’ve never posted anything on this blog before but I’m Jemima’s partner, ah hem… Fiancé!  Jemima and I recently returned from a whirlwind tour of Rome, Venice and Scotland, during which I popped the question on a gondola in Venice (very romantic).  We were travelling with my grandmother and sister and seeing as it was a bit of a family affair I thought I’d write a little intro and provide a backdrop to our trip.  What can I say……  It was perfect, every single moment in time we spent during that trip was a perfect moment in life to be cherished, I wouldn’t change a thing and it couldn’t have gone better…….

……..not exactly.

Ok so my grandmother Wilma (who, incidentally, I love very much) is 76 and perhaps we didn’t quite consider how uneven the roads in Rome actually are.  On our first night in Rome, after a delicious authentic pizza and pasta meal, my poor grandmother took a tumble and fell into the curb, raising the concern of  some passing Italian locals who I quickly ushered away.  The next day Gran was feeling fine (or so she said) and all four of us had an amazing day out at the Vatican which I’m sure Jemima will elaborate on further.  The day after that, however, she wasn’t feeling as spritely.  Jemima organised a house-call doctor to visit and a very lovely Italian gentleman came to assess her.  He was of the opinion that we should get some scans and tests to make sure everything was ok.  We had already booked a tour of the Catacombs for that day, so Jemima and my sister Courtney went off and enjoyed that for the day which I accompanied my Grandmother to a very nice little private hospital where they x-rayed and ultrasounded my Gran to find she had indeed fractured a rib.  Bed rest was ordered by the doctor.  So I guess that was the first little stumbling block, poor Gran was trapped indoors for most of the trip whilst Courtney, Jemima and myself did our best to see as much of Rome as we could.

Incidentally, we did a fair job of it as I’m sure Jemima will confirm.  The Coliseum, The Forum, some great Italian dinners and a trip to the 1942 Worlds Fair (which I dragged poor Mimey along to).  When we left Rome and transferred to Venice, however, a series of misadventures would follow that would test the patience of all of us.

Firstly, I was pick-pocketed at the Rome train station, I can’t really explain how it happened but a young woman was distracting me while another man took about 10 euros out of my hand as I was paying for lunch.  Then my dear sister (who is Type One Diabetic) experienced a hypo on the train.  Luckily we picked up on that one early and got some coke and food into her quickly to avert danger.  Meanwhile Jemima started to mention that something was stuck in her eye, at first we thought it was a bit of dust and would pass, more on than to follow.

Upon arriving in Venice we discovered that in terms of uneven surfaces Rome is a flat concrete car park compared with the ornate patchwork that is the streets of Venice, topped off with little bridges to test the strength and stamina of my darling fiancé-to-be who was lumping both her and my grandmothers’ bags from the water bus to our hotel room.  Once we had settled into the room it was evident that something, albeit small, was firmly lodged in Jemima’s eye.  We attempted to dislodge with some eye wash from the local chemist but it was having no effect and concerned about it causing further irritation or infection I decided we should go to the nearest hospital to have it removed.

My sister, Jemima and I walked about 40 mins to the hospital, which was nice enough but of course would involve a long wait.  So I accompanied my sister back to the hotel with the view to return to my darling Jemima to wait with her at the hospital until she was called.  “I’ll be back within the hour, I promise” I said to her as I kissed her on the forehead and left her in the waiting room of the hospital.  My sister and I returned to the area of Venice where our hotel room was, to find that at night time it all looked a little different.  Also at the same time all the alleyways and streets looked exactly the same.  It wasn’t long before we realised we were lost.

At the time I didn’t think we had the full address on hand (although I realised later I did), the people who rented us the room were not answering their phone and my grandmother at home was unable to give directions. At this point I think I sunk into a kind of madness as I ran around the alleyways and streets desperately trying to recognise a door or a street sign.  My sister and I were lost, desperate and getting quite upset.  Eventually my grandmother made it downstairs on her walking stick and walked into a main street where I eventually found her.  By the time I finally made it back to Jemima at the hospital it had been four hours.  Not too long after Jemima was called in and the doctors, after an initial misunderstanding about what the problem actually was, removed the offending black object from Jemima’s eye and affixed a very handsome looking eye patch to her face.  We walked back to the hotel in a kind of daze, and ate a kebab on the way home.  All in all, the rest of the holiday went mostly without further incident (except the washing machine flooding the living room at one point, and us being late to the airport when we left).  My sister, Jemima and I went on to see some pretty amazing sites in Venice.  St Marks Church, St Marks Square, The Doge’s Palace, the mansion of the Monsignors and of course Jemima and I took a fateful boat ride through the timeless canals of Venice.  After our engagement Jemima and I got lost in the alleyways, had an amazing dinner and topped it off with some cocktails (Sidecars, our trademark drink) in the Hotel Danieli while a very talented piano bar pianist played and sung ‘Just The Way You Are’.  It was truly magical.

A very brief update…

Well, we’ve returned to London from our whirlwind (truly, whirlwind…) trip to Italy and brief soiree in Scotland. We’ve also had a week of adventuring in London with the beautiful Courtney, which explains my radio silence on here. We’ve been back to work by day and enjoying C’s company by night and I am already missing that girl who makes me laugh so very much.

I have taken about seven million photos across the last few huge weeks and am slowly plowing through them all as well as finding the words to describe our best and worst moments from our trip. To summarise, we had our fair share of standard travelling disasters to the point where they weren’t standard travelling disasters and more like we had been cursed by something horrible somewhere out there, but also lots of incredible food, sights and plenty of laughter… and of course a proposal! Blake wants to get in on the next post to let you all know how some of our trip went down so I’ll leave that to him!

For now, though, I have recently joined Bloglovin, which should make it easier for some of you to follow our stories. You can follow by clicking on the link to the right of this page —>

Until next time, here’s our view of St Peter’s Square from the top of St Peter’s Basilica…

 

In Italy…

We got engaged!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We are both so happy and in love and I will post more about the engagement (and the trip itself!) in the next week or two… But it was romantic, perfect and I could not be happier.

Amsterdam – Blake’s 30th Part III

tulip field

We had one more day in the city before our tulip adventure which we spent paddle-boating on the canals, eating kassoufles from Febo, sampling the greatest chocolate milk I have ever and likely will ever have in my LIFE… Chocomel… and squeezing in a fantastic Indonesian meal at Aneka Rasa. We shared a meal and an apple pie at Winkel 43,which, I hate to proclaim yet another ‘best in my life’ within the space of two sentences, but it was truly the best apple pie I have ever had. Even Blake ate and enjoyed it, and he doesn’t even like apple pie. By the way, who doesn’t like apple pie? Madness.

We also managed to meet up with a highschool buddy and her college amiga and do some exploring with them too.

Which leads me to the main event which was our experience travelling to Haarlem, hiring bikes and riding aimlessly into the general direction of what we thought might be some tulip fields. I had never really done aimless exploring in a foreign place before. Usually I like to plan activities and directions in so much detail that it’s a bit scary, and I never, ever just go off without knowing where I am on a map. In this instance we did pull out google a couple of times, one of which was when we realised we had somehow gone in a complete circle and were actually riding on the same stretch we had already ridden but in the opposite direction, but we were pretty much just riding wherever the roads happened to take us and seeing where we landed. We did this for about 5 hours and it was unbelievable. We knew we wanted to eventually reach a place called ‘Lisse’ if we could which we had read was tulip-field-central but were prepared to not end up getting there and just enjoying the day out.

Here are some pics of our journey along the way.

Hey! A tulip field!

After a couple of hours of solid riding we stumbled upon a beautiful diner-esque restaurant. We had gone so far out of Amsterdam that signs and menus were no longer in English, and waiters didn’t assume you were tourists and address you in English. Consequently, we didn’t really know what we were ordering and kind of mumbled something about something… and to our great surprise and satisfaction were presented with this beast of a cheese and meat platter for lunch. It was unbelieeeeeevably good.

And lo and behold…. another tulip field!

When we realised we had actually made it to Lisse there was a great sense of accomplishment all-round. And then we set ourselves another challenge… visiting the Keukenhof gardens. We were exhausted and knew that visiting Europe’s largest garden was probably going to be a tiring experience but powered on and made it there and boy am I glad that we did.

Check these out! I had never seen anything like it. Firstly, there were literally thousands and thousands of people there. It felt like a theme park or Disneyland except everyone was there to see flowers which is kind of a bizarre thing. The flowers were stunning and the displays were amazing. I don’t even like flowers that much and I was enthralled! We were really lucky to see it as it is actually only open two months in every year.

More pics!

The variety of colours and the artistry in actually arranging the bulbs to grow in the way that they did was phenomenal. Because we were so tired we could only handle an hour or two in the park but if you haven’t cycled for 5 hours prior to arriving, you could easily spend a full day tiptoeing through the tulips. It rounded up our entire Dutch experience perfectly. Happy 30th birthday, B! xxx

Amsterdam – Blake’s 30th Part II

After the most luxurious/decadent meal of our lives we jumped on a flight across the channel to Amsterdam… I know, I know, what kind of a life are we leading in which eating at The Fat Duck and flying to Amsterdam occur in one day?! (A life on a really tight budget for months so that we can afford stuff like this, that’s what!) As it was just the two of us in this big ole country that we are calling home, no families to have dinner or celebrate his 30th birthday with, we decided to really do something nice. And nice things we did.

I. Love. Amsterdam. I would live there if I could!

We arrived quite late in Amsterdam and somehow navigated our way to our apartment with dubious instructions, just in time to go straight to sleep in order to conquer the following day. It was a lovely surprise waking up in our apartment and looking out the window to survey our neighbourhood. I was immediately struck by how beautiful Amsterdam is. We were lucky enough to have a rooftop terrace which we spent a bit of time on across our five days in Holland and although the view wasn’t a conventionally nice one, it’s a really great indication of what Amsterdam is like.

I had feared that it might be trashy or tacky given the reputation, and wasn’t prepared for how truly stunning and romantic it is. The endless canals are beautiful, with boats constantly streaming past, their passengers waving at passers by. We didn’t hire bikes in Amsterdam as we chose to do it all on foot, but it’s totally refreshing to see the majority of the city travelling by bike.  It’s a nice contrast to London which seems to be constantly packed with cars and buses and smoggy air. The air in Amsterdam felt clean and was so easy to take a huge gulp. It’s lovely to see all the bikes in all different shapes, colours and sizes – some with little baskets, most with milk crates attached, people really use them like you would a car, somehow manoevering home with bags of groceries and shopping and everything you could think of!

Our first task of the day was to find our way over to the museumplein and survey the crowds/queues and how much in advance we were going to have to line up for our intended activities. The lines were ridiculous, in case you’re wondering. Though being the Easter long-weekend, we expected as much. So we made a stop-off at the very cute Bagels & Beans for some… bagels… which were super delicious and fresh.

Next up was the Van Gosh museum which was brilliant. It’s a good idea to pre-purchase tickets to this if you can, but you’ll need to do so several weeks in advance. We ended up lining up for just over an hour in order to get in, but it was well worth it. I was blown away but the sheer number of works there. The exhibit traced his evolution as an artist, and although we accidentally followed it backwards, it was very well laid-out and felt like a very true insight into his life and work. Definitely a must-do for anyone, art-aficionado or not.

Sadly I didn’t get any photos there because I was way too engulfed in what was going on. But I DID get some photos of pancakes post-Van Gogh… #priorities

After yet another queue – which seemed to be a running theme across the weekend – we had some insaaaaaanely delicious pancakes at the aptly named Pancakes! cafe. Apple and bacon was my choice, and it was a good’un, whereas Blake stuck to a savoury cheese pancake. It’s a tiny little store packed with people and service wasn’t fast but after hours of queing and traversing the city we didn’t mind the opportunity to sit down for a little while.

We had been advised by several friends to take the Heineken brewery tour, which Blake was pretty excited about. The building no longer functions as a brewery but rather explains the process. It was a bit of a product placement experience and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between rooms filled with posters to rooms filled with not very much at all. It wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve done in my life, though it was quite interesting to see how the beer is made. There was also a hilarious ‘4D ride’ within the tour in which is always good fun. Overall the tour is worth it for a beer or a Heineken fanatic, but not being either of those I could have given it a miss and not felt too much regret.

Just to tie into another running theme – eating – we couldn’t resist trying the famous Dutch frites (chips with mayonnaise) which are available in little hole-in-the-wall stores dotted around the city. They were really very good…

Another sight we couldn’t skip was the Rijksmuseum, which we had purchased tickets for in advance. That was a great idea, definitely do that. With the main building having been closed since 2003 and reopening mid-2013, we got to see this Dutch national museum/gallery in its full glory. It has something like 8000 pieces of art and history on display and we barely scratched the surface before we heard the 10 minute warning of the museum’s closure. It had to be the most impressive museum I have ever been to. It is truly stunning. We saw so many marvelous things, paintings that I didn’t even know that I knew but recognised from various facets of life instantly. It is a really special place that I honestly think about daily and am so grateful to have been able to experience first-hand.


Oh yeah, and we had MORE pancakes at The Pancake Bakery, which was good, but not as good as Pancakes! Amsterdam.

<< Blake discovered the window from our little Eyewitness guide to Amsterdam which helped us out along the way. This was a very exciting moment for him. >>

Anyway, so that rounds up part one, there are so many more things to talk about that I’m just going to have to split it up for another post… Like how we cycled from Haarlem to the most insane tulip fields in the whole wide world…. Now that was amazing…

Disneyland Paris!

Celebrating Courtney’s birthday was always going to be a huge event. But it’s safe to say that for her most recent birthday we  outdid ourselves by jumping on the Eurostar from London St. Pancras to Disneyland Paris to spend 2.5 days eating and amusement riding…  and generally basking in the glory that is Disneyland Paris – French style!

The Eurostar in itself was a great experience. It’s pretty wild for people who are accustomed to 2 hour long train journeys not even taking you to another state in your home country (I could barely get from my parents’ home in the suburbs to the city in less than an hour!), let alone to another country… We had a nap, a hot chocolate, and before we knew it we had crossed the English Channel and were hurtling through the French countryside.

Upon arriving we were immediately greeted by excited children (most dressed as their favourite princess/character) and families, the faint smell of carnival food and the parks themselves in the distance. There may or may not have been a sing-a-long of part Of Your World whilst waiting for the bus. We jumped on a bus and headed to our hotel to check in and get rid of our bags so that we could enjoy a few hours at the Walt Disney Studios park.

We stayed at Disney’s Newport Bay Hotel, one of the official Disney hotels, which is truly decked out in Disney theme in every sense of the word. Because I am a fool, I didn’t get any pictures of our room or the interior of the hotel but you can take my word for it, it’s great. It feels like you are on the set of a 1930s Shirley Temple movie. Everything is wooden floorboards and beautiful white walls/door frames, red and gold tassels and cute little sailor hats. Although the weather was not particularly glorious, we didn’t care. We were at Disneyland Paris!

Newport Bay Hotel - looking pretty gloomy!


Walt Disney Studios ended up being slightly less exciting than what we were geared up for. It seemed to be stuck in the ‘80s, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing,  but there weren’t that many rides, nor people, it had a bit of a ghost-town feel to it. We went on Crusher’s Coaster (a Finding Nemo themed ride) as our first ride, which I had thought would be kid-friendly and lovely and slow…. but OH MY GOSH…. it was crazy! There was a lot of spinning, a  whole lot of being backwards and it generally made me regret having just had a coffee. But we did it! We spent about an hour wandering around, went on another ride or two, and then hit the Disneyland Park for the main event….

BOOM!

Maybe it was just because it was Christmas time and everything was Christmas themed, maybe because the sun was just setting, maybe because… you know… it was Disneyland… but there was so much excitement and a buzzing in the air, it was truly a magical feeling. Hoards of tired families with little ones in strollers yawned as they exited for the day, but we were just beginning. First stop, Space Mountain.

Is it crazy that the first rides we went on were really intense rollercoasters? Absolutely. Also, I lost my expensive Urban Outfitters hat that I had only christened THAT DAY in the depths of the abyss that is Space Mountain. Who wears a hat on a rollercoaster.. the answer is me. #regret. Anyway, so Space Mountain was really crazy and I think I had my eyes closed for most of the ride because I only remember seeing one thing which was a terrifying vortex of red lasers that made me really dizzy. As I screamed in terror, I silently prayed that we may come out of the experience alive and we did, sans hats, but we absolutely had to sit down for 15 minutes afterwards and recover.

We hit another two or three rides that evening before settling down in front of the Disney castle for the fireworks show… Frozen-themed! (NB. this was before Frozen had actually come out let alone taken over the universe in a barrage of youtube covers, so we didn’t really know what we were watching when a Snowman was projected onto the castle and Let It Go started playing, but retrospectively I know exactly what it was all about now)! The show was nothing short of spectacular. Incredible fireworks, water fountains timed perfectly, insanely beautiful video projection, it was my favourite part of Disneyland Paris and we indeed went back two more times to see it. And it was all multilingual! Half in French, half in English, with a few Christmas carols thrown in in Spanish/Italian/all sorts of different languages. Brill!

We had a buffet dinner that night at Walt’s Inventions Cafe, which was delicious. I also fulfilled a childhood dream courtesy of The Babysitter’s Super Special #1 ‘Baby-sitters on Board!’ in which I think it was Karen who wanted to meet Disney characters in a Disneyland restaurant… Photographic evidence:

The following morning we were really classy, you know, being in France and all, and stopped at the McDonalds just outside the park for some breakfast, which I think ended up being cheeseburgers because we missed the breakfast cut-off. We hit all the lands in Disneyland that day and rode some things twice (Peter Pan, Thunder Mountain, Indiana Jones…) as well as had a very fancy three course lunch at Walt’s American restaurant (can anyone say crème brulee that we couldn’t finish because we were so full from the amazing meal?!). I didn’t think I would be eating particularly well on my Disneyland experience but we managed to get a really gorgeous seafood buffet and three course meal in the mix. Not bad!

We did all the classic rides, It’s A Small World, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and even ended up on the kiddies Fairytale storybook rides on little boats. They ended up being my favourites for some reason… There was something so sweet about it. It helps that everything is in French which adds an extra level of sweetness! On one particular ride you slowly boat along a ‘river’ past various storybooks and little miniature models of those Disney stories… Magical.

I couldn’t get over how adorable everything being in French was.. Like this:

We had a minor mishap in which the ride Blake had been looking forward to (Michael Jackson’s ‘Captain Eo’) was closed (!) when we went to see it…. But the following day, we could all breathe easily, it was open again… There was also not a single person in the queue. Turns out an 80s nostalgic ‘4D’ film is not the most popular Disneyland attraction (It was actually pretty cool FYI):

Then there was that time that we went on the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride and Blake covered his face. I think that ride is designed for small children. Amazing. Additional photographic evidence in the front row:

We spent the last day picking up some Disney souvenirs, taking it easy and riding our last few favourite rides before heading back on the train to London. And that, my friends, was C’s birthday at Disneyland Paris.

 

Ireland Part III – Northern Ireland

It was a pretty crazy thing driving from Ireland to Northern Ireland. I was (and still am) fairly ignorant about the conflict and the history between the two, and couldn’t believe that one minute we were following speed limits in kilometres, seeing petrol stations advertising in Euros and having fun attempting to read the street signs in Gaelic, and the next thing we knew we had crossed into Northern Ireland and were operating in miles, pounds and strictly English. Very bizarre.

Our trusty hire car took us to the Premier Inn in Belfast, where we had about 5 minutes to go up to our room, slam my iPad (our equivalent of a DSLR) into a charger and head back down to commence our Black Cab tour of Belfast which had been recommended to us by the bride and groom from Part II of our Irish adventure, and was such a brilliant experience. Our driver, a lovely Northern Irelander named Joe, had a huge breadth of knowledge and was happy to answer any questions at all. We felt a little awkward about what questions we could ask (given the half-joking-but-we-couldn’t-quite-tell warning to wear a bullet proof vest in Belfast, and not to wear particular colours in particular streets) but Joe was really happy to answer whatever came his way. We never found out for sure whether he was on the Catholic or the Protestant side of the fence but he was fairly unbiased in terms of both his responses and the tour itself.

20140125-104556.jpg

Firstly, Belfast is beautiful. It reminded me of London, but more peaceful and spread out. After driving through the city with some great sights pointed out, we first stopped off on the Protestant side of the Peace Wall (which I will get to in a second!), parked the cab and stepped out for 45 mins of so of wandering around. Our guide showed us some of the more significant murals which have been painted onto the sides of houses. The area is adorned with union jacks, signs, the colours of their football teams, and it’s impossible not to feel slightly intimated by the passion and strength in beliefs.

20140125-104740.jpg

Some of the murals were quite intense, such as this one, with a gun pointing directly at a tall Catholic church, with a steeple just in view.

20140125-104953.jpg

Next we drove around to the Peace Line. It was built in 1969 and has been built up and extended over the year. It was built originally to stop violence by literally separating the two groups. They would often find ways to get around it and violence and deaths continued to occur, but the wall helped somewhat. The concept seems flawed to me; building a wall to separate two communities in order to promote peace? Something about that doesn’t quite sit right. But, it’s still incredible driving the length of this massive wall which has thousands and thousands of signatures and messages written across it. Blake and I signed our names too.

20140125-105047.jpg

Next we visited the Catholic side which noticeably less aggressive but still very much adorned with Irish flags, colours, signs and murals. We visited a memorial site, saw the headquarter’s where Blake’s grandfather’s football team began and learnt a lot about the area and its history.

20140125-105059.jpg

20140125-105336.jpg

I can’t recommend this tour enough. Joe dropped us off at a local pub for lunch, and we then walked through Belfast back to our hotel. Conveniently, ‘A Belfast Story’ had just been released and obviously we can’t be staying in Belfast and not see A Belfast Story, so we saw a late session at the local cinema. It had some terrible reviews, but I didn’t think it was too bad personally. It was interesting to get further insight into the history and community in the form of a film!

The only setback of the night was that even though it was about 11pm on a Saturday night when we left the cinema, there was nothing open, and we hadn’t had dinner. Woe! We wandered around looking for even a convenience store for a nutritious dinner of Doritos and salsa, or MAYBE even macaroni and cheese if we were lucky, but there was nothing anywhere in the vicinity. We did, however, find the Titanic quarter and took some photos of the fancy buildings, then went back to our hotel and ate dinner from the vending machine. Quite a different experience to the meals at Kilronan Castle the previous day!

We woke up early and left to head to Dublin (which we had to limit ourselves to 2 hours free time in due to wanting to make our flight back to London!). I would love to spend more time in Dublin as I’m sure there is a smorgasbord of amazing things to do there. But we had to pick just one, and upon recommendation from my grandparents we headed to Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells.

20140125-210525.jpg

The campus was stunning, and it was fascinating to see the book and learn about its history. The Long Room library was also very, very impressive. You know the bookshop that Belle frequents in Beauty and the Beast, and the bookshop guy comes swooping in on one of those cool ladders on wheels? Yep, I was imagining that and then had the ‘Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour bonjour bonjour!’ song in my head for the rest of the day. I’ve since seen The Long Room pop up on various blogs about amazing libraries (nerd alert) online several times since visiting, and it’s always a thrill (nerd alert) to see it mentioned.

20140125-210540.jpg

20140125-210749.jpg

And so ends our Irish Extravaganza. We’ll try to make it back at some stage whilst we’re living over here, I loved the experience so very much and can’t wait to see more of it. Although our list of countries we want to visit is growing faster than we can save (and we are moving into a new apartment soon!) so we’ll have to see…