Love In The Time Of Sheep Racing

Living on Sark comes with its challenges much like living on any island that isn’t a booming tourist destination or owned by some millionaire. One of the most challenging aspects of living on an island is by far the company. With little to do and even fewer people to surround yourself with, it’s hard to find your people and even harder to find a significant other.

I went to Sark single and with every intention of leaving a single lady but as it turns out I found myself doing the exact opposite. I have indeed found myself a man… And he is a pretty decent one at that.

I’m not one for cliché stories but the way in which we met is possibly my favourite story to tell. We bumped into each other (almost literally) one very drunken night after a weekend of sheep racing.

Now although sheep racing is exactly what it says on the tin I am going to delve just a little deeper in to this island past time. As it turns out this is the biggest fund-raising event of the year on Sark. It doesn’t sound like much but when you are stuck on a really (and I mean really) small island in the middle of the English Channel you have to become adventurous with these things.

Unfortunately for me I was working the majority of the weekend and sleeping during my breaks which looking back now probably wasn’t worth missing this remarkable event. No fear though, I have been treated to the story of how Derek won Alan £2.50 on more than one occasion. So sheep racing for those who are pictorially challenged is where you do your best to strap a teddy bear to a sheep and encourage it to run an obstacle course as fast as its four legs can carry it. I’m not even joking. Check Google images if you don’t believe me, unfortunately as I didn’t attend I don’t have any photos to prove it for myself. You win some and you lose some, it’s always a gamble but for those who don’t like to throw money at beats running there are plenty of other ways to be entertained. A well stocked bar for one is always a good place to start but there are fancy dress competitions as well as other typical fete themed fun stuff to enjoy too.

So what exactly was Alan, a physiotherapist from Stratford doing in Sark for a weekend of watching woolly wildlife race? Well, he didn’t come over from London specifically for this occasion, he was working on Guernsey and when living on the islands one has to just get involved with island life shenanigans!

I can assure you that I had not expected to meet a man on the dance floor, many a cider down and borderline drunk and I am sure that Alan hadn’t expected to meet such a diamond in the rough either (excuse the cheese… and the modesty). He has believe it or not said that I am a diamond more than once so technically these are his words not mine.

We met on the dance floor somewhere between the Rolling Stones and The Fray. It wasn’t love at first sight for me, he was wearing a cookie monster t-shirt and was getting far too emotional and in to the music than my drunken self could handle but for him apparently he couldn’t keep his eyes of me (or so I’m told), and apparently couldn’t resist my epic dance moves (thank you Rekorderlig) and my cattle whistling (thank you sibling rivalry). One cider obviously led to another and before you know it I was willing to hand out my number to any stranger brave and forward enough to ask for it.

Instantly regretting my decision I prayed to the universe to have put one digit in wrong but apparently even intoxicated I’m still capable of typing. In true ‘morning after the night before’ fashion I woke up with The Fear and prayed once again to the universe that the previous night hadn’t happened. Not only did I hand my phone number out to a complete stranger I also decided that outside the church and in front of the cemetery would be a fine place to have a wee. Forgive me God; I don’t know if this is a sin!

I hadn’t foreseen that four months later we would be living together in Bangor and planning a trip to Kenya for Christmas for him to meet the family. Don’t get me wrong, getting to this point hasn’t been easy but it’s been pretty incredible.

At first I was a little skeptic, he was laying on the cheese thick and was being quite intense from the get go so of course my sober mind was telling me that all he wants to do is chop me up in to little pieces and store me in his refrigerator. Turns out he just really liked my eyes and loved me from the very first moment he set his eyes on me. I thought this kind of thing only happened in movies but like most things in my world I end up having to swallow my words.

It has only been four months but what a glorious four months it has been. I still remain un-butchered and he continues to spoil me with weekends away as well as bacon sandwiches in bed (I should say that he’s a vegetarian!)

If Sark has taught me one thing, it’s that even though you are stuck on a very very small island in the middle of a sea you never know who you will meet or what opportunities will come your way. Not only have I met some of the coolest people who know how to live island life to the fullest but I’ve also met someone who I have begun to think I could spend the rest of my life with.

I once read that you never know what comes from a few seconds on insane bravery and it couldn’t be truer. Alan has shown me what it means to be loved and to love in return and it’s because of his few seconds of courage that I now know that even with all my sides of crazy I can be someone’s whole world.

It’s been a long time coming but feeling this happy has been worth the wait. I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again, never settle for anything less than extraordinary but most importantly never underestimate what travelling to unpopular and out-of-the-way places can do for you, more often than not it’s life changing. There really is nothing better than this in this world. True story.

Sleeping With Strangers In Saint Malo

AirBnB: Got to love it, got to hate it! Recently (or not so recently) I found myself actually in a love hate relationship with this new way of sleeping around the world. When it works, it’s really awesome and it’s such a great way to meet new people… when it doesn’t work it has you contemplating sleeping outside the station wearing all your clothes and sweating away on a train calling your sibling and asking her to bail you out of trouble… yet again!

So after Paris, plans somewhat changed and I found myself heading back to Saint Malo with nowhere to stay. With a trusty iPhone by my side I decided not to panic well too much anyway because I would surely find somewhere to stay on my AirBnB app. As it turns out I didn’t and even contacting and requesting to book every available space I was on the train with absolutely nowhere to stay.

When I arrived in Saint Malo I dressed myself in all my clothing, hid all my valuables on my person and prepared to camp outside the station until the next day where a new day meant that I would find somewhere to sleep! As it turns out I only half needed to panic. Thankfully one of the AirBnB folk got back to me with an available place to stay. There was only one small issue: it was his place and he was there.

Not one to abuse the help of strangers I jumped at the chance of having a roof over my head and prayed to the universe (I realise I do this a lot now) that he wasn’t a serial killer or some sort of traveller rapist. With very little money left to my name and very few hours left of patience and humour I jumped in to a taxi counted my pennies and spent the last of my phone battery messaging everyone I could think of the location of my whereabouts and the address of where I would be staying.

Things went from bad to worse… the house was under renovation and with only had one bedroom… this meant we would be sharing sleeping space. Again deciding that it was too late to back out now, I had no choice but to keep all my clothing on (if he was going to get me it was going to be after an epic fight with huge amounts of clothing) and crawl in to bed. In my mind I was drawing imaginary lines and telling myself that if his hands crept anywhere near that line I would be out and running as fast as my drag would let me. Unnecessary panic later my faith in humanity had been restored. He behaved and kept his hands to himself. Ok so he did sleep pretty much naked but his naked body stayed well away from the centre line and therefore well away from me. Phewie!

The next morning there was all the awkwardness of a walk of shame without any of the actual shame. With the help of sleep and daylight I decided that I couldn’t have picked a more innocent stranger to share sleeping space with and that actually in hindsight all my clothing was a little too extreme (I woke up a little more sweaty that I would have liked to and with no opportunity to have a shower). After a quick introduction to his parents… who I can imagine were a little happy to see him with an actual female we were in the car and on the way to town. He dropped me off somewhere out in the sticks but I found myself back to my station and very grateful to the kindness of strangers for taking me in and not killing me in my sleep.

AirBnB also came through for me once more and found me a better much nicer place to stay that was all mine (no sharing required). After finally feeling like life was all in order once more and with another adventure to add to my ever-growing list, I headed to the beach, picked up some cheese and baguette and enjoyed a leisurely walk in the rain. The weather stopping play, I decided against trekking to explore the old fort town s instead turned back around and took myself and my cheese home and parked myself in front of French SpongeBob Square Pants.

Although I have very little to report on Saint Malo itself I can assure you that I will be back. There was something so sweet about the people and the place: a sleepy French seaside village full of many characters and a little history too. The beach is pretty spectacular as well and if you have time then exploring around Dinard isn’t a bad idea. It may have been a stressful 72 hours but it was exactly what the doctor ordered after a very hectic few days in Paris.

Just a word of wisdom before I end… I’m not suggesting that everyone jump in to bed with strangers… It’s not the safest option and I got lucky. But saying this, don’t underestimate the kindness of strangers. Not everyone is out to kill and murder and kidnap, some just want to make sure that a lonely tired tourist has a good nights sleep somewhere warm and out of the rain. Thank you Carl, it was an absolute pleasure sharing sleeping space with you. You have restored my faith in humanity and I hope you enjoy New Zealand!

 

 

Sark Life

Recently I have found myself somewhat stranded on an island. Not quite a deserted one but if the Barclay brothers (co-owners of the Daily Telegraph) have their way then it could well be one some day. Before you get all excited about island life, I’m going to burst your bubble by saying that I’m on Sark, which can be located somewhere in the English Channel. Hardly the Bahamas or Caribbean or anywhere remotely exotic but still somewhere that I think should be included on an itinerary for the UK. I’m also hardly stranded here, only a Ferry ride away from Guernsey I can quite easily get on and off this island if work permitted. Sadly though this summer is all about working and not playing so I rarely have time for much other than sleep and sunbathing on the beach.

In terms of work… I have found myself breaking my vow and working in a hotel of all places. I thought Australia was the last time and I was quite adamant that it would be but sadly the student life has led to an unhealthy bank balance and I found myself contemplating whether selling organs to pay my rent was a good idea. I consequently decided that although I could get quite a lot of money for them, the after effects were just not worth it. I am therefore sucking it up for one more summer… but I am vowing that this will definitely be the last time. Fact.

Next year I will be working for some sort of publication… Hopefully. Even if it means camping out on the steps at NatGeo HQ and bothering them enough until they have no choice but to either consider me or have me arrested. When next summer rolls around do me a favour and remind me of this plan. I have decided that if all my follows are witness to this statement I will be more inclined to buy a tent and possibly even a gas stove. I may be camping on some building steps but at least I’ll be dry and not hungry.

Anyway as per usual I am digressing from my main point. Right now I am on Sark and this is all about the island life.

I’m actually not quite sure where to start, seeing as I have very little time for playing (thanks work) I find myself exploring the island bit by bit. I think for starters I should give you a little background knowledge and then go from there and see how that goes. I have a feeling this is going to turn in to another little series of blog posts because if I highlight it all in one go I will miss out some good things and there will be another long stretch of silence from me and I wouldn’t want you thinking the fishermen have kidnapped me and are holding me hostage.

For starters, Sark is only a short flight and ferry ride away from the UK so if you haven’t already been here I suggest that you take it in to consideration. If you own a boat, I hear it’s a great place for sailing too! The unique selling point of this island well in my book anyway is that there is no danger of being run over by a bus or even a car for that matter. There is no tarmac on any of the main roads here and the main mode of transport is horse and carriage or bicycle. If these two are too adventurous even for you, have no fear because the island is very small so you can walk just about anywhere worth visiting in under an hour, give or take a minute or two. There are one or two tractors that you need to avoid but other than that I would say that crossing the road here could be done without looking both ways. I know living life on the edge like you would not believe.

Also a fun fact for you, Sark has been designated as a Dark Sky Community and consequently the first dark island in the world. This is due to having no vehicles and no streetlights so no light pollution. FYI if you do plan on coming here bring a torch because walking home from the pub at night is slightly more hazardous than normal but do yourself a favour and stop and look up at the sky once in a while; the stars are almost as impressive as the Kenya night sky.

Anyway, as mentioned before, the Barclay Brothers are slowly but surely trying to take over this island. Once upon a time there were many hotels and now there are only two; one of which I work at. This has of course pissed off the locals and hasn’t done good things to Sark’s economy but I can’t help but see a little genius in the evil brothers plans. I have been here just over a month but already the beauty of Sark is hard to miss. The seawater may not be warm and the beaches far from pristine white sands but the views and the general setting alone are enough for me to want to join them. My family and I have always thought that owning an island would be the thing of the future so I’m definitely on board with the idea, and if there were an island to own Sark would certainly be some top island real estate.

Ok before anyone goes sharpening their pitchforks or filing some police reports all I am saying is that I don’t blame them. They have the money and sadly with money comes power so what do you expect? I do on the other hand hope for Sark’s sake that it doesn’t happen. The UK really does have a little slice of island paradise and it would be a shame for it not to be open to the public. There are also some really quirky characters that have lived here for years and it wouldn’t be the same without them. I actually don’t know much about the politics surrounding this but it’s always a topic of conversation so maybe one day I will return and do some more digging of my own and really uncover what goes on here. For now though I am going to keep my head down and just enjoy the rocky beaches and impressive views.

Speaking of views… I am in a slight quandary. Do I or do I not include Sark as a new country? Recently the UN has granted this little island it’s own country code and it does have it’s own parliament and laws so going by my rule book this would make country number 17. I say 17 because I have also been to Guernsey, which is in the same boat as Sark. I also feel that as I have considered England and Wales as separate then Sark and Guernsey should be no different. I’m definitely going to need an unbiased opinion on this so if any of you know of someone who carries the official rulebook to this kind of thing let me know. Similarly feel free to let me know what you think.

Until then I’m going to get back to my pebbly perch and chilled cider but I promise that once I am done baking myself in the sun I shall update you on the must dos and sees of this very strange but actually quite awesome little island.

My Kind Of Village

I never thought that visiting my Grandfather would actually end up being an enormous hoot. I expected early morning walks and endless amounts of tea and tales of way back when he was my age, I didn’t expect to find a little slice of gin heaven. It comes in the form of a pub and it’s tucked away down a not so main street in the little village of Woodbridge in Suffolk.

I know that many of you are going to be checking your maps and trying to work out where this place is or even wondering if gin is really worth the journey. I am here to assure you that you will not be disappointed.

Woodbridge doesn’t have just gin on offer. Fortunately for this little village it lies on the sea and we all know what goodness comes with salty waters. You guessed it: Boats and obviously fish.

Surprisingly large amounts of people are finding themselves quite literally stuck in the mud and living on houseboats in this small harbour. I can’t say that boat life is for me and if I were to do that I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the mud but it seems that real estate doesn’t always mean bricks, mortar and a small amount of land. If there were a place where I would swap the studio apartment for a canal boat then Woodbridge would probably be the place to be. Just over and hour and a half from London you are still very much within reach of the city but with the luxury of coast-life and the countryside.

If you find yourself in these muddy waters then take a walk along the waterfront and breathe in the sea air, there are so many boats of all shapes and sizes for you to be bored by and the scenery doesn’t disappoint either. If you fancy a little history lesson too, head to the Tide Mill (you can’t miss it… it’s a big white wooden building) and watch in awe at how waves help make flour. This isn’t as boring as it sounds, there is an art to milling and back in the day when there was no technology or heavy-duty machinery everything was made by hand and people had to get inventive. This particular mill was actually the last commercially working tide mill in the UK, which has now been restored to working order. There is quite a lot of history packed in to a building and the views out of the window are pretty awesome too. Just remember everything was made by hand and everything depended on the tides.

When you have milled and mulled over boats until your heart’s content, then casually stroll through the streets of Woodbridge. From old buildings housing pubs to colourful doors and water wells there is a lot to take in. Walk in and out of the alleyways and don’t forget to stop in for a beer here and there. My personal favourite watering holes are The Table for some awesome alfresco dining when the sun is shining, The Kings Head Inn because the building is the oldest in the town and worth a snoop around, The Anchor because although when we arrived it was more a working mans pub than a place where women go to drink they still pour a good pint. FYI women are welcome… we just so happened to be the only three in there! And last but by no means least The Angel is a definite stop spot, perhaps save it for last because you are going to need to dedicate many hours to get the full effect of how awesome this place is.

If you have read my post about Australia you will of course know that Grandma’s Bar in Sydney is my favourite pub in the whole world I am going to have to put The Angel as a very close second. With 150 different types of gin on offer this is literally my kind of heaven. The only thing I regret from my weekend is not having enough time to sample them all but collectively between us we managed to get through nine.

I actually don’t remember what most of them taste, I think that had something to do with our pub crawl but there were some awesome fruity flavours like blackcurrant and blueberry but the two that really stick out are Elephant Gin distilled in Germany and Mombasa Club distilled in London.

If you are big in to conservation, especially Elephant conservation then Elephant Gin is the drink for you. Proceeds from each bottle sold go to saving the species in Africa and every bottle that is distilled is dedicated to one Elephant in particular. The bottle I was drinking from and consequently finished was helping to save an Elephant called Nana. Rather fitting considering my grandmother was known to Nana by us all. Not only does this bottle of gin taste mighty fine but when you can drink and save wildlife in one go I am all for it. This I feel is an iconic drink for an iconic species and one I will be ordering from somewhere and stocking it on my shelf. It is after all in the name of conservation… I am doing it for the Elephants!

The Mombasa Club recipe dates back to the colonial days where they used to drink gin by the gallon in the era of the British Empire on the coast of Kenya. It has a very distinct flavour and one that definitely reminds me of home and definitely one I will find myself sipping anytime anywhere. For all of you non-gin drinkers out there I urge you to do a little alcohol explorations. If ever there were a gin to convert these two would be it.

Woodbridge may be a little village for the retired or eager seamen but it certainly doesn’t disappoint the young traveller either. Not only will I go back to spend some more time sipping tea out of mugs that remind me of my childhood and listening to my grandfather recount his youthful days I will certainly go back to complete the challenge of trying all of that gin. 150 gins in 150 Days or possibly even hours… who’s to say it’s impossible?

The Cure For Everything

Barely a stones throw away from Bangor, Beaumaris is a very sweet little fishing village that packs in an amazing view. I have often been tempted to trek across the Menai Strait marsh to go for an ice cream. Yes, I could swim there if the waters were warmer, it’s that close.

Unfortunately I’m not in the tropics so the sea has quite a chill to it but thankfully this is also the UK where public transportation functions the majority of the time. A short bus drive through the country lanes and sheep farms of Anglesey, Beaumaris is a place that you simply have to visit when in North Wales.

I have even searched high and low for some fun facts for you all. It’s not the best I have found as of yet but it will do. Pay attention, this could be useful when it comes to pub quiz trivia. So get that Wales guidebook out again and find the highlighters, I can guarantee that you will not want to drive past this town in too much of a hurry.

Biwmares as the Walians call it is home to one the most technically perfect castles in the UK. With it’s classic proportions and perfect symmetry it is quite a site. It even has its very own moat that is home to a swan or two. If I was a castle enthusiast, I am sure this would be considered castle porn. As I am not too familiar with castles I can’t be sure but from a fine-architecture enthusiasts point of view it is beautiful. If Edward I had actually finished it I know that it would be even more spectacular.

According to some other website, he was running out of money and the Scots were being very effective with their resistance to the English Monarch so his grip on Wales was slowly but surely slipping out of his hands. Long story short, he had to focus his attention elsewhere so the rest was left as quite literally history. It gets a little more technical with the extravagant plans of “walls within walls” and the high-techyness (not and actual word I know) of if too but I have a feeling that I could be boring you to sleep if I continue for much more. Apparently it also pissed of the locals who were forced to move to a nearby beach. Who would have thought a cool castle would be so an irritation?

Anyway Google it if you fancy some more information. I didn’t go in to the castle itself so I can’t tell you much more, I don’t think it would be very fair. It’s a pricey place in my opinion too but I think that’s because I continue to live on a very tight student budget!

You are probably thinking this isn’t much of a fun-fact, that’s because it isn’t really the fun-fact I had in mind. A little history has to be done when it comes to these things, especially when castles are involved, not all facts should be fun really.

The real fun fact of Beaumaris is actually to do with the name of the town. Beau Maris in French means ‘beautiful husbands’ so as you imagine people get quite confused as to why this small fishing village in named after good-looking people. The truth is, it’s a corruption of Beaux Marais, which means ‘beautiful marshes’, and of course this makes more sense. Edward I (the man who didn’t finish building the castle) was French-speaking which is why it is derived from the French language. And of course the Welsh being Welsh, they have named it Biwmares, which I think is just the Welsh world for Beaumaris (I’m still don’t know how to speak Welsh).

This small quaint fishing village in indeed quite beautiful and I guess it is quite marshy too so I can see where the inspiration came from. The views alone to the Snowdonia Mountains make the town a worthwhile place to visit. No denying it, the castle has it’s own beauty and dark story to it too but there is nothing more beautiful than snow-capped mountains down by the sea.

Obviously on a cloudy day these wont be visible so you have to put your order in for some sunshine with the weather Gods but even if it is cloudy there are other things that more than make up for it. As it is a fishing village you can entertain yourself with a spot of fishing off the pier, take a walk in the countryside, explore the Georgian architecture, grab a seafood lunch (highly recommended) or just have an ice cream.

You are probably thinking ice cream during winter is downright insanity but trust me. The Red Boat ice cream parlour isn’t famous for nothing. It’s all hand-made and with so much love you can actually taste it in the flavours. I couldn’t decide on which flavour so I went for the Mascarpone, strawberry and balsamic vinegar one only because apparently its their most famous?!? Anyway it was beyond delicious and I could have sat there all day just eating myself silly on the overly yummy goodness. Just looking at the chocolate one alone gave me diabetes but I imagined that it would be so worth it. After a delicious seafood lunch at the Pier House this was the dessert to beat all desserts. And it’s not expensive either, you would think that with the fame the ice cream would cost a fortune, it’s doesn’t. I would have paid much more for my scoop, well worth every penny of the £2.50.

Take it away in a cone or a cup and find a bench down by the waterfront and just sit. There is no better place to watch the world go by and to contemplate anything. With the calm sea, different shades of blue everywhere, the snow-capped mountains, and a little sunshine topped off with the orgasmic ice cream you are bound to forget any worries even for a short while.

The cure for everything isn’t just salt water anymore; it’s strawberries, sexy castles and of course stunning scenery as well. You also never know what could happen, you may be lucky enough to find your Beau Maris around town too. I have a lot of love for this beautiful marsh and you should too.

LlanfairPG (For Short)

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

It may look like I have just slammed my head down on the keyboard but I haven’t, I promise, although I came close to it. Trying to spell it alone was painful enough I couldn’t even begin to imagine saying it. I have developed a theory that pronouncing this ridiculous word is only possible if you are either A. Welsh or B. a genius. For those of you who can indeed say this with perfection, you deserve some sort of certificate; because I have tried and failed many a time therefore have decided it was high time to give up. This obviously long and complicated word is the name of a not so long and complicated town situated somewhere in the North of Wales along the Menai Strait. Look it up if you don’t believe me. I know you are wondering why someone in their right mind would name a town in such a way; it must be purely for the humour factor right? Give it a go for yourself… don’t you sound like an idiot and wouldn’t it make for light entertainment? The truth is, they weren’t looking for cheap laughs and it wasn’t trickery either. It was all just a ploy to get more tourists to visit this sleepy village packed with a little history. Speaking of history, Llanfair PG (for short) used to be called Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, which is, as you see, just as hard to pronounce. In the 19th century it was decided that this town deserved to be recognized so the only way to do it was to make the already overly complicated town name even more overly complicated. Please note, sometimes I can do even a little history. Their aim was to encourage tourists to the area and for once a crazy idea actually worked. By giving this town the famous and uber long consonant-mangling name and therefore an uber long station sign, they were on to a winner. The effect I like to imagine must have been something similar to throwing bread at a duck pond: feed them and they will come. Tourists (myself included) flocked (pun intended) from all over the world to get the much-needed cheesy photograph (no doubt a selfie) with the longest one-word place-name in Europe. You would think that with such a high number of tourists the town would be a booming metropolis of shops and sights and all things tourists like, I can assure you it isn’t. There is a shop and there are sights but these do not rank highly on anyone’s to do list. To give credit where credit is due, the shop might be of interest because as shops go it is the mac daddy of malls, but an hour or two is all you need to cross this place off your list. To this, I can testify. Only yesterday I found myself procrastinating, and doing my best to avoid any university work so I decided to go somewhere that was close and of course cheap. I have been to Llanfair PG before in all honesty but I only stopped for no more than 10 minutes. This time I thought I would give it the best part of 3 hours, a good amount of time to avoid work at all costs especially if I factored in the need for some well-earned sustenance, after all sightseeing is hungry work! Ok in all fairness, I did wait for the train for an hour which even I couldn’t justify but seeing as I spent at least and hour in the shop already I couldn’t think of anything else to do and I conveniently left my required reading at home. From bedding to crockery, model trains to tweed coats, whiskey to trinkets, you can walk away with everything including the kitchen sink and it is all conveniently laid out in one not so small shop. Let’s not go forgetting the standard knickknack souvenirs that you find in every tourist shop either! It has everything. Of all things I could have walked away with, my favourite thing that I found in the shop of all shops was this:

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I have in my hand the smallest bottle of scotch whiskey, and no I do not have giant hands. So not only does this small Welsh town have the longest one word place-name in Europe but it also has a collection of the smallest bottles of whiskey. And why not? Well, if you are going to hold a Guinness World Record, why stop at just one. I couldn’t agree more. When you have shopped your house and car full may I suggest taking a little walk, there are a couple of historical columns to climb up (it’s only 115 steps) with views that I can only imagine as dreamy. The one I am talking of in particular is the Marquess of Anglesey’s Column which commemorates Wellington’s right hand man in the 1815 battle of Waterloo; Henry William Paget. I know, yet more history, even I am starting to amaze myself! Unfortunately it was closed but I know the view can’t be anything less than incredible up there. If you have a look at http://olivingthedreamphotography.com you will see some of my photos. Ok so these roadside versions do not do it justice and the snow isn’t a permanent feature but you get the gist. Shame about the pylons though, but I guess you can’t have it all! These scenes of snow-capped mountains and sheep actually remind me of New Zealand. The longer I live here the more I am discovering why I find these grounds so familiar. New Zealand as you know is my home away from home so Wales is quickly becoming my home away from my home away from home. It took a while to work out that sentence, not going to lie. It is because of this that Wales, in my book, has become a forgotten part of the world. I have therefore vowed to myself to do the best I can to get it back on everyone’s maps, and what a better place to start than the town with two world records. So mark the town of Saint Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel near a rapid Whirlpool and the Church of Saint Tysilio near the Red Cave on your maps because with a name like that do you really need any other reason? From myths to mountains, world records to recorded worlds and more castles than you can count on two hands there is so much on offer in Wales that will whet absolutely anyone’s appetite. Get out those guidebooks and prepare to highlight the fun facts readers because this is just the start of my very own Epic Welsh Adventure.

Drunk In Love With Dublin

Sometime ago I decided to ignore my bank balance and book a ticket to Ireland for the weekend. Thankfully living right on the edge of Wales (almost) this ended up not being all that expensive. National Express usually has some good deals going and the trip is so easy, otherwise you can jump on the train or drive yourself.

I decided that I would try out the bus option, and aside for being slightly annoying at Holyhead with having to get off, walk through a building showing your passport and then get back on just to drive to the ferry to get off again it is actually quite convenient. They leave straight from Bangor so I was fortunate with that too but they leave from all major stations anyway, you may have to change a couple of times but regardless of where you are in the UK you can just as easily get to Dublin. Please note that if you decide to take the train you may have to change trains at some point a long the way too. I basically spent an hour or two looking for the cheapest option and the most convenient, National Express happened to be it.

Once on the ferry I found it hard to catch some Zs as I just so happen to choose the worst weather to travel in but it hasn’t been the worst ferry crossing I have done (remembering Zanzibar…. Bleurgh.) Once in Dublin I was not so lovingly picked up from the central coach station (it was rather early in the morning) and driven home. I say home but it actually wasn’t my home, luckily for me I do know some Irish people who were more than happy for me to stay with them but for those who aren’t as lucky as me there are so many hostels and hotels for you to stay in instead. Hostel world is my favourite, http://www.hostelworld.com/hostels/Dublin so check some out. Remember that if you are a student there are some good deals out there too so flash your cards at every possible opportunity.

After I had some breakfast, I was taken on a drive through the Wicklow Mountains National Park. Wow. I have to admit that I have been to some beautiful places but Wicklow definitely pleases any outdoor enthusiasts. Check out Glendalough as well, there is a sweet little café called the Glendalough Green that serves soups and cakes and tea (very important considering this was November in Ireland). Take a day to just walk around and explore. It really is breath-taking and the fresh mountain air is always good. If you fancy, there is a lake too that you can swim in. I imagine it to be bloody freezing but whatever floats your boat!
That night we hit the cinema and the pubs. A lovely evening spent in awesome company in a very cool city. Although I would never put going to the cinema on the top of my list, it was cool just being in Ireland. I have always had this sort of homesickness for that place even though I had never been there before.

The day next, feeling slightly more awake and ready to be the ultimate tourist I sat down with my friends and planned the best day of sightseeing that involved pretty much covering the whole of Dublin! My day started at the Guinness Storehouse, which was the best place to start, as it was one side of town so I figured I could finish on the other side. I would put aside a whole morning or afternoon for this, it is a huge building with much to see and do. If you go with friends perhaps take longer as the Gravity Bar up top has some wonderful views and of course the perfect pint of Guinness!
From here I just wondered and soaked up all the sights that Dublin has to offer. I definitely need to find something better to talk about but the architecture is just astonishing. Absolutely every building had some sort of character, be it a colourful door or a cool shape. Pay attention to the alleyways too, most of them were covered in awesome street art which is becoming another favourite of mine in cities these days.

Lunch was a rather long stop at the Tower Records, for those of you who don’t know Dublin, there is so much to see, do and listen too so why would lunch be any different? Here I was thinking just a quick bite to eat and I will be off again. The awesome band playing in the teeny tiny café put an end to that fairly quickly and I actually have them to blame for my lack of museum visits. Seriously ask the locals what’s what because without their valuable information you have no idea what you will be missing out on. You will not be disappointed, besides the Irish are very friendly so they are more than happy to help!
After my lengthy lunch I made my way up to the writer’s museum, I just had to do this considering I am aspiring to be a writer and studying most of the people featured in the museum. In all honesty for those with no interest in the subject of writing then I wouldn’t bother if I were you. It basically contains loads of writing about various poets and writers with not a lot else going on.
Save the time for some other museum, Dublin is full of them. From wax to a Whiskey to Natural History there are so many options and loads of family friendly ones too. My only suggestion would be to plan your time wisely, there is so much to do it would be such a shame to miss out on so much! As I live not too far away I plan on going back at every available opportunity so I have an excuse, for those of you who live further away it would be silly not to try to at least see everything!

From here I was all tired out, I had covered so much of the city I was about ready for a drink, and where better to go than the world-famous Temple Bar. If you want a touristy bar then this is it, but check out some others too as Dublin is pretty famous for their nightlife. As the rugby was on, I decided Temple Bar would be the place. It was full with so many people (Irish included) and they were serving Guinness and cider. Happy Days.
After the rugby I stuck around and ended up meeting the sponsors of the South African rugby team so as you can imagine I started off my evening having a jolly good time. Sadly it was time to leave to meet up with my friend again and join him for his version of a night out in Dublin. Aside from having to walk miles again I had an awesome night. Much cider was drunk and I met so many people who knew people I knew too. Such a small world! Anyway as you can imagine the details are foggy but I do recall having an absolute blast. When in Dublin you have to go out and meet the locals, listen out for the live music again because Ireland is harbouring some serious talent!

In my drunken haze I remember falling in love with Dublin, and reminiscing back now I don’t think it was the cider goggles at all. As cities go Dublin as everything I could ever wish for and more.
My last day, well afternoon (I had to sleep off my hangover) was spent walking around Trinity College. Such a beautiful campus, it actually made me feel like transferring. Sadly I am not clever enough to go there and I don’t think they do my degree anyway but if you get the opportunity I would definitely take a walk round. Some stunning buildings. Ask the locals as well about all the myths and what the buildings are for. There are some entertaining stories held within those walls!
To finish off it was a rather romantic stroll round Dublin castle in the twilight. The only thing that made it romantic was the lighting; the company I was in would cringe at me saying it was romantic. I’m pretty sure love stories were written within the vicinity of that castle though; Celia Ahern is after all from Dublin! I now know where she gets her inspiration.

A delicious dinner and a glass of orange juice completed my whirlwind weekend and I left feeling very sad to be saying goodbye. The real truth is that it’s not really goodbye and more of an I will see you later; I already have plans in my head to go back and spend much more time there.
Thank you Dublin for being the coolest city I have ever been too. It takes a lot for me to have favourites but you made it so easy, I am definitely still very much drunk in love with this city and can’t wait to go back to soak up more of what the Irish and Ireland have to offer. Dublin is just a small slice of a country that I know will be a highlight of my nomadic life.

To Bathe Or Not To Bathe

There is absolutely no question about this; you cannot bathe in the Roman Baths but people once used to. If you could indeed bathe like the good old days you definitely wouldn’t want to anyway, the water is a not so delicious shade of green and just think of all those naked bodies stewing in the warm waters. Eeks. All bathing aside though, these definitely warrant a visit.
I’m not going to rant on and on about the history of the baths or the surrounding buildings, you have Google for that, but I am going to tell you why you need to join the millions of viewers and get planning your trip.

Firstly if you have been paying attention and of course reading my previous blog posts you will know that I have a not so secret obsessive love for architecture. Bath does not disappoint so why would the Roman Baths be an exception? There is something to be said about the building, dating back quite a few years ago it has a lot of character plastered in to the walls and the stones would tell a good tale if they could talk. From the floor to the ceiling there are so many details to look at you will get dizzy trying to take them all in. Pay special attention to the ceiling in the ticket hall, be warned you neck will get sore but every sore muscle is so worth it.

If the architecture is of no interest to you, you need to rethink this but do not despair because the baths are more than just a beautiful building. Thanks to the audio guides that come in 8 different languages you can be as antisocial as you like! It also just happens to be quite amusing for children too so for the parents out there, be safe in the knowledge that it is definitely a family friendly affair. My personal preference was actually the children’s version of the history. I’m not a fan of just being spoken at in jargon I don’t understand so the child’s version suited me just fine. For those who would like to know each and every historical fact possible then of course there is enough signage and some boring history buff, actually I think it’s Bill Bryson chatting at you on the end of a phone. If that’s your kind of thing then you will not be disappointed, please not this is coming from someone who has no interest in learning history!

If you aren’t interested in neither the history nor the architecture then perhaps you might be in the wrong city! The whole point of Bath is the Roman Baths, if they weren’t so important then the town certainly wouldn’t be called Bath. I can assure you that even though you think you will be bored to tears you won’t. This building is like art, you have to search for what you enjoy but it really is exciting for everyone and I just know you will find something to entertain yourself with. If millions of people visit each year then just think of the people watching facilities but those numbers speak for themselves really! There are plenty of shops to traipse through and even some wishing pools dotted about the place as well. Perhaps you could toss a penny or two in the hopes that your wish for a speedy exit will come true but if 3 small children can be highly entertained for a couple of hours, I am sure you can brave it for a few minutes too. You simply can’t go to Bath without visiting the Baths; it’s almost a sacrilege.

When you have delighted in the waters until you can’t take anymore then feel free to pop in to The Pump Room for a delicious lunch. I didn’t actually sit down for a meal, because we had small children who had no desire to sit there for another hour or so but everything looked and smelled extremely delicious as we walked through. As a fun fact of the day, the water they serve if from the Baths themselves. I am hoping it’s not the green water that you see but from the springs instead. Apparently it contains 42 minerals and is believed to have healing powers, not bad for a glass of water really. They do various high teas, and offer children’s specials as well. If you would like lunch, book ahead because the restaurant always looked busy!

The opening times are quite decent but they do differ from season to season, so make sure you check these first before booking your trips. From what I can see on their ticket pricing you have a few options too. Buying early always saves a few pennies so it is never a bad idea to think ahead. Students also get the much enjoyed discounts so don’t forget to take any student ID cards that you will need. You don’t need much time to make you way around the whole building but plan to spend either a whole morning or afternoon there. I would also try to time it well with a visit to Bath Abbey (see previous post) as they are in the same area. The bus stop for the hop-on-hop-off buses also leaves from close by so you have that option as well.

Keep an eye out for any bargains when booking your hotel rooms or other activities; they do offer package deals and of course family deals too! If you go in summer, you may also be able to go on a later tour where the baths are lit up with torches. Dinner in The Pump Room followed by an evening wandering around a beautiful building really does sound like the perfect way to spend a summer’s evening, and what a city to be spending it in too!

Now that I have done all the major touristy things in Bath, I am really looking forward to heading back there to explore the more local side of such a great British city. Don’t worry; I shall do my best to always keep you posted.
In the meantime, get planning; Bath isn’t going to see itself you know!

The Beauty Of Bath

This is one guilty pleasure that I am not so ashamed to admit and I also know I am not the only one either but I just love the beauty of buildings. Pretty sure I should have been an architect or even a builder but I just can’t help but soak up the stories from the bricks and tiles used in constructing the buildings of our lives. Quite deep and philosophical but have a think about it, take for example an old church or listed building and breathe in the life of that one place, there is just something quite astonishing in the design, the structure and the method of how it was built. I am a big fan of wildlife, wild open spaces and nature but I definitely find the same appreciation for some man-made structures as well.

Bath in Somerset is my idea of building heaven. I have spent quite a lot of time in Bath and every time I go there I see something new, not a new building per se but a building that I hadn’t noticed before. A while ago now I was lucky enough to get the pleasure of jumping on one of those hop-on red buses that most English towns seem to have. Quite a nerdy way to spend a day but I was looking after my niece and nephew from the extended side of my family. They really wanted to go on a tour, for what I am not entirely sure but I am guessing that as they live in Kenya, English life and our concrete jungles are somewhat of a novelty. I know I was much more excited that the both of them put together but in my defence from a story or two up everything changes.

It’s no a surprise to me that Bath has been a World Heritage Site since 1987 largely due to it’s architecture. Fun fact of the day for you: it is the only city in its entirety in Britain to achieve World Heritage status (thanks Wikipedia). Quite impressive really, those statuses aren’t handed out like candy on Halloween, they take some work. A status that Bath is certainly well deserved of, from the high street shops, to the larger office and residential blocks to the Abbey and Roman Baths it does not disappoint. This is true architecture at it’s absolute finest, coming a close second to Budapest on my scale of love for cities.

Leaving out the nitty-gritty historical facts again here because I will only be stealing that information from online sources so I see no point. If you would like to know more Google will be much more useful to you but I will share with you some of my personal favourites and of course the most well-known buildings of the city. All of these can be seen on the bus tours, which run frequently and there are some options of types of tours that you can take. Tickets can be purchased just about anywhere but the best place to leave from is the stop near Bath Abbey. There is a large ticket office with maps and the standard touristy souvenirs for you to amuse yourself with and they have mountains of information too. They are really helpful and within a matter of minutes you can have a jam-packed schedule organised down to the last stop.

This is where my tour started from, but we paid a visit to Bath Abbey first. I am not a church-goer normally but a stunning building from the outside I couldn’t resist a sneak peek on the inside. Tours of the Abbey only happen at certain times of the day and all it costs is a tiny donation fee (exact information can be found here: http://www.bathabbey.org). As these tours only run at certain hours I would plan ahead so the levels of disappointment are kept to a minimum. You don’t have to spend long if you don’t want to, it may look big but in actual fact from the inside it isn’t as huge as you would imagine. Admittedly there is a lot to look at so if you are only there for a couple of minutes something went wrong. Take your time; soak it all up and read the given information too, the Abbey is so beautiful and such an impressive structure. I was in awe of all the finer details (check out the ceiling) and just the scale of the place, I went there purely for the architecture but for other people there is so much more to take from this. It is art in the truest sense of the word, take from it what you want but I will guarantee that no matter who you are you will find something that captures your attention. Please have a look at this link: http://olivingthedreamphotography.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/the-beauty-of-bath/ for some more of my photos. It’s all building and not much else but you get an idea of what I am going on about.

From here you meander around the city, the bus itself is just a big red bus (sorry the novelty has worn off for me) but with no roof it is ideal for sightseeing. Luckily as I went in the summer I was fortunate enough to be graced with sunshine, Bath is so beautiful that even in the rain you can still enjoy it though I am sure of this. The bus does have a covered base area but the top deck is the best place to get up close with the bricks and mortar so I recommend braving it if the elements are tolerable. As you drive around have a look at some of the houses, I don’t know what the buildings are called so I can’t tell which to look out for specifically but near the Jane Austen museum you will find quite a few that deserve your full attention, namely one that is covered in creepers, it can’t be missed. Don’t worry the audio guide will keep you informed at all times so nothing will be go past you unnoticed, this is also a much more interactive and exciting way to get all the history. Google is pretty cool but it definitely doesn’t beat running commentary. The tour goes on for a couple of hours but like I said there are some options. If you drive by somewhere you fancy spending some more time feel free to hop on and off, I think there may be restrictions on how many times you can do this and your ticket is only valid for 24 hours but you check out all the details here: http://visitbath.co.uk/things-to-do/tours-and-sightseeing, this site also gives you many other ways of getting round all of bath. Perhaps next time I go I will be looking for something more adventurous than a double-decker bus!

When you are done with the big red bus and have seen enough rooftops to satisfy your love for architecture then Bath is full to the brim of restaurants and bars. Finding a place that everyone will love won’t be an issue, the variety of choice is ridiculous and the settings are in their numbers too. I come from a family of chefs so I appreciate the finer dining and I was not disappointed, I guarantee that what ever you are looking for you will find it. Don’t settle for McDonald’s or KFC, it’s almost an insult to the city! If you aren’t sure where to go or don’t want to walk around searching then always ask the locals; they can maybe let you in to a little hidden gem. Just be aware that Bath is busy so it’s not a bad idea to plan ahead and book tables. Jamie Oliver does a good deli for those wanting a quick bite and there are plenty of good pie shops and sandwich bars around the main square. The ice cream and fudge around town is delicious too so same some space for dessert!

As with many British towns, the shopping is always a prominent aspect, with all the typical high street brands and even some not so well-known shops around every corner. The shopaholic among us will definitely find some amusement a long the main streets somewhere but don’t just stick to the main streets, if you head on out-of-town and keep your eyes out a long those roads, the shops get quite quirky but you are bound to find a few treasures among them. If shopping is not your thing then grab and ice cream, find a bench and watch the craziness of Bath unfold. From the man who has an unhealthy love for pigeons to painted models pretending to be statues you will be entertained for hours watching the world go by. As towns go Bath is really bizarre but in my opinion that just adds to its beauty.

Before you exhaust yourself completely with all things the city has to offer save some energy and excitement for the Roman Baths. I should really have mentioned this first but as they are such a big part of Bath I thought that I would give them the honour of a separate post. I won’t say much as I don’t want to spoil the surprise but just keep them in mind. They rock my world in so many ways from the audio to the architecture, you find yourself spending absolutely ages in there without even noticing! The tour itself seems endless but their beauty and charm is endless too. In my opinion they are definitely the icing on top of an already pretty delicious cake! (Excuse the cheese; architecture has that effect on me). I know there is so much more to see and do and I have missed out some important places as well, namely the Jane Austen Museum, but I will definitely be returning there again soon so if you aren’t sold on the city yet don’t worry there is definitely a lot more places to explore, don’t give up just yet.

 

All Rocked Out

I haven’t been air guitar-ing away at some cheesy rock concert with men who have unwashed hair and an unhealthy fondness for tight jeans, nor have I therefore overdosed on the mosh pit and crowd surfing (I am not that cool). I have however over rocked out with some oldies, Neolithic and prehistoric oldies to be truthful but they did indeed rock or more precisely they were rocks.

You are probably wondering what I am talking about, well if you don’t already know I take it you are either A. Not from this country or B. Haven’t seen my photography blog! (Like what I did there, cunning I thought! Check it out at olivingthedreamphotography.wordpress.com)
I recently paid a visit to the Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. Don’t worry; I am not about to start giving you an in-depth recount of the History of why and who only because I am no historian. But If you are interested in the finite facts and figures then I am sure Google will help, or better yet the actual stones themselves tell quite a mystical story so pay them a visit, you wont be disappointed!

Speaking of disappointment, I’m also slightly afraid to admit that while the Stonehenge is impressive and quite cool I can’t help but feeling that much like Australia and their beloved Opera House, us English folk have done the same to these rocks, and have given them a slight over-rating (please note I said slight.) Ease up on the hate mail and cyber abuse and give me a chance to explain. Also again please note that I did say slightly.
From start to finish if I had to rate the experience on a scale of 1 to 5 (think if it as the starring system the tourism industry uses) I would have to rate it as a 3. Not bad, some places pay good money for 3 stars! Told you it wasn’t going to be that bad!! Firstly, and I am nit-picking here, but the traffic which you have to endure on the drive to the rocks is enough to make anyone lose their sense of humour and you haven’t even arrived yet. Trivial I know but apparently this jam is caused by the gawking drivers trying to get a glimpse of the monuments from the roadside and this just grates on my last nerve for a couple of points:

  • That is just laziness and extremely inconsiderate. If you are indeed one of those drivers, stop. If you want to see the rocks, follow the signs and buy a ticket like the rest of us. Some people just want to get from A-B at a decent pace and you are preventing them from doing that!
  • What you see from the road is nothing in comparison to what you see up close. They are much much bigger and definitely way more impressive.
  • This happens to be one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe (direct quote from their website, http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/.) You need to see it at face value, just because it’s the done thing. There is an unwritten rule when it comes to stuff like this.
  • If you have seen it before then why do you need to see it again from the road, this is just silly.

Do us all a favor and get out of your car, pay the entrance fee (£13.90, a little extortionate in my book but the money goes to preserving your history and heritage) and get cultured for a few brief moments. You are looking at the rocks anyway so you can’t use that as an excuse! Besides I hear that fresh air is good for you and it’s a pretty decent walk too. If you don’t fancy the walk there is also a fancy custom-made Land Rover train to get you from the ticket shop to the rocks!

Yes, the entrance fee is slightly too expensive and the shop/ticket office/exhibition building is extremely ugly and sticks out like a sore thumb (apologies to the world-renowned artist who designed the concept), but as days out go it’s not a bad place to be.
Now I know I said that they are over rated and they are, but like all art, you to take what you get from it. I just find it so fascinating that these rocks came from so far and someone thought strategically arranged rocks would be a great idea. While I feel it is random and at the end of the day they are just large stones, it did leave an impression on me, albeit only little. Exactly what that impression was I am still rather unsure of but I must have loved something, I took way too many photos which all look the same.

If rocks and history are your thing, this is a definite must do. They have really great information boards and an audio that you can listen to in various languages (so nerdy and also so antisocial: could be both a good and bad point), then if that still isn’t enough you can potter around the museum come exhibition hall to read until your heart’s content.
I have to admit that the geek in me did find the museum quite interesting. Firstly as you walk in you are given the privilege of seeing the rocks from the inside out and in all-weather. I’m an artist and photographer at heart so as you can imagine I was soaking this up, the night sky and winter shots being a personal favourite (I even vowed to return when it snowed!). Considering I barely rate things and hardly ever promise to revisit anything, this treasured sight is doing pretty well (bet you are glad you didn’t send that hate mail now!)
After this art-gasm you are then taken on a historical journey, The Stonehenge through the ages. I don’t want to completely spoil the surprise but there is a skeleton or two and some old gold and a whole bunch more photos! Exciting right!?
The well-placed shop (at the exit) is full to the brim with so much junk you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself. I could have come away with a whole new house and kitchen sink with the standard Stonehenge branding of course. It took me a good 20 minutes to pick a postcard!! Any keen shopper will not be disappointed, plus who doesn’t want a shirt saying, “I have been to the Stonehenge and loved it” or a mug with something else equally as cheesy printed on it.

Once the shop, stones and exhibition have bored you beyond imagination then potter around the teeny tiny village of Neolithic houses and get a sense of what it would have been like to live back in those days. All pretty basic structures built using traditional methods that are slowly dying out. Admittedly, I was impressed with the thatching. Then finally if you are feeling strong and self-assured, you can have a go at trying to pull one of the stones, a sort of put yourself in their shoes kind of moment. Ok, so it isn’t a real stone and it definitely does not move but a couple of lights flash and people cheer, it can get pretty crazy.
They do have a café on sight and the place is very family friendly and generally really people friendly and very accessible too (got to love the UK, it’s good at this). In fact absolutely everyone can visit which is the beauty of it so there really is no excuse!

I probably won’t be going back anytime soon because I am too busy this winter, but it would be awesome to be there on the longest day of the year where hippies in tie-dye shirts dance around and chant earthy tunes (no idea if they actually do this), but I have heard that the summer solstice is pretty impressive. It does look really beautiful at night, so in all honesty, I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate the summer and watch the sun set on the longest day of the year. A crowd pleaser and a perfect excuse for a summer party… Sold, I’m in and I shall hopefully see you all there next year on the 21st June 2015. Mark it in your calendar because I have a feeling it’s going to be a rager!