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London Life

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Hi everyone,

I’ve been a bit slack with this blog since our big holiday ended, but I thought I’d write a quick note to tell you all about how the latest instalment in our European adventure is going.

We arrived in London at the start of September, and spent a few weeks in a dirty, run down studio apartment in Bayswater. The suburb itself is quite fun with Hyde Park on its doorstep and lots of tourists everywhere. Kensington and Notting Hill are a short walk away, and we found a great yoga school (The life centre) and gym (The Porchester Centre), so things were looking good.

We even did parkrun for the first time (free 5km timed runs), and I was SO proud of myself, although honestly I wanted to throw up at the end. Endurance athlete I am not.

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After a few weeks living in the hovel, we moved into a friends house in Hoxton, which is inner East. We were there for a week and had a great time exploring Hoxton, Hackney, Shoreditch and the surrounding areas. We weren’t quite hipster enough, but we did our best. We did discover Broadway market which is a lovely street gourmet food market in Hackney, which we fell in love with.

Here is some beautiful street art from Hoxton, we’ve enlarged these pics and framed them, and they are now above our TV at home.

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While there I discovered London has a large network of canals, it’s so lovely walking along the canal and stopping off at the various cafes and pubs along the way, I highly recommend it. You do have to watch out for the cyclists zipping around, but it’s a really lovely outing.

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Then we spent a month in Battersea, which is south of the Thames. It’s a lovely area and there are some great shops and restaurants near Clapham Junction, but for us it was just a little bit out of the heart of London. I signed up to volunteer with the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, and I did go out with them once, but sadly since then work has got in the way. They are an amazing institution though, and if (when!) we eventually get a pet, if we’re still in London it will be the first place I head to. While in Battersea… we did a puzzle!! Living the high life.

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We ended up finding a flat in Angel, Islington – in the inner north of London. We both love our little flat and feel really at home there – we even have a garden which is an absolute luxury, so we’re looking forward to summer BBQs. The area is really lovely, lots of restaurants, cafes and bars, boutique style shopping, a big cinema, and really central – it takes me 45 minutes to walk to work which is through the city and over the Thames.

Here I am in our flat, with our gorgeous piece of art we bought at the Battersea Affordable Art Fair, it makes me happy every time I look at it.

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Oh, and our “pet” who came with the flat, very sweet touch.

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Dan got work with a marketing agency almost straight away, and is now about to start his second contract with another agency, so he’s going really well. I started with a management consultancy 3 months ago, working in the energy retail space on customer focused projects, so it’s right up my alley. They are a lovely bunch of people as well, so we seem to have both landed on our feet. I travel up to Northern England from Monday until Thursday most weeks, but am getting used to it and racking up those reward points J My Monday morning commute is 4 hours, compared to 10 minutes for Dan once he starts his new job … not quite fair but oh well.

Here is an amazing sunset I took from the office up north, just outside of Durham, which is also a very pretty old town.

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We’ve seen lots of London sights and attractions (I’ll write up another blog on the topic), we spent Christmas at the snow in Meribel Mottaret, France with a bunch of new and old friends and we’ve really started to establish a London life. We’re off for another week of skiing next weekend, in Chamonix, France for Dan’s 30th birthday which is this Monday, and have lots of people visiting, and lots of places to see over the year. It’s very exciting.

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I definitely have moments of feeling home sick, missing my family and friends and occasionally wondering how on earth I ended up over here, but mostly I’m super-excited about exploring Europe as much as possible, gaining international work experience, meeting lovely new people and having a ball with Dan.

Here we are at Meribel Mottaret!!

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So far this year we have locked in the upcoming ski trip, Easter in Sri Lanka, a weekend in Berlin, a wedding in Ireland and a music festival in Cornwall. On the cards is a weekend in Munich (for Oktoberfest), a long weekend in Rome, a weekend in Paris, a weekend in Amsterdam, a beach break somewhere warm, and a few other half-baked plans that may or may not happen. Whatever ends up happening, we are determined to make the most of being in Europe.

It’s been so lovely hearing from a number of friends and family, so thanks to all who have dropped me a note or called/skyped/lined/whats-apped/vibered/facebooked/linkedin-ed, and/or emailed me!!! Social media really is incredible when you’re overseas, I was in a cab going from Doncaster to Dearne Valley on Wednesday morning (Yorkshire way), and while I was in the cab I called mum using Line and it was almost perfect reception. INCREDIBLE. So different to when I was in Europe 10 years ago and had to find an internet cafe every week to send an email out, or buy a phone card to use at a public phone.

Anyway, just thought I’d give a general update on how we’re going. More to follow I promise with updates on what we’ve seen and where we’ve been!

Lisa x


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Paris!

Ok – this is the final blog post of our holiday before we arrived in London… 2 months ago!! How time flies.

Thanks so much to everyone who has emailed/texted me along the way, I’m glad people are reading this and enjoying it – it’s been really fun to put it all down on paper and have a record of our holiday for us to look back at.

In more current news, we moved into our lovely flat on the weekend, and today our boxes that we packed up over four months ago were delivered! I was very happy to see some new clothes to wear, and Dan was very happy to be reunited with his playstation. I start work on Monday, and am feeling both excited about the new chapter beginning, and a bit sad to see the end of my life of leisure. It’s been an amazing four and a  half months.

But let’s finish this holiday blogging!! Paris! What a way to finish.

We drove from Il de Re to Paris, and managed to find our way to our hotel. It took us a couple of laps to find the entry to the hotel carpark, but eventually we were in. We met up with Dan and Suzi’s mate from Wellington, Andy, that afternoon at a cafe just near our hotel, and then spent the next few days sightseeing like the ultimate tourists.

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It was my third time in Paris, and yet again I didn’t make it to the Louvre. It just seems intimidatingly huge to me, and there are so many other amazing things to see. Like this!

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Of course, one of the first sights to see was the Eiffel tower. The line to get in wasn’t too bad, so up we went, although only halfway, as it was another hour to wait to go up to the very top. The view from the middle is beautiful anyway, and it was a lovely clear day.

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I loved seeing the Arc de Triomphe from the Eiffel tower – it really sticks out from the landscape and makes you appreciate how grand it really is, even more than seeing it up close I think.

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The views really were beautiful, and once done we walked down the stairs that snake around one of the sides of the tower. What an incredible structure, and so modern for its time.

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We walked from the Eiffel tower to the Arc de Triomphe, and couldn’t resist a few more pics with the tower in the background!

 

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It’s amazing to see the Arc de Triomphe being treated as a huge  roundabout with cars flying around it in no discernible pattern. It reminded me of Rome, where you poke your head out of the underground Metro and almost walk straight into the Colosseum.

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We then ambled down the Champs Elysee, went into a few of the more reasonably priced shops, had some lunch, and continued our walk towards the Louvre.

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As I said, we didn’t actually go in, but it’s always fun to see from the outside, and the gardens surrounding it are so beautiful.

That day we did a huge circuit of the city, and we were pretty exhausted by the end of it.

We found a little local restaurant to have some dinner and a few drinks and celebrate having made it all the way to Paris!

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The next day Notre Dame was on the agenda, that beautiful, huge church that sits on a little island in the middle of Paris. We wandered around and got lost in the history of the place – it really is amazing.

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We also indulged in a boat cruise, something Dan, Suzi and I had intended to do in almost every city we’d visited but never quite gotten around to. It was a really fun hour or so, and a great way to see Paris from a different perspective.

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And of course it was a good opportunity for Dan to show off his photography skills, with a classic Andy eating the Eiffel tower pic.

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One night (I’ll admit I’m struggling to remember the exact order of everything 2 months on!), Suzi organised tickets to a cabaret show down the road from the Moulin Rouge.

We chanced upon a lovely little bistro nearby for dinner, and enjoyed our last night with Suzi and Andy. The show was HILARIOUS, over the top cabaret dancing, magicians, acrobats and more. It was really fun and really funny.

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We went to two galleries in Paris, the D’Orsay and the Rodin museum.

The Rodin museum is set in a lovely old hotel and surrounding private gardens, and is filled with Rodin’s art and sculptures. It is beautifully set out, and there are so many beautiful and incredible pieces of art to look at.

Of course, the thinking man is the most famous.

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Inside there are some beautiful pieces, like this one – the kiss, and many others.

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The gardens are beautiful too.

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The Gates of Hell are really unbelievable, the amount of detail and mythology is incredible and throughout the museum are many statues that were essentially elements that made up the Gates.

One of these is this set of three men, who stand at the top of the gates. What amazed us was that the men are all identical, they are just positioned differently. It makes you appreciate perspective. It also reminded me of Beyonce’s all the single ladies dance moves… but that might just be me!

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The gates of hell are quite morbid and very sobering, but definitely an incredible piece of art.

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We weren’t allowed to take photos in the D’Orsay, but it is a wonderful art gallery inside a beautiful old train station. I loved wandering around, although it is quite large so we were pretty ready for lunch and a sit down at the end of it.

Of course, we had some incredible food in Paris – but one thing we had been talking about for weeks was trying to find a great french onion soup. We googled extensively and perhaps excessively, and eventually decided to try Au Pied de Cochon for dinner one night.

Here it is – and it was delicious!

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The rest of the food was lovely too, but we were all there for the french onion soup and it didn’t disappoint.

We indulged in these beautiful macaroons one afternoon, they were so pretty it was almost a shame to eat them. But they were really good, I particularly loved the salted caramel.

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And another day, we bought these gorgeous cakes – my cheesecake was unbelievable. I could have eaten the whole cake, it was lemony and creamy and rich and delicious.

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As you can see, we all enjoyed our cakes!

For the last day, Dan and I were alone again, and we wandered around basically eating our way around Paris. We went to Chez Janou, recommended by a friend of mine living in Paris who was unfortunately away that week. It was a great little french bistro that did a great three course meal at a really reasonable price. We had a lovely relaxed lunch in the sun.

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We also indulged in more than one Croque Monsieur, and as you can see from my smile, it was pretty delicious.

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I could go on about Paris, but I won’t. We had a wonderful time, saw some beautiful sights, ate some delicious food and drank some yummy wine.

Eventually it was time to drop the car off, and say goodbye to it. It had been wonderful over the two months, although I never did quite get around to learning how to drive manual, so Dan drove the entire way!

As you can see, the final drive was quite momentous, as our GPS took us up the Champs Elysee and almost up to the crazy Arc de Triomphe roundabout (you can see it in the distance). But we got there in one piece, and all was fine. So far, no fines or tickets have come through, so fingers crossed! I did nearly have a heart attack a couple of weeks later when Europcar Italy emailed me to enquire when I would be returning the car… but it turns out they just hadn’t thought of calling their  French colleagues to confirm that we had actually dropped it off on the day we said we would.

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And that, is the end of our huge and incredible holiday. It really was a trip of a lifetime, and we just had the best time. But it was time to head to London, which really was just the start of another new adventure!


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Il de Re

From Bordeaux we drove to Il de Re, a seaside island on the west coast of France. My last boss Penny had told me about it and it sounded lovely, so we’d booked ourselves into Hotel Galion for 3 nights.

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It cost us 16 euro’s just to get onto the island, but once we were past that we quickly drove into the town and found our hotel. It was a beautiful little hotel, really comfy and we had a lovely room. Poor Suzi had to sleep on a roll out bed, but otherwise it was a great place to stay.

This light house was just across the road from our hotel, looking out over the water. Very beautiful.

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Every day there were a group of donkeys with funny striped pajama pants on, who would quietly take children on rides around the park. I think they must have been pretty bored, but they were very sweet.

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We were staying in the main town, Saint Martin de Re, which was just lovely. There were about 10 towns on the island, and we visited four of them. They were all lovely in their own way.

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We had breakfast at this bakery one morning, everything was so delicious! It was a lovely start to the day.

 

 

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There was a Tin Tin shop in town, with a wonderful photo opportunity…

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Then we hired bicycles for a couple of days – this is how EVERYONE gets around the island.

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On our first day we cycled to La Flotte, which was only a few k’s away.

We spent a nice afternoon there wandering around the tiny little town, looking at the local market and having a drink next to the harbour. We attempted to sunbathe for a couple of hours, but it wasn’t very sunny!

The tide in Il de Re is unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Here is the harbour at La Flotte when we arrived..

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And when we left…

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Amazing!! The beach had almost disappeared by the time we left as well.

The next day we ventured further afield, to Ars-en-Re. The route was beautiful, winding along the water, through vineyards, next to oyster farms and salt beds.

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Il de Re is famous for its salt,which is harvested by hand and sold in all the towns. As we cycled past one salt field, we came across a little stall that was self-serve, operating on an honesty approach. So lovely. I bought some salt to take with me from a wholesaler in Ars-en-Re.

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Oysters and seafood generally are another Il-de-Re trademark. One night Dan ordered half a dozen oysters, and I was brave enough to try one. And I kind of liked it!! Unbelievable. I’ve never come close to liking an oyster before.

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As you can hopefully see, Il de Re is a lovely, relaxed and pretty island. The pace of life is slower, there were lots of families around, it felt very safe and comfortable. With delicious seafood, easy flat bike paths around the entire island, beaches and beautiful views, I would definitely go back for a bit of time out.

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Bordeaux (and a little London update)

Well, we’ve been in London just over a month now and it feels increasingly weird to write up blog posts from our holiday, but I only have a few left and am determined to finish them so we have a full set of posts to remember our holiday! Sorry I’ve been a bit slack with them, but job hunting has been the priority 🙂

As a brief update though, we’re having a great time in London, the weather has been very kind to us so far although the last few days have definitely been a bit chillier. Dan started a short term contract last week as an Account Manager which is great. I’ve had a couple of promising interviews so hopefully more on that soon! Just quietly though, I can’t complain about being a lady of leisure while Dan brings home the bacon!! I’ve been volunteering with the Pilion Trust who are amazing people and I’m loving helping them out where I can. It’s keeping me out of trouble and they are lovely, wonderful people.

We’ve been catching up with friends and everyone has been very kind and lovely. Last week we moved from our dive of an apartment in Bayswater (more on that in another post) to Hoxton / Shoreditch, and stayed for a week in a converted church where one of Dan’s mates Johnny and his girlfriend Erin live. They were away for a week, and it was lovely of them to let us stay in their apartment while they were away. On the weekend we moved to Battersea, we’re in a lovely apartment just near Clapham Junction and so far are loving it here. We’ve booked for two weeks, but might try and extend it another week or two.

Ok, now back to business – Bordeaux!!

So, we drove from San Sebastian, over the border and into Bordeaux. It was a very easy trip, from memory only a few hours. We checked into our hotel which was about a ten minute walk out of the town centre, and went for a walk. And, immediately fell in love.

Bordeaux is majestic and French and grand in all the right ways. Big wide avenues, smaller cobblestoned paths, modern shops and beautiful old buildings. It’s very well maintained and we all felt right at home.

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There is an intriguing statue / piece of art in the main square that we all found fascinating – it’s basically a flat / 2D head that is designed to look 3D. Very well done.

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Of course we couldn’t go past the tourist train so on we jumped!

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After the tourist train we decided to do as the French do and have a glass of wine. We immediately realised we were no longer in Spain, wine was MUCH pricier. But hey, when in Bordeaux…

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One of the most amazing sights is the Monument Aux Girondins, a huge statue and water feature.

There are these crazy half horse half reptile creatures at the bottom, and the misted water all around gives the scene a very mythical and otherworldly feel.

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There are beautiful scenes out across the water, and of course some impressive churches!

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The next day we set off on a half day tour of the St Emilion region. We visited Chateau La Dominique, and tasted a few of their wines after a tour of their space age modern winery.

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The estate have recently renovated, and have a very impressive modern building sitting right next to the vineyards.

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On the roof,they’ve built a crazy red glass pit that is meant to make you feel like you are squashing grapes under your feet! A little bit cheesy,but I actually really liked it.

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The wine was nice, but it was all over quite quickly. The winery was not as majestic as the beautiful old port houses we’d visited in Porto, but it was still really interesting and for half an hour Dan had set his heart on becoming a winemaker and studying viticulture!

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After the winery,we were taken to the town of St Emilion, so named after a monk who apparently settled into a cave nearby years ago, but ended up being followed because of his ability to heal people. There are many monasteries and convents in the area, but no one has ever been able to confirm exactly which cave it was that Saint Emilion lived in.

The town itself is gorgeous, just a little piece of history for you to walk around. The town sits atop a bit of a hill, so there are beautiful views at the top.

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In the centre of town is this building, and underneath it a church has been built under the ground in a man-made cave. Only tour groups that have booked in can go inside, so we were the only ones in there. We weren’t allowed to take photo’s inside, but it’s a big cavern next to a crypt, it was very different to any other church I’ve been in and was great to see.

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And then we were on our way back to Bordeaux. On the way to our hotel the previous day we had discovered a little cafe that served leek quiche. We were ALL craving something halfway healthy with no meat or seafood in it, so after our winery tour we headed that way. The quiche was delicious and exactly what we all felt like.

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We then had crepes, and they were not so great! They were almost definitely pre-made and microwaved… ! But who cares, the quiche was delicious.

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One night we went to Chez Yuri, which reminded Dan and I of a friend we used to work with (whose name was Yuri)!

Dan had moules frites (mussels) that he was very happy with.

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We also spent a few hours in the Botanical gardens, which was really relaxing. Lots of families and couples and friends were doing the same thing as it was a lovely day.

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There was a little bridge over the lake, and people were throwing bits of bread in for the ducks. Dan and I were mesmerised by this, as the ducks were battling with HUGE fish (or they might have been eels) for the bits of bread. These were epic battles with ducks kicking the fish and the fish opening their huge mouths to suck the bread in. I’ve never seen anything like it. I tried to get a picture but failed dismally.

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In between our hotel and the main town was this little garden, which was also very pretty.

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And that was Bordeaux! We were all very sad to be leaving Bordeaux, and very nearly delayed our trip to stay an extra night, but we ended up moving on as planned, and headed to the Il de Re.

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San Sebastian – the land of the pintxos

Well, it feels like ages ago now, but after Valladolid we drove to San Sebastian.

There’ll be three more posts on our holiday after this one, Bordeaux, Il de Re and Paris 🙂

And for a quick London update, we’ve now been here for two and a half weeks, have caught up with some wonderful people, I did my first 5km “fun” run ever (nearly died), we splurged and saw the book of mormons a few nights ago (one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen), we’re trying to sightsee as often as we can, and we have been applying for lots of jobs. So we’re having a great time!

But now back to San Sebastian.

Pintxos, food and the old town

We were staying at Pension San Jeronimo (which led to much loud singing of the Sheppard song “Geronimo”), which is right in the middle of the old town. I was worried it would be terrible, but it was actually quite nice. We were in a room with a double and a single bed and there wasn’t a whole lot of extra space, but it was clean and quiet and the beds were comfy enough. We had a shared bathroom in the corridor but it was literally two paces from our bedroom door, and we barely ever saw anyone else around, so it was no problem at all.

The old town is a bit of a tourist trap these days,but still so much fun. Tiny little winding streets filled with shops and pintxos bars.

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Pintxos are like  tapas, little bite-sized portions of food, and they are lined up along the counter for you to look at and then grab. You can order hot food as well, but generally we just stuck to the food displayed as it was pretty hard to go past.

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By far our favourite place was Atari Gastroteka, in front of an old church that is beautifull lit up at night.

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It was around the corner from our hotel which was handy as well. I think we went there three or four times!

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As you can see, the displays were gorgeous, and full of fresh ingredients with beautiful vibrant colours.

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You can see in the photo below that we all picked up one of the same pintxos, it was like a creamy mornay with salted cod mixed through it, still slightly warm on bread. It was unbelievable.

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I won’t pick out anymore for special mention because then I’d have to mention them all, so I will leave it there 🙂

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Another night we tried Ubarretxena, for some yummy paella. It was huge! We had the vegetarian version and it was really nice. A nice change from all the meat and seafood too. The staff were very dismal and didn’t seem very happy to be at work, but the food was good.

And special mention must go to Suzi’s beautiful bun, that Dan the up-and-coming hair artiste helped her with.

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Suzi and I had a craving for chocolate one day, and we found this artisanal chocolate that was creamy and flavoursome, with nuts throughout. DELICIOUS. We ate it on the beach, which made it even better.

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The beach

We spent an afternoon at the beach, and we were lucky because the rest of the time we were in San Sebastian it was pretty rainy and overcast.

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One thing I couldn’t for the life of me work out was why there was a pool ON the beach. Who goes to the beach, to pay to go to a pool?! Very weird.

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Although to be fair, the water was so cold it almost made me homesick, it was seriously nearly as cold as Melbourne waters! VERY refreshing.

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The view out across the rocks towards the beach was beautiful, we sat and watched a bit of the sunset on our first night. And made the most of the panorama option on the camera.

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The view from the top 

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On our last full day in San Sebastian, it was a bit overcast so we decided to start with a walk up to the top of the hill nearby, which has a giant Jesus statue at the top. We weren’t really sure where we were going, but we found ourselves in a beautiful park that we walked through and up to get to the top.

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As we wandered up, we found tunnels, caves, gardens and all sorts. It wasn’t too busy either which was great.

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Once at the top, there is an old castle with a free museum, and you can go upstairs where there is a lookout platform just underneath Giant Jesus. It was a pretty cool view, and it was easy to see the old town and how different the architecture is to the rest of the modernised city.

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The big Jesus was impressive to see up close, he look out over the whole town and is really quite beautiful.

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It was really nice to get out and about, instead of just chowing down on pintxos all day. By the time we got back into town however,the clouds were looking extremely ominous. We ducked into a restaurant just in time, as the rain started falling about 5 minutes later. So we settled in for a long lunch at Aita Mari, with a three course menu.

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We sat upstairs and looked out over the water. Service was lovely. Wine was included in the three course menu, and Dan and I ordered red, while Suzi ordered white. We were rather confused when a full bottle of red, and a full bottle of white arrived and were left on our table… well, what else could we do but drink them?! And delightfully, at the end it was all included in the set menu price!! Unbelievable!!

The food was good too, I had a lightly curry flavoured carbonara, which was a bit strange but light and quite nice.

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For main, Suzi and I both had a tuna steak dish that was slightly overcooked but still nice, and Dan had a squid in squid ink with rice dish that he raved about. Looked pretty icky to me but I’m sure it was nice.

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Desserts were pretty great, I had a banana crepe, Suzi had a lemon gelato, and Dan had a molten chocolate cake with ice cream. All very decadent.

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Good food, wonderful service, great value for money and a lovely way to escape the rain for a couple of hours.
Once we’d finished lunch, it was still pretty dismal outside, so we decided to go to the aquarium!

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A fun way to spend an hour or two, we wandered through and saw lots of fish and other sea life.

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I love turtles, so it was nice to see one swimming serenely right over us at one point!

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There was a big open pool that you could put your hand in, with lots of fish and an OCTOPUS!! They creep me out, but it was pretty cool to see it in there, and it was very obliging and swam out from under a rock for us.

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It wasn’t the most impressive aquarium I’d ever been to, but it was really fun and a nice way to spend a rainy afteroon.

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The next day we were off, saying a sad farewell to Spain as headed over the border to Bordeaux!

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Valladolid

When trying to find a place to stop between Porto and San Sebastian, we’d initially settled on Leon. But after an unsuccessful hunt for nice looking, affordable accommodation, and a real lack of interesting articles on things to do in Leon (which may just have been my sub-par googling skills), I looked around for alternatives.

Valladolid was recommended on a few web pages, was about the same distance  as Leon, and was famous for being the home of Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. It is also apparently where Christopher Columbus passed away.

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We found a nice hotel to stay at (Hotel Mozart), and made our way there. We only had an afternoon and evening there, but it was a lovely little town with once again, some beautiful architecture.

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Although it was only a small town, there was plenty of beautiful buildings to look at and we all agreed it felt like a very affluent and well-off kind of place.

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Amongst other things, we discovered a fountain with two men permanently pushing the fountain from either side. Suzi and Dan got in the action and formed a rugby scrum, as you do!

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That night we went for dinner at La Parrilla De San Lorenzo, which we’d read about and was also recommended to us by the hotel reception staff.

It was a beautiful restaurant in a converted monastery, but it was very meat heavy. I ordered the lamb, which was amazingly tenderand flavoursome, but it came with absolutely nothing to accompany it, and in the menu there was no “sides” section. Quite strange. I’ve never had a meal before that was 100% meat.

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Dan had ostrich which looked pretty gross to me, but he thought it was nice. Again, it came with no sides or accompaniments. Suzi had fish which looked quite nice. So it was a bit of a baffling meal, but nice nonetheless.

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On our wander home we walked past a shoe shop with this ad on the side of the building – it made me laugh, so I thought I’d share.

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And that was Vallidolid! Short but sweet. The next morning we were off to San Sebastian!


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Pretty Porto

None of us knew what to expect in Porto, and what we found was a very charming yet slightly run-down old city on a beautiful river.

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We arrived at our hotel which was great, very central and spacious (Hotel B&B Porto). Like in Lisbon, we were directly across the road from a beautiful church- this time a distinctly Portugese church, with beautiful blue tiles.

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Once we’d checked in, we went for a bit of wander and found an absolute ghost town awaiting us! We were in the middle of the city and there was just no one around. We realised the next day that it must have been because it was a Sunday and most things were closed, but it was pretty strange at the time.

There was a beautiful big square just a few blocks from our hotel, very wide and spacious with some beautiful statues. We found lunch at a touristy but still very nice restaurant. We wandered to the river where there are lots of shops, market stalls and restaurants.

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Along the way we passed a group of kids having fun with a hose and some water balloons. Very sweet, until one of them threw some at us and got me smack on the bottom!! I had a very wet backside, but it was actually a really hot day, so it was dry about twenty minutes later!

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There are some incredible bridges connecting the two sides that you can walk across. One on of them (which we found out later was designed by the architect of the Eiffel tower), there was a group of kids hanging on for dear life. Every now and then one of them would jump off into the water for a swim!

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We read about a music festival going on at a park just near our hotel, so we made our way there. We got a bit lost and ended up having to walk up a very steep hill, but it was worth it for the views back over the river, and one of the most beautiful pieces of street art I’ve ever come across.

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The music festival had a little arts and crafts market as well, and there was a real mix of locals. There was a table of old men playing cards, young people mingling, and kids running around. It was a very laid back event, and we stayed for about an hour, before heading home for a siesta

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That night we went to eLeBe, just a few doors down from our hotel. We’d read good reviews about it, so were hopeful.

Dan had a strange entrée that was so sweet it should have been a dessert, a puff pastry number with raisins, honey, nuts and a few other things. It was a nice but strange entrée. I had prawns and mushrooms sautéed and served in a puff pastry basket. The mushrooms were nice, but the prawns tasted old and food-poisoney. I had a couple and then steered clear of them.

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Mains were quite nice but nothing to write home about. It was a bit of a disappointment, but still a nice night.

The next day we went for a big walk all around town, we only had two nights in Porto so wanted to make the most of it.

We found the tourist train (now firmly one of my absolute favourite forms of transport!) and jumped on.

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It tootled around town before heading over the bridge and stopping at a beautiful old Port house. We were shown a video about the history of the Port House, which had extremely dramatic music, to the point that we had the giggles for most of it. We were then taken on a tour, before a tasting of two Ports. We all discovered that we liked tawny port, and were amazed to find out that Port can be white.

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Then it was back on the tourist train to see a few more sights.

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Itwas a lovely way to pass some time and see the city, although the focus was certainly more on the trip to the Port house.

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We had some lunch along the river looking back at Porto (Porto is on one side and the Port Houses are on the other).

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Then we made our way to Ferreira, another Port house that had been recommended to us by the lady at the information desk.

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We had another tour, which was really interesting, and then we tasted five ports, including one that had been aged for 20 years. They were delicious, but very sleep inducing and we were all exhausted by the end!

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The owner of Ferreira who transformed it into one of the most important port houses was Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, a female who ran the company in the 1800’s. What a lady!

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The two port houses we saw were both very majestic and old world, with beautiful old wood barrels everywhere. They were beautiful places, and it was really interesting learning a bit more about the process of making port.

After our tasting session, I had to have a lie down for an hour!! Dan and Suzi had some sibling time at a café while I recuperated. Then we went out for dinner and after trying a few places that were all closed, we ended up at A Minhota, a tapas style bar. We had great food there, really fresh and delicious.

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Porto is a beautiful city, with a beautiful river, amazing albeit rundown architecture, lovely old Port houses and much more.

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The next morning we were off pretty early, and drove to Valladolid in Spain for a one night stopover before getting to San Sebastian.