Autumn Weekend in Wales

One rainy weekend in October, George and I decided we were sick of staying in gross hostels whenever we visit Wales and thought we would try something nice for a change. Enter: the Quarryman’s Cottage. By far the nicest place I’ve stayed in Wales and probably some of the best accommodation even offered in the country.

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STAY

Quarryman’s Cottage | We drove west into Wales on a Friday night with plans to stay until Sunday evening (although the minimum booking is three nights). And we arrived with just enough time to get the fire going and relax for a bit before heading to bed.

Get $40 off your first booking through airbnb by clicking here!

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In the morning light, we were able to fully explore the rest of the cottage. It’s only one bedroom (and I completely forgot to take a photo upstairs), but it is the perfect size for two. The slate floors were so amazing I wanted to somehow rip them up and bring them home with me. And the kitchen was lovely and light thanks to a skylight over the sink.

Not to mention this sweet view from the back garden, below. It’s uphill from the house!

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SEE

After an easy Saturday morning and breakfast by the fire, we set off to explore the rest of the village. Cwm Penmachno village is the site of an old slate quarry in a sleepy part of North Wales. There is an interesting area to explore not far from the cottage where you can see the abandoned mine. On google, it’s called Penmachno Mine.

We spent some time there, in awe of what was once there and wondering what happened to leave it in its current state. But before long, we were heading back to our car and talking about where we should go next.

Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant | Neither of us really wanted to go far, so we settled on a national trust site close by, tŷ mawr meaning big house in Welsh. It is the former home of Bishop William Morgan who first translated the Bible into Welsh, thereby standardizing the Welsh language and helping to keep Wales’ national dialect alive.

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It was fascinating just listening to the host speak about the building’s history and turned out to be our favorite stop of the trip.

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Dolbadarn Castle | With Snowdonia Park serving as the most picturesque backdrop for this castle, I’m surprised it took me so long to find out about it. Regardless, I’m so glad we made time on this visit to see it. It is within walking distance of all the car parks for the mountain train, making it super easy to squeeze in.

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EAT

Tu-Hwnt-I’r Bont | More about the picturesque spot than the tea room itself to be honest. Regardless, it’s a fun stop and a good place to try some Welsh Classics like bara brith or rarebit. If you time your visit well in the autumn, those leaves covering the stone (in the photo above) become a vibrant red. We arrived a bit too late for that in early October and all but a few leaves had gone brown.

Cwmni Cacen Gri | The absolute best place in Snowdonia to try Welshcakes and probably the best Welshcakes in Wales. Get them fresh off the griddle for the best experience.

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DO

Climb Snowdon, duh. George walked up the mountain whereas I opted to take the train and we planned on meeting at the top. In the end, he decided to run up and beat me by a fair amount of time!

Snowdon Mountain Railway | I actually loved taking the train up Snowdon, but I also had a number of issues. Firstly, it’s way too expensive, especially when a window seat cannot be guaranteed–you kind of have to fight your way into the line to make sure you have first pick of your section. And second, there is no way to walk up and take the train down. Single tickets up are available, but not down. A return ticket only allows 30 minutes at the top, which doesn’t leave any time for exploring and you must go back on the same train…or else you have to walk down the mountain. But if you’re short on time or otherwise unable to make it up the mountain, it was a pretty cool option.

Pyg Track | Of the routes I know for climbing Snowdon, this is my favorite. The main, “easy” path that most people take is just too boring for me. At Pen Y Pass, you start in the mountains and have views almost the entire way up. And unless you go in winter, there is nothing difficult about this path. But if you plan on going in the summer, you must arrive early as the carpark fills up by 8 or 9 am. Of course, you can also arrange for a bus or taxi to drop you off at the trailhead. All the info for the walk can be found in the link above.

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Not sure if I would feel worse after climbing all that way for no view or paying to take the train. Either way, we tried to make the most of it. I do love foggy days afterall and these are some of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. The feeling they evoke for me, takes me right back to that cottage in the mountains, snuggled in front of the fire.

On Sunday night, when we arrived back at our cottage from our journey up Snowdon, both of us decided we might as well spend one more night. It meant waking up at 4 am for me to drive George back to work in the morning, but it was totally worth it for one more night relaxing in front of that fire.

Weekend Adventure: Les Calanques de Cassis

I probably went on this trip at least two years ago, but I still think it’s one of the easiest weekend trips to take from London. Not to mention, a crazy beautiful place worth traveling to from anywhere in the world. The Calanques de Cassis are just outside the charming town of Cassis along the Côte d’Azur in France. In French, the name means something like: the creeks, but they are basically just a series of inlets with some of the clearest, bluest water I’ve ever seen.

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GETTING THERE

Flights into Marseille from London are crazy cheap. I think I paid £9 for my Easyjet flight home. Granted, I had just come from Italy, so it was only a one-way ticket. Still, Marseille is not the most desirable destination, which keeps flight costs low.

When you arrive in Marseille, the easiest way to get to Cassis is just to take the train. It takes about 15 minutes and costs a little over €6. A bus will then take you to the town center, or you can walk (it’s all downhill). Read this guide for clear instructions and photos about taking the train.

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THE WALK

After checking into our airbnb, my friend and I promptly started talking to our host about the walk to the Calanques. She basically mapped the whole thing out for us and told us approximately how long it would take. It was really helpful, but unfortunately I was still struggling with foot pain at the time and her estimates were definitely based on someone in good physical health. So just to let you know, this is a very difficult walk and not fun to do in the heat of the day. I recommend leaving as early as possible and bringing lots of water!

Google maps will tell you the walk to Calanque d’En Vau from Cassis center is only 3 miles each way. In actuality, my friend and I tracked our walk at around 8 miles in total. I’m not sure if we veered from the path somewhere along the way, but I would say be prepared for an 8 mile roundtrip hike.

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We left early the next morning and had the trail almost to ourselves! The first calanque you come to will be the one pictured above with all the boats, Calanque de Port-Miou. This was a very easy walk from the town and the beautiful blue water will make you excited for the rest of the walk. If you have a car, you can park at Port-Miou and save yourself half an hour of walking time.

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After another 30 minutes, you’ll arrive at Calanque de Port Pin, the smallest of the three inlets. We decided to keep walking past this cove in order to make it to the end while it was still relatively early.

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As we continued, the scenery wasn’t all that exciting except for a few interesting spots. There was a section further on that required a bit of a scramble downhill and I knew would be terrible on the way back up. By this time, I was questioning the expedition altogether. It was crazy hot and unlike the walking I was used to in England where it’s always cloudy and about 50 degrees.

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But after another hour of walking, we rounded a corner to this view and I decided it was worth it. You really can’t see anything, until you arrive at the beach! Can you believe the color of that water?

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We went up to check out the water and quickly realized we wouldn’t be spending too much time in there. It was freezing! But that was fine by me, because all I wanted was to find a shady spot to put my feet up.

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WHEN TO GO

Having now completed the trail to the water’s edge, I can say that I would almost rather have done the hike to the viewpoint above the Calanques as I find the pictures more interesting from that vantage point. However, the trail was closed during our time there. In fact, even the trail we took is closed during the summer months due to the risk of wildfires. The best time to visit is either June or October when the trails are open.

Alternatively, if you want to see the Calanques from the water, you can take a boat tour or even kayak there any time of year when the water’s calm. But the tours don’t allow you to get off on the beach which is a bummer.

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THE TOWN

That evening when we got back to our hostel and for the entirety of the next day, I felt absolutely terrible. I attempted to go for a short walk around town in the morning and managed to take a few photos before I had to lie down again. I was so disappointed and felt really bad for my friend traveling with me. I know that she quite enjoyed her time in town, but still, it was awful for me. I’ve never been so sick while traveling.

Anyway, my point is that the town is ridiculously cute and worth at least a day or two of exploring and/or lounging in the sun.

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STAY

Once again, this was a rather last minute trip and my friend and I were too late in booking our accommodation. We stayed in a hostel through airbnb that was absolutely fine and right in the center of town. The hosts were lovely and very helpful, as were all the people we met staying there. But it is still a hostel and therefore, not my fave place to be on holiday.

So I’m sorry I don’t have any food or lodging recommendations, but as it’s such a cute town, I know you’ll have no trouble finding some tasty food. And if you’re ever in doubt, just ask a local! I know I would love to come back and explore this place properly.

Midsummer in Cornwall

With it being the first of June and summer nearly upon us, I thought it might be an apt time to share a little midsummer inspiration courtesy of last year’s gathering in Cornwall. I love celebrating the changing of seasons, even if it means just putting on a dress and decorating a store-bought cake with fresh strawberries!

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The little cabin we stayed in was the perfect backdrop for our midsummer festivities and can be rented through airbnb here. But if you’ve never used airbnb, use this link for $40 off your first stay!

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In case you aren’t up on your Scandinavian culture, Midsummer is something Swedes celebrate on the longest day of the year, June 22 (or whatever Saturday is closest). This usually involves a smorgasbord, flower crowns, and the all important strawberry cake!

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Of course, as we were celebrating with British friends, ours had to include a cheeseboard and elderflower cordial.

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I also thought I would share the recipes we used for our smørrebrød (open face sandwiches). This was the easiest recipe I could think of to celebrate Scandinavian culture. Let me know in the comments if you end up trying them!

TOAST SKAGEN

German rye or sunflower bread
1 lb cooked & peeled shrimp (small works best)
½ red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp dill, chopped
2 tbsp mayonnaise
4 tbsp crème fraîche
juice of ½ lemon
pinch white pepper
salt

To garnish:
red roe
dill sprigs

Just stir everything together and taste until you get the proportions you prefer. Top the sunflower bread with a scoop of shrimp and garnish with roe and dill sprig. There are so many different ways to make this recipe. We simply used what we had on hand, but you could definitely use substitutions like greek yogurt or regular sourdough bread.

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KARTOFFELMAD SMØRREBRØD

German rye or sunflower bread
2 small potatoes per person, boiled and sliced
¼ cup crème fraîche
salt

To garnish:
fried onions
freshly chopped chives

Spread crème fraîche on the bread and place 2 sliced potatoes on top. Spoon more crème fraîche on potatoes before topping with fried onions and chives. Sprinkle with salt if you want.

PS. If you want to make your own knækbrød, this is the recipe I use and it is great. The only thing I always add is a sprinkle of coarse salt or Maldon before putting them in the oven.

We couldn’t leave Cornwall without stopping by one of its famed picturesque fishing villages, so on the way home we stopped by both Charlestown near St. Austell and Polperro.

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I’ll be honest, the only reason we stopped to see Charlestown is because I love Poldark and it’s one of their filming locations (for more of Poldark’s Cornwall locations, check out the BBC’s list). Regardless, it was a fun place to take a walk along the harbour and break up our drive a little.

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Polperro, on the other hand, is a place I could have spent much more time. It was a bit of a trek to get to as there’s no parking in the village, but definitely worth the walk. Even on a busy Sunday in the summer, it felt quiet and quaint. We ate dinner that evening at a pub with a rooftop patio and it was the perfect way to end our trip.

The Isle of Harris & Lewis

Are you ready to learn about my favorite island in the UK? It’s called the Isle of Harris and Lewis because it’s technically two islands in one. The larger and more populated Lewis is well known among history lovers because of its abundance of ancient sites like the Callanish Standing Stones and Dun Carloway Broch. The Isle of Harris, on the other hand, is better known for its more rugged landscape and white sand beaches. Both islands combined make for the perfect trip as far as I’m concerned: a little education, a little adventure.

GETTING THERE

We only spent 3 nights on the island which was just barely enough time to see it all. But it took so long to get there, we lost a lot of time to the journey. Luckily, it’s a beautiful ride no matter how you choose to go. I’ll tell you about our route as we were conscious of both cost and time.

First, we flew up to Aberdeen in order to meet our friends living there (it would have been faster to fly into Inverness, but wasn’t too far out of the way). We spent one night with them before picking up a rental car and heading out to catch the ferry from Ullapool. I recommend booking in advance, here. From there, it felt like a scenic 2+ hour cruise all the way to Stornoway, Lewis’ largest town.

Alternatively, you can fly straight into Stornoway via Loganair, however, flights from London are neither cheap nor direct. Then on Lewis, rental car options are limited and costly. But if you’re more concerned with time, this is definitely the way to go!

STAY

Accommodation is so sparse on Harris and Lewis. We went with glamping pods or wigwams to save money, but also because there was nothing else available. Perhaps if you book far enough in advance, some of the guesthouses may be available.

Sandy Bay Wigwams | For the most part, we enjoyed our wigwam stay–especially the fire-pit and amazing view. The only thing I didn’t like was being nickel and dimed for things like firewood and marshmallows after the fact. Regardless, it was a cool place to stay.

Callanish Camping | These camping pods were a bit more rustic than the wigwams and lacking in running water, but they were still awesome. The lady who runs them was so friendly and helpful when we arrived and their proximity to the Callanish Standing Stones is unbeatable.

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EAT & DRINK

Ok, so we didn’t actually get to eat at most of these places. In Scotland, nothing is open on bank holidays or weekends…and those are basically the only times we travel. Anyway, I thought I would share them in case you get the chance to go. Visit Outer Hebrides website and their Eat Drink Hebrides Trail was a great resource for finding these!

Croft 36 | This cute honesty farm stand is located right near the wigwams we stayed in on Harris. I think we tried to go on a Friday and it was closed, so maybe it would be best to call ahead. According to their website (linked above), they now do meal delivery with pre-booking as well!

The Scallop Shack | Again, really not sure what their hours are, but I was able to find photos on google with their phone number listed. Of course, we didn’t have service at all on the island, so I probably should have made that call on the mainland. I would have loved some fresh Hebridean scallops.

The Stornoway Smokehouse | Slow cured smoked salmon from the last traditional smokehouse in the Hebrides. I don’t think you’re able to view the kiln and smokehouse (although I would have LOVED that), but you can visit their small shop and pick up something tasty to take away.

Charles Macleod | Home of the Stornoway black pudding, aka the best black pudding in the world. I normally won’t even eat black pudding (because I think it’s gross), but I make an exception for this one.

Isle of Harris Distillery | I can’t tell if I love this gin because it’s good or because the packaging is so beautiful. Either way, this distillery is definitely worth a stop on Harris.

Edge O’ the World Alehouse | The Hebridean Brewing Company is the only craft brewery in the Outer Hebrides and has won tons of awards for their beer since their start in 2001. Our favorite was the Berserker, made from a 150 year old recipe (and also everyone else’s favorite). They were so friendly and let us sample as many as we wanted! Wish we could have picked some up to bring back with us, but they were sold out.

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ISLE OF HARRIS

After stocking up on food and supplies for the weekend, we made our way south to the Isle of Harris first because the weather forecast looked better for spending some time on the beach. I try to plan these things according to the weather and sometimes it works out better than others, but regardless, it was SO beautiful.

Seilebost | Just to get you in the right direction, this is where you should start looking for beaches on Harris. But seriously, take your pick of beautiful sandy beaches and you can have one all to yourself. We particularly enjoyed climbing up to the MacLeod Stone for a cool view out to Taransay at sunset.

Luskentyre Beach | Probably our favorite beach on Harris. The clearest water and purest sand, there was so much to explore here. Unfortunately, on the day we chose to visit, it was too cloudy to see any of the mountains in the distance. So I can only imagine how amazing it would be on a sunny day.

St. Clements Church | Medieval church founded by Alasdair MacLeod, the 8th clan chief of the MacLeods, who died in 1547. We nearly had the entire place to ourselves making it such an atmospheric experience to wander around the church and graveyard. But if you happen to make it down to the water, there is also the cutest stone harbor.

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Dun Carloway Broch

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ISLE OF LEWIS

After being on the more mountainous Harris, it can feel a bit anti-climactic driving north to the Isle of Lewis. But even though it appears flat and boring, there is so much to see if you know where to look! Lewis has a mixed Norse and Celtic heritage evident not only in place names but also abundant archaeological sites.

Bostadh Iron Age House | Although I had seen pictures of this place before arriving on the island, I didn’t know how to get there until we came across a guide book inside our wigwam. It’s technically a rebuilt Pictish house on the site where a well-preserved settlement was found (the original houses were found further down the beach, near the water). But there are also the remains of a Viking farm as well as blackhouses from more recent times. It would be so hard to choose a favorite spot on this island, but I loved the feeling of this place! If you want to go inside, make sure you check the opening times.

Dun Carloway Broch |One of the oldest structures on the island and one of the best preserved Brochs in Britain–pretty impressive considering the number of ancient sites on the island.

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village | Can you believe you can actually stay in these? They even have a hostel option if you’re looking to save money. Again, they seem to book up early, so plan ahead! We had fun just walking around the village, but you have to pay even to do that.

Norse Mill & Kiln | We came across this completely by accident, just driving by! It’s a reconstructed site, but still super interesting to see.

Stac a’ Phris Arch | My favorite sea arch to date! I actually added the google maps location of the arch myself, so you could say it’s not well known. Some people walk over from the parking at Dail Beag Beach, but that was a longer walk than we were hoping for. We just parked along a road nearer the arch and walked about a mile out.

Callanish Stones | Probably the most famous site on the island, the Callanish Standing Stones have inspired almost as many theories about their origin as Stonehenge. But unlike Stonehenge, entry is free and you can walk right up to them! Also, don’t judge me, but the stones used in Outlander were based on the Callanish Stones. 🙂

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Doesn’t it look like the best?! I would recommend going in summer to make the most of the beaches, but there isn’t too big a difference in the winter weather anyway. It’s pretty magical no matter when you choose to visit.

A Quick Guide to Lisbon

Lisbon is all about the food, so more than anything, this is just a guide of places to eat. But in between meals, we managed to get out and see some of the sights and we actually spent a bit longer here than our usual weekend adventures. It was nice to get a feel for some of the different neighborhoods of the city, although I’m not sure I could choose a favorite. It was a bit cold during our visit, but I still think spring is the best time to visit. Of course, it only made me want to explore more of Portugal and to come back when it’s warmer!

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STAY

There are some great options for accommodation in Lisbon, from the crazy luxury of Santa Clara 1728 to more affordable abodes. We decided to go super budget with this trip and stayed first in an airbnb, then a hostel.

Independente Hostel | We liked this hostel because of its modern design and central location. My friend and I stayed in one of the female dorms after George flew back to London and the view from our room was awesome. Although we weren’t as in love with the food at their restaurant, Decadente, the cocktails were excellent and the atmosphere was great.

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COFFEE

I always try to research coffee shops for a city trip because they are perfect when I need a break from walking or when I get too tired in the afternoon because I tried to wake up early. I like to have multiple options throughout the city, so I can stop into whichever is closest.

Copenhagen Coffee Lab | Walked past without any intention of going in, but what can I say? We were drawn in by the smell of cinnamon buns. The Alfama location is top notch.

Heim | The waffles with homemade caramel sauce were amazing.

Hello, Kristof | Loved this place. I enjoyed just sitting with my coffee, reading one of the many magazines they have available. It’s one of those places I could spend a long time in, if it weren’t so small and busy. But I understand the popularity!

FÁBRICA COFFEE ROASTERS | Whether you’re looking to sit and have a coffee or buy some beans to bring home with you, this is the place to go. They are committed to serving excellent specialty coffee, straight from the farm.

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EAT

Manteigaria | The best custard tarts in Lisbon! People will tell you the best are the Pastéis de Belém, but everyone in our group agreed that these were so much better. Best when eaten warm.

Pharmacia | One of my favorite restaurants we visited. It is located inside the Pharmacy museum, which threw us off at first, but it was so cool. I love that the water comes in a peroxide bottle and the bill in a urine sample. It is such an original idea.

A Cevicheria | If I could go back to any restaurant in Lisbon right now, it would be this one! If you didn’t already guess, the ceviche is the thing to order and they do it so well. I didn’t even mind waiting for a table as they have an outdoor bar serving their signature pisco sours. But go early if you don’t want to wait!

Bairro do Avillez | An entire neighborhood of restaurants from famous Portuguese chef José Avillez. We walked into the Taberna for tapas and the explosive olives blew our minds. Haha! If there’s a specific restaurant you prefer, I would recommend making a reservation.

Time Out Market | Literally all the best flavors of Lisbon under one roof.  We had fun even just walking around, checking out our options. I mean an octopus hot dog? What a brilliant idea! Go for a quick snack or hang out all day eating your weight in fishcakes and custard tarts.

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SHOP

A Vida Portuguesa | One of the best places to buy gifts and souvenirs for all things Portuguese. They even have a stall at the Time Out Market.

LX Factory | We came here after spending the morning in Belém because both are somewhat west of Lisbon. It’s basically like an arts center, plus great food and shopping. We ate at the Burger Factory, but the Mexican food at Mez Cais was also tempting.

Cerâmicas na Linha | Beautiful Portuguese ceramics. Most things are sold by weight and very affordable. Seriously contemplated buying an entire set of dishes, but settled on a small flower pot as it was slightly easier to fit into our carry-on.

SEE & DO

Museo Nacional do Azulejo | An entire museum dedicated to Portugal’s beautiful painted tiles. The word azulejo comes from the Arabic zellige, meaning “polished stone” and you can still see many Arabic influences in the tile motifs today. We went here on a rainy day and were so glad to escape inside the world of beautiful tile for a little while.

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Torre de Belém | The tower was closed to visitors during our time in Belém because of bad weather, but it was still great to see from the outside. It was commissioned by Manuel I of Portugal in 1515 to serve as a military fortress and its UNESCO heritage status comes from its importance regarding the Portuguese maritime discoveries.

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Jeronimos Monastery | We didn’t pay to go inside the actual monastery because we were mainly interested in the church of Santa Maria which is free to visit. Also free to see: the tomb of Vasco da Gama (just inside the church doors, on your left).

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Padrão dos Descobrimentos | A monument to Portuguese discovery, first erected in 1940 in honor of Henry the Navigator. It’s a great place to sit by the water on a sunny day, just taking in all the history of the area as well as a great view of the 25 de Abril Bridge spanning the Tagus River.

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Tram 28 | Tram 28 is one of Lisbon’s vintage trams and probably the most famous. Many people ride it as a more affordable sightseeing tour and I’ve linked a good guide for doing so above. However, if you’re more interested in taking a photo, I think the Ascensor da Bica is the most picturesque.

Alfama | Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, home to Visigoths and Moors. I would simply take a walk here, admiring the architecture. Maybe stop for a drink of ginjinha, the Portuguese cherry liquor, from the woman selling it outside her front door.

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And finally, make sure you watch the sun rise or set at one of the Miradouro or observation decks. We went back to the Miradouro Santa Luzia multiple times hoping for a more colorful sunset, but it was still an amazing view regardless!

Hoping to post a closer look at some of our day trips out of Lisbon very soon, so check back here for updates!

Weekend Adventure: Lundy Island

One thing that always helps me get excited for a trip is seeing pictures of the place we’re going. But when I started researching for our trip to Lundy, I had a hard time finding any photos aside from some shots of puffins and seals. And while we were definitely planning to see puffins, I was just as enamored with the landscape. So I wanted to share a few of our photos from Lundy to hopefully give a better picture of life on the island and how it feels to be there.

GETTING THERE

There are a few different ways you can get to Lundy from the Devon Coast. We chose to sail via the MS Oldenburg which is the cheapest option at £67 return. There is a helicopter service offered in the winter or in the event of a cancelled sailing (at a discounted rate). You may use your own transportation, subject to a landing fee and I’ve also heard you can get a charter from Clovelly, which could be a fun option. Overall, Lundy is not a cheap place to get to, but it’s absolutely worth it!

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STAY

Lundy Island is owned by the Landmark Trust, which restores and revives historic buildings by making them into holiday homes. So basically, all the cottages on Lundy are available to rent! And while that does sound amazing, they book up quickly for the summer months and they are not inexpensive.

We chose to camp for 4 nights, though I’m not sure I would do it again. The camping field is on a hill and therefore most (if not all) of the pitches are on a slant. I found it difficult to sleep on an angle, but if that doesn’t bother you, camping can also be organized through the Landmark Trust.

EAT

As we were camping and limited in the number of bags we could bring, we ate at Lundy’s tavern for almost every meal. We did pack some breakfast bars and snacks for lunch, but to be honest, it was nice to get out of the wind for a bit every evening. The Marisco Tavern is open 24 hours a day, every day and it’s a great place to relax after a day of exploring. There is also a small shop, but definitely check their hours as they are very limited.

DO

Firstly, get yourself a map because you will have no wifi or mobile signal on the island. I also highly recommend attending the Warden’s talk your first night on the island. We loved hearing about the conservation of Lundy’s wildlife and found it very useful knowledge to have while we were out exploring.

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PUFFINS | While Lundy is famous for its birdwatching in general, we really only came to see the puffins. In fact, the name Lundy actually means Puffin Island in Norse. To see them, you will need either binoculars or a telephoto lens. And the place to see them is called Jenny’s Cove. Aren’t they so cute?!

FYI: This trip was taken over the May bank holiday last year, late spring being one of the best times to see puffins.

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WALKING | Because Lundy is only three miles long by one mile wide, it wouldn’t take very long to walk the length of the island. But there is so much to see along the coastline, we were very happy we had more than one day to explore. There is a long, interesting history that is shown through many ruins and structures including a castle, lighthouses, and an ancient burial cairn.

FYI: The length of the island is divided into quarters, marked with stone walls to help walkers gauge the distance. They are aptly named: quarter wall, half wall, etc.

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SNORKEL SAFARI | We didn’t actually get to do this because we hadn’t researched it beforehand, but it sounded so fun! On certain dates, this is offered as a warden-led activity for about £10 per person. For more info, check here. Guided tours can also be arranged through other companies like Bristol Channel Charters.

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ROCK POOLS | Even if rock pool rambling isn’t your thing, I would still recommend checking out the area around the Devil’s Kitchen (right near the landing bay). We only discovered the area while waiting for our boat to arrive and loved exploring the clear blue tidal pools. Again, this is sometimes offered as a warden-led activity to help better understand the marine life found in this environment.

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When our boat finally arrived to bring us back to mainland Devon, we were more than ready to leave having become somewhat weary of the wind and lack of shelter provided by camping. But we left with such renewed joy in wildlife exploration, we were already talking about how we would return someday and stay in one of the Landmark cottages.

A weekend in Finland’s Lakeland

Earlier this month, George and I rented a cabin in the Finnish Lakeland with a few of our friends for a long weekend. When I first began planning a trip to Finland I really wanted to visit Lapland, but I quickly found out how expensive that would be and it just wasn’t going to work out. Far cheaper than a flight to Lapland, we flew into Helsinki and drove a few hours east into the Lakes.

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Lakeland is a large region of Finland covering the center and east of the country along the border of Russia. In the summer, it’s full of people swimming and canoeing: taking full advantage of the season’s warmth. In the winter, however, it transforms into a snowy wonderland where people go sledding and ice fishing by day before cozying up in their cabins at night.

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STAY

Airbnb | Most cottages in Finland offer saunas, but not many can say they also have a hot tub. That was definitely what sold us on this place. Well, that and the fact that it is picture perfect. Complete with heated floors and a dishwasher, I can’t say enough how much we loved this place!

If you’ve never used airbnb, get $40 off by clicking here.

We were all so excited that we woke up at sunrise after our first night, which really isn’t that impressive considering the sun rose at 9 am. Regardless, we had so much fun exploring the property and walking down to the lake. We couldn’t wait to start up the wood-fired sauna and hot tub. And although we didn’t actually need to chop our own wood, it was nice that they left us an axe and all, just in case.

The short time we spent here was mainly split between the hot tub, sauna, and swimming in the spring-fed pond.

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For most of us, this was our first time ice swimming so we were all super nervous. I definitely screamed on my way in, not to mention slipping on the ice in my swimsuit before I even made it to the pond. Can you see the pain on my face?

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My friend Flicky, on the other hand, is a pro. She even went back in for a second go later on.

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Next stop: the sauna. I am starting to see why Finnish people are hooked on ice swimming. As long as you have a nice warm sauna to head to afterward, it really is quite invigorating. And ours was just steps away.

It took hours for the hot tub to heat up (and a lot of wood), but it was totally worth it. Can you imagine a more picturesque spot?

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While we waited, we cooked up some moose bought from the local butcher. And by the time we finished eating, the water was the perfect temperature.

Seeing as it was dark and we were all sitting outside in our nice warm hot tub, we kept waiting for the clouds to clear in hope of seeing the northern lights. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but it still felt pretty magical, nevertheless.

OTHER ACCOMODATION

These are some of the other places I was considering staying. I did quite a bit of research on this, so I feel as though I have to share.

Rock and Lake | This is an association of cottages to rent in the Finnish Lakeland, most of which are right around the corner from where our airbnb was located. In my communication with the company, I found them to be very helpful, even though we didn’t end up staying with them. They helped organize the husky safari I had planned, hoping there would be enough snow for us to go (there wasn’t). And they also offer other tours depending on the season, like ice fishing and canoeing.

Hotel Järvisydän| If you choose to go the hotel route, this is definitely your best bet. With a brand new spa and 3 different types of saunas to choose from, it seems like they’ve really thought of everything. We ate at the hotel restaurant on our last day in the area, so we had the chance to snoop around and were not disappointed. The suites in the hotel look amazingly cozy, but they also have private villas if you’d prefer.

On our last day, we said goodbye to our tiny cabin and headed south on our way to the airport. But we had one last adventure before returning home.

Porokylä Reindeer Experience | During this excursion, we visited a small farm called Porokylä (poro meaning reindeer and kylä meaning village). We fed the reindeer their favorite lichen while learning all about them, like the fact that only female reindeer have antlers in winter or how many words the Saami people have to describe them (it’s 1000, in case you were wondering). If there is enough snow the tour is done by snowshoe, but you can also choose the snowmobile safari for even more fun.

SEE & DO

We really enjoyed spending the majority of our time at the cabin we rented considering we wanted to take full advantage of the hot tub and sauna. But if you happen to be more adventurous than us, these are some of the other ideas I thought about for our trip and some highlights of Finland’s Lakeland.

Husky Safari | Again, this can be organized through Rock and Lake. It’s a single price whether you go with two people or ten, so the more the merrier.

Kuopio Tower | For the best view of Lakeland, take the elevator up this 75 meter high tower and have a drink at the rotating restaurant at the top. The town is also a great place to try some of Lakeland’s famous fishcakes at Hanna Partanen.

Olavinlinna Castle | I never would have expected to see a proper medieval castle like this in Finland, but here it is. Built in 1475 to protect the region from Russian advances, St. Olaf’s castle is the world’s northernmost medieval fortress.

Lake Saimaa | The largest lake in Finland, this is the only place in the world where you can see the endangered Saimaa Ringed Seal. This rare and unique species lives in the freshwater of the lake and loves the ice. It is possible to see them in winter, but you have a much better chance in the summer when the seals warm themselves on the rocky shore.

National Parks | Finland has 40 national parks, many of which are found in Lakeland. With so many options, there is plenty of trekking to be done no matter where you find yourself.

 

For us, these will all have to wait until our next visit to Finland.

A snowy day in Porvoo

Our first stop in Finland was the historic town of Porvoo: the second oldest city in the country. Our flight into Helsinki arrived so late that we spent the night near the airport and decided to head there in the morning (a quick 30 minute drive). And when we woke up to a view of our snowy parking lot, we couldn’t wait to get out and explore something a little more picturesque.

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EAT

Sinne Porvoo | This bistro isn’t too far from the old town center but there is free parking behind the building if you fancy. It’s housed in a more industrial setting with lovely atmosphere and locally sourced ingredients. The set menu for lunch was a pretty good deal and the food was outstanding!

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Cafe Postres | The cosiest café. I wanted to steal the mugs I loved them so much. I also loved trying the Runeberg Cake here, which is a Finnish specialty traditionally flavored with almonds, rum and topped with raspberry jam.

SEE & DO

Porvoo Cathedral | I was really looking forward to seeing the inside of this cathedral but we missed the opening hours by about 20 minutes. Something to consider if you’re planning a trip in winter: most shops and attractions close super early.

Old Town Hall | Now a museum, this 18th Century town hall is one of only two remaining in Finland. The oldest town hall in the country!

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Old Town Walking Tour | We walked around the old town on our own, discovering most of the sights along this tour, but I imagine a guided tour would be interesting as well. If you visit in summer, you can join this guided tour with Visit Porvoo.

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Red Shore Houses | The red wooden houses that line the river were once used to store goods when Porvoo was an important trading center and are an iconic symbol of the old town. Now, they are mainly private homes but can be viewed from the other side of the river by crossing the old bridge.

SHOP

All the shops in the old town are cute and mainly located on Jokikatu and Välikatu streets. I only have one specific recommendation, but it was fun browsing all the shops.

Skafferi | This was my favorite shop we visited. It’s mainly specialty tea and coffee, but they also have some sweets and gourmet ingredients like saffron honey and seabuckthorn jam.

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Porvoo is definitely worth a stop, whether you are looking for a day trip from Helsinki or continuing on to Lakeland, like we were.

Iceland Itinerary

Iceland is not only one of the most amazing places we’ve ever been, it’s one of those places we want to go back to as soon as we’re able. We took this trip in April last year and I’m not really sure why we put it off so long considering Iceland has been at the top of my bucket list forever. I think I was a little worried I had built it up too much in my head and it wouldn’t live up to the hype or something. In fact, I should probably tell you that it didn’t so I can keep it all to myself. Iceland was already way more touristy than I expected and we went in the off season. So let me just say that even though some of these pictures may look like we were all alone, we definitely weren’t. There were busloads full of people at every major attraction along the Ring Road unless we went at a weird time of day. That being said, it is still absolutely worth it!

Read on to see the itinerary we followed, which was a slightly nontraditional route for first timers.

ITINERARY

The underlined days are linked to other posts I’ve written about our trip to Iceland. Click on any of those for more info about a specific place!

  • DAY 1: Arrival & Blue Lagoon
  • DAY 2: Silfra Snorkeling & Snæfellsnes Peninsula
  • DAY 3: Ring Road
  • DAY 4: Waterfalls & Vik
  • DAY 5: Glacier Lagoon
  • DAY 6: Reykjavik
  • DAY 7: Departure

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DAY 1: Arrival & Blue Lagoon

Our flight into Reykjavik arrived ridiculously early in the morning–I think it was 6 am. So the only logical thing to do at that time was a visit to the Blue Lagoon. I would highly recommend going at the end of your trip if possible, but it was also a nice way to start our trip. It was hailing when we arrived, but was sunny by the time we left! We then checked into the Skuggi Hotel and spent the rest of the evening walking around Reykjavik.

STAY: Skuggi Hotel

DAY 2: Silfra Snorkeling & Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The next morning, we had booked a snorkeling experience at Thingvellir National Park. If you book the earliest slot, you might not be competing with other groups for time in the water. And definitely buy the pictures! After George lost all the video from his GoPro, I really wish we had.

After snorkeling, most people continue on to see other sites in the Golden Circle like the geysir or Gullfoss. But we decided to do something different and instead drove north to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It was still light out when we arrived, so we really packed a lot into this day (find out about all the sights in Snæfellsnes by reading this post). After an amazing meal watching the sun set over the harbour in Stykkishólmur, we spent the night at the Hótel Fransiskus Stykkishólmi.

STAY: Hótel Fransiskus Stykkishólmi

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DAY 3: Ring Road

When we set out from our hotel in the morning, our first stop was a visit to a hidden hot spring in Snæfellsnes. Not so hidden that no one knows about it, but a little bit off the beaten track.

Then we got on the road and began our 4 hour journey south along the Ring Road. We didn’t make many stops until we started seeing waterfalls, the first of which being Seljalandsfoss. It was pretty crowded, but still super fun to walk behind the falls. Just make sure you’re wearing waterproof everything!

We got into Vik around sunset and just walked along the beach, watching the puffins fly overhead and debating whether there might be a chance to see the Northern Lights. We decided to check later on, when the night was at its darkest, and went back to get some rest at the Volcano Hotel. When we woke up (in the middle of the night), we did kind of see them but they were so dim and stationary we couldn’t be sure.

STAY: Volcano Hotel

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DAY 4: Waterfalls & Vik

After sleeping in the next morning, we paid a visit to Skógafoss and the Skogar Museum (right next door). Skógafoss was by far my favorite waterfall from this trip! And the Skogar Museum was pretty cute. At least it was a fun way to spend a somewhat weird day weather-wise. Trying to find somewhere to eat afterward was a bit difficult, but we ended up at Halldórskaffi which was alright.

We went down to the beach at Vik again for sunset and contemplated going up Dyrhólaey. Of course now I really wish we had, but at the time we were both so tired. We went back to the Volcano hotel pretty early that night and it felt so good to be out of the wind. Although it was great to have two nights in this area, I don’t know if I would recommend the Volcano Hotel for both nights. I know the options are pretty limited, but it just wasn’t our favorite and there are so many great hotels in Iceland.

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DAY 5: Glacier Lagoon

We started to head east toward the glacier lagoon the next day with a stop at the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon on our way. I would definitely recommend a 4×4 for the road leading to the canyon and I was very glad we had one. It was so beautiful, but also crazy windy when we visited. If you go: please, please stay on the path. They are really trying to let the moss and other flora regrow from being trodden on by tourists.

If you’re not too tired for a bit of a hike, there is plenty of time for a stop at the Skaftafell National Park to see Svartifoss Waterfall. This is also where you can go for a glacier walk or ice cave tour. Unfortunately, it wasn’t cold enough for us to see the ice caves.

After checking in at the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, we headed out to the lagoon to watch the sunset. But my favorite area was actually the beach opposite the lagoon where giant chunks of ice washed up on the black sand. Also, for the record, the Fosshotel was amazing! Delicious food, beautiful decor and a pretty awesome view.

STAY: Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon

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DAY 6: Reykjavik

The drive back to Reykjavik from the glacier lagoon gave us plenty of time to stop at any of the sights along the South Ring Road that we missed passing through the first time. In addition to another stop at Skógafoss, we made time to take a dip in the Seljavallalaug Pool. Built in 1923, this is one of the oldest pools in Iceland. It was a little slimy getting into the pool and the water wasn’t super warm, but it was still a fun diversion from driving!

We got into Reykjavik with most of the day left and you can read about what we got up to in my post here.

STAY: Skuggi Hotel

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DAY 7: Departure

Our departure from Reykjavik wasn’t too early in the morning, leaving us time to get some coffee and cinnamon buns on our way out of town. Luckily, Brauð & Co. and Reykjavik Roasters are right near each other. Such a great snack to have with us on the flight!

 

West Iceland: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

After leaving Reykjavik, we headed straight up to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland. This is not the traditional route for first time visits to Iceland, but that’s exactly why we chose it. It was a bit brown still in late April, so I would definitely recommend visiting in the summer when it’s green.

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STAY

Hótel Fransiskus Stykkishólmi | This hotel is a former monastery with an active chapel inside. You’ll probably see some nuns around too. We found everything about the hotel lovely and Stykkishólmur was a great place to base ourselves for exploring Snæfellsnes. Ask for a room with a view of the harbor!

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EAT

When we asked at the hotel where we should go for dinner, we were given two options: the brown house by the harbor or the green house in town.

Sjavarpakkhusid | This is the brown house by the harbor. We opted to eat here hoping to get a good sunset view and were not disappointed. Also, the food was amazing! It’s hard to say what my favorite meal of the trip was because it was all so good, but this place is definitely a contender.

Narfeyrarstofa | This is the green house. Although we didn’t get the chance to eat here, I’m going to trust the hotel’s advice on this one. The atmosphere doesn’t look quite as nice as the one by the harbor, but I’m betting the food is just as amazing.

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SEE & DO

Stykkishólmur | Climb the hill to the lighthouse near the harbor for an awesome view of the town. If you happen to be around during the day, there’s also a cute book shop (the yellow house) and a Norwegian house museum (the black house). Apparently, a scene from the Secret Life of Walter Mitty was filmed in the book shop!

Búðakirkja | Built in 1703, this is one of the oldest churches in Iceland and has a very distinct look with its black wooden structure. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize this church was in Snæfellsnes and completely missed our chance to see it.

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Kirkjufell Waterfall | This was probably our main motivation for coming up to Snæfellsnes. The waterfall is smaller than you might expect, but the mountain backdrop makes the scene feel so much more magnificent. Would also be a fun spot to hunt for Northern Lights!

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Hot Springs | I’m not going to tell you exactly where we found this tiny hot spring for two, because it is already too well known. We arrived early in the morning and barely had 5 minutes to ourselves before people started circling around us. So all I’ll tell you is that it’s somewhere on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula!

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Arnarstapi | We kind of stumbled across this spot without realizing it is a popular place to visit. There are so many unique formations along the coastline including stone sea arches and natural bridges. We didn’t give ourselves nearly enough time to explore this beautiful area.

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Yeah, I walked over that having no idea what was underneath me. But if I had known, I probably wouldn’t have done it…so I’m alright with that.

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From Snæfellsnes, we ended up driving south past Reykjavik again in order to see more of the sights along the southern part of the Ring Road. However, if you wanted to continue your journey north to the West Fjords, Stykkishólmur is where you catch the ferry. This is what we hope to do on our next visit to Iceland.

Read more about the Ring Road in my next post!