Prague 2016 – Day 7 – Running out of time

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Wednesday unfortunately marks the final day of our holiday, with our plane booked for 9:30pm. Our airbnb hosts were nice enough to let us keep the room a few hours longer than we were meant to, so we could stay in the warm until 4pm at least, so we kind of planned our day around that.

We considered going into central again but honestly im not sure what we’d end up doing there other than freezing to death, so we decided on just doing a few things around vinohrady and chilling in the flat.

After some lunch we went to Questerland, a nearby Escape room game, it’s one of the higher rated ones in prague and has the added benefit of being in walking distance from our flat and pretty damn cheap (800czk for the both of us, or about £27). There were quite a few scenarios but I thought i’d go with the bank vault escape, where you’ve broken into a bank but the door has closed behind you. We had great fun, there were lots of secrets and interesting puzzles, and the place was empty so our host was pretty chill with us taking as long as we needed.

Walked through a czeck market on the way back to the flat, definitely not geared towards tourists because hardly any english there, was pretty interesting to see what kinds of things they were selling.

Lunch was traditional, some variety of meat in a cream and dil sauce with bread dumplings, of which I don’t think i’m ever going to get used to. We’d chill and then finally collect our stuff before leaving the flat for the last time.

But we weren’t done with Prague just yet….
Due to a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of what a Thai Massage is, we were booked in for one at one of the better parlours in Prague. We arrived and were promptly whisked into a side room with 2 beds ready for us, where we were then asked to strip down to our underwear. The next hour consisted of a Thai lady tenderizing my back like how you’d loosen up beef, a lengthy mix of overly forceful kneading of my flesh with plenty of forced bone cracking. At one point she straight up just stood and walked all over me, standing on the back of my calves, my ass, my back and shoulders… At another point she sat on my ass and then tried to snap me in half from behind… There was also a move which involved her grabbing my legs and inserting her heel in that spot just inside your inner thigh (read: right next to my balls). It was definitely up there with the most painful paid sessions i’ve had in my life, and I only have myself to blame. At least I felt refreshed afterwards right? Well… not really, and it was a bit weird to walk for a little bit, the soles of my feet in particular felt like they had an arch forcefully sculpted into them (I have flat feet).

After being thoroughly brutalized, we headed to the airport for plenty of waiting around, and eventually our flight back to England – where we would end up stuck at Gatwick for ages because of a stupid southern rail strike.

 

Prague 2016 – Day 6 – Old and New town

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We’d spend the majority of the morning randomly wandering around Pragues old town, cobbled streets and tall buildings with some random castle towery things interspersed (presumedly to keep the trolls out or something). Unintentionally ended up back at the old town square back where we were the other night. The square was probably just as busy, but now the sky was a lovely bright blue instead of the blackness we had seen last night, the downside of course is that the tree looked way less impressive.

We peeked into a few of the churches around the square which we hadn’t seen the other day, St Nicholas church across the street had a rather impressive big ol’ chandelier thing in the centre, and some pretty nice ceiling art.

Back outside we started to notice a very large congregation of people around the astronomical clock, 12o’clock was drawing close so we figured there would be some huge fanfare when it struck so we joined the crowd and waited it out.
The bells rang, accompanied by some tiny statues moving along and ringing smaller bells, a bit unimpressive if I’m being honest.

Lots of christmas market food for lunch, including bavarian crown, some hotdogs and some amaretto punch. We tried visiting the large church at the back of the christmas tree, but it was closed for a lunch, still took some pictures of the inside though through the glass.

*Wandering around intensifies*

We’d do some winow shopping, take a break in a chocolate shop, went to ‘moser crystal’ which was a super expensive shop filled with crystal and glass – some centrepieces being in the £100,000’s, didn’t take any pictures as we were being watched the whole time. We also went into Hamleys which is actually a british toy store, however the interior of the Prague branch was very impressive with a carousel and slide between floors. We’d stumble upon another christmas market with donkeys, a Jewish synagogue (which was closed for hibernation) and an old style shopping plaza, before finally ending up at the dancing house towards the south of central prague.

We arrived around 4pm just when the sun was starting to retreat, so got some pretty nice sunset shots around the river, it’s a shame it wasn’t the same side that the castle was on.

The rest of the night is a bit of a blur, Cordelia wanted to go into a place called Nightmare horror bar, which is themed on old horror films, it was really cool inside and all of the cocktails and shots were spooky themed. Unfortunately I underestimated the cocktails and had a bit too much to drink, and subsequently felt very ill for the rest of the night. Dinner was at a restaurant nearby where I just had some goulash and bread, and then had to take frequent pauses on the trip home to play the ‘burp or vom?’ game with myself (thankfully, all burps).

Prague 2016 – Day 5 – Castle district

A frosty morning would greet us as we opened the door to be greeted by minus 4 degrees weather, the czech weather certainly does not play around.

It was a fairly easy train ride over to the castle district, where we would be spending the majority of our day. The station is actually kind of outside of the castley area, so we’d have to take a bit of a trek uphill to get there, to be met by armed guards and airport style equipment to search all who were to enter, the czech appear to still be using the castle as some form of actual fortress by the looks of things.

The view from the top of the hill was impressive, giving a great overview of many of Pragues landmarks, there were droves of tourists of course which was a bit of a shame, but I guess you can’t have it all. The castle was actually more of a small town or collection of huge buildings if you would prefer, cobbled roads lay inbetween tall buildings with some castle remnants spread inbetween the gift shops and cafes. Of interesting note was some random statue of a guy with a gleaming penis, a small crowd gathered around it with people taking it in turns to rub his dong.

Further on up the hill we would come across a small Christmas market and an incredible church – the Cathedral of St Vitus. Unbeknownst to us, you can actually see this cathedral atop the hill from most places in Prague, and for good reason, it was seriously gigantic.

After taking pictures of it’s impressive exterior we made the mistake (?) of paying a little extra to climb up the belltower – which turned out to be a a real challenge, I’ll be honest and say was actually expecting to turn the corner after the ticket booth and see a lift, but nope, only a narrow spiral staircase maybe 1.5m in Diameter, with 287 steps (approx 90 meters – an average 2 story UK house is approx 8 meters, for comparison). People coming down the staircase were actually cheering the ascending people on, that’s how rough that shit was. The view from the top, thankfully, was breathtaking, with pretty clear views of all of Prague.

Back down on the floor, we looked inside the Cathedral but didn’t feel like paying the additional entry cost as we could already see most of the goods from the entrance. Some real size to the hall, and some lovely detailed stained glass windows, the church was actually only completed in the 1930’s so I guess that would explain some of the interior detail.

Some christmas market lunch (delicious chorizo hotdog and some trdelnik [Chimney cake] ) and then we were off again to another church, this time the Loreto, which was a Marian pilgimage site with church and treasury inside. The entrance fee was kind of steep, and they actually didnt even want us to take photos inside without paying another 100czk for a ‘photography pass’ but the place wasnt very policed so we had our way with it, the main church area at the back was quite nice and completely empty. The treasury upstairs was a nice bonus as well, featuring a piece called the ‘Prague Sun’ which is a monstrance encrusted with 6000 plus diamonds.

Yet more walking! Downhill this time and eastward back towards civilisation, we stopped off at a chocolate cafe because we were freezing. We ended up at the Prague chocolate cafe and bistro – Cordelia ordered a chocolate beer and I thought i’d try their speciality – a hot chocolate.
What arrived in front of me was very literally hot chocolate – barely even classified a liquid, it looked almost as if thy had thrown a small bar of chocolate into a mug, warmed it up and called it a day, or perhaps my waitress confused the containers for chocolate fondue and drinking chocolate? Regardless of the case, I ended up with a mug of super sweet melted chocolate which I just could not drink to save my life out of fear of sugar overdose.

St Nicholas church would meet us at the bottom of the hill, yet another large church to marvel at, this one featuring a beautiful bright painted ceiling and some very impressively huge statues. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

We’d wander around a little more and stumble upon the John Lennon wall, a rather strange place to put it, given that the Beatles are British, and so is John Lennon but hey ho. The wall itself was graffiti’d from top to bottom with various colours and optimistic quotes.

We had finally concluded our activities west of the river, and could finally make our way across the famed Charles Bridge, the huge paved bridge adorned with various statues which you may have seen upvoted on reddit once or twice. It was equally impressive in person, especially because the Cathedral and castle district sit high upon a hill in the background, making for some really nice pictures (I hope ). We were on it long enough that eventually a huge man with a cloak and cape strolled down the whole bridge and manually ignited all of the lamps on the bridge.

My camera battery was starting to flash by this stage, unsurprising given I had taken almost 300 photos by this point in the day, and didn’t bother charging the battery yesterday. I had hoped to not go to anywhere massively impressive until tomorrow out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to photograph it.

Then as we wandered through the cobbled sideroads, we came across Old Town Square, filled with it’s golden astronomical clock, a massive Christmas market, the largest and brightest Christmas tree I’ve seen all holiday, and some form of church in the background. We blitzed them all, intending to come for a second round tomorrow.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, have some kind of underwhelming pork for dinner and then back to the flat to rest and defrost.

Vienna/Prague 2016 – Day 4 – Intermission

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Our journey over from Vienna to Prague was fairly uneventful, and took far longer than we expected it to. We checked out of our airbnb fairly easily, essentially just leaving the keys in the room and sending a whatsapp message to our host, and then headed towards the station, grabbing a few snacks along the way before ending up a McDonalds for lunch (I know, I know). To my surprise, the Maccy’s was actually pretty nice with some interesting changes from our british menu, like a chicken and guacamole burger.

We were a little early for our train and so had to wait around for a little while, before eventually boarding and then struggling to work out how the seats were arranged, as we suspect some of them had been booked, but not being able to read much german we were kind of at a loss.
The train ride was long, approximately 4 hours or so, I filled the time mostly by using the trains onboard wifi and playing some android games (Colossatron), I think I may have dozed off a little in the middle as well.

We eventually hit Prague (or Praha), the sun had now set and Prague central station was enveloped in a creepy fog. It took us longer than expected to work out how to use the ticket machines at the station, primary because the bastard things only took coins and we were fresh into the country and stacked with 500 notes.

After some getting lost on the tubes and streets, we arrived at our next accomodation for 3 days, hosted by a lovely lady called Denisa, she showed us to the room and introduced us to some maps and how to get around, before actually giving us some basic food for breakfast (eggs, ham, cheese, bread, etc). The room itself is a good size and most importantly was nice and warm, we had not expected Prague to be any colder than Vienna but apparently that was a mistake.

Dinner was at a small Vietnamese place a few streets down, where a nice hot bowl of Pho would help to warm me up, the prices were insaely cheap after staying in Vienna for a few days, with Dinner for two coming to just over a tenner GBP.

Vienna 2016 – Day 3 – Museums

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Nice little lay in today, I don’t think we properly really got moving until 11am or so. We’d start the day by heading back towards Stephensplatz so I could pick up a magnet for my fridge (tradition now) before heading down south towards the treasury and national library. I had seen some quite impressive looking pictures of the library online and wanted to check it out, however upon entering, we were kind of unable to find where to go, all we could see was a museum which you had to pay to enter, and the actual library itself which had turnstiles and multiple notices saying ‘we are not a tourist information centre’.

We gave up on the idea eventually, and just kept exploring outside. We hadn’t checked this segment of vienna on the first day so it was all pretty much new to us, wide open spaces and huge fancy buildings everywhere – the aforementioned library was insanely big and fancy in its architecture.

A little further south we’d come across the museumsquartier, where we’d end up spending the majority of our day. A pop up Christmas market in the middle of the plaza, flanked by two gigantic museums and a third at the end of the plaza in front of us. The shops were the usual fare, though it was a Saturday so we didn’t really stick around to browse too much as it was just so incredibly busy.

We ended up going into the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which is technically an art museum I believe. Entry was a very steep 15 euros, so were pretty worried it might be shit and not worth the money, but the initial area we could see from the front door seemed promising so we went for it. It was a good thing we did! the museum was incredible inside (and actually #3 for Vienna attractions on Tripadvisor, unbeknown to me at the time), the internal architecture and detail in every single one of the rooms was super impressive, let alone all of the things on display. Whilst the upper level was indeed mostly paintings, the lower floor had a collection of roman and egyptian antiques, majority of which were super impressive – detailed glasswork, pottery, jewellery, statues carved from ivory, bone and bronze..
We spent hours looking around, before spending a bit of time sitting in the cafe to try Vienna’s signature Sachertorte, which is a chocolate cake with layer of apricot jam and topped with Dark chocolate, it was nice though perhaps not as great as I was expecting – it certainly wasn’t any Blackforest.

After thoroughly exploring the museum, we’d venture back out into the museumsquartier where it was now dark, the museum opposite had projections on the face of it, and all of the christmas lights were in full bloom, making for some nice pictures (I hope).

We’d set out north looking for an early dinner before landing in another austrian restaurant. This one was pretty good though, had a lovely main of Roast beef with onions and an incredible gravy… Yum.

Rathaus plaza was our next destination, which had been very impressively lit up and adorned with it’s own christmas market and gigantic ice skating rink. This Ice rink was like nothing I had ever seen, it wasn’t a normal oval but rather like it had just enveloped a small forest, with multiple paths around the trees, as well as long single channel paths and even a roundabout, it all weaved and interconnected to smaller more tradional rinks.

The market was similarly huge, which was just as well because it was absolutly heaving with people – being a saturday night and all. We were at the mercy of the crowd at some points, and trying to take pictures without some tall austrian’s head in the way was a real challenge. Stopped again for some more cake, Mozart cake this time, which I believe is chocolate and pistachio – as usual I could only really taste the chocolate…

We’d wander around for a while, taking pictures of all the lights as well as Rathaus from afar, before eventually wandering down towards the Vienna parliment building to check that out as well. By the time we were done there, the cold was really starting to get to us, and so we would head home.

Vienna 2016 – Day 2 – Schönbrunn and Prater

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Day 2 was basically designated as our Schönbrunn Palace day.The Palace is widely regarded as the must see attraction in Vienna, and comprises of a huge palace which may have been home to a Johann Strauss,  an imperial horse carriage museum, a bunch of cafes, and palace grounds and gardens which must span around 2 square miles.

This palace grounds are actually walking distance from the airbnb flat we are staying in,  albeit a long walk –  so we headed over in the morning by foot while getting battered by rain and then had the joy of spending about 20 minutes or so queuing to get tickets…  Only to then find out that we would not be allowed into the palace for another hour and a half due to the way they stagger people’s entrance.

So while waiting I thought I’d grab tickets for a nearby apple strudel show, basically 10 euros lets you watch some chefs make traditional Viennese apple strudel –  the queue for this was again about 15 minutes or so,  but it was all so badly explained that when I arrived,  it turns out you can’t just buy some strudel there (despite it being a huge cafe with trays of apple strudel literally just sitting behind the last behind the counter) –  you have to watch the show to get the food, and apparently you can’t just buy tickets for later on, you have to pay and catch the next show,  which was in 40 minutes and would clash with roughly when we were due to go into the palace…  The woman was so incredibly rude that It just pissed me off and I ended up saying forget it and walking out,  this rudeness unfortunately seems to be pretty common in the country.

We’d spend an hour or so in the imperial carriage museum nearby, featuring the carriages used to ferry royals about the street, all rather impressively detailed and in gold trim. One of the funeral carriages in particular were really impressive,  there was also a bunch of garments on display.

Eventually, we headed to the palace to have our walk around, we skipped the audio guide because honestly I don’t think either of us cared that much for the proper history of the place. We had purchased the grand tour tickets, of which there is an imperial tour which has 22 rooms, and the grand tour which has 40 rooms.

The interior of the palace was a bit underwhelming, perhaps because I went to Nueschwanstein Castle last year which was basically the same thing but way more impressive, but the rooms were nice and royal but not particularly jaw dropping. There were a few rooms which were impressive of course, and I tried to sneak a picture even though you aren’t supposed to.

Outside the main palace was a huge pop up Christmas market, where we’d have a wander around the shops and get some food for lunch. Plenty of interesting things to eat,  we had goulash is bread bowl, a hash brown thing, and Cordelia bought some form of dumpling thing called a Germknodel which was interesting… It was filled with spiced plum filling or something. We also popped into a small cafe just to warm up and have a bit of a sit down, I regrettably ordered some Apple strudel there, which was a bit soggy and not really impressive at all. We’d spend a few hours walking around the palace grounds until we got tried, we’d keep stumbling upon these gigantic structures as we were walking around which would slow us down from getting back home, as we’d inevitably have to take photos.

Back to the flat after this, where I’d apparently pass out for an hour or so from exhaustion.  My legs were killing me from all of the walking and standing, as aside from in a cafe we stopped in, we had been on our feet walking or queuing all day. Evening quickly rolled by as we rested, and we were soon out and about again,  this time headed by train to Prater, which is like a fairground which is open all year around. We thought we’d better eat dinner first, and so stopped into a restaurant along the way,  where I had an unimpressive looking,  but good tasting Lamb Ragout with croquettes.

The parts of prater which were open were fairly small,  with half of the park turned off and in darkness, I couldn’t help but think of that ‘now this is a ghost town’  quote from call of duty as we looked around the off section. More towards the north side,  things were more alive, with shops selling snacks and mulled wine and punch, and some attractions (swings and wheel) being great fun to photograph.

We thought what the hell and went on the Ferris wheel,  despite it’s very steep price of almost 10 euros per person. It was a nice ride around but on the short side for sure,  it did however let us get some nice photos from above. Things were starting to close by the time we got off the wheel, as it was close to 10pm by then,  we played around with our cameras some more before starting the journey back home.

Vienna 2016 – Day 0+1 – Stephensplatz

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Our flight and arrival was actually on the 30th, catching a 5pm flight and arriving at Vienna international Airport around 8pm. From there it took us admittedly ages to work out how to get to our airbnb accommodation, as neither of us had really researched how to get there from the airport. The Airbnb host and flat are quite nice, a little on the small side but everything we need,  I’m really not enjoying the bed covers and pillows though,  which are just kind of awful. It probably says something that on my first night I had to change the duvet covers and pillowcase before even attempting to sleep, and then opting to instead get rid of the pillow and throw some towels in a pillowcase.

We went out to try and find some late night food but really struggled to find anywhere open, we ended up just grabbing some schnitzel and chips in a box from some kebab shop, then on the way back it started snowing like crazy, it didn’t settle or last long though sadly.

 

 

Our first proper day in Vienna was spent wandering the city centre around Stephensplatz, we are two trains away from central central Vienna. The main streets of the city itself being very fancy and clean, with some very impressive architecture on even mundane shops and buildings. We were almost immediately harassed to buy concert tickets as soon as we left the station and almost bit. We spent ages trying to find somewhere to eat lunch, before eventually failing and just settling for some bratwurst in bun.

From here we’d wander aimlessly around, and stumble upon Stephensplatz, St Stephen’s Cathedral, St Peter’s Church, Ruprechts Church and Freyung Christmas Market. With ample wandering and nibbling between. St Stephens and St Peters were very impressive to look at, with Stephens being absolutely gigantic (and in the middle of service) and St Peters being adorned in incredible amounts of gold, it was almost overwhelming to look at.

The weather here is absolutely freezing, I’m wearing 3 layers, hat and gloves and it’s still so cold, and the streets are so wide that there is basically nowhere to hide. The main streets around Stephensplatz also seem to be their equivalent of bond street, filled with designer shops and jewellery showrooms. Freyung Christmas market was quite nice, though it was somewhere disappointing after visiting the ridiculous markets of Nuremberg Germany –  I guess I’ve been spoiled.

Dinner was some traditional schnitzel –  the local favorite dish, it was nice though I guess a bit underwhelming, being a little bit similar to a gigantic chicken nugget really. Back to the flat afterwards to try and better plan the rest of our stay in Vienna.

Belfast – Day 3+4 – Prison and city

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Nice relaxed start today with a lay-in. After some breakfast we’d head to Crumlin Road Gaol, a ‘recently’ (20 years) shut down prison, a large 4 wing prison which used to house some 1500 prisoners – men, women and children.

The interior of the prison is tour only, and included a talk and tour around a cell block, holding cells, admin offices, the yards and even the execution chamber.
The prison was well maintained (moreso than the courthouse opposite), it was pretty fascinating to see the internal workings and hear some of the stories from the prison. The execution chamber in particular was very ominous and apparently had a genuine noose.

After returning from the prison, we went for lunch at the large pub we passed by the other day. A decent if only slightly above average roast chicken and chips meal.

We’d spend most the rest of the day just kind of wandering around Belfast city and trying to find some souviners to take home etc. I don’t think we really found too much else, we stopped in a pub for a drink whilst wandering around, and eventually headed back to the hotel to relax for a bit before going to find food.

Dinner was at a nice little restaurant not too far from our hotel called Havana Bank Square, I had a lovely Hake, bacon and mash meal.

 

~~~~~

 

Day 4

We really didn’t have much to do by the time day 4 rolled around, we just kind of relaxed until about midday and then went out to one of the higher rated pubs in Belfast central. We had a beer and their Irish Stew for lunch which was super thick and hearty – filled with potatoes and meat. The pub itself was really cute and welcoming, with the bar lady treating us like regulars even though we most definitely aren’t (and I was probably the only Chinese person to step foot in the bar all year).

Afterwards, we walked around castle court shopping centre for a little bit afterwards, before heading to City hall for the free tour (Free tours run at 11, 2pm and 3pm). The tour guide and explanations were a little boring, but there was definitely some interesting rooms and history behind the building, especially the stained glass in the atrium.

Not a whole lot else happened after that, we’d eventually head back to the hotel to grab our bags, and then catch the bus to the airport. Belfast departures was hilariously overstaffed compared to the amount of passengers, I think there were more staff than travellers around the bag check, which would explain why everybody got thoroughly searched. I lost a jar of Bushmills whiskey marmalade because apparently it’s considered a liquid :(
The plane was delayed, and by the time we got home it was around 11pm, which is absolutely shocking considering we arrived at the airport around 5pm.

 

Belfast – Day 2 – Game of Thrones and Giants Causeway

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Bit of a rough night’s sleep, with the drunks of Ireland seemingly having a street party directly outside or window. Premier Inn do a ‘get a good night’s sleep or your money back’ thing so have written in to their customer service team to see if we can get that £120 waived, which would help me be less bitter about it.

But on to the day ahead.

The Game of Thrones Tour, hosted by Irish Tour Tickets, our expected highlight featuring a bunch of stops at some Got filming locations as well as stunning natural wonder ‘Giants Causeway’, also known as ‘that place with lots of hexagonal rock columns’.

Our tour started a bit rough, with the tour bus being a little bit late and then the weather being absolutely shocking. They dropped us off Carrickfergus Castle and we were literally just blasted by wind and rain as we tried to take photos, I imagine all of my photos here are just going to be filled with rain on lens, but I haven’t reviewed the photos yet so who knows.

We would journey onward to see some Got scene related stuff, the outside of the filming studios, the production office, one of the spots where Arya climbs out of the water after being stabbed in one of the recent seasons, we saw some of Castle Black in the distance, along with The wall, Theeon Greyjoy’s castle, and some of the iron Isles, and one of the caves where the red lady gives birth.

Cushendun Caves which had some really impressive rock formations and cliffs, and next stop Carrick-A-Rede featured a beautiful walk near the Iron Isles and a rope bridge across a 100ft gorge. The weather was kind of on and off, the majority of the day was rain and storm weather, however on occasion the sun would peak out and bless us with some blue skies – you can see them in a lot of the carrick-a-rede pictures.

A silver lining to the erratic weather is the amount of rainbows we saw today, literally more today than I’ve see in the last 5 years or so in London, double rainbows a-plenty too.

Giant’s Causeway was our penultimate stop, with a 15 minute walk down to the coast and then an incredible view of the scenic wonder that it is. The actual causeway goes on for quite a stretch and you are able to freely walk upon it. Our tour guide told us the legend of how it was formed and it was fairly amusing,  give it a read yourself if you are interested. The location was unfortunately a little bit busy, making it hard to get good photos, the sky didn’t really help us much here either.

Last stop on the tour was the Dark Hedges, apparently featured in one of the game of Thrones episodes, this was a long road (closed off to vehicles today due to the recent filming of the latest transformers film apparently) surrounded by some incredible twisting trees. The rain was very heavy at this stop, and sods law, the rain died down and the sun appeared just as we were finishing and got back on the bus.

Quickie nap on the bus, and before I knew it, we were back in Belfast. We stopped off at City Hall to take some night shots (beautiful building, and fantastically lit at night).

Dinner was at the previously reservations only ‘Blu’ near our hotel. We actually stopped by here yesterday night but was turned away as they were fully booked, so we booked a table for today –  though we didn’t need to at all because it was absolutely dead. 1 other table during our meal, the restaurant was chilled and w had almost dedicated service from the waiter. The food was amazing and at a good price too, with 3 delicious courses for £20.

Belfast – Day 1 – Arrival and walkabout

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After an annoyingly lengthy journey, we arrived in Belfast at around 3pm and checked into our hotel. We would be staying at the premier Inn cathedral quarter during our stay, mostly selected for it’s location and the fact that it was the cheapest hotel on offer at the time. Offloaded all of our baggage and promptly left to go and have a wander around the city.

Our first impressions of the city were admittedly not fantastic, I think we may have walked in the wrong direction because we were heading into the north area which seemed to be just filled with rundown buildings and graffiti, however there turned out to be a large amount of actual ‘Street art’ (note: Totally different to standard graffiti), there were some really impressive 2+ story murals. Of particular interest was a shop called ‘Fresh Garbage’ which was selling all sorts of bizarre shit, including the sort of masks you’d see in Hotline Miami and some bra’s outfitted with metal spikes.

 

We came across the Belfast cathedral, which was rather big and had some nice mosaics inside, unfortunately they were being a bit greedy and trying to charge £5 per person for entry, and having been to significantly larger and nicer churches for the price of ‘free’ in the past, this £5 charge just felt a little bit insulting.

We started walking south a little, and came across what I can only assume is the bar quarter,  there were small archways leading to alleys filled with bars and pubs, and some very large elaborate pubs as well. Being that we arrived on Saturday night, they were all pretty busy, too busy for us to want to walk into –  but I imagine we’ll be back at some point in our stay.

More towards the west, to the docks and river, we saw belfast’s famous (?) big fish thing, and beacon of hope, we walked the riverfront before doubling back towards the city.

A little more south was a really nice outdoor shopping centre – above the centre is a big dome which actually doubles as a viewing platform of the city, sadly closed at night time.
We ended up having dinner in the shopping centre –  a fancy restaurant called ‘The Ivory’.
Now, tripadvisor said this was in the ££ to £££ range so I wasn’t really expecting anything ridiculous, but as it turns out, the Ivory is actually a fine dining establishment. The food was way Overpriced and honestly not even that great, though I imagine the price would have had a big factor in my perceived enjoyment of the food. I had seared duck on a bed of spring onion,  spinach and sweet potato mash.

Finished our dinner, had a bit more of a wander and then ended up heading back to the hotel to chill, as we had quite an exhausting day of travel, even if the flight was only an hour and a half.

Spain 2016 – Day 7

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The morning of our final day in Spain, we were bright and awake at 6:20am. Determined to finally get out and see this sunrise we had planned at the start of the week.

Sat on the beach for 20 minutes or so in the cold, watching and waiting for the sun, the sky was actually pretty good, with a few clouds but not too many –  allowing the sun to light the edges of them and just generally make the sky a little more interesting. Plenty of fishing boats and seagulls out as well. Sun finally rose, took a bunch of pictures, and then headed straight back to the hotel to sleep again (had a dream where I was batman fighting against John cena, also Hideo Kojima was my Nick fury).

Didn’t have much else planned for the day, we didn’t want to do anything too strenuous so we headed to the pool for a bit of sunbathing and a swim, before once again heading into town to finish up all of the food we had eyed up over the week (but hadn’t eaten yet).

Lunch and dessert was grilled sardines and seafood, and some ice cream at a place we had walked past practically every single day. Slow walk back after, and then cleaning and packing suitcases, drinking the cider leftover in the fridge and so on.

Check-out, taxi to the station, cheeky waffle and ice cream, train to the airport, random search at security, and now I’m typing this because our plane is delayed.

Another successful holiday! Loved the sun, loved the food, loved the beach even though it was like walking on hot coals. See you next time!

Spain? 2016 – Day 6 – Gibraltar

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Okay so the title, Gibraltar isn’t actually technically in Spain, but today starts and ends in Spain so deal wit it.

We booked an excursion on a prior day to go to Gibraltar, it’s pretty far and impossible to get to if you are doing it on your own, but our resort offered a tour bus thing for around 22eur return per person so we took it, the bus was late of course, which was a bit of a slap in the face considering we had woken up so early for it (8am or so)

The journey was around 90 minutes, and actually involved showing passports to get through immigration into the country, Gibraltar is a small British colony off the south of Spain, and thus was kind of like being home away from home. Our tour guide talked pretty much the entirety of the way there, though I lost interest after approximately 20 minutes.

Gibraltar is best described as a gigantic cliff that people decided to live around, a tiny peninsula which with what may as well be mount Everest in the middle of the island.

We only had 5 or 6 hours to spend before having to get back to the bus, so we quickly set out for the main attractions of the island,  while many of the other people on the bus were still slowly waddling around waiting for direction.

Grabbed the cable car up to ‘the rock’ (as they call it), it was another 20 quid or so per person (yes quid). The view was incredible as expected, at around 400+ meters high, the top of the rock is taller than the Empire state building,  or 70 additional meters higher than the Eiffel Tower. We spent a long time just staring out at the visas from the top, looking back at the Spanish mainland, and to foreign continents (what we assume was Morrocco/Africa).

The mountain paths of Gibraltar are home to many macaques –  fuzzy mountain Monkeys smaller than the knee,  they were  numerous and completely unafraid of humans. We had plenty of opportunity to photograph them, and actually saw a bunch of people sitting next to them and reaching out to touch them, though we didn’t fancy doing this ourselves as they are prone to scratching/biting/stealing. There were a few Monkeys just kind of clamouring onto cars as they drove past –  the mountain paths are very hilly and thus the local taxi’s have seen an opportunity, even though the paths are tiny.

I actually had a monkey jump on my head briefly while I was photographing another, thankfully only a small one, as I imagine one of the larger ones could have knocked me off balance, with any luck I can finish this holiday without rabies or whatever they might carry.

Further along the mountain path was St Michael’s Cave, arguably Gibraltar’s largest attraction aside from the rock itself, a gigantic natural cave formation which descends a few stories down.
The inside of the cave was almost comically lit, with multicoloured lights coupled with dance music over the speakers in the main area, the music thankfully chilled out a little bit as you got further in, an the coloured lights actually really helped to prevent all of the pictures from looking the same and functionally were quite helpful as it made them easier to snap. The caves themselves were sadly over a little too soon, not quite as long as some of the other caves I’ve been to, though Gibraltar is certainly winning in terms of dance music

There were a few other attractions on top of the rock, they were some kilometers away, and the path was hilly and rocky, our time before needing to head back to catch the bus was soon running out so we headed back down the mountain to explore the town a little.

Gibraltar town is honestly a lot like it was described in our brochure, “the great British High Street, but with sun”, it’ worth noting however that it’s a good deal more scenic, with the sea on one side and an epic mountain on the other.

We wandered around and visited the cathedral before heading further north and exploring the plaza, we came across a glass shop with some really impressive stuff, and attached was a full glass blowing workshop with demonstrations. We stuck around for a while to watch the glassblowers do their thing, forming patterned bowls from glowing globs of molten glass dipped in what I can only describe as shrapnel.

Little more exploring later, and it was already back to the bus to go back to Spain. Of interesting note, we had to disembark at one point to walk across the border through immigration and customs –  so I can technically say I’ve been to Spain by foot now.

Finally back on the resort after a nice little siesta, we took a long walk into Fuengirola looking for food. We fancied some tapas and so had a good search on tripadvisor and walked around for literally hours trying to find a place. The first was too expensive, the second was closed for refurbishment. We passed by a bunch of other restaurants, but our indecisive party didn’t want to make any real decisions, eventually we hit the third place and ate there, a nice selection of fancy tapas and a pizza. It was pretty late by the time we finished, as the food service was slow, so it was another long walk back to the resort and straight to bed ready for the next day.

 

 

Spain 2016 – Day 5 – Malaga pt2

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Yet another accidental late start, our early morning plans had yet again slipped out from under us,  and we were now in a bit of a rush to get to Malaga. We had planned to visit the food market this morning, however it is only open between 8am and 2pm, and as it’s a market, they aren’t exactly bound by these working hours at all.

We aimed to catch the midday train from Fuengirola to Malaga, though we got to stop at a nearby bakery for some pseudo breakfast in the form of what I will assume is a Spanish custard slice – 3 thick crispy wafers sandwiching a ton of custard cream, biting into it obviously causing the entire thing to smush together and get cream absolutely everywhere.

We reached the food market eventually, at around 12:50, and spent some time walking around and looking at all of the produce on offer. The large Hall was roughly divided into 3 sections for meat, fish and fruit/veg respectively. Seafood in particular was numerous and looking very fresh, with prawns in particular having incredible variety. Bought some chopped fresh fruit for lunch, before getting drawn into one of the seafood bars for some fresh fried calamari.

Cordelia had kindly sussed out the bus route to get to the botanical gardens in Malaga, and with Google’s help,  we found our way to the correct bus stop and was on our way again – the botanical gardens were pretty out of the way to the north and kind of in the middle of nowhere really, a 25 minute bus ride and 15 minute walk and we arrived.

The gardens were huge, a massive collection of flora dating back to the 1800’s from various countries around the world. We spent hours walking up and down the gardens, there was heavy forested areas, an arty exhibit in the middle of the forest, tons of trees and palms, and a massive cacti section.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Back to Malaga, and then to Fuengirola for dinner. We had stumbled upon ‘food street’ practically every day we had walked through town, but never actually eaten on it, so today seemed like a good chance to change that. We eventually found it again through some wandering and was promptly bombarded by people trying to force sell us their menu – the street is filled to the brim with restaurants from all cuisines, and they sit basically opposite each other and have to fight hard for customers.

We were swayed by a calm smooth talker for a meat specialist restaurant called Casa Castellated who was providing a 4 course menu for 14eur, he suggested there would be some surprises but didn’t say what, it turns out it was copious alcohol.
They started with a fruity champagne on the house, and a small soup thing, I had beef capraccio for starter, picked because I had no idea what it was, it turned out to be like raw beef slices with cheese and was really good. A free pina colada next followed by our main course (had fish of the day),  then cheesecake and a final free massive cauldron of baileys.

Me being a complete lightweight,  and having had a cider along with the meal, was pretty much out of the party for the next hour or two,  we met up with our counterparts (who we are staying with) and went to a tapas bar for more drinks and food,  before having a long stumble along the beach back home.

 

Spain 2016 – Day 4 – Beach

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Really really nothing much happened today.  We woke up late,  went into reception to check excursions and booked a trip to Gibraltar for Wednesday and then headed into Fuengirola for some small bits and pieces.

Lunch at semi-fancy Italian place for some prawn and chorizo tagliatelle,  turns out it was on the higher side of tripadvisor’s restaurants in the area.

Cordelia needed to try and work out a way to store her sharps as her sharps bin was full, and had some fun trying to talk to the local pharmacists in Spanish.

We came across a small church in the middle of town,  with a new little innovation that I’ve yet to come across..
They had electronic candles in front of the statues! For those not familiar, usually there are small red candles that you can take and light for your loved ones and then donate some money,  this was literally a big electronic box with coin slot,  and a bunch of electronic lights with half of them lit,  and you put a coin in an it lights a bulb for you for a while.  Lame.

PSA. Uncompressed Phone pictures, may take a while to load in full size if you maximized

Had a little shop around in one of the larger supermarkets in town,  though didn’t buy too much as our hotel is so far away,  I wanted to buy a quarter watermelon but it would have been so heavy to carry back,  and I don’t think they taste anywhere near as good if they aren’t cold…

Back to the hotel for a freshen up and change into beachwear,  and then back to the beach for some sunbathing and paddling.  Initially planned to go for a swim but oh god the water was some cold.

Nothing much happened after this, lazed around for ages and then went for dinner at one of the resort restaurants which was semi fancy again. Had some nice olives and then a mixed grill which was literally a small cut of every meat they could get their hands on.

Spain 2016 – Day 3 – Malaga

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We had initially planned to wake up at 6am to see the sun rise over the beach… This obviously went exactly as planned,  and by that I mean we woke up at 6am, and promptly curled back up and re-woke at 9:30, like normal holiday goers.

Roll around to 11am and we finally started to head out by way of a 45 minute walk to Fuengirola and then 45 minute train from there to Malaga.

First expectations were that Malaga was much larger and more built up than Fuengirola,  which I suppose was to be expected but still surprising to see.  I actually thought the city and it’s streets looked more like Italy than Spain to me, with bright white paved streets and significantly more clothes/jewelery shops than normal Spain,  perhaps it was just because it’s a fair tourist hotspot, and standard stop for cruise liners passing through.

We just kind of aimlessly wandered around for a while, heading through the shopping streets and small alleyways filled with bars and cafes. We wanted a break and stopped in a small bar near the cathedral for some frappes and churros.

The cathedral was an obvious spot to be visited,  though the interior was closed as it’s Sunday so we only got to look around the outside of it and check the gardens.

Kind of wandered upwards from there to check one of the plazas which I forget the name of, it was peppered with little craft stores run by locals.

Castillo de Gibraltar could be seen from afar through the city,  a large old style Castle overlooking the entire city up on top of the city’s main Hill.
We saw it from afar and began to climb the hill to get to it,  it was fairly high but didn’t seem too far initially…  The path however kept veering to the right around the outer wall,  what initially was the top of the castle wall was suddenly below us and half a mile in the distance..  What the hell were we actually climbing towards? The path eventually got incredibly steep and we began needing pretty periodic breaks just to keep going.
Some 30 minutes later we finally reached the summit,  and the large Castle at the very very top of the hill,  it turns out what we saw initially was some different ruins which were –  relatively speaking,  right at the bottom of the hill.

The interior of the castle was a little disappointing,  with only some basic structures still intact, the walls were all scalable however and provided some fantastic views of the entire city.

A slow descent later,  we stopped for lunch by the Colosseum (nothing compared to Rome of course) and then thought we would check out the beachfront and marina before looping back up towards the core of Malaga and starting to make our way back too Fuengirola. The beach was very picturesque but overly crowded due to it being a Sunday, the port was particularly nice,  again filled with small shops and bars.

Way back in Fuengirola for dinner, we weren’t feeling particularly hungry so ended up in a small place called Pomodoro by the station which was probably the perfect definition of ‘Cheap and cheerful’ –  with 4 euro pizza and 4 euros for 2 pints of beer and a small dish of chicken wings and chips.

Had plenty of fun playing around with camera exposure times on the way back before coming back for a clean up and general calm down.

Spain 2016 – Day 2 – Fuengirola

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Nice little lazy start this morning before heading off to our local beach. Wasn’t really sure what to expect and as such was maybe a little bit disappointed by lack of golden Sands, but the beach was a little on the rockier/shellier side however still nicer than all of the English beaches (not that this is any achievement).

We’d lounge on the sand for a few hours or so, until I got a little too restless (Cordelia seemed pretty content with her kindle). Sun was slowly starting to heat up, and the sand was rapidly going from nice to scalding. Got rinsed for ice creams a little bit at a somewhat extortionate price of 5 euros for two…

Headed back to the hotel just for a quick freshen up, swapped beach towel for camera and headed back out to explore the town and find some lunch.

Our resort is a kilometer or two walk along the beach away from the nearest town/city called Fuengirola, a name I fail to spell every time without fail. We had a nice slow stroll along the beach side path for a half an hour or so before hitting the majority of the city. Started feeling hungry and ended up going into one of the beach side restaurants –  the food of which was decent but the views were fantastic,  sat in a shady spot outside with an open view of the beach and sea.  We ordered grilled squid and Hake,  which both came served with salad and potato.

We’d spend the next few hours aimlessly walking around the city Streets and back roads,  just trying to find anything interesting.  We came across a small covered outdoor market, some quirky alleys, a few parks,  but mostly just lots of bars and restaurants selling the same stuff catered towards foreigners.

We did try something i’ve never seen before which the bakery had translated into ‘Glass cake’, it was like a sweet pastry poppadom thing, brittle and yet slightly chewy in the mouth. There was a frozen yogurt place we came across as well which was great, 3.5eur for a big cup of frogurt mixed with fruits and cookies (or cereal if you prefer,  but y’know, who the hell wouldn’t want crushed oreos in place of granola).

Dinner was probably the highlight of the day, I had taken note of the number 1 rated restaurant on tripadvisor earlier in the day,  a small place called Restuarante Palangreros, we strolled up and asked for a table for 2 as we normally do and was told they were fully booked until next month! Slightly upsetting, but oh well. Cordelia was desperate for the toilet and the host let her use it at least. While she was in there though, the host received a phone call and came out to speak to me…

Turns out someone wants to push back their booking,  and we can have the table provided we can finish in 2.5 hours, easy!
The restaurant itself was small, with maybe 8 tables, as we sit, a near constant stream of people turn up and promptly get turned away just as we did earlier, felt pretty good to be on the lucky side for a change.
They serve 3 course set meals for a very reasonable 16/20EUR, I had both of the specials for the day, a starter of Foie gras (which I had never tried before), and a main of Argentinian Angus ribeye steak – already getting incredible value for money considering a similar steak in the UK would cost around or over £20 alone.

The food was absolutely amazing, and probably one of the posher meals I’ve had in my life, each dish was delicious and the steak in particular was one of the best of my life. A dessert of something called ‘Catalena creme’, followed by truffle and a shot of malaga wine, we were stuffed.

The remainder of the day was spent walking back to the resort, working out what to do with the remainder of the holiday (as we’ve not planned anything at all) and typing this up…

Spain 2016 – Day 1 – Arrival

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Surprisingly early start for a 12:50 flight to Malaga for Luton Airport.

The flight itself was around 3 hours and would have us arriving around 5pm Spanish time.

We’d catch a train to the nearest city to our resort, fuerengir… Something.. Oh dear.
The train journey was pretty nice, giving us a little taste of the local terrain, consisting of bright buildings and plenty of hills and mountains.

We arrived in the city and promptly grabbed a cab to the resort we would be staying at, a resort South of Fuengirola called Club La Costa world.

Checked in and was taken to our 2 bedroom apartment thing, pretty nice, no aircon but plenty of fans and enough space to store all of our things, food, etc etc. I do worry about the heat a little bit though. Time will tell.

Quick freshen up and then a trip to the local supermarket to grab some supplies for the week, for me, mostly eggs and some chorizo for breakfast. The prices were probably a little on the high side, Cordelia bought a bottle of sun lotion which cost her 13 goddamn euros which is ridiculous.

Now around dinner time, we walked to the neighbouring resort to find something to at and ended up in a restaurant called Safari.
The prices were kind of on the high side but the decor was nice.  We were without a doubt the youngest people in the restaurant – a terrifying reminder that people who stay at resorts are 40-50 and very British.

The menu was fairly basic and kind of overly British, but thankfully there was Paella on the menu, a fantastic way to start our week in Spain. We ordered the mixed Paella for 4 and was shortly greeted by a massive dish of the stuff filled with chicken,  fish,  pork,  prawn,  clams,  mussels…

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Overate of course, and promptly waddled back to the accommodation. Fairly uneventful first day, but then I guess It always is.

Probably beach and some town exploring tomorrow…

 

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