Bel and Phil's Adventures

Our adventures through Europe, America and Asia

Archive for ‘July, 2018’

Scotland – Gairloch to Isle of Skye

Friday 20th July 2018

We had a lovely breakfast supplied by Marion and organised to leave. Unfortunately it was raining, which was only our second day of rain so far, so we can’t complain. We headed off towards the Isle of Skye, going along the scenic route. Our first stop was Shieldag. The weather wasn’t fabulous, but it was still picturesque.

Shieldaig seemed like a quaint little village that seemed lovely, even in this weather. The amazing boat moored in the area looked very similar to the billionaire’s boat we saw at Portovenere, but we couldn’t get close enough to confirm or dispute that opinion.

We headed off again as we have to be at Uig Harbour for our Puffins and Whale tour. We had been advised to go up Applecross, however time was a problem and the weather was dismal. We will have to put it on the list to do next time. We headed towards Plockton as we had been advised that this was also a beautiful place to see.

One of the positive notes of the wet weather was that the creeks were flowing well and we were able to see many waterfalls on the way. Plockton was another very pretty town on the waterfront, that is clearly a holiday maker’s paradise. Although it was raining / drizzly and misty through here, it is still a naturally beautiful place to visit.

Shortly after this stop we crossed the Skye bridge onto the Isle of Skye. This scenery was so stunning even with all of the mist. We headed straight up the road to Uig Harbour. We found Uig Harbour fairly easily and had time to have a quick bite to eat. We went into a restaurant on the pier that seemed to be fairly busy, which is usually a good sign. Maybe the fish was better, but we ordered just baguettes as we were in a hurry. Mum ordered a ham baguette and I ordered Phil and I a ham and cheese baguette. The cheese was totally weird. It looked like it had been squeezed through a grater or something. It was not great, but I was hungry. The waiter had misheard me and only gave us one ham and cheese baguette, so I had half and Phil had half. I didn’t want any more than that. Once again, a lunch fail.

We finished and headed out onto the pier to find the meeting point for the Puffins and Whales cruise. There were a few other people on the cruise with us – a family of four from England, a couple from France and another lady from Europe travelling on her own. We headed out from Uig Harbour and our first animal we were looking for was seals. They look so different from our seals.

We also saw some birds nesting near the seals and a massive waterfall plummeting down from the top of the cliff also near the seals. This is one advantage to the wet / rainy / misty weather.

 

We went out to where the sea bed drops to the Continental Shelf, which creates many currents and it is where the Minke whales like to feed. On our way we were able to see some sea eagles flying around hunting.

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Sea eagles. These adult males have a wing span of about 2.5 metres

Sadly, although we searched for quite some time, we didn’t get to see any of these creatures. We headed back towards the puffin nesting grounds. We were quite excited. These birds are much smaller than we had anticipated. They were about the size of a small cockatoo with a weird big beak. Andi (the driver and wildlife guide) said that the puffins beaks are only this colour when they are breeding. The outer layer of the beak falls off after the breeding season leaving a dull coloured beak. They have short wings that have adapted to swim and fly. The puffins swim with a flying technique under water. In the air, they can beat their wings rapidly, up to 400 times per minute, often flying low over the ocean’s surface, which we were privileged to see.

We headed back towards the Harbour after seeing the puffins and decided to have dinner out before heading to our accommodation. Tim recommended the Uig Hotel and this food was amazing! Phil had a beef burger whilst Mum and I had a chicken meal with had delicious mashed potato.

We headed up to our accomodation – Grasmhor B and B where Tim showed us around. We worked out our plans for the next day as Tim was a local photographer and we had booked Tim to take us out to his favourite places to photograph on Skye. We had an early night – which was well needed.

Scotland, Aviemore to Gairloch

Thursday 19th July 2018

We were up early and on the road heading to Loch Ness and the Jacobite Cruises. We headed to the Dochgarroch Loch. We found it and were there early. We discovered that this loch was part of the Caledonian Canal. This is fascinating. It was conceived in 1773 with the construction agreed to in Parliament in 1803. Thomas Telford surveyed the land and built the canal. It was finished in 1822 at a cost of £910 000 and took 12 years to build. The Caledonian Canal links the lochs in the Great Glen and can be used to get from one side of Scotland to the other using a series of lochs from one loch to the next. It was quite an engineering feat for the time and is still used by pleasure craft today.

We headed out towards Loch Ness through one of the canals. The tour guide was pointing out different points of interest including castles on the shore of Loch Ness. We went past the lighthouse and all of Loch Ness was in front of us. Oh my goodness! It was so much bigger than I had anticipated. Now I know why nobody has so far found the Loch Ness Monster – this thing is massive. We couldn’t see the other side of it from where we entered.

The tour guide was pointing out different points of interest along the way. We reached Urquhart Castle. The boat went past the point and then turned around as they were dropping people off to explore the castle – or the remains of it anyway. We had opted to spend our time in Inverness instead.

We headed back towards the Loch, passing the fishermen and the lighthouse.

The Caledonian Canal is fascinating and we had a look at how it works before heading off to Inverness.

We went into Inverness and drove around for a while looking for a car park. We eventually found one and found a cafe. It was rather ordinary, but ok. We wouldn’t recommend it, but there wasn’t anything that terrible with it either. In all honesty the service was ok and the waitress was friendly. After lunch, we went for a walk up to Inverness Castle. This is used for different government buildings now. There was a lovely view over the River Ness.

After taking some photos we walked back along the riverbank. We checked out some shops and headed back to the car. We had a 2 + hour drive ahead of us to get to Gairloch. It is 2 hours direct, however we had planned some photo stops along the way. We found our way out of Inverness very easily and headed north towards Gairloch.

This was getting into the highland country that we envisioned when we were planning this trip. It was just amazing. Phil would go around a corner or over a hill and we would be absolutely amazed at the sights to see. One thing that we really appreciated was that at absolutely scenic sights, there was a thing called a parking area off the road so that people could pull off and take photos, so clearly knowing us, we did.

 

The mountains were so majestic. The weather was misty and it had clearly been raining up in the mountains as the rivers / creeks were flowing well and we were able to see some waterfalls. It truly was breathtaking. Mum was starting to get a little fed up at how often we stopped, but she liked the photos we were taking.

We found our way to Gairloch (thanks to our built in Navman – best of German engineering) headed for Muldoanich B and B (click on the name to link to the website) .We got a little lost and called Marion. She happily directed us to her house. We pulled up and Robbie came over, introduced himself and offered to help unload the car. We had packed what we needed for tonight in our overnight bags so we didn’t need to get the big cases out – thankfully. Marion greeted us and was so welcoming. She showed us to our rooms and organised a time to suit us for breakfast. Marion suggested 8:00 am, but we were after an earlier time as we had to get to Uig Harbour for our Puffins and whales cruise. This suited her much better too as she an appointment in Inverness in the late morning that she had to get to as well.

We relaxed until we had to leave for dinner at Badachro Inn. Marion had made this reservation for us earlier. We had some confusion as to the time it was booked for and headed off. It was some distance away but we were driving through stunning countryside along the water. We found the Inn and walked in. It was just perfect. Exactly what you would expect a little country inn in Scotland to look like. It was small and cosy as you walked in (luckily cause it was now raining / drizzling outside). You walked in through an outer door into the bar area. It was wood panelled with seats at the bar and some lounges by the fire, with some tables and chairs inside as well. There were also tables and chairs outside on a deck. The owner showed us to our table which was in an enclosed glass deck overlooking the water. The owner is British and when we asked him the difference in the tide (as it was clearly low tide) he told us they had to wear goggles in the restaurant during high tide.

We sat down and then had to decide what we were going to order. It all sounded so good. I opted for the lamb cutlets with mashed potato and carrots and so did Mum. It was amazing! Phil had the chicken and leek pie which he loved too. This meal was so beautiful in such a perfect location. Mum and Phil had the pear and apple crumble. It was so hot that it was steaming. I had the chocolate cake with melted in my mouth. It was such a perfect meal in a stunning location with such a homely, cheerful feel. This night in this place will live in my memory for a long time.

On the way back to Muldoanich B and B at Gairloch, we stopped to take some photos. It was so windy and starting to rain.

 

We enjoyed chatting to Robbie. We felt so welcomed here and the rooms are lovely. If you are looking for a B and B in Gairloch, we can highly recommend Marion and Muldoanich B and B. Up early as we are off to the Isle of Skye in the morning.

Scotland, Edinburgh to Aviemore

18th July 2018

We picked up our hire car this morning and were able to get all of the bags and Mum into the car. (Luckily for Mum 🙂 ) It is a BMW and very flash. We got the rundown on the car – including how to connect my phone so we can play some music and were away. We hit some traffic on our way out of Edinburgh which was frustrating.

Our first stop was to get photos of the Firth Bridge (as suggested by Rich). We were very happy with the results.

Our next stop was Perth, UK (not Australia). Due to the traffic, we couldn’t spend a great deal of time here. It did look very pretty. We stopped to have morning tea, which we had brought with us from Edinburgh. We found a park to sit in and have it. It was lovely.

Our next stop was Dunkeld, which is a lovely old village on the River Tay. We had lunch here by the river which was a nice stop. We explored the village for a little bit and then headed off again.

We then headed towards The Hermitage. We thought it was only a short walk to The Hermitage – nope – it was a mile and a half round trip. It wasn’t that great and it certainly didn’t look anything like the photos.

We then went to Blair Castle. We got there and were told at the gate that we were too late. It was 4:28 and the final entry was 4:30! It would take us more than 2 minutes to park. By the time she finished arguing with us we could have made it, if she had phoned ahead. We paid for the gardens and raced up there. We went in through the souvenir shop and asked if we could have a look inside. One of the management team let us in, but we couldn’t go up on to the first floor as they had already started closing up the rooms. We were happy to see some of the castle. It was massive, with many artefacts over the years.

After we had finished here, we headed to Aviemore. This is where we were spending the night at Ravenscraig Bed and Breakfast. We got to the bed and breakfast where Scott happily greeted us. We got checked in and then headed out to dinner. Scott had tried to book us into a restaurant for dinner, but it was booked out. He was able to get us a reservation in a restaurant called Macdui’s. Aviemore was really busy with lots of people everywhere. It is in the Cairngorm’s National Park and so picturesque. We headed down to Macdui’s and had a brilliant meal.

We headed back to our room as we have an early start tomorrow. Scott has been beyond kind and has agreed to cook our breakfast early for us at 7:30am. We have to be up at Loch Ness by 9:15am.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Tuesday 17th July 2018

Today we were leaving London and heading to Edinburgh. We were leaving from Kings Cross station (where platform 9¾ is). There is a Harry Potter shop at the station and an opportunity to get a photo going onto the platform. We had walked up to the station yesterday afternoon to work out where we had to go for this morning and discovered the shop!

They had similar things to the Movie Studio Tour, but a couple of different things too. We bought a few things, mostly stuff that we had wished we had bought on the tour, but hadn’t.

We found our train and got sorted easily. There was a luggage van that we could leave the big cases in, which made things much easier. We found our carriage and our seats very easily. We organised our meal – we got either breakfast or lunch as complimentary. Phil chose breakfast where Mum and I decided to get lunch as we had eaten something in the station while waiting for the train. This was a bad decision. The breakfast would have been MUCH better!

The train was very comfortable and I got photos downloaded, edited and the text for the blog up to date.

We arrived in Edinburgh. This city is so gorgeous. We found our hotel and then headed out. Mum wanted to check out the Natural history museum, whilst Phil and I wanted to check out Edinburgh Castle.

Phil and I went up to Edinburgh Castle. It was much colder here than when we were in London. The castle is on top of the hill at the end of The Royal Mile. Phil and I were in time to join a guided tour. We started. near the gate and our guide explained the different areas of the castle and how it was defended. It was a beautiful view. After the tour was over we went in to see the Crown Jewels and the sandstone that all reigning kings and queens have sat on. It was held in London but now resides here at Edinburgh Castle with the condition that it is returned to Buckingham Palace for any future coronations. After seeing this we went in to see the oldest church on the castle grounds. It is the oldest section of the castle as it hasn’t been destroyed.

We headed down towards the hotel and stopped off at a pub that was near our hotel. It was so delicious. I had bangers and mash and they were the best sausages I’ve had. The sauce was absolutely beautiful. Phil had steak. He was so jealous of my meal. It truly was fabulous.

We headed back to the hotel, got our camera gear, checked in with Mum who was back and had a great time at the museum. We organised an Uber and were off to meet Rich from Rich Dyson Photography (click his name to link to his website) for our photo tour of Edinburgh. We met him behind the castle at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Our first photo stop was in front of a newly renovated fountain with the castle in the background. Rich was explaining to us how to use manual settings and was suggesting which aperture and time values to use. We started walking around the bottom section of the castle with Rich showing us some great veiwpoints to take photos of the castle. After here he showed us the oldest pub in Edinburgh ‘allegedly’.

We then went around the corner to see the street that JK Rowling used as inspiration for Diagon Alley. It was so cool. The street curved around and how rows of shops on both the street level and then another level on a pedestrian walkway above. The shops are all very close together and have brightly painted walls. It looked fabulous.

We then headed up to the monument for Greyfriar’s Bobby. This was a little terrier dog that showed unending loyalty to his owner, sitting by his grave for after his owner had passed away until the dog died as well. There is a pub named after the dog and a little monument. We then went into a cemetery behind the pub with a grave for the dog. We saw the school (through the gates) that inspired Hogwarts and a grave of a Thomas Riddel. Rich was telling us how he often does night time shots from the cemetery to get the star trails and the ghost tours often come through. He takes great delight in jumping out from behind grave stones to scare the daylights out of the people on the ghost tours.

After we had explored here, we headed back to The Royal Mile and into Riddle’s Court. There was an interesting set of stairs in this little enclosure. This courtyard is over 400 years old with the buildings being used for a variety of purposes, initially as a merchant’s house but with many other uses since then.

After here we headed back out onto The Royal Mile and diverted off at different points to take great photos. Rich was constantly helping us with composition and ways that we could get the most out of our camera.

We started crossing the city to reach our evening location above the city. Along the way we went into a courtyard that used to house an inn for people waiting outside the city walls. It was really interesting.

We got up to Calton Hill and started setting up the tripod. Rich was explaining different options and ways to improve our night photography. I was pretty exhausted by this time, but Phil was super keen.

Rich suggested a place to take photos on our way out of Edinburgh tomorrow morning. We learnt so much from him and got to see different parts of Edinburgh we would never have found on our own. If you are in Edinburgh and would like a local to show you great shots (and some of the Harry Potter sites) I would highly recommend contacting Rich.

We are picking up our hire car tomorrow (driving on the ‘normal’ side of the road – for us anyway).

London, England

Monday 16thJuly 2018

Harry Potter Movie Studio Tour

It’s today! I was so excited I was skipping down the hall. We had decided to get an Uber there with the three of us and negotiating trains and buses with Mum isn’t ideal. When we looked at the cost of the return transport and the cost of the return Uber split between 3, there wasn’t a massive difference. This way we had no timetables to run to and could just go as we pleased. We picked up an Uber at the front of the hotel and he got us there in plenty of time. We were having a lovely conversation with Akbah, who was of Iranian descent. The time just flew.

 

We got to the Studio Tour and organised our tickets. We got through the bag searches and walked through this walkway. There were several quotes from the books / movies on the wall as we were walking through. JK Rowling is such an amazing writer. We turned the corner and found a café and lines for the tour. There was also a shop there. We were a little early but by the time that we went to the toilet and got some water, we were ok to go through on the tour.

We went through into a room and had an introduction. There were images flashing on screens around the room of the Harry Potter book covers in many different languages. We then went into another room where they played some footage of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron) talking about how the films were made. The screen went up and we were invited into the Great Hall. Oh my goodness!

Wow! Wow! Wow!

Words just escape me with how amazing this whole tour is. I’ll leave the photos to do the talking. I took almost 500 photos here and won’t put them all up so there will be something for you to see when you go. The self guided component goes through all of the different departments that worked together to bring the magic of the books to the movies.

Unbelievable!

It was just one of the most fabulous days and highlighted the magic of these books and movies.

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Bordeaux, France

Sunday 15thJuly – Bordeaux

We were up early and out as we wanted to go on the bus around Bordeaux this morning. We got over to the tourist centre and there was 1 lady waiting to go on the tour as well. The tour needs 5 people to go, so we were waiting for 1 more person. Luckily there was another tourist and we were off. We got talking to the lady who was waiting with us who was German, but living in Paris and spoke fabulous English. She was so nice.

The bus trip was perfect and luckily early as it was in an open top bus. We were on the 10:15am trip. This is such a pretty city, with many old buildings. Bordeaux’s heyday was in the 1700’s and 1800’s due to its strong position as a trading hub and exports of red wine from the area. We crossed the Pont de Pierre which is an arched stone bridge which had 17 arches which is the same number of letters in Napoleon Bonaparte. He ordered the bridge to be built after his army was held up in Bordeaux on their march towards Spain, as all of the army and provisions had to be transported across the river by boat.

After our fabulous boat trip, we posted some postcards for Mum and then headed back towards the hotel. We had a stop in H & M as Mum’s handbag’s handle had broken, where she found a bargain for 8 Euros (on sale).

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Allez les Bleus – Go the Blues (French World Cup team)

We got back, packed our bags and headed out. The cab was there, although it was just a normal sedan for the three of us and our 3 big bags. It was a bit of a squishy ride to the airport with the 3 of us in the back seat and my bag in the front. We arrived and then proceeded to the terminal we needed to go to and went through their processes. London here we come!

 

We landed at Gatwick and our travel guru had organised a car for us. Luckily it was very spacious. Our driver was a Portugese gentleman and was showing us some of the sights as we neared London. We had a lovely time chatting to him and we also REALLY enjoyed being on a road where people were driving the normal way! (That is with the driver on the right and oncoming traffic also being on the right instead of the other way around as it is in Europe.)

 

We arrived at our hotel – Pullman Hotel, Kings Cross and checked in. The front desk attendant, Renaud, was lovely and very helpful. He suggested a local pub for something quick to eat called The Rocket. France had won the World Cup. The game was being played as we were in the air. They beat Portugal 4 – 2. We had dinner at the pub consisting of burgers and chips – pretty typical pub food really.

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Bastille Day Celebrations were just too much for both of them and getting ready for the World Cup celebrations

We headed back to the hotel to bed as we didn’t want to be late for tomorrow. We are off to the Harry Potter Movie Studio Tour and definitely don’t want to be late.

Bordeaux, France

14thJuly 2018 Coutras to Bordeaux

It was time to leave our holiday house today. We got up and packed our bags. We were leaving our rooms and opened up the door to the rest of the house and we saw banners and balloons decorating our doorway. What a lovely surprise and a wonderful way to start my day. We went down to breakfast and Megan had balloons decorating the table with French birthday napkins – Joyeaux Anniversaire. We had our final French breakfast, packed the car and left. We were driving again on the wrong side of the road in our Peugeot hire car – for the final time thankfully!

We dropped the cars off at the airport and caught a cab into Bordeaux. There is no way that we could’ve driven into the city. We checked into the hotel and one of the three rooms were ready, so we could leave our bags in that room and go out. We ended up going upstairs to the rooftop bar. We shared a bottle of sparkling wine and had lunch. Phil, Mum and I went out to explore and headed to the tourist information centre. We were interested in a bus tour around Bordeaux and a boat tour on the river that goes through the town. We couldn’t do both this afternoon, so opted for the river cruise today and we will have time in the morning to go on the bus.

We headed down to the river. It was so hot walking in the sunshine! It was around 30 degrees Celsius – although it felt much hotter walking in the blazing sun. As we were walking past the river, I found the reflection fountain that I was looking for. It was so pretty. We took some photos but needed to get to the pier for the boat tour.

We got there with time to spare (thankfully) and were able to get a seat on the boat outside in the shade. They also had cold drinks for sale (which we had checked prior to boarding). The river looked as though it was at low tide, which the guide later confirmed. There is a large difference between high and low tide – a difference of about 6 metres (on average) every 6 or so hours. We were almost at the lowest of the low tide. We went upriver with the guide pointing out many items of interest on the riverbanks and within the river.

 

She pointed out the wine museum which had the weirdest shape. Apparently it was supposed to replicate the swirl patterns when you swirl the red wine around the glass. It just looked strange to me. There were quite a few river cruise boats docked and she was explaining that it was a popular port for these cruises. They do also get larger cruise ships in – although not as large as our ship.

We also saw where they had moved the working dockyards to, which was probably about 10 km upriver from the city. They used to be very close to the city, however this area has been converted into shops and restaurants, catering to tourists and locals alike.

 

The water was quite brown as the river and the water from the sea met around Bordeaux. Due to the massive fluctuations in water levels, there are very strong currents which stir up the sand from the bottom. The freshwater from the river also has silt, which combine to make it look brown. The guide reassured us however, that the river wasn’t ‘dirty’ at all and it was all natural, not from pollution.

 

On our return down river back to the pier, when the tide had dropped even further, there were some wrecks of boats remaining from the Second World War. They have chosen to leave them there as they help to stabilise the riverbanks.

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Partially submerged wreckage in the foreground

We really enjoyed our journey and decided to walk home a different way exploring anything that took our fancy. We walked through this interesting looking way and discovered a beautiful square, that had an ice-cream shop. I think Phil can sniff them out personally. It had a fairly long line, which generally means that it’s great, so we lined up. Mum had a small caramel cup, I had a small chocolate cup and Phil had a cone with mint chocolate and vanilla. They were really nice. We wandered back to the hotel slowly savouring our ice-cream. The streets were packed, which was not surprising considering it was Bastille Day. Bastille Day is the French national day that commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and the unity of the French people.

We got back to our room and had time to relax before going out to dinner. Unfortunately for us we had problems with our air conditioning. We thought it was just because the sun was beaming down on our window and it would get better when the sun went down.

 

We went out for dinner at a restaurant that Megan had chosen. The chef for this restaurant had worked at a prestigious restaurant and was venturing out independently. The food was lovely and our waiter was able to explain the food to us in English, which was very helpful, and Megan and Paul helped with any other explanations required.

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Mum in movie role mode – the sun was shining right in her eyes so she borrowed Phil’s hat and my sunglasses – movie star mode!

The food was delicious and the service fantastic. I wanted to go and take photos back near the reflection fountain and because it was still my birthday, Phil agreed. We got an Uber back to the hotel from the restaurant (as it was about a 2.5 kilometre walk (which we had done when we went there)). Mum came back with us and went to bed, whilst we got the tripod, changed out of our fancy clothes and our fancy shoes, and headed back out again.

There were heaps of people still walking around. We found a more direct route down to the river and were surprised at all of the people there just before midnight. We took some photos of the reflection fountain and then the river. By this time it was after 12:30 am and there was still a celebratory feeling down there. There were lots of kids playing in the water, having a great time as it was still quite warm. Some kids ended up playing soccer in the water, although I think they all fell over in the water at different points. The water was only about 2cm deep. There were another group of kids who had plastic cups and scooping up the water to then splash each other. Everyone was having a great time.

We walked back to the hotel and got in around 1am. We thought that the room would be cooler – we were wrong! We worked out how to open the window and used the fan to try to cool the room down. It wasn’t a very comfortable sleep.

Coutras, France

Saturday 7th July – Friday 13th July

We left Copenhagen exceptionally early – 3:30 am as our first flight to Paris was at 6:05am. Phil enjoyed his final Danish pastries at the airport and tried several of them. “All three of them were delicious!” he declared. Once we arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport, Paris, we needed to change flights to catch a plane to Bordeaux. This all happened without a hitch and we arrived in Bordeaux just after 11:00 am. We got our bags and then went out into the terminal.

We found a café and had something to eat. We waited here for a while and then moved to another spot. We were waiting for Megan, Paul, Mum and Paul’s parents to arrive from Dublin.

They arrived in on their scheduled flight at 4:00pm. Phil and I had already organised our car hire, although hadn’t collected it as we were waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. We went and collected the car and we ended up getting a Peugeot with only 9000 km on the clock! It’s a nice car, but it just ramped up both Phil and my nerves.

Larry, Paul’s father volunteered to come in the car with us and help us to navigate the unfamiliar roads on the wrong side of the road. We were very grateful for his assistance. Phil’s confidence increased as we were driving and he even managed to overtake some cars. We took a wrong turn coming out of the airport, but google redirected and we got to our accommodation okay. We were about 10 minutes behind Megan and Paul.

The house is beautiful! It has a footpath to the front door surrounded on both sides by lavender in full bloom (with the bees buzzing around too so we didn’t walk up the footpath). The house is white with green ivy growing over it. It truly looks amazing. The inside didn’t disappoint either with a formal dining room, informal meals area, kitchen, laundry (thank goodness – need to do a couple of loads of washing), lounge room and a full length terrace out the back. Upstairs was all the bedrooms. Each room that we are using has an ensuite bathroom. It is amazing. The owners have done up both this section of the house – the big house and their section – the small house. It had been an abandoned barn with the terrace originally being the cow shed.

Outside the back yard has extensive gardens leading down to the River Isle, which eventually joins up with the Dordogne River. It also has an inground pool, which looks appealing today as it’s close to 30 degrees Celsius today.

Megan and Paul headed to the supermarket so they could get some food and wine to enjoy for dinner. We had a beautiful meal cooked with fresh French produce. (We all chipped in money for the ‘kitty’ to buy the food we will need for the week).

On Sunday we had a quiet day doing some washing and relaxing. The wifi speed isn’t great so it takes a long time to upload photos onto the blog, but we persevered and slowly got there. I enjoyed relaxing and just reading a book. This break was exactly what we needed. I volunteered to go with Megan and Paul to the supermarket. It was crazy! It was a mix between Kmart and Woolworths. You could get everything all in one place. Crazy indeed. I was okay with getting some things, but obviously everything was written in French so it was a bit tricky to get milk as I couldn’t tell which one was full cream, half cream or any other combination.

Monday was also a quiet day with both Phil and I staying at the house and just relaxing. On Tuesday morning Phil and I walked into Coutras to collect the morning croissants and freshly baked bread for breakfast. It was a lovely walk, although we couldn’t explore Coutras as we had planned to go out to a Roman ruins and then on to Saint Emilion today.

The Roman ruins were at Montcaret which is about a 30 minute drive from where we are staying. Mum loves this kind of thing, so we explored this area for about an hour. Then we headed to Saint Emilion. This was another 30 minute drive from where we were. This town is so pretty. It is almost exclusively dedicated to red wine, but there were pretty restaurants and the view was amazing. Megan and Paul got caught up tasting red wine, so we joined them.

We then headed to a restaurant that Paul had booked for lunch. The lunch was amazing. Mum and I shared a bean salad (luckily – it was huge). Phil had oysters. For a main meal Mum and I shared a huge lamb shoulder (it was for 2 people), Phil shared a huge piece of beef (again for 2 people), whilst everyone else ordered a main meal of duck each. For dessert, Mum and I had raspberries with cream. Phil had a larger serve of raspberries. . It was a lovely meal with some lovely sparkling wine and great company.

Phil and I decided to stay on in St Emilion and explore a little more. We ended up joining an English tour of some of the historic monuments of the town. We had some time to wait so we went down to where the tour would start and had a drink. Phil had a beer and I managed to find some actual Diet Coke (Coke Light here in Europe). It was perfect!

The tour was okay (it wasn’t super expensive). We saw the cave where St Emilion lived for a time. It was quite interesting as the tour guide was explaining that there was a certain chair within the cave that they called the fertility chair. There had been many reports of couples who were trying to have a baby without success, had sat in that chair and then were able to fall pregnant. Another miracle that had happened, there is a natural well in the cave. A blind lady came to St Emilion. He used the sign of the cross on her forehead and she was able to see. After seeing St Emilion’s Hermitage, we then went into an old church. The paintings on the wall indicate that this was used as a church around 1000 years ago.

 

After here we went into the catacombs, where the important people of the time were placed upon their death. It was very interesting. This then led into the underground church. The bell tower sits on top of the church and it weighs 4500 tonnes. There have been some concerns about structural damage and it has been shored up by steel, however the local historians are keen to try to find a permanent solution, however that will take quite some money to achieve. The altars are just so pretty and it is very cool after the 30+ degrees Celsius heat of outside.

Our tour ended and we headed back to the car and back to our accommodation. Megan, Paul, Larry and Noelle opted to go into Coutras to find a bar to watch the World Cup semi final between Belgium and France, whist Mum, Phil and I chose to stay home and watch it. France won the game and we went to bed.

On Wednesday Mum came with us to get the croissants and bread for breakfast. They were setting up a market in the town centre, which we found. We headed back for breakfast, then Phil and I decided to walk back into town to check out the market. Mum decided to come back with Megan and Paul as they were driving. We took some photos of the town and Phil enjoyed a capucchino which was a great one according to Phil. We caught up with the everybody else and decided what to have for dinner. It was almost 12 by the time we had finished the shopping so we decided to have a beer. (Some people were having a beer at 10am when we had our capucchino and Coke Light). It was very pleasant sitting by the square and enjoying another Coke Light with family. They all enjoyed their beers.

Phil and I decided to wander around the town a little longer, so the rest of the crew went home and we headed down to the river. We got a little something for morning tea and ate it down by the river. The view was amazing. We took some more photos and headed down the Charles de Gaulle Promenade. We noticed a lady fishing up river, near the town. We couldn’t believe all of the fish that we could see downstream in the river. I went back and was able to communicate with her that I could see fish in the river just a little further down. Whilst she didn’t understand English, I was able to express my message. There were heaps of fish that we could see in this area.

We walked further along the river and then decided we needed to head back home. We enjoyed relaxing in the afternoon as we had walked over 13 kilometres today. We all stayed home to watch the second semi final of England vs Croatia. It was intense. England scored during the first 5 minutes and then Croatia scored mid way through the second half. One all. Both of these teams had won penalty shoot outs to get through to the final. With 10 minutes to go in extra time Croatia scored. It was an intense final 10 minutes with England going all out to try to score again, but it wasn’t to be. Croatia and France will battle it out for the World Cup final on Sunday.

 

On Thursday we got more of the blog done and relaxed reading books. Friday is shaping up to be more of the same. Some of our group are returning to Ireland this afternoon. Mum, Phil and I are heading to Bordeaux tomorrow to celebrate Bastille Day and my birthday along with my sister and her husband.

This week has been very relaxing and a chance to unwind in the middle of our holiday. It has certainly been a nice break and we have enjoyed eating the beautiful food of France cooked and prepared so well by my sister and her husband.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Friday 6th July 2018

Our final day in Copenhagen. We met Kim for our last breakfast together. Phil and I had planned to go on a walking tour from the information office with Red Badge Guides. We needed to be at the information office at 10:00 am. We helped Kim to the station with her bags, where she was getting the train to the airport. We farewelled Kim and then headed to the information office.

We met Charlotte, our guide at the office along with a lovely couple from Great Britain. She asked if we were desperate to get to the Palace for the changing of the guard – which we weren’t and neither were the other couple. We had a great time on this tour as Charlotte explained how people lived and also took us to the sites away from the usual tourist traffic, so we got to see more of the real Copenhagen.

We went across the road from our hotel to the Town Hall where there were many brides arriving to get married. After Charlotte explained some more things, we headed across the road. Here she started talking to a mum and started telling us about maternity leave in Copenhagen. Child care is government funded as are university fees. However tax is incredibly high with the lowest wage earners paying 39% tax. Even people on unemployment benefits pay tax. This combined with the goods and services tax of 25% make it very expensive to live there.

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Happy Danish boy

One other thing that has been pointed out regularly is that Copenhagen is working hard to be carbon neutral by 2025. To that end all roads have dedicated bicycle lanes and all of the trains have carriages that the bikes can go into. When you buy any bottle of drink, when you recycle it, you earn some money back off your next purchase. There is a recycling facility across the water from Copenhagen where waste is burnt. During this process water is heated for power and then that warm water is sent to homes to heat the homes using this super hot water. All of the Danish people that we met were on board to work towards achieving this goal. It is really fascinating.

After the encounter with the lady and her baby by the side of the road, we then went down St Peter’s Street (not it’s Danish name by the way – the English translation). This is an older area with a lot of residential homes. We were heading towards the ‘Latin Quarter’ as determined by Charlotte. As we were walking Charlotte stopped and started talking to an older lady who was watering the roses out the front of her house. Charlotte asked if we could see the private garden that belonged to the block of units and she invited us in. It was so beautiful to find this pretty oasis in the heart of one of Europe’s bustling cities.

After here, we headed down towards the German church after Charlotte had shouted us a taste of a special treat – a particular Danish pastry that I can’t remember the name of. It was mouthwateringly amazing.

We wandered through alleys and came out at the old University of Copenhagen buildings, where scholars used to learn Latin – hence Charlotte’s nickname of the ‘Latin Quarter’. The University has all but moved to an area out near the airport with only the administration still housed in the centre of Copenhagen. Two of her children have already attended the University here and her third child is still in high school.

The old buildings of the university are so pretty. She took us to an area where the library used to be. She pointed out the drains where the water comes through the dog’s heads into other gutters. Luckily for us, the day was beautiful so we didn’t get to see the gutters working.

As we were walking past the Jewish synagogue, there were police stationed outside. Charlotte explained that there had been a terrorist who tried to attack an outspoken writer and had then gone to this Jewish synagogue to attack the worshipping population. A guard on duty had been killed by this man. The police arrived and killed the terrorist. The terrorist had been born in Copenhagen to parents who were from overseas. Ever since then there has been either police or military guards on duty there.

Charlotte had explained at the beginning of the day that most Danish people don’t care about your partner choices so long as you are a nice person and you obey the law. They are quite open about discussing anything and everything.

As we were walking around we went into this courtyard which was built in 1733! The floor through the building (into the courtyard) was made of wood because that was better for the horses! It was so pretty. The buildings in this part of Copenhagen looked quite old (which they were), but so beautiful.

After here, we found ourselves on the main tourist pedestrian shopping streets. Although we didn’t stay on it for long, instead veering off to walk on a parallel street. We found the main theatre building with so much detail. Walking further along we found ourselves back at Nyhavn (New Harbour) with the coloured houses overlooking the water.

We continued on to the Amalienborg Palace, although we had missed the changing of the guard by several hours. The palace guards were on duty though and we did see the change over of these guards. Charlotte was explaining different things to us about the Royal Family.

Our tour ended there, although Charlotte and the British couple were going for a coffee. We needed to have some lunch though and so we headed back to Nyhavn to get our lunch. We tried a different restaurant to the one that we had tried a couple of days ago. We really enjoyed our tour with Charlotte and if you are planning on going to Copenhagen and want an insight into life in Copenhagen, I would highly recommend getting in touch with Red Badge Guides.

After lunch, we had decided to use our hop on hop off tickets and go on a canal tour around Copenhagen. It essentially covered the same route as the hop on / hop off boat – just with someone talking at the front, instead of having the same information on your headphones.

When we finished the tour, we walked back up the shopping street. We were looking for a very small souvenir for us. We checked out the Disney shop and were disappointed – it wasn’t as good as Dublin.

We got back to the hotel and relaxed in the lounge for a while and got some snacks. We packed our bags and had an exceptionally early night as we need to be up at 3:30 am for our flight to the airport in the morning.

We have both enjoyed Copenhagen and will hopefully be back here again in the future.

 

Copenhagen – Roskilde, Denmark

Thursday 5th July 2018

Today we had planned to go to Roskilde, a suburb about 20 minutes out of Copenhagen to go to the Viking Museum. We had discussed this plan with our cab driver who had picked us up from the ship in Copenhagen. He had suggested we also check out the Church there as it is an important church for the royal family. Kim had done some research yesterday and determined that she definitely wanted to go to the church as well. Possibly even Helsinger too, depending upon how we went for time.

We decided to catch the train there and went over the train station, which was only about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. We found a staff member who showed us which tickets we needed and how to get them. She also told us which platform to go to. It was so easy – once we knew how. The train came and we got on and went upstairs. It was first class. We didn’t know if we had first class seats or not, so we sat in there. The ticket collector man came along, checked our tickets and continued on his way. We were rather chuffed and felt quite special.

We got off at Roskilde and managed to make our way towards the Viking Museum. Luckily for us there were plenty of signs around directing the way. Unfortunately for us the weather was grey and gloomy, with a chance of rain. We walked down the main street of Roskilde and came upon this gorgeous square, which even in the grey gloomy morning looked beautiful.

We had agreed to go to the Viking Museum first, as we had tickets for a boat sail at 11:00 am and a query with a problem with payments. We walked there through a park that had a beautiful green tunnel to arrive at the Viking Museum. It was a working museum where you can see how the items were made in the time of the Vikings or in traditional Nordic times. There were shipwrights there creating boats in the same way that the Vikings would have over 1000 years ago. It was fascinating. It started raining and we felt a little guilty wishing it would stop as they haven’t had very much rain lately at all.

We had tickets to the 11:00 am sailing, so just wandered around the working museum component. There was a lady there preparing to weave baskets, using traditional methods. She was splitting the reeds in preparation for weaving. Next we wandered into the shipyards, where the shipwrights were preparing a new boat. It was interesting to see how they were bending the wood and the problems that they were fixing as they went.

We headed over to prepare to go into our boat. It was a traditional Nordic boat like they used over 1000 years ago – so there was no motor. We were the motor! We had to row the boat out into the Fjord area. From there we could raise the sail and let the wind do the work. It was exhilarating and much quicker than we had anticipated. We loved being out on the water and had a great time. All too soon, we headed back for shore, again letting the wind do the work. We sailed back into the harbour and collected our belongings.

We then went over to the museum as they had an English tour starting in a couple of minutes. We just made it, although the tour guide was very difficult to understand. These boats were discovered out in the water between Roskilde and the sea. They have pretty much been left in the condition where they were found, with steel frames to place the wood into. The information from these boats meant that the current boats in the harbour and the scale models are actual replicas of these original boats. After the tour, we saw the same boat that we had been on sail into the harbour.

After a little longer looking around the museum we decided to head back up into Roskilde to check out the church. We are so glad that we did this. We were so pleased that the taxi driver had given us this advice. This church is where Danish royalty have their crypts over many years. There were some amazing areas. There is also a mechanical clock where St George kills the dragon (some imagination is required) on the hour. It is really pretty.

After we had finished in the church, time for a quick stop at a cafe to have some cinnamon scrolls, that they are apparently quite famous for, before catching the train back to Copenhagen. It was after 4:00 pm by the time we got back to Copenhagen and so decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel. Helsinge will be on the list for the next time that we visit Copenhagen.

We headed up to the lounge so that I could update the blog, Kim could work on her phonebook and Phil could get up to date with Twitter and other world news. We then ‘helped’ Kim pack her bag (with the stuff that she was taking back for us which we were /  are VERY appreciative about). We went out for dinner and went to an Irish pub! It was called Rose McGee’s and was very close to our hotel. It was lovely food. We did get a surprise when we received the bill and found there was a charge of 25%. One of the waiters was an Australian, from Sydney even and we asked him and he explained it was a Goods and Services Tax. Wow! He said it was on every restaurant. This is something to be aware of.

We went back to the hotel and crashed. Kim is going back home tomorrow and we are off exploring Copenhagen again.

 

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