Belfast & Northern Ireland

We decided to keep our holiday simple for July and head across the water to explore Belfast and the coast of Northern Ireland. While many scoffed at our decision to visit such a non-sunny, non-beachy destination, we were actually greeted with continuous days of sunshine and warmth!

We spent the first night in Belfast before renting a car and setting off to drive the entire Causeway Coastal Route, which stretches from Belfast to Northern Ireland’s second-largest city, Londonderry.

Some of the highlights from Belfast included:

Victoria Square Shopping Centre: A high-end shopping centre, there is a glass dome that you can walk or take the lift up to for views of Belfast.

Belfast City Hall: This building reminds me quite a bit of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria back home.

Titanic Belfast: The world’s largest Titanic exhibition, I would guess that this is one of the main reasons that people visit Belfast – it certainly was for us. The architecture of this monument is simply amazing – and the inside explores everything from the history of how Belfast developed its maritime heritage to the legend of Titanic.

Some of the highlights from the coast of Northern Ireland included:

The Gobbins: This is a cliff path that runs through bridges, caves, and a tunnel. We would’ve liked to walk through it; however, it is currently closed due to ongoing essential maintenance.

Caves of Cushendun: The caves are featured in the popular TV series, Game of Thrones, and was used as the place where Melisandre gave birth to the “shadow” baby.

Torr Head: You can climb to the top of Torr Head for some amazing views over the Mull of Kintyre.

Whiterocks Beach: We stayed quite close to this beach in Portrush, which features limestone cliffs. On a sunny day, you wouldn’t even realise that it’s in Northern Ireland.

Giant’s Causeway: Likely the star of Northern Ireland. I’ll be honest – I was quite underwhelmed at first glance. I expected some huge basalt columns from afar, of which they are not. But as we walked closer, I realised they are quite magnificent. We even went back at the end of the day (since it was such beautiful weather!) to catch the sunset. There are also identical basalt columns in Scotland! They can be found at Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa.

TIP: Skip the Visitor Centre, built by the National Trust – you do not have to pay to see a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

The Dark Hedges: I’d known about The Dark Hedges long before Game of Thrones used it as a filming location, so it had been on my bucket list for a while. Of course, heavily edited photos of it on the internet make it look more spectacular than it does in person, but it is still worth seeing. (Expect many other tourists there as well though.)

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge: This famous rope bridge was originally nothing more than a handrail and large gaps between some slats that fishermen used to get to and from the mainland. It may be crossed for a fee of £5.90 per adult.

Rathlin Island: This wee island on the northernmost point of Northern Ireland can be crossed over to via Rathlin Ferry (sit inside if you don’t want to freeze from the wind!). A main feature of the island is the bird sanctuary, which tourists can get to via the “Puffin Bus”. Though there were more seagulls than puffins, they are visible through binoculars and telescopes provided by the sanctuary.

Glenariff Forest Park: At the suggestion of one of the owners of the B&B we stayed at in Portrush, we decided to do a short hike in Glenariff Forest Park, which is part of the Glenariff glen. Passing through two waterfalls, it is a lovely and not-at-all strenuous hike to get back with nature.

Mussenden Temple: This is a wee circular building on cliffs near Castlerock and forms part of the Downhill Demesne. Erosion over the years has brought the temple a tad too close to the edge of the cliff, so the National Trust carried out work to ensure the temple stays where it is.

Downhill Beach: Just below Mussenden Temple is Downhill Beach, which cars are welcome to drive on!

Londonderry: While we only spent a few hours in Derry, there is the old walled city that people can walk around for some history of the area.

Overall, we had a very eventful time in Belfast and Northern Ireland, enjoying the sunshine and warm weather that came with it!

Feel free to look through my Belfast and Northern Ireland photos in my portfolio 🙂

Keeping it in the UK this summer, next up is the Scottish Highlands in a few days!

Madrid

I can finally say that I’ve stepped foot into Spain! We took a nice city break holiday to Madrid a few weeks ago, with a day trip (on a high speed train!) to a smaller city called Segovia. Thankfully, the weather gods were nice to us and let the sun shine during our time there. (It had literally rained the entire week leading up to our arrival.)

Some highlights included:

Puerta del Sol
This is one of the busiest areas in all of Madrid. We stayed quite close to this area so we were there every single day to take the metro or train to another area of the city. A few of the days, we would come back in the afternoon and there would be full on celebrations (or protests?) and just mobs of people everywhere.

Royal Palace of Madrid
Appearing like a Spanish Buckingham Palace (if you will), the Royal Palace of Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family. We only gazed at it from the outside, but it was quite stunning.

Casa de Campo
This is a humongous park – the biggest in Madrid, in fact – to the west of the city centre. As we tend to enjoy a mix of nature and city sightseeing, we wandered into the massive park for a nice afternoon stroll. Inside the park, there is an amusement park as well as Madrid’s zoo aquarium.

Teleférico de Madrid
As we walked through Casa de Campo, we noticed cable cars in the distance. This happened to be Teleférico de Madrid, which takes you above the park and river and includes views of the Royal Palace.

El Templo de Debod
If you want to see an Egyptian temple in Spain, then head to El Templo de Debod. Originally built in 200 BC, it is an ancient Egyptian temple that was dismantled and then rebuilt in Madrid. There are actual hieroglyphics (that you can touch!) inside and it is free to enter.

Aqueduct of Segovia
The major attraction of Segovia, a historic city northwest of Madrid, is the ancient Roman aqueduct that stands tall and proud in the centre of the city. Naturally, it’s been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is one of the best preserved ancient monuments left in Iberia. It certainly is something that I’ve never seen before, and indeed very impressive.

Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
Home to the Real Madrid CF football team, this stadium seats over 81,000 spectators and definitely worth the price to get inside. It is one of the most prestigious football stadiums in the world, and for €19.00 per adult, you can view everything from the dressing rooms (where Cristiano Ronaldo gets changed 😉 haha) to the presidential box to the dugout and press room. We likely spent about 2.5 hours in the place before we finally had enough.

Circulo de Bellas Artes
This is actually a cultural organisation in Madrid, but they provide access to the roof of the building for €4.00 a head, which offers lovely views of the city. There is also a rooftop bar (which I suspect is typically very busy) in which you can just relax and drink your troubles away.

Overall, I would say our time in Madrid was well spent, and we would love to explore other areas of Spain (like Barcelona!).

Feel free to browse through some of my Madrid photos in my portfolio 🙂

No holidays booked for June but Belfast and the Northern Ireland coast will be coming up in July!

 

Malta

Our first holiday where we didn’t have to wear our winter jackets!

We decided that April was the time to head south to a warmer destination, and Malta seemed like a reasonably priced and sunny country to visit. We rented a car and spent five nights in the lovely Mellieha Bay area of Malta while also visiting the wee islands of Gozo and Comino.

Naturally, we got burnt on the first day (too pale from this Scottish weather!), but we thoroughly enjoyed the sunshine and quiet of Malta. Some of the highlights included:

Blue Grotto
You can buy tickets for just €8 to go on a wee boat trip along the Blue Grotto caves. The water is bluer than blue and it’s really neat to see the caves in a way you otherwise wouldn’t be able to see on land. Also to sway along the water while looking up at the tall cliffs around you puts everything into perspective.

Valletta
This is the capital city of Malta. It has a cute European charm to it and has many forts and cathedrals. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980, it is apparent that the city (and country for that matter) has passed through many hands over the centuries.

Sliema
Visitors are able to take a very short ferry ride from Valletta to Sliema and vice versa. Sliema seems to be an area popular for shopping, and you can see across the water to the skyline of Valletta.

St Peter’s Pool
St Peter’s Pool is a natural swimming pool on the southeast side of the island of Malta. People seem to flock there midday and though we did go into the water (alright, I just dipped my toes), it was still mighty frigid for April.

Dingli Cliffs
There are many, many cliffs in Malta, and one of the very lovely ones is Dingli Cliffs, located on the west side of Malta. When in Dingli, you are actually at the highest point on the island.

Golden Bay
This beach appears to be one of the busier ones in Malta. With lots of sand and Radisson Blu Resort & Spa (among other hotels and resorts) nearby, you can find many a people laying on the sand, soaking in the sun.

Paradise Bay
However, we preferred Paradise Bay to Golden Bay. Tucked away near Mellieha Bay, the water here is exceptionally blue and is noticeably quieter.

Popeye Village
This village is actually a film set for the musical ‘Popeye’ from 1980. It’s visible from another cliff or you can pay the entrance fee to get up close and personal with the set.

Mdina
Also known as ‘The Silent City’, it looks more like an attraction than a city with actual residents. Vehicles are not allowed unless you are a resident of Mdina, thus giving it that nickname. However, when we walked through Mdina, it was anything but silent. Mdina was the most crowded area we were in in all of Malta. But like Valletta, it has its own unique charm to it.

Victoria
This is the capital city of Gozo, Malta’s sister island. You can get to Gozo by ferry, which also takes vehicles. Some attractions include St George’s Basilica and the Citadel, which is huge and offers great views of Gozo.

Azure Window
Created after two limestone caves collapsed, the Azure Window is one of the more recognisable attractions of Malta. It’s situated on the west side of Gozo and has been featured in movies and TV shows, including Game of Thrones. This was one of the best parts of our holiday as we got to the Azure Window and waited for the sunset. There is nothing like looking out into the Mediterranean Sea as the sun goes down and listening to the waves crashing.

Blue Lagoon
And finally, there is Blue Lagoon on the tiny island of Comino. It is only €10 round-trip per person to Comino from Malta, and you chug on a little ferry that takes you around some caves on the way back to Malta. The main attraction on Comino is definitely Blue Lagoon, and it is the bluest of the blue waters you can find on Malta. There is a wee rocky beach to relax and take in the views, though it does get crowded as the day goes on.

The landscape as you’re driving around Malta is a bit mundane – very beige and dry, but the coastal areas, which are obviously plentiful, are absolutely gorgeous.

Please check out a few snaps from Malta in my portfolio 🙂

Next up is Madrid in just a matter of days!

Dublin

Checked off the bucket list is visiting Dublin, Ireland over the green madness that is St Patrick’s Day.

I’m not sure how busy Dublin is otherwise, but it certainly came to life in a sea of green and orange (but mostly green) over 17 March. Bars seemed to be open at the crack of dawn, and many displays of public intoxication were seen very early into the evening. As well, as part of the St Patrick’s Day festivities, many buildings around the city were lit up in green. Not a flattering colour to light up a building with, but very Irish I suppose.

As we had previously gone on city breaks, we weren’t entirely interested in visiting more museums and cathedrals, though we did stay and watch the entire St Patrick’s Day Parade. We stood near Christ Church Cathedral and watched as the very artistic floats and talented bands marched through.

One attraction we did poke our noses in was the Guinness Storehouse, which tells you everything about Guinness and offers free tastings of the world-famous beer. Its seven floors are in the shape of a pint of Guinness, though this is only visible once you are inside.

On our last full day in Dublin, we decided to visit the cute seaside village of Howth, which is an outer suburb of Dublin. There was actually a prawn festival of some sort happening at the time, in accordance with St Patrick’s Day, so many people were hanging around. In Howth, there are some lovely cliffs where you can walk along the trail and get views of what I believe is Dublin Bay.

Some things that I noticed were very interesting about Ireland are:

  • They also use UK plugs
  • They drive on the same side of the road as the UK
  • The time zone they use is the same as the UK
  • Flights coming to the UK from Ireland are treated as domestic flights

In case it wasn’t apparent, the Republic of Ireland (which is simply referred to as Ireland) is part of Europe but separated from the UK. (Northern Ireland is part of the UK.) Ireland uses the euro as their currency, but everything else is very UK-like. Just some of my observations!

Please visit my portfolio for a few snapshots of our travels 🙂

Upcoming in April is a relaxing holiday to Malta!

Oslo

Our time in the capital city of Norway was definitely too short.

Oslo is beautiful. We were greeted with the sun shining and bright blue skies, which continued throughout our stay. As we arrived in the mid-afternoon, we were advised to head to the roof of the Oslo Opera House to take in the sunset. And boy, was that lovely.

We had purchased the Oslo Pass, which allowed us free admission to many museums as well as their public transportation. Some of the museums we visited included The Kon-Tiki Museum, the Norwegian Maritime Museum, The Polar Ship Farm, and the Viking Ship Museum, which are all based on a peninsula called Bygdøy. Karl Johans gate was a street we frequented and is the main street in Oslo.

We also found out that Edvard Munch’s famous The Scream paintings are housed in Oslo! There are four original versions, and three are in Oslo. The Munch Museet (Museum) advertises The Scream to no end and supposedly holds two versions, but we were sorely disappointed when we did not find any there. So instead, we made our way to The National Gallery and found one version in a room near Madonna, another one of Munch’s famous pieces of work.

Likely one of the highlights of our short visit to Oslo was going up to Holmenkollen, a ski jump that offers panoramic views of the city, fjord, and nearby mountains. It was great to be able to travel a relatively short distance and be away from the city and into the quiet of nature.

Oslo is a lovely city, though very expensive. Should you decide to visit, I would highly recommend purchasing the Oslo Pass and taking some extra Norwegian Krone for the very pricey food.

Please visit my portfolio for a few snapshots of this lovely city 🙂

Upcoming in March is Dublin for St Patrick’s Day!

Copenhagen

Well, my first adventure of 2016 to København has come and gone.

It was certainly a winter wonderland in the capital city of Denmark. We arrived to beautiful, bright blue skies and bits of snow on the ground. After an evening of strolling around most of the very compact and seemingly sleepy city, the following day was complete with a snowfall all throughout the morning!

Some of the main places we visited included:

Strøget
This is the main shopping street in Copenhagen. It’s car-free and one of the longest shopping streets in Europe. Many tourists abound this area, naturally, and many flashy advertisements and billboards made it feel very American. (Whether or not that is a good thing is up to your own judgement!)

Den Lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid)
A statue made by Edvard Eriksen, she is based on the story of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson. She has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in Copenhagen since 1913. I personally didn’t find her terribly mesmerising, but she is supposedly the original mermaid statue.

Kastellet
Really cool from above (while looking on Google Maps) as this is a star-shaped fortress, and one of the best preserved in Europe at that, but from the ground, you wouldn’t be able to tell its star formation. Snow covered the “moat” as well around the island, which made the shape harder to tell but made for a peaceful walk.

Tårnet (The Tower)
This is the highest tower in Copenhagen, and sits at Christiansborg Slot (Palace). It is free of charge (yay!), though there can be long queues for the lift to go up and down. We went up the afternoon after it had snowed all morning, so the skies were grey, but from this vantage point, you can see just how flat Copenhagen really is.

Nyhavn
This entertainment district felt the most like Amsterdam. It sits on a canal and has many restaurants, bars, and cafes. Although it is an entertainment area, it was oddly quiet as we strolled through on a chilly Friday night.

Rosenborg Slot (Castle)
She is considered a castle, but compared to Edinburgh Castle, Rosenborg Slot is really more like a palace. You are able to walk through a number of floors housing many artifacts, including the Danish Crown Jewels (which you are allowed to take photos of).

Freetown Christiania
Well, this area was something else. Christiania is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood, complete with a “Green Light District” (aka Smoke Your Weed) and lots of graffiti. It is pedestrian only and a major tourist attraction. Walking through it, there was a weird feeling in the air that I’m not sure how to describe. Definitely not somewhere to visit alone at nighttime.

That about sums up most of the areas we visited. Now, neither of us are big foodies, but we did go to one of the oldest confectioneries in Denmark called Conditori La Glace. We queued outside for a short while before being seated at a very “hygge” table inside. The cakes are delicious and hot chocolate is served in a pot!

Traveling to Copenhagen was a great experience and a brief peek into the world of Scandanavia. I personally don’t expect a re-visit to Copenhagen but should you decide to visit (which I do recommend), do bring some extra Danish Krone as most of our cash went towards food.

Please visit my portfolio for a few snapshots of the winter wonderland 🙂

Upcoming in February is the Caribbean and Oslo!