Saturday, December 6, 2014

Some of our favourite Christmas Market photos

One of our favourite annual trips whilst living in the Netherlands was to the lovely German city of Aachen and during the last couple of years to Cologne's even bigger Christmas markets. We also enjoyed a wonderful trip to Vienna in December 2011.  As we're now well into December and Christmas is fast approaching I thought it would be fun to share some of our favourite Christmas Market photos, so here goes.....

A taster from Aachen

Some highlights from Cologne

Flashback to Vienna

At the end of November we visited the Christmas Market at Chatsworth, one of England's many fine stately homes. Whilst the setting was impressive and the stalls full of lovely things to buy it lacked the unique atmosphere of a German or Austrian Christmas market. If you get the chance hop on a plane and head for mainland Europe to experience the unique atmosphere of a 'real' Christmas market.

Happy Christmas

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bank holiday weekend in Edinburgh

We spent the August bank holiday in the beautiful Scottish capital city of Edinburgh, a city we'd both wanted to visit for sometime. The wait was definitely worth it as Edinburgh is beautiful, a great destination for a short break with lots to do and see. We stayed in the Stay Central Hotel on Cowgate, the location is great as the name suggests its very central and just a few minutes walk from the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle. So that makes it ideal for seeing the city, the downside is its next door to the Three Sisters Pub which stays open till 3am and specialises in Stag and Hen nights. Suffice to say, rooms overlooking the courtyard are very very noisy, so you have been warned.

Grass Market
The hotel was also very close to Grass Market where you'll find lots of places to eat and drink and a small outdoor market. Our visit coincided with the last weekend of the Edinburgh Festival so it was also busy with street performers. Our favourite act was a 30 piece street orchestra called Journey of a Thousand Wings, we caught the end  of their Sunday night show at the Liquid Rooms which seemed to go down well judging by the smiles on the faces of the orchestra and the reaction of the crowd.


We arrived in Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon so having dumped our cases at the hotel we set out on foot to explore this very walkable city. One of our favourite spots was on the corner of West Princess Street Gardens looking up at a spectacular view of the castle enjoying a glass of Pimm's on a nice sunny afternoon. That evening after a short 'siesta' we headed to Bistro Moderne on NW Circus Place, run by chef Mark Greenaway this french concept style restaurant is great value for money, the food is delicious, the service excellent and the ambience just spot on. Do give it a try if you can.

The Bow Bar
We finished the evening in The Bow Bar on West Bow just round the corner from Grass Market. This is a really nice, relaxed and welcoming bar where you can enjoy a good chat about a great day in Edinburgh. The following morning despite a slight headache we were up and out early and off to Edinburgh Castle, a top tip is to either get your tickets online or get them early, after mid-morning the queue for tickets was enormous.

Edinburgh Castle
The castle is spectacular and it's well worth getting an audio guide as its history is fascinating. As you may already know some of it or can easily find it online I won't attempt to summarise it, instead here are a few images from inside the castle.

After a wonderful morning learning about the Castle's history we spent the afternoon enjoying the area around the Royal Mile where if you like Cashmere you will be in your element as there are a multitude of shops selling Cashmere products.

The Royal Mile

That evening we enjoyed a nice meal in The Atelier on Morrison Street, whilst not quite in the league of Bistro Moderne the food was very good so no real complaints. That bought our short break in Edinburgh to a close, one thing is for certain, we need to go back.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Beautiful Connemara

Towards the end of last month we spent a lovely week in Ireland, we drove from our home in the East Midlands to Holyhead to board the Stena Line to Dun Laoghaire. The drive took just over 4 hours and the ferry crossing was about 2 and a half. This was the first holiday for us with our puppy Pina which was the main reason for catching the ferry and not flying.

Farewell Holyhead.
We arrived on a Saturday morning and spent the next couple of days enjoying the time with my parents and Pina. On the Sunday afternoon we took place in the Rainbow Run, Ireland's 'most fun' 5K run. Five thousand participants ran or walked a the course in Dun Laoghaire Harbour. When registering you are given coloured powder which in turn you then throw at anyone you get the chance to hence the title Rainbow Run as by the end of the Run you are quite a colourful sight.

pre-run build up listing to 'Spring Break'
Our main destination for the week as Connemara in the West of Ireland. We left on Monday morning taking the Galway road from Dublin, from Galway you head on to Connemara via Oughterard. As you leave Oughterard you start to get an idea of the spectacular scenary that lies ahead of you. In all it took about 4 hours to get to our destination Cleggan and the lovely Cleggan Farm Holiday Cottages (dog friendly) where we were booked for 4 nights.

Cleggan Farm Holiday Cottages

Cleggan is a small fishing village that lies 10km northwest of Clifden and is situated at the head of Cleggan Bay. It's a sleepy little village that comes alive each day just before the ferry to Inishboffin leaves and the tourist cars and coaches arrive. Apart from Oliver's Bar and the Pier Bar theres not a lot else. That's not a complaint, its just the truth. We can recommend Oliver's Bar for breakfast lunch and dinner, if you are travelling with a dog they are welcome in the bar or decking but not in the restaurant area.

View from the back of Oliver's Bar
We were blessed with good weather and the next morning took the ferry across to Inishboffin, tickets are €20 per person so not cheap but trust me, if the sun is shining and the sea calm this is more than worth it. It only takes 30 minutes to get there and you are in for a treat when you arrive.

Flat calm crossing to Inishboffin

With about 160 inhabitants the island of Inishboffin is a great way to escape. We'd not really done our homework beforehand so we weren't really that clear what to expect when we arrived and to be honest there's not too much in the way of signage to help you. We hung a right and came across the Beach Bar and B&B, what a stroke of luck as we were ready for a drink and a spot of lunch. Try the fish & chips, the sweet potato chips are amazing.

Stomachs full we set off in search of a beach as we knew that there were some beautiful ones on the island. We hung a left out of the bar and walked for about 30 minutes hoping to find what we were looking for, some clues would have helped however there just aren't too many signs on the island. Fortunately we were in luck and our prayers were answered, Pina's too as this was only her second time on a beach, the first being the day before.

After a lovely afternoon on the beach we walked back giving ourselves pleanty of time for a drink in the Beach Bar. Top tip, the ferry leaves at 5pm and on a busy day can be very busy and the queue starts from about 4.30pm onwards. So if you don't want to queue get there early.

Back to the mainland
The following morning we set off for Kylemore Abbey, if you head for Letterfrack its hard to miss it. Formerly known as Kylemore Castle it was built by Mitchell Henry for himself and his beloved wife Margaret, construction started in 1867. The story of of the Henrys is sad with Margaret dying in her forties. Mitchell built a gothic style mini cathedral in her memory and both their remains are housed in a mausoleum  close by.

Kylemore Abbey

In 1920 the Castle became an Abbey when it was purchased by the Irish Benedictine Nuns who were forced to flee Ypres in Belgium during World War 1, it remains an Abbey to this day. If you do visit Connemara be sure and visit Kylemore as you can easily spend a day in this wonderful setting.

Connemara is a wonderful place to explore by car but be warned as some of the roads are very narrow and the potholes are almost as spectacular as the views. We spent the afternoon following our visit to Kylemore and the following day exploring and made it up as far as Westport in County Mayo. 

Westport centre

Choosing the photos to share on this blogpost has been an impossible job as we have so many lovely images from a great few days in Connemara. So time to end here, have a re-read and maybe make some changes. In the meantime thats it for now.