Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Oslo Festive Mini Break

The dark nights are certainly upon us and a chill has returned to the air. I must confess, that I'm a little pleased. Despite loving long days and the warmth of summer, autumn has always been my favourite season. With the welcome of our little man we're very much looking forward to cosy days in the house, spent baking, reading or watching films, with low lights and sweetly-spiced candles. I'm looking forward to apple sauce (with everything), weekend walks and woollen jumpers. Thoughts of this sort have had us thinking about our last anniversary trip, to the wonderful city of Oslo. As usual we looked to airbnb for our accommodation and found the most magical cabin, located in the forest, overlooking the city centre. We loved every minute of it and really (really, REALLY) didn't want to leave. Here's an edited version of that break from our travel journal...

DAY ONE
We have arrived! Our journey here was very straightforward - we flew from Edinburgh, just after lunch and arrived on Norwegian tarmac around 4pm local time. The airport (Rygge) was about an hour from the city centre so we took the airport bus (which is an excellent service) to Sentrum (the centre) and then the T-Bane (T1) to Skogen (Norwegian for 'forest') where we have found (not so easy in the dark!) our host, Elsbeth's little cabin. By around 7:30pm we already had the fire going. The cabin is a like a fairytale dream, the view from the here is stunning. Given how cosy it is in here we've opted to stay put, rather than taking our usual 'land and explore' approach. This has meant settling for what's in the cupboards (Elsbeth has kindly left us some treats and some staples), which has resulted in spaghetti drowned in olive oil, garlic and toasted walnuts (very Norwegian, no?). Wisely, we picked up a bottle of red at the airport, anticipating that this sort of beverage may be a tad more expensive than at home. Tonight has been spent snuggled by the fire researching places to visit over the coming days. Perfection. 

A neighbouring house, a little up the hill from the cabin

Elsbeth's House, aside the cabin
The view of the city from the cabin
DAY TWO
We have awoken to such a glorious view! The cabin overlooks the city centre and the surrounding forest, it's 8:30am and the lights of the city are still shining. From the little bedroom window, which has a small writing desk in front of it, we can see the most beautiful pink and grey sky. The sun is beginning to rise and because of the frost, the rays are reflecting on the rock face, making the whole landscape sparkle, it is a truly magical view, which no photograph can do justice. We slept amazingly well in the antique carved wooden bed (we decided to share one of the twins - it's big enough for two). Can't wait to explore - but first coffee (we've brought our trusty stove top with us). 

Oslo is fabulous! We're back at the cabin after a full day. We began with a trip to the top of the hill (on the T-Bane) and walked back down the hillside through the forest, passing lakes and country estates before jumping back on the T-Bane headed in the direction of Sentrum. Our first stop, a flea market  which takes place weekly at Birrkelunden Park, in the hipster area of Grunerløkka. On our way there we picked up some brunch from a 7/11 (not much is open here on a Sunday) - J had a saffron bun and I had a muslibrød and brown cheese (my favourite). The market was quite small, which wasn't surprising for mid December, but the stalls were filled with beautiful Norwegian objects. There were loads of catherineholm pots, in all different colours, lots of teak handled utensils and cutlery, Figgjo Flint ceramics and loads of cute mid century Christmas decorations. Just about heaven for me. B u t...everything was super expensive so we decided to jump on a bus and head across the city to the Norsefolk Museum, where we wouldn't be tempted to spend too much. 

The museum is wonderful, a Norwegian version of Beamish but, dare I say it, possibly better - and I truly love Beamish! (Although, not sure it's quite as good as Skansen, for us, the ultimate living museum). There was a Christmas market on within the grounds of the museum, selling crafts, food, honeycomb candles and vintage objects (so much for spending less...). We spent about three hours roaming from building to building, homes, shops, churches, schools and farms all depicting the various centuries of Norwegian life, each decorated beautifully for the Christmas festivities. We listened to choirs and drank glogg - it was the most perfect afternoon and we left filled to our brim with Christmas spirit. 

On our return journey we stopped off at the port and spent a little time wandering around Aker Brygge. This area is newly built and has a Canary Wharf feel to it, filled with restaurants, offices and shops (mainly designer but with some highstreet including Cos and H&M). We decided to eat here as there were plenty of options - for both menu and purse. We opted for a pizza place, as it was one of the less pricey options - two pizzas and two glasses of wine came in 602NOK (around £50). Unsurprisingly Oslo is cold and despite thermals and many layers we still felt the chill so have returned to our Cabin to repeat last night's evening of fire/reading/wine.

Planning the day's adventures the little writing desk
Walking down the hill from the last T-Bane stop towards Skogen
The Norfolk Museum
J enjoying glogg at the Norfolk museum
DAY THREE
Another lie in - the cabin is soooo cosy, then back on the T-Bane, quite possibly the most efficient and scenic public transport we've ever been on (if your accommodation happens to be in Skogen). 

Our first stop was the National Theatre, in search of the shop Norway Designs. It is such a beautiful store, specialising in 'home grown' (well, Scandi) objects for the home, office and nursery. So many classic designs and so many precious objects. The basement houses a fantastic paper department for those interested in that sort of thing. Wearing our walking boots in here had us feeling a little nervous. We bought a few Christmas gifts and left (without breaking anything) heading back in the direction of Grunerløkka, via Karl Jungen Street, Oslo's main shopping street, which resulted in lots of stop offs and a few purchases (well, Munki had a very good sale on).

Lunch was eaten at a small bakery in Grunerløkka (two sandwiches and two coffees cost 260NOK about £20). Grunerløkka has a great feel about it, the shops are much more affordable, mainly vintage, some design stores and lots of independent boutiques. There are some chainstores but they tend to be smaller, Scandinavian ones such as Granit

From here, we walked back towards Sentrum along the riverbank and discovered the Opera House - an amazing building, the roof of which can be walked on via a large slope. A bit slippy (but manageable) and great for photographers. Next stop was to a small cafe/deli called Pascal (recommendation of our Wallpaper guide) where we refuelled with waaaay too much sugar. Giddy from our hot chocolates (plus chocolate fondant plus cookie. yikes) we then did a small grocery shop for some essentials (like brown cheese and wine) and headed back to the cabin for some more fireside cosiness. 

Pascal, a cafe in the city centre
Inside the cabin
DAY FOUR
We ate breakfast in the cabin before setting off to Hollmenkollen, a large steel ski slope, originally built in the 1890s, two stops down from the cabin. It was a beautifully clear morning, and the view from the top of the slope was magnificent (and terrifying), we could see for miles around us. We were pretty much the only people there and decided to make the most of it. We went on the simulator (much to J's amusement, but I'm sure he'd agree it was £12 well spent) which enlightened us to just how brave skiers are (- very) and then we spent a couple of hours in the museum, which is really interesting. Norwegians appear to be mad about skiing. There was even a ski outfit for a 9 month old on display. We left here in search of Old Oslo, which was nice, but we didn't see too much to explore (we may have not looked hard enough, it was very cold). Instead we jumped on a tram from here and headed up a different hill to the one we are staying on and decided to walk back down through the woods as dusk fell. Needless to say the views on this walk were incredible - the sky was all shades of pink and grey. Below the hill was an industrial plant which bizarrely looked beautiful, sparkling because of the frost, and silhouetted against the sunset. 

Despite looking for somewhere cool and independent for dinner we ended up at Crudo,  another Italian (the perils of being veggie and on a budget) before a stroll around the Royal Palace and onto the neighbourhoods of Briskby and Fogner, if only we'd waited a little while to eat - these well to do areas are filled with nice restaurants (and fancy shops).

Ski outfit for a 9 month old!
The view from our walk down the hill
DAY FIVE
First stop, some culture, in the form of Frogner Park, a peaceful sculpture park surrounded by residential areas. We strolled, at a (now standard) leisurely pace from here to Frogen, which is filled with pretty shops, delis, florists and cafes - all quite pricey (and a bit 'yummy mummy') but lovely to walk around, as it's also largely residential and very peaceful. Our next stop, on foot, was to the Architecture Museum, which had three shows on - Architecture and the Comic Book, Building Ideas and the annual Gingerbread House competition - diverse and equally interesting!

Tonight's dinner was eaten at a little french bistro we'd spotted earlier in the week, Bistro Brocante. It's been snowing today and it was lovely to see it lightly falling from inside the warm, candlelit bistro.The food here was good, and quite big portions, still not eaten anything traditionally Norwegian, though - apart form brown cheese. 

Sculptures in Frogner Park
DAY SIX
Our last day in Norway. We managed to get in a few activities before our flight home. Oslo has a great luggage hold at the station (it's for both trains and buses), we left our belongings here and went to the Decorative Arts and Design Museum. This is really great for a chronological history on Scandinavian design (as it includes Sweden and Finland although the focuses is on Norway). There are some fab chairs, ceramics and textiles on display here - well worth a look and brilliantly, entry was free (as it was a Thursday!). The rest of the day was spent shopping, well it is only one week until Santa arrives!


Us - on top of the world (well, on the top of a very large ski slope!)
If you are considering a Christmas trip to Oslo, then our advice is book it right away! It's a really lovely city and perfect for those in search of some genuine festive spirit. Oslo makes a good choice for a mini break - the city and surrounding areas are very easy to navigate and manageable in size, the transport options (bus/tram/tube) are easy to use and there's enough to keep you busy, but not so much to see so as to be overwhelming (we didn't feel like we'd missed any key places, which can often happen in capital cities). 

There are so many scenic walks in wooded areas just up from the centre - using the T-Bane is probably the best way to reach them. The view from the T-Bane down the hillside is beautiful and so different, depending on the time of day and the direction of the train. Through the day everything is white and glittering because of the frost (or snow) and the low sun and on an evening houses and flats were all lit up with candles and fairy-lights and people making dinner or pottering about inside their cosy homes - like they were in a movie! Although it is super dark at night, so maybe only take the T-Bane at this hour for the view, rather than a ramble at the top!

Eating out varies enormously, although most places, like for like, are more expensive than the UK. The types of places we'd usually 'splash out' at seemed to be just too far out of our price range to try, but perhaps we didn't look hard enough - there are sure to be some gems amongst the less central areas. Another consideration we'd not researched enough was veggie and vegan options.

Cost of entry to the museums wasn't very much but had we noticed sooner, we'd have bought a day pass for the National Museums - which allows access to the four National Museums all for one price, so long as you visit on the same day. Or we'd make sure we visit as many of the National Museums on a Thursday - as Thursdays are free!

In terms of accommodation  we'd certainly suggest looking in to Elsbeth's cabin - we can't recommend it enough (our friends will testify!) Elsebeth is a perfect host, greeting us warmly on our arrival and then leaving us to it - with the offer of any help, should we have needed it, however, her well considered and very useful handbook outlining local area information, transport and shops etc was more than suffice for our needs. 

One last thing to mention - if staying on the hill towards Skogen, when using the T-Bane, be sure to to sit in the farthest carriage, on the left side as the train climbs and on the right as it descends, this way you get the best and far least disturbed view (as the end carriages don't open at every stop).



Sunday, 15 May 2016

¡Viva Cuba!

This is perhaps a record in tardiness. Exactly one year ago today we were in Cuba, in the beautiful countryside of Las Viñales, to be precise. With all the huge political changes of late and exciting things happening in Cuba right now we've been prompted to record our little adventure and maybe offer some help for those thinking about a (highly recommended) trip...

In short, Cuba is amazing, and although it feels familiar, we'd been nowhere else like it. We remember it fondly as a country full of colour, contradictions, music, politics, warmth and life. And, despite the long journey and lack of veggie food, given the chance we'd be back in a flash. 


From Manchester, we flew into Holguin, which is the exact opposite end of the island to its beating heart, Havana, mainly because it was a lot cheaper than flying to the capital but also because we wanted to see as much of Cuba as we could, so really it didn't matter too much where we landed. Holguin is a smallish town and it seems that not many folks who fly there actually go into the town (most of the passengers to this airport appeared to be headed in the direction of the all-inclusive package holidays) so when you do get a taxi, it’s super quick and easy, but also feels a little odd, as you’re probably the only people not getting on a coach. Once we arrived in the town, about a twenty minute drive away from the airport, we spent our time going from bar to bar (literally) trying to kill the six hours we had to wait for our bus. We might have missed something – Holguin is home to two of the island’s main breweries (nothing better than a cold Cristal after a day wandering round) but it didn't feel like there was much happening here, (and we did try looking, well, as much as you can with two large backpacks) so we'd recommend a good book or an enthusiasm to chat with locals (whilst you quench your thirst) if you're planning on starting your trip from here. 


Estudio, Trabajo, Fusil mural, Havana

We opted to get an overnight bus from Holguin to Havana which saved us a night’s accommodation and was also tons cheaper. If you are planning on travelling to Holgiun and you'd rather not wait around, a plane out the same day would probably be a good idea. The plane’s a lot quicker (1hr 30 or similar vs 10hrs!), but there are question marks over safety (it's a very small plane) and it’s a lot pricier… 


However you get there, Havana is AMAZING! We'd planned our trip so that we spent a few days here, acclimatising to the Cuban rhythm of life, followed by a couple of days in the countryside, then back to Havana for the bits we missed, before heading on to Trinidad for a different flavour and finally spending our last last two days at all inclusive near Guardalavaca, refreshed and ready for our flight home. We did this all by Viazul Busses, which were comfy, reliable and on time. These stop offs seemed to be the norm for those who are trekking around, although the routes, transport and end resorts varied. For their final beach chill out, most people we met were headed towards Varadero, which is east of (and much closer to) Havana. 


For our first stop off in the capital we stayed at Casa Vitrales, a beautiful old house in the historical part of the city. The casa is one of the newer accommodation options (which was a bit more like a boutique B&B). We highly recommend it. It was very clean and stylish and we've noticed has since had lots of excellent reviews. The host is laid back, friendly and knowledgable about all things Havana. As with most casas, breakfast is included and was really good, they were very accommodating of our non-meat eating diet (although do remember to remind everyone, all the time, about this, if you are vegetarian as meat is central to most meals). Cuban breakfast tend to be two courses, first fresh fruit with a juice and then coffee with bread, eggs and ham, or in our case salad. They make for a very good start to a long day's sightseeing. 



Casa Vitrales, Havana
Breakfast on the rooftop at Casa Vitrales, Havana

Take good, comfortable shoes (and a couple of pairs of them). We did a lot of walking in Havana. A lot of walking. Almost everywhere is walkable, and on our first day we managed to cover Havana Vieja (the old town), Centro Havana, Plaza De Revolucion and a good stretch of The Malecón (the sea front). The architecture is impressive and varies so much, from colourful colonial style buildings to amazing brutalist concrete structures. Our favourites included the National Theatre, a soviet style residential block called Giron and an amazing unused sports ground on the sea front (which photographer Olly Burn has captured beautifully on here). We also ended up accessing (and having a private tour!) a closed building which is famous for its lectures and academic debates, Casa de la AmericasThe long walk also meant we could enjoy a fair few mojitos along the way (it would have been rude not to) stopping at various bars and hotels on route. 

Our second day was dedicated to museums and galleries, which is something Havana (and Cuba, generally) is certainly not short of. Every town in Cuba has at least one art or cultural centre which is open all week and free to everyone. Take your time at the Museum of the Revolution, it's an old school style of museum but it's worth every minute you're there - the story of the revolution is emotional and well told and despite knowing the facts are heavily speckled with propaganda we left feeling we understood Cuba so much more than we had before that morning. We followed this with a visit to the art gallery and another wander around the old town, where we stumbled upon Taller Experimental de Grafica - a print studio and workshop. Here we chatted to some of the artists and were so very tempted to buy a beautiful print (which sadly, we didn't manage to get back for). By day two we'd discovered the delights of the Cubanito (a Cuban version of a Bloody Mary,  with rum in place of the vodka), which soon became a firm favourite. 

On day three we took another walk, this time up and down La Rampa across to The University (an oasis of calm) and around Vedado, Havana's suburbs. The architecture on this route was just amazing - everything has such history and no doubt a story or two.  

Our longest walk in Havana took place on day 4, we walked along The Malecón to Miramar, stopping at most of the big hotels along the way to take in their architecture and decor styles (usually built in the 1960s). If time is tight on your visit, unless you're desperate to see a lot of tree-lined roads and large diplomatic residencies, Miramar probably wasn't worth the walk.


Part of a mural inside a warehouse style microbrewery near the rail station, Havana

Food, like anywhere, varied in quality hugely. Most of the meals we had were really good but we do have to confess to not being super adventurous on this holiday, as we were prepared to have a difficult time having read about veggie options ahead of the trip. We found a pizza place in Havana, 5Esquinas Trattoria (we know...pizza) and ate there about four times because it was easy but also because it was really good! The pizza was super tasty and the cocktails were massive and amazing (it was also right next to the casa – but we tried a few places before we went there on a recommendation, and we'd say that at the time, this was by far one of the best place for veggie options). We had another lovely meal at Habana 61, which is also near to the casa. J opted for Ropa Vieja (a Cuban speciality) and I had vegetable risotto - both were very good and accompanied by a large Cubanito (or several). We ate at a few other places too but nothing we'd want to recommend, especially, if you're a very strict veggie!

If you're an ice cream fan (or just a lover of modernist architecture) a trip to Coppelia in the centre of Havana is well worth the blag it takes to get inside (the cafeteria is reserved for Cuban residents only) but if you're not feeling brave, there's a cabin for tourists just outside the gates... and you can (sort of) view the parlour from the side lines. 


We probably had a drink in most of the hotels (in the old town, Centro and along the The Malecón) as they all have such an interesting history, and amazing interiors – and you can get some great cocktails, of course! The coffee house O'Reilly does a very good range of caffeine based alcoholic drinks and we didn't go wrong with either a mojito or a cubanito in the following places - Hotel Raquel (mainly for the fancy lift and the view from the roof terrace), Cafe del Oriente (located in a beautiful square), Hotel Riviera (for sixties cultures and kitsch interiors), Teyp Habana Libre (which became Castro's headquarters in 1959), Hotel Florida and the top floor of Edifico FOCSA (for the amazing sea view). 



Veggie food in Cuba
From inside O'Reilly Coffee House, The Old Town, Havana

Havana
Revolution Square, Havana, Cuba
Coppelia ice cream parlour, Havana, Cuba
From Havana we travelled by bus to Las Viñaleswhich is worth the trip - the scenery is outstanding, but maybe just for one day, rather than the three we stayed for, unless of course you like horse riding or hiking, then you might want to stay longer

The route here is beautiful and if we'd done our research more thoroughly we might have ended up spending a night at Las Terrazes, an eco Park mid way between Havana and Las Viñales, where the bus has a wee stop off. 

The town where the busses drop off is quite small but there are plenty of places to eat and drink. On the day we arrived we were desperate for a swim so we hiked up a (larger than expected) hill (without a footpath) to a nearby hotel (Hotel Los Jazmines), which allowed use of their facilities to day guests. This was a genius idea, as although the weather wasn't so great, we felt like we had time travelled back to the 1930s, the building was lovely and its surroundings were very impressive. Thankfully the pool was pretty quiet (probably because it was raining) which meant we could relax properly, after a our bus journey. We sensibly opted for a taxi for the return leg. 

Options for food here were good, the main street has a lot of different paladares and restaurants. We opted for The Olive, a small, busy restaurant, which had the best reviews and clearly catered for veggies. 

The main reason folks travel to Las Viñales is visit the cigar and coffee plantations, and so there are lots of little tourist places taking bookings for hikes and day trips. We're not really fans of organised trips so we opted for a day on a remote island instead, which was just beautiful, perfect, in fact, especially as it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

A word of warning if you are planning on staying in Las Viñales, finding accommodation here can be a little frantic, especially as you get off the bus, as folks are very keen to help, even if you have already booked ahead. We stayed in a cute little fifties style chalet, behind our hosts, Mariuska and Alexis' house, just off the main street.Which was really nice, and backed on to a plantation. 

A second word of warning for those visiting the countryside... if you're afraid of creepy crawlies, you might want to have an extra (medicinal) mojito before heading to your bed, we were greeted by a very big furry eight legged pal on our second night after returning from dinner. 


Las Vinales, Cuba 
Las Vinales, Cuba

On the return leg to Havana we stayed Hotel Nacional de CubaIt’s a good hotel, with an amazing history, a nice pool and really good breakfast but if you fancy a look inside, it’s just as easy (and obviously cheaper) to buy a drink and sit in the gardens. We figured we'd seen most of the things we wanted to see by this time and ended up spending the day by the hotel pool and the evening revisiting the old town, with one last walk along The Malecón


Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana, Cuba
The Malecón, Havana, Cuba


Next stop: Trinidad, which is beautiful. It's renowned for its free music and salsa offerings which take place every night on the old steps in the centre of the town. The town itself hasn’t changed for centuries and it's typical to see donkeys and horses as modes of transport in place of cars. It's worth researching casas here. We ended up leaving the one we’d booked online before we arrived because (it wasn't quite as it had been described and) you can get some real beauties if you're happy to seek them out when you're there. If you have left it late or are not happy with your booking it’s just worth knocking on doors and asking to see the rooms – which is what most people seemed to be doing, anyway.
Having read and prepared ourselves for a hard time on the food front (we took two boxes of Nakd bars with us), in general we were pleasantly surprised how well we ate (being veggie). Trinidad was one of the very few places we managed to find a grocery store (even in Havana it was difficult to buy food outside of a cafe or restaurant, as market stalls only take Cuban money, not tourist money - the closest we found in Havana was The Harris Brothers, but this was often empty shelved on a morning when we went for water).  The only hiccup I had was in Trinidad when we ate at a very cute little place, with a balcony just off the main square. I'd asked about vegetarian options and was confidently assured that there were several, but when the meal came (a tomato pasta) there was a chicken bone in it - so, the Nakd bars came in handy that night. 



We ended up staying at Hostal Maria y Enddy and really liked it, we would certainly stay there again. Our room was one of two located upstairs and so we had use of their balcony, perfect to chill a little, read a book/have some down time (which we needed after all the travelling). Breakfast here was super good too, typically cuban and very filling. 



Trinidad, Cuba
Trinidad, Cuba
Trinidad, Cuba

Our final destination was Playa Pesqeuro. An all inclusive resort near Holguin. Staying here was such a contrast to the previous two weeks. The choice of food was insane, and there was so much food on offer - it's was so weird to see the different experiences that people travelling to Cuba might have, depending on the type of holiday they chose. One of the hotel guests we talked to mentioned how disappointed they were that they hadn't seen any of the old cars, which was crazy as they are literally everywhere, usually as taxis (if you just venture outside of the resort). Despite the hotel being truly beautiful and having everything we could need on tap, I'm not sure we could have taken more than the three days we had booked there. It was bliss to lounge by the sea, read a novel or two and refresh ourselves for our flight home but we'd have gone a bit crazy if we'd spent two weeks doing that. 

If you are planning a trip to Cuba, we can’t recommend it enough, especially the travelling (and we’re really quite jealous). Here are a few practical things, for those travelling from the UK, which might help with your trip….

Holguin airport is tiny and you’re outside before you know it (though there can be quite a bit of queuing in the airport for customs/security before you make it that far). The cadeca (money exchange) is on the right-hand side just before you leave the building and taxis are on the right outside… pretty sure we were overcharged (around $20), so it’s worth agreeing a price before you leave, though as you’ve no reference point, it’s difficult to know where to start! 

We opted to get an overnight bus from Holguin to Havana which saved us a night’s accommodation and was also tons cheaper. If you are planning on travelling to Holgiun and you'd rather not wait around, a plane out the same day would probably be a good idea. The plane’s a lot quicker (1hr 30 or similar vs 10hrs!), but there are question marks over safety (a very small plane) and it’s a lot pricier… 

The visa situation changed slightly just before we headed out… essentially all you need is a tourist card – if you’re flying with Thomas Cook or someone like that, they’ll already have sorted it for you – check the small print if you’ve booked online – it’s not really obvious, and it was wrong initially as it said that the cards would be sent out, but they’d changed it by the time we went so that you collected them when you flew; you should receive it either in the airport or on the plane – it’s a two part thing you have to complete, one of which you hand in on arrival, the other on departure (don’t lose the second half!!). Not sure whether Thomas Cook sort it for you as most of their passengers are going on to TC hotels, or whether all airlines do it. Otherwise, you’ll have to send details to the Cuban embassy over here or use a company like this one.

There’s also a departure tax to pay which used to be collected in cash just before you left Cuba but which is now paid before you leave the UK by either card or cash (it’s about £25 [or maybe $25?] each)… you’re given a receipt and you have to keep hold of it until you leave Cuba as proof you’ve paid (otherwise you’ll have to pay again!).

Travelling about - have a look at viazul.com – they’re the national bus service and, although you can get tickets on the day, it’s advisable to get them the day before. We did it online before we went out as we knew where we were headed and when, but I doubt there’s any real advantage in doing it that way if you don’t have to – you don’t get specified seats either way and still have to ‘check in’ when you get to the bus station so they can print you off another ticket! Only problem with Viazul is that their Havana station is well out of the centre – only a $5-$10 taxi-ride though – and their Hoguin stop is a bit out of the way too… only a ¾ mile or so, but it’s not central. Speaking to people out there, there were quite a few other options to explore too, but that was at the Havana end (shared taxis and another smaller bus companies). Looked at the possibility of trains before we headed over there, but – from what I read – the most reliable service (tren frances I think) had either ceased running or had really limited service. Again, may have changed… we didn’t really look into other options when we were there as we already had the bus tickets. If you’ve no fixed itinerary, it might be fun to try the train! 

Top tip: always carry small change for the toilets… they nearly always have an attendant in/next to them who will expect 25c or something similar before you’re allowed entry though it’s not always obvious that that’s the case until you’re confronted on your exit!

Enjoy Cuba!

L&J 
x

L&J, Havana Port


Monday, 14 September 2015

Weekend walks: Hadrian's Wall and High Force.

A wonderful place to be.
A Walker.

Taken from an inscription on a sculpture along the walk at High Force.

What a lovely pair of boots

The August Bank Holiday weekend was a dream. Not strictly travelling in the true ('staying over') sense but worth an entry on here nonetheless. Prompted by the purchase of a pair of lovely new boots, and following some gentle arm twisting (no names mentioned, Marie), a car full of (mainly urban) north eastern ladies headed west for a ramble along Hadrian's Wall on a fine Saturday afternoon.

Marie, Amanda and Kathryn at Steel Rig

We started our walk from the Steel Rig car park (if you're planning a jaunt yourself, bring change, it's £4 for the day) and with the generous planning of Ms Drago we did a six and a half mile loop around the wall. For novice walkers, like ourselves, this route allowed for the perfect chat to ramble ratio. It wasn't too taxing but we did feel like we'd been on adventure. Mainly because we did a lot of climbing (up and down), had contrasting changes of scenery (rock face, lake, farm land, open fields and woodland), experienced all four seasons in a matter of hours and did some genuine team work. Two quite specific memories capture the day perfectly, both of them demonstrating our (most excellent) team work; KG's courageous battle with a bog (sadly, she failed, evidence below) and coming head to head with A LOT of angry cows and (at least) one bull, all of whom really didn't want us treading on their patch, which happened to be right in front of the gateway back to the car park.


Kathryn's bravery
The route included the filming location for Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Sadly we forgot to take a picture of the famous dip with the tree (which you can see beautifully photographed here).

Hadrian's Wall
In a handful of hours we collectively experienced genuine moments of fear, comradery and proper belly laughter (the type that brings real tears).  When it comes to hanging out with the lasses, there's certainly still a place for coffee shop catch ups and girly cocktail evenings but the leisure-hike is definitely my new favourite thing.

Hadrian's Wall


Bitten by the need to be outdoors again before we settle in for 6 months of rubbish weather, Monday afternoon saw me and Mr D lacing up our boots and heading towards England's largest waterfall, in Teesdale, High Force.

High Force admission tickets


Although we live so close and have driven by this famous waterfall before, this was our first visit. Parking here is easy as there's an official car park, handily next to a pub, just over the road from the waterfall walk. (If you're planning a visit here, remember to bring change. The car park was £2 per car and admission to the waterfall walk is £1.50 per adult. Opening times vary depending on the time of year, so best to check before setting off.)

High Force from the Waterfall walk.

We walked down to High Force first to take in the fall from a distance, it's pretty impressive (and a bit slippy). Then we headed back up to the car park and set off on one of the wee ramble routes suggested at the car park.

The map routes in the car park

Public footpath near High Force

A footbridge across the Tees

There's one main route (a loop) which can be extended, depending on how far you want to walk. We set off from behind the pub, walking across several fields and past a few farms in the direction of Low Force. Unlike Saturday's walk, which was planned and accompanied by a map, we decided to go off the public footpath signs. It was pretty easy to navigate. We walked a five mile loop past Low Force and up to the south side of High Force. Although this does include a bit of an incline, the force at the top of the waterfall is mighty impressive (and a little scary) and very much worth the climb. The route at this time of year was so pretty, the wild flowers surrounding the path were a gorgeous palette of pinks and purples.

Wild flowers along the river

We were pretty lucky weatherwise, but on the return leg it started to rain. In an attempt to warm up and dry out we rewarded ourselves with a pub dinner. After a bit of deliberation (there are a few really great looking pubs in the area) we finally deciding on the Crown at Mickleton. This was pretty much our perfect pub. Lovely staff, cosy surroundings, nicely designed interior and really good food. We're planning a return visit very soon.

Mr D crossing the River Tees

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...