West Coast Ireland

Road trip time!  One of our favourite all time trips was our road trip around Northern Scotland with the Ives a few years ago.  We love the open road, fresh air and scenery that trip brought us, so we’re always looking for similar type trips to take.  We decided to do the Western Coast of Ireland.  This was a much quicker trip, as we only did 3 days and 2 nights.  We packed a lot in!

Dan and I landed in Knock where we picked up our rental car and started our journey heading south down the western coast.  Our first stop was the small city of Westport.  We originally had planned to cycle a beautiful greenway path for a few hours, however when we arrived it was pouring down rain.  So we grabbed lunch at a pub and did a bit of shopping instead 🙂

Another hour or so drive later, we arrived at Kylemore Abbey.  It’s a stunning castle that was originally a private home for a wealthy English doctor, however is most well known as a monastery for Benedictine Nuns whom fled Belgium in WW1.  It was a school for a long time, however now it is just a tourist attraction (and there are some nuns that still live there).

We then made our way over to Galway where we would be staying the night.  The town is quite cute, reminded me of a mini Dublin.  The streets are filled with performers and you don’t have to go more than 10 steps to find a cosy pub and a pint of Guinness.

The next morning we drove over to the Cliffs of Moher.  We planned this so we would arrive just after sunrise, to catch the beautiful morning sun.  It was perfect, and one of the most beautiful sights.  The sky was warm with pinks, oranges and yellows against the sweeping cliffs set along the water.  The air was crisp and it felt so good to breathe in the beauty of God’s creation.

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The best part about our trip was that after the Cliffs of Moher, we were to drive to the Shannon airport where we picked up the Phelps to join us on the rest of our trip!

Immediately we drove over to Ballybunion, where the Bromore Cliffs are.  Again, it was such a spectacular sight, as the cliffs edges sit at such a stark contrast to the smooth farm land on one side and the wild sea at the other.  Although it was quite cold and windy, the sun was shining and the skies were the most beautiful blue.

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Our resting spot for that night was in an adorable little town called Dingle.  We first checked out the Dingle Distillery, where they distill vodka, gin and whiskey.  We did a tour and a little tasting before checking into our B&B, the Ballintaggart House.  We LOVED this B&B and would highly recommend to anyone visiting the Dingle area. The host was lovely and the “house” and rooms were adorable.  And the breakfast the next morning was to die for!  That evening we explored Dingle, feasted on some local grub and enjoyed the nightlife.  It’s a really cute town and we all agreed we wished we had a bit more time there as it was our favourite spot of the trip.

Early the next morning we checked out of the B&B and drove the Dingle Peninsula loop; stopping along the way to enjoy more dramatic coastline views and funny little tourist sites.

We made our way further south, into Killarney, where we visited the Killarney National Park and took a long walk in the beautiful fresh outdoors.  The weather was perfect that day, crisp air, sunshine and blue skies.  After our long walk, we fueled back up at a pub lunch and continued on our way to Cork.  Our initial plan was to go to the famous Blarney Castle to kiss the stone, however the drive took a bit longer than expected and we ended up arriving just as they closed for the day.  Quite unfortunate!  But, probably for the best, as we had to rush to the Cork Airport to fly back to London.

It was a super quick trip, but we managed to see a lot and squeeze a lot in.  We love travelling with the Phelps and are so happy they were able to join us for a bit of the trip. I definitely would recommend this trip to others wanting to visit Ireland.  You can easily do it in the time we did, but you can also go at a bit slower pace and spend a few more days.

Lyon & French Alps

 

Dan recently had the opportunity to join a weeklong project in Lyon, France.  Of course as it was a new city for us, I quickly wanted to join!  So I arrived on Friday at the end of the week for a night in Lyon then the weekend in the Alps.

After Dan finished up work on Friday, I met him in the city centre where we walked around exploring.  The city is really adorable – I couldn’t believe how many cafe’s, restaurants and bars there were! It’s a very small, but incredibly charming city built around the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers.  I wish we had more time there than just the one evening…

 

Lyon is known as one of the gastronomic capitals of the world.  It is FILLED with Michelin starred restaurants and is home to some of the most infamous culinary institutes.  I’m a HUGE Anthony Bourdain fan (R.I.P.), and love to follow his recommendations as we travel around the world.  One of my favourite episodes of Parts Unknown was his Lyon trip.  He visited Paul Bocuse’s restaurant and was able to dine WITH Chef Paul himself!  Watching Anthony Bourdain’s excitement and respect for such a chef made me want to experience those feelings as well.  I had just been promoted at work, and Dan told me we were going to go out to dinner to celebrate that evening.  Never did I think we’d be able to get into Paul Bocuse – but somehow Dan managed to secure a booking!!!

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We indulged in the most memorable six course meal:

  • Amuse-bouche de l’Auberge
  • Duck foie gras terrine, ginger jelly, dried fruits chutney [Kirsten] & Traditional Lyon quenelles of pike with crayfish, Normande sauce [Dan]
  • Filet of beef Rossini, Périgueux sauce [Kirsten] & Fricassee of Bresse chicken in cream sauce, morel mushrooms [Dan]
  • Selection of fresh and matured cheeses from ‘La Mère Richard’
  • Delicacies & Temptations
  • Fantasies & Chocolates

Two things in particular stood out to me; first was the veal sweetbread that was on top of my beef filet – out of this world delicious! And secondly, was the dessert cart.  I wish I was able to take better photos of them (because there were FOUR – not just ONE dessert cart!) I had a hard time containing myself and not asking for a sampling of each of the desserts offered!  It was such a special evening and was by far the best meal of my life!


 

Part two of our trip kicked off early the next morning as we hired a car and drove off east towards the French Alps.  Our plan was to arrive late morning and spend the afternoon hiking.  However…the World Cup was on (and France was playing) and it was nearly 100 degrees out, so we decided to take it easy and just drive and stop in a few small villages along the way and then watch the match at a local pub.

It was such a beautiful drive climbing up and up through winding steep mountain roads, to where we stayed at a beautiful catered chalet.  The house was built into the rocks.  It was quite a striking mix between old/mountain rock and modern.  The area even had a local friendly donkey that greeted us 🙂

 

 

The next day we set off for a full day’s hike in the alps.  Dan chose a beautiful trail around one of the ski resorts with views of Mount Blanc.  The weather was absolutely perfect!  It was quite funny because it was about 70 degrees and sunny, but parts of our hike were still through the snow!

We love adventure trips, and this one in particular because it was such a contrasting trip – gourmet meals to trekking in the alps.  It was also really cool to see this area in the summer as this was a similar area we were in the winter for our ski trip!

Zakynthos, Greece

One of our favourite trips of all time was about two years ago when we spend a long weekend in  Santorini, Greece.   When we sat down  this spring to decide where we should visit for a long relaxing weekend, we both quickly agreed on going back to a Greek island.  We settled on Zakynthos as it was super easy to reach and offered some great resorts.

This will quite possibly be my shortest blog post, as we pretty much spent 90% of the time lying by our resort’s infinity pool overlooking the blue Mediterranean Sea.  The remainder of our time we spent on our motorcycle winding through the olive tree farms to see the dramatic coastline or out to eat the most incredible Greek food.

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How we spent our whole first day 🙂

For our first night on the island, Dan found the most amazing Greek restaurant for dinner, Bassia.  We actually ended up loving it so much, we went a total of 3 times throughout our week there!

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The next  morning we drove across the island over to Porto Limnionas, a sheltered cove for swimming.  The 1.5 hour drive was so beautiful, passing through olive farms, vineyards and tiny little towns.  When we arrived to our lunch destination, we were greeted with the cutest little restaurant set high above the cove overlooking the most crystal clear turquoise waters!  After a quick bite, we climbed down the steps to the water where we went swimming and explored the caves.  I couldn’t believe how clear the water was – you could see the sandy bottom the whole time and the water was at least 30 feet deep!

That night’s dinner treated us to one of the best views on the island. Lofos Pizzaria is set up in the hills, overlooking the middle valley of the island.  It is quite the trek to get to on a motorcycle…lots of hairpin turns and a steep climb!  But after a somewhat eventful trip there, we made it in one piece and enjoyed some Greek pizza and a perfect sunset!

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The next day, we did nothing but move from the pool to the beach 🙂 It was perfection!

IMG_3918In the evening, we rode over to another incredible Greek restaurant.  The entire “dining room” is set outside, underneath a canopy of greenery and fairy lights.  It’s magical!

For our last excursion, we drove across the island and to the north to see the Island’s most famous sight – Shipwreck Beach!

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From there, we explored another beach, Xigia Beach.  This area is incredibly unique, as the water has a layer of collagen on the top!  The natural springs flow sulphur and collagen, making the water feel silky and smooth against your skin (although quite stinky too!).

 

For our last night, we went back to our favourite restaurant where the staff treated us to a “going away” meal which included 5 courses of their best Greek dishes.  It was an unforgettable meal, and we made some great friends that we hope we can go back and visit some day.

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We were really lucky to have a late evening flight back to London and were able to spend the WHOLE day pool and seaside again.  It was the perfect trip.  We were able to actually relax, read (and finish!) books and soak up the Greek sun.  I cannot recommend this place enough, particularly our hotel.  It was a 10/10.

Birthday Trip to Morocco

I’ve officially joined the dirty thirty club!  And what a welcome I received! I started celebrating on Wednesday with my work colleagues and the party didn’t stop until the following Tuesday when we flew  back to London!  Friday evening I was welcomed with a surprise visit from the Phelps and Ives at our flat with a cake, sparklers and bubbly.  I’m so lucky to have such great (and thoughtful!) friends in London!  I was so surprised!  It as the PERFECT way to kick off my 30th birthday celebration!

 

The party kicked back off around 4am on Saturday morning when we had to meet the Ives on a bus to the airport for a super early morning flight 🙂  We flew into Marrakesh, Morocco for a weekend of birthday shenanigans and exploring.  After quickly checking into our riad* (which was ADORABLE!), we headed off to check out the city of Marrakesh and get lost in the souks! *A riad is a traditional Moroccan house that is situated around a courtyard, that typically contains a pool or fountain.  Many have now been converted into boutique hotels.

We spent the entire day wandering through the market stalls and bartering for Moroccan goods.  I loved all of the foreign sights, sounds and smells that the area had to offer.  It’s so fun for me to experience a culture that is so far from what my day-to-day is.  I love to fully submerse myself into it.

That evening we had a lovely dinner at a restaurant the Riad recommended.  After feasting on various Moroccan tajines (a stew that is cooked for long hours in a clay pot, typically with meat, vegetables and sometimes dried fruits such as dates or apricots). Dan let the staff know it was my birthday…and the party started!  A group of about 10 staff brought out a beautiful dessert, firecracker candles and a beautiful serenade of a Moroccan rendition of Happy Birthday!

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The next morning we were met by our driver, Aziz, who would transport us for the next 3 days through the mountains, countryside and desert.  Our first day on the road was primarily spent winding through the Atlas Mountains.  We made various pit stops along the way to soak in the views.  It was quite surreal seeing snow tipped mountains just above the yellow/orange sand desert.  Our favourite pit stop along the way was a craft market where we spent hours searching for the perfect Moroccan rug to bring back as a souvenir.  I fell in love with the bartering and feel very proud with the deal I managed to negotiate for our stunning area rug!

After a total of 6 hours of driving, we arrived at the Dades Gorges where we stayed the night.  The area is jaw-dropping as there are small villages and winding roads carved in and around a large gorge that is formed from the Dades River.  Our hotel was no exception, as it was literally carved out of the earth with the Dades River flowing in front.  We loved the hotel, especially the staff.  We quickly became friends with the staff and spent the early evening hanging out sharing stories about our lives and learning about their traditional Berber lifestyle.  That evening we had a fantastic meal followed by another birthday party.  The Moroccan’s love a birthday party – and this one again did not disappoint! Our driver, Aziz, (and the rug guys from earlier in the day!) ended up getting me a birthday cake and surprised me!  The rest of the evening was spent enjoying Berber music and dancing with our new friends.

 

Sunday morning we met Aziz early for another long day of driving.  We drove another 6 odd hours with many stops for beautiful photos of the dramatic scenery along the way.  We even managed to find a roadside stand selling traditional Berber clothing where we couldn’t resist the photo op of playing dress up!

After what seemed like forever, we finally made it to what I was looking forward to the whole time…the Merzouga Sahara Dunes.  Some of the largest, most dramatic dunes in the Sahara!  From every direction your eye could see were the most gorgeous orange velvety smooth dunes.  It was almost as if they were large orange sand waves frozen in place.  We hopped on our camels to make a 1.5 hour trek out further into the Sahara where we would camp for the night.  The trek was incredible – slightly uncomfortable, but hard to think about your discomfort when the scenery is once-in-a-lifetime beautiful!

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That evening we had another traditional tajine dinner in the communal berber tent after watching the sunset over the dunes.  We enjoyed some entertainment before hitting our beds early as we had an early start the next day…

…at 4:30 am!!!  We woke and hopped on our camels again for the 1.5 hour trek back.  It’s hard to describe how beautiful the trek in the dark was.  I’ve never seen the sky so on fire with stars.  You could see the creamy milky way weaving through millions and millions of bright stars.  It was unbelievable.  And after about an hour of trekking in the dark, the sun started to peek up from the horizon and we witnessed the most beautiful sunrise as we arrived back to our vehicle.  The rest of the trip was spent in the vehicle making our way back to Marrakesh to make our flight home back to London. It was such a lovely way to celebrate entering into a new decade of life!

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Seoul, South Korea 서울

 

Once again, we’ve been on the move!  This time Dan had to go to Seoul, South Korea for a 2.5 week work project.  The first weekend he was in Seoul landed on the Easter holiday, and I had Friday and Monday off work so decided to join him for a long weekend.  It was quite a long flight (11 hours!), but being able to experience a new country with Dan was 100% worth it for the quick trip!

With the time difference, I landed in Seoul early Friday morning.  Dan had to work the day, so after he greeted me and had a quick lunch with me, I was off on my own to explore.  I spent the afternoon wandering around Myeong-Dong which is a popular shopping area.  The streets were filled with beauty shops, clothing stores and street food vendors.  I couldn’t believe how many beauty shops there were!  Skin care is taken so seriously there, you can’t go more than 5 steps without another shop selling their famous sheet masks.  I had heard a lot about them, and was quite sceptical at first…but after purchasing a handful and testing one at our hotel…I understand the hype!  I’m addicted and loved stocking up on different versions I would find throughout the remainder of my trip.

Dan met up with me for a Korean BBQ dinner.  I forgot how much I love Asian restaurant culture.  Everything is so organised, efficient and just DELICIOUS!  After dinner we went over to Seoul Tower to catch some of the night views over the city.

On Saturday, Dan had to work until mid-afternoon so I set out to do some sight seeing on my own in the morning.  I first visited the Jogyesa Buddhist Temple.  It had the coolest outdoor area surrounding the temple.  Thousands of colourful lanterns we strung in the sky creating the most beautiful rainbow canopy! I loved watching the locals come and go and perform their traditions/rituals.  It is especially cool to see the differences between all of the Asian cultures and religions from all of our travels.

From there I wandered over to Gwanhun-dong to check out some more shopping and culture.  There was an incredible shopping centre (Insadong ssamjigil) which was filled with local artist shops and retailers.  I even stumbled up on a poop themed cafe’ – I swear, some of things you find in Asia…you can’t even imagine!

After meeting up with Dan, we went to explore the Gyeongbokgung Palace.  The palace is the largest and most grand of the “Five Grand Palaces” built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Our timing was perfect as when we walked up the changing of the guards ceremony was just starting.  It was really cool to watch.

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I quickly noticed that many of the visitors (and locals) at the palace were dressed in traditional Korean clothing.  It didn’t take me long to decide that this was the perfect opportunity to play dress up and engage in this fantastic tradition and rent a Hanbok for the day! I felt like such a princess.  I LOVED exploring and spending the afternoon in this stunning gown!  I couldn’t stop twirling around and of course I was wearing a huge grin the entire time.  Let’s be real though…the palace was lovely…but this dress…took the crown!

 

That evening after reluctantly returning my Hanbok…we made our way over to Hongdae Street.  This area is known for it’s urban culture, art and street performers.  The entire street is shut down and flooded with food stalls, retail shops, art stands and…screaming KPop fans for the street performers that are set up about every 20 meters.  It was bizarre.  Literally every 20 meters down the street was a mini stage or sectioned off area with a street dancer/singer/artist.  Each one had it’s own HUGE loyal crowd.  It was so much fun walking the street and seeing performer after performer and enjoying some tremendous street food!  We ended the evening with some delicious Korean fried chicken (the real KFC!).

On my last full day in the city, we visited the Changdeokgung Palace, which is another of the Five Grand Palaces within Korea.  We didn’t find this to be too dissimilar from Gyeongbokgung Palace, so our visit was short and sweet!  From there we quickly explored Bukchon Hanok Village then took a long walk along the Cheonggyecheon to get to our lunch spot.  The Cheonggyecheon is a 10k long urban park/stream that cuts through the middle of Seoul.  It has a big beautiful walking path on both sides – hard to believe that it used to be a big concrete expressway!

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Lunch was incredible!  It was another version of Korean BBQ – however this time no one spoke any English so we had no idea what we were really doing or eating!  We love the traditional style restaurants where you sit on the ground and wear an apron and cook your own meal!  This meal was probably my favourite of the trip!

 

From there, we had one last area I had to check out before leaving – Gangnam!

 

That evening we went out for a last bowl of Bibimbap (YUM!) and I stocked up on some last minute sheet masks.

 

The next morning I flew back 11 hours to London and went to work the following day!  It was a whirlwind trip for me, but I’m SO glad I did it.  Dan stayed on for another 2 weeks before coming back for my birthday (and birthday trip!) then ended up going back to finish the project for another 10 days!

 

Skiing in Chamonix, France [Chalet Bibendum]

Woo hoo! It’s ski season!  And we live in Europe – so we get to ski the Alps!  The first taste we had of skiing the Alps over two years ago in Innsbruck got us hooked! I’ve been looking forward to this trip for months now.  We rallied together a group of 8 of our friends, rented the most INCREDIBLE chalet and headed off to Chamonix for a long weekend of shredding!

Let’s first talk about our Chalet.  This was by far the best AirBNB I’ve EVER had.  It was unbelievable!  It was beyond perfect for the 10 of us, as it had 5 beds all with their own ensuite.  The centre of the chalet featured a stunning fireplace, the peaked trusses made the perfect frames for large windows highlighting the French Alps, and I can’t forget the massive chef’s kitchen, which was a total vision board in reality.  The host had a total eye for style as everything flowed together perfectly…from the funky, Moroccan lamps and rugs to the modern copper bath tubs. Not to mention, it was right in the middle of the Chamonix Valley, so all of the skiing areas were a quick 5-10 minute car ride away.  Oh and while I’m mentioning a car ride…I feel I should share a photo of this beautiful beast that transported all TEN of us for the weekend!  Dan was an incredible bus driver for all of us…this thing was hilarious, but totally perfect for the occasion!  🙂

*Links to Chalet so you can book your own dreamy holiday: Chalet Bibendum & Chalet Bibendum AirBNB

For our first day of skiing, we visited Le Tour.  Everyone was at very different skiing level’s, so we tried to all stick together, but inevitably, we ended up splitting into a few smaller groups.  Conditions weren’t the best as the clouds were very low and there was a lot of snow so it was difficult to see about 5 feet in front of you sometimes.  But we were skiing…in the Alps!  So can’t complain!  One of my friends recommended taking one of the very long red runs down the back of the mountain that ends down at an adorable little ski village, Valorcine.  Although this run wasn’t very fast or difficult, it ended up being one of my favourites because of how beautiful it was!

That evening we were all exhausted from a full day on the slopes.  I cooked a big family style spaghetti Bolognese.  Erin decorated the table beautifully, and we all sat around the massive table stuffing our faces and enjoying the family-like atmosphere.

For our second full day of skiing, we went to Brevant/Flegere.  The conditions were a bit better that day, but this area was definitely much easier than Le Tour.

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That evening, we went into Chamonix for drinks and dinner.  We found this really cool self-serve beer bar and then a pizza restaurant, where again, we stuffed our faces.  It’s amazing how hungry skiing makes you! The actual village was adorable too.  I wish we had a bit more time to explore the area (particularly the shops!)

On Monday, we had a half day before we had to go back to the airport.  Dan and Kent went off skiing on their own, while the rest of us stayed back and relaxed/packed up.  The two of them took Grand Montes by a storm and shredded hard for those 3 precious hours.  They said it ended up being some of the absolute best powder skiing conditions either of them have ever had!

It was an incredible weekend with a fantastic group of friends!  Can’t wait to get back on the slopes again!

Lisbon, Portugal

If you follow us regularly, you’ll probably notice both Dan and I have been travelling a lot for work.  Our last weekend trip was stapled onto a work trip Dan had in Oslo, Norway  and this time it was my turn to travel for work and have Dan come visit me on the weekend!  I’m working on some really cool projects across Europe right now, and lucky for me, two of them are in Portugal.  After a few days in Lisbon and Porto for work, Dan joined me Friday evening for a weekend of exploring.

For some reason (which were both still not entirely sure why) we did a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city. We rarely do this, but it ended up working out great as it got us quickly to some of the main sites…although in retrospect, we only used the bus about 2, maybe 3 times 😉

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First stop:  Belém Towera stunning tower structure that from afar looks like it is floating off of the Lisbon shoreline.

After snapping a few photos and walking along the shore, we walked over to Pasteis de Belem, the world famous bakery known for its Pastéis de Nata (custard tarts)!  We were warned that the queue would be quite long, but it would be worth the wait.  Luckily, we only had to wait a few minutes before we had the most delicious, warm custard tarts in our possession!  Unlike a lot of places that are very hyped up about being “the best”, this place totally lived up to the hype – they were outstanding!  Totally worth it if you’re in the area!

A quick Uber away (not the bus :)) was the, also very famous, TimeOut market, where we enjoyed some delicious lunch.

We spent the remainder of the day wandering around various neighborhoods, while gawking at all of the gorgeous architecture and TILES. I fell in love with the tiles.  I took close to 100 photos of buildings and tiles.  We even ended up visiting a tile shop to purchase some to bring home with us!

That evening we had a really good Portuguese dinner at a really cool, funky restaurant and topped off the night with some incredible wine at what is now possibly my favourite wine bar ever.  The entire building was covered in beautiful green glass wine bottles and their service and selection was FAB!

On Sunday we did a bit more exploring, but mostly just enjoyed relaxing and walking in the sunshine.  We had the most perfect weather while in Lisbon, about 65-70 degrees and sunny the entire time.  We loved the food, the wine, the culture, and just about everything!

It was a lovely, relaxing weekend. I’m so grateful that I am able to work on a project in this incredible country!

Oslo, Norway

Dan has been able to travel to Oslo a few times for work trips these past few months, so we decided that I would join him for a night to do some exploring!  It was as really short trip, as we flew in Saturday morning and I flew back Sunday night.  But it’s a really small city so it was really easy to do in a quick weekend.  So many people told us that Oslo is a really boring city, but we ended up really loving it and finding it incredibly beautiful!

We spent Saturday afternoon just wandering around the city’s shopping area.  It’s basically just one long high street.  But one beautiful high street and at the end of the shopping street sits the Palace up on the hill with a beautiful park.  When we reached the end of the walk and got to the park, we decided we should go ice skating in the park!  We rented hockey skates and as soon as we got them – it started to snow!  I’m talking the most perfect big fluffy snowflakes!  Living in London, we don’t get snow and I LOVE snow!  And how perfect to be skating in the snow in Norway!  Perfection!

 

As I only had one night in Oslo, we decided to try and visit as many places as possible for food and drink.  So we started off at the top floor of our hotel for a cocktail – which happens to be the tallest building in Oslo!  Next stop was a cave bar/restaurant for dinner and some Norwegian beer.  They were known for their sausages so we had to try them, and they didn’t disappoint!  After dinner,  we bar hopped at a handful of craft beer bars around the city.  The craft beer scene was fantastic there – especially the sour beers!  So many fun ones to try, I loved it!

On Sunday we decided to take a long walk along the waterfront.  We started over by the Oslo Opera House which is a stunning display of architecture along the sea.  The  building and sun created beautiful reflections into the water.

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The remainder of my short time in the city was spent just wandering around, enjoying the wonderful weather and being with Dan.  We love weekends away where we can just take it slow and not feel rushed to see a lot of tourist sites.  Oslo was so beautiful and was the perfect quick (but slow) getaway! And I got my snow fix in 🙂

Australia [Cairns & Sydney]

After the most incredible week in New Zealand, the 2nd (and 3rd!) part of our Christmas trip begun. We began in the northern Australian city of Cairns. We chose this area as it was easily accessible to the Great Barrier Reef, it was known for its great beaches and it has a rainforest!

Kicking this part off with a bang, our first stop was the Great Barrier Reef! We did a full day tour with Passions. We chose them because they were one of the smaller tour companies, and their boat is a brand new catamaran! The trip out to the reef was about two hours, which to be honest, surprised both me and Dan! But let me tell you…it was WELL WORTH the long trip out there! As we were on a smaller boat and we lucked out with the weather/wind conditions we were able to visit some of the best reef spots in this area!

We were both blown away with the amount and variety of fish we saw. The schools’ of fish were massive! From teeny tiny fish swimming in schools of thousands, to massive parrot fish swimming together in groups of ten or twenty. I will let our GoPro videos speak for themselves – there really are no good words that I can use to describe the Great Barrier Reef. It’s something that you just have to experience for yourselves!
Oh! And we saw some sharks too! They’re just reef sharks, so they aren’t too threatening. The white tip ones are completely non-aggressive, but the black tip sharks can become aggressive if threatened. They were fun to swim around and watch.
We were able to spend about 3 total hours in the water snorkeling, which was perfect. I mean, mermaid Kirsten could have spent ALL day in there, but they forced me out J It was a magical day, we are so happy we were able to see the GBR. I will say, the colour of the corals were not at all what we expected, as they were a bit more muted than coral we have seen at other snorkeling spots (ie Zanzibar), but the fish and the vastness of the reef here were definitely one of a kind!

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It was really hard to believe that the next day was CHRISTMAS DAY! It was a totally bizarre feeling as it was our first time not having a white Christmas! I mean, technically we had a white sandy beach, so I guess that counts! We spent the day relaxing on the beach, swimming in the ocean and floating in our hotel pool. We found out that a lot of people from other parts of Australia come up to Cairns for holiday. We made some friends from the Outback that were there for Christmas weekend. We learned from them that the traditional meal for Christmas is barbequing meats and having an outdoor family-style picnic. They were so fun and let us enjoy some of the local fruits and snacks with them! That evening, we wanted to partake in this tradition, so we used the hotels’ awesome barbeque area and put some steak and shrimp on the Barbie!

We spent the next day exploring the Daintree Rainforest. We took a really cool glass bottom gondola ride over the canopy of the rainforest. The gondola offered a few stop off points along the way before ending at a little village in the middle of the rainforest. There, we visited a koala park where I was able to snuggle the cutest little koala bear! He (Charlie) was so sleepy, cuddly and soft! I had the hardest time giving him back to the handler!
After a full day in the rainforest, the last part of the day was the scenic railway back to our starting point. The train is a 2 hour journey through the rainforest over and through impressive bridges and tunnels. It was a stunning ride, and was nice that all of the carriages were open air.

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On our last full day in the north, we spent the whole day relaxing. Both Dan and I aren’t ones to go on long beach vacations, and even if we go somewhere tropical, we tend to fill our time with activities rather than lay around and relax. But we decided we could use a little relaxation, so we enjoyed the incredibly hot tropical weather with our floaties in the ocean and the pool! We topped off our trip with a great meal at a beach bar.

We LOVED Cairns, particularly the Palm Cove area. We felt like we were in the coolest, hip local village. Everyone was so friendly! It was really hard to leave, but we left feeling relaxed, tanned and ready for a NYE celebration! We took a super early 6am flight down to Sydney to start the last leg of our trip!


This part of the trip was super special because we joined up with our friends from London the Phelps! They spent a week in Fiji before joining us in Sydney! We rented a really cool AirBNB flat in the Surrey Hills area. We didn’t know it when we booked, but that area is super trendy and filled with some of the best restaurants in Sydney!

Dan and I spent the first day relaxing at our AirBNB and jogging down to one of the marinas while we waitied for the Phelps to arrive that evening.

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The next day we did the famous Congee to Bondi walk!  It’s a stunning path that follows the stunning coastline for about 6.5 km.  There are beautiful beaches and swimming spots along the way to stop and enjoy.  We started first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds, and are so glad we did because by the time we got to Bondi – it was PACKED! We stopped twice along the way to swim (we even saw some sting rays!) and ended in Bondi for lunch at a beachside restaurant where we enjoyed fish & chips!

In the evening we went to another lovely pizza dinner.  We did so good with restaurants in Sydney! Not a single meal disappointed!  As our AirBNB had an awesome outdoor deck on the 2nd floor, every night after dinner we found ourselves hanging out playing games enjoying the weather!

Our next full day was spent doing our own version of a city walking tour. We hit up the typical spots:  Sydney Harbor bridge, botanical gardens, the Opera House and walked many of the streets in and around the area.

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The next day was our last full day in Sydney – an it was New Years Eve!  We had our big NYE celebration in the evening, so for the day we decided to relax and take the ferry over to Manly Beach to hang out for the day.  The ferry ride was so pretty – I can see why people use it to commute daily!  What a way to get to work!

While Gina, Charles and I spent the day relaxing on the beach…Dan hit the waves for some surfing!  It was quite busy, and the waves were pretty small – but he spent the better part of a few hours *trying* to ride the waves 🙂

So that night was the big one! Although not the main reason we came to Sydney…but one of the big ones! NEW YEARS EVE!!! We ended up going to an island party at Shark Island in the middle of Sydney Harbour. There was a ferry that took everyone out to the island, then we had the whole island to make a picnic spot and enjoy the evening. Dan was incredible and sprinted off the boat and went to what we think was the ABSOLUTE BEST spot on the island to secure out spot for the night. We had the most perfect view of the bridge where the fireworks are set off from! We set up our little picnic spot with all of the goodies that we brought with us and enjoyed a few hours of eating and games before the first round of fireworks went off. They do two sets, one at 9:00 for kids then the big show at midnight. I had pretty high expectations for the fireworks…and they still completely rocked my socks off! They did such a fantastic job. It was so uhh-mazing! If we were ever to go again, I can say we did NYE perfectly. From our spot on the island, the ability to bring our own picnic, the perfect weather, the friends we were with, to the unbelievable fireworks show – all perfection!

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Australia was so much fun.  We already know we want to go back someday and explore the incredible continent further.  There is so much more there that we didn’t see, but what we did was amazing.  It was so fun to be able to experience Sydney with the Phelps too!  They were so fun to travel with and we can’t wait to do more together!  Not sure if we’ll ever be able to top this Christmas and NYE!

French Rivera & Cinque Terre

It’s hard to believe that SIX years ago Dan and I exchanged “I do’s” and promised our lives together forever.  I feel so blessed to share my life with my best friend and adventure all around the world with him.  For our anniversary, we decided to take another road trip.  This time we went to the French Rivera and Cinque Terre, Italy.  We decided to make it a long weekend as it was our anniversary! We did a nice loop, starting and ending at Nice. It was a lot of mileage, but the views along the way were unbeatable!

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We flew in Thursday morning and grabbed our rental car.  We checked into our hotel and quickly hit the beach.  Our hotel was located in a quiet, secluded area between Nice and Monaco which provided us with the most amazing little cove of private beach.  We spent the afternoon floating in the turquoise water and walking along the coast.  That evening we went into Nice’s city centre to have dinner and drinks.  We found this amazing cave restaurant where we feasted on great Charcuterie and cheese and had great wine.

The next morning we drove into Monaco.  I’ve never seen so much wealth in such a small concentrated area!  Dan was in super car heaven, as every 2 minutes another insane super car would drive by!  And the yachts…don’t even get me started!  It was unreal how large these “boats” were…and how many of them there were!  Not just one or two big boys…we’re talking hundreds!  I thought some of them were cruise ships…but no…just private family boats 🙂 Monaco was a lot of fun.  You probably don’t need more than a half a day there, but if you’re in the area, it’s 100% worth checking out.  We really enjoyed it.

 

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After lapping in the luxury, we hopped back into our little European car and started making our way over to Portofino.  Of course, after about an hour of driving, we had to stop on the side of the road for a dip in the water 🙂

The stretch of drive from Monaco to Portofino was our favourite of the trip.  The expressway follows the coast and ducks in and out of mountains the whole way.  Bridge, tunnel, bridge tunnel, bridge, tunnel…you get the point!  It was really beautiful.  We arrived at our AirBNB just outside of Portofino (in Rapallo) in the early evening where we freshened up and headed into Portofino for dinner.  What a night it turned out to be!  About 10 minutes into our drive we were stopped by the police!  We were informed that as Portofino is really small, they weren’t letting any more cars in for the evening because it was already full.  After a few minutes of discussion, we were somehow allowed to advance and try to get in.  We found a parking spot and quickly found out the reason why the town was shutting down…Ferrari was hosting an event in the town square, literally taking up the entire space! They were holding the world premiere of their new Ferrari Portofino!  The whole town was lined with a red carpet, massive tents, fancy tables and guest dressed to the nines!  We clearly didn’t fit in…ha!  We were able to walk around the edges of the town and catch the views from the peripheral.  Our dinner plans were also thwarted as Ferrari had booked out every restaurant on the waterfront…!  But we were able to grab a pizza 🙂 It was quite the scene and we really enjoyed the environment.  It was a bit unfortunate that we weren’t able to do Portofino as we had hoped, but we got to see the premiere of the car and walk the red carpet which was quite fun!

 

20170909_155550The next morning we made our way down the Italian coast for the Cinque Terre portion if our trip.  Cinque Terre (CT) literally means 5 towns; and these towns are cute little colourful towns built into the seaside cliffs.  We stayed in the most southern town, Riomaggiore.  We ran into a few hiccups during our time in Cinque Terre.  Our main plan for our time there was to hike from our town up the the northern most town, Monterosso.  Unfortunately, the hiking trails from our town up to the third town were closed for repairs.  Okay…so we start at the third town and make our way from there!  We bought our tickets (you have to have a trail pass to walk the trails), and started our trek!  We hiked for about 10 minutes when we reached the first trail checkpoint to show our passes…and were informed that all of the trails are closed for the day because there is a “chance of rain”.  SO – during our few days in CT, because there was a chance of rain in the forecast, we weren’t actually able to hike at all! It was super unfortunate as we love hiking and there really isn’t much else to do in the area besides take in the views!  (Oh – and it only rained at night! The sun was out during most of the day!)

Luckily, our friends Gina and Charles ended up being in CT the same time as ourselves so we are able to hang out and make the most of it!  We took the train from town to town, ate a lot of pasta, pizza and gelato, drank incredible wine and spent a lot of time relaxing!

Cinque Terre was beautiful!  Although we had some unfortunate circumstances, we were glad we went and we’re able to see it.  I do think the area has become overrun with tourists.  We felt like we were in Disney Land being shuffled around with all the other tourists.  It’s sad that the natural beauty and history of the area is now overshadowed by pushy foreigners.

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We also managed to shoot a beautiful six year anniversary photo!  We’re past the point of being able to take selfies now – need two hands!

Six Years!

For our last day, we had intended to stay in CT for the full day, but as the trails were still closed (with no rain…) we decided to make our way over to Parma to check out the home of Parmesan cheese!

We went to Hombre Farms for a tour of the Parmesan cheese process.  They are a unique farm because they are a fully closed circuit.  Meaning, everything comes from just them!  They grow the feed for their cows and their cows provide everything for the cheese. And they are 100% organic.  The owner is also an avid car collector, so we were able to walk around his “garage” to see some of his collectibles!

As we still had a few hours to spare until we needed to head back to Nice, we decided to check out the Ferrari museum and factory in the neighboring town of Modena.

After drooling over cars we’ll never be able to afford, we started the trek back to Nice!  We arrive back just in time to catch a little of the sunset on the beach before dropping the car off and flying back to London! Although not everything went as we had hoped, it was such a beautiful trip.  We love taking road trips! Happy SIX YEARS DAN!

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