Lifestyle, Travel

These vagabond shoes….

Rockefeller Centre

So, after many stops and false starts – we got to New York. Covid initially stymied our trip and then the very happy incident of a spanking new glorious grandchild. Over the past two years, I have been avidly asking all and sundry for suggestions and I kept a list on my phone of must sees both well known and not so well known, got a Guide Book and kept updating our hotel so many times I was on first name terms with staff there and in hotel! We had originally booked to see the all singing and dancing star that is Hugh Jackman in The Music Man at The Winter Garden. This booking also went through many stops and false starts; at least Hugh and I were having the same travails. However, the tickets were originally nearly $600, and by the time we got to really say “that this is it, we’re off”, the tickets had increased their price to $1000 extra. You know much and all as I would have loved to have seen the show, this price was just way beyond what we wanted to spend. We cancelled; with absolutely no bother whatsoever.

After doubly, trebly, quadruply checking all our necessary forms, Covid related, Esta related, location checker related, Verifly – which was an Aer Lingus app that linked to our passport and all necessary documents – we were on a Flight, leaving our dogs in the loving and capable hands of our son and girlfriend. Just a note of caution, my husband goes by the name of “Dan” but of course, his passport had “Daniel Joseph”. This caused him to unleash lots of blue air around his head as he tried to link the various papers. We landed in a sunny, but brisk New York and got a yellow taxi outside. Ignore various random people offering taxis; the yellow ones offer a set fare of $63 plus any bridge or tunnel tolls. But don’t forget – and this was our first introduction to the tipping service of 20% that was across the board everywhere you went – a tip is obligatory. 20% is the minimum tip and you just feel you are subsidising wages. Always happy to tip when service is good and a bit of charm is thrown in for good measure but loathe though I am to say it, Taxi drivers were, on the most part, unfriendly.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot………”

We stayed in, an Art Deco Hotel, in the Flatiron District,  within walking distance to Midtown and Chelsea, shopping on Lower Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building and right beside The Museum of Sex………….. quickly put our bags into our very nice room with lovely Art Deco fittings and set out to find something to eat and have a little nosey around the area.

Madison Square
A walk to the Flatiron Building

We found a vast, bright and airy Indoor Italian Food Market called Eataly, very close to the Flatiron. Opened in 2007, it’s part restaurant complex, part food market. Rare Italian wines, cheeses, fresh breads, seafood and meats sourced locally or flown in from Italy, to be had. It was buzzing and wonderful. We shared a seafood starter, had two great seafood pasta mains and Prosecco. We wandered around the area a little as Madison Square was just across the road. All the pooches were out for their evening stroll, very well behaved, but we both just imagined our two setters and lurcher in such an environ. No chance to run free and cause general mayhem, but I’m glad they have space. Gramercy Park is close and is the city’s only private park and residents of the surrounding buildings have keys to the gate. I was dying to see the Brownstone Buildings, so reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw. Cue chiffon skirt, blown by air vents. When you know, you know. There is a lovely Brownstone at 15 Gramercy Park South, which houses the National Arts Club. We took a walk to what is described as “an atmospheric” bar, called Pete’s Tavern. Yes, had loads of atmosphere, but also Covid still existed, so we held off. In fairness, all establishments required a Covid Pass and some form of identification before you were allowed in. We also passed Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace. It was late in the evening at this stage, so we didn’t go in, but the Guidebook states it holds exhibits, and is reconstructed to imitate his boyhood home.

Next morning, breakfast was very simple fare and self service . Absolutely fine, but nothing to write home about . Prior to arriving, we had booked a New York City pass, which allows you choose the sights you want to see. There are a number of City Pass options; the one that we opted for, which cost €120.00 per person, allowed us to choose up to 5 locations. We had an itinerary which had the five spots that we wanted to see on this trip. In fact, we only used three of them (I’ll explain this later).

However, for our first day we decided to buy tickets for the Big Bus on/off tours to enable us get our bearings on the city. Some of the City Pass options include this so you might want to check that. We bought the tickets through a company called Viator The Blue bus took us Uptown and the Red, Downtown. They are open top, with a covered in section at the front – luckily, as it was raining badly. You get the usual ear plugs to listen to the commentary, which is wisecracking, but ultimately grating and uninformative; still the best way to get a feeling for the city. The Downtown bus left us in Times Square, and we walked about “100 miles” to get to Chelsea Market for lunch and just loved the whole vibe and promised ourselves we’d return. We then walked the High Line which is at the back of Chelsea Market. This is a transformed, disused railroad linking Midtown, Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, (which happened to be closed).

Highline crossing 10th Avenue
High Line Water Tower

Behind Chelsea Market is Pier 54, which was the pier the Lusitania left from and the Titanic was to arrive at. There appears to be a lovely open air theatre built, which on a day very unlike the one we were walking in, would be lovely. Great views of Lower Manhatten and the Jersey shoreline. We then got back onto the High Line and walked to its end at Hudson Yards.

Pier 54

Hudson Yards is New York’s newest neighbourhood and home to more than 100 diverse, very exclusive shops and culinary experiences and really, really rich people. We nearly ran through the shops for fear of being stopped for looking so bedraggled. We returned to Times Square to pick up the Uptown Bus which took us past the MET and Central Park.

We ate in an Italian restaurant called Patsie’s near 52nd Street, which was ok and very friendly. A Canadian friend of mine, suggested another very good Italian called Osteria Morini which we think would have been much better. We had booked the Circle Line Boat Tour. which departed from 83 North River Piers West 43rd Street. We booked, once again, on Viator and it was around €40.00 per person. This was brilliant. The twinkling lights of Manhattan, Jersey Shore, Brooklyn, Queens, Statue of Liberty lit up, under the bridges and a terrific guide who was full of information, all added to a wonderful evening. Well worth the trip which took about two hours. A drink was had back in the hotel to relive our day and rest our weary bones.

Next morning, Dan had organised a Secret Food tour around Greenwich I just love these and what was even better, the weather had turned into summer overnight. We walked around Christopher Street, the symbolic heart of New York’s lesbian and gay community. Here among the cafes is the site of the formerly Mafia run Stonewall Inn (now a gay-pride-flag-waving Karaoke bar) and of the eventual Stonewall Riots of 1969. There is a gated triangle known as Christopher Park where commemorative statues of four life-size white painted figures (a gay couple and a lesbian couple) have been since their unveiling in 1992.

Christopher Park

We met our guide close by. His name was Nicky and he was just great. He had come to New York for love and his acting career. So far, he had dressed as a bear on Broadway but was going for an audition the following day; its hard graft to succeed in this career, as I well know, and I would absolutely love to know how he did. Anyway, the tour included MacDougal Street, Bleeker Street, Grove Street. We both said that if we ever returned, Greenwich is where we would like to stay. We ate Falafal, Bagels (divine, I never like them here), Cupcakes, Taco – a mix of Indian and Mexican, and the most amazing pizza in Two Boots , doughnuts. We passed some lovely little cul de sacs with a house that was 8 feet in width and was being sold for $5 million. Also a shout out to the “Friends” building on Grove Street

Friends Building on Grove Street.
Doughnuts to die for

We pottered by ourselves through Washington Square Park and Mews. Lovely area. We ventured on the subway for the first time. Getting tickets is straightforward. You can buy one card, which can be used by more than one person. When buying a card, it asks for your Zip code, and anyone who is not American is advised to put in “99999”. A word of caution, the subway goes Uptown and Downtown so just make sure you go through the right turnstiles, because once you go through, you can’t make your way across to the correct side for you in some of the stations. This sounds like common sense, but believe me – we got caught twice. The other useful thing is to download the New York subway app. Invaluable.

Our nearest Subway (Uptown and downtown!!)

We had been told by my cousin about this amazing book store called The Strand So worth a visit. You could browse for hours. And funnily enough, all the books we knew had different sleeves; just an observation. Go! We had booked the Empire State building via our City pass. Also well worth a visit. We strolled up Broadway to get there, and the beauty of this time of year was that there was no queuing. Covid pass and passport later and up we go, glad of our fleeces and hats at this stage. The view is tremendous from all 102 stories. The lift speeds you on your way, and King Kong failed to grab this blonde old broad.

Empire State Building
Empire State

Each night the top of the Empire State Building is lit with different colours. My second photo is lit with the Ukranian colours during this dreadful time.

Queens from The Empire State Building

We hit Chelsea Market or rather, right beside it, for a meal we had booked online. We had been told that Buddakan was worth going to for the Dim Sum alone. “Vivid flavours of the Far East in a surreal atmosphere that marries the serenity of Asia with the flamboyance of 16th century Paris”. It didn’t fail. It was young and vibrant and had an interesting, cavern-like ambience with art, sparkling chandeliers, guilded touches, brick walls, intimate corners and the prettiest waiters (male and female) I ever did see. We couldn’t get the Taster Menu, as there was only the two of us, but we dined so well. Worth a visit. Taxi back to hotel, sated.

On Thursday, we had decided to do the Boat tour of a visit to the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. (This was the second of our City Pass tours) After boarding the ferry from Manhattan after a short queue, it was a quick trip to land on the grounds of Liberty Island and to go inside the Statue of Liberty Museum. So interesting to learn how the Statue was built in France and disassembled and shipped to New York in 1885. It was designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, constructed of copper to make the structure lighter. Gustave Eiffel, of the Eiffel Tower fame in Paris, created the internal structure to support the outer copper skin. All fascinating, as there are films and stills of the construction and you get to see the sheer scale of the monument. It was a bitterly cold day, and we were very happy to have a snack in the cafe. It’s basic fare, but very good; dine in and takeaway so could be great on a sunny day with children.

The lady herself

Dan was never a dancer, always treading on a lady’s toes

Then a short hop on the ferry to Ellis Island to learn about the millions of people who arrived here between 1892 and 1954 in hope of living the American dream. I loved this. I would have liked a more interactive museum, one whereby an account of their lives was retold by certain individuals – just to bring it even more alive. But it was still so very interesting. History was told with the help of wonderful photographs and voices of actual immigrants. 12 million people passed through Ellis Island’s gates, all having to pass social and health questions before gaining admission to create their own dream. Some poignant stories to be heard.

Next stop, the 9/11 Memorial – Ground Zero (The third of our City Pass tours)

Trade Centre
Memorial rose at The Trade Centre

This was unforgettable, moving and so tastefully honouring those who lost their lives in 2001. On the ground interviews, constant recording of voices, naming relations who died; it’s heartbreaking stuff. The story is told through artifacts, original walls of either or both of The Twin Towers, fire engines used in the aftermath and a tribute wall of people who have died; cameras obviously not allowed. There is also a section on the dogs who comforted responders and the families of the victims and searched the wreckages. Ten years after the attack, the photographer, Charlotte Dumas, was curious about the fates of these dogs and travelled the length and breadth of the United States to capture portraits of them in retirement.

We went back to the hotel after this, changed and got a taxi in rush hour traffic to go to an incredible restaurant nestled under the Brooklyn Bridge called River Cafe It was fine dining at its best. The most romantic spot, surrounded by fairy lights and cobbled stones, cocktails at the bar looking out on the Lower Manhattan skyline, wonderful food and even a little stool rest for my handbag………..we mortgaged the house to come here. Not cheap, but incredible food.

An anniversary, celebrated at long last (phone image)

Took the NYC Ferry back to Wall Street to get a taxi to hotel. (Again there is an app available to purchase tickets, plan routes etc.)

Next day, it was snowing…yes, we almost got all four seasons during our stay. We had booked our Top of the Rock Observation Deck with our City Pass – our fourth tour – but visibility was far too poor and they closed it for the day. Onwards towards Central Park. We walked in by the John Lennon Memorial at Strawberry Fields, 72nd Street on George Harrison’s birthday; quite apt. The memorial is quite close to Lennon’s apartments. We strolled through a very quiet and atmospheric park, using one of the available apps to talk us through. It’s a beautiful oasis in a very busy city.

A wintery Central Park
Central Park

The last of our City Pass plans had been the MET, but possibly because of such a bad day and people wanting to be inside, the queue was very very long and we had plans later. So, instead we went in search of food and had THE most divine bagel in a place called Tal Bagels. The glass cabinet had cream cheeses piled high, each with different additions, such as peppers, tuna, chicken, spices etc.

My niece had recommended a tour of The Tenement Buildings on Orchard Street Oh, do not miss this if you are like us and love hearing how the ordinary folk survived and lived. You can see a film beforehand if you arrive before your allotted time as you have to book, which follows the creation of and desire for the museum. You can choose which tour to attend. There are actual building tours of the recreated homes of former residents between the 1860s and the 1980s as well as walking tours of the neighbourhood they lived in. We chose the story of the Baldizzi family who lived in 97 Orchard Street during the Great Depression. One of the Baldizzi girls was alive up until very recently. She talked of having fun at a tiny table with her dad, who played with them all day as their mother worked in a clothes factory. This was, of course, because he was out of work. Shared water closets and windows within the rooms, looking into the next door neighbour’s flat with no privacy; small, pokey, dark and gloomy, crowded by a large family but remembered by this woman, as a place of love and friendship.

Image of hall, taken from website

Because we hadn’t yet seen a show on Broadway, and I know that any one of them would have been spectacular, we booked a show Off-Broadway, which means it holds less than 500, nothing whatsoever to do with location which was news to me. It was a terrific, audience participation show called Drunken Shakespeare. Basically taking the p*** on Macbeth. Great fun. Burger and chips off Broadway and hotel.

Our last morning was spent going around the shops, mainly Macy’s as we don’t have here and there was a little grandson to be bought for. I’m writing very little on shopping and I know that there are some great outlets to go visit. It really wasn’t the main focus of the trip and anyway, Dan has to be dragged screaming and kicking at the outset. Then he succumbs!

As you can see, we only got to use three of the City Pass Tours, so it is questionable whether it is better to book the tours individually, to be more money savvy and also to be more discerning as to what you choose in each given season.

All in all, a jam packed trip. But the question is would we return? I very much liked New York, had a wonderful time, but I have loved some European cities. That’s my answer.

Bren xx


Long weekend in Stockholm August 2019


We took a lovely around 1.00 pm flight with SAS.  No hitches or glitches finding a taxi outside the airport.  We had read that it would be about 550 Swedish krona (at the time, this was the equivalent to €51.23).  We had thought we were going to take the bus or train, which is possible, but it almost worked out the same.  Actually, we were a bit slow on the uptake; there are a huge amount of taxis available outside and they are bargaining away, but we ended up paying 650 krona.  The upside was, and there’s always an upside if you look for it, because Dan was going hiking in the north after our stay, and we had a huge case, it was comfy and the journey took only about 40 minutes.  He was a “speedy gonzalez” of a driver.  Hotel was the Clarion Hotel in Amaranten .  It was in a great location, a very modern, happening hotel but the rooms were very small.  You know when you have to squeeze by the bed to get at the bathroom which fits a half person very comfortably? However, spotlessly clean and buffet breakfasts to die for, albeit very busy. Because we arrived late, and it was sprinkling rain, we decided to walk along the river and happen upon a restaurant.  We found a glorious one by the lake.  It was located in the beautiful Stockholm City hall, serving contemporary Swedish dishes inspired by local produce.  We had the tasting menu with wine pairings.  Each dish tasted better than the other and they cater for vegetarians also.  Our waiter was such a character; full of charm, and ceremony.  We left the restaurant to walk home along the river, whilst my hair turned into Monica from Friends (if you catch the reference)

The next day, Friday, we walked to the Old Town or Gamla Stan.  I had given Dan a Garmin watch for all his cycling and hill walking and it was the curse of the holidays in that he had my little feet in trusty Birkinstocks, walked off me.  We hit our target of 10,000 steps and way beyond (insert eyes up to heaven emoji).  Anyway, Gamla Stan is just full of atmosphere with loads to offer from souvenir shops, bookstores and antiques shops to elegant palaces, churches and museums.  Many medieval cellars are now restaurants or cafés and the streets are wonderfully narrow and cobbled.  We bought tickets from the Royal Palace or Kungliga Slotten and had a wonderful tour and later one with audio guide. This tour includes the State Apartments, The Guest Apartments, the Bernadotte Apartments – and the history of how Bernadotte came to be King is fascinating – Hall of State, The Treasury to name a few.  On our walk around the old  town we booked a Bach organ recital in the main church, Storkyrkan.  I’m not a huge organ music fan, but this was short and very sweet.  Only took an hour, plus we had cushioned seats in the church.

During the day, we stopped in the Stortorget Square. The square is frequented by tens of thousands of tourists annually, and is occasionally the scene for demonstrations and performances. It is traditionally renowned for its annual Christmas market offering traditional handicrafts and food. The buildings on number 18-20 were merged in the 17th century and subsequently named after Johan Eberhard Schantz, the secretary of the king who also added the stepped gable and the grand portal on the left building. Parts of the interior still reflect the luxury which surrounded the royal secretary. The 82 white stones on Number 20, Ribbinska huset (“House of Ribbing”) or Schantzka huset (“House of Schantz”), are occasionally said to symbolize the heads decapitated by the King in 1520.  I loved the colours of the houses, luckily against a beautiful blue sky, and they offer a mean open prawn sandwich.  I keep trying to count the white stones on the building to the left, just to see. We happened upon a spontaneous sing song by Spanish students.  I think it was to mark exam results.  Anyway, great fun.

After the Bach concert, we remained in Gamla Stan and ate “open air” in  Once again a tasting and wine pairing menu, but typically Swedish fare. Forget the meat balls in Ikea; you haven’t tasted them till  you come here.  I’m going to try recreate when I’m home.

Saturday, we took a boat trip that we had booked from a company called “Under the Bridges”.  It cost us roughly €30 per head. It was just glorious.  We started out at 11am and it lasted three hours.

We passed under all 15 bridges that connect the central islands of Stockholm’s Archipelago, gliding through leafy Djurgarden and passing through locks that connect the city’s canals to the Baltic Sea and Lake Malaren.  Hard to imagine, watching people bathe and sunbathe along the lake that this will be completely frozen over in the Winter.  We were told, many a time, how healthy and fit the Swedes are, and I have no doubt about this.  They seem to be a people of activity; whether it be boating, running, cycling or using those nifty electronic scooters.  They are also people we could take a few lessons from; many apartments face out over the water, ensuring they are full of light.  They also have their own system for getting rid of waste.  Stockholm/Sweden is known for hugely reducing the rubbish sent to its landfills. Less than 1 percent of household waste finds it way to landfills.  Many apartments have their own tunnels to separate their rubbish and this in turn links to factories to convert into energy.

After the boat trip and a nice espresso, we went to the  I absolutely LOVE seeing how people lived, “back in the day”.  This is a brilliant museum; Nordiska Museet is Sweden’s largest museum of cultural history. An everyday palace, and a place of stories about the life and people of the Nordic region – yesterday, today and tomorrow. It contains clothes, fashion, textiles, jewellery – some made out of hair -, homes, furniture, photography, toys, folk art, glass and porcelain. There is also an exhibition about the only indigenous people in Sweden, the Sami.  Once again, you have an audio guide and I loved it.

Afterwards, we walked through Strandvagen, on to Blashiholmen Bridge

to Kastelholmen

and onto  One of the best Dim Sum I have ever tasted, with once again a wine pairing and such attention to detail from the waiters.  Dan surprised me each evening with  new places, as it’s usually me who has done all the research, so it was like diving into a party bag full of treats each evening.

I wanted to try catch a sunset and we were very lucky, because the weather obliged.

If you’re an adventurous soul, be sure to visit the fun fair.  Gröna Lund is open from late spring (April/March) to September. and contains 30, looked to be, amazing rides.  You can book online, as the queuing is long.

Sunday, we took a cycle tour.  We booked, checking the best cycle tours on Trip Advisor, and found Stockholm Adventure.  We had a great little guide; it lasted three hours again but don’t let that put you off, as you stop so often and it compounds what you have already discovered walking or going on tours yourself and the hills are very slight.  Our last stop was an ecological garden,  Great food and lovely gardens in the middle of the city.

We never got to the Vasa Museum,  which is highly rated and I never got my chance to strut my stuff in the Abba Museum,  They say you walk in and dance out and if the phone happens to ring, you must pick it up as the likelihood is it’s one of the Abba band.

We kept our our regime of over 10,000 steps (dear lord) and I just had to have a coffee and something sweet.  We literally just came upon this gorgeous little, graffiti filled cafe called Café Schweizer,  Just go.  I had not one but two of these divine, chocolate covered, mousse filled cakes that boosted my sugar and kept me going for the next week.

We went to Sodermalm, but to be honest, not half as pretty as Gamla Stan, and as it started to really bucket down with rain, we got a taxi to Dan’s next foodie adventure.  Very down to earth, and great craft beer and wholesome food.  We sat watching the world go by and listened to the rain drum on the roof before we set off to our hotel.  This was our last night together for over 10 days, although Dan keeps saying it’s only 8, as he is hill walking in the North of Sweden.

We made the very best of our time here and like Lisbon, would definitely come back again; if life allows us to do all the things we still want to do and still want to repeat.


Bren x



Trip to Lisbon in May

One of the winding streets of Lisbon

We had heard so many good things about Lisbon, we decided to go for a weekend until we came to the realisation (again) that we are retired and we don’t have to limit ourselves to weekends anymore; so we booked a much cheaper Aer Lingus flight from a very early Sunday to a very late Wednesday.  For the first time in ages, we had practically four full days.  I reserved, as I usually do, a hotel on  The best thing is that even though you  pay a little higher rate than normally, you can reserve without payment and pay when you get to the hotel.  I think this is brilliant and worth it, because you never know what can come up and at least you’re not at a loss.  The given a great review and was in a perfect and quiet location;  a hop, skip and a jump from everywhere we wanted to go.  We took a metro from the airport to the Marquis de Pombal close to the hotel. Literally across the road from the metro entrance. In the metro station, there are ticket machines where one can buy a ticket that can last you the duration of your stay and which entitles you to Metro, most buses, tram and some boat journeys.  We dropped our cases off at the hotel; really pleasant staff (and to be found out later on in the day, huge rooms, a great big bed that Goldilocks would be happy with and great air conditioning) and headed off to which is an open, airy food court featuring a wide selection of global restaurants with family-style seating. All the restaurants are run by the very best of Portugal’s chefs.  It’s a wonderful concept and the choice was very difficult but scrumptious.  One of the best things we did en route was download one of the many free Lisbon apps.  which give excellent descriptions of various city sites. And if you’re using all these apps on your phone, be sure to have a portable charger.

We had pre-booked two tours before we left Dublin and the first was at 3.00pm with a Trip Advisor tour provided by We met in Rossio Square with about 12 other people of all nationalities.  She gave us a three hour walking tour of Lisbon, and although this was certainly not the highlight of our stay, it did get us a little acquainted with the streets and history and the wonderful Jacaranda trees that are in most of the Lisbon squares. The air is drenched with their perfume.

Another valuable lesson from this tour, was that there are lifts dotted around the city.  Lisbon is very hilly, and these lifts take you to some fabulous vistas of the city for example the Santa Justa which  connects the lower streets of the Baixa with the higher Largo do Carmo which typically has very long queues.   Or the Chao do Loureiro and Castelo which links the Baixa with the Moorish Castle and Alfama district and rarely has queues as it’s like a secret that the locals only know and now you do!

Speaking of the hills, be sure to have worn in your shoes/sandals as the streets are also beautifully cobbled.  We had a divine pastry, Pastel de Nata,  in the Baixa district called Natas D’Ouro. Do indulge.

We used the elevator that took us to Alfama.  The steep streets of Alfama, one of Lisbon’s oldest areas, are lined with cafes and shops selling traditional crafts. Passengers pack the historic no. 28 tram, which winds through Alfama on its way up to 11th-century São Jorge Castle. Views from Miradouro da Graça terrace stretch over the city to the River Tagus. In the evening, melancholy Fado music can be heard in some of the area’s long-running restaurants. And if you want to listen to Fado, don’t go for the all in version with food, try out the Tivoli (not in the Alfama district) which has a tasting menu with the music and better value and food all round. We were lucky enough to be in Alfama for the preparation of the Santo Antonio Festival which is held in June.  Stalls were being built along the narrow streets and food, a cherry liquor, called Ginjinha and their green wine Vinho Verde, are sold without a licence by house owners.  The guide took us into what appeared like someone’s back yard for some sausages and wine.  The cherry liquor was served in chocolate cups and I could drink Vinho Verde till the cows come home.  A wine with just the right amount of a sparkle.

Preparing for the Festival

Back to the Marquis de Pombal station to our hotel, to our HUGE bedroom to freshen up and take some of Rick Stein’s advice from his weekend in Lisbon.  We headed off to to eat Porco a Alentejana and their famous Sardines.  I have to tell you what I learnt about how to eat Sardines.  You place the sardine on top of crusty bread, then peel the skin; then you eat the meat of the fish and peel the bones out.  Then you eat the bread which is soaked in the sauce.  Thank me later.  The meal with wine came to €38.00 but the meal was just ok, to be honest.  Lisbon is so reasonable.  We “walked up the Avenue” – (cue a duet from Fred Astaire and Judy Garland) Liberdade, which is very posh and lovely and I can’t afford anything there, to our hotel.  I said goodbye to Dan in the large bed.

Day Two: We headed to Belem to see the Monastery and Tower………………….but this was Monday and they were closed.  Lesson to be learnt.  CHECK THESE THINGS OUT.  However, we did have another pastry.  Belem is the orginator of the famous Pastel de Nata.

Making Pasteis

The queues here are out the door.  The story goes that the the monks at Jerónimos Monastery used the whites of eggs to starch their clothes, so there were lots of egg yolks left over.  They used these to make the tarts to be sold at a shop next to a sugar cane refinery. Since then, the original recipe hasn’t changed, and it’s still a secret today, known by only a few, and kept in what is known as the “secret room”. There are quite a few “pretenders” and even competitions to win the coveted prize of next best Pasteis de Nata.  We walked off this pastry by looking around the area and of course then we were thirsty and had to have a Vinho Verde on the pier. It’s a very pretty town but the Padrao dos Descobrimentos sculpture is not worth climbing its 276 steps for the view.


Freshly Squeezed juice

Padrao dos Descobrimentos

We headed back on the bone-shaking tram to meet our second tour guide from  This was brilliant.  A four hour foodie tour with two local drinks and with the most gorgeous tour guide called Mariana.  If you take this, do ask for her.  She was quite wonderful; full of stories, wit and wisdom.  The four hours flew.  We ate snails, pork sandwich and sardines in Casa da India – a wonderfully authentic place, then moved on to taste salted cod fish cake called Bolinhos de Bachlau and Rissois de Camarao, pastry filled with prawns.  Our last port of call after seeing so much of the city was Cruzes Credo right beside the Se Cathedral in Beco Da Caridade where we had a lovely cheese platter as the sun faded. Mariana is a travel blogger so everything came easy to her and she was charming company. I have to say that Lisbon would fail on a lot of levels for Vegans, but I did spot one restaurant on my travels called  It’s rather a pescatarian’s paradise and of course they do serve Piri Piri chicken in this renowned restaurant  On the recommendation of my son, try the cocktails at Chinese Pavilion and

Day Three: Heard so much about Sintra and also Cascais, it was a decision we had to make as to which one we wanted to visit.  Sintra won, so we took the train.  About 45 minutes from the Centre.

Village of Sintra.

A long-time royal sanctuary to get away from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon, its forested terrain is studded with pastel-colored villas and palaces. The Moorish- and Manueline-style Sintra National Palace is distinguished by dramatic twin chimneys and elaborate tilework. The hilltop 19th-century Pena National Palace is known for a whimsical design and sweeping views.The “mad, bad and dangerous to know” Lord Byron spent much time here in Sintra.  Apparently, he was supposed to land in Malta but took a wrong boat and ended up in Lisbon. “Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes in variegated maze of mount and glen.”

We took the bus at the station to the Palace.  Dan had some barmy idea of cycling and boy am I glad it just remained in his thoughts.  It was a steep and scary ride up in the bus and they are all quite crowded, so you may have to stand. There was a queue for the Palace, despite the fact that we had pre-booked, but it was sunny and delicious and we were on our holidays, so who cared. Get your audio tour guide for your phone.  Takes you every step of the way and Pena is well worth visiting for its whimsy alone.

Palace of Pena

We took the glorious trail to the Historic Centre from the Gardens of Pena.  Oh, do please take this trail.  Our sandals were rather ridiculous as this is really a hill walking trail, but it is a down hill trail, at least.  The gardens are magnificent.  On our way down we spotted a gorgeous and quaint little cafe called Casa das Minas.  It’s an absolute gem of a place with amazing views overlooking the gardens and you can buy lunch for as little as €3.00 plus it caters for vegetarians.  They had Celtic Woman playing in the background, so we felt right at home as the owner hates Fado, which made us laugh.  I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of Celtic Woman, but it added to the quaintness.  I believe it is also an Art School and if you couldn’t find inspiration in those surroundings, I don’t know where you would.

Gardens of Pena

I could insert loads and loads of photos of the garden, but if you haven’t switched off yet, you surely would then.

We headed then to the National Palace of Sintra which is a present-day historic museum.  Glad we did Pena first.  Although worth going to, not quite as good as Pena.

National Palace of Sintra

That night, as suggested by our tour guide, we had booked into “Lisbon Under Stars” held at the famous Ruins of Carmo Church.  It’s spectacular and pretty wonderful, gazing at the real stars in the heaven and the projected scenes of the history on the walls of the old church with beautiful singing and lighting.  We ate in a wonderful restaurant, once again recommended by our guide as being like sitting in someone’s sitting room, in the Bairro Alto called Cantinho do Bern Estar  Worth it for many reasons along with the food.  And the price. We strolled through the Bairro Alto,back to our hotel.

Day four: We decided this was our day to potter, to be without a set plan.  After checking out the annual Book Fair very close to our hotel

Parque Eduardo V11

we headed to the Castelo de S. Jorge. Is it worth it? Not particularly except for the views and the Sangria served overlooking the city. And the peacocks.

A very proud daddy peacock

We had a really lazy day and it was 34 degrees.  But we did make it to another of Rick Stein’s recommendations, the restaurant called Cervejaria Ramiro If you enjoy fish, this is where you should go.  Be very aware that there are vast queues.  We were lucky in that we went around 5pm, but it packs up really quickly.  Prawns, sizzling in butter, garlic and chili peppers, clams in a broth of coriander and wine and another dish of huge prawns.  All with toasted chunks of garlic bread.  I breathed fumes for the journey home.

Lisbon is a city I would return to; it’s beautiful, friendly, reasonable and for fish foodies, you have died and gone to heaven.


Tram Heaven

Bren xx




A few days in Cornwall


A decision at the end of last year, brought us – me, my friend, my sister and my cousin –  to Cornwall, the land of myths and legends this April.  And the land of Daphne du Maurier, Rosamunde Pilcher, Doc Martin and the utterly lust-worthy, Poldark aka Aidan Turner.  We took an Aer Lingus flight to Newquay; a short skip and a jump of an hour and 10 mins, (the tiniest airport, with just a small, mainly gin selling duty free on the way back) collected our car and drove to where I had booked our hotel quite close to Padstow.  Disaster struck!  I had booked an Olde Worlde type inn, full of character that we all loved the look of.  I had used, as I have used them so many times before with great success.  I made an amendment with the original booking and when we arrived, it was to be greeted with “I thought when you amended you had cancelled” despite the fact that both the hotel and I had been receiving notifications from  A wedding party had been accommodated instead.  All very much an error on their part as my booking was still relevant. I was pretty annoyed and disappointed to put it mildly.  To cut a long story short, we were then booked into an alternative hotel in Saint Issey It was just absolutely superb. Better than we ever thought.  Swimming pool, tennis courts, enormous baths, stunning views, jovial host and the friendliest staff. Plus, they are dog friendly and only about 10 minutes from Padstow. An error that could have turned out badly, turned out wonderfully. Highly recommend this hotel.  The suites were glorious.  A bath fit for two with a television that looked at first glance like a  mirror,  a bed fit for four and gorgeous breakfasts.


We had hired a car, so after a little lunch at the hotel Dickens themed bar,  we went to Port Isaac, home of Doc Martin I believe.  I don’t watch the series, but it’s a lovely fishing village and this was the start of us realising that Cornish people are utterly charming and adore dogs; the biggest bonus for me.  We saw all the haunts of the TV characters and even got to see an episode being filmed on the beach. “Mrs. Tishall’s” chemist, sells Fudge in real life and “Portwenn School” is a restaurant; its sign was being changed as we got there.

Then we travelled to what can only be described as “Stein” land.  Padstow – choc a bloc with Delis, Restaurants, Patisseries, gift shops,  owned by Rick Stein. Padstow had lots to recommend it.  A very lovely fishing village,you can visit Prideaux place  – positioned overlooking Padstow,  this fine Elizabethan country house is complete with formal gardens and deer park. Prideaux Place was built in 1592 and has been passed down through the generations to its current owners, Peter and Elisabeth Prideaux-Brune. You could take the Camel Trail, which follows the route of the former North Cornwall Railway.  There are no steep inclines along the 17 mile route. The trail begins in Padstow before passing through Wadebridge and on to Bodmin and then to the village of Blisland on Bodmin Moor. Following the course of the River Camel, the scenery is stunning and there is plenty of wildlife to spot too. Or take a boat trip.  There are no shortages of nice shops, tea rooms and restaurants, if you are a land lubber.


We had booked one of Mr. Stein’s restaurants for the next night, so ate in  Lovely food and nice decor.  We are such very exciting people to be with,  we headed off to our hotel and television in bed.

Next morning, lovely breakfast and off to the shops and a visit to Truro.

Flowers cathedral_0

This gothic revival cathedral of Truro, copies the great cathedral builders of the medieval age, its huge spires soar over the city skyline, and inside there are some of the finest examples of Victorian stained glass in the UK.  Not be missed are the gardens of Truro – fountains, bandstand; perfect for picnics, but it was so cold when we were there, the blanket never showed its face

Boscawen park flowers2

Instead we visited – a glorious little bit of old fashioned loveliness, complete with waitresses in uniforms who never heard the like of a double espresso macchiato and winced when I asked for “Devonshire” Cream Tea.  They were quick to put me wise and say that Cornwall was the first to bring out the Cream Tea and  they “suggest” that you put the jam on the scones first.  Once a Coinage Hall, this is now a Grade 2 listed building, re-built in 1848.

If any of you like crafts and cake making, there is a great little store called just to the left of the Hall as you look at it.

We headed back to our hotel after some shopping.  Does anyone else feel that there is now a sameness to shopping both in the UK and abroad?  I used to love, back in the day, when my aunts would bring me home Opal Fruits and square Cadbury’s Milk chocolates, but now all cities have the same shopping.  We put on the war paint (well, I did) as we had booked The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow for dinner at 7, but first cocktails in Quite yummy and full of atmosphere, just on the corner of Broad Street. Great cocktail menu…………..


Lovely bright surroundings with a nautical theme in the Seafood Restaurant; all crisp blues and whites.  Very pleasant and knowledgable staff.  I had the Oysters Charentaise ” A seemingly odd combination of freshly opened oysters with some hot, spicy sausage .  The idea being that you eat with a cold gulp of Muscadet.” Mmmmm, yes.   The Main was, yes you guessed it – fish.  Cornish Sand Sole.  All very nice.  No rush on us leaving the table either


Next day, we set off to St. Ives.  We didn’t have too much time there and we were all just a little bit underwhelmed; perhaps I had more expectations of the cobbled streets?  Now, I have to say in its defense, it was a particularly windy day and very busy.  We knew that the town has been attracting artists for decades who come to capture the area’s undeniable natural beauty. It started with J M W Turner and the marine artist Henry Moore who first came to St Ives in the mid-1800s and since then the town has become a magnet for some of the world’s greatest painters, sculptors and ceramists.

Reasons to visit St Ives

  • Numerous galleries and exhibitions
  • Attracts famous artists all year round
  • Four fabulous beaches with the UKs mildest climate: Porthmeor, PorthgwiddenHarbour beachPorthminster
  • Fantastic surf at Porthminster beach
  • Plenty of pavement cafes, ancient pubs and top notch eateries with mouth watering menus
  • Working harbour
  • One of Cornwall’s top destinations

Things to do in St Ives

  • Arrive in breathtaking style by taking the twenty-minute train ride on the popular branch line from St Erth to St Ives and be the first to spot the colourful fishing boats coming into harbour as the branch line snakes around the golden bays to the town
  • Kick off your shoes and stroll along the white sand at Portminster Beach where, out in the bay, you’ll see the dreamy view of Godrevy Lighthouse, inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s famous novel To the Lighthouse
  • Visit the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives where sensual sculptures by one of the country’s leading 20th century artists are exhibited in tranquil gardens. Wander along pathways through trees and shrubs and discover some of her most celebrated works in bronze and limestone. At the top of the town can be found the Bernard Leach Pottery, established in 1920 and now a working museum.
  • Behind the 14th century Sloop Inn on the Wharf and the Harbour beach there is a maze of narrow cobbled streets and fisherman’s cottages. This is the heart of old St Ives, known to the locals as ‘Downlong’. Spend an hour or so delving into the life and times of bygone St Ives at the local museum. The large space is packed with memorabilia and artefacts that reflect St Ives’s long and varied history including fishing, boatbuilding, art and agriculture
  • There are only four Tate galleries in the world and one of them is Tate St Ives. Opened in 1993 in recognition of the international importance of art in Cornwall and St. Ives in particular, the impressive gallery holds hundreds of works produced by the St. Ives School from the late 1800’s through to the 21st century. In late 2017 it reopened with a much larger floorspace including extra gallery space.
  • Since the 1930s visitors have been taking the boat trip from the harbour out to sea to watch the local colony of seals frolicking in the sea and sunbathe on the rocks. Located 3½ miles (6km) to the West of St Ives, the aptly named Seal Island is home to more than 40 seals who inquisitively like to say ‘hello’


St.  Ives is pretty, and the sea was a shade of turquoise but my heart ultimately belongs to Schull plus we needed much more time to really take it all in.

My good friend, Susan, had booked the for a production of The Secret Garden.  I have this book in my attic.  My aunty Myra had bought it for me as a little girl, as I was an avid reader and she  wrote lovingly on the inside cover.  This was such a lovely treat and surprise.  The Theatre is spectacular; the idea for the theatre was born when Rowena Cade, who lived in Minack House at the top of the cliff, decided to create a place for local drama enthusiasts to perform Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Over the winter of 1931 and into 1932 Rowena and her gardener, Billy Rawlings, moved endless granite boulders and earth, creating the stage and the lower terraces of the theatre, in the same place as you see them today. The first performance was in August 1932.


“When a garden’s kept proper, like these, all weeded and neat, that chases the wild away.  But when it’s left alone, for nature, who knows what secret things ‘ud grow there” says Dickon in The Secret Garden.  The play has an “enchanted score and some beautifully crafted puppets and it has been a joy to work on from the beginning to the very last chapter. The Secret Garden is all about regeneration” so writes the director.

If you decide to visit, and I class that as bucket list territory, be sure to bring lots and lots of warm layers, depending on the season.  Although I figure the wind will always be strong.  Bring a warm flask, a hot water bottle (lots of places with kettles to fill it), food, drinks.  There are some vans selling really lovely curries and spicy food and also coffee and hot chocolate.  Be sure to buy a seat which grips around your back and gives support on the very high steps.  It is an experience not to be missed.

Back to our hotel, absolutely shivering and shaking with the cold and we ate in the Inn itself.  Really nice dinner.

Our last day, we just drove into Padstow and mosied around the shops and had a Cornish Pastie; it would be rude not to, being in Cornwall.  Then on to our Aer Lingus flight home.  It was a lovely, lovely break.  All the better for being with people I love, but I know there was so much more to do and see. It’s “à bientôt, Cornwall”.

Bren x




A short and very sweet trip to Copenhagen

I turned 60 this year and as always, it’s not unusual for one or other of your peers to do likewise.  So, you get your similar minded pal who wants to celebrate the WHOLE year too and you make the decision over a glass of water (not) to go somewhere – see somewhere you haven’t seen.  I, however, was in the unfortunate position of having a pal who has seen most of the cities of Europe and I think it’s really not worth while on a two night break to go beyond a two and half hour flight.  Many glasses later, we decided on Copenhagen.

Once I set my mind to do anything, I am “up and at ’em” and I had flights booked before we had taken the tablets to sort out the fluid intake.  For the time of year (October), Ryanair came out trumps with €35.00 return per person.  Next stop, and our hotel was booked.  I just like this website, as it does give you the option to pay when you arrive but we chose to pay beforehand. I had been talking to a friend and luckily the first one that I had chosen, was one that she had stayed in and she said not only was it very close to the “Ladies of the Night” (which really doesn’t bother me), but that the rooms were not very clean.  So, we ended up staying in the raddisson collection.  This is actually the city’s tallest building and has 20 floors.  It was designed by architect Arne Jacobson in 1960.  Rooms are spacious with espresso machine (Yesssss!!!!)  and the usual fridge of wine and prosecco plus we were a 5 minute walk from the Central Station, which has trains running every 15 minutes to and from the airport.  Best get a 48 hour ticket which allows you on all modes of transport – sort of – excluding the On/Off Tour buses. The Metro is also very quick and convenient, depending on where you stay.  Breakfast in the hotel was divine.  Cost of stay worked out at €112.50pp excluding breakfast for two nights.  Breakfast was €25.00 extra.  At the time of writing this, 100 DK was equal to €13.40. Reception were so helpful and from the get go, people were very friendly and helpful.  Someone even got off his bike to come over to help two old ditherers locate themselves.

We arrived at our hotel at about 5.00pm so really there was not a lot we could do except potter and have a glass of wine. Or two.  We ended up quite close to our hotel and sat outside under heating at a bar called  oscarbarcafe.  We couldn’t help but notice that the men were particularly charming and of course we thought we hadn’t lost “it”, but it turns out it was a Gay and Lesbian Venue.  Sure what matter.  It was on a gorgeous autumn, tree lined street.  We asked two people with their divine dog to suggest somewhere we should eat just for that evening and lo and behold there was a really cool Brasserie on exactly the same street.  Highly recommend.  Food very good and average pricing, as in same as here.  Nothing is really cheap in Copenhagen, so bear that in mind.

Next morning, a bright and shiny day full of promise, off we go On the On/Off Red bus.  Take note of all the different routes one can travel on these redbuses.  We chose one which took us first to the wonderful Nyhavn (see above image).  visit copenhagen

It’s the prettiest town and I tried out my camera without boring Jane by taking too much time adjusting aperture, ISO, shutter speed.  Couldn’t resist the lovers’ locks.  Since I took up my camera course, I am always on the look out for a nice shot or a different view.  My knees don’t thank me.   We meandered along the quays.  It’s really busy, but just great for people spotting and just sitting at a side walk cafe and basking in the October sun.  On the bus again to take us to the Little Mermaid.  These buses have the usual head phones to keep you posted on what’s around.  We had been warned that the Little Mermaid was really small, so that she exceeded our expectations and was a decent size mermaid, as mermaids go!  Next stop for us the absolutely beautiful Rosenborg Castle.

This castle has full security because it houses the magnificent Crown Jewels in the Treasury.  You buy an entrance ticket and leave large bags in a locker.  We chose our mobile phones to talk us through the various rooms, but you know, I’d have preferred a book, as sometimes you get too much of your phones.  However, you are allowed take photos in all rooms.  Everything seems to be covered in gilt and not your common or garden cheap stuff.  This is the real McCoy.  Do visit the Treasury, because it is gasp worthy.  The Botanic Gardens are sublime.  Off we went on our bus to the absolutely awfully disappointing Hans Christian Andersen Museum.  DO NOT GO.  It mainly contains a Ripley Believe it or Not exhibition and the Hans Christian Andersen part, although sweet, is kind of tacky.  I did learn that he really based The Ugly Duckling on himself as both he and others considered him ugly.  How very very sad.  I am so glad that he is celebrated in Copenhagen for the wonderful writer that he was.  I grew up on his stories and all had some little kind message to convey.

Unfortunately for us, the Tivoli Gardens were closed for the winter.  It’s a fabulous place; a fairy tale ambience, exotic buildings and upmarket entertainment and restaurants. I believe Walt Disney took his inspiration from here.  Tivoli does open for six weeks between mid-November and the end of December for a winter wonderland and “elf driven, Father Christmas – strewn, illuminated Christmas extravaganza”. (Eye Witness Travel).  Lit pumpkins were already lining the main thoroughfare for similar Halloween celebrations which take place mid October.  We had booked a restaurant mentioned in our guide called Nimb Brasserie.  Food and service to die for and a super view of the Tivoli.  We then went to Trio for cocktails.  As you do.  Great place and cocktails were about €15.00.  A bit pricey but………….

I was so very sad to be leaving Copenhagen early enough the next day.  So much more to see including the great shopping area called Stroget, The Latin Quarter, Amalienborg Palace and so much more. A super clean, eco friendly and people friendly place. Fewer cars on the road as everyone uses their bikes.  Way to go, Denmark

Bucket list territory.

Bren x



Skiing Holiday Advice

If I was to treat the reader of this as a complete and utter beginner on a skiing holiday, I would make a couple of suggestions as a precursor to one of the best holidays you will ever experience.

We first went skiing about 18 years ago; prior to going, we went to the ski slopes out at Kilternan.  I have to say from a skiing point of view, it didn’t give us much of a help, but it certainly helped with gauging the weight of the boots, wearing skis, carrying poles and getting to grips with button lifts.  It was when we went to Westendorf in Austria that the real lessons began. I would urge all of you to take lessons from a qualified instructor for at least the first three days of your holiday.  You can either take private lessons or hang in with a group of equally inadequate people, which can be just great fun.  All the snow ploughing, the tumbles, the laughter and of course, the infamous “nail bars” (nothing glamorous, just a pub game with a stump of wood and nails – you have to try), the schnapps, the hot chocolate with rum and cream.  And the sleep of the just and exhausted after a day of bending your legs in a way that they have never gone before.

As another tip pre heading on your holiday; I would say, get those arms and leg muscles working and strong.  You need arm strength to “shoosh” you along to the lifts and your legs get very tired if you do a long run.  Some of the other things you need to get used to and which seem intimidating on your first day; the moving carpet on the nursery slopes, the button lift, which is a type of kidney shaped seat that swings around and you have to balance yourself on the run underneath with your skis, whilst letting the seat just slide under your bum as you grab the swing and holding your poles to your side.  You then just let the swing seat go as you reach the top. And the lifts.  Easy peasy.  Just get yourself to the start of the lift which is like a greyhound racing trap and then wait for the seat to come around.  Make sure to swing the protection rail down over you all and off you go.  There are also enclosed gondolas which come around very slowly.  You place your skis in the holder outside, then climb inside and the gondola moves up the mountain.  The views are spectacular.

What to pack:

Skin: A good sun block.  I use La Roche P osay factor 50 as it is non comedogenic.  I would also use a very good moisturiser both morning and evening and a good lip balm.  I found my skin gets very dry.  I think it’s the combination of the cold/wind/air conditioning. So maybe bring a treat of a face mask for one of the evenings.

Clothes: Get good quality ski gear to last you a decent 10 years.  After all, you are probably going to be skiing just once a year for a week. So, a decent jacket with well padded trousers.  Make sure they are good and warm.  Wear layers underneath.  Skiing/hill walking socks that come up to almost the knee so that when you put on your boot you can make sure that only the ridges of the socks are underneath.  First body layer being thermals, top and bottom, and then perhaps a cotton tee shirt, long or short sleeved.  Very good skiing gloves, goggles and sun glasses.  Both of the last items should be suitable for snow conditions.  I believe rose/grey goggles are best for all types of visibility but especially for low visibility.  Nothing scarier than when the sky and snow meet and you can’t see off piste.  Wear a thermal hat and also a scarf that is specially designed to stay over the lower half of the face.  I have to say that I found Great Outdoors to be fantastic.  Expensive, however, so if you have a friend the same size as you, don’t be afraid to ask!

You can hire all your equipment in most ski resorts and we booked our’s online as it works out cheaper.  We used – –Ski Hire 2000.  You will need to get boots (the tighter you put them on the more support you have on your turns), skis to suit your weight, poles to suit your height and a helmet. The first day, your order will be waiting for you and if there are any changes to be made, they will do that for you.  You will also need your ski lift pass.  This usually works out at about €40 per person per day, so bear that into account along with the cost of ski hire.

A skiing holiday usually works out at around €1,000 per head.  I highly recommend Westendorf, but am a bit biased there.  I’ll talk about it briefly in my next post.

Skiing 1

Bren x


My trip to Iceland


Dan and I were blessed to get a Christmas present of a few days in Iceland, from my darling Joanne. It was on my bucket list, so that’s a tick.  So many people told me it was a country out of the ordinary and who am I to disagree. We went early April, so I would highly recommend that you bring lots of layers.  In fact, everyone was wearing much similar clothing as you would skiiing. Hill walking trousers, thick socks, hiking boots, and even woolly balaclavas.  Trust me, from about September onwards up to mid April, this is de rigueur. Maybe bring those little glove warmers.

First off recommendation, fly directly to Reykjavik.  We flew to Belfast and the less said about the queues the better.  The G & T on board helped dissipate any potential menopausal crankiness.  The flight is about 2 hours 20 and we had hired a car through Hertz.  Turned out to be a good idea.  We were staying in Keflavik itself, which is the airport town.  To be honest it was fine, but having the car made all the difference.  The hostel/hotel was also fine; clean and dandy and very suited to young and old hikers alike. We had a job finding some place to eat that was not fast food, but thank god for Google and the recommended restaurant called “Rain”.  Glorious view of the ocean and peaks of snow and twinkling lights in the distance whetting my appetite for the next day.  I had a dish called Arctic Char, very like Trout.  The only negative thing about Iceland is the price of food and drink.  Come prepared.  A good restaurant will set you back anything from €85.00 to €100.00 per head – without wine.

Read my DK Eyewitness Travel as my bed time read, and made plans!!!

Weather Thursday -2 degrees.

Straight to Reykjavik, taking us about 40 mins, and espresso bound.  Parking is cheap and as it was Holy Thursday, we got it easily and it cost us nothing. We went to a quirky cafe called Grai Kotturinn.  Basement and full of character.  People are friendly from the get go and I had an enormous plate of bacon, eggs, spinach and tomatoes.  Dan had pancakes; always watching that waistline.  Don’t expect to do a huge amount of shopping.  to be honest, nothing that I wanted to spend my time in and perhaps it wasn’t the season. We went straight to Hallgrimskirkja Church, 240ft. high, resembling a volcanic eruption. You must go to the top of the tower for the views

Both the National and Settlement Museums are superb and non po-faced.  Easy and good at holding your attention.  Culture Museum, oh, just ok. We latched onto a really good 2 hour walking tour, organised from the City Hall.  It’s a free service and given by students with the most embarrassing command of English and great patter.  Puts one to shame.  Lots of interesting and funny anecdotes and one highly recommended app suggestion called “Appyhour” Gives the times of all the Happy hours in local pubs.  I was saying to my son, Senan, that he would love it here, but wouldn’t find it as cheap to get around as say the likes of Berlin, where I think he lives off kebabs.  Here, it’s a different story.  People pay very high taxes, they have  an extremely cheap health and education service and crime is very, very low.  But the likes of coffee, beer and even fast food are quite expensive.  The population of Iceland (see how I listened) is about 330,000, equivalent to Cork, and some smart students created an app so you could tell who you are more than likely related to. A handy Tinder.   We had booked a great restaurant after watching Rick Stein in Iceland called Matur Og Drykkrer and had cocktails beforehand in Slippbarrin – wonderful espresso cocktail with cinnamon and the meal was to die for and go to heaven afterwards.  All mouth watering courses, including trout smoked with sheep dung (hmmm), halibut soup with mussels, apples and raisins, oh and lots more.  Expanding jeans required.

Friday we drove straight to Pingvellir National Park.  Me being me, was dying for my wake up espresso.  The Tourist Centre there is ill equipped for food. Just freezer of ready made sandwiches and coffee machines.  But grand.  It was bitterly cold but blue skies and shining sun.  Iceland’s location on the mid Atlantic ridge is obvious here,  You can see a huge crevice where the European and North American tectonic plates drift apart at 2cm per year.  Nothing to worry us unduly.  We descended to the Law Rock (explained in the National Museum the day before, so I was feeling very clever) all the time trying to get circulation into my hands to take a photograph.  It was like when I played with snow as a child and my hands hurt when I came inside.  A bit moany, was I.  We walked to the pretty church.  Peningagja on the way, is glorious.  A deep but narrow lava fissure with peacock blue water with a naturally created wishing well with coins left by visitors

Off we headed back to gloriously heated bottoms in the car en route to the Geysir Hot springs area.  The Visitor Centre there is just terrific; great food and even better coffee – for lunch or early dinner if you wish.  Passing the oft neglected Litli Geysir (everyone say awwwh) and on to the wonderfully exploding Strokkur. It erupts every few minutes; just don’t turn your back, as to Dan’s great guffaws of laughter, I kept missing it, and do have your camera set to video.  And be patient.  You might just get splashed by the sweet smelling sulpher.  The water is boiling hot, so don’t be an Ed Sheeran and test the water.  It’s about 100 degrees.

We then went to Gullfoss.  Following our Guide Book – to the letter.   The sheer scale of the waterfalls, put even our Powerscourt to shame.  Don’t miss this, in any season.


We once again followed Rick Stein’s lead and headed to a coastal restaurant called Fjorubordid in Stokkseyri.  Their menu is worth reading from a story telling point of view.  We had langoustine soup followed by a huge bowl of same.  We actually tried Rick’s recipe at home, but it’s just missing that secret ingredient that they won’t tell you about.  Maybe chili powder?  Who knows.  Two amazing desserts later we waddled into our little car.

Saturday we drove to the Perlan Observatory. Great views from the top and they are in the process of renovating it and I think it sounds like it will be wonderful, come summer.   We drove through Grindavik, a fishing village and onto the Blue Lagoon.  We had booked the Comfort Ticket, which gives you a towel, two facials and a drink.  It was divine.  I had thought I might find it too commercial, but it all ran so smoothly.  It was all super clean, the water was like a warm bath and to lift your face up to the sharp, crisp and sunny blue sky was bliss.  You lather on the Silica mask yourself with a spatula and then rinse it clear in the water.  Then on to our Incredible Hulk moment with the algae mask whilst sipping a very nice sparkling wine.  They have it sussed here; everyone gets an arm band so they make sure no more than three drinks are consumed.  No singing “Take me up to Monto” from Dan, then.  The showers are great, provided with nice shower gel and moisturiser.  Don’t let your hair get wet, or lather it with conditioner before going in.  I would recommend you bring all your toiletries inside with you.  You are given a locker, which can be opened or closed with  your arm band.

Then, airport bound and ready to get lots of kisses from Snipe. Don’t miss Iceland.  Bucket list territory and like being on another planet with it’s basalt land.  Lovely, friendly people so just save very, very hard.


Bren x