Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Sitting by a roaring fire in a castle...

You should really see my face right now. It is split in half by the biggest grin. In fact my cheeks now hurt as I've been grinning like the happiest fool since I arrived here a few hours ago. I am in a castle turned Bed and Breakfast in the area of Aberdeen in Scotland. 

My first delight was in being collected from the bus stop by my host, who has a lovely South English accent. She says words like 'glorious' with all the right accents and I'm sure words like 'splendid' and 'marvelous' and maybe even 'jolly good' are well used in her vocabulary. She reminds me of a character from a Miss Marple episode perhaps. She talks in a way that I would simple love to talk, but hardly ever do, because if I did I would seem an idiot. 

The next fabulous part about where I am is the castle itself. It's not huge by any means but it looks amazing and has been very tastefully restored and decorated. I am very picky and I have to say I approve wholeheartedly of this place. All the wallpapers are beautiful and accurate for a period home. The furniture is all antique and dark wood and there are lovely old rugs on the floors and framed antique paintings on the wall.

I have the best room in the house, well the best room guest wise. It is the main room on the website and the wallpaper is amazing. I wasn't expecting the room as I am paying a normal rate for single occupancy but as I am the only one here at the moment I guess I just automatically received the best room! There was tea laid out waiting for me in fine china with a teacup and saucer and a sugar pot and milk jug. There is also a small library in my room and among the books there are some Agatha Christie stories and Dorian Gray. 

I get the impression that there are two sections to this house and that I have this section all to myself. I am currently sitting in the library which is complete with heavy wooden bookshelves with fancy plated glass doors and vintage books. There are also comfy squishy couches arranged around the roaring fire and this one is deep enough that I think I could sit two of myself length ways, leaning against the armrests. The fireplace itself is painted a soft mint green and the wood is carved into what I suspect are native Scottish plants.

In summary I think perhaps I have found heaven. I certainly feel like I am living in Miss Marple (minus the murder mysteries) or Pride and Prejudice perhaps!

Many thanks to my mum who paid for this for my Birthday :)

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Goodbye to the land of green things

I have been slack again! I am now in Scotland and I haven't even finished posting about Ireland!

From Lisdoonvarna, which is on the Atlantic Coast near the Cliffs of Moher, I traveled to Belfast. When I was in St Albans I found out that Fleet Foxes was playing in Belfast and I really wanted to see a band overseas. I caught a taxi to the venue as I was running late and the taxi man was very surprised and somewhat concerned about the fact that I was travelling alone. But he was nice, he told me which taxis had a license and which didn't and a ballpark figure for what it would cost to get home so I could check I wasn't overcharged. One thing I love about taxis over here is that they charge by distance, not by time.

While waiting in the line I could tell that the girls behind me weren't Irish so I asked where they were from and ended up making some new friends from Florida for the evening. They let me tag along and I think the concert was much more enjoyable having someone to share it with :) They also gave me some advice on what to do with my extra spare day. I had planned to stay in Galway originally so I was in Belfast longer than expected because of the concert. The concert was well worth it. It was an open air event in a main square and part of a week long festival of performers. I unfortunately missed Laura Marling the previous night because I was still riding. But I kept standing there thinking "I am at a Fleet Foxes Gig standing out in the open air under a sunny Irish Sky." So good. And although Fleet Foxes on cd are reasonably mellow they seem much more upbeat live. They have a really good vibe and they sound so fantastic. He really gets into it, he broke a string after practically every song and had a guy stringing guitars at the side of the stage for him. And the support band was amazing too.

So the next day I took their advice and wandered into the city to the City Hall to find a bus to take me to Belfast Castle and Cavehill Country Park. The lady at the bus stands was lovely and told me which bus to catch and which ticket would be cheapest for me. While I was sitting waiting I heard a local guy telling an Asian man about Cavehill and mentioned that that was where I was going. In doing so I ended up with a local guide on my bus ride and some company for my hike. Having been riding for a week and hardly using my legs at all hiking to the top was probably a stupid thing to do, but I was determined to reach the very top. I am finding that I hate to be defeated by something, especially if it is my fault, once I decide to do something. So about an hour and a half later we reached the top of the highest point in Belfast. They say that it looks like the face of a man lying down and so call it Napoleon's Nose. Gulliver's Travels was based on it. The views were amazing, you can see all 3 regions of Belfast, including the bear below pacing in the zoo.

City Hall

the view from Belfast Castle

Then I did an open top tour with my new friend of the day; Nova. Whilst Belfast is not a very pretty city, nor does it have a great vibe, the history is very interesting. Sad of course like the rest of Irish history seems to be, but interesting. The hotel above the bus station is the most bombed building in Europe. It has been hit 30 times. Most of Belfast is relatively new as it was bombed to bits during the war and had to be rebuilt. As such there are not very many historical buildings around. There are also no homes in the centre of Belfast. During the troubles the centre was sectioned off into a secure zone and it was illegal to have residence there as it could be dangerous for residents or they could cause trouble. Although the zones do not exists anymore you can tell where they were. The city is thriving and busy and you turn one corner and it is all dead like Hunter Street.

The next day I took the Paddy Wagon tour from my hostel to the Giant's Causeway and Derry. The first stop on the way was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge. I decided that this was something I wanted to do and although my legs shook quite badly I made my way across the bridge to the island on the other side. The island itself is not fenced and you feel like you could just step off the edge. You kind of get the feeling of being on the edge of the world. If I lived in the area like some people there obviously did, it would be a lovely, if not slightly expensive, place to go and sit and read for a few hours. I unfortunately only had a bit under an hour. But I did meet my first Australian of the trip! Her name was Stacey and she was from Melbourne. She offered to take a picture of me on the bridge and I took one of her. From there we met another Australian girl named Amy and we then sort of banded together. Very peculiar to hear our accent outside of Australia. In my opinion we sound horribly annoying.

The Giant's Causeway was lovely but there were too many people and it resembled more an ant hive than a scenic land formation. Still, it was nifty to see all the hexagonal rocks connected together so bizarrely. We also stopped outside a 13th century castle that is now in ruins from age. The man who lived there was holding a party one night and lightning struck the back of the castle. The kitchen crumbled into the sea with the 7 cooks who were in it at the time.

Londonderry/Derry was not what I was expecting. Don't ask me what i actually was expecting but I know it wasn't what it was haha. The walking tour we did was amazing and the history just hurts my head. The wall around the centre to separate the people is just crazy. We were told that people call it Stroke City, as in the city with 2 names, because calling it Derry or Londonderry gives away what Religion you are and you never know when that might be a bad thing to do.

From here I travelled back to Dublin with 2 American guys that had been Amy's room mates. The night before we had hung out in the oldest pub in Belfast which is now owned by the National Trust. The pub was amazing. There was stained glass windows and panels everywhere and there were these solid wooden booths that had doors that closed. Once inside I had the impression of being in confessional at church. It was very strange but very nifty. In Dublin I showed the boys around the Temple Bar area and then went to see Riverdance as reviewed previously and then made my way back to Belfast.

And that is the end of Ireland! Love x

Saturday, 2 July 2011


Although I have seen Riverdance in the past back in Australia and seen it numerous times on telly, I think I was much more impressed with it this time. Some parts continue to confuse me; why the hell is there Spanish flamenco dancing in the middle of all the Irish dancing??

Having spent the past 2 or so weeks in Ireland hearing about its history from the local people and tour guides I can say I understand the actual strory behind Riverdance a lot more. I don't think I fully comprehended the full continuing story before for some reason. Ireland has such interesting history. Interesting and really very sad.

The costumes have of course changed yet again. I think in some ways they were better but in many ways I do not think that Riverdance will ever leave the 90's with all the velvet, shiny fabrics and leather pants.

My favourite dances are always those where they come out and dance without music, the sound and rhythm is created simply from their feet. There is one dance where all the men come out and dance together in black clothing to no music, just the sounds of their feet. I think in some ways it is more impressive than dancing to music. My other favourite dance is a folk kind of setting. It's supposed to be the final gathering in the town before people start to leave to find jobs and a better life away from the famine. The set dancing always looks so fun and it makes me miss my weekly class of set dancing. I wish Jenny still taught it so that I could go back to doing that.

My final favourite is set in America and demonstrates the first clash between the more freestyle tap from the African Americans and the rigid dancing of the Irish. They have a bit of a dance off and mock each other and it all seems so fun and yet they are so talented it is really amazing. They change it a little each time and tonight one guy moon walked backwards tap dance style. I was very impressed.  


Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Everything Post

I think it's been more than a week since my last post so I shall cram a bit of everything into this and try and make it shortish haha.

The rest of the week horse riding was simply the most amazing experience I have ever ever had. Peggy and Jennifer were so lovely and we just clicked so well. Both have the same taste in music and common interests and it feels like we have been friends for quite some time. There are rough plans to do horse rides together in all our home countries. And also New Zealand. And France. I miss them a lot!

There were some amazing sites on the ride. One of the highlights would definitely be riding through part of Lough Derg in County Clare. The sound of horses moving through the water for one is a great sound, then there's the very slight thrill of riding the shortest pony in the group and watching your foot nearly touch the surface of the lake! From the middle of the lake you could see trees to one side and 2 very Irish hills and fields to the other sides and marsh land up ahead.

Every morning we went to catch our ponies ourselves. Bob was always as far away as he could get, but after the second day he was always the first to start walking towards us. I'd like to say it was because he liked me, but it was because we all carried a handful of food to fill his fat little belly! One morning they were at the very very top of a steep field and we had quite a long and winding hike to reach them, cursing and puffing the whole way.  But once we reached the top we had some of the best views of County Clare, so we had to forgive them. At some points we'd ride up and up and up and then get to the top and just be silent without words.

The pine forests smell great, especially where they've been logged, and where they've been cut foxgloves grow everywhere. And I think all of western Ireland is covered in little streams and creeks. If you look deep into some parts of the pine forests everything is covered in green moss. The ground floor, the trees, the roots, the rocks, til it all becomes indistinguishable. In some parts houses that were abandoned in the famine 150 years ago have been swallowed by the forests and you can just see one part of a wall covered in moss and blending in with the rest of the forest. I think those parts were my favourites. I also loved riding and seeing all the ruins left behind in the famine that have trees growing out of whats left of the roof or moss and vines have swallowed the foundations. It's sad that there are so many abandoned buildings but at the same time it is a little bit magical. Jennifer, Peggy and I decided we needed to buy one and fix it up and decorate it with vintage nick nacks like An Sibin, the riding centre. We were all so sad to leave that place after 4 nights and move onto B&B's and a hotel for the next 3 nights. We all thought it was simply perfect.

We would point out places and say 'that, that's our house right there' and by the end of the week I think we had 30 houses, one of which was a tower at the Cliffs of Moher.

From our hotel in Lisdoonvarna near the Atlantic Coast, Berty organised a bus to come pick us up on the second last night to take us to the Cliffs. It was after hours so we didn't have to pay and there was hardly anyone around which was lovely. The guides came with us too and it was fun to see them playful rather than serious like they are on the ride and we all got along really well. Eva ran ahead yelling 'are you all ready to canter' in her adorable Irish accent. And crossing the road we would all call out 'car' on the way back to the bus. The Cliffs themselves were incredible and we had so much fun taking stupid photos and generally being idiots and climbing through the fence at the end to stand on the edge.

The last day however was not so lovely as the rest of the week. It was raining before we even woke up and continued for the entire day without break. We scraped down the horses and saddled them up to ride out in the rain. For 3 hours it bucketed, which alone would have been fine, we had had a few unexpected showers all week and that's why we spent all our time wearing heavy rain coats with padding for warmth. But this was freezing rain and it was about 8 degrees before you added the severe winds. For the last hour I was very nearly in tears because my feet were so cold in my boots that they HURT, and that numb feeling you get in your extremities had carried all the way up into my hips. I spent so long praying that nothing would startle Bob or any other horse that would then scare Bob, because if he spooked I was not going to be able to stay on!

When we got to the area for our lunch break I don't think any of us have been so happy to see Berty's blue van signalling the end. My arms were so cold I couldn't hold the rains or move my arms so Bob kind of ran me through a tree. And when he stopped Berty called out 'ok everyone off quickly and grab some tea' and I said to Innis 'I really don't think I can get off.' Eventually I did and we all crammed into the trailer bent over double. I couldn't move my hands to take off my gloves or hold my tea cup and couldn't straighten my fingers. We were all really grateful when Berty asked if we would like to finish early and have the horses collected. Sad to say goodbye to Bob and Peggy, but really grateful. We were all frozen and it was too dangerous to continue. I was starting to be reminded of films where horses carry wounded people and they are slumped over and eventually fall off, that was going to be me! Still a very very fantastic week.

Lisdoonvarna has an unusually high German holiday population but it's a lovely little town. The pub there is amazing and the musicians just walk in off the street, pick up an instrument and join in with those already playing, sometimes mid song. The walls were covered in post cards, and there were even some from Australia :)

I think this post is long enough for now. I am off to the oldest pub in Belfast, which is so historical it is owned by the National Trust haha. I shall post about Belfast tomorrow!

Miss you! x

Monday, 20 June 2011

A Horse called Bob...

Ok, so I am temporarily hijacking my own blog in order to kiiind of turn it into a travel blog. I keep forgetting to write things down so maybe if I blog things might get recorded? I don't know.

I am currently in Ireland! Yesterday I traveled from the beautiful post card perfect historical town that is Adare. Sooo lovely. Now I am in guest house/riding centre outside a really small town called Whitegate in County Clare. The house I am staying in is a renovated stone cottage that is roughly 300 years old and has been restored and added to. It has all these different levels and corridors and it's kind of like a labyrinth. There's also a small tower up to the next level as well. It's been decorated using all these nifty vintage things and old saddles and horse equipment. There's old leather suitcases, old medicine bottles, and really old books lying around and pine cones and quills and flowers and candles and it is pretty much exactly as I would like to decorate a house. It is perfect. 

Outside my window I can see the small stable where our horses were kept last night (usually they stay in fields) and there's 2 donkies as well. Everything is so green, even the rocks! And I never knew Ireland had so many pine trees! It's kind of like riding through a huge Christmas tree plantation! 

The food here is amazing. I've eaten walnut and jam cake which was amazing, cherry cheesecake, and had the usual baked dinner and English breakfast. Today for afternoon tea we were served chocolate and red wine cake. Possibly the best thing I have ever ever tasted and I might need to ask for the recipe. The food is cooked by a lovely French girl called Astrid and she's well deserving of the job.

My room mate is named Peggy and is from Germany. Shes a couple of years older than me and speaks a fair amount of English, which is good because I speak no German obviously. She has told us tomorrow we speak only German :P I'm sure it will go well... The other girl here is my age and from Canada. Her name's Jennifer and we all get along pretty well. It's nice just being the 3 of us and aged similarly. Tomorrow though we will be joined by an American couple. Hopefully they will be nice too.

We rode for 5 hours today with a small break in the middle for the cake. The landscape around here is so varied. Pine trees, moor's, heath land, forests, farmland, stone. My horse is a gorgeous little red roan pony named Bob Marley for his wicked hair styles, dreadlocks and permanent bed hair image, and also for his very laid back personality. He suits me perfectly and hasn't run off with me yet. He struggles a little to keep up after we've been cantering for a while so I don't think he could run very far with me if he did haha. But I am very much in love with him. 

I have never appreciated the surefootedness of horses more than I did today. The mud they went through was easily up to their knees and there were rocks everywhere and steep inclines and downward slopes with all kinds of roots and rocks in the way. I am very impressed. And as you ride around here there's horses absolutely everywhere! Part of the moor we went through is a sanctuary set up by a guy called Pat and you can take old or ill horses there or horses without a home. Apparently there's about 60 horses there. We had a couple of ponies tag along for a while. As you walk past paddocks all the ponies come up and walk along with you and talk to the horses we ride. They're every known horse colour around here too. Not all bay and chestnut like at home. There's red roan and blue roan and piebald and skewbald, and palamino, and dun, and grey, and black, and spotted and all so adorable. Most are Irish ponies and they poke their little faces over the fence at you. And when I get home I want a donkey. They are so amazingly friendly and will follow you everywhere. Every single one I've met so far has been lovely, and there are a lot of them around here. There's also a couple of tiny tiny kittens here. They can't be more than 4 weeks old. They cry every time someone looks into their stall and I want to smuggle them into bed with me. Their little noises make me want to cry!

I am kind of in pain already :P My knees are killing me and so is my back from all the cantering and posting to a ponies rough trot haha. But still so amazing and I am going to try and force myself to make it to the end of the week! I don't care if they have to strap me on Bob, I'm sure he'd look after me!


Bye! x

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Fiend for Polka Dots

I have a slight addiction to polka dots. Especially white ones on blue fabric. The first I made myself using a 1950's pattern and the second I purchased just today. I now have 6 blue polka dots dresses!

Pretty soon I'm going to have too many blue dresses, but I do tend to like them best. Red doesn't look that good on me, although I like it. Lovely green dresses are hard to find. Yellow that isn't too well...yellow is also hard. I wore too much purple as a child and now I don't like it. And I'm quite picky about black, grey and white clothing. It has to be either really simple or really beautiful so it can be matched with other things or pretty enough to stand on it's own.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Who needs a partner on Valentine's Day

When you can have a baking day with a friend and then go to one of your favourite shops to watch peculiar romantic French films in their back gallery! Admittedly a partner might be nice to have but I think I have given up on one of those.

Kal and I both agreed that wearing red clothing would be fun but when she arrived it was discover we had both settled on red and white and actually co-ordinated slightly more than originally intended! We made honey and rosemary cake with lemon icing in the shape of a heart (there was so much lemon in the icing it was too yellow to add pink food colouring!) and dark chocolate mousse with a couple of blocks of chocolate. I couldn't find the vintage wine glasses we usually use for mousse so I decided mousse in teacups might be cute. And it was! I'm going to do this more often.

It has cooled down very very slightly so I decided I could wear my beanie again. Oh how I loathe consecutive days of 40+ degree heat. It's just disgusting!

 Kal and her Dalek apron.



Hope you all have a lovely Valentine's Day whether or not you spend it in a traditional way