Athens, day 3

If you’ve made it through the first two days’ posts this should be plain sailing from here.

We understood yesterday that there was a public transport strike today. Luckily the CitySightseeing bus offered a ‘get an extra day free’ offer that we made the most of.

We did consider a boat trip to one of the countless islands for today but as this wasn’t an option decided to calmly see some things we otherwise would have skipped. We caught the bus and revisited half the stops from yesterday, getting off by the market area, somewhere that seemed fascinating the day before.

What seemed interesting soon turned into something of horror. The meat and fish market had literally a hundred or so stalls, actively turning an animal into a carcass. The raw turkey heads selling for 3 euro made the whole experience worse.

You won’t mind that I skipped taking a few snaps. Instead choosing to exiting the indoor market ASAP, we entered in to fresh air and crossed the road to the outdoor market where stall holders where selling a wonderfully vibrant array of fruit and veg, with the odd bordering shop front offering something unique if not bizarre.

We had an option from here, wait for the undoubtedly busier bus for 4 stops or walk 20 minutes to the Acropolis museum. Thankfully we walked amongst endless souvenir shops, small cafes and ruins until got to the museum.

The museum was half price being off-peak and although the experience was a little disappointing it was worth a visit for €6. An impressive building which started with a look at some of the more intricate pieces of 2500 year old art, quite spectacular. Note I was told I wasn’t allowed to take photo’s in this area ‘due to accidents’ but as I already took a few it would be a shame to waste.

We climbed the floors and seen more ancient pieces. I kinda liked how the museum moulded missing parts to give you the complete picture but as did the Parthenonas, it did take away from the originality – what is one to do?

Going to the museum was a little underwhelming as there was so much to see by simply walking the streets. One simply must see exhibit though was the LEGO build of the Acropolis. Not sure of the need to include Gandalf from Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones but it brought a smile to our faces.

It walk only a short walk from the museum along the non-seafront promenade to our bus pick up that would take us on a tour of Pireaus.

Pireaus, I can tell you is one of the busiest in Europe, but thankfully the city isn’t swallowed by shipping containers. We passed the Greek football team Olympiakos stadium and a couple of stadia in use from Athens 2004 Olympics.

Once we passed the shipyard the ride took us along the peaceful coastline frequented by marina’s with yachts docked way more than my kidney is valued at.

For the peasants amongst us the areas also gave opportunity for a long distance view of Athens some 10km away.

We considered stopping off at Pireaus but thought a drive through was adequate.

Once we had made our way back in to Athens it was decided that we had little opportunity to re-enter the city with no public transport that evening, and instead opting for a meal nearby our hotel in the ‘really rough’ area for a splendid evening of Greek food, albeit still very much kebab based!

Athens, day 2

After the previous evenings loss of assets and resulting lack of sleep I was pleased that our plans today didn’t circulate around public transport.

We bought tickets for the CitySightseeing bus that navigated 15 top sights in Athens. I always mention the tourist buses as being a bone of contention for the traveling purist, but would state that this one was a really good investment (max £18 each) and had a pickup point a five minute walk from the hotel. Today was the only day we had breakfast at the hotel. For €15 it was overpriced, even after I discovered the bacon. With a fridge in the room we stocked up on ham, bread, butter and juice for the remaining 3 mornings costing less than €2 per day. Sensible.

With the sun making an appearance whilst on the top deck, it was a happy moment. A time to be thankful that the storms back home didn’t involve us and allowed us to travel here. I think I was over the pickpockets last night.

The cash we had to take out, where could we hide it? The answer was in between a pack a travel tissues. At the bottom of the rucksack. Never had a worry for the rest of the trip. Genius Christopher.

Back on the bus, the audio commentary provided some interesting facts as we headed to the centre of Athens we vaguely touched the evening prior, with some things added to the list should we have time for the rest of the trip (we did). Looked like a quality #buswanker if I say so myself!

Ever so slightly outside of the narrow central Street was our drop off at the number 1 stop for the tour. The Acropolis.

Acropolis is actually the name for the area we were at. The thing you’ll see on the brochure photos is the Parthenonas, the aim for our uphill climb, buying our tickets en route… About a fiver each if I remember. The climb was a bit FML at the start but was well broken up by a view overlooking the amphitheatre and plenty of photo opportunities. I learnt later there are alternative routes starting closer to town.

Once reaching the summit, the area was relatively flat. The main event was impressive but it was impossible not to notice the crane smack bang in the middle and scaffolding along one side.

This is a tough one. The area and a lot of Greek history dates back some 2,500 years, but during that time I reckon there has been A LOT of redecorating. So much so, looking at the structure did make me consider how much was what one would consider authentic.

Still, it’s the main tourist attraction, if I were Greece, I too would do any work needed to keep it there and count the millions in brings in tourism every year.

As the site was at a tip of a mount, it did of course offer wonderful panoramic views of the city and in the distance Piraes and the Aaronic Gulf body of water. I do not mean to bismirch the place as it really is a wonderful place to visit.

We rambled back down toward the bus pickup and made our way to the main Syntagma square outside parliament. This where the majority of protests take place (there’s been a few in recent years…) but today was was a quiet day.

A very weird thing about the royal palace / parliament building would take ones interest when visiting, with the only similarity being the changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace…

There’s a monument between the square and political centre named “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”.

Whilst I haven’t done much in the way of research apart from it’s a dedication to those who lost their lives during wars, those whom unidentified, I can tell you that this tomb is guarded 24 hours a day by officers of the Presidential Guard who swap shifts every hour, on the hour. SMACK BANG ON THE HOUR. It definitely wasn’t 2:07pm when we were there…

Whilst some of their marching/stepping/security may seem humerous to some, it was a fascinating bit of culture. We luckily timed it so only had to wait for 5 minutes until I steady handidly recorded all 7 minutes of the process. I did this to inspire me to kick off our very own #hownot2life YouTube channel but not quite feeling it three weeks later.

Food, hotel for a quick rest and on to something else that had been on agenda having first seen it from the aforementioned Olympic Stadium on day 1.

Form the numerous sights we had seen so far, it was impossible not the recognise the little building on top of a hill pointing out unusually from the otherwise flat earth. This point was called Lycabettus Hill. Imagine the sunset from there?! The agenda, it was on.

Upsettingly shortening our rest time in the hotel, we set out at 5.15 knowing sunset in February, even in Greece, was close to 6. Time to put our trust in Google maps and the pick pocket plagues of public transport. Throughout our trip Google told me that their transport schedules were not up to date. Ignoring these was at the time a humongous ballache. The bus went a completely different direction! After a aimless walk and skipping a few buses that drove past, I caved in and spent a whole fiver to take us to the base of the hill where we understood a funicular would take us the rest of the way.

Thank God (citation needed) we got a taxi. The funicular station was almost half way up the bloody hill. A steep incline that would’ve taken 20 minutes had we departed at the nearest bus stop or metro. 7 euro each was a bit OTT we thought but as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon we were very limited for time.

I hate scaffolding. Everywhere we go it seems to ruin photos of nice things. We are always wrong place, wrong time. However, on this occasion we timed it perfectly. As we climbed to the viewpoint we were spoiled with the last few minutes of the Athens colourful sky… Colour I can’t recall seeing previously. It was busy at this point and I had to use my muscle (lol I wish) to get some good snaps, before the agony of deciding which Instagram filter was best. Ultimately I think no filter was required.

We skipped our return down the lift and decided instead to walk the meandering path. Very reminiscent of the liberty statue in Budapest if you’ve been. Dark. Mobile phone torch. Hope you enter civilisation soon. Every turn a wonderful view of Athens at night.

That walk was fun but took longer than anticipated to reach the metro station. Biting the bullet we caught two of them without losing any valuables! I was so delighted about this.

We did stop off for another sit down kebab before the hotel. But fuck off I’m on holiday…

Thanks for reading! Christ that was longer than expected. Day 3 will be shorter…

Chris x

Athens, February 2020

Rarely have we felt such worry an evening before a trip away. We were notified early on Saturday morning that easyJet had cancelled all 30+ flights on that day from Bristol airport due to Storm Dennis. With the weather reports forecasting even worse conditions on the Sunday we spent all day checking to see if our flight and therefore holiday would be cancelled.

Even once we had set off for the airport at 2am I reserved confidence until finally our flight boarded to the Greek capital – Athens.

Day one.

I’m not usually one to appreciate the weather but it wasn’t half nice to depart the place in sunshine and clear skies giving that it was still royally pissing down at home, relieved that we actually made it.

Such was our apprehension, I did next to nothing in way of an itinerary or even figure out how we were to get to the hotel from the airport. The podcasts I managed to download and listen to on board were less than inspiring, I’d even say worse than this!

A quick Google suggested the train at 10€ was the most value for money based on time/cost and it was fortunate our hotel was only a 5 minute walk from the central station, central by name but a good way out from the actual focal point of interest and tourism.

We stayed at the (again questionably named) Centrotel that had very good reviews while comparatively cheap. The welcome and service was excellent throughout our stay, the only minor qualm was the 7.5€ charge for breakfast that wasn’t little more than cereal and bread. Online reviews state the location of the hotel is in an awful location… comments surely written by some snobby posh type who couldn’t see past a bit of grafitti on unused buildings nearby and the multicultural aspect of the locals. Every night we walked through the streets and although they were busy we didn’t feel uncomfortable one iota. Stay to your Disneyland, Hun.

Given that it was early afternoon we didn’t settle for long before venturing out, negotiating the public transport systems and visiting the home of the first modern Olympic Games way back in 1896.

The Panathenaic Stadium also boasts to be the world’s only white marble stadium, but did seem second to the history and it’s amphitheatre-esque design. For just 5 euro entrance fee we enjoyed a tour in the sunshine and apart from the glorious first views of the city my favourite part was alone the athletes entrance (a dark cave) leading to a modern conference room displaying all summer and winter Olympic torches and posters since the modern games existed.

Not your average stadium tunnel…

It was great to see the site still in action today albeit with a modern running track that didn’t affect the sense of historical significance.

Having skipped lunch we were ready for tea but nevertheless happy to walk through the park that housed the Zappeio Hall state house and the Temple of Zues. Although the temple was closed and dressed by scaffolding it was a good taste of what was to come.

Once we passed Hadrian’s Arch we thought we wouldn’t catch too much in search for food but around every corner laid ruins of sites, most dating around 500 years BC… Or 2,500 years old in my money!!

Wandering for a bite, the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library are well displayed in open spaces. We appreciated the fact we could enjoy the history looking through the railings rather than forced to pay entry the next day once open for a closer look around.

I have zero interest in feta cheese and still remain uneducated on Greek cuisine. On that basis it was unsurprising that we ended up in a kebab house! We did learn that a Greek kebab is actually a thing and throughout the week had one too many pork gyros’. Imagine chicken kebab bit with pork, something you’ll rarely see at home or in other countries with piggy being off the menu.

That mountain cost us about 20 quid with drinks smack bang in town. Plenty of room for an ice-cream before the metro home with a much needed sleep.

That metro journey will live long in the memory as being the first time I have been pickpocketed. Although my assets are (I assumed) well protected add an experienced thief and jam packed rail car and that was that. Thankfully the bandits only got away with about 15 euro and a fiver sterling but still the feeling of absolute helplessness hurt.

A miserable end of the night made sleep a bit difficult as I researched endless websites giving tips on how to avoid pickpockets, nothing you or I shouldn’t already know but a valuable top-up for Rome in June. There were still positives to take in that my phone was still on person and I recently changed bank accounts to Monzo eliminating fees abroad, otherwise the little fuckers could have got away with millions! (probably hundreds)…

Day 2 – coming soon!

Malta, New Year 2019/20

To see in the new decade, we wanted a shorter and hopefully less stressful holiday over the new year period. The previous four festive breaks had seen us visit New York, Toronto, Hong Kong and Jordan, so in comparison the small Mediterranean islands of Malta seemed like just the thing this year.

Malta is one of the 28 European Union members and is located between Tunisia and Italy. It has a regular population of under half a million, although I noticed a sign in the airport that they have welcomed 7 million passengers in 2019.

Our flight and four-night hotel package from Expedia cost £460 using EasyJet from Gatwick and the flight took around three hours.

I’ll get the hotel out of the way first… we stayed in the Bella Vista Hotel based in Bugibba. This was listed as a four-star hotel based a good 40 minute bus ride from the capital Valletta, but in the middle of an area popular with British holiday makers.

After a long day travelling from South Wales, we were told that although we booked our trip eight months prior, the hotel was fully booked and we would have to spend our first night in the three-star Topaz hotel (a fifteen-minute walk away). Without anyone in a position to deal with our complaint (apparently the manager is strictly Monday to Friday, 9-5), we made our way to our substitute hotel and fortunately, they looked after us well. We started to forgive the hotel over the next few nights, although once our door card stopped working on our final night – and having to sleep through a continuous beep from the card reader we were not very impressed. With the blog I seldom have time to leave reviews but may make an exception in this case!

Day One

Now we can exclude our bother with the hotel I can focus on the trip itself.

My first thought on leaving the airport was that it was very… beige… beige and blue if by the coast. Nearly all of the building landscape in Malta is constructed from limestone, which presents a not necessarily boring – but rather plain – outlook.

Once we managed to sort our hotel, we had a walk around our base in Bugibba to find lunch. It didn’t take long to notice that Bugibba was a popular tourist spot with the British, albeit more relaxed and less extravagant than the likes of Benidorm. We tried to look for some Maltese cuisine near the main square but ultimately chose “Fat Harry’s” British pub which was showing the early Premier League offering on the TV. The full English breakfast wasn’t quite what one would consider Maltese, even though the country was a British colony up to 1974.

Bugibba itself didn’t offer anything to us worth writing about. It does house the national Aquarium if that’s your thing.

Not feeling our usual adventurous selves given the long day, we returned back to the hotel to weigh up our options for tomorrow and hopefully find somewhere we could catch the bus to in the evening.

After entering several recommended places in to Google Maps we decided to visit a place on the west of the island called Golden Bay. The buses in Malta are very well organised, frequent and cheap. A two hour journey can get you pretty much anywhere on the island and will cost €1.50 before 10pm.

Arriving at Golden Bay in the dark at 8pm told us that if we wanted to get the most out of seeing the sights we would really need to squeeze them in to limited hours of sunlight. Although the bay houses a couple of premium hotels and would no doubt be packed in the summer daytime, we were the only people outside. A walk down to the beach was solely done for a quick photo and to not make it a wasted journey. A long 40-minute wait for the next bus back to Bugibba dropped us off at a small restaurant five minutes from our hotel so we had dinner there and headed back.

We’d have some work to do to get the most out of this trip, having to negotiate public transport and getting things done before 5pm.

Day Two

A welcome early night saw us up and ready for breakfast on Sunday morning. The offerings of an English breakfast trumped what many hotels would offer back home, to the delight of I guess 90% of the hotel guests. It was very Butlins abroad. Borderline The Only Way is Essex plus 30 years, but it was fine.

Now I understand that hop-on hop-off sightseeing tours are not favoured – possibly despised – by the purist of travellers, but with buses being the only method of public transport on the island I did think it was a credible option. We caught the bus from our hotel in to Sliema, one of the busier areas on the island. I say areas, Malta may call Sliema a city but compared to the size of UK dwellings it wasn’t much bigger than a village.

The sightseeing bus offered two routes; one covering the east of the island and one for everywhere else. Once we were successfully targeted by many of the touts by the buses we were hurried on to the bus straight away, not realising that we would have preferred to visit the east of the island. Nevertheless, we settled down on the open top deck as it meandered through small streets, village to village separated by rocky countryside. And the national football stadium. In the middle of nowhere!

We passed Mosta based smack-bang in the middle of the island with its impressive Church, or ‘Rotunda’. I thought the tour mentioned that this was the third largest church in Europe but cannot find anything to back this up – although at one point it did have the third largest unsupported dome in the world so perhaps I heard wrong. It was interesting to hear that in World War 2 a bomb was dropped on the Church during mass but failed to explode. Years later the pilot who dropped said bomb visited Malta for forgiveness, and was remarkably welcomed with open arms by residents.

Another mildly interesting thing about Mosta… its central location was deliberate. The idea was that the villagers could be as far away from the coast – and pirates – as possible, with the streets designed in a way so should unwanted visitors attack they could find their escape through a labyrinth of side streets. How the double decker bus got around some corners defies all science.

Shortly after Mosta we climbed uphill to another popular village called Mdina, a fortified city of just 300 people based in the suburb of Rabat which has a gargantuan population of… 11,000. We decided to ‘hop-off’ the bus here and walk through the gated entrance. I found the fortress really fascinating even though we only skimmed over the history and its offerings.

We headed to the popular viewpoint towards the north of the city that offered probably the best view of the main island.

Bar the Golden Bay that we visited yesterday and our base Bugibba, we had little interest in the remainder of the route. For this reason we decided to board the local buses to the Marsaxlokk fishing village renowned for it’s Sunday market. With such planning using Google Maps we thought we would get there in plenty of time, but could not envisage that once a bus is full, the drivers do not stop and give no indication – just ride past probably with a massive grin on their mugs. Two buses went by whilst we were waiting in the middle of the countryside before we gave up and found any route back to the hotel. I do not like not doing things that I planned and wanted to do!

After finally checking in to our correct hotel, we had a brief siesta and considered the limited options of what to do in the dark evening. We decided on Sliema, the same place where we boarded the sightseeing bus earlier that day, having a short but pleasant walk through the town centre and along the bay before having more traditional cuisine of a Thai-orientated noodle box. An enjoyable dinner but not usually something to write home about.

A lonely stroll back through town to catch our bus back was made just that little bit extra poignant as we spent ten minutes blissfully watching the waves forcefully smash against the sea walls.

Day Three

We actually had a plan for today. Malta is generally considered one island but the Republic is actually made up of three: Malta, Gozo and Comino. We caught an early ferry over to the island of Gozo in good time and again chose to board the sightseeing bus for around €15.

The tour managed to provide sufficient interest but I’ll pick out the top three stops bring the capital of Gozo (Victoria), the Azure Window and what we were told was Malta’s best beach in Ramla Bay.

The Azure window is a natural arch along the limestone cliffs to the west of Gozo. Spolier alert – it doesn’t actually exist anymore. Looking at it now, it’s difficult to see how it existed in the first place as all parts of the arch are now unseen underwater.

The arch crumbled in 2017 and as such doesn’t offer anything special, although still a popular tourist destination. The arch was location for a scene with Danaerys and Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones season one and the rough rocky platform you can scale did provide an uncommon sight – not too dissimilar to Giants Causeway we visited two months before. If you’re in to your GoT stuff be sure to check our Northern Ireland posts from November 2019!

I was aware that the arch wasn’t going to be there to avoid unexpected disappointment, so 45 minutes between bus pickups was enough to take a few pictures of the coast and fascinating Inland Sea, providing the only boat route here in to the sea via a narrow cave in the cliffs.

Our second ‘hop-off’ was at the central capital of Victoria. Agqin a miniscule area, but one that was dominated by a Citadel providing a plethora of Maltese history and panoramic views across the whole of Gozo with the main island in sight. As regular readers will know, I am very lazy when it comes to museums, churches and history in general (Google it if you’re that interested!) and will happily bypass that to climb a few stairs for a good view – and a bloody good view it was!

Lunch was perfectly timed to catch a bus to our third and final stop off point from the 12 stops the tour offered. Ramla Bay was often noted as the best beach located on the worlds 10th smallest country. December 30th was obviously not the best time to visit, it was cold, empty and about to hammer with rain any minute.

We didn’t have extraordinary expectations of a winter beach, but this will be remembered for the first time I have seen with my own eyes the impact plastic has on the planet. We walked hundreds of yards along the beach that was plagued with countless items of plastic ranging from bottle tops, lighters, net remains, lighters… all washed up by the beautifully blue Mediterranean Sea. No doubt this is all cleaned up before the summer influx of holidaymakers but it was a sorry sight to see. Although I can do a lot better with by consumption of plastic, you’ll never hear me moan about a McDonalds paper straw.

Not being able to go to the market yesterday was a bit annoying as things generally fall in to place. A year ago we were in Jordan with no itinerary and we managed to see more than we could have ever imagined. Fast forward a year and I’d find myself unable to do what I planned to do twice in two days! If you look high up to the cliffs surrounding Ramla Bay you can find a gaping hole in the rock called Tal-Mixta Cave. I wasn’t aware of this until checking a few independent blogs one night but as soon as I saw it was “I’m going to do that”.

It was starting to get dark, rainclouds were circulating and it was hard to estimate how long the trek up the cliff race would take… 20 minutes, 90 minutes, who knows. We would have to be there and back within 70 minutes to catch the last bus back to the ferry port so it was just a little out of reach. I have stolen this photo though to hopefully explain my disappointment.

The heavens did indeed open when waiting for the bus back. 40 tourists crammed in to the lower deck of the bus. Nobody cared that the driver skipped the final two or three locations on the route, instead delivering us to the Mgarr ferry port to return to the main island.

As the ferry was at full capacity we were forced on to the open deck in search of a dry chair for the 45 minute rode, then spent twenty minutes waiting for a bus back to our hotel (another hour away) and finished with an uninspiring dinner in the hotel. It may not sound like it but overall we had a pleasant day – Malta isn’t a winter destination.

Day Four

Knowing we were finally going to visit Valletta for the new year fireworks, on our fourth day we were at a slight loss how to spend the day, bearing in mind my tendonitis had been getting increasingly worse since Christmas Day exactly a full week ago.

There were numerous places such as Mosta, Sliema and Rabat that we had briefly visited but could have seen a lot more of, but another few hours round trip didn’t seem the best use of our limitied time left on the island.

After some contemplation we thought going to Valletta in the daytime wouldn’t be the worst idea as certain sights would surely be closed when we revisited later on in the evening. And as good as my phone is, it’s not a bloody owl…

It wasn’t a bad idea. Although hobbling and walking very slowly, it wasn’t far to walk through the festive big wheel, carousel and picture opportunities and in to the City gate leading to a wander around town – the smallest in Europe.

The co-cathedral looks great from photos but the queues put us off so we walked to the sea edge (tablets had kicked in) to the Siege bell tower, erected to commemorate those who fought in World War Two.

Right, it was the last day, and I was stalled in my attempts to visit the market town and that walk up to the cave. One remaining attraction was left on my list, the “Blue Grotto” located on the south coast. We’ll give that a go.

30 minutes by car or 75 minutes by bus meant another slow commute to another very quite tourist spot. We departed the bus and seen the cliff named the Blue Grotto – very pleasant on the eye with endless blue sea in the background – but a bit too long to wait for the next bus, in the summer you could imagine a boat excursion and the few cafes to be bustling. Anyhow, not to our disappointment, the ad-hoc transport took us along the south coast, back to Mdina and home to Bugibba. Time for a rest and possibly a couple too many Zapain tablets.

New Years Eve was upon us after a brief nap. We left the hotel around 8pm to get ourselves some food in Valetta, standing up for 40 minutes on the bus took it’s tole and once again my limb gave me grief.

To waste time we thought we would spend as long as possible having tea, but the only place where we were able to squeeze ourselves in was the Burger King. I spent 105 minutes in Burger King on New Years Eve, and for reasons like this I’ll never make it as a travel blogger!

We ended up waiting around 45 minutes for the reasonable firework display at midnight to mark our 11 year anniversary. She’s a lucky girl I know. Without time for too much sentiment we hurried to the best stop to catch a special service taking us back to the hotel, after what seemed like lapping the island at least 42 times!

Day Five

Our last day was as uneventful as we hoped for. Breakfast, bus from hotel to airport, and home via the flight to Gatwick, train to Bristol, rail replacement coach to Newport and taxi. I’ll chuck you a few tips though.

Malta #HowNot2Life tips.

1. Don’t go in winter. Although the weather was nice enough, it still gets dark at 5pm and it’s not the place to discover at night.

2. Give yourself plenty of time from A to B. The only method of public transport is the bus, which is frequent and cheap, but slow.

3. Stay near Valletta. There are many interesting places but the capital does have the most to offer. Importantly, it does also seem the transport hub, making tip number 2 that little easier.

4. Take your time to appreciate the culture and history. Usually, I think I can get away with skipping these but on this occasion think it would have added a lot more to our trip!

5. It’s a great place for a Wales away game!

Thanks for reading and happy new decade. Regular viewers will be aware I still have to finish our trip to Ireland in November and shamefully our wonderful trip to Jordan this time last year. I’m on it I promise!

Belfast & Dublin, October 2019

It was a pleasure to be invited to our friends wedding in County Slane, Ireland. Booking the trip endured a bit of guesswork as the location was in the middle of nowhere, and Ireland doesn’t make use of postcodes, making the trip itinerary that little more intricate.We did initially intend of going to Venice for our week off prior to that Saturday celebration but a mix of luggage, spiralling costs and a little bit of brexit uncertainty resulted in a really satisfying trip to Northern Ireland and Dublin.

Day One – Belfast

I was fortunate to visit Belfast in 2013 for a stag do so was able to be a poor quality tour guide to Mikayla. Our 8am flight from Bristol took just 50 minutes to arrive in Dublin, and a two hour coach meant we checked in to our hotel just past midday.

This allowed us to have a wander around the city, stopping at Victoria Square shopping centre and the rooftop dome giving panoramic views of the city and famous shipyards, the centrepiece being two huge cranes called Samson and Goliath.Whilst our pursuit for lunch was futile, we did end up walking past the Albert Memorial clock tower and McHughs bar where I consumed a significant amount of alcohol six years prior. The clock tower interestingly slopes 4 feet off perpendicular due to the nearby river upsetting it’s foundations.

You really have to look twice to question the uprightness of the structure and I soon gave up taking a photo that didn’t look equally as puzzling.We were heading to Titanic Belfast, at the scene where the famous doomed ship was built and now the set for its own museum.

The thing I love about Belfast is the amount of small bits of interest around every corner. Within our first hour we had come across the City Hall, Beacon of Hope sculpture, the “Big Fish” that gives you wisdom if you kiss it (I didn’t, sigh), the home of the ice hockey Belfast Giant’s (my local Cardiff Devils nemesis) and the now-defunct set of the King’s Landing gate from Game of Thrones tucked away near the expansive docks area.

This Belfast part of the blog post will feature Game of Thrones (GoT) a lot so please bear with me if you have yet to take interest in one of the most popular TV series of all time.

Anyway, we eventually arrived at the Titanic museum and paid our £19 entry fee. Our unguided tour was spent roughly 80% learning how the unsinkable ship was built by Harland and Wolff, 10% focusing on the posh interior, class of passengers and sailing route, and finally around 10% of the ships demise.

The tour was actually rather disappointing – I’m sure it was more interesting the first time around. It didn’t help half way through; my realisation that there’s a museum built to honour a sunken boat!

The windy walk back in to town was thankfully interrupted by some relatively newer reasons why Belfast is on the map, in the shape of six standalone stained glass windows depicting many scenes from Game of Thrones. We followed the trail and as you can see from the photo below they are wonderful! I didn’t have chance to master camera angles but you can find our more by searching for #glassofthrones or chucking “Glass of Thrones” in to your preferred search engine.

Once we had snapped the sixth and final frame back at city hall, we weren’t far from the hotel so had dinner and a deserved early night.

Day Two – Game of Thrones Tour

The top thing that is likely to be on anyone’s list when visiting Northern Ireland will be to visit Giant’s Causeway, in my eyes one of the natural (i.e. not made by man) wonders of the world.

As the attraction is a good few hours away from the City we initially intended to look at local transport but thought I would have a gander at a Game of Thrones themed trip, just out of interest as neither the Causeway or the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge features in the series. For my previous trip we had enough to hire a taxi along the coast but this was just as the unknown Targaryn’s and Lannister’s and the gang set foot in NI. I came across the Irish Tour Tickets website and once I seen the very reasonable cost of €39 per person and that included the two sights listed above, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

I was apprehensive as to how good the GoT element of the trip would be, but within minutes of boarding the comfortable coach and having a good craic with the tour guide and driver I could tell it the decision was a good one.

Game of Thrones is worth £30 million per year to the NI economy and it would good to know our custom was contributing to this.

Throughout the trip we were entertained by clips and interviews with the cast, fun facts about the show and lesser known sights of the country… the tour guide himself had a few cameos in a number of episodes.

Our first stop after passing Carrickfergus Castle and a very small impose of Castle Black, was a small coastal village of Carnlough. A sleepy town you would quickly drive past if not in the know, for a few weeks during Season 6 filming a small set of steps took centre stage. During one episode, Arya Stark got stabbed by the Waif and even though the bridge she jumped off to escape was in Spain, she rose to shore in Carnlough! There was a poster in the local Spar shop showing more of the filming… quite incredible the amount of work that went in to a scene that lasted a minute or two!

A short ride along the coast followed for our next stop at Cushenden. Stopping off at a narrow layby there didn’t seem to be any caves in sight, but after a small walk around the corner of the coast we were heading in to a cave that was the setting for Melissandre giving birth to the shadow assassin, and around another corner of the same cave the scene where Jamie Lannister killed off Euron Greyjoy.

The latter did feel like you were actually part of the set, albeit with fellow tourists taking selfies where a character was last seen spread over a rock bleeding to death!

So far so good. It is important to note that we hardly expected to have a wander through Winterfell or Kings Landing… as you can imagine most of the inside filming was shot in a warehouse (interestingly next door to the Titanic Museum back in Belfast), and other outside locations for the programme include Croatia, Spain, Malta, Morocco and Iceland!

A further drive through the narrow roads flirting with the coast resulted in us arriving at the Causeway Visitor Centre around midday. I should mention that our €39 ticket also included queue-skipping entrance to the two chargeable attractions that would have otherwise cost us a total of €21.

From the visitor centre to the 40,000 hexagonal stones is a bit of a trek so the free audio guide was a welcome addition, giving encouragement to the myth that it was created by a giant called Finn Macool, but sadly it is more likely that a volcanic reaction forced tectonic plates to break and sprout up lava. Still, no idea about the hexagon shape… something I really should have found out before writing!

Somewhat of a dangerous playground, the scene it perfect for a numerous photos and the safety staff are hands off should you wish to climb the structures in any direction you feel fit.

Stop number four was lunch in the Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy, between the Causeway and the next stop Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Lunch was discounted to trip members and for under a tenner I enjoyed a hearty Steak and Guinness pie and chips. The pub also had a Game of Thrones themed room where you could dress up and sit on their own Iron Throne. A good fun way to spend lunch and an opportunity to have a chat with other tourists who travelled as far as China and South Africa.

I should also note the pub had one of ten Game of Thrones doors produced and donated by the producers, I’ll cover these a bit later.

Appetite satisfied we made our way to stop five and what is likely to be the second main sight to see in the country outside of Belfast. The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was first installed some 350 years ago so that fishermen could hop on to the island and be at an ideal spot for salmon fishing. Thankfully it has been renewed and updated a few times since then considering it allows up to half a million people to cross every year.

What they don’t tell you on the advertisement is that the bridge is over a kilometre walk from the car park featuring a number of declines and hills. This is not something that should ever put you off however, as the views along the coast are stunning.

Sadly my attempt to take decent photos of the bridge didn’t come to fruition, and it didn’t help a bloke a few places in front of me got an absolute bollocking from the staff for not holding on the the railings with both hands. The Carrickarede island is nothing special, some manmade steps leading to a grassy mount. At this point I remembered a photo that I took during my first visit in 2013 and trying to recreate it fell straight on my arse to the delight of Mikayla and probably a few others.

I miss those pink Vans so much. Anyway. The long, slow walk back was aided by the sun setting and as we headed to our final destination, the Dark Hedges, I was slightly concerned whether we would be able to see it in daylight, although hoping the dusk setting would in fact provide the perfect ambience.

The Hedges is still a public road but due to the narrowness and popularity coaches had to park in the nearby hotel, another establishment that has benefited from the show. After a small walk the hedges were a tad underwhelming, perhaps due to the number of other people around but it provided a calm end to the tour. A final chance of a toilet stop inside the hotel, we were greeted by another opportunity to have a photo with an Iron Throne, and to walk through the second door, the first I mentioned earlier.

The doors have a significant meaning. When a storm hit the Dark Hedges during filming two of the trees were fell. Following this the production team decided to comission the “dead wood” in to ten carved themed doors that can be seen throughout Northern Ireland, each depicting an episode during season six of the show. These were then donated to local businesses to further encourage the local economy. Nice touch.

As darkness arrived it was time to make the 90 minute ride back to Belfast, during which the clevererer one of us (Kay FYI) won a GoT quiz much to our delight.

To conclude. It was such a nice day. I don’t often book something I think may just be ‘ok’, however when the decision turns out to be much better than expected is a real bonus. The tour host Peter and driver Tony made the trip that extra bit special and their ‘craic’ was priceless… I recommend it to everyone and will share this with the company as my own form of positive feedback.

Day Three – Belfast on to Dublin

So today was our trip back from Northern Ireland to The Republic.

We made the most of the daylight to jump on the sightseeing bus around Belfast. As the hotel was a stop half way around, we didn’t do things in the order that would be recommended. The bus driving through nationalist and republican areas would usually come after a few City centre sights but for us, bar a drive past the national football stadium it was our first port of call.

One could easily write a blog on the area with its countless murals, gardens and commemorations each side of the divide.

The divide being a big 20 foot wall, in which I think the gates are still closed every night to seperate those waving either the Irish green white and orange or the Union Jack.

This was the second time I’ve visited the area and I find it as strange today as I did 6 years ago, you wouldn’t believe it to be on the outskirts of a major city in the United Kingdom. Religion eh?

After the stretch viewed with wide eyes, we headed on to Stormont, the equivalent of what the Senedd is to Wales and Holyrood is to Scotland. At the time parliament had been suspended for 3 years due to policy disagreements between its power-sharing leadership and only sorted themselves out in January 2020. Just get on with each other FFS.

On a lighter note the trip then passed Campbell College. A very well regarded private institution but one that’s considerably cheaper than across the Irish sea. An interesting story from this… Wetherspoons Brexit obsessed owner Tim Martin studied here, once being told by a teacher that he’d never make anything of himself. That teacher, was indeed called…. Mr Wetherspoon.

Back towards the centre to visit the Titanic quarter with some additional Game of Thrones fandom, but most of which I’ve kinda covered unless you’re interested in when Queen Victoria once visited (I wasn’t). We departed the tour once back at the hotel.

After a quick lunch we made our way to our coach that would take us back to Dublin airport and then on to the city itself. The bus picked up near the Europa hotel (The most bombed hotel in the world during The Troubles”) and The Crown Liqueur Saloon. An old Victorian pub that’s undoubtedly the most famous in NI and owned by the National Trust! Always had them down as secret Alcoholics.

We arrived in Dublin, by the Spire to catch the last of daylight and made our way to our Ripley Court Hotel, absolute luxury compared to the ETAP box room in Belfast with a banging breakfast to boot.

We were in Dublin for less than 24 hours so went straight to the sights… Belfast Castle, Temple Bar, Trinity College, and of course the Forbidden Planet store.

I gave Kay an overview of the Castle (you can read about that from my blog in October 2018) much to her delight and walked passed the nightlife that Temple Bar offered and on to Ha’penny bridge.

A rather quick tickbox exercise but given that we had already had a hectic few days we were content in grabbing some fast food and an early night.

Day Four – Dublin on to Drogheda

Making most of the breakfast plus a quick snooze to help it go down, we didn’t leave the hotel until gone 10am, although one reason for this was to try and get resale tickets to Kilmainham Gaol later in the day, in which we were successful. As Mikayla entered Trinity College to have a gander at the Book of Kells, one of the world’s oldest books, I decided to hang around in Starbucks to catch Wales rugby get stuffed by New Zealand in the World Cup bronze match. You wouldn’t see that in the footy!

Once Kay reappeared we made our way to the aforementioned gaol (Irish for Jail) via a brief visit to the Irish Museum of Modern Art opposite and met up with a few pals who were also cramming in the sights (and no doubt Guinness). Sadly our ticket times differed but in our fortune had an icreble tour guide that offered so much passion in his job, if it was an act he should be on Broadway.

Kilmainham Goal is a closed jail renowned for its dreadful living conditions especially during Ireland’s famine and it’s role in Irish independence.

It housed many republicans who fought (and subsequently died) for the Ireland you know of today away from British rule.

The tour took us through the miniscule cells that housed more people than floorspace should allow, the area that the Brits used for their firing squad and where the used to commence public hangings, should anyone else get the idea that living in extreme poverty was wrong.

Without undoubtedly knowing the full story of those times, it wasn’t my proudest moment to be British, yet blessed I don’t think we’ll ever witness anything like it again, within Europe anyway.

That’s kind of it for Dublin. I had already done the Guinness tour but if you go please consider half a day roaming Phoenix Park.

We hurried back to the hotel to pick up our bags and catch a teatime transport to Drogheda, about an hour north of Dublin, or two hours using a public bus in rush hour. As we arrived in Drogheda the groom and I’s mutual friend, and my Wales football companion Peter picked us up to take us to our digs for the night in a place called Donore.

Waiting for us was a collection at Daly’s Inn, a sweet independent pub/hotel, was a bunch of friends who caught the ferry over from Newport that day and we enjoyed a good knees up, but too much food put me in a coma with little room left for cider late in to the night. I dare say the pint before said food in amongst the annual pheasant shooting presentation was enough to turn me vegetarian as I’m writing this in 2020!

Day Five – The Reason

Wedding Day. It’s not my place to commentate on my mates wedding day but what an incredible day it was. Having started on the beer at midday and ending up lobbing 45 euro to one-too-many rum and coke well after midnight, you can tell it was an absolute banger.

The bride and groom have okayed this picture so I can show how lush they are. And you haven’t yet met the groom’s Mum!

To see so many of my friends, so many of my mates (the groom’s) friends, in one place, in a foreign country was such an incredible occasion.

Day Six – Back Across the Irish Sea

Final day! I expected nothing less than to sleep in during breakfast prior to be dropped back in to Drogheda to catch a coach back to the airport. More tired than hungover, we meandered the airport and drove back home, just in time for a kip before work the next morning! Not much more to say to be honest!

Having been to Ireland 3 times in 3 years, and in no real rush to revisit Northern Ireland, it was so pleasing to have SUCH a good trip, with Mikayla accompanying me this time, and one that’ll live long in the memory. To Jack and Eimear! X

Bratislava & Vienna, October 2019

After a 2,600 mile, 10 day train trip to Frankfurt, Zagreb, Budapest and Vienna for my last international football following, a trip to a new country and back within 2.5 days was a welcome return to normality.

Wednesday: Newport, Gatwick, Vienna, Bratislava

Our outbound flight from Gatwick to Vienna plus a Flixbus coach for the short journey in to Slovakia came in under £40, although petrol, parking and a light lunch in Ascot increased the price a tad. I say lunch. It was an appalling attempt…

The coach took no longer than 50 minutes in to Bratislava from Vienna airport, offering a decent first look at the castle through the rainy windows, parking up a minute away from the hotel. Arriving at 22:30 meant that once we dropped our bags off in the hotel room the cuisine was limited to McDonald’s.

I was persuaded to have a beverage in the hotel bar before bed, a high end sisha bar trying to evidence the need to charge €15 for a Corona and a G&T. Not my sort of place, and certainly not with tracksuit bottoms and an Alice band wrapped around the barnet! How the other half live eh?

Thursday: Bratislava, match day in Trnava.

An early start to hit the breakfast buffet, which was ok… I’m still yet to tell the hotel how furious I was – still am – that they mixed kidney beans in with baked beans. Just why!? To this day I’ve yet to realise what purpose kidney beans have on this planet.

Swiftly moving on, we didn’t see any other Welsh fans for a good hour once we had walked the steep incline to the castle. Unsurprisingly the capital city’s number one tourist area, several viewpoints offered cascading views of Bratislava… the old town nearby and the ever growing newer part being continuously constructed further back. No doubt Austria was within the picture too.

We didn’t go in to the castle itself, Pete spent time talking to a few fans who had since appeared while I wandered around taking some photographs.

The stand out structure looking out was definately the Most SNP road bridge that leans accross the Danube. The bridge wouldn’t be too much to write home about if not for the strange UFO viewing platform at the top.

We fully intended to visit this after the castle, but we were more than satisfied with the castle views accross the City, thus we thought it would just be a duplication of where we were.

We walked back down the steep cobbled street, past the Cathedral and in to the old town. It was a shame the trek wasn’t a little longer as before we knew it we were exposed to a number of bars already filling up with red shirts. It would have been rude not to participate so we had a coffee and a beer (guess which one of us had a beer…) in a Georgian restaurant and watched countless worse for wear bucket-hatted supporters who weren’t quite ready to begin the days long session. It was nice to finally meet my new pal Chelle who has taken the jump and has become a decent #hownot2lifer. Chelle goes straight into number one place as my favourite female Cardiff fan… In fact she may be my only female Cardiff fan! Keep your enemies close I suppose…

From here it was another short walk to the main square, miniscule to its capital neighbours and probably smaller than Newport’s John Frost Square!

Nevertheless the impressive architecture and fountain offered a pleasant sight as we made our way to the Soviet monument and a walk back to the hotel along the Danube.

I quickly changed my plan of having an hours rest to try out a few local bars. I just about managed to walk accross the street before camoflaging myself with other reds and at €1.60 a pint, it was mandatory that I purchased two. This soon turned in to four once I met one of another new friend made from Instagram and the blog. I bumped in to Griff at a pre-season friendly between Undy and Newport having first met in Croatia; we simply carried on with conversation as though we were long-time pals. Cute.

As it happened, we both caught the Wonky Sheep-arranged buses to the ground in Trnava located around an hour from Bratislava. An uneventful journey bar the three trips to the loo and completely unecessary police escort.

I would love to tell you all about Trnava, but the truth is that I got off the bus and marched with purpose in to a little cabin that just passed as a “pub”. One does not usually have the opportunity to purchase 5 bottles of lager and a double vodka for under 5 quid, so you have to make the most when the opportunity presents itself!

Once Griff, Pete and I polished off our share of beverage, we walked all of 100 yards in to an Irish bar just around the corner from my entrance gate to the ground. The Irish bar was a really decent, multi level pub with rowdy Celts singing songs with still 4 hours to go before kickoff. The more expensive pints; at 2 euro a pop this time, did little to plug the flow of local lager, by the time I caught up with a few County lads before kick off I was adequetly hydrated.

The Trnava stadium is relatively new but you perhaps wouldn’t have noticed it – a very standard European ground that is 99 parts concrete to one part everything else!

The game was one of the better one’s I have watched this campaign, and how nice was it to take the lead in a very important game away from home! We thought being soaked by some beer in celebration was an ample price to pay. Five pints for 9 quid at half time wasn’t a disaster either. Just ask this guy:

The lead didn’t last for the whole game sadly and we had to settle for a one-all draw and rue the absolute sitter Harry Wilson fluffed in stoppage time. Still, I’ve watched a lot worse and even writing this after another draw with Croatia three days after today, hope still remains.

The coach trip back wasn’t as torturous as expected and we still had time to have a few more beers before the bar opposite the hotel shut for the night.

… Actually, I remembered having a few in the hotel too….

Friday – on to Vienna and home.

… Which is probably why I didn’t wake up to fresh on our last day, choosing to skip breakfast for an extra half hour in bed.

During my absence that morning Pete made the credible decision to catch the boat along the Danube to Vienna. Had I know it would be 5x the price and twice as long as the coach I may have abstained from agreement, but looking back that €30 would have just been spent down my local anyway!

The trip was accompanied by some infrequent commentary on what we could see from the river and, having not eaten since Wednesday night I was desperate for some quality Austrian cuisine.

So, after our McDonald’s, we were ready for our shortish day of tourism, luggage in hand.

We were fortunate to have a stop off in Vienna during out train travels to the Croatia and Hungary games, when we had a walk around the town, and even an amusement park. Today meant we could visit somewhere a little further afield and as Peter has visited the Austrian capital on a number of occasions I was more than happy to go along with the suggestion of Schönbrunn Palace… After a walk past the Cathedral obviously…

What was once the summer home of royalty gone by, today the palace is a tourist hotspot and should abolsultey be included in your plans if you are staying for a few days.

The palace offers a number of tours both inside it’s houses and the expansive gardens, but if you just want to look around “out the back” you can do so at no cost.

I certainly didn’t feel like trapsing through some posh house so we chose to walk around to the gardens, the highlight being a corridor of flowers leading up to an incredible fountain, a hill, pond and finally the Gloriette building where you could see suburban Vienna for miles.

I’m not one for gardens, palaces, churches or museums so take note how impressed I was with our visit here!

Somewhat tiring from the long walk back to the nearest tube station. We had more thing to cover before making our way to the airport.

The Naschmarkt market is not something that will be the highlight of the trip, but how often can you ramble through an outdoor market in the middle of town selling everything from lobster to cheese to baclava to tea?

Around half of the occupants are restaurants closely competing for business and I was starving once more. We were certainly not disappointed by our choice of Italian, indulging in Pizza, chips and even a salad (stop the press) to rule out airport fast food.

Seldom have I gone to a place, seen just two things and be content that I had made the most of the day. We found our way around the underground and – bar a small flight delay – it was “goodnight Vienna” and hello to the long drive home from Gatwick. All in the space of 60 hours!

Next stop… Dublin (again) and Belfast for a good friends wedding. We’re due to cross the NI/Eire border on Brexit day too. What can go wrong?

Thanks for reading,
Chris

Valencia, August 2019

After waiting for an age to visit Europe again after my last visit (six weeks ago) we headed off to Spain for the first time that wasn’t with family as a kid or to consume large amounts of Estrella.

We chose Valencia as Kay spent 6 weeks teaching at an English college there in 2017, and although she seen a few things there were plenty of new things to explore for us both.

Friday

Our 6:30am departure to the home of paella left on time from Bristol, even though there was an evacuation due to a fire alarm, and the worry of boarding a Ryanair flight with hand luggage anything over the size of a pencil case.

Valencia airport has a direct metro in to town that takes around half an hour, and we needed one further stop to arrive at Hotel Expo, located no more than 20 minutes walk in to the centre and plenty of shops, restaurants, bike hire and the main park seconds away. As we were a few hours early we strolled around the shopping centre selling pretty much anything one would need and had some lunch at a cafe between Burger King and McDonalds before being given our room card earlier than expected.

The hotel was a standard 3 star, but it gets the thumbs up for a rooftop swimming pool, BRILLIANT air conditioning and a value for money 10 euro breakfast buffet.

Once settled and cooled we headed out towards the City Centre, that was closer than anticipated when looking at the map. Our first stop was to the Central Market and the smell of fresh fish in 34 degree heat. Even so, we entered to a concoction of colour and bustling locals.

I never quite understand why a market has 20 stalls all selling the same things, but if it keeps them going then great. I lost count of the deli’s selling ham after 20 or so, and even got persuaded in to buying some chopped up fruit, as was the appeal of something fresh to combat the climate.

Unprepared for the glaring sunshine we hopped between shaded areas to reach the Cathedral. Regular #hownot2life’ers know I don’t usually have a major interest in churches of museums but the cathedral had a viewing tower the Torre de Micalet, something I simply have to benefit from, hot or not.

207 giant steps were made a little easier thanks to the family in front of us taking their time, and once we rose at the top (via a breather or two) we were greeted with a view that covered the majority of the city, only recognising a handful of tall buildings interrupting the terracotta landscape.

The first thing I looked for was the Mastella, home to Valencia football club. After a slight struggle I picked out the orange and black uncovered stands and added it to the list of places to visit before the weekend was done.

Back on the ground we wandered to the Plaza de la Virgen square, housing a statue of a naked geezer loving life even with quite a bit of birdshit over him.

Then we made our way to Lonja de Sela. Although not too appealing from the outside, this UNESCO site was well worth a 20 minute visit.

After buying your ticket you walk in to a courtyard full of blossoming orange trees and the building has several interesting rooms, I especially enjoyed the stain glass window that lit up the corridor towards the main room, a silk exchange back in the day.

We had now been out for a few hours and decided to walk back to the hotel before our evening plans.

Kay didnt really sell Valencia to me but one thing she did swear by was the all-you-can-eat chicken place, thankfully walkable distance from our hotel too.

Before a fiesta of food I was interested in seeing where Kay stayed for the 6 week sabbatical. A huge benefit of this was that we walked past the “New” Mestalla football ground.

I say new, building work originally started in 2003 but 16 years later if is still a concrete shell due to the club’s debt issues, a redesign offering hope, and then more financial difficulty.

Arriving at Kay’s apartment I was a bit unsure as to how I would survive spending six weeks there but really please I could finally picture where May spent the longest time away from each other in 10 years.

Enough of that cute crap, dinner time! Wearing flip-flops was taking its role and without Kay having an exact ETA we eventually arrived at the Chicken place, La Parilla. The only thing was, it was closed. fucking closed, Available to rent.

Urgently hoping to see if they relocated I noticed a TripAdvisor review as soon as a week ago, and nothing to say they were closing. But they were definitely closed – I even tried to bloody ring them looking at the shutters and for rent sign!

Flabbergasted and not far away from tears we got the metro the short way along the avenue and decided to have something around the hotel. The American Diner in comparison was a big disappointment and I didnt really appreciate paying 16 Euros for a mouthful of fatty beef. If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor…

I was over it by the time we picked up some snacks and headed back to our room. A sunny Saturday in Spain, AND the start of the football season for the County!

Saturday

Contrary to my luxury spa dates in Hungary, the pool at the hotel didn’t open until ten, which ultimately meant I never made use of it during the whole weekend. Instead we feasted on the breakfast buffet and – amber replica shirt adorned – headed to the BioPark.

What is a BioPark? Well, it was sold to us as this kind of nature reserve that is a lot less cagey than a zoo. At a cost of €25 each the walk around started promising as we passed the flamingos and lemurs who were free to wander wherever they wanted, but as we followed the route my apprehension was validated as we got to see gorillas behind 10 inch thick glass, alligators in an area smaller than my back garden and a number of animals looking incredibly sad. I really didnt want to visit a zoo.

We spent the rest of the tour around discussing our thoughts… do the animals prefer not having to catch their food? Are the zebra better off not being ripped apart by a lion? Are the animals treated well? In fairness to the BioPark I had never been to a zoo that allowed as much space to the majority of the animals. I’m still scarred from an elephant “rescue centre” in 2015 Thailand that forced the need to throw darts and kick a football on the poor creatures.

As much as I hate to admit it the animals were really fascinating. Ultimately however, we felt mis-sold.

Grateful that we actually had an option to escape the zoo, we were ahead of schedule so headed back to the hotel to get her out stuff ready for the beach. Malvarrosa beach is quite a ride from the centre but we arrived around 3pm, allowing an hour in the sea before I tuned in to the County curtain raiser back home in Newport.

The heat of the sand was unbearable and we visited hut after hut hoping to offload some cash in exchange for a parasol. It was peak time so we gave up. I managed to have 25 minutes in the Mediterranean before turning in to the football and then disaster struck. I could only watch the football if connected to Spanish WiFi for rights purposes, not my UK transported mobile data. Fuck sake.

We packed up in two minutes and was fortunate to pick up a taxi within 60 seconds of reaching the main road. I had to listen to our first goal of the season with radio commentary but by the time Padraig Amond doubled our lead I was back in the hotel room. We ended up throwing this advantage away to draw 2-2. But better than the Cardiff result!

The evening that followed was a real quiet one. We popped to the supermarket to get some items for breakfast the next morning and had some food in a Turkish restaurant just outside the hotel. We would be hiring bikes the next day, I’m glad I have my arse a rest!

Sunday

We were up bright and early to hire bikes. I love a Sunday morning in Europe as it means I do not have a hangover. By 10am we handed over €24 for day use of two bikes and headed off in to Turia park.

The park, interestingly was the Turia river that used to flow through the city until 1986. Quite a major step to close off a whole bloody river but an answer to continuous flooding of the city.

Since then (a sign said that) Valencia/Spain has spent 636,000,000 euro converting the river in to a park. Weird and wonderful.

The park is 9.1km long and we simply had to do the full 18.2km lap. First heading west to the BioPark then all the way through the city to the east and the beautiful buildings that make up the Arts and Science park.

I dislike going anywhere twice, but would love another day roaming around Central Park in New York.

Having said that, I’m still trying to think of why Turia park doesn’t compete. Along the route there were a plethora or sporting and exercise opportunities, great facilities and playgrounds, a much better designated cycle route, even the fairground was in town over our weekend.

By the time we reached half way, the Arts and Science buildings, I’m sorry to say my arse was feeling the pain of the narrow saddle.

A perfect time to order my first ever meal via WhatsApp and just off from the park we collected takeaway paella and some chicken.

The paella was enjoyed (minus the snail) outside Gulliver’s playground. I know I’m 31 but proper regretting not having a gander at some of the slides on offer. From the air I’m sure you’d agree how cool the playground looks!

I won’t lie, the remaining 7 or so kilometres back to the hotel were stop-start and literally a pain in the arse. But we made it, rather proud and sacrificed the remaining 18 hours left on our rental deal.

After a brief siesta at the hotel, the evening started once we made the most of our metro cards to visit the home of Valencia football club, the famous Mestalla.

Mikayla wasn’t as impressed I must admit, but I was shocked how a 50,000 capacity stadium can take up so little space. Even though it’s regarded as the steepest in Europe, it still took no more than 5 minutes to walk around the external circumference. I had no interest in watching a game before the trip but left a tad gutted I never had the opportunity.

The one thing the cathedral tower didn’t offer, was a good view of the park. For this reason we headed to a standout Ferris wheel and at just €4 each jumped at the chance for a whirl and a photo. Sadly the panels offering a great view were covered in an orange tint so I’ve had to work some Photoshop magic as best as I can!

The bikes were really handy earlier in the day but you lost that ability just to stroll off path and take in the sights. We timed our revisit to the Arts and Science centre perfectly and although we had little interest of seeing what the insides offered, the sun setting to the west made for some brilliant photos. Just ask this smiling lady!

And then, perfectly timed, was the photo of the trip. No filter required.

Crossing the bridge to catch the bus for some late dinner before bed we enjoyed the sun set, and wondered what we would do for our last morning in Spain’s third city (I think?)

Monday

Aware that we had pretty much done everything we wanted to do before the remaining six hours until we’d have to leave for the airport, it was a bit of a hunt to see how we would make the most of our day.

On the way home last night we passed the main station next to the bullring so thought that would be a good place to start.

I couldn’t get a decent picture of the bullring but had anticipated Instagraming a derogitory post to anyone who thinks that bullfighting is a form of entertainment. Watching the County is rarely poetic but it’s a bit better watching some dicked throw spears in to a helpless animal.

From the main station we walked past City Hall and back to the Cathedral. My back, arse and armpit (of all things) were giving me some jip at this point but we still powered on through to walk towards one of two castle gates and back to the hotel through the park.

Weird how I was in so much pain but was more than happy to swing along chucking a story post on Instagram, huh?

Once we collected our bags it was time to leave for the airport. This was as uneventful as one could hope for and we got home just before 10am. Two days annual leave very well spent!

Trip information:

I think the cost of the flights and 3 star hotel cost £450 for three nights and spending was another €350. By sacking off the BioPark, the County emergency taxi and the shit American diner meal would have reduced that by €100.

The top thing to do would easily be to spend a day in the Turia park but the beach was as good as neighboring Benidorm and there was enough touritsy stuff to enjoy if you prefer a shorter weekend trip i.e. Friday to Sunday.Remember there is so much more to experience than we do!

Next up:

I’ve got a few days in Slovakia in October before brexit and we’re off to Ireland (northern and republic) DURING brexit. So that should be fun. Thanks Nigel, thanks Boris. Wankers.

Thanks for reading,
Chris x