We are off to Portugal next week and as usual there will be much travel blogging! We are flying to Faro and catching a train to Lisbon and then Porto with our usual travel buddies, Marion and Terry.
We are off to Portugal next week and as usual there will be much travel blogging! We are flying to Faro and catching a train to Lisbon and then Porto with our usual travel buddies, Marion and Terry.
Well, my lovely husband has rewarded me again for being a good wife.
He told me he wanted to take me away somewhere nice and I could pick!
We are massive Beatles fans and love visiting the UK so Liverpool was the next city on my hit list.
Booked the flights with ryanair and a nice, small boutique hotel for an unbelievably reasonable price within minutes.
Expect articles about Anfield, The Tate, Cavern Club, Magical mystery tours and fish and chips.
Absolutely has to be done. You might also see some photos of me eating fish and chips. Or an arty photo at the Tate.
I know you eagerly wait to hear all about it. Be patience, my precious ones. All will be revealed.
But, oh yay!
It gets colder in Oslo-day 2 of Vikings,Munch,Ibsen’s haunt and Chinese food.
Another breath taking cold day in Oslo. At this stage, I’ve robbed my husband of any form of thermal clothing be had-his socks, thermal leggings and thermal top. He claims not to notice the cold. Our hotel is located on the harbor, right across from the new Opera House, it looks like a big glass house with skiing ranges at either side. On our way to the Museum Area of Oslo, we stopped off at a very old looking bakery and coffee shop. I started chatting to a Norwegian Granny who had most excellent English that she learned from the “Telly” why doesn’t TG4 have this effect on us?
Anyway, she was giving out about the Oslo city council. They wanted to put the Munch Museum beside the new and fan dangled Opera area along with every other folklore and historical museums.
The Munch museum is only 2 trams out of the city and you get to discover some gems like this coffee shop on the way. Munch museum is very attractive, nestled in a snowy type forest area. It had a small exhibition area, showing Munch’s poetry and prose that often inspired his art work. He loved writing letters. One of his original attempts of the Scream is housed here, all crayoned in, it looks like a child’s attempt! The original Scream is in the Oslo National Gallery.
The next visit took us on a short bus ride, way out into the country. The Viking ship museum is just that, no more, no less. But, why would you need more? Those archaeologists have found 3 remains of the oldest Viking ships that shipped the rich Vikings to their version of heaven. The museum again, was short and to the point. I do hate it when the museum drags on and on for hours.
On the same grounds was the Norwegian Folklore open air museum. We really loved this, it was totally Christmassy, a winter village purpose built for the tourists, who want a bit of history as well. We slipped around it in the snow and I thought if this was in Ireland, the whole place would be closed down due to massive health and safety risks. I.e. We can’t be bothered getting to work in the snow and we know you’ll sue us if you slip.
In fact, If Oslo was anywhere in Ireland, the whole country would shut down or we would be complaining about the lack of salt and grit. Grrrr. Oslo people are quite sensible with the snow. Rule number one-wear good boots not uggs or slippers. Rule number two-wear warm clothing to protect your skin, not pyjamas. Rule number 3-if you do slip, get up, brush yourself off and carry on more carefully. Don’t even think of suing the shop you slipped outside of.
Anyway, I digress but I think you’ll agree this is an Important observation that could possibly change your perception of life in a snowy Ireland…or not..
After these outings, I had my max fill of museums for the day. Simon had not. He headed away to the “Football museum”, which is everything I would hate and everything he would love. I choose to sit in the Grand Hotel lobby and sip hugely expensive coffee, reading. Y book, hoping for inspiration, Ibsen like. The grand Hotel is pretty hot right now and seems to always have been. Ibsen used to love hanging out here, being bitter about life.
The outside of the Grand hotel looks onto the massive square and après ski market I wrote About yesterday.A huge screen had been erected to show all the amazingly brilliant skiers compete for gold. Later on in the evening, we watched them all be presented with their medals to the sound of mini cow bells being rung out. The vuvezuela is so last year. Bells sound much better, the next big thing. The city was so pretty at night, we indulged in a mug of mulled wine in the Apres ski area before we went in search of food. You may remember that Simon has planned an authentic Norwegian dinner last night. He took me to the oldest and most popular Norwegian place. I have no idea why this is the case. It is basically the same food my Mum makes, which is good, don’t get me wrong but not my holiday eating out dinner I would normally choose. I ordered their specialty-Meatballs, gravy, mushy peas and boiled potatoes. Simon got reindeer burgers and purred carrots. It was fine and I finished up as much as i could, it was a healthy Irish Mum’s portion too. Good value and nice to try, I guess but I shan’t be repeating.
I was hankering for some Asian food after my traditional attempts last night so when Simon returned all foot-balled out, we went in search of the best Asian food in Oslo. Being big fish eaters, sushi is meant to be the best outside of Japan. We tried to get to 1 Chinese place but it was jam packed with Norwegians, the cheek of them. They told us that they had another place outside of Oslo 1 metro away. It was called Nodee. It was utterly delish and very funky. All black with low lighting inside. We sat up at the Sushi bar and watched the chefs skilfully assemble plates of raw fish. The food was really light and full of taste and the desserts were odd but yum, in places. I ordered some Asian delight, with Wahhabi and chilli ice-cream.Simon got mini banana fritter with cucumber panna cotta. It brought a lovely end to an active day in Oslo.
Sign up to flickr to check me out in the snow!
We woke ultra early, as is the norm with us. After breakfast, we headed off into the city, it was only a short walk of 15 minutes and it was cold but with my double layering and stealing of Simons thermals, all was bearable at -11. I must tell you that it was minus 11 as I don’t want you to think I’m a moaner. I’m not usually a complaining, cold person but I think you’ll agree that that is cold.
Luckily, the world skiing championships starts today so the city is awash with parties and a massive market in the middle of it. The market is centred around the frozen lake, where little 3 year olds show off their skate skills. Edward Munch style snow sculptures surrounded this lake and market and we sampled melting caramel waffles, norwegian cheeses and mulled wine, which was amazingly good.
To orientate ourselves, we took a walk around the city, right down to the Solid iced harbour and City Hall, an ugly building that has some colourful wood relief paintings of Norse myths. From then onwards, we went to the Ibsen museum and spend an hour browsing through his personal items and reading about him. Ibsen was a bit of a…how can I say it? Not very nice guy, full of himself, confused, bitter about the rejection(his view) from Norway and had an odd relationship with the women in his life. So odd that any women he had a relationship with were unable to maintain a relationship with any other men again. The museum didn’t go into any other details but I’ve continued to wonder about this all day. If you have any input, please comment below! I studied Ibsen in college, loved a Doll’s House, especially the strong roles he gave to his female characters.
After Ibsen, we headed to the Nobel Peace Centre, which gave me plenty to think about. A massive exhibition to the current holder of the award, Liu Xiaobo, Chinese Human rights fighter. One area was dedicated to the Chinese censorship of magazines and Internet sites like facebook and Twitter. Simon was obviously horrified by this. A hugely wealthy country with very sad people controlled in everything they say. We don’t know how lucky we are that we have the freedom to rant about the government and politics here.
Grabbing a leisurely coffee in the bar of the centre, vegging with a book for a while before we headed back to the hotel where a hot bath brought my blood’s temperature back to normal.
Simon is taking me to an authentic Norwegian restaurant later. Yum. But, do I have to go out into that cold?
You know that feeling when you get off the plane in a new country, to be greeted by heat and the sun in your eyes. Well, I’ve never been a fan of the intense heat but when I stepped off the plane in Oslo, I replayed that feeling of warmth.
I was wearing a sheer white blouse with vest top underneath my navy coat and scarf. There was no point being too hot in Dublin airport but I should have changed into the good old thermals on the plane. It was cold.
Let me say that again. It was cold.
It was also snowing and ryanair had conveniently dropped us off an hour outside Oslo. We trudged into the airport looking for a shuttle bus to take us to the train station.
Did I mention it was a bit cold?
I’m sure Simon heard me mumbling something quietly about the lack of heat but he patiently handed me scarfs, hats and basically nearly stripped himself of clothes to heat me up. He said he always brings 2 of everything on holidays in case I’m cold ax he would prefer to be laden down with clothes than listen to me grumble…quietly…
The train was pretty great…and warm…
Free wifi, rubbish coffee and naughty children. It was almost just like being on an iarnrod eireann train minus the wifi (if only).
We flagged the nearest taxi down once we arrived and he ripped us off splendidly, as was to be expected as all the guidebooks had told us about that. He laughed at me as my teeth chattered, him in his short sleeve jumper, thinking he was great.
We stayed in the Clarion boutique hotel in the city. We received a hearty welcome and a big plate of seeded bread, cheese and ham sandwiches, which were devoured like we had never eaten before. Our bedroom is super cute and I got very excited when I saw a remote control hanging from the side of the bed.
An electric blanket?
No, a device that makes the bed go up or down depending on how strangely you would like to sleep.
The hotel has a relax area, which is a jacuzzi, sauna and gym type thing. It also likes to feed you. A massive buffet breakfast with odd looking and tasting fish dishes with all the favourites like nutella, hotdogs and fried eggs(which you have to cook yourself) it also has coffee( pretty good) and tea all day long in the lobby and at 6, they start serving a hot evening buffet. All for the price of your room, which was expensive but as we learned throughout the day, Oslo is expensive.
I’m going to be forcing you all to read about the beautifully snowy city of Oslo very soon. You’ll have to wait though, don’t be selfish. I’m in my holidays after all.
Some pics for you to see!
It looks rather plain from the outside and not like a hotel or spa at all. Probably because it used to be a ….Ice House! I bet you’ve wondered where and ice was made, now you know…
The Ice House is incredibly relaxing, the staff were ultra nice with one of the staff ringing us the night we arrived to check when we were arriving. He then greeted us at the car, carried our bags in and presented us with a glass of my fave, champagne. We sat downstairs in the bar area, which looks right out onto the River Moy.
Our room was beautiful as well. I’ve put a little photo in of what it looked like, this wasn’t our actual room as our room always looks too messy to take a photo of…this was one I stole from the website.
We are always very excited about the bathroom in posh hotels and this one did not let us down! A massive, freestanding bath and open shower with candles laid around the bath. The Ice House wins the “Rozz award for best toiletries in a hotel bathroom type” the toiletries were L’Occitane everything! Oh, yay! Of course, I didn’t take any of these away for my own use at home.
We ate in the Pier Restaurant downstairs later that night. Simon had booked us in for the Spa the next day so we were wonderfully chilled out. I chose “Posh fishfingers”(this is what they were called!) and Chip butty, which was posh as well! Simon had some kind of healthy thing with fish and green-ness. This is typical of his behaviour. He chooses the most strangest and healthiest thing and I go for anything resembling Fish and Chips. I won the meal contest that night! I had Dark chocolate tart and Si got an assiette of dessert. His won this time as I was far too full to finish the dark tart, a bit too heavy for me but would have been lovely with a strong coffee the next day.
The Chill Spa is heavenly. When you go into the spa, they bring you into a Relaxation room. Again, overlooking the River. You are pampered with freshly made fruit smoothies, fresh fruit juice, fruit and herbal teas. Well needed after the dinner we had the night before. We had the Yon Ka facial, body scrub and foot masque. It was possible the most wisest way we have spent 3 hours. Utterly divine. The foot masque ended with a warming foot pouch. Bliss I still dream about the Chill Spa. One day, I plan to live there.
For lunch, we had a shared plate of warm bread, breadsticks and dips like red, nutty pesto, hummus and chilli sauces. It was so good. They had this beautiful home-made Guinness bread. I dream about this platter too. I would recommend going to the Ice House for this alone!
After the treatment, we took a walk on Inniscrone Beach. It was gusty but the rain stayed away.
We left the Ice House feeling chilled out and in a dream like state. My only gripe? You wanna hear it?
No, I love children but was fascinated by the amount of familes that stayed there for the 2 nights. Very young children aged 4-8. The Ice House has no swimming pool, it’s not marketed as a “Family Hotel” and if it was , we wouldn’t have stayed there. The children slightly wrecked that relaxed, adult vibe. I wonder why parents would waste money (it is expensive) on little kids staying in a place like this. The food would be totally out of the typical “McDonalds” type child, but maybe I had a sheltered childhood.
The air out there is so clear, when you pull back the sliding doors in your bedroom, it opens right up onto the River. Breathless views of Beleek Woods, swans, grey clouds. I felt like I’d landed on the most tranquil place on earth.
You know what, I probably had….
You may have read a lot about my house swapping fun on this blog but I got myelf published in the local paper, the Carlow Nationalist a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, I don’t have a PDF so I’ve published it here instead.
We love traveling and had been thinking about the idea of house swap for years. My husband, Simon and I are both teachers and knew lots of other teachers who had swapped their home, car and pets for a summer holiday in an exotic location Looking back on the holiday, it was far too simple to organise and plan. It was perfect.
We registered online with the intervac website, paid €100 for the year, popped up some attractive photos of our house and we were off!
We were inundated with offers from all around Europe-Crete, Barcelona and Rotterdam. We went with the first offer-an Italian family wanted to swap their home in the small town of Tagliacozzo in the region of Abruzzo, Central Italy with our home in Carlow. Even better, they had a car and they’d feed our precious cat. It took us about 5 seconds to agree, we checked their credentials and background on Intervac.com and saw they had been at this swapping business for 8 years. We were complete newbies, they were putting their trust in us!
We booked our flights with a certain budget airline for €180 flying direct from Dublin-Rome. When we got off the flight, our Italians met us with the car and house keys. Simon had offered to drive, which was good as I wouldn’t have the nerve for it. The town of Tagliacozzo was our final destination. It’s about 80 km outside of Rome and the journey was challenging! We had never driven on that side of the road before and never experienced roads or drivers like those in Italy.
Once, we arrived, the stress levels disappeared though. The town of Tagliacozzo is just heavenly. Its authentically Italian, nestled in the hills with a relaxing square right in the centre of the town. We sent our days exploring the town and its quirky shops, cafe bars, restaurants and ice cream shops. The train system was excellent so there was no need to drive anywhere. We took day trips to Rome, Sulmona, Pescara and Tivoli.
We spent very little money as we had our breakfast in the house every morning out on the balcony. We have never felt so relaxed in our lives. The Italians are wonderfully warm people even if we didn’t have a clue what they were saying most of the time Food and drink were unbelievably reasonable-75c for espresso and main meals at €8.
We wondered about our Italians in Carlow town, what would they think of it? How was our house? Did our cat run away?
There was no need to worry, when we returned, the house was spotless, the cat was well fed and a beautiful window box of flowers was left for us.
We would both highly recommend house swapping, particularly if you have young children. We plan to do it again, very shortly, maybe a short break in Europe again. The handiness of having all the mods cons you need around you is an attractive plus The beauty of house swapping is that you get to visit somewhere you wouldn’t find in a guidebook. We started to feel like one of the natives and return refreshed to your home town, looking at Carlow in a whole new light.
Make sure you register with a reputable site like intervac. You pay a yearly fee to use their service so get good value from it by putting photos, maps and interesting information about your home town.
Be positive but honest about your home town. Friends are amazed that an Italian family wanted to swap their house to come to Carlow but it’s easy to get used to your own home town and see it like a visitor. When we put together a must-see pack for Carlow for our family, it went on for 4 full pages!
Don’t be scared! It can seem daunting to leave your house with strangers but if you go on a normal holiday, its left completely empty and alone! If you do a house swap, your house will be minded, plants watered and pets stroked! Plus, you’re in their house so they are putting trust in you!
Intervac have a pack of “what to do” for newbie house swappers, read this carefully.
Last of all, go for it! It’s a leap of faith but the people that do house swapping tend to be like minded-open, easy going but trustworthy!
So, we made a promise to each other after we got married.
That on every wedding anniversary, we would stay somewhere really special and lovely and buy each other a present based on the theme of that wedding anniversary.
Year 1 was paper, which was okay. Year 2 was cotton, which was really tough to think up and this year was glass/leather, strangely enough.
Simon loves wine. But, not just any wine. He only likes good, good, good wine. Of the red variety. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, so he says but it often does! He knows his stuff when it comes to wine and can spot wine bluffers from miles away. He worked in an Off-licence when he was a student and was trained in well. i.e He was encouraged to take a bottle of wine home every week and drink it. For research purposes only. Simon became quite the posh student quaffing glasses of rich Chianti. Or something like that. I’ve probably got that wine wrong because I don’t know much about wine and will divert the wine choice to my husband in a very old-fashioned way every time.
So, when the theme of glass came up, I was highly imaginative and bought him some wine…in a glass bottle. Get it? The lovely guy in O’ Briens showed me some good Argentinian wine, which is his fave.
See, I do listen!
I had the choice of 3 wines so I picked the cutest one, it had a little star on the front of the label. It’s called Clos de los Siete and Simon raved about it.
You can see it here.
I was rather chuffed by my present, a pair of drop earrings with glass in the stone part.But, as always love getting a card most of all. Love reading all the special words written in it and keeping them in a box. I don’t hoard things ever but I have hoarded everything from Simon.
In my next blog, I’ll tell all about where we went for our anniversary. Can you wait till then?
I signed up to do a writing course with a company called “Dingle Writing Courses” The courses are not actually in Dingle but who cares?!
They had a couple of courses running last weekend-poetry, children’s fiction and adult fiction. I opted for the Children’s workshop with Kevin Crossley-Holland, him of the famous and well loved children’s novels, the Arthur Trilogy and many more. He also happens to be quite obsessed and experienced in History, folklore and poetry. The course was set near the village of Ballyferriter, which is about 12 km from Dingle Town, or An Daingean as they like to think it’s called.
I was hoping it would invigorate me to write with…em…vigor and also be a bit of a break for me and my lovely, busy husband, Simon.
It did. We spent the weekend meeting like-minded people, writing obsessively and engaging in some interesting debate like:
“What is the difference between a children’s book and an adult book?”
“What are the main components of a children’s novel?”
and most importantly:
“Why is Twilight so damn popular?”
We were able to answer all the above but I think the answer to the 3rd question comes in 2 words: Robert Pattisson.
All meals were included in the price and Aine (she lives in Tig Aine, where the course was) cooked and baked like mad. Beautiful, old style roast dinners and butternut squash soup, meats and freshly baked bread and scones for lunch.
We cosied up in front of a turf fire to write and listen to Kevin giving us his wise words and looked out the window at the inspiring scenery and cuddled up hens on the window.
I’ve attached some photos of my experience.
What do you think? Does atmosphere enhance the writing process?