Thursday, 30 July 2015

Explore Wales Pt 1- Caerphilly Castle & Castell Coch

I love to promote my home country and all it has to offer. There is so much to see and do here so I hope this series of Explore Wales posts coming over the next few weeks prompt you to pack your bags and head to Wales for a day trip, long weekend or even full holiday. Wales is a country with a magnificent heritage. There are over 600 castles in Wales which shows it is a country worth waging battle over and protecting. There are a mix of castles to explore including medieval, Tudor and Victorian.
Caerphilly Castle

First up is Caerphilly Castle which is one of the biggest fortresses in Europe, and the second largest in Britain, behind only Windsor Castle. The castle dates from the 13th century and lots of later castle designs were based on this one. Caerphilly was the first concentric castle in Britain and in the late 13th century, it was a revolutionary masterpiece of military planning. It was built by Earl Gilbert de Clare, at beginning of 1268 to frighten Llewelyn, the last native Prince of Wales from fighting the Normans in the southern part of Wales. By the 15th century it had fallen into disrepair but the Marquesses of Bute, (who I'll mention again later on) bought the ruin in the late 18th century and along with successive marquesses carried out extensive restoration of the castle. It has been used as a filming location for numerous TV shows like Doctor Who and Merlin.

There are trains from Cardiff to Caerphilly every 20 minutes and it's only a short walk from the train station so even if you're only visiting Cardiff for a weekend you will have time to see this enormous monument that dominates Caerphilly town centre. The park behind the castle is the perfect spot to have a picnic and make sure you take some bread to feed the ducks in the moat.

Castell Coch

Castell Coch (Red Castle) is a 13th century medieval castle that was restored by 3rd Marquess of Bute and Lady Bute in 1871.(I said he would crop up again) It is a little different to other castles in Wales because is relatively modern and is an excellent example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture. The 3rd marquess of Bute gave William Burges free rein to create a fantasy castle like his main residence, Cardiff Castle. The interior of the castle is covered in hand painted murals, over the top furnishings and beautiful tiled floors. This stunning castle has also been used as a filming location and has featured in Doctor Who, the Worst Witch and Robin Hood.

Castell Coch occupies a stretch of woodland on the slopes above the village of Tongwynlais and the River Taff, about 6 miles north of Cardiff. You can reach the castle by bus, car or take the Taff Trail route to the castle from Cardiff on a bike. 

Both Caerphilly and Castell Coch are maintained by CADW along with most other castles in Wales. Cadw is the Welsh Government’s historic environment service working for an accessible and well-protected historic environment for Wales. They conserve Wales’s heritage, help people understand and care about their history and help sustain the distinctive character of Wales. Cadw is a Welsh word meaning ‘to keep’ or ‘to protect’.

If you want to take a look inside the castles there is a fee which is normally around £5. If you're going to be in Wales for a few days and visiting lots of castles you can buy an Explorer Pass and and visit as many as you like for one price. These cost £26.00 for one person, £42 for a couple and £51.20 for a family so you get a good saving.

Have I temped you to visit Wales this summer?

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Monday, 20 July 2015

Krimml Waterfalls - Austria

On my recent holiday to Austria Martyn and I took an excursion to the beautiful Krimml Waterfalls (Krimmler Wasserfälle).With a total height of 380 metres they are the highest waterfalls in Europe, they were a pretty impressive sight.‬

The falls are on the Krimmler Ache river and are located near the village of Krimml in the High Tauern National Park in Salzburg state. We took a narrow gauge steam train from Zell am See to the falls. The local Pinzgau train has been around since 1898 and I loved the slow and romantic trip through the wonderful Upper Pinzgau landscape. Most narrow gauge railways only run for a couple of miles and are run by enthusiasts but this one was run by SLB and covers about 56 kilometres of track. You can take both modern and steam trains along the route. There's plenty of other stops you can get off at and explore and you can find the full route here. The Steam Train 399.01 which I rode on was built in 1906 and is almost as old as the track itself.

The waterfall begins at the top of the Krimmler Ache valley, and plunges downward in three stages. The upper stage has a drop of 140 metres, the middle of 100 metres, and the lowest a drop of 140 metres. It takes about 2 hours to climb to the top and even though there is a path it is pretty steep so I wouldn't recommend it to anyone with mobility issues. We walked about two thirds of the way up and got some spectacular views over the valley and the falls.

About 400,000 people visit the falls annually so it can get pretty busy. The misty spray of the waterfall creates ideal growth condition for hundreds of mosses, lichens and ferns. The surroundings are the habitat for 62 bird species so there is plenty to see and the falls are a full day out if you get the train there and back. The Krimml Falls are also of historic note and the path over the falls was used by Jewish refugees after WW2 as an escape route to Italy and Palestine.

I would love to return to the Tauern National Park in the future and explore more than just the waterfalls.

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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Looking after my skin

Skin is made up of an outer layer, the epidermis, and a layer of soft tissue underneath called the dermis. The epidermis constantly grows upwards and sheds dead cells. Skin acts as a barrier to protect our body from the environment. It also does loads of exraordinary things like regulates temperature and detects and fights off infections. The skin is one of the biggest and most complex organs of the body, and contains hair follicles, oil glands, sweat glands, nerves and blood vessels. If our skin can do all of this (and how amazing is that?!) we should really look after it. If we can give it a little helping hand to protect us it would silly not to.

I've been using my anatomicals scrubs to gently polish and brighten my skin by removing dead, dull skin. At £3 a tube and £1 a sachet it doesn't break the bank and does a great job of leaving my skin soft and refreshed.

Remescar is a range of medicated skin care products that helps with treating things like old and new scars, stretchmarks and spider veins. A large percentage of the population have scars and for some it means loss of self-confidence and can lead to social withdrawal. My acne scars mean that I wear very heavy double wear foundation everyday and I would love to be able to be a little more fresh faced. I also have an awful scar on my knee after having some stitches recently so I hoped remescar would help with both areas of scarring and help me to feel a little more confident. 

I found it really effective at softening and flattening the scar tissue, diminishing old and new scars. It has SPF15 UVA and UVB screen to protect scars from UV radiation, which is really important. Fresh scars need to be kept out of the sun. Remescar silicone scar stick (£19.95)–an easy to apply stick and will last up to three months when applied twice a day. It is invisible upon application so can be worn under make up, I put it on in the morning and before bed.

How does it work?

• A thin, transparent silicone film is released to hydrate, protect and restore the upper layer of the skin and stimulate collagen production, creating a protective barrier for scars to help heal. Overall, natural moisture balance is kept under control to soften and flatten scar tissue, reduce a scar’s length and height and restore the skin to a more normal colour and texture tissue so that even old scars fade and diminish.

• Beta glucan delivers a calming, protective and hydrating effect on the skin. Renowned as a wound healer, it is also an excellent film former.

• PVP (polyvinyl pyrrolidone), also a film forming agent and frequently used in the treatment of wounds, allows a longer contact time between the active ingredients and the damaged skin tissue so that the skin can repair itself faster

This stick really worked for me. The skin around my scar feels more supple, the scar area looks a lot less red and angry and the little dot marks from the stitches are nearly invisible now. I would say £20 is reasonable considering the results and I would purchase a second stick. 

I've recently started a job where the air-con dries out my skin so if you could recommend a product to help with that I would be very grateful.

What are you favourite skincare items? I always want to try something new so I'm sure I'll be trying out loads of your picks.

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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Austria - Zell am See - Things to see and do

Zell am See is located in Salzburger Land right in the heart of the mountainous Hohe Tauern National Park, close to the Grossglockner Mountain which is Austria's highest peak. Zell am See is a quaint little town set next to Lake Zell. It is set in some of the most exquisite scenery I've ever seen, I'm so glad I let Martyn persuade me to join him on a camping trip there. I'm normally much more at home on a city break and it wouldn't have been my first choice destination for our summer holiday but I was completely won over.  The resort is best known for winter skiing but there is loads to do in the summer.

There is a Romanesque church, St. Hippolytes, the tower of which can be seen standing tall in the Zell am See skyline. The reservoires Mooserboden and Wasserfallboden in the mountains of the Hohe Tauern are well worth a visit (on a clear day, we didn't see much). The dam is 107m high and 500m long and have a very interesting history. Construction began in the late 1930s, continuing under the Nazi regime with slave labour and in conditions so harsh that Verbund, the owner, has recently paid war reparations. US funding under the Marshall Plan allowed work to recommence in 1947.

Basing yourself in the Zell am See area means you can explore the neighboring village of Kaprun and get a cable car up to the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier.

This is the highest cable car pylon in the world at 373 ft tall. There is a viewing platform on the roof of the station, at 3,035 m above sea level. We didn't have spectacular views when we went up because of the cloud but there was still snow on the mountain even in June.

Me and Martyn did spend a lot of time riding up and down in cable cars to make the most of the wonderful views. My favourite cable car and view was at Schmittenhöhe. The 2,000m high Schmittenhöhe is the local mountain of Zell am See and is regarded as Austrias mountain with the most beautiful view.  There are lots of skiing lessons there in the winter and it's great for hiking in the summer. Once arriving at the top of the Schmittenhohe you are greeted with some magnificient views of the surrounding mountains and of Zell am See town and lake way down in the valley. You get to the top on a stylish cable car designed by Porsche. (The Porsche family had a home in Zell am See and still do)

Museums & Attractions
Heimatmuseum -  Here you can browse through diligently gathered evidence of the history of Zell. It's full of all sorts of weird and wonderful curios and some things are just down right bizarre in there. It's well worth the 3 euro entrance fee and a good place to spend an hour if the weather isn't good. Want to see a photo of a dog wearing glasses and a pipe? A stuffed owl with horns added on or skis from the ages then this is the place to go...

From 17th of May until 15th of October 2015, there is a water, light and laser show three times a week on the Elisabethpromenade overlooking the lake. It starts at 10pm and I went to the Sound of Music themed one which I thoroughly enjoyed.

In summer the crystal-clear (drinking water quality) Zeller lake is the perfect place for swimming and paddling. You can walk or cycle aroud the lake and take in the lovely views. If you're  big kids like me and Martyn I suggest heading to the "Maisiflitzer" Alpine toboggan. Take a look at this video if you're not convinced. I was a bit scared and kept the brakes on all the way down but Martyn hurtled down the track.

Went went to the
Tauern Spa on Martyn's Birthday and we loved it so much we went back again the next evening. It's a modern spa with wonderful views from the outdoor pools. There was a salt water pool where music played under water, slides, a grotto, a relaxing pool with jet bubbles and lounge areas bith inside and out. Go after 6pm like we did if you want to pay a little less for your entrance.

Eating & Shopping
The old town center of Zell am See is small but there are plenty of quaint shops to browse through, and pavement cafés where you can rest your feet and admire your beautiful surroundings. I recommend picking up some local produce form this deli and if you want a coffee and some traditional apple strudel try Moßhammer-Cafe-Konditorei where you can sit out in the town square and people watch. surroundings. If you want a cheap lunch or picnic the supermarket Billa does great salads, pre-made rolls and semmel rolls. I ate so many semmel rolls in Austria I think I turned into one... Crazy Daisy is perfect for a few drinks at night and the pizza I had there was HUGE, tasty and good value. You get views over the lake from their terrace area and there is live music there most evenings.

We stayed at the Sportcamp Woferlgut and booked through Eurocamp which was in Bruck, a short drive from Zell am See. I know that camping wouldn't be some people's first choice accomodation but the site was great. The tent was all ready for us when we got there and has bed, a fridge, stove, BBQ and everything we needed.
It was a very clean site, well kept and landscaped, the shower facilities were super fancy with lots of marble and there were lots of activities on site. You could swim in the bathing lake, play mini golf, use the Turkish Spa and there's plenty for kids to do. We also booked one night at a traditional Austrian B&B called Schützinger, Landhaus. We only booked this because we wanted the Zell am See card. You get this free at certain accomodation in town and it give you free access to lots of attractions and discounts. We payed 60 euro for the B&B but saved over £200 on attraction entrace fees and cable cars.

I also spent some time in Salzburg and at the Krimmler Wasserfälle on my holiday but they will get separate posts later in the week. Even though Zell am See is a pretty small place there is loads to do in the area and we didn't get to see everything in our week long stay. We are hoping to head back when its a little hotter so we can swim in the lake and do more walking.

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