Saturday, 19 August 2017

Travel - One day in Lucca, Tuscany.

I can't believe my trip to Italy with my mates was over 4 months ago! You can read my first post about Italy which focussed on Pisa here - Pisa Photo Diary, but today I'll be sharing my experience of visiting Lucca.

It's easy to see why Lucca endears itself to pretty much everyone who stops to visit. It's hidden behind defensive walls and has charming cobbled streets and bustling piazzas. The city hasn't been involved in major conflict since 1430 so the walls are very well preserved, as are the many Romanesque churches in the city. It was also the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini.

It would be a great place to visit for the day if you are staying in near by Florence as the rail links to the city are excellent and pretty cheap. The city was a short 20 minute train ride from our base of Pisa which is served by budget airlines form the UK - this is a really easy to reach destination but feels much more relaxed and has a lot less tourists compared to Pisa and Florence.

The city is compact enough to be explored by foot and I highly recommend hiring a bike to cycle around the city walls for the best views of the city and the surrounding area - hiring a bike and speeding around the walls was my favourite part of the day.

a picture of the facade of Church of St. Michele in Foro

picture of the facade of Church of St. Michele in Foro

Lucca seems to have Romanesque churches on every corner constructed from white and grey marble in a similar style to Pisa’s duomo. The beautiful Church of St. Michele in Foro was built on the site of the Roman forum in the 11th and 12th centuries.

a picture of the cobbled streets of lucca

The anfiteatro is another of Lucca’s attractions and was built in the second century AD. Between 1830 and 1839 the buildings occupying the ancient arena were pulled down and the inner area became a piazza which is now filled with cafes and shops. We made a pit stop here for a huge gelato and coffee.

This is a picture of the anfiteatro in Lucca

Most of our day was spent wandering the pretty streets, sipping cocktails on the terrace of Caffetteria San Colombano (great salads and wine selection too) and racing around the wall on bikes. After a couple of days of walking for miles and cramming in the sights Lucca was a pleasant and tranquil retreat. I would love to return to Lucca for a long weekend foodie break. I didn't have time to try the local speciality - tortelli lucchese which is bright yellow pasta, stuffed with seasoned meat and topped with a ragù and a weekend sipping Aperol spritz in a sunny piazza sounds like my idea of heaven. 

this is a photo of the botanical garden in lucca

I think most people want to see want to see the “real, untouristy” side of Europe when they travel and I felt like Lucca got pretty close to that. 

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Sunday, 6 August 2017

My North Coast 500 Scottish Honeymoon Wishlist

Whilst I am incredibly excited about my upcoming wedding (only 41 days to go!) I'm equally as excited about the honeymoon Martyn, Coco and myself will be heading off on the day after the wedding.

There's nothing quite like the freedom of the long open road and this is why we have chosen to embark on a Scottish highland adventure - taking in Scotland's finest coastal scenery on the epic North Coast 500. The NC500 is Scotland's answer to Route 66 and starts in Inverness, weaves its way along the coast taking in Ullapool, Caithness and John o' Groats before heading south again through Dingwall and finally back to Inverness.

I'm certainly not going to need bikinis or floaty summer dresses for this honeymoon - I'll have to be far more practical and pack layers for the changeable British weather. I'm hoping the trip will be filled with romantic walks along the north coast of Scotland, lots of cosy nights in the camper van reading a book with hot chocolate and sitting outside gazing up at the stars (with Coco on my lap) enjoying some of my favourite tipple - Scottish gin. 

1. Eden Mill  - Love Gin
I'm a big fan of Eden Mill gin and have already own a few bottles but this light blush pink gin would be a great addition to my gin collection and it would be rude not to indulge in some Scottish gin whilst I'm in Scotland, right? It is blended with local botanicals and exotic fruits.

2. Regatta Samaris Mid Boots
These walking boots will be ideal for strolls along the coast with Martyn and Coco and rambling across the rugged Highland landscape. 

3. Enamel mugs 
I love an enamel mug, not only are they really cute they keep your cuppa nice and warm and can withstand a few bumps and drops. These mugs from MenKind make a perfect Mr&Mrs pair. 

4. Travel journal 
I've been scrapbooking for a long time and love to keep gig tickets, train ticks and photos from my travels and pop them in a scrapbook to look over and reminisce and to keep all these bits safe. I've got a feeling I'm going to take 1000+ photos on my honeymoon so I'll need a dedicated scrapbook. This one from Paperchase is the perfect size for a single trip. 

5. Entertainment
I'll be taking an external hard drive filled with movies and box sets to watch in the camper van just in case it rains but I've also been looking for some reading material for days on the beach and for the long drive from South Wales to Scotland. I've picked up plenty of guide books and touring maps to plan my trip but I also fancy some fiction set in Scotland. I've just ordered the first Outlander book but I would appreciate some Scottish fiction recommendations in the comment section if you have any.

6. Practical clothing
I've treated myself to a couple of new dresses which will be great for days when we pass through towns or are going for a pub lunch but I'm looking for a few practical items to layer up when it gets cold at night. I'll be getting a few hooded tops like the lovely pastel one above from Simply Be, some fleece lined leggings and comfy jumpers. 

I better start making a packing list! 

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Monday, 3 July 2017

Travel - Coco's First Holiday, West Wales

West Wales is a place that holds a lot of special memories for me. My first family holidays were spent in my nan's caravan in Saundersfoot and Martyn (husband-to-be) and I had out first weekend breaks there together. It seemed only right that we took Coco to West Wales for his first little holiday. We were lucky enough to have a long weekend together during the heatwave we had a couple of weeks ago. It felt like we were in the south of France rather than on the Pembrokeshire coast during our trip.

This is a picture of a yurt in west wales

It seemed like a lot of hassle to set up our tent for a two night break so we opted to stay in a yurt just outside Tenby. The Apple Camping site had everything we needed including a shower block with fridges and a kitchen. We also had a tap and little covered area with a hob right next to the yurt. The yurt was really spacious and would easily fit four people/a small family. Coco loved running around in the grass outside -we only have a small yard at home so it was lovely to see Coco enjoying the freedom of a big field. 

The camp site was also home to a former private jet that you can sleep on, a showmans caravan and they are currently in the process of building a UFO! It was a lovely setting and I will return for a longer stay in the future, it was a real shame to only have a weekend there. 

As we only had a weekend in West Wales we didn't try and cram too much in. We took Coco for his first swim in the sea, he wasn't keen... but he did love running along the beach and sharing an ice cream with us. There are restrictions on where you can take your dog in the high season from May to September so I recommend checking the Visit Pembrokeshire site before you head off to a beach.
We had a huuuge portion of fish and chips from Fecci's in Tenby which I can highly recommend - the light and crispy batter was perfection! Marina fish and chips in Saundersfoot is also pretty good but a tad expensive as they try to use only local and fresh ingredients.

We also visited one of our favourite spots, St David's Cathedral which I have written about previously.  The drive from Tenby to St David's is beautiful and it is worth stopping in the Oriel y Parc Gallery and Visitor Centre. The centre is the gateway to St David's, Britain's smallest city and the coastal National Park. Oriel y Parc houses a Class A Gallery displaying works of art from the National Museum Wales and staff there can help you find accommodation and plan walks in the local area.

We spent most of our weekend on Newgale beach. We didn't want Coco to be overwhelmed by screaming children and balls flying in all directions so we chose Newgale which is popular with surfers and isn't as crowded. It also has large dog friendly sections and was a little quieter than sandy beaches close to Tenby which can be overrun by tourists.

Our weekend break was a perfect chance to get Coco used to being in the car for longer periods of time before we head off on our honeymoon in September. We will be travelling around Scotland in a campervan with Coco which is going to be a lovely family adventure, I can't wait!
If you have any dog friendly recommendations for activities and locations in Scotland please leave a comment below - we will be travelling along the North Coast 500.

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Saturday, 10 June 2017

#WorldGinDay - How to make three simple gin cocktails

World Gin Day always falls on the second Saturday of June. That means that World Gin Day is TODAY. Hurrah! World Gin Day is now in its 9th year and is run by Gin Monkey with the aim of bringing gin lovers and friends together all over the world to celebrate glorious gin. You can get involved on social media using #WorldGinDay or attend a gin day event - events are listed on this map.

I don't need much of an excuse to indulge in my favourite tipple but I'm jumping on the World Gin Day bandwagon and sharing some of my favourite gin cocktails today. I love a classic G&T but cocktails are great for entertaining or a special occasion and you should really go all out for gin day. The three cocktails below are some of my favourites and are easy to create at home with limited ingredients.

world gin day 2017

First up is ...

Pink Fizz

This is a picture of a pink lady cocktail

  • A Pink Lady generally doesn't have lemon or sloe gin but this is my own twist on the classic so I've kind of freestyled it and given it a different name. There isn't any fizz, I don't know why I've called it Pink Fizz. Anyway...

  • You will need - 

  • 25ml sloe gin
  • 25ml gin
  • 1 tsp grenadine
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tbsp egg white

It's as easy as putting all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shaking hard for 30 seconds.  Empty the ice and shake again to froth up the egg white, pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with some lemon zest. 

Sunny Intervals 

I saw Edinburgh Gin everywhere on my holiday to Scotland but as we were travelling around by train with a backpack I didn't want to buy souvenirs and have lots of lovely Scottish gin weighing me down. I placed a big order of Scottish gins that I enjoyed whilst on my holiday when I returned home and this eledflower gin liqueur was one of them. It's amazing but I wasn't sure how to use it other than in a G&T. The cocktail below is really refreshing and a summery way to use the liqueur. 

this is a picture of a gin cocktail in a tall glass

40ml Edinburgh Gin
20ml Edinburgh Gin's Elderflower Liqueur
20ml freshly squeezed orange juice
20ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup (equal quantities of sugar and water)
  1. Add all the ingredients to a tall glass and stir, fill glass with ice and add a splash of soda water. You can garnish with a lemon or orange twist. Easy peasy. 

Bee's Knees

The Bee's Knees is a very easy cocktail to create from the Prohibition era. It is believed that the drink was concocted to mask the smell of the pungent bathtubs gins brewed illegally at the time and to make it more palatable. This doesn't require any specialist ingredients and couldn't be simpler. 

bee's knees cocktail

50 ml gin
20 ml Lemon juice
20 ml Honey syrup (honey and water mixed in equal quantities)

Shake all of the ingredients together with ice and strain to get a clear and crisp drink. I garnished this with some lavender from my garden but you can use lemon or thyme. You could also experiment with different types of honey like orange blossom.

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Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Travel - Pisa photo diary

Many tourists visit Pisa for just one thing – the Leaning Tower. Pisa is a shore excursion destination on a cruise or is paired with Lucca and crammed into a day trip from Florence. The tower really is an impressive sight but is only one of four beautiful structures in the stunning Campo dei Miracoli/Field of Miracles. The equally and impressive Duomo, Baptistry and Camposanto are also located on the same site and the city has a lot to offer if you venture away from the main landmarks. 

Pisa is bustling with tourists but it also has a large student population and is home to a prestigious university. I enjoyed the lively feel of the city which offers a vibrant cafe scene along with plenty of pizza and aperol spritz. Pisa was the perfect location for a trip with some of my oldest friends back at the start of April and was easily accessible from my local regional airport - Bristol. Flights cost around £65 for a return. Pisa is an ideal base for exploring Tuscany with Florence and Lucca close by and easily accessible by rail. We ventured out to explore both locations during our four day trip. Florence was around 7€ each way and Lucca was around 3€, bargain!

Things to Do in Pisa

Camposanto Monumentale - Pisa can be crowded with tourists, especially during the high season but a trip to this cemetery lets you change the pace of your trip and enjoy some quiet reflection whilst taking in the beauty of the frescoes and tombs. The Camposanto was built in the 12th century but was heavily damaged during WWII. It has been sympathetically rebuilt with 84 tombs still intact and the frescoes are looking bold and vivid after a lengthy restoration process. 

Pisa Duomo/Cathedral  This is one of the most lavishly decorated churches I have ever visited and is a fine example of a church from the Romanesque period. The cathedral was designed by architect Buscheto in 1604 and has some interesting Byzantine and Islamic influenced. Pisa was once a Maritime Republic and ships would have departed to North Africa and the Middle East and travellers and sailors would have brought these influences back to Pisa. Some noteworthy things to look out for are the mosaic of St. John the Evangelist which dates back to 1302, the pulpit and art by Beccafumi and Andrea del Sarto in the chancel.

Baptistry – Also within the same vicinity as the tower and cathedral is the Baptistry. My favourite view of Pisa was from one of the windows at the top of the stairs. You get an amazing outlook of the cathedral with the tower pocking out behind it. I paid 7€  for entry to the Baptistry and Camposanto, this ticket also let me enter the cathedral at any time I liked rather then queuing for a free, fixed time entry ticket to the cathedral. 

Borgo Stretto Borgo Stretto is a popular pedestrian zone with shops, restaurants and a market. You can find a plaque at Caffè Settimelli highlighting Galileo Galilei’s birthplace.

Ponte Di Mezzo – For a great view of Arno river and buildings looking over it head to Ponte Di Mezzo. You will get the best light early morning or late in the afternoon.

Santa Maria della Spina – This small church sits next to the Arno river and has an elaborate gothic facade. It looks really out of place next to the river and is worth a look if your taking photos at the nearby Ponte Di mezzo. 

*Top Tip - It takes around 25 minutes to walk from the central station to the Square of Miracles if you arrive by train. However, it takes only 5 minutes from Pisa San Rossore regional station*

Normally I would have lots of recommendations for places to eat and drink but to be honest all the pizza, pasta and wine we had in Pisa was wonderful and much cheaper than you might find in Florence and Venice. You can't really go wrong. My only tips are to eat away from the Leaning Tower as restaurants and cafes near the landmarks add costly cover charges per person. My other tip is to pop into La Bottega del Parco for a coffee (only 1.50!) the owner is an absolute star, so friendly and welcoming. It stood out from the majority of outlets aimed at tourists and has a lovely selection of bread, meat and cheese which you can eat in or have wrapped up to take out on a picnic. 

I stayed in a small town house which my friend found via Owners Direct. It was a 20 minute walk to the train station and an extra 5 minutes to the tower. The house was ideal for us, located in a quiet neighbourhood away from the crowds of tourists. It was also an absolute steal for about £40 a night between the 6 of us. The owner Virginia was very accommodating and popped in to give us recommendations and check that everything was ok. 

If you’re thinking of visiting Pisa I urge you to go ahead and book it. It is the perfect place for a two night weekend break or as a base for exploring the rest of Tuscany as part of a longer trip. I'll be sharing some of the highlights of my days in Lucca and Florence in separate blog posts. Caio for now! 


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Sunday, 7 May 2017

Spring Adventures with Coco in Cardiff

Introducing our Shih Tzu Coco to the family has honestly been the best move Martyn and I have ever made. Forget buying the house, getting a puppy has been so rewarding. Shih Tzu means little lion, but there’s nothing fierce about Coco (unless he's hungry) The Shih Tzu was bred purely to be a lap  dog and companion rather than a hunter. Coco is affectionate and the perfect furry friend but he's very stubborn and is going to need some training. 

To introduce Coco to the world and get him used to the sights and sounds of a busy city Martyn and I took him for a day out in Bute park in Cardiff city centre where there are lots of people, other dogs going for a walk and bikes rushing past. We had the perfect spring weather to wander around the park and let Coco explore the herbaceous border with its beautiful flowers. Coco got so much attention and we were stopped every few yards by people wanting to pick him up and pet him. 

this is a picture of a small shah tzu puppy on a lead

For our spring adventure I wore my new floral playsuit from, they have a great selection of playsuits and jumpsuits at the moment and it's perfect for running around after the dog and a spot of afternoon tea. Most of my pins on my denim jacket are gifts from Martyn and music related - a couple of Smiths pins and a Brand New one.

Floral Playsuit - c/o boohoo 
Jacket - New Look

This is a picture of a collection of enamel pins

this is a picture of a enamel pin with smiths lyrics

this is a picture of the herbaceous border in bute park

Bute Park is 130 acres of landscaped gardens and parkland that once formed the grounds of Cardiff Castle. The park is named after the 3rd Marquess of Bute, whose family owned the castle and made their fortune developing the ports in Cardiff to export coal. It's a pretty vast park and I spent a lot of time here as a student as my halls of residence backed on to the park. It was the perfect spot got revision and a post exam picnic. 

There aren't many places you can sit down and eat in the city when you have a dog but Pettigrew Tea Rooms is a great spot with a puppy friendly outdoor terrace. Pettigrew vintage-style tea room is located in the historic West Lodge building on Castle Street. You can relax and indulge in the pleasure of taking tea in sophisticated surroundings inside the lodge, or like we did, sit outside on the terrace area with views over the river Taff.

this is a picture of a male shah tzu puppy

this is a picture of a scone and a cup of tea

Whilst Martyn and I polished off huge scones and a scruptious selection of sandwiches and cakes washed down with assam tea Coco behaved beautifully. He sat next to me the whole time and let me eat in peace, I don't think he's discovered the joy of human food yet and doesn't beg for for at the table. 

This is a picture of cardiff castle

This is a picture of purple flowers in full bloom

I think our first adventure with Coco was very successful and we all thoroughly enjoyed our day out organised by I'm trying to find more dog friendly places to visit in South Wales, if you've got any recommendations please let me know. Shih Tzu dogs only need two 20 minute walks each day so we won't be taking him for a hike up Pen y Fan but it would be nice to discover some new parks or lakes where we can enjoy a family walk. 

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