Tag Archive for Wales

A Winter Trip To Bavaria

After my last trip to Germany – a disastrous few days in Berlin – I was really excited to visit the country again. And at Christmas time as well; what more could a girl want? If I wasn’t in the mood for Christmas before, after my few days in Bavaria, I definitely am now…

Flying with Flybe

As I may have mentioned a couple of times, Cardiff is a pretty great city. And we are lucky enough to have our own airport which is really up and coming, offering flights to here, there and everywhere or as they like to call it, “Wales to the World.” Which has a pretty nice ring to it. My flight to Munich was with Flybe; my first time flying with this particular company and I would 100% fly with them again. Cheap flights, great staff, and good on-board service, it’s all you need. The best thing about Flybe is their ability to offer super cheap direct flights to different destinations including Paris, Verona, Algarve and wait for it…GERMANY! I mean being able to fly to these gorgeous European cities for cheap, literally straight from my doorstep? Now that’s what I call easy travelling.

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Due to the windy weather, the flight down into Munich was a tad bumpy. However, the views from the plane definitely made up for it. With German countryside peeping through the layers of clouds, a patchwork landscape of fields, rivers and housing suddenly became clear.

Before heading off to our first stop, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, it was necessary to indulge in some proper German grub. Therefore a visit to Airbrau – the world’s only airport brewery – was in order. Pigging out on meats and cheeses and washing it down with some freshly brewed cider is definitely the best way to say “Guten Tag” to Germany.

Munich Airport is less like an airport, more like a country. It’s huge. And it’s got everything. Best of all, it’s got a Christmas Market, or more precisely a Weihnachtsmarkt. And there’s an icerink. Seriously. If the airport was anything to go by, Bavaria was going to be awesome. Due to the pretty ferocious winds, the Christmas Market was unfortunately closed so after a nasty incident involving a smashed mug blowing away in the winds (yes, it was that strong), we jumped in the car and made haste to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

The two hour drive to Garmisch allowed us to catch some stunning slights of the Alps, in all their glory. A milky, colourful sunset behind the prominence of the Alps was simply magical.

 

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Garmisch-Partenkirchen – a film-set city

Garmisch is one of those cities, that Germany is full of, that just doesn’t seem real. That look like film sets – all colourful buildings with cobbled streets and sloping roofs. After a quick walk around the place, familiarising ourselves with its charm, a visit to the Christmas Market was in order. My first, proper German Market was everything I expected. Full of twinkling lights, festive music, sizzling smells and chatting locals, it was easy to amble around and feel right at home.

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After dinner at a local restaurant, it was time to head back to the hotel for an early night and preparations for the next day. And can I just say that, the view from my hotel room was pretty spectacular. All purple haze and soft snowy mountains in the distance. I don’t get views like that at home, I’ll tell you that for nothing.

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A visit to Garmisch of course isn’t complete without a trip up the Zugspitze, or the “top of Germany”. At 2962m, Zugspitze is Germany’s highest mountain and given the right conditions, you can see 4 different countries from the summit. Of course, the day I went was not that day. It is me, after all, and bad luck seems to follow me around. This is the girl who went all the way to Hong Kong to go up Victoria Peak and ended up seeing not the promised spectacular view but a thick, dense fog.

A 40 minute cable car takes you to the first “stage” of the mountain, and the guides are more than happy to fill you in with its history along the way. The cable car was built in 1928 and took only 2 years to finish – considering that they had to dig a tunnel through a honking great mountain, that is damn impressive. We jumped out of the cable car at 2600m and were instantly greeted by a face full of snow. Now, as a resident of Britain, which gets the bare minimum of snow, this was pretty exciting. Although, my decision to wear fingerless gloves was possibly not my smartest move ever.

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We then headed up to the summit after a quick mug of steaming hot chocolate to warm up my shivering frame. Being at the top of the mountain, it was of course absolutely freezing. Due to the ferocious winds and thickening snow, there was no view at all which was highly disappointing but I guess gives me a reason to head back there when the weather is all blue skies and sparkling sunshines….

Lunch was had in Sonnelpannel, a cosy restaurant which was bustling with people and had snowy views of…well you couldn’t really see anything because of the fog but I can imagine that it’s a cracking view when the weather is good. A warm, hearty goulash equipped with a cold, hearty lager was definitely needed and was definitely appreciated. Ahhh, what a way to end my experience at the “top of Germany.”

Oberammergau

Our next port of call was Oberammergau – which is famous for three things – its painted buildings, its history of passion plays and its landmark industry, woodcarving and nativity sets. Similar to Garmisch, the buildings are all perfectly quaint and covered in colourful paintings.

The architecture in both Oberammergau and Garmisch is full of history and interesting stories. For example, the “Pilathaus” was once in discussions to be developed into a supermarket which would have completely changed Oberammergau’s quaint and peaceful streets. This kind of proposition did not go down well with the locals and soon there was a petition with the leading slogan “drink two beers less a year” to save Oberammergau. This caused every villager to spare themselves of a couple beers and instead put their money towards the restoration of the building instead. Such a great little story of community spirit and determination.

So after a brief tour of Oberammergau, we had a little peek into a Christmas shop which had been calling out to me since we passed it. And by God, does Oberammergau know how to do Christmas. It was literally like Christmas threw up. Choc-a-bloc filled with decorations, music, colour, lights, twinkles and shine….it was the perfect little Santa’s Grotto and a great place to pick up some tree decorations for folks back home.

As I mentioned earlier, Oberammergau is also famous for its woodcarving and you can tell this by looking in every window of every shop which proudly show off beautifully carved nativity sets. Having read “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey” every single Christmas Eve since I was three, I was extremely excited to see a wood carver in action. And it is extraordinary. He had a block of wood and then all of a sudden it was a face. I attempted to have a go myself,  and I’d like to say I found my calling in life and created a masterpiece but I basically just made a hole and then carved off a few slices of wood. Hm. Maybe wood carving isn’t for me then. It was very therapeutic though, I think they should consider having wood carving as part of anger management classes. That would be a great idea.

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Auf Wiedersehen

The next day meant it was time to say “goodbye” to Bavaria. I woke up horrifically early (5.30am) and could not, no matter how hard I tried, get back to sleep – which was slightly annoying but meant that I was up and ready for the day. After a light breakfast with a view of a sleepy Oberammergau, it was time to check-out and get on with the day’s activities.

With blue skies but a thick fog settling around us, we drove to our next destination – Linderhof Palace. Linderhof is one of the three palaces owned and built by King Ludwig – a man who the people of Bavaria at the time, did not like. They thought that he was selfish spending money on doing up castles when there was such poverty in his district. Ludwig spent a lot of time alone and the design of the castle reflects this – for example each room had a small room before it which the servants had to stand in and wait until they were called. The castle itself was incredible. Ludwig was inspired by history, so much of the design has taken influence from previous decades. A very extravagant place, full of colour and knick-knacks and I’ve got to say, a bloody massive bed. Honestly, it was huge. It was basically the size of a small house.

After spending a short time at the Palace and marveling at other people’s fortunes and wondering what the heck I was doing with my life, it was time to head back to Munich airport. After check-in, there was some time to have a wander around the Christmas Market before boarding the plane. Wandering around a Christmas Market has got to be my favourite way to wait for a flight. Perfect end to a perfect, Christmassy trip.

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So, flying back to Cardiff equipped with my Kindle, a cup of tea and a four finger KitKat (luxurious, I know), I was sad to say goodbye to the bright blue wintery skies of Bavaria and the land of Christmas. Honestly, of all days, why did the weather decide to perk up when I’m leaving? This was possibly the best weather for a trip to the Zugspitze! Oh well, maybe next year…

 

 

Some Wonders of Wales

Wales is a beautiful country and definitely one worth a visit. I’m being completely and utterly biased here of course having lived here my entire life, but honestly, Wales is stunning. When I went travelling the first time on a three month trip, I was so excited to leave Wales and explore some of the world, I was sure that I wouldn’t miss it at all. But I did; I missed the green countryside, the vast mountains, the humdrum of Cardiff. It was strange, but the place I spent the longest in, New Zealand, reminded me so much of home. Maybe that’s why I loved it so much, a home away from home on the opposite end of the world. Similar weather, similar vast, green spaces and of course, the sheep. Lots and lots of sheep.

Living in Cardiff, I have access to lots of great places. I’m a 20 minute drive away from Cardiff city centre and a 40 minute drive from the Brecon Beacons. Not too shabby really. From city to country, I pretty much have it all. I mean come on, there’s an actual Castell Coch literally right on my doorstep.

I’m going to share with you some of my favourite places in South Wales. Not sure if anyone will care that greatly but hey, I’m feeling the need to write something and this was the best I could come up with.

Exploring Southerndown

Number 1 is Southerndown beach. A typical Welsh beach situated in Ogmore, near Bridgend and about a 40 minute drive from where I live. A pebble beach with satin seas, surrounded by steep, jagged cliffs, this is a beautiful place for a walk. You can walk along the cliff tops, taking in the view and listen to the waves crashing against the shoreline (possibly one of my favourite sounds ever). There’s even the remains of a castle, Dunraven Castle, which you can explore – what a great location for a castle, someone chose wisely there. I’m not sure why I love it here so much, but everytime I go, I just feel slightly more relaxed, like I’m blowing the cobwebs away.

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Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons

A second favourite of mine is Pen Y Fan. Situated in the Brecon Beacons, it is one of Wales’ highest peaks. The drive alone, is incredible. With panoramic views and winding roads, it’s definitely a sight to remember. The walk up Pen Y Fan is pretty memorable as well and it is always teeming with happy walkers and joggers. Hikers are very happy people who always smile and say “hello”; I always think that if everyone treated each other the way hikers treat each other, the world would be a much nicer place. The views from this mountain are stunning and stretch for miles. Never ending greenery, rolling hills and fresh water lakes, it’s just amazing when/if you get to the top and are able to take it all in.

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The Garth, Gwaelod-y-Garth

The Garth is a firm favourite of mine. A mountain, about ten minutes from where I live which overlooks the whole of Cardiff – from Cardiff Bay to the Millenium Stadium and even a cheeky spot of Flat Holme and Steep Holme. Whilst these views might not be quite as magnificent as from Pen y Fan, the Garth is a place which I love to go. It’s a relatively gentle mountain and not too steep a climb and there’s plenty of points along the way where you can sit down and appreciate the view. Located just outside of Cardiff, near Pentrych and Gwaelod-y-Garth, this is the perfect place to come for an outer city experience.

Sidenote: this mountain also played a lead role in a film starring Hugh Grant!

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Wales, the land of castles

Now, Wales is known for its castles. Its glorious and grand castles, full of vibrant history and interesting stories. I mean, there’s even one in Cardiff City Centre, standing grand amongst the modern shops and busy commuters.

Whilst Wales is full of beautiful castles, one of my favourites has got to be Castell Coch. A castle which is conveniently located on my doorstep. Okay, so not quite on my doorstep but I’m pretty sure I can see it from my house. Hiding amongst the trees, peeping out over the village of Tongwynlais and very much visable from the majority of surrounding roads, this is a 19th century castle with a rich history. Now an interesting tourist destination, you can wander around the inside and learn about its former occupants.

There’s also some great walks to be had around this area – beautiful woods and even a small tea rooms to reward yourself with afterwards.

So there you have it. A few of my favourite places in my home country. This of course, is only a small part of what’s on offer – there is so much more going on in the rest of Wales. Snowdonia, in North Wales, is definitely a place I would like to explore. Having been there once on a Geography school trip which consisted of studying rocks and then getting drunk in the accommodation, I didn’t see or appreciate as much as I would’ve liked. There’s all sorts up there now – even a zipwire – the longest in Europe – soaring across the mountain, I’m sure offering some pretty surreal views. Now that’s one for the bucket list…

Whilst the world is huge and there’s a lot to explore, sometimes taking a look around your home country is a good substitute for curing that travel bug. What’s your favourite places in your home city?

Lady Jane’s Emporium & Tea Rooms

It’s no secret that I love a good tea rooms. Therefore it seemed like the only logical decision to go off and explore another local tea room on my day off.

So my mum and I drove on over to Pentyrch – a village around a ten minute drive from where I live – and headed to Lady Jane’s Emporium & Tea Rooms, a small tea shop that my mum had heard about through Facebook (ah Facebook, it is good for some things after all. You know, aside from the casual stalking and inane posts that people post about their lives that others really just don’t care about).

Inside Lady Jane’s, was delightful. Small and cute and with only one other group in there, we had the place to ourselves. After placing our order (carrot cake for me and caramel for the mum), we headed on upstairs to explore some more. With an old fashioned vibe and soft music floating up from downstairs, we looked through the different knick knacks that were on sale. Cards, Roald Dahl books and pillows, Welsh signs, paintings…all made by local people and all extremely tempting to buy.

There’s so much more on offer as well – there’s breakfast bits like bacon sarnies and tea cakes, there’s lunch time sandwiches and of course, there’s the delicious home made cakes.

Lady Jane’s is definitely a place that I am going to visit again. It’s the perfect place if you want somewhere cute, cosy and cost effective that’s not in Cardiff Centre and is the place to be for a catch up over something light with friends.

I may have to control my tea and cake habits. It’s getting serious. With this place being right on my door step, I’m actually concerned for my self. Can you be addicted to afternoon tea? Is there like a group I can join or something?

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Cardiff’s Street Food Circus

Nestled amongst Cardiff’s ever growing food and drink culture is pop up market, Street Food Circus. Open throughout May and June and in walking distance from the city centre, this is the place to be if you’re after some great food and lively atmosphere.

2015-05-16 09.30.30I headed there after a long week of work, eager to spend some down time with good food and good company. Walking into the market is almost like walking into another city. So separate from Cardiff’s usual hustle and bustle of urbanisation, this offers something different, something exciting. A big circus tent filled with tables, and most importantly, a bar (it had been a long week, okay?), makes up the middle of the grounds, surrounded by twinkling lights and food trucks offering all kinds of delicious street food from Greek to Indian, from fish to steak.

After settling our stomachs with (incredibly messy to eat, yet lip smackingly tasty) souvlaki (Meat and Greek) followed by Dirty Fried Chicken, we headed on over to the crème brûlée truck and tucked into a beautifully satisfying sticky toffee one topped with salted caramel. Of course, with our eyes bigger than out stomachs we did not stop there. With our naughty little fingers we grabbed at the chance of indulging in churros with chocolate sauce. And my, was it worth it. Sod the diet. I choose churros and chocolate over bikini body any day of the week.

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Street Food Circus, hiding under the bridge of the rail line is the perfect blend of lively chatter, sparkling lights and delicious foods. And with Summer fast approaching, this is the place to head if you’re a devoted foodie. It’s a literal foodie Heaven. Enjoy!

Spring In Your Step

A sunny spring day means only one thing: a gentle amble around some local beauty spots and a spot of tea in the afternoon sunshine.

It’s always exciting when the sun comes out in Britain. I mean, it doesn’t happen often does it? So when it does, everyone goes a little crazy. Shorts come on, sunglasses get out, beer gardens open up and everyone just seems a little bit merrier with a little bit more of a spring in their step.

And I am no different.

Last week’s blue skies allowed for a lovely walk around local beauty spot Castell Coch. Castell Coch – a beautiful fairy tale castle peeping out amongst the trees, a mere 10 minutes from my house – is the perfect place to spend a morning walking. Surrounded by an enchanting forest, myself and a friend enjoyed a pleasant amble which ended at some tea rooms where we indulged in toasted sandwiches and a spot o’ tea. Perfect.

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With the sun still shining brightly (and hotly…good job I’m always prepared with the factor 50. Curse my pale skin), a quick trip to the beach was in order. A short 40 minute drive away from where I live, Rest Bay is a beautiful beach and a surfer paradise (if only I could surf…)

So, with our shoes off, we ambled across the sand and dipped our feet in the (freezing) sea and explored the rocky platforms before heading back to Cardiff for some well deserved cocktails in the sun.

Oh Spring, you’re being far too kind.

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Meet Emily Donnan Courtade

Not bragging or anything, but I have a friend who’s this close to becoming Miss Wales 2015. A beautiful friend. A beautiful, brainy friend. A beautiful, brainy and all round amazing person friend.

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So, Miss Emily Donnan Courtade; Cardiff born, Cardiff bred, the beautiful genes of a Spanish princess, the brains of a final year law student, motivated, generous, hard working and yeah, okay, she can be quite funny sometimes.

Wait, why am I friends with her again?

With her natural beauty, easy going personality and giving nature, it’s no wonder she’s powering her way through each stage of the competition. A dedicated law student, Emily uses as much time as she can partaking in charitable organisations, more recently running in the Cardiff Half Marathon where she was raising money for Raleigh International, a organisation she’s had experience with before. Last summer, Emily volunteered to travel to the heart of the Costa Rican Jungle with Raleigh and spent the summer building a school for the young children who lived there, describing it as one of the most incredible experiences ever. This eye-opening experience only propelled her to dedicate herself more and more to charitable organisations, designed to improve the lives of people everywhere, and is already planning her next trip, to Nepal as part of a Childreach programme.

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A hardworking Law and French student at Cardiff University, Emily spent a year studying in Toulouse, where she built on her knowledge of the French language as well as experiencing the wonder that is Law…in a foreign country. Crikey. I couldn’t even stand Law for the three weeks I studied it in England, let alone doing it in a foreign country.

Not only is she one of the best friends a girl could have – full of fun, laughter and jolly good times, she’s also a huge family girl, who loves to spend as much time as possible with the people she loves the most. With roots from El Salvador, she travels there as much as possible in order to spend time with her close knit relatives.

So there she is. Miss Wales Finalist 2015; Miss Emily Donnan Courtade. Full of happiness and giggles, kindness and aspirations – this is the girl who is taking Cardiff by storm, this is the girl I’m proud to call one of my closest friends, this is your Miss Wales Finalist, 2015.

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Jaunty up Pen y Fan

Swanning around Europe for three weeks made me want to get out of my city and experience more of Wales’ beauty. So me and my fellow interrailer hit the road and headed for the Brecon Beacons, a mountain range just outside of Cardiff in order to walk up Pen y Fan. Driving along, we were able to preview some of the incredible views – rolling mountains and fresh greenery stretching out in front of us broken up by gorgeous reservoirs tucked in amongst the hills. Upon arrival, we parked up, packed our bags with water and snacks (of course) and made our way over to the mountain in front of us.

Feeling confident and prepared, we began our ascent. However, as we made our way up, we began to doubt our hasty decision to start climbing up the first mountain we came across. We stopped, turned around, and saw on the opposite side of the road, Pen y Fan and a very easily accessible walkers path which ran in a massive circle around the mountain. Okay. Smooth. We trudged back down the random hill we had just climbed, shook ourselves off, pretended it didn’t happen, and started again. I honestly don’t know how we made it around Europe in one piece.

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Okay. This is going okay. I can do this. I puffed as the path began to spiral into a gentle slope up the mountain. Okay. Yeah. This is fine. I huffed as the gentle slope turned into a steep ascent. Okay. Maybe it’s time for a quick break. I stood and surveyed my surroundings, spotting the delicate reservoirs in the distance and the expanse of mountain range around me. Pretty impressive.

The path dipped down into a small lake and it was at this point where my ankle started to burn with the familiar pain of a blister. I took of my walking boot, shoved a couple plasters on it and picked up what I thought were the rements of the plaster packaging but was in fact sheep poo. Yep. I just picked up poop. Life can only get better. I dipped my fingers into the nearby water and shook myself off again. And then subsequently stepped into a muddy marsh, my boot oozed down with squelchy mud. Great. I am not a country girl, obviously.2014-09-09 16.20.42

My friend strode on ahead, leaving me lagging behind with burning thighs, streaming nose and dangerously close to passing out. I really should invest more in this whole exercise thing. I stopped again in order to get a few snaps of the landscape and to you know, learn to breathe normally again, and took in the world around me.  Simply breathtaking – being a city girl and being mid-way up a mountain with only fresh land, blue skies and rolling hills around me. I was basically alone by now, my friend was so far ahead she was just a small dot on the horizon. I tried to catch up, I honestly did but my legs are not equipped for that kind of strenuous exercise. And then a jogger ran past me, casually jogging like he hadn’t a care in the world, smiling at me and saying “hey”. Seriously?  Jogging? Up a mountain? No.

Limping on my blistered feet and breathing heavily, the summit was in sight. My friend sitting there all smug and happy and eating some snacks. I was nearly there! Too bad there was still a massive steep rocky ascent for me to get up.

It’s worth it once you get to the top! Passer-bys laughed as they leisurely walked past me as they made their way down. Shut up.

Finally, what felt like seven hours later, I made it to the summit. And it was amazing. You could see for miles, miles and miles of open land and fresh air, making the passer-bys right. It is definitely worth it. 2014-09-09 15.24.54 2014-09-09 16.04.56 2014-09-09 16.03.17

 

We ate our picnic, enjoying the view and appreciating Wales’ beauty. As we made our descent back down Pen y Fan, we realised that going down was definitely a lot more boring. As a guy bounded down the hill, running without a care in the world, jumping over rocks, flinging himself down the mountain and generally looking like he was having a damn good time, I was tempted to join in and get down faster but then I realised that I would almost definitely face plant the ground. So I didn’t.

I hit the bottom, sweaty, thirsty, red-faced, hobbling on blistered feet and with sheep poo rements on my hands but I still felt rather victorious. Never again though, mind.

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Pen y Fan and the Brecon Beacons are worth a visit, showcasing Wales’ best qualities – stunning panoramics, rolling mountains, fresh, green land and lots and lots of sheep. And sheep poop. Do not. Pick up. The poop.