Climbing Snowdon

Those of you who have read my first post will know that I turned 30 this year – prompting me to review, reflect and plan my travel goals for the next decade. One of my aims, was to explore as much of Great Britain as I could. We booked a few days in Wales over Easter and were blown away by the breathtaking and captivating beauty of Snowdonia. We stayed on Anglesey, an island off the north-west coast of Wales, surrounded by stunning coastlines and beaches. For the past seven years, I have longed to return to New Zealand, a country that without a doubt, leaves a huge impression on everyone that visits. Wales definitely filled that hole and left me shocked, that such beauty could be found only a two-hour drive from Manchester!

Anyway, as part of our stay, we had decided to attempt a hike up Snowdon – the highest mountain in Wales, and the highest point in the British Isles outside the Scottish Highlands. I’m not going to lie, currently I’m not the fittest I have ever been, but I felt prepared enough to give it a go.

It’s important to note here that we did do our research. We weren’t able to find a great number of books, but purchased ‘The Ascent of Snowdon’, by E.G.Rowland on Amazon for £2.99. We did laugh when it arrived, as it was tiny and first published in 1975. However, it proved to be one of the most useful things we read (as well as information online – climb-snowdon.co.uk have some great guides and tips).

The Ascent of Snowdon: The Six Classic Routes Up Snowdon

We decided to park in Llanberis and take the Llanberis Path (the gentle one), 5 miles/8km long, total ascent of 980m/3,198ft. It was very busy, we were overtaken by plenty of children and young families – which did nothing for my self-esteem. Although the first couple of km were steep, it soon became easier.

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After approximately two hours, we reached the Halfway Cafe, which sells everything from coffees to cupasoups, homemade cakes to fridge magnets. There’s no running water up the mountain, so the cafe’s owner has to carry water, food and gas bottles two miles uphill every day. We refueled and warmed up, before taking on the next few km up to the train station at Clogwyn.

The Snowdon Mountain Railway runs from Llanberis to the summit in the Summer months, but currently only travels to Clogwyn, due to the snow. An online adult return stands at £29.00.

By now, we were walking into deep snow and many families with younger children were choosing this point to turn around. We continued towards the summit, where conditions became slightly treacherous and scary. Where the snow was powdery and fresh earlier in the day, the sheer volume of hikers had turned it to ice, and even with good walking boots, the ascent was slippery and hard work. Visibility was also now poor.

The final ascent to the summit was understandably tough, not just due to the volume of hiker traffic, but the snow here was extremely thick and the steps were covered in ice. However, the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment at the top was unreal. Never had I ever thought that I would be able to achieve something like this! Exercise is not usually my strong point. Unfortunately, the summit was engulfed by a thick grey cloud, therefore we couldn’t see anything from the top. Also, my iPhone couldn’t cope with the cold and died. Goodbye Facebook profile photo selfie…

As wonderful as it was to reach the top, the realisation that we had to begin our descent, down the icy, crowded steps, hung over us. However, if the man with a baby on his back – yes, a baby on his back – could do it, then we could. We decided to take the train track path (not necessarily a suggested route), as the snow was fresher, and didn’t seem as treacherous. We ended up following a group of hikers onto the Snowdon Ranger Track, which was also fairly easy and takes you down a beautiful route, providing some pretty spectacular views on a quieter path. Once to main, steep descent was over, we were completely alone, leaving us to enjoy the stunning views of the mountain we had just conquered (minus the cloud, which had now disappeared).

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The Snowdon Ranger Track finished at the Snowdon Ranger Youth Hostel, which was nowhere near our car. This is a massive mistake we made, so take note! We were aware that there is a bus which connects all the paths, allowing you to use two different routes and get a lift back to your car. Unfortunately, although only just 5:00pm, we had missed the last bus and had no mobile phone signal. There was also nobody in the YHA. Hmmm.

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Luckily, a lone YHA worker happened to cycle past and called us a cab. My legs were now dead and the quickest route back to Llanberis would have been back up the Snowdon Ranger Track and 1.5 miles over a hill – not something my legs would have allowed.

All in all, a fantastic experience, although it has taken nearly a week to walk properly again. We were as prepared as we could be, took plenty of water, chocolate and layers, and made it all the way to the top.

So the question now is, do we complete the set and climb Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. We have trips to The Lake District and Ben Nevis booked for this year? Have you climbed all three and completed the three peaks?

 

 

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How Wales Cured My New Zealand Withdrawal

I doubt that you will ever meet someone who has left New Zealand without falling in love with the country’s majestic, captivating landscapes. Even though I last visited the country nearly seven years ago, I never hesitate to exclaim that is the country I dream about returning to on a daily basis.

As part of our ‘turning 30’ lists, we had decided to spend more time exploring Britain. Therefore, we booked a short 3-night break to North Wales. We stayed in Holyhead, Angelsey – which gifted us with a beautiful view of Snowdonia National Park. From there, it was a 40 minute drive to Snowdon. Photos from @foreacharoad.

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Pentraeth – Red Wharf Bay

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Holyhead – South Stack

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Hiking Mount Snowdon

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Holyhead – Trearddur

Of course, nothing will ever live up to our beloved NZ, but the beauty of Snowdonia and North Wales, is a taste of Aotearoa, 90 minutes from Manchester.

We are on the hunt for other destinations around the United Kingdom that help to heal the withdrawal symptoms of other faraway beauties…

 

Eating our way through Budapest

 

When sat at home on cold, winter weekends, I take to pinterest like a madwoman and start researching our next trip. For some reason, when it came to Budapest, I was rather taken by the photos and reviews of food and restaurants. Usually, we’re the ‘grab-a-slice-of-pizza-on-the-go’ type people, but something about the eclectic and highly-regarded food on offer, caught my eye. Being an extremely fussy pescatarian (which is just a fancy word for a vegetarian that eats fish), this was a big deal. So, as well as all the amazing things that this incredible city has to offer, here’s what and where we ate…

Day one:

Those that follow on Instagram (if you don’t, please do) will have seen my gushing review of Zona, a ‘contemporary cuisine inspired by travels’, which is featured in the Budapest wallpaper guide. We were not disappointed. We arrived around 6pm and although pretty much every table had a ‘reserved’ sign on it, we were the only people in the restaurant for the duration of our stay. We went straight to mains, however the food was so amazingly inviting, we tucked in straight away without photographing. I had the gnocchi, while A devoured the rack of lamb – claiming that it was ‘one of the best meals he had ever had’. Not sure whether I should have taken offence to that? We followed main courses with (the most incredible) sticky toffee puddings. Washed down with two glasses of wine each, we were left with change from £50 and me desperately looking in an online thesaurus for more
synonyms for ‘amazing’.
Day two:
We began the day with a flat white and a banana bread to go from the very cool Espresso Embassy before heading off to Parliament. A lovely, relaxed and authentic cafe, where the owners are quite clearly passionate about good coffee.
For lunch, we went to Jack’s Burger – somewhere with great tripadvisor reviews and a Pinterest fav. Smashing, authentic American burgers, served in a cute little paper tray with proper American fries. Bloody loved it. I (of course) went for the fried cheese ‘vega burger’, which was pretty damn amazing – almost halloumi like, with an incredibly little sauce and fried onions. I was in one of those food induced weird states of mind, where every mouthful is greeted with an intense nod of the head and an ‘mmmmmmm’ sound, as if it’s completely different from the last. A had the cheese burger and responded to my nods, as appropriate. As well as burgers, Jack’s sells pizza by the slice and fried chicken and fish. Nice.
We followed Jack’s with a trip to Gelarto Rosa because it was pretty much next door, and I’d been dreaming of this moment since we first booked our flights. Gelarto Rosa, is a beautifully quaint and…unique little ice cream parlour, that sells ice creams (as well as waffles etc) in the shape of roses. There isn’t a huge selection of flavours on offer, but that doesn’t matter, as you can choose up to four different flavours to make your flower. We had chocolate, mango and Oreo, although in hindsight, I should have gone for salted camamel instead of the mango. For three flavours, we paid just under £2. I love this country.
Due to the horrendous weather, we decided to continue our tour of ‘Foodapest’ and visit the renowned New York Cafe – which proclaims to be ‘the most beautiful cafe in the world’. Now, we only called in for a drink – I had a hot chocolate, A had a mint tea…and don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful setting. Stunning building and decor, with a resident pianist tinkling away, but we have enjoyed coffee in nicer settings. This makes me sound like a right snob, but when you have taken afternoon tea at The Ritz or The Dorchester, it is hard to find anything else that compares. It is definitely a tourist hot spot and one for a good Instagram photo, but I would argue that it is over priced and not as life changing as it makes out.
Now, moving on to something that WAS life changing. The outstanding Comme Chez Soi. After reading the gushing tripadvisor reviews, I wondered if this little gem was too good to be true. How wrong was I? This restaurant is an absolute must for anyone visiting Budapest, but I must reiterate what so many reviewers had emphasised – you must book. This beautiful Italian restaurant has only eight tables and the waitors must have turned away at least thirty people while we were there. Some had walked miles to get there and were quite rightly gutted. Now the best thing about this restaurant – the service. We were treated like kings. So many complimentary dishes and drinks between courses, each explained in depth. Even when A had to go to the cash point, a waitress accompanied him to make sure he didn’t get lost, and I was given a magazine to read while I waited.
Each course was delicious and full of Italian spirit. We had bruchetta and rocket salad to start, lasagne and salmon taglietelle for mains and shared a chocolate cake for dessert. With two glasses of wine each, we paid approximately £43. An absolute steal. We were even given a box of chocolates to take home.
Day three:
Day three was dry, so was all about the 9-mile trek from sight to sight. Therefore, I survived on a cheese scone, a peach ice tea and a snickers until 5pm. This is when I finally got to enjoy ‘Hot Dog Cold Beer’. I say enjoy, more like experience. No veggie hot-dog. Now, I know even the thought that I should expect a vegetarian option at a hot-dog restaurant will anger many, but this is the 21st century we are living in. Anyway, A enjoyed a ‘New York’ dog, while I went for the chips on stick. Literally, a whole potato, spiraled into crisp thin slices, skewered and fried. Actually, not too bad. Unfortunately though, the draft beer wasn’t on, so we had to go for a fairly warm tin of Heineken instead. It was cool to stand outside however, and enjoy our hot-dog (crisps on stick) and warm beer, while watching the sky darken over the Basilica.
Dinner at Padthai Wokbar was really cool. Leading away from the Basilica are some really lovely little restaurants and this really took our fancy. You choose your noodles, up to four toppings and a sauce and your food is ready in around 5/10 minutes. It’s all cooked fresh, and the place had a real cool buzz. Lots of people, lots of locals and a really good vibe. The Padthai was delicious too, washed down with a chang beer, and lots of reminiscing about eating street food in Bangkok.
A cheeky little return to Gelarto Rosa, to make amends for the mango slip up. This time: salted caramel panacotta, chocolate and Oreo. Winner.
Finally, a well-deserved glass of wine from DiVino Borbar, a contemporary little wine bar that houses a huge collection of wine. We tasted the wine before we chose, and reading reviews online, the bartenders will happily let you try as many as you want before you find the one for you. It was busy and lively inside, so we opted to enjoy ours outside, with the beautiful backdrop of the Basilica. We did discuss how sitting on high bar stools, on the edge of a platform could prove costly for those that choose to indulge in several glasses.
Day four:
After checking out, we headed to the quaint ‘A la Maison Breakfast and Brunch’, a family run restaurant, with an extensive breakfast menu. Quite frankly, there was almost too much on their cute looking menus, which were not organised particularly well. I thought I had decided, to turn the page and find another list of mouth-watering dishes. After much deliberation, I decided on the eggs Florentine, with a twist. It was served with a Camembert sauce and cashew nuts – an interesting combination. A nice little restaurant, didn’t blow me away and wasn’t particularly cheap in relation to general food costs in Budapest, but it hit the spot.
Budapest really is an incredible city and the food (as I am sure you can tell) was a highlight. I would love to know whether you have eaten at any of these places and what your views are? What did I miss?

My Hidden Treasure Chest…

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 
So, our first expedition of 2016 begins tomorrow, with a 3-night getaway to Budapest. We will be staying in the impressive looking Prestige Hotel, which has been open for less than a year. 

I am interested in hearing what your top tips for this beautiful city are (Note, I am interested in eating a lot while I am there!)
Also, when changing money up yesterday, I was told that it was a popular city for firemen…I’m not quite sure what that means!?

The Northern Lights – Amazing Adventures

So, on to the main event. We sat down a few years ago and wrote our own bucket lists. We have tried over the past few years to cross off as much as we could – or at least plan opportunities to do so. My husband has been very determined, and especially as he is also coming up to the big 30 (see previous post on turning 30 and planning achievable goals) has been hammering his. Mine have ranged from the sublime to the absolute ridiculous, but one goal we both had in common was to see the northern lights.
We knew that catching even a glimpse of the aurora was not going to be a sure thing, and made sure that our expectations were kept to a minimum. However, with the greatest will in the world, that’s easier said than done.
There are hundreds of tour companies offering tours of all shapes and sizes – plus, there is the option of hiring a car and going solo. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this option though, unless you’re a meteorology expert…or a psychic. Tour guides (generally) are the experts, and we were so extremely lucky to see what we did.
Tours were cancelled on the day we arrived due to cloud.
Most tour companies offer the opportunity to book onto the following night’s tour if yours is cancelled, so I strongly recommend booking your tour for the first night you arrive. You can also check the aurora forecast online, which helped us to manage our expectations up to a week before arriving.
We were told on the second night that we had 50/50 chance of seeing something, so tours went ahead. We had decided to book through Amazing Tours Iceland, who picked us up from our apartment in, what can only be described as a monster truck. We travelled in cohort with three other vehicles and our driver was fantastic. We left Reykjavik at 9.00pm and drove for approximately 90 minutes towards Vesturland, where there was a break in cloud and the only possibility of seeing the northern lights. However, hope faded slightly as we ventured further and further into the wilderness.
Shortly before 10.30pm, as luck would have it, the aurora appeared above us, dancing away.

 

Now. I have to say, it was not exactly what we expected. No bright colours, or powerful glow. I hope nobody thinks less of me for saying this, but I did half expect the northern lights scene from ‘The Snowman’. Alas, there was no dance of the snowmen. The aurora did reappear stronger and stronger in all different shapes and sizes and our driver did take photographs of all of us with his incredible camera, which showed the lights in all its glory – even if that wasn’t what we could see with the naked eye. I will warn you, to capture the aurora effectively, you will need some hefty photographic equipment. Maybe, as we had a fairly cloudy evening, it was extra difficult to take effective photographs. The team at Amazing Tours took some incredible footage, which they shared with us all for free via their Facebook page the following day. They are also keen to send high resolution copies to you directly on request – a good touch. Our driver was a professional photographer of the northern lights, therefore has a vested interest in finding them every night. This, we felt, gave us the upper hand in our chase, compared to the bigger operators in larger coaches.
The finale of mother nature’s natural light display was, by far, the best. The brightest, most colourful beam yet, danced and floated on the spot above us, like a mermaid’s tail, before disappearing for good.

 

An incredible experience, one we will never forget, we were lucky to see and has left us wanting more. Amazing Tours gave us the personal experience and expertise that we wanted, ensuring that if there was even the slightest opportunity to see the aurora, they would find it. Speaking to others, who had chosen the bigger tour companies, they had not been so lucky. The tours were cancelled again the following night.
The Magical Northern Lights from Amazing Tours cost 22.000ISK per person for approximately 4 hours. Pick up is from your hotel/apartment and if conditions are not right, tours are rescheduled for another night.