Wednesday 10 November 2010


We were up very early the next morning as we were off for a day trip to Morocco! Got the ferry no problem (although it left late) and a free bus from Tangier Med port (60km away) to Tangier. Explored a bit. Ate (yummy!!!) and explored some more. The marketplace or Old Medina, was awesome and just as I had imagined it would be with lots of alleyways and twists and turns so you get completely lost and mixed around. Had some Moroccan mint tea at one of the first tea houses in Tangier (represented by the fact the phone number only had 4 digits). Found some nice older monuments and the old wall which is not crumbling down the cliff. Bought some nice souvenirs and then headed back after about 8 hours in tangier. Hotel = bed time.

Tangier was easily enjoyed within a day, but I am very sure that the rest of Morocco has a different aspect and part to enjoy and we would recommend exploring it.

Wednesday 27 October 2010


We arrived at the perfect time into Gibraltar as there were no lines to get through customs.

Drove up the Rock and had a great view over Africa and Spain. Within the national park we eventually found the monkeys =) and enjoyed their exploits a lot, until one that was on our car fell off, and in doing so, ripped off our back window wiper (thankfully we fixed it - mostly - so that the rental company shouldn't find out). Getting out of Gibraltar took a bit longer, which seemed pointless as they didn't even do customs check this time! Got to our hotel and pretty much just went to bed.

Just a quick stop in Gibraltar, but in all seriousness there truly isn't much there apart from the monkeys.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Around Southern and Central Spain

We have just got back from an epic adventure to the Moorish lands. Having mid terms meant a week off from work, so we got cheap Ryanair tickets to Ciudad Real in Spain. We arrived in late to Ciudad Real but that didn't seem to matter too much, as our host was amazing. We had a very nice typical Spanish meal, and went out for a walk around his small village of Argamasilla de Calatrava. Saw a ruin of the Inquisition, and the "river".  A good sleep, and then the next morning we were off.

Cordoba was the first official stop of our trip. Our primary target was the mesquite, which is the 3rd biggest mosque in the world, that was converted into a church (although apart from the paintings it still looks like a mosque) after the Spainish Christians took Cordoba back from the invading moors. This place was amazingly cool (temperature) and looked fantastic. The painted arches and detail in the marble was spectacular. Took quite a while to walk around this place before we headed off to explore the rest of Cordoba which was equally nice with the mixture of Moorish, spanish and roman architectural remains present everywhere. Had the worst lunch of the trip and then we headed off to the lake district north in another province. Was very pretty and remote area! Afterwards headed to our host for the night in Villanueva de Cordoba. Here we had a great time walking through the country village and having a typical Spanish bar experience.

The next day after a lovely breakfast we were off to explore the national park north of Seville. The road here was crazy, it was obviously only built to access a mine that used to be in the middle and hasn't been repaired or worked on since, so it was very slow going, but very nice scenery. Saw some birds doing some weird swarming technique (like vultures over a carcass but with at least 50+ birds), no idea what they were. And saw some deer which was impressive as it is rutting season in Spain. Next stop was Italica, just a few mins north of Seville, which has the 3rd largest preserved Roman ampithitheatre. The ampitheatre was a clear winner for the best thing of this preserved Roman village, as it was very interesting to see the construction and at one point where it had fallen in. Down to Seville where we met our hosts and sorted out a Flamenco show for the night. Explored the riverside and saw some great buildings. The best thing was <span>Plaza de EspaƱa</span> which has a little marble display from every province/major area in Spain. It was also used in the Star Wars 2 (new ones) movie. Went to a very good flamenco show (at least dancing wise) there was this one guy who was mad crazy fast with his feet, so amazing. However their body language didn't exude the feeling I had expected.

 The next day we headed off south, firstly to Cadiz, which is actually an island of the south western coast of Spain. It had some interesting architecture and a fort stuck out at sea which reminded us of the white mosque in Mumbai, India. But sadly the view over the southern coast of spain was marred by something and we couldn't see all the way down to tarifa. Took ages to get out, but finally were on the road again to Bolonia which is a fantastic beach just north of Tarifa. It was amazing how this one place has great kite surfing (fun to watch), massive sand dunes, great beach, and a large Roman village!!! The village was very cool with  a theatre and mostly preserved forum. Could also walk on the old roads, as well as, see the remains of  the tombs of the dead outside of the city. Didn't end up stopping in Tarifa as we could see all the kite surfing as we were driving along, and just plowed onto Gibraltar (with a side stop in Algeciras to check out the parking of the next morning). We arrived at the perfect time into Gibraltar as there were no lines to get through customs.

See Gibraltar
See Morocco

 After our amazing trip to Morocco we headed north to the beach town of Nerja. Here the beaches are surrounded by cliffs and have a dramatic look to them. Good lunch then off for a swim in what was quite cold, but clear, water. Was the first time I been swimming in the ocean in a year (despite living by the seaside, Southend isn't a place you go to the beach, every swim gives you a 1/10 chance of a eye, ear, throat infection, yummy Thames/ocean area). Really enjoyed the fresh feeling of salt water. Headed off to Granada to see Alhambra. From the outside this place doesn't quite do anything for anyone, but once you are inside the incredible artistry and craftsmanship of each piece of the wall, floor and amazing ceilings, is breathtaking. Loved the marble carvings throughout the palace. After here headed to our host in Orgiva which is on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Had a great night.

Off to a great town Capileira which is up high (1500m) in the mountains.  A great view over the surrounding valleys and interesting chimneys (they have a unique design in this area). Was quite cold as the weather was changing so we didn't stay long and headed back down hill to head to Jaen. Sadly the weather ruined the day a bit and we couldnt' see as well as we should have, but saw the castle and enjoyed the town of Jaen before heading to Baeza which is a UNESCO town, and actually probably shouldn't be one. There wasn't that much there to look at, and the smell from the factory in the valley below was enough to force you to stay in your car. Off to  Mancha Real to stay the night where we had a feast of local seafood and great times.
 Next morning headed to Banos de la Encina, which has one of the oldest castles in Europe. It was amazing how well preserved it was. On route to Toledo we saw the very famous 12 white windmills of Consuerga (from Don Quixote ). It was so windy a top the hill here that I was almost blown over at one point. thanks to the wind we could also hear the sounds of the fiesta for Halloween from the village below. Toledo was great fun and the viewpoint we firstly had over the city was amazing. It is a cliff top town surrounded by rivers with very old majestic buildings. Had a decent lunch here and explored a bit before head sadly to our late flight back.

The airport at Ciudad Real is worth a mention, as its the first privately built airport in Spain and usually has at most 1 flight a day, despite the fact it is capable of having 4 flights coming and going at once. It felt very sad to be in this fancy nice new airport and being the only flight there.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Southern France

This past weekend, Martin and I flew over to the lovely area of Southern France for a friends wedding. We arrived into Marsielle MP2 airport, which is pretty much just for the cheap airlines (such as ryanair) fly into, so everything looked quite budget. Which was in stark contrast to the wonderful surroundings that we drove through on our journey.

 After finally getting through the bad traffic just outside of the airport, we were on our way to Grau du Roi, which is the beach of Le Grau du Roi town. Along the route we saw some very Mediterranean scenery and the best bit, was wild flamingos. The area around Grau du Roi, is full of salt marshes, which is actually where there is quite a bit of salt production occurring and therefore a great area to find the flamingos. We arrived to Grau du Roi, to find a very nice seaside city/town. The sand between my toes felt great, as despite the fact that we live in Southend-on-Sea, we dont have real sand. The water was a let down here, even though it was shallow, it was freezing and very dirty. So we didn't go for a proper swim, just legs wadding through. The sun was really nice, making the sand all warm, so it was hard to leave the beach and head to our next destination of Aigues Mortes. This is a famous entirely walled city, that is still standing from medieval times and looks very impressive. We drove around 1/2 of it and then headed in through one of the narrow gates to the main square. We had hoped to find somewhere to eat but nothing opened before 7:30 and we needed to press on for our hosts that night. Enjoyed a bit of music that was part of the set up for an upcoming concert, and explored the narrow cute streets. On route to Ales (our host city for the night), we stopped at an amazing restaurant just off of the highway called the 3 partridges. The food was AMAZING! Haven't had such varied tastes between courses, and such evident effort put into making the food tasty in a long time. We arrived quite late to our hosts as I didn't expect dinner to take 1.5 hours! But we had a great stay.

Left a bit late the next morning so we enjoy Ales. Got to Joyuese before lunch and explored the town. As it was built on a hill, its medieval design was slightly different then Aigues Mortes, the view from the top was very pretty. Had another fabulous lunch and was quite bloated, as we headed off to get ready for the wedding. As it wasn't my wedding I will let them announce the details of it, but it was a truly wonderful special day, and we were both honored to be included in it.
The next morning we headed off quite early as we had a long drive back for an early afternoon flight. It was an almost straight drive down to the airport, through great scenery that reminded us of Northern Portugal in a way.We did stop at the Pont du Gard, which is the tallest Roman aquaduct left standing intact from Roman times. It was an extremely impressive sight, more so with the weather. As we arrived it was all foggy and mystical, but whilst we were briefly there, the sun came out and blue skies. Quite remarkable the difference it made. Very fast driving down to the airport, and we got on our flight back to England.

Friday 30 July 2010

Norwegian Honeymoon

Martin and I started our honeymoon with a night ahead in Southampton. Not much to note apart from the interesting old town walls. On our way down the next day we did run into the start of the Asian festival, which looks like it could have been interesting in full swing.

2-hour check in procedure, which I think is a new record. You arrive, dump luggage at set points, get a letter and colour. Then after waiting ages, you head up for the proper check in part which was fairly standard apart from losing my passport (standard for cruise ships however) which just felt wrong (and annoying as they didn't even get it stamped once!). Security check, then on board!! Our stateroom was on Panama Deck of the Ventura ( Spent the next wee while running all over the place exploring our massive ship, to then scored a sweet spot to watch our departure from the dock. Champagne to celebrate the start of our honeymoon and the good times began. Great food was a constant on the ship, as was the entertainment. To add to the good start of the honeymoon, I actually won a reflexology foot massage treatment, 1 hour after departure. 

Sea Day:
There isn't much to talk about on sea days. Just relaxing, food, reading, sauna's, entertainment, more food, relaxing. Its great.

( This town was very cute. Lovely old fishing village with far too many houses packed into a tiny area. And had a lot of history to go with it. We went to the main museum of the town and learnt alot of about it all focused around the church at first and the wharf. And after fires they rebuilt, another fire they rebuilt and so on. After the museum we decided rather than taking the funicular up we should hike up Mt. Floien. Took us about 1.25 hours. The view was worth it from the top, but after walking back down I was absolutely dead. Bought some Norwegian slippers and Martin ate some whale (horrible)! This was the best day for weather and the view on the way out through the fjords was great.

This was my fav. stop of the journey ( It is situated at the end of Aurlandsfjord, which is part of Sognefjord - which is the wolrds longest and deepest fjord (every branch of the main fjord has its own name). The mistiness caused by the light rain gave the area a very magical feeling. Our first thing of the day was to do a short hike (although steep) up to the local waterfall, which thanks to the previous dry weather and the rain that had arrived with us was quite impressive. Got great views up the valley from this point and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Got the tender (boat) back for a quick lunch before heading off on our cruise tour. First part of it was a bus ride to this hotel on the side of a cliff. Had to go through very long tunnels (11km) to get there, and then down the scariest road ever (so many hairpins), Stalheimskleiva road, which is also the steepest in Norway. After getting down the bottom, we eventually ended up at our destination and hopped aboard the cruise ship which would take us through the narrowest fjords in the world (a lot of in the worlds in this area). Nærøyfjord ( was a beauty, reminded me of Fiordland in NZ but the rocks were more akin to Southern China in the River Li area. The sides of the fjords had a lot more trees and wild goats forage there (crazy!). Saw some seals, and an old Viking burial mound - cool! Lots of wee villages along the way, and we got absolutely soaked and frozen on the front but it had great views there. Another wonderful night on board the ship - good food and entertainment.

Another interesting stop. Today we did things the cheaper way and caught the local bus to the Briksdal glacier (18 pounds rather than 96 to do it with the cruise). The area of the glacier was very nice but the actual glacier itself was lacking in the size and lustre I am used to being a NZer ( But it was very cool as this glacier belonged to the largest ice field in EU and you could see it running along the tops of the mountains. The walk up to the glacier was spectacular as we had to go right by the massive waterfall, which with all the rain of late was extremely large. The mist rain produced from the thundering falls was enough to drench the side of your body exposed to it. Nice forest and birds tweeting around, with some alpine flowers thrown in just added to the appeal of the place. 

Not my fav. place of the trip but still quite nice. We explored the old town of Stavenger which didn't take too long. All but a few of the houses here are painted white and they all conform to the same style and design, so it has a very interesting effect (like coronation st, but with houses actually apart and different sizes). Saw the cathedral and lake, then over to the old customs house. Once we were finished with downtown, we headed to the canning museum which is my main and only recommendation for this place. The museum isn't too expensive and has a lot of authentic machinery and you even get to interact with it, and its actually in an old canning museum. We were lucky that we arrived on a Thursday so got to see sardines being smoked in the old smoke houses/closets and have a taste of them. Enjoyed my reflexology session immensely after we were back on board.

The last day =(
Our last day was a sea day, so once again relaxing and enjoying ourselves. Ate too much all day, and finally tried out the pools (not really our thing with 3000 people aboard), and more sauna's.

Entering Aurlandsfjord


Friday 23 July 2010

A Scottish Epic

The day after the wedding:

Sadly Geoff, Anne-lore, Jess and Kieran had to head back to their ports of call so they couldn't join us on our day trip. The weather had continued to be bad from the previous day, but we headed out anyway. First stop on the journey was Loch Shiel, more formally know, as Hogwarts Lake. My sneaky plan for the timing worked well and we actually got to see the hogwarts express go along the Harry Potter bridge.
From here we continued on through the Morar region, which is home of Scotland's deepest Loch. Saw the train again throughout the journey to Mallaig ( I was hoping the weather might have been better so we could have see the hills of Skye but this wasn' t the case. Had a very nice lunch just before the train arrived the entire town was full. More photos of the train before heading back. Had a nice afternoon relaxing at the hotel, before we headed off for dinner at a local seafood restaurant Martin and I had found on our last journey here. The seafood was very good, nice and fresh. Everything was either from Loch Leven, or from nearby Lochs, so tasty tasty. A great end to the evening.

Off we go!!:

After saying a very sad good bye to our remaining guests and Martins parents, with my family we headed off north towards the Isle of Skye. Our first stop along the road was at Loch Lochy. A very pretty loch even in bad weather. Saw the famous castle of Eilean Donan (see james bond films) on route to Kyle of Lochash. Here we stopped a did a cruise tour on a glass bottom boat. Saw lots of seals (and babies!) and jellyfish. Once back inside of the loch the glass bottom showed a very interesting world of different seaweeds, and crabs.
Once we were back on the way we headed straight to Dunvegan. Arrived early evening, so with Andrew and Dad we did the 1 hour walking trip through the different environments of Dunvegan. The local church has the highest pew in Scotland, after that through the local forest, then up top for a walk along the moors. Here we could see the Dunvegan rock which the locals erected using stone age methods. At the end of the trek was a ruined church which is home of the MacLeods clan and has 7 of the clan chiefs buried there. Was a very interesting site.

Trip to middle of nowhere:
Left early the next day taking the scenic route through the top of Skye. This road is amazing with the low cloud we had it was very pretty and had wild flowers springing up everywhere.Storr is a region of NE Skye that is famous for its dinosaur remains and massive pinnacles of rock (also used in the movie Stardust). Had a nice stop in Portree before carrying on south back over the Skye Bridge. Stopped at one of the few working kilt weavers mill in Lochcarron, where we actually got to see them making kilts. Lots more scenic driving as we headed through the "most scenic mountain route in Scotland" on our way to Camusnagual which is beside Loch Little Broom. Nice hostel here, which had great views of a hillside filled with boulders and the Loch.

Up to Tongue:
First stop was Ullapool. Nice seaside town. We got to see the ferry coming in for the Isle of Lewis and park up, it was interesting as the wind was so strong, and the turn they had take, made the ship go on a very odd lean. Glad my car wasn't on there. Next stop was the ruined MacLeod/Mackintosh castle beside Loch Assynt. Straight onto Durness, where the boys thought it would be good fun to go for a swim. I was kinda keen til the sand started to eat my face, so wasn't going to expose the whole body to that. Durness/Sango beach ( is supposed to be one of the best in Scotland.

Onto Smoo Cave which has been inhabited for over 1000 years and used for various purposes from living to smelting. Sadly the tour wasn't running this time around either, so still only got to do the first part of the cave. Headed to Tongue and found our B&B for the night.

Using the local guide book did an archaeological tour of the area which was quite fascinating. Started off with cup markings, which are like cup holders ground into a boulders - apparently they had religious significance. Then saw the very sparse remains for a highland clearance village. Next was a very impressive Iron Age fort. This was quite an undertaking moving the large quantity of stone so far from source. Then, beside an old highland house ruin, on the foreshore of the Loch Tongue was a Bronze Age long house foundations. Very exciting. And to finish it was was the remains of the old ferry crossing.

Did a day trip out to Dunscanbury Head (near John O'Groats) which was a known Puffin ( breeding ground, in the hopes that we would find some, and we did. A single and a pair with their nest =). But that was not at first. We hiked down onto the other cliff area nearby and explored the rocky beach. Saw some seals and hundreds of seagulls that were nesting on the cliffs there. Got absolutely soaked during a downpour just as we found the puffins (which were right by where we parked the car, Murphy's law). Brilliant day.

Nessie Hunting:
From Tongue we headed down to Lochend, at the northern tip of Loch Ness and settled for a two day stop. First day we really explored Inverness a bit more. The next day Andrew, Martin and myself headed down to the main harbour of Loch Ness and got ourselves on a proper Nessie tour, lead by an actual Nessie hunter. Didn't see any signs of a dinosaur/monster/thingie, but enjoyed the trip out and meeting someone that had devoted 38 years to hunting for this mysterious/mythical creature. Awesome. Bit more of Inverness that night.

Aberdeen via Pictish Trail:
Along the route from Inverness to Aberdeeen are a great many Pictish ruins. The Picts were a prehistoric society that were one of the founding tribes that combined to form the Scottish People that we know ( We stopped in Burgshead which was a massive Picitsh fort (believed to be a Palace) which had a large collection of Pictish stones - which are now in national museum in Edinburgh. Couldn't get
into the well this time as the person wasn't home that has the key. Onto Elgin where we walked around the old cathedral where Pictish stones have been found within the crumbling ruins. Along a different route we saw the Pink pictish stone that was made from pink granite. We arrived into Aberdeen and walked around the city. It was actually quite depressing for me as it was so grey. All the buildings were grey, seriously only signs added colour to the streets.

On route to edinburgh we drove through the scenic Cairngorms National park. Edinburgh is just as interesting as always. It was nice to show the family around, and to be reminded of Dunedin. The castle was all fitted out for the Tattoo event, and the streets swarmed with tourists, which was a huge change from everywhere we had been for the last week or so. Our travelodge was right down town, so the next morning it made it easy to go to the National Museum and have one final wander around town. After Edinburgh it was the sad point of having to say good bye to my parents and brother. We dropped them off at Rosyth harbour as they headed off on their cruise. That night we stayed in Saltburn-by-the-sea, which had a nice pier and is a cute wee town near Whitby.

Tuesday 29 June 2010


For the other parts of this trip please see:
Germany and  Holland and Luxembourg
Didn't linger and headed onto Belgium. Antwerp is a great place ( Would definitely come back here again. The architecture was amazing, I have a soft spot for the gothic. The main square was even nicer than Brussels and when we arrived was full up with people for the end of the Gay Pride celebrations =). A lot of rainbows everywhere, happy site. Ate some nice waffles and definitely enjoyed the scenery. Quickly headed out to the port, but couldn't seem to find the proper entrance, but we did see a lot of oil processing and glanced at the sea. Onto Luxembourg.

Monday 28 June 2010

An overnight stop in Luxembourg

Onto Luxembourg. We were staying in an extremely remote place called Dirbach ( which was just lovely. We were lucky enough to even see baby trout swimming upstream and jumping up a man made dam - fascinating that these little guys could do it. Martin ate horse (I tried some - tasted like beefy liver), and we enjoyed our lovely evening in the cabin by the stream.

The next day we left quite early and head back up to Germany. Stopped just before the Luxembourgh/Germany border at this hill top town and enjoyed nice food and coffees.


Thursday 20 May 2010

A road trip around Northern Denmark

Our first stop on our journey was Aarhus to catch up with a highschool exchange friend of mine, Astrid. We had a lovely pizza and good times, before we were on the road again. We tried to find the Viking mound near Hobro but didn't have any luck, so we headed to our hosts for the night. They were very welcoming and their guest house was amazingly fancy. In the morning we were treated to a traditional Danish breakfast, with lots of goodies. Martin had the rye bread (that is typical of the area) and cheeses, and myself was homemade muesli which you put together yourself. She then drove us around the main sites in the local area. The first of these was an impressive neolithic burial mound for a king. The stone border of this massive complex is the most complete in Denmark. But the coolest part was the passage graves that we were able to actually go right inside the mound which has been there for over 3000 years. Very impressive. After that we found the Viking mound from the night before which was quite large. This was once the site of a military encampment as it was situated close to the water which is now quite far away.

After leaving behind our first host, we headed away to the Island of Mors. This island is in the the middle of the Jutland pennisula (which is the big part attached to Germany). The main thing we were there to see, was the Molar cliffs. These amazing formations are only found in Denmark, and are composed of volcanic ash with diatomacous soil (fossilized microbes). The resulting layering effect is very impressive, and throw in some tectonic uplift and the final result is very cool. The weather at this point was getting even crappier but we plowed onto the Jutland beaches of the south west coasts. The random thing here is that holiday homes are built in the sand dunes. At first I thought this was a bit weird because the lack of view, but it does cut out the wind which is ever constant in Denmark. Which is probably why there are wind farms absolutely everywhere. From the beaches we headed to a bird sanctuary at Tipperne, didn't see many birds, but heard quite a few. For dinner we were off to Esbjerg. Ended up having McDs in the town square which at least had a nice few. We were quite gutted that the entire time we were here, we didn't get to try any typical Danish food, as no one seems to do it. Spent the night at our next hosts in Spadnet and had a great evening laughing away.

Our final day in Denmark, we headed up to Ribe which is the oldest city in Denmark. Had some lovely pastries at the old re-dug channel through the city. The architecture here was awesome, so old school. As the museum was taking too long to open we quickly went down to the island of Romo. The causeway out to it is amazing. This island used to be a whaling port but thankfully not anymore. There is one remnant of that time, with an old fence made from whale bone. It was quite cool that on the far side of the island the sand is so compacted that you can just drive around all over it, similar to 90 mile beach back home. After driving over much of Romo (the settlement is not large) headed back to Ribe to go to the Viking museum. Saw a lot of interesting artifacts from several different periods of Danish history. After this we headed down to the top of Germany for lunch. Had great food, and some decent beer for a change (still not fond of the English ale). Then up to Billund for a play at Legoland, or so we thought. Due to the pricing we decided to head to Jelling instead to see the two large burial mounds for the first king and queen of Denmark and their corresponding rune stones which were huge! The runic carving on them was nicely detailed. Having to go back to Billund for our flight came to soon, and we were once again home and back to the routine.