Kuala Lumpur, the gateway to our Asian expedition. 

After an 18 hour or so journey, nearly missing our connecting flight in Dubai, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur. This was our gateway in and out of Southeast Asia and a great starting point to ease ourselves in. The capital of Malaysia it’s an old colonial City, the Chinese settled here first before the British used it to impose their imperialism on the area. 

Arriving at the airport it’s really easy to take the 30 minute train to the main station. We had glimpses of the Petronas Towers and skyscrapers in the distance while we passed through rainforest. 

Our first view of KL was from the monorail, there are several transport options to get you round the City but our hotel lay on this line. We passed Hindu and Chinese temples, Mosques and a church, showing the multiculturalism that KL is famous for. 

We checked in to the Park royal which I would definitely recommend. We upgraded to their orchid lounge giving us a more private breakfast area, and free nibbles and drinks in the afternoon and early evening. Plus a nicer room! We had a quick look at the pool and view of the KL tv tower too. 

Taking my trusted lonely planet guide to the City we planned our day. It was around midday at this point and we decided to head out of the City for the Batu caves, one of KL’s major sights. We took the monorail back to the station and got on one of the many trains out of the City to Batu. Beginning in 1890 the caves have been a major Hindu centre of worship. They are famous for the 140ft statue of the Hindu God of war, Lord Murugan. 

We had half an hour to wait for the train so wandered around the connecting mall, it was huge! Mall culture is massive in KL with various sized places dotted about the City. 

As the train set off it started raining, but luckily it had finished by the time we arrived. We started off at a smaller cave off to the left of the station, where a big statue of another Hindu deity Hanuman. 

The cave is full of statues picturing various Hindu legends and you can climb up through the limestone formations. The colourful scenes are really fun, but it would have been good to know some of the stories behind the depictions. 

Leaving the cave we walked round the cliffs and got our first look at the gold statue of Murugan. Batu caves are also famous for their contingent of monkeys that live around the place, entertaining and tormenting tourists in equal measures. After some dicey moments with monkeys in Cambodia I was a little hesitant to get too close. 

We climbed the 272 steps up into the main cave area, passing various sized Macaques on the way, it was pretty humid out here but with a couple of breaks the steps were okay, the scenery surrounding us distracting from the climb. 

Inside the caves it was a bit cooler, and the size was impressive, reaching up above us. We wandered through before finding ourselves in daylight once again. The cave had no roof and sunlight poured through the natural skylight. 

We headed back down the steps and past the dark cave which we unfortunately didn’t have time for as I had made plans for the evening. Making it back to the hotel we had a quick swim and got ready for an evening out. 

Our destination was the famous Petronas Towers, once the tallest building in the world and still the tallest twin towers. It’s a beacon of Southeast Asian development. We walked from the hotel and caught our first glimpse of the tower from a lovely park located at the feet of several skyscrapers. 

I had pre booked the tickets to go up the tower, so we checked in for our time slot, and after a brief introduction took the elevator to the corridor between the two buildings. 

The views from here were amazing and we weren’t even at the top yet! The skybridge takes up the 41st and 42nd floors and us 170m above ground. It’s designed to slide in and out of the main towers to avoid breaking and give the towers additional support.

We took the lift up to the top, the 86th floor and now the views of the City were incredible, even with the cloud coverage you could see for miles! It was such a cool way to spend our first day in Asia. 

After 15 minutes or so up there it was time to head back down. It’s definitely worth doing and I really enjoyed it. 

The sun was setting as we stepped out into KLCC park and we wandered around the little lake, finding a spot to sit and marvel as the City transformed around us as night fell. The view of the towers at night is amazing and after being the subject of a few locals pictures and live streams the light show on the lake began. 

I loved this moment, it really felt like we had arrived somewhere magical and foreign to Manchester and the UK. I could have stayed there for hours taking it all in, but hunger struck and we decided to go for dinner. 

I had read about a few street food places that sounded good, and one was back towards our hotel underneath one of the malls. It was fun walking through these bustling mini metropolis, with the air con you can see why they’re so popular with the locals. 

We ate underneath Lot 10 mall, in the food court full of old street hawkers who have been given this space. We got some Korean influenced food with a mix of dishes served to us. It was so good and I couldn’t wait to try more Asian food, after the long flight and day in the humid City we were ready to go back to the hotel. Although I had to get a bubble tea and some ice cream on the walk back. 

Belem and the birthplace of Nata. 

Our last day was upon us! Our flights weren’t till later on in the evening so we had at least half a day to sightsee. This took us to Belem, an area of Lisbon that is easily reachable by train or tram.

Another scorcher of a day, we took the train out to Belem and walked through a small park to get to the main street. Here you can find ‘Pasteis de Belem’ where the original Nata were made from an old recipe taken from the nearby monastery.

We decided to explore a bit before having a Nata, and emerged at the end of the street onto a huge square with the aforementioned monastery taking up one side.

The Jeronimos monastery is an impressive building, it’s also where Vasco de Gama stayed before sailing for the far East!

After taking a few pictures we walked down towards the Tagus river and spotted a huge monument pointing out towards the water. A quick Google told us it was a monument to the discoveries, a nod to Portugals past as a major player in the exploration of the earth.

You could actually go up to the top of the monument but we decided against it. Instead there was a cool love sign nearby which we had to get some pictures with, and once done we got some ice creams and continued our walk along the Tagus.

The views out over the water were amazing, our destination was Belem tower, sitting out in the river and only accessible by a small bridge it’s extremely photogenic.

It was lunchtime and using foursquare I had found the #1 sandwich shop in Belem. Which sounded perfect, it was actually back on the main st we had walked along earlier so we wandered through a couple of cool green parks on our way back.

The food from Pao Pao Queijo Queijo was so good, and the name is great! You queue up and order then decide what extras you want, it was a bit like a much tastier version of subway.

We sat in the shade of a huge tree in one of the nearby parks and water our food, planning the next hour before we had to head back and pick our luggage up. We decided to visit the nearby botanical gardens as they were free.

I’d say it’s definitely not a must see place, some parts were really nice but it as quite run down. The highlights were peacocks and their chicks stalking through the grass and foliage.

As time started catching up on us we walked back towards the station, picking up Nata for the journey back from Pasteis de Belem and took the short trip to Alfama.

Hannah had to get to the airport earlier than us so I waved her off on the train before we sat in our little local square and had a couple of drinks to enjoy the Lisbon sunshine for the last time. We even had a bit of live music to entertain us.

It was really easy to get the train up to the airport from Alfama, and we wandered around a bit trying to decide on food. Eventually we just went through to the gates and picked up a few bits in there.

We were soon flying home and saying our goodbyes to Lisbon, a city that impressed us no end, even with all the sights we managed to see there is so much more to do. It’s cheap and friendly with way transport around, and close to beautiful beaches. A definite must on the bucketlist.

Exploring Alfama, Lisbon in a day. 

After last night’s exploits there were some sore heads this morning so we didn’t really have much planned. The best thing about being abroad is that you don’t want to feel like you’ve missed out on anything….so using the lonely planet Lisbon guide I worked out a little walking tour we could do from the hotel. It was our last day so everyone was game as we left the apartment and emerged into beautiful sunshine. 

All the small cobbled streets are so beautiful as we made our way towards Sé, Lisbon cathedral. The girls stopped for a bit of souvenir shopping when I spotted a tiny place selling different types of sangria! It looked so good we just had to try it, I got white while the others tried different red flavours, it was so good! 

We walked up alongside the Cathedral and marvelled at the beautiful architecture. I spotted some cool street art too, we emerged onto a square where the impressive main entrance is situated. It’s such an amazing building and it was nice to properly see it rather than just from the tram. 

From here I cheated a little as we wandered down out of Alfama and towards Comercio square. A palace used to stand here but the 1755 earthquake completely destroyed it, allowing the square to be built as part of a remodelling of the city. The square has a good bit of history, being the site of an assassination on the penultimate king of Portugal. We entered through the Arco da Rua Augusta, a stunning triumphal arch built in 1873. 

The square opens out onto the river and in the sunshine it was gorgeous, with restaurants and bars encircling it. There is a statue of King Jose I in the centre of the square, notable because he developed severe claustrophobia the earthquake and never comfortably lived within 4 walls. In fact he moved his royal court into tents in the nearby hills. 

We also found the self proclaimed sexiest toilet in the world here, which the girls used and said was very nice with coloured toilet paper but maybe not the sexiest. 

It was very hot now as we walked back up the hill into Alfama district once again, stopping to grab ice cold drinks on the way. I checked Google maps and noticed another viewpoint so we headed towards the Miradouro de Santa luiza and after admiring some typical Lisbon tiles we took in the red rooftops and views out to the river that lay before us. 

The blues and reds were incredible as we walked around to second viewpoint, but not before taking some fun pictures. 

The next terrace was the Visigothic wall and the Portas do sol with more great views. We were getting hungry now and hasn’t had any Nata today! So we walked towards our end game, the Castelo de S.Jorge. 

As we walked up we spotted a cute restaurant called Miss Can which was incredible. Sardines, olives, breads and salads it was delicious and cheap too! Plus a beer refreshment to wash it down and Hannah tried lisbon’s famous green wine. 

With our hunger sorted it was time for more Nata from the same place we had got them from on our first day at the entrance to Castelo St Jorge. Once we’d had our Nata fill we queued up for the Castelo and wandered in to beautiful gardens within the castle. Perched up at the top of the hill Alfama is located around, the castle dates from the 10th century and has a heavy Moorish influence. 

The views from here were great over the City and there was a wine cart called wine with a view! So Lee and I got a Portuguese red and sat looking out from the walls of the castle. 

The Castelo itself is pretty big and the walls are fun to climb up and stand on the ramparts looking at a 360° Lisbon. Plus some fun towers to climb up to. It was getting towards evening and we had plans for a bbq fish dinner so we wandered back down towards the apartment to get ready. 


Our dinner destination was a place called Patio 13 which we had discovered accidentally by walking past and noticing a big queue and the amazing smell of bbq. It’s located in Alfama and it was only a 5 minute walk from our place. Arriving we queued up with a beer before being given a table on the patio. The restaurant is basically a load of tables and a huge now all outside. 

We ordered sangria and a selection of different bbq fish including swordfish and sardines. All the plates arrived with sides and we had bread and butter at the start. The food was out of this world and we all devoured it. We also got dessert and finally tried Ginja, a Portuguese cherry liqueur which was tasty too. 

It was really good value too, I think we paid less than £15 each easily for it. Once done we had a nightcap at a bar nearby and went back to the apartment…sad to think it was our last day tomorrow. 

NOS Alive and a day at the beach. 

So today was the start of the festival! We were pretty excited to see what NOS had to offer us as we belatedly got up and had breakfast. Shout out to Sarah and Lee who always had coffee and something cooking for us all in the mornings. The views from our apartment this morning were ace. 

NOS is located a few train stops out of the City so we walked over to Santa Apolonia, the station that served us so well over the course of the week. From here we went straight to Cais De Sodre where we jumped a train to Alges. Our plan was to pick up our wristbands before heading to a nearby beach for a couple of hours. 

Because of the heat in the day the first acts don’t start until around 5-6pm and go on till 2-3am which is a pretty good idea! Anyway we arrived at the festival gates only to find a huge crowd in front of us waiting to get in. After waiting in the hot sun for what seemed like forever, a band started playing Pearl Jam’s ‘Alive’ and we walked through security. Unfortunately Sarah and Lee had the caps from their liquids taken off them, so they had to sort a makeshift one out of plastic and husbands. 

Finally though we were in! We walked under the welcome arch where the band was playing and surveyed the terrain. It’s not a big festival with only 2 stages, a dance tent and a bandstand. It was around 3pm now so the beach idea was scrapped in favour of a beer idea. The sun was shining and we sat on the astroturf that was laid out over the concrete with a beer and looked through the bands that were playing today. 

There were a load of freebies being handed out including hats, wristbands and sun cream! Getting hungry we walked over to the food area…basically the length between dance and 2nd stages has tables and chairs and loads of different types of food. I lumped for a burrito which wasn’t satisfying at all so I got a kebab too! Excited for our first European festival we had a few more beers and learnt a few lessons over the 3 days. 

  1. NOS is easy to get to, but hard to get from, they close off the train station from one side so you have to walk for about 40 minutes along an overpass, squeeze onto a train, then try and get a taxi or walk to your hotel once in the City. 
  2. They have people walking around with beerpacks, so you don’t need to go to the bar, the bar comes to you. 
  3. Portuguese people don’t really dance, or singalong much, so it can feel a bit awkward at times. 
  4. It’s not super packed with people so you can always get to a good spot, especially important for the smaller people along us! 
  5. It’s great to party in the sun but it actually did get colder at night than we expected!
  6. You can get free T-shirts in exchange for plastic cups. (My sister Hannah got especially into this, I think managing to get about 5 or 6). 
  7. It’s a great festival overall, the line-up has to have enough on it to make it worth it though, we had to make big decisions on who to see as all the acts we wanted to see were on later at the same time.

One of the best bits of the 3 days was being able to visit the beach, only a ten minute or so journey past the NOS stop is Carcavelos where you can get off and walk another 10 minutes to find yourself at a beautiful beach. We arrived here the 2nd day of the festival, got food and sangria at one of the restaurants and spent a few hours playing on the beach and in the very cold Atlantic! The water was really clear though and we could see fish swimming around us.

We relaxed on the beach for a bit longer with some beers and ice creams, we then headed back via another beachside restaurant which was so good! Hannah got these huge prawns that tasted amazing. We got the train back to the festival and spent another great night there. Rocking out to the Foo Fighters. The walk back wasn’t as bad either because we were more prepared for it. 

We fully intended to go to the beach again on the third and final day, however I think everyone needed a rest after the past few days of drinking. So instead we chilled out and then went straight over to the site, meeting some crazy Portuguese Depeche Mode fans who were adamant they should play ‘Personal Jesus’. NOS and doing a festival abroad was so much fun and we’re already talking about where we could try next year, after all it’s a Glastonbury fallow year so that’s out of the equation.

Day trippin’ to Sintra from Lisbon. 

So today we were all excited to be heading to Sintra, we navigated the underground system, getting travel cards much like the oyster in London. To get to Sintra you take a train from Rossio station in the centre of Lisbon. Trains leave every half hour and queues can be pretty big! We explored a nearby square while we waited for our train. 

Tickets are around 4.50E and the journey takes 40 minutes. We bought some food from a nearby supermarket for a picnic later. 

Once you arrive in Sintra take a left from the station and you can make your way towards the first of many sights. We weren’t too bothered about the first building we came to, the Sintra National Palace which has two conical chimneys atop it. 

We continued on to the Quinta da Regaleira, this palace, like many in this area was built by a rich playboy type, the interest here is really the grounds. Filled with underground passageways, impressive wells and various towers and vantage points it’s an exciting and beautiful place to walk around. 

We stopped off for a coffee by the main  house,  then spent a long time covering every blade of grass to ensure we didn’t miss anything, the main well is so impressive and we had fun going through the spooky underground passages. Look out for the stepping stones across an algae filled pond with a lovely bridge looking over it. 

We stopped soon after this to have a well earned rest after taking in incredible views from the top of a tower, and scoffed down our picnic of sardines, bread, olives, salami and cheese.

It was mid-afternoon by this point so we left to hit the next two spots that we thought looked good, the Moorish castle and the Palace de la Pena, we took a bus up to both which made it’s way round tight bends as we ascended to the top of the hills.

Once dropped off we realised the castle and palace would probably be too much for us to manage in our time frame, so we lumped for a walk round the Palace gardens as it was a cheaper option than going inside the Palace itself. 

There was still some way to climb from the entrance to the actual palace through nice gardens. The palace is amazing, architecturally crazy and done in various bright colours it’s like something out of a cartoon. It also turned out that you could walk pretty much all the way around the walls etc with just the gardens pass. 

This was a great bonus as we clambered up mini turrets and around the palace. It’s so colourful and pretty we really enjoyed it and there were some spectacular views out over the surrounding countryside. 

We had a map of a few points of interest in the huge gardens so we tried to see a few as we walked back down the hill, we saw a huge statue of a guard high up on a rock, views of the palace from across a small valley and big duck ponds with spooky towers in the middle of them that turned out to be duck houses! 

This place is just unreal and we wished we had spent more time there as the moorish castle is meant to be great too. 

 It was getting late now so we left the palace gardens at the pond entrance and caught a bus back to the station. Got an ice cream while we waited for the train and got back to the apartment. Tonight we had planned for dinner but it didn’t quite go according to plan. We had spotted a little bbq fish restaurant high up in Alfama but when we arrived it was boarded up for the night! 

Not to be downhearted I quickly used foursquare and after trying a really nice sounding place that was too busy we stopped at a kebab house, but only for a super cheap beer! Around 1.20 Euro each! It was quite nice chilling out on a square but we were getting really hungry now, so we went over to the #1 rated pizza place in Lisbon! Called restaurante Casanova,  we queued up with a beer and finally sat down for food. It was totally worth it.

The pizza was huge and the thin crispy base was covered in tasty toppings, we got a few sides such as arancini which was just as good. It was a really great atmosphere here too, located right on the river. We went back to the apartment and sat around chatting for a bit before heading to bed. It was festival time tomorrow! 

Hello Lisbon! Turning a festival into a holiday.

After spending a fun filled but very muddy weekend at Glastonbury last year, my ‘festival group’ tried and failed to get tickets to this year’s event. Not letting that hold us back, we decided after all the rain last year we’d try something a bit different. 

We had heard good things about NOS Alive, based in Lisbon, Portugal and known for great headliners we decided to give it a shot. Seeing as it was in a City that everyone I meet raves about we extended our trip for a full week, with 3 days reserved for festival shenanigans. 

It was fun to pack just shorts and t-shirts for a festival after years of British ones and exciting to know we wouldn’t have to lug our camping gear around with us as we were staying in an apartment. 

Our flight was from Liverpool so 4 of us drove over from Manchester and got the flight, it’s quite a late arrival into Lisbon so we took an Uber to Alfama, the quirky bohemian district on the edge of the City centre. 

As usual I used booking.com for my hotel needs and a quick call to a guy and we were in! Up the narrowest, steepest stairs ever! The apartment was lovely, quite small but looking out over the cute Alfama streets and rooftops. 

We ditched our stuff and went straight out to have a quick explore and obviously find a bar. A few places were shutting before we found one still open, it was fate as there was a mural made up of marvel comics on one wall for Lee and I and elephants on the other for Sarah. 

We had a couple of beers and were relaxing when a bunch of middle aged English tourists walked in and started getting rowdy. Slightly ashamed we left and went back to the apartment, my Sister was meeting us the next day at lunch time so we planned to have a bit of a lie in before stocking up for the week. 

We headed out and enjoyed getting lost in the small streets with their tiled walls and murals. It’s such a pretty area and filled with atmosphere, we found a supermarket and grabbed breakfast stuff, beer and wine plus some snacks and walked back up to the apartment. The weather was great and we sat in the living area with the windows open and all the sounds and smells of Alfama floating through. 

Sarah made breakfast and we all had strong coffee to perk us up while we waited for Hannah who soon arrived outside! The gang all together we chilled out for a bit catching up and then went out to explore properly. 

We decided to go up, walk through Alfama and take the famous tram around the City. We passed some amazing looking restaurants and found a cool old rundown building area with a load of art work to look at. 

Finding ourselves near St George’s Castle we spotted a bakery selling Nata, small custard filled pastries that Lisbon is famous for. At a euro each we had to try one and some of us got some refreshing homemade lemonade to wash them down with. They were incredibly tasty, the custard lovely and sweet with a burnt caramel taste. It would not be the last one we ate this holiday! 

We had reached the top of our journey and now wound down through the streets stopping to check out more great street art. Once we arrived at the square where the trams arrive and depart we thought we would walk around it a bit. The square itself was cool with fountains and statues where we took some fun videos. 

We queued in the heat for the tram with bottles of water to keep hydrated and jumped on and got a seat. I sat on the rught hand side and missed a lot of the sights that the others saw but it was still fun to wind up down and around these cobbled streets where you could touch the walls if you reached out. We passed Se cathedral which we would check out again later in the week and went through the City. 

Our journey ended at the huge cemetery across town and we decided to get a drink in a nearby park, we grabbed some food and beers and enjoyed the shade in amongst the green of the park. Refreshed we walked back along the streets we had just passed and stopped to view some of the sights including the Palace of St Benedict and Assembley of the Republic.

I checked to see what points of interest were nearby and noticed a viewpoint that looked interesting on Google maps so we headed in that direction. Emerging onto the terrace we had jaw-dropping views of the river and opposite bank over the terracotta tiled roofs of Lisbon.

It was an incredible place, everyone was chilling out on cubes made of rock, with live music performers and a little bar selling cheap beer! Deciding to stay for a bit we got beers and found a space and sat chatting, listening to the music and enjoying the views. We could even see over to Lisbon’s own Jesus statue, built to commemorate their lack of involvement in WWII.

After a couple more beers we kept walking, finding ourselves on some main streets, we spotted a great tram moment on a steep street coming up towards us with views of the river in the background.

We walked in the general direction of the Santa Justa elevator. A lift that takes you up to a platform with amazing views over the City, we got up to the top and excitedly took pictures and pointed out various sights. 

We noticed a cool looking bar down below set in the grounds of a cathedral that was half destroyed in an earthquake in 1755. We walked down to it and got some drinks, there was a brass band going around playing, and a really nice vibe in the place. 

Everyone was starving now so even though we kinda wanted to stay we knew we needed food so we walked over to an underground and took the train back over to Alfama. Once we were back in the district we tried to find somewhere nice to eat but everywhere seemed closed so we lumped for the one place that wasn’t. 

We sat there and realised it was quite a touristy place and expensive for the type of food it served but we were too hungry to care. The food was just okay but it turned out we got our own Fado performance, Fado is Portuguese music that is full of sorrow and emotion and even though it was a bit weird having this lady perform just for us it was really gripping and enjoyable. 

With food finished we were tired and it was late, plus we were up early to visit Sintra the next day, an area out of Lisbon that looked and sounded spectacular. So we headed to the apartment and had a couple of drinks, a bit of heads up and then bed. 

Out of the mountains, into Barcelona. 

Today was my last day of a great solo trip, and it was good to know I could bear my own company for a week. 

I was heading out of Andorra into Spain, purely for economical reasons, as flights from Girona to Manchester are really cheap. 

Unfortunately it wasn’t till after I booked that I realised the only way to get to Girona was through Barcelona. This turned into a nice little bonus, even though I’d only have a few hours there. I had booked a hotel right next to Girona airport as my flight was at 7am. I decided to treat myself by booking a hotel with a pool and spa. 

I travelled from Andorra La Vella bus station straight through to Barcelona, taking about 3 hours and arriving at the Central bus/train station. The descent down from the mountains was ace with golden fields laid out in front if us when arriving in Spain. 

The underground in Barca is so good, especially on a hot day with the air con. As I only had limited time I went straight to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, there are still cranes towering above this cathedral but it doesn’t deter hordes of tourists taking pictures. 

This is the second time I’ve visited and for some reason I still haven’t gone inside! It’s a must do really so it’s still on the list. I saw a lot of Barca last time I came so I tried to visit somewhere I hadn’t been before. Checking on the map I realised there was a whole park called Parc de la ciutadella we had missed when I came with my friends. So I walked down towards their version of an arc de triomf, built in 1888, in the sweltering midday heat. 

Walking through the arch and down a long wide boulevard I made it to the breezy park. Here I could slowly meander and check out the sights including a huge water feature which may have been partly created by an unknown Gaudi, a random wooly mammoth, and the castells dels tres dragons, a building designed to look like a castle. The park also houses a zoo and the parliament of Catalonia.

I was getting hungry now so walked towards the bus station that would take me to Girona airport, enjoying the beautiful streets as I went. I ate in the station, some lovely Spanish pastries and a donut. I took the bus out to Girona airport where my hotel was a 5 minute walk away along a main road. Here i relaxed in the spa pool and jacuzzi, after a week of walking non stop, traveling between cities and countries it was an amazing way to end it.

I’ve enjoyed travelling solo, I definitely prefer to travel with someone though. The parts of the holiday where I longed for someone to experience the moment with, such as the riverside in Toulouse, or the top of the mountains in Andorra were also the most enjoyable. It just would have been better with someone for those jaw dropping moments. 

I also wish I had pushed myself to go to bars or restaurants on my own. When I did it was enjoyable and didn’t feel weird but it was also easier to grab takeout and also cheaper! 

It was simple flying back home and I had the knowledge that I would be flying out again soon with my ‘festival crew’ to NOS Alive in Lisbon. 

Exploring alternative Rome. 

Today we decided to get out of central Rome and see some of the lesser known sights. Using our Omnia Card we took a hop on and off bus to get to the Colosseum. Seeing the Basilica of St John the Lateran on the way. 

Arriving just past the Colosseum We headed towards Via di Porta S.Sebastiano, which would take us to our first spot, the old Roman road into Rome. 

The walk was lovely, past lush green parks and through old gateways, one part of the road had no pavements but it didn’t feel dangerous. 

It was nice and relaxed and we got some drinks and ice creams along the way. We walked along Via Appia Antica which is the old Roman road and took a detour onto a grassy tree lined path which was much nicer. Imagining what it used to be like and the legions of Roman centurions who would have trampled their way through was great fun. 

Our destination was the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, located beneath the grounds of a church with the same name, there are so many underground tombs here and we couldn’t wait to explore. 

We paid the fee and were led down into the catacombs, it was seriously spooky and I felt like I was in Indiana Jones. We passed crypts and I was sure you would get lost down here if you didn’t have a guide. 

The catacombs were built by Christians during their persecution, as they were forbidden to be buried inside the walls of Rome. There are also Roman mausoleums located here from the 2nd century, these were incredible. They are in amazing condition, with 3 mausoleums each decorated with different designs. 

The crypt of St Sebastian is also located here, with a Bernini – associated bust of Sebastian in the room. He was a martyr after being killed for his Christian beliefs. 

There are lots of different catacombs dotted around this area, but we just stuck to doing one. We left the tombs into the lovely Basilica and had a look around before departing back towards the City. 

Little did we know there was more ancient road to explore! Our one regret as we managed to do most other things in Rome that we wanted to do. 

After looking at google maps we realised we could walk through the Ostiense area, a rejuvenated part of Rome that was known for it’s interesting street art. We wandered through checking out the graffiti and stopped for pizza slices. It was really tasty and totally cheap, we chose 3 slices each and devoured them. 

We carried on walking in the general direction of the apartment and on the way stopped at the old protestant cemetery. The famous poets Shelley and Keats are buried here, and it was quite a nice peaceful place to walk around. We also got the bonus of great views of the pyramid, a tomb built for Gaius Cestius, a high ranking Roman. Built between 18-12BC, I can’t get over how old some of the buildings are here! 

After this we just headed back to the apartment, stopping off for a glass of wine and getting ready to give Trastevere another go. 

This time we relaxed a bit more, not rushing to find food we had a drink at a bar where you could go upstairs and sit on a wall looking out over the street and the river. 

We carried on wandering but everywhere was pretty busy, so we ended up somewhere that had one spare table. The food was again just ok so we decided that was the end of our Trastevere meals. We finished the night off with a few drinks in a nice bar watching the world go by. 

Edinburgh and a bit of history. 

We woke up in our own time and had breakfast down in the hotel.  Then set off for the national history museum to get some culture. Since it was close to Burns night there were poets in the lobby as we wandered round the animal and geological sections. The museum was really good, loads to see and do but we were mainly there for the national geographic photographs of the year exhibit.  Which didn’t disappoint with some amazing shots of nature and scenery including a haunting shot of a fox killing it’s arctic fox cousin! 

We spent a couple of hours navigating our way around and finally cultured up we went off and had lunch at a little independent cafe nearby….I wasn’t that hungry until I saw breakfast burritos on the menu! 

Nice and full we decided since it was raining we’d go to the pub and watch the football with a couple of beers. The Arsenal game was exciting with a couple of last minute pens. 

The weather was getting worse amd worse at this point, we tried to do some more sightseeing but failed miserably and instead ended up in a nice pub for Sunday Dinner….but they had run out! Not to be deterred we went for the next best thing….desperate dan size pie! 

Although it wasn’t a true pie it was delicious and the pub itself was great with booths that had doors! 

Unfortunately our time in Edinburgh was up…and we headed back down to Manchester on the train.

Edinburgh and the hilly city. 

To beat those January blues I decided the best course of action was to book a little weekend getaway for Peter and I. 

Peter has always mentioned Edinburgh as a place he would love to go to again and I had never been, plus it’s an easy 3hr train journey from Manchester. So train booked for 6pm friday I set the cars up for the weekend…met with Peter after he finished work and we bought ourselves a boozy picnic for the journey. 
We arrived at 21:30 and luckily our hotel was minutes away from the station. We stayed at the Premier Inn Hub, a scaled down version of your regular travel inn at a fraction of the cost. Check in was done via computer and super simple and the room was small but very modern. After a quick freshen up we went out for a well deserved drink…ending up in the Whiski bar where three young Scotsmen sang traditional songs to the enchanted crowd.

 From here we headed across the bridge from old town to new and went into the Conan Doyle pub, near where the famous Sherlock writer was born. 

There wasn’t much in the way of Conan Doyle related stuff in there but it was fun to sit and enjoy a wee dram of whiskey!  

The next day we walked down the royal mile to the Scottish parliament building. Finished in 2004 it’s an impressive post-modernist structure. Though we couldn’t get too close. One wall had famous Scottish quotes all over it which was cool. 

A short walk from here was Holyrood Palace, the Scottish residence of the British monarchy….A stately home dating back to the 17th century.  

Next up was what I thought was a 20 minute or so walk up to Arthur’s Seat…an extinct volcano top overlooking the Scottish countryside and Edinburgh itself. 

The walk was beautiful with the ground covered in frost but it definitely took us a lot longer than 20 minutes and got quite steep at times. However, halfway up and the views were already looking good. 

We could see right out to the North Sea and the morning mist added an ethereal vibe to the whole place. We reached the top and enjoyed the stunning views. 

It was absolutely gorgeous so we took our time up there before heading back down a gentler path into the city. We walked back up the royal mile towards the castle…the old town is picturesque with it’s old stone buildings and little alleyways or ‘Wynds’ branching off the main street. 

We walked all the way up to the castle and took in more views of the city from up there, since it was a lovely day we decided to carry on walking and save the castle interior for if it rained. 

We wandered down one of the little alleyways and found a small museum on the famous writers/poets of Scottish history. The flagstones beneath our feet had different writers and quotes from them engraved into the stone which was really interesting.  

The alley sloped down onto a main road and we crossed the valley separating old town from new and stopped for coffee and cake in the new part of the city. 

After resting our legs we wandered up through the posh part of the city to the ‘new’ town which was actually just slightly newer than the old town with it’s private gardens and big town houses. 

From here we took the main thoroughfare up towards calton hill. On our way we stopped off at a high walled graveyard as the clouds darkened the sky we strolled past old tombs and moss covered graves. It was all very creepy and got us ready for our ghost tour later. 

It wasn’t long till we were up on to the next hill with views over the city and it’s chimneys throwing smoke out into the sky with orange glints of light between buildings.  Up here we could see over to Arthur’s seat and there was information on the volcanic nature of it and the hill the castle was built upon. There were a few bits to see up here so we walked around the summit before descending back down into the capital.  

After all the sightseeing it was time to eat so we had a quick relax and change of clothes in the hotel and walked back up the main street through the old town to the mussel inn. 

I had done some research and this place sounded really good with a good mix of local scottish dishes, I had a crab lasagne to start which was incredible and Peter had scallops which were also really good. For mains Peter had a huge Scottish steak and I had a steaming bowl of mussels in cream and whisky…a lot of whisky! It was all really tasty and we had a bottle of wine to prepare for the ghost tour. 

By the time dinner had finished it was dark and very cold out as we went quietly through the streets to the meeting point. Here we met our guide who took us round the old town regaling us with tales of ghosts and ghouls that haunt the streets of Edinburgh I also got to play a part in the proceedings! Then we were taken down into the catacombs underneath the city and explored the candle lit rooms with warnings of malevolent spirits all around us. It was a lot of fun and really worth doing, we even got a dram of whiskey at the end…sat round a small room with more ghost stories being told. 

We needed a beer after that and to get out of the cold once we were topside so we did a pub crawl down the main old town street which incorporated a pub selling drams of whiskey for hundreds of pounds, a raucous pub with Scots singing, cheering and stamping their feet and a live band singing every song with a thick Scottish accent.  

We eventually found ourselves back at the hotel and stumbled up to bed.