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  2. We slept well in our hotel on Alderney last night after the 30 000 + steps we'd walked yesterday! The advantage of staying in a hotel is having breakfast included and we were pleasantly surprised when we went downstairs in this hotel to find that there was a really nice breakfast menu. We both ended up having pancakes with bacon, which was an exceptionally good start to the day Our flight from Alderney back to Guernsey wasn't until 12.10 - and Alderney airport didn't seem like the sort of place we needed to be two hours before our flights - so we decided to take a scenic route from the hotel to the airport, walking around part of the cliff-top path that we'd not managed to do yesterday. We packed up our things and set off, walking downhill from the town of St Anne towards Braye where we'd had dinner last night. We had some beautiful views of the sea as we picked up the coastal path again. We also passed quite a few different castle and forts. Some of them were on land and some of them were out at sea. There were also some lovely sandy beaches... ...and some rockier ones. We passed an extremely windswept tree... ...before the path left the coast behind and we began to climb uphill towards the airport. This is definitely one of the more scenic walks to an airport I've ever done! Before too long the airport came into view. It's a really tiny airport, not much more than a prefab. We queued to check in, then queued again to go through security. Alderney airport doesn't seem to have any scanning technology, so security consisted of someone opening our bags and having a quick rifle through them. Then we transferred into a small prefab to watch the flight safety video and before we knew it we were boarding the tiny plane and about to take off. Tim and I were sitting in row 9 this time, which was the back of the plane. We had some more incredible views of the other Channel Islands as made the short journey back to Guernsey. After we landed, we realised that our 12.10 flight (which was due to get to Guernsey at 12.30), had actually landed at 12.04 I think that's the first time I've ever been on a flight that arrived before it was due to depart They're obviously quite flexible with the flight times from Alderney, with the plane taking off once all the passengers are there! I'd booked us into a pub about 10 minutes walk away from the airport, so we headed there to have lunch at 1pm. Our flight from Guernsey back to Birmingham is due to depart at 17.35, but we've just heard that there are air traffic control problems in the UK, so we're not sure to what extent we're going to be delayed. Whatever happens, we've had an amazing long weekend in the Channel Islands and have really enjoyed our trip to Alderney in particular
  3. We had an early start this morning, setting the alarm for 6am. We were booked on an 08.55 flight from Guernsey to Alderney and, as it seemed that the buses on Guernsey don't start running until nearer 9am on Sundays, we were planning to walk from the Airbnb to the airport. We checked out before 7am and were on our way. It wasn't a particularly sunny morning but it was dry at least and we had some lovely views as we walked along tiny lanes towards the airport. When I'd put Guernsey Airport into my phone as a destination, it had told me that it was a walk of about 2.5 miles. Unfortunately, when I'd done that, I hadn't checked exactly what location it had chosen for the airport. The result was that after 2.5 miles we arrived... on the opposite side of the airport to where the entrance was We then had another half a mile or so to walk, essentially around the airport perimeter fence, until we got to the way in. I was slightly worried that we were going to end up arriving too late to check in for our flight, but despite the diversion we made it to the airport by 08.00 and found the queue for check-in. Phew, what a relief! Except our flight didn't seem to be on the departures board... While we waited in the queue I logged into the airline website to check our booking. Yep, it definitely said that we were booked on the 08.55 flight this morning. When we got to the front of the queue, an employee explained to us that the flight had been cancelled and he didn't know why we hadn't been informed about it. Wow The best he could do was book us onto the 14.30 flight instead. That was better that nothing but it was a bit disappointing when a) we only had one day on Alderney and b) we'd got up so early and hiked all the way to the airport! We'd also not had any breakfast so we were starving by this point. The airport is only small but it does have a cafe on the first floor. We went up to investigate that, encouraged by the sign announcing that it served hot food all day. Unfortunately, it turned out that "all day" doesn't start until 10am. There was no point staying at the airport so we went outside and waited at the bus stop for the first bus of the day towards St Peter Port. When we got there we had a wander around and established that there's not much open on Guernsey on a Sunday morning. St Peter Port did look pretty though, especially with all the bunting. And I absolutely love the blue post boxes on Guernsey. Somehow they're so much more exciting than red ones! We ended up having breakfast in the Marks & Spencers cafe, which surpassed my expectations by serving nice crispy bacon. There weren't really any other options; even Costa didn't open until 10am! Once we'd eaten and had a couple of cups of coffee, we walked uphill through the town towards the Candie Gardens, which I'd read were worth seeing. There were some pretty flowers... ...and some nice views down towards the sea... ...but overall they were a bit on the small side. Once we'd finished exploring the gardens, we walked back down into St Peter Port and caught a bus back out to the airport. We still had a bit of a wait, but eventually it was time to board the plane. We passed through a very brief security check, then were told to sit down an watch a video about the safety features of the aircraft. Then it was finally time to walk across the tarmac towards our plane. This is definitely the smallest plane we've ever been on in our lives! There was only one seat either side of the aisle and from where we were sitting we could see the pilot. There wasn't any overhead bag storage at all; I just about managed to squeeze my backpack into the limited under-seat storage space. The flight from Guernsey to Alderney was only around 15 minutes. We had some fantastic views; initially of Guernsey, then of Sark and finally of the French coast as we got closer to Alderney. Unfortunately, I haven't got any photos. We were told to turn off all electronic devices and, given the size of the plane, I didn't want to disobey instructions Never mind, we'd finally made it to Alderney! Alderney is the third largest of the Channel Islands after Jersey and Guernsey, so bigger than Sark, but that doesn't make it very large. It's about 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, with a population of around 2 000 people. It was small enough that we could walk straight from the airport to St Anne, the main town on the island, and check into our hotel for the night. St Anne is a pretty little town with beautiful, pastel-coloured houses. The hotel we're staying in is really nice, with a Nespresso machine in the room. The receptionist also said we could help ourselves to ice-cream from a freezer downstairs. Free ice-cream in a hotel is a first for me Once we'd checked in we were keen to get out again and see as much of Alderney as we could in the limited time available. I was excited to find another blue postbox, and this one had a yellow phone box next to it too. Our original plan for the day had been to walk around Alderney, on a 10-mile path known as the cliff trail. It was now around 4pm and we were booked into a restaurant for 6, so we no longer had time to do the full circuit. We decided instead to walk about half of the route, going south from St Anne to the coast and then looping around the northeastern end of the island. We had some beautiful views as we did so. There are some lovely sandy beaches on Alderney... ...though there do seem to be some rockier ones too. There were also quite a lot of fortifications along the coast. And when we reached the end of the island we found the lighthouse. I'm really glad we got to see a bit of Alderney Once it got past 5pm we caught sight of some colourful houses on the horizon. That was a good sign because that was Braye, the town where we were booked into a hotel to have dinner at 6pm. There aren't many restaurants on Alderney and a lot of the restaurants which do exist don't open on Sundays, so I hadn't had a lot of options when trying to arrange somewhere in advance. The place I'd found turned out to be good though and we both had a seriously nice steak. It's been a long day - over 30 000 steps in total - but definitely one that's ended better than it started
  4. We left the Airbnb just before 9am this morning and set off for the same cafe where we'd had breakfast yesterday. I went for scrambled egg on toast today, which fortunately came without the salad I'd received with my sausage bap yesterday! We had a bus to catch just after 10am to take us back towards Guernsey's capital, St Peter Port. The bus arrived promptly and we were soon on our way. I'd booked ferry tickets for us to visit the nearby island of Sark today and our ferry wasn't departing until midday, but we needed to go to a ferry office in advance to transform our online booking into actual boarding cards for the journey. Everything worked out fine and we got to St Peter Port with plenty of time to spare. We sorted out the tickets, then had time to go and get a coffee while we waited for our boat. Sark is only about 10 miles off the coast of Guernsey, so it wasn't a terribly long boat journey. We arrived on the island after about 45 minutes. First impressions were that Sark seemed very scenic, with a rocky coastline and beautiful bright blue sea. Sark is a tiny island, with an area of just over 2 square miles and a population of around 500 people. It's also famous for being one of the only places in the world where cars are not allowed, with the fastest form of transport permitted being tractors. Lots of the people who got off our ferry were staying overnight on Sark and catching a tractor connection to take them uphill from the harbour area to the main village. We decided to walk up the hill instead, following a tree-lined footpath alongside the road. When we got to the end of the footpath we found ourselves on the Avenue, the main high street in Sark. There wasn't a lot going on here! We did find Sark's only postbox, painted gold in honour of a former resident of the island who won a gold medal in dressage at the 2012 Olympics. We continued to follow a series of narrow lanes across the island. We were heading towards a place called La Coupée, a narrow isthmus which links the main island of Greater Sark to the smaller island of Little Sark. We made it to the isthmus without any difficulty, but as we'd been walking across Sark the clouds had been getting darker and darker. No sooner had we arrived at La Coupée then the heavens opened and we had to turn around again, finding a small cafe to escape the rain. Luckily it turned out to only be a rather brief shower and after 15 minutes or so, everywhere was looking a lot brighter. The landscape here is really dramatic. We had to walk quite steeply downhill, then across the isthmus and uphill again. There were some lovely views of the sea as we did so. In the distance we could see back to Guernsey and the settlement of St Peter Port. There wasn't loads to see on Little Sark! We walked to the far end, then turned around and head back towards La Coupée. From this direction, the path we'd just come down really did look rather steep! There were some more great views as we made our way back over to the bigger part of Sark. It's definitely a unique island. In some ways it felt a little bit similar to the Azores. Our ferry back to Guernsey was at 16.00, so we walked back across Sark and found a cafe to get a drink while we waited. Then when we got back to St Peter Port, we walked a couple of miles to a village called St Martin, where we were booked into a pub for dinner. Tomorrow will be an early start as we have an 08.55 flight to the final island of this trip: Alderney!
  5. It's August Bank Holiday weekend and that means it's time for another trip away We decided to do something a bit different for this bank holiday when Tim found relatively cheap flights from Birmingham to Guernsey a few months ago. We've never been to any of the Channel Islands before, so this felt like a good opportunity to explore somewhere new - and also to compare to the Isle of Man, which we visited for one of the May bank holidays earlier this year. We flew with Aurigny, Guernsey's official airline, on Thursday evening. I was worried that Birmingham airport might be really busy so we were there over two hours ahead of our flight. That turned out to be unnecessary; we got through security in around 5 minutes and had plenty of time to get dinner in the airport while we waited for our flight. And we turned out to have quite a wait! We arrived at the gate as boarding was starting and optimistically joined the queue, only to find ourselves standing at the bottom of a stairwell for around 40 minutes while we waited to be able to board the flight. It was absolutely boiling until an employee came along and opened the door to give everyone some air. Apparently the plane had been delayed by thunderstorms over southern England. It was a fairly small plane when we eventually did board it, although a bit bigger than some of the ones we flew on in Greenland earlier this year. The flight to Guernsey was only a little over an hour, but the late departure meant that by the time we arrived it was absolutely pitch black. Our originally plan had been to walk from the airport to the Airbnb where we're staying, a distance of less than 3 miles. In the end we chickened out and ended up getting a taxi! We didn't regret the taxi; it would have been a long walk on some pretty dark lanes. We found the Airbnb without too much difficulty and were able to get the key from a lockbox. It's just a room we're staying in rather than an apartment, but it's a big spacious one and we do at least have a kettle to be able to make coffee When we woke up on Friday morning, we were able to see what a lovely house the room is in. There's no breakfast included, so our first aim was to walk to a nearby cafe and find some. On the way we caught sight of a bright blue Guernsey postbox. The cafe was opposite Fort Grey, a small fortress built here in 1804. I ordered a sausage bap for breakfast and was slightly horrified to find it came with salad. Who eats salad for breakfast?! It was warm enough to sit outside and eat though, which was nice. Once we'd finished we had a better look at the fort... ...and then set off on a walk around the nearby coast. We're staying in the southwestern part of Guernsey and the coast is really pretty here; lots of sand and a bright blue sea. The path which we were following took us around a small headland at the bottom of the island. It was a really scenic route. We passed another small fortress... ...came to a "fairy ring" (which was described as a major tourist attraction, but slightly underwhelming in reality!)... ...and had views out to sea towards a lighthouse. By this point we were following part of a clifftop trail which goes along the southern coast of the island. It was a bit rockier here, but still really beautiful Towards the end of the trail we came across some large concrete buildings. These are some of the fortifications which were built on Guernsey by the German army when they occupied the island during the Second World War. The buildings themselves are not very attractive, although some of them are in stunning locations. Once we'd completed a loop back to our Airbnb we'd done about 15 000 steps, so we went inside for a rest for a couple of hours. Around 3pm we set off again towards a bus stop near the coast. We caught a bus across the island to the capital of Guernsey, St Peter Port. The buses in Guernsey are amazing value; it only cost £1.25 each for a single fare! The bus dropped us off near the harbour area in St Peter Port, which is dominated by Castle Cornet. There's been a castle here in various forms for over 800 years. We didn't pay to go in, but continued strolling through the harbour and out onto the pier. From here we had a view not only of a large ferry arriving in Guernsey, but also of an even larger cruise ship out in the sea. In the distance, behind the cruise ship, we could see the small island of Herm. Further behind it, on the horizon, we could also make out the island of Sark. It hasn't come out in the photo, but beyond Sark we could see an even fainter strip of land which we think must have been the coast of France. We had a stroll around St Peter Port, which seemed like a pretty town with lots of flowers. Not only do they have blue postboxes in Guernsey, they also have yellow phone boxes! I'd booked us in for a meal in an Indian restaurant, which luckily turned out to be really nice. I don't normally ever book restaurants when we go on holiday, but there are limited restaurants in Guernsey - especially if you don't want to eat sea food - and I was worried we might otherwise struggle to get in anywhere on a bank holiday weekend. Once we'd eaten we caught the bus back across the island, where we were just on time to catch sunset over the coast. From there it was a short walk back to the Airbnb. We've had a lovely first day on Guernsey today Tomorrow looks like it might not be 100% dry, but if all goes well we'll be making a day trip to the island of Sark.
  6. Today was our final day in Bolzano and it began with quite a bit of travelling. First of all, we took the Renon cable car up to Soprabolzano, then from there we took the little train to Klobenstein as we had done on Monday. But today we weren't planning to walk to the earth pyramids. Instead, we caught a bus from outside the station in Klobenstein to a small place called Pemmern. Pemmern was only about a quarter of an hour away from Klobenstein on the bus and it's the starting point for a gondola cable car, which goes up to a point called Schwarzsee Spitze at just over 2000 metres. Tim and I discovered we didn't even need to pay, as the cable car was included in the Bolzano card we'd received from our apartment. Unfortunately, the rest of my family weren't so lucky! It was fun going up the mountain in the gondolas; they only seated about 8 so we managed to get one to ourselves Once we got to the top we got our first glimpses of the panoramic views we'd been promised. We were following a panoramic loop trail, which was supposed to have really great views. We did indeed get some great views of the mountains, although sometimes it felt like there was a lot of shrubbery between us and them. It turned out that this area has all kinds of different pine trees. These were mountain pine, which don't typically grow to be more than 3 metres high. The pine trees weren't the only nature we had to admire. We also passed some kind of mountain sheep with very long ears. It really was a very scenic path It hasn't come out very clearly in the photos, but we could even see one mountain that had the remnants of snow or a glacier on top. You might be able to make it out towards the right hand side of the photo below. The other great thing about the panorama trail was that it was circular. As we began to loop round we had some different views... ...and also got to see some different types of pine trees. We hadn't realised as we'd been walking that the path was leading us downhill, but after we'd got about halfway round we realised we had quite a lot of uphill to do to get back to our starting point. The final part of the trail took us past the Schwarzsee lake which the cable car station is named after. It's a slightly unusual lake, not least because it's behind a big fence. No idea why! Once we'd completed the route, we headed to the restaurant at the cable car station for some lunch. We all finished with a slice of this absolutely enormous Apfelstrudel! Then it was time for the journey back to Bolzano via gondola, bus, train and cable car! Tomorrow will just be a day of travelling, as Tim and I have a 06.55 train to catch for the first leg of our journey back to the UK. It's been a lovely trip away though to a beautiful part of the world and it's been fun to celebrate Dad's birthday with the whole family
  7. While Tim needed to catch up on some work today, the rest of us decided to go on an excursion back to Merano. Not because Merano was so beautiful that we felt the need to see it for a second day in a row (although it was a gorgeous place!) but to visit a botanical garden, which is located a bit outside the main town centre. We didn't have much luck with public transport initially, missing the 10.35 train we were trying to catch literally just by a minute when there was a last minute platform train. That meant we had almost half an hour to wait at Bolzano station until the next train to Merano. Fortunately, it was quite a scenic place to sit. Once we made it to Merano, we then needed to catch a bus to the entrance to the gardens. The bus took us up some increasingly steep and narrow roads towards our destination. Having missed the first train and then, by default, the bus which would have connected with it, it was around 12.30 by the time we'd bought a ticket and got inside the Trauttmansdorff Castle Gardens. We knew they were botanical gardens, but otherwise weren't quite sure what to expect. I was pleased when one of the first things we walked past was a display of cactuses though. There were some lovely views of the mountains surrounding Merano... ...and as we admired the views we noticed what looked like a rather unusual viewing platform sticking out of the hillside. The gardens were really well laid out, so although they were on a hillside you never really felt like you were going very uphill because the paths were gently sloping. We walked past some really colourful flowers, interspersed with the odd cactus. We soon realised that the gardens were laid out in four different zones, with routes to follow around all of them. We'd started with the route referred to as the Sun Gardens, which was concentrating on Mediterranean plants. We also passed a display of carnivorous plants. As we continued upwards, there were some pretty views down towards Merano. There was also the occasional odd sculpture. And we had a view of Trauttmansdorff Castle itself, the yellow building in whose gardens all this is housed. We were climbing upwards towards the rather spectacular viewpoint we'd spotted from down below. It was quite strange to stand on; it wobbled slightly and you could see a long way down when you looked through the floor! It gave us some nice views though. After the viewpoint, our route continued along a very green path. We were walking towards a rather unusual aviary. There were multiple birds inside, including some rather colourful parrots. I wasn't a massive fan of being inside an aviary with birds, but once you walked through it you could get to another viewing platform. From there you could see down towards what was advertised as the palm beach, although that didn't look like it was going to be the most exciting part of the gardens. We decided not to go to the palms but to retrace our steps downhill to the main restaurant to get some lunch. I had some dumpling soup again and also an affogato which came in an actual coffee cup. I was very impressed! As we left the restaurant I realised we could see up to the precarious viewpoint we'd been at earlier. It's not too easy to make out in this photo, but it's between the lefthand branch of the tree and its trunk. It looked quite high from down here! Our plan was now to explore the second zone of the gardens, which was called Forests of the World. The first sight we came to when following the forest trail didn't involve trees, though. Instead, we found ourselves looking at a rice paddy! That was unexpected. The path continued past small waterfalls... ...little palm trees and all sorts of ferns. At one point there was some artificial steam adding to a jungle atmosphere. Towards the end of the forests trail we came to a large glasshouse. There were some beautiful flowers in here. I was excited to see a coffee plant. There were all sorts of other exotic plants in there. Look at these baby pineapples! Once we'd completed the forests trail, we moved on to the Water and Terraced Gardens zone. I think we maybe took a wrong turning on the route at some point because rather than arriving at the large pond we had been expecting, we found ourselves in what seemed to be more like a cactus zone! There were all kinds of different cactuses here. I loved these little round ones! Although I saw a lot of cactuses in Arizona last year, I'm not sure I've ever seen so many different types of cactuses all in the same place. It was also just such a strange setting to see them in, with Alpine views behind. It was all really pretty though And some of the cactuses were even flowering! I may have taken just a few photos! Once we'd finished admiring the cactuses, our path continued down towards a more flowery part of the gardens. There were so many different displays to look at that it was hard to take everything in. I loved these bright red flowers though. Eventually we got down to the water lily pond we'd been expecting. It was really gorgeous here and the rain was just about holding off for us. We saw what looked like enormous water lilies... ...and turned out to be lotus flowers. There were also some giant water lilies where the leaves had edges. Plus lots of more normal water lilies, of course. It was a really spectacular place and there was so much more we could have seen if we'd had more time. Unfortunately, it was around 4pm by this point and we needed to get to the bus stop, to start our journey back to Merano. It was a lovely day though and I'd definitely come to the gardens again if I was in this part of the world
  8. After celebrating Dad's birthday last night we had a slow start to the morning before deciding to catch a train to Merano. Tim and I had been to Merano when we first came to this part of Italy in 2015, but couldn't remember too much about it beyond a general impression that it was a really pretty place and that we'd walked in some sort of garden with sculptures of animals. Merano is only around 40 minutes away from Bolzano on a regional train, so before too long we'd arrived at the train station there. The first thing we saw when we came out of the station was this statue of Andreas Hofer, a local Tyrolean folk hero. From the station it was a walk of 20 minutes or so into the centre of Merano. The river Passer flows through the town and it's a gorgeous river, with beautifully clear water. Merano used to be a spa town and there's an impressive Kurhaus building down by the river. The flower display in front of it was really lovely. I also loved this square, complete with a few little palm trees. And I was particularly impressed by this flower display of a peacock! The river is crossed by lots of different bridges. We were actually trying to stay on one side of it, but every time we got to a bridge I couldn't resist walking across it to see the view. As we made our way along the river we could see that in some places it was flowing incredibly fast. After a while we reached an old stone bridge. The views were really good from here too. Before too long we'd reached the park we remembered from our 2015 visit. I definitely remember this colourful woodpecker! This hairy snake looked familiar too. We ended up crossing the river here and following a trail on the opposite side. From where we were walking we could see what looked like ruins of a castle high on a rock above the river... ...as well as a more modern tower in the distance. The path we followed took us through the forest, which was nice and shady on a hot day, though didn't give us many views of the river. At one point we passed this slightly concerning sign! Luckily we didn't encounter any explosions, but continued on towards some beautiful orchards. After a while we emerged in a clearing, where there seemed to be a picnic spot beside a small lake. We were feeling peckish by this point, so decided to turn around and head back to the centre of Merano. We found a nice restaurant to get some lunch and then explored some of the bookshops in the centre of Merano. Then there was just time for a final stroll up and down the promenades... ...and a final look at the views of the mountains... ...before catching the train back to Bolzano
  9. After updating the blog last night, we went out in Bolzano to try and find something to eat. Bolzano seems to be a place where a lot of restaurants are closed on a Sunday evening, so we weren't wholly successful. Tim and I ended up in McDonalds, which perhaps wasn't the classiest of establishments. But we did get a nice view of the main square in Bolzano by night. The next day was Dad's 70th birthday, so we had a slow start to the day as we went round to give him his cards and presents. Afterwards we took the cable car up to Soprabolzano, from where we then caught a little train to the little village of Klobenstein. Last time Tim and I were here was winter 2019 when everywhere was covered with snow. Today was so different - brilliant sunshine. Back in 2019 it was so cold that this pond was completely frozen over. Today, not only was it not frozen but we had a fantastic view of all the fish swimming around inside it. We'd come to Klobenstein to do a walk towards the earth pyramids, an unusual geological formation. But on the way we had some amazing views of the mountains. Before too long we caught sight of a little church, which looked very familiar. When we came in 2019 this one was almost completely obscured by clouds. From this point we were able to get our first glimpse of the earth pyramids. These unique structures are formed when there are large, hard rocks in the soil. The soil below the rocks is protected from erosion and over a long period of time it forms a pyramid, complete with rock on top. Not all the pyramids still have their rocks on top, but we saw some that did. There were some particularly good views of them from the viewing platform. And there were some great views of the mountains from here too. The benefit of being here in summer was that more of the path was open, so we were able to walk further than we had done before. Eventually we came to a restaurant where we stopped for lunch. I had Speckknödel which were very tasty Then it was time to retrace our steps back towards the train station in Klobenstein. Unfortunately, when we got to the cable car station we found that the cable car was closed for some sort of maintenance this afternoon Some replacement buses had been laid on but there were nowhere near enough for the volume of people trying to get down the mountain. We ended up having to queue until 5pm, at which point the cable car started working again. It was a slightly frustrating end to what was otherwise a lovely day
  10. To celebrate my Dad's 70th birthday, my family decided to book a trip to Italy. Tim was already going to be in Italy, attending the World Esperanto Congress in Turin, for the first part of their holiday. I decided to fly out to meet them in Verona towards the end of their time there, while Tim made his way across Italy from Turin to meet up with us all for the second part of the holiday in Bolzano. My journey started on Friday morning, walking into Nuneaton to catch a train to Birmingham International for my Ryanair flight to Verona. Having heard that there is a bit of chaos at Birmingham airport this summer due to renovations for a new security terminal, I decided to turn up three hours ahead of my flight to make sure I definitely got through security on time. Imagine my disappointment when I got to the Ryanair baggage machines, only to be told that I wasn't allowed to use them until two hours before my flight. That was annoying, but I managed to pass an hour in Costa and then come back for a second attempt. It turned out that I needn't have worried about getting to the airport early; it was a pretty quiet time of day and I whizzed through security in less than 10 minutes. Unfortunately, my flight then ended up being delayed for no clear reason, but luckily only by around half an hour or so. The flight to Verona is a fairly short one and before too long I was queuing for passport control on the other side. By the time I got through that, my bag was already waiting for me on the baggage carousel which was a relief; I'm always nervous about flights where I have to stick my own label onto my bag! I emerged into a rather humid Verona, where it looked like it was soon going to rain. Getting the airport bus into the centre of town is theoretically straightforward, but in practice turned out to be complete chaos. Lots of passengers didn't understand how they were supposed to buy tickets, then once people had bought tickets and managed to get on board there was more chaos as it's one of those airport buses that don't have any space for luggage. I spent the entirety of my journey balancing in the bendy part of the bus, where the floor moves every time you go round a corner. Once I made it to the main station in Verona, it was just another short bus ride to the part of the city where my family were staying. My sister met me and led me to their apartment, where I spent the night. The next morning, after a breakfast of croissants and coffee, we headed back to the main station to catch a train to Bolzano. The journey took less than two hours on a regional train, which was surprisingly busy; we were lucky that we were at the station early so that we could jump on the train as soon as it arrived and find space for our luggage. We arrived in Bolzano around 13.30 and I set off towards the apartment I'd booked, where someone was waiting to check me in. It's a nice apartment, in a residential block not far from the cable car station in Bolzano. We've got a kitchen... ...a living room... ...and a bedroom. Best of all there's air conditioning, although it did take me a while to figure out how to get the temperature to go below 25 degrees! I unpacked for a while, then set off back to the train station to meet Tim, who had had a nightmare 9-hour bus journey across Italy from Turin. Once we'd all made it to Bolzano we went out in the evening for a pizza. The weather forecast had been looking a bit mixed for the following day, but when we woke up on Sunday morning it seemed surprisingly sunny. Our first plan had been to go up the cable car to Soprabolzano, but when we all met at the cable car station we found that there was an enormous backlog of people queuing to go up the mountain. We're not sure whether it's always like that at this time of year or whether it was particularly busy today thanks to the good weather, combined with the fact that it's a Sunday. We decided to leave Soprabolzano for another day and instead go with a back-up plan to visit Runkelstein Castle, which is about a 40-minute walk away from central Bolzano. We started by walking through the town, where we got a glimpse of the controversial victory monument erected by Mussolini. From there we turned off and walked along a pleasant trail through lots of greenery. We could hear, although not always see, a fast-flowing river. Every so often we also got glimpses of mountains in the distance. We walked past vineyards... ...and several buildings which looked like castles but weren't the castle we were going to visit. The views of the mountains here were fantastic. As we continued on, everywhere looked so green that it almost felt like we were in the Azores. We passed another building which wasn't the castle we were looking for... ...found the river again... ...and then eventually got our first glimpse of Runkelstein Castle. It was an impressive castle, but quite high up; we still had a bit of a climb to get to it. It was rather steep but we all made it to the castle gates just before a torrential downpour began! Luckily the castle has a nice restaurant, where we were able to sit inside until the weather improved and get some lunch. I was slightly disappointed that they'd run out of apple juice, so couldn't make me the Apfelschorle I was craving, but I managed to console myself with an Aperol Spritz. After lunch, my family stayed to explore the castle which has some impressive frescos. Tim and I are philistines as far as frescoes are concerned, so we decided to walk back to Bolzano via a slightly different route. The weather had massively improved by this stage, which was good. The path led us uphill towards vineyards. There were so many grapes! We could see down towards Bolzano in the distance. This part of the route was relatively flat, but there was a lot of uphill to get to it, followed by a lot of downhill at the end. The views of Bolzano were superb though... ...and as we got towards the end of the walk I was amazed to find that there were cactuses growing by the side of the path! Definitely not what I expected to find in Bolzano The path brought us out not far from our apartment, so we were able to head back there for a while to cool down (and catch up on the blog ).
  11. When we got back from the Eqi Glacier trip last night we went for a final evening walk around Ilulissat. Then we went up to the rooftop bar of our hotel and had a rather expensive drink. But it was a drink with a great view We had a fairly early start to our travels on Tuesday morning, with just enough time for breakfast at the hotel and a final look at the icebergs before we had to set off towards Ilulissat airport. Our first flight was to a place called Kangerlussuaq and it was due to depart from Ilulissat at 09.45. We'd been promised a shuttle bus would pick us up from outside the hotel at 08.15 and take us to the airport, which was only a couple of miles away. The bus ended up being at least 10 minutes late and very chaotic, because all the other tourists in the hotel seemed to have packed significantly bigger suitcases than us, but we got there in the end. When we arrived, Ilulissat airport turned out to be tiny. We've been to some fairly small airports in places like Lapland, but I think this is the smallest one we've ever seen. The runway barely looked long enough for a plane to take off and there wasn't any security to go through at all. There also weren't really any announcements or information boards - or at least not any which we could understand. But around 09.30 we saw an Air Greenland plane on the tarmac and people started heading outside to it, so we followed the crowd. Luckily it was the right plane It took off very sharply on the short runway and we flew up over the icefjord. We were sitting on the wrong side of the plane to have a view of Ilulissat and the big icebergs, but we got to see lots of little ones at least They were quite surreal to fly over. The plane had only been in the air for about 20 minutes when it started descending again. We were making a short stop in the town of Aasiaat (which you may remember we sailed past on Sunday morning). The plane was essentially acting as a bus service and touching down here to let some of the passengers off, then pick up even more. If we thought the runway in Ilulissat was small, the one in Aasiaat seemed even smaller It was only a short stop and we were soon up in the air again. On the way to Kangerlussuaq we flew over plenty of ice. Kangerlussuaq is situated at the end of a fjord, which soon became visible out of the window. It's only a small settlement (population of about 500) but it's home to Greenland's largest international airport. Along with Narsarsuaq, this is one of only two airports in Greenland which has a runway big enough to handle large international planes. Unlike Narsarsuaq, Kangerlussuaq is situated in a place with comparatively good weather (not a lot of fog etc) which means that planes seem to have a better chance of not being cancelled After what was a very scenic flight, our little plane came in to land. We then had about an hour to wait in Kangerlussuaq before our connecting flight to Copenhagen. It was quite a small airport and quite busy. We did have to pass through security here, although still no passport checks. We had our passports stamped when we entered Iceland last Tuesday and no one has shown any desire to see them since! The plane to Copenhagen was significantly bigger than the plane from Ilulissat. It didn't take long after taking off for us to get a view of the edge of the ice sheet. Soon all we could see beneath us was ice. It was only once we'd flown most of the way across Greenland and were approaching the island's eastern coast that we began to see mountains starting to poke up out of the ice. Before too long we reached the coast itself. There was so much ice in the sea here! It was wonderful to get this one final view of Greenland to end the holiday
  12. Today is our final day in Greenland before starting the long journey home, via Copenhagen, tomorrow morning. We wanted to make the most of it, so we had a big excursion planned for today: a boat trip to the Eqi Glacier. The trip was booked with the same company we did the icefjord cruise with last night, so just before 9am this morning we made our way down to their offices again and were transported back to the harbour. The boat we travelled in was a bit bigger than the one we went on yesterday and it was very full. The layout wasn't ideal as the seats were five across each side of an aisle. The only seats we could find were in the middle of a row, so there was lots of waiting for people to stand up and/or being asked to stand up ourselves as the day went on. Never mind, we were soon pulling out of Ilulissat's harbour on another adventure This time we were travelling north. The Eqi Glacier, or Eqip Sermia as it is called in Greenlandic, is situated about 80 km to the north of Ilulissat. As with almost everywhere in Greenland, the only way to get there is by sea. It soon became clear as we sailed north that the icebergs in the sea around here are much smaller than the big ones that get stuck in the icefjord around Ilulissat. They were still very pretty though. And we had some lovely views of the mountainous coast too. The icebergs weren't the most exciting thing we saw today though! This was An hour or so into the journey the boat came to a stop so that we could try to catch a glimpse of this humpback whale. It was really hard to spot the whale coming up on time to get a photo, but I managed to get a few tail shots Once the whale had moved on, we were back on our way. We passed a few icebergs where we could clearly see how much bigger the bit under the water was compared to the bit on top. I also learned that the reason some of the icebergs sometimes look a bit dirty is because the glacier contained volcanic ash, potentially from thousands of years ago. Lots of the mountains we sailed past were still covered in snow. Apparently that's unusual for this time of year and it's been a cold spring. I suspect the cold spring is the reason we've been really lucky and not encountered any mosquitos so far on this trip After a couple of hours the boat began to turn a corner and we knew we were starting to get closer to the glacier. We passed a big waterfall coming down the side of the mountains and into the sea. A little further on we also passed a smaller waterfall, which was still partially frozen. And then the glacier appeared on the horizon Seeing it in the distance was tantalising but it still took the boat a lot time to reach it. The closer we got, the slower the boat had to go because the sea was full of tiny bits of ice. It was a really incredible experience to sail through it. Just look at it! It felt like we were sailing through a glacier soup Everyone was up on deck, excited to get the best shots of the glacier. And before long, we had them The boat pulled up alongside the glacier and paused for an hour or so. That gave us plenty of time to admire the views... ...take some photos... ...and investigate the lunch provided (which turned out not to be great, but we'd brought some provisions of our own so it didn't matter!) It was so exciting to see such a big glacier and definitely worth the trip, even though it was a long one. After lunch the boat departed and made the long journey back to Ilulissat. It had been a day that involved a lot of sitting down, so we walked back up from the harbour to our hotel rather than waiting for a minibus transfer. Today has been yet another exciting day in Greenland and I'm so glad we (eventually!!!) made it here. There's no experience that quite compares to this
  13. We had a couple of hours to relax in our hotel room yesterday evening after our hike and then it was time to set out again. By 20.30 we had to be outside the offices of a boat company, in order to be picked up and taken to the harbour for an evening ice fjord cruise. The sun doesn't set in Ilulissat at this time of the year and we were planning to take advantage of that to cram some more iceberg-viewing into a day that had already involved a lot of icebergs Happily we made it to the correct place at the correct time and were soon on our way to the boat. We had to stay inside for the first part of the trip as the boat pulled out of the harbour in Ilulissat, but once that was done we were able to go out on deck to enjoy the views. And what views they were! This is what it looked like as we pulled away: There were icebergs all around us so it really didn't matter where on the boat you stood. The big icebergs were obviously the most impressive... ...but we really enjoyed watching the boat go past some of the tiny ones too. It was amazing seeing the reflections of the icebergs in the water... ...seeing how the tiny ones were moved aside by our boat... ...and getting glimpses of the bigger underside of some of the icebergs which looked quite small from the top. The fact that the sun was still up after 9pm at night also made it a really special experience. It was actually so bright that we had to wear sunglasses! We don't normally like organised tours, but this one was quite cool because the guide gave us information about the area. We learned that the name Ilulissat means "icebergs" in Greenlandic, which seems like a very fitting name for this place We also learned that the icebergs floating in the bay outside Ilulissat come from a glacier at the top of the icefjord. The top of the icefjord is much deeper than the bay area here. That means that when the largest icebergs break off the glacier and travel down the fjord, they end up getting stuck on the bottom of the seabed here. The glacier in question only calves icebergs two or three times a year. But when it does, it calves really large icebergs. Icebergs like this one have been stuck in the bay for about 15 months so far. The guide told us that some of them contain enough water to supply the entire USA for a year! Looking at them, it's not hard to believe. What is hard to believe is that 10 years ago, apparently the icebergs here were twice the size Global warming means they're getting smaller and smaller. The locals are worried that if the icebergs get too small, they won't get stuck in the bay any more and will float straight out to sea. That would have a negative impact on tourism in Ilulissat, because the icebergs are what people come here to see. It would also cause problems for fishing, which is the biggest industry here. I didn't fully understand the explanation but it was something about how the freshwater which the icebergs bring is good for plankton, which means there are more fish. Because there are lots of fish here there are also more whales and seals, though we didn't see any on this trip. We can't complain when we saw so many incredible icebergs though We didn't get a picture of it, but at some point the guide fished some ice out of the sea and made us all a drink. This time it wasn't whisky but gin, served with some type of local sirop which made it taste a bit like apple juice Being inside the icefjord was absolutely stunning. Once we had the drink, the boat turned around and began to take us back towards Ilulissat. Although it definitely wasn't what you could describe as a proper sunset, the sun did give us some beautiful light over the icebergs. In total the cruise was 2.5 hours, so it was after 11pm at night when some of these photos were taken. It's so strange for it to be so bright at that time! Definitely a unique experience we'll always remember I think we were so lucky with the weather today as well! The sky was so blue and the sea was so calm that we were really able to get some great shots. And we didn't even need all the seasickness pills I'd packed for this trip as a precaution At the end of the trip we were dropped back outside the offices of the boat company, from where it was only a short 5-minute walk up to our hotel. We took this shot from the hotel room window before going to bed, close to midnight, and it was still so bright. What an amazing place
  14. The ferry left Sisimiut at 21.00 last night and we had another night of sleeping in our cabin. The sea continued to be much calmer than I'd expected, with the result that I didn't get woken up by any big waves during the night. The first thing I knew was when my alarm went off at 07.00, I looked out of the window and I saw.... an iceberg! This was quickly followed by another iceberg which was absolutely enormous - probably bigger than the ferry! Wow, that was quite a start to the morning! The ferry was just about to pull in to the town of Aasiaat. The town itself didn't look anything special but there were some amazing icebergs in the sea around it. We were able to spend the morning in our cabin, watching them from our window. There were some small icebergs... ...and some really, really big ones. We were supposed to check out of our cabin at 12, so we packed up our things and went out on deck to look at the views there as the ferry got closer to Ilulissat. We realised other people had spotted a huge iceberg on the opposite side of the boat. Wow! This one was pretty impressive too There were so many different shapes and sizes. We went back inside to find out what was being served for lunch in the cafe. It turned out to be a choice of meat dishes with rice. Tim had pork in a paprika sauce and I had what seemed to be chunks of beef in gravy. We've been really lucky not to be served fish on this trip! We could still watch the ice through the cafe window as we ate. The closer we got to Ilulissat, the more and more icebergs we saw. Tim went out on deck again to get some photos of them. It was quite surreal to see so much ice floating in the sea, but really beautiful. The ferry arrived punctually in Ilulissat at 13.00 and we joined the queue to disembark. There was a shuttle bus waiting which drove us from the port to the hotel where we're staying. It wasn't very far so we could have walked it if we needed to, but there would have been a fair amount of uphill so the shuttle was nice We checked into our room, which at first looked pretty average. Then we realised we had a view. A view of the icebergs We settled in to the room for a while before going out for a walk. The town of Ilulissat has a population of less than 5 000 people and almost as many sled dogs. We passed a few of them as we walked up towards some nature trails on the edge of town. There were even some little puppies. After about a kilometre of walking, we made it to the Ilulissat Icefjord area, which is a World Heritage Site. There's a visitor centre here, as well as a handful of marked trails. We started following what I thought was going to be an easy one; the "Yellow Trail", which was marked with splodges of yellow paint on rocks and advertised as being 2.7km. We started off and I was amazed to find that there was still snow on the ground in places. The whole area was beautiful but the trail soon degenerated into an exercise in clambering over rocks and/or trying not to slip on mud and slushy snow. At one point I was considering giving up and turning back. Tim went ahead a bit to check whether the path got any easier, before coming back to say that it was definitely worth continuing. I made it over the rocks and wow, look at that view! And look at that view The ice was absolutely stunning. And there was so much of it! It had definitely been worth continuing for this While we were admiring the view we noticed that while we'd been climbing up on this difficult path, other people seemed to be walking on a much easier path lower down. We decided to go down and investigate that instead. We made our way back to the visitor centre, a rather odd construction whose roof you can walk on. From there we started following the trail. It was mostly much easier than the one we'd been on, although there was a bit of snow to negotiate in places. We were walking towards the most incredible views. And we were really lucky that it still seemed to be cold enough for the area not to be swarming with mosquitos. I'd seen reviews online from people who had had real problems with them later in the summer. The further we walked, the better the views of the ice. After half an hour or so we'd nearly got to the point at which the marked trail ran out. Before we did we turned one last corner... Wow. The views were even better from here, including of this iceberg so big it looks like it's an actual island. I didn't fancy climbing over all the rocks to get right to the edge But luckily Tim did and he took a video It was a really magical place and it was hard to turn our backs on it and start walking back up to the hotel. Eventually we did though, climbing back up past the visitor centre and down past the sled dogs again. Today has been such an exciting day And it's not over yet, because we're going on another boat trip this evening. But that may have to wait until tomorrow's blog!
  15. We were woken up this morning at 06.30 by a very loud ferry announcement, informing us that in half an hour's time the ferry would be arriving in Maniitsoq. Sure enough, when we looked out the window we found that there was some land just coming into view. The picture is blurry because I took it through our cabin window! Breakfast on the ferry is served at 07.00, so we got dressed and went to investigate it. It turned out to be rather chaotic, with half the boat having turned up at the same time and pushing and shoving to get into the queue. But the food itself was fine; for the breakfast included in our ticket, we were allowed to take one roll, one slice of normal bread, one slice of rye bread (which we both passed on!) as well as help ourselves to some cheese and various cold meats (which we also passed on - they didn't look very appetising). Most importantly, there was also coffee! The sea around Maniitsoq seemed really calm and so walking around with trays of food wasn't a problem. It stayed calm as we left Maniitsoq behind and began to sail towards the ferry's next destination of Kangaamiut, which was good because it gave us an opportunity to try out the shower in our cabin in fairly stable conditions We also went up onto the outside deck for a while to admire the views. We sailed past some very impressive mountains. Look at all the snow on them! At times it felt a bit like we were somehow sailing past the Alps Around 11am we noticed that we could see some rocks outside our cabin window. We realised the ferry had reached its next destination, Kangaamiut. Kangaamiut is only a small place; Wikipedia reckons it has a population of just 293 people! The harbour isn't big enough for the ferry to get right up to the town, so anyone wanting to join or leave the boat here has to be transferred in a smaller boat. After Kangaamiut the ferry didn't have any stops for several hours. We went to the onboard cafe at midday to investigate lunch and were pleasantly surprised to find that we were able to eat some of it. I was worried that everything was going to involve fish, but today's lunch was rice with some sort of meatballs in what tasted like a chicken korma sauce. The overall effect was distinctly odd, but at least it wasn't fishy. At some point in the mid-afternoon, the captain made an announcement over the tannoy to say that we were about to cross the Arctic Circle. How exciting! I went up on deck again to see whether there was anything to see but we were quite far out to sea at this point and I could only just make out the coast of Greenland in the distance. Dinner on the ferry was surprisingly edible too; I ended up with beef as a main course and lemon mousse as a pudding. We ate it swiftly because we knew the ferry was going to arrive in Sisimiut at 19.00 and this was due to be a two-hour stop, so long enough for us to get off the boat and do some exploring. Sure enough, by around 18.30 Sisimiut came into view on the horizon. Sisimiut is the second largest city in Greenland, despite the fact that it has a population of less than 6 000 people There were tonnes of people getting off the boat here, so we had to queue up and wait our turn as the locals unloaded vast quantities of luggage. Like Nuuk, Sisimiut seemed quite hilly and so once we did get off the boat we had to start walking uphill almost immediately. As we walked we got some good views of Sisimiut's church. The church itself was perched on top of a hill, then there were rows of houses perched on rocky outcrops above that. You wouldn't want to have vertigo if you lived up there!! We walked a bit further through the town and found the local football pitch, complete with artificial grass and snowy mountains behind. There were loads more mountains further into the distance, as we found when we walked to a coastal viewpoint. We also caught sight of a small lake on the edge of town. As we walked towards it, I was surprised(/concerned!) to see a group of huskies sitting on the grass. It turned out they were chained up, so nothing to worry about. The lake was really stunning. We realised there was still ice at the far end of it. That was really surprising as while it didn't exactly feel warm, it definitely felt above freezing. Once we'd finished admiring the view we had to turn around and retrace our steps past the huskies... ...and past the church, back to the ferry. We made it back with plenty of time to spare, before the ferry pulled out of Sisimiut at 21.00. We now have another night on the ferry, before arriving in our final destination of Ilulissat tomorrow afternoon.
  16. We had to check out of our hotel by 10.00 on Friday morning and we weren't supposed to board the ferry until around 20.30, so we had quite a lot of time to spend in Nuuk today. Fortunately it was a lovely sunny day, if a bit chilly at times, and the hotel reception were nice enough to allow us to leave our suitcases in the hotel for the duration of the day, which made life a lot easier. After checking out, we made our way down to the main harbour area, to find where the ferry would be leaving from. The ferry had in fact already arrived earlier in the morning and was spending the day in Nuuk. The Sarfaq Ittuk ferry is essentially what passes for public transport in Greenland. Because there are no roads between different settlements - and certainly no railways - the only way to get from town to town is to fly or take a boat. The Sarfaq Ittuk spends half the week travelling north, stopping at various settlements on Greenland's western coast, before turning around and spending the second half of the week travelling south again. So it's a bit like a long-distance coach service for the towns it serves. We'd now confirmed where we needed to be so there was no chance of us missing the ferry this evening We enjoyed the views in the harbour for a while, noticing that there was what seemed to be a large Danish military ship nearby. From the harbour we then walked into the centre of town, passing a large church on a rock. We found what seemed to be the main square, complete with Greenlandic flags flying in the wind. There was also a rather bizarre statue; not sure what it was supposed to be! We did know what the statue on the top of the hill in the background was supposed to be, though; Hans Egede, the Danish missionary who founded Nuuk in 1728. The red church is Nuuk's cathedral, the Church of Our Saviour, which was built in 1848. We decided to see if we could climb up to the statue of Hans Egede to have a closer look. It was a bit steep, but we made it! From here there was a good view across Nuuk... ...including the not very scenic tower blocks! But considering it's a capital city, Nuuk isn't really that built up. Just under 20 000 people live here in total. We walked up to a viewpoint which was looking out in the opposite direction, towards the fjord we'd sailed in yesterday. From here we could see the beautiful colourful houses which we'd noticed from the boat yesterday. On the way back down we passed what I think is Nuuk's most famous statue, the Mother of the Sea. It feels a bit like Nuuk's version of Copenhagen's Little Mermaid. We were starting to feel a bit chilly by this point so we decided to head back into the centre of town... ...and go and get a coffee to warm up Suitably restored, we then set out to explore the southern part of Nuuk. There's a rather unusual system of wooden walkways here, complete with plenty of steps, which take you around this part of the coast. There were some lovely views of the sea and it looked quite calm, which is always reassuring when you know you're going to be on a boat later in the day It felt like we'd walked for a long way and climbed up a lot of staircases... ...but eventually we emerged at a little beach area on the south side of town. The views here were superb with the bright blue sea and the snowy mountains behind. We were feeling cold again by this point so we headed back to our hotel and sat in their cafe for a while with coffee and cake. The cake actually wasn't that great; it was oddly chewy! When we headed outside again, we decided to go back towards the Mother of the Sea statue to get a closer photo of it. Unlike with the Little Mermaid, Tim didn't have to fight through hordes of other tourists to get a good shot We felt like we were close to exhausting the sights of Nuuk by this point, so we walked back to the viewpoint we'd visited earlier for another look at the multi-coloured houses. Then we found an American restaurant in Nuuk's one and only shopping mall, where we ate the biggest possible meal in preparation for spending the next day and a half at the mercy of the menu on the ferry. I had a steak and Tim had an enormous set of ribs. There was just time for a final walk down to the beach, before we headed back to the hotel to pick up our suitcases. We managed to board the ferry a bit before 20.30. There are different categories of accommodation on the ferry and we are staying in one of a handful of suites, which means we get a double bed, an armchair and some limited WiFi access It's quite a small room but the bed is surprisingly comfy and we have our own bathroom too, complete with shower and toilet. Having a shower on a boat is going to be a first! It was still bright daylight at 11pm when we decided to go to sleep, so I was definitely glad to have brought eye masks! Saturday will be a full day on the boat, hopefully with some good views out of our window
  17. The boat trip I'd booked yesterday was due to depart at 9am this morning, from a place in Nuuk called the old colonial harbour. This was right on the opposite side of town to our hotel, so I set my alarm for 06.30 this morning so we had plenty of time to get up, investigate breakfast in the hotel and walk from one side of Greenland's capital to the other. The hotel breakfast wasn't quite as good as the one in Iceland yesterday, but there were bread rolls, cheese and coffee at least We finished it pretty quickly and were leaving the hotel by 07.45, climbing the hill from our hotel to the centre of town. The boat trip was supposed to be 09.00 to 15.00, so we stopped at a small Spar supermarket to pick up some snacks, then continued on our way to what we hoped was the correct location. When I'd purchased the tickets yesterday, they'd come with instructions to be at the old colonial harbour 15 minutes before the boat departed. The slight catch was none of the maps we'd seen explicitly referred to any place as being the old colonial harbour. But we'd worked out which side of town the old colonial part was and could see there was a harbour there, so we were hoping for the best. Here's a photo of me looking tired after two days of failing to get to Narsarsuaq This old part of Nuuk looks really pretty, with brightly coloured wooden houses. We climbed down to the harbour and found there was an office for the company we'd booked the tour with. Great, we must be in the right place, then! There was no one else around and the office was all shut up, but we were at least 30 minutes early. We sat down at some picnic benches to wait. After a while two ladies arrived, opened up the office and began loading kayaking equipment into their car. But there was still no sign of any other passengers for the fjord tour and - more crucially - there was no sign of any boat. I was worried that we'd ended up in the wrong place, despite our best efforts, so Tim went over to speak to the ladies. They explained that we were indeed in completely the wrong place and that the boat was departing from a place called "the tide steps" instead. Apparently they'd sent an email and an SMS about the change in location, but as we'd only booked at the last minute yesterday evening, we obviously hadn't received it. We had no idea where the tide steps were so we were lucky that the ladies were extremely kind and said they'd drive us there. We just about managed to cram into the back of the car - Tim with his head ducked down under two paddles for the kayaks - and we got driven across Nuuk at speed. It turns out that the tide stairs are less than five minutes from our hotel, so we needn't have trekked from one side of town to the other! Never mind, we made it to the right place and the boat still hadn't departed. In fact, there seemed to be some confusion about the boat. A small group of people departing on the kayaking tour first of all, leaving a larger group of people for the fjord. We started piling onto the boat, but it quickly became clear that there were more passengers than there were seats in the cabin. Oh dear! We stood around for a bit while various staff members attempted to call a register. Both our names were on the list at least so that was reassuring, even if we didn't have a seat. I'm not quite sure what was happening because all the conversation was in Danish, but eventually a handful of us got moved to a much smaller boat where there was only room for five passengers and the captain. Our little boat then proceeded to follow the larger boat out of Nuuk harbour. Phew! Before too long we had left the town of Nuuk behind and were travelling up through the fjord. Nuuk fjord is the second-largest fjord system in the world. Our captain told us that the fjord is so large, the entire Faroe Islands could fit in here Regardless of size, it's a really beautiful place. There were so many mountains - and so much snow on them. There was space to sit inside the boat - which is where we spent a lot of the journey to keep warm - but we were able to go outside whenever we wanted to take photos. And before too long I caught sight of something... ...Our first floating icebergs were just visible on the horizon. Shortly afterwards the captain spotted something too and we all went outside to take a look. It's tiny and in the distance, but you may just be able to spot a whale's tail in this photo The captain stopped the boat and we hung around for a while, trying to get more sightings of the whale. There was a lot of pointing the camera at the sea and getting photos with no whale in them Can't really complain with photos like these, though! Every so often we'd see a sudden spurt of water and the whale would make a brief appearance! Then we'd be desperately trying to snap a photo... ...before the tail disappeared under the water once again. I don't know much about whales, but the captain told Tim it was a humpback. It was really cool to see anyway Once we'd finished whale-watching, the boat began to progress closer to the ice. As you can tell from the photos, the chunks of ice we passed began to get bigger. They also began to get closer together. The captain explained that it's hard to know how far down the fjord they can get on any given day, because the quantity and position of the ice is constantly changing. He also tried to explain why sometimes the ice looks white, sometimes blue and sometimes completely transparent. I didn't quite follow, but I think it was something to do with the amount of oxygen in it. As we followed the other boat, we began to get glimpses of the enormous glacier on the horizon. The glacier spills down towards the sea and the chunks of ice break off to float through the fjord. The views here were incredible. The two boats weaved in and out of the ice... ...trying to see how far they could take us down the fjord. Some of the icebergs were enormous now! We've seen a glacier lagoon once before when we were in Iceland, but sailing through one is a completely different experience. We were able to get so close to the ice. It was also nice that we'd ended up on the smaller boat so didn't have to compete with lots of other people for the view. I think the blue icebergs are my favourite By this point the boat had got as far as it could, so we stopped for a break for lunch. Well, we'd almost got as far as we could. The captain drove the boat up alongside an iceberg so we could touch it The most amazing thing once we were close to it was that we could get some idea of how far it extended under the water. Wow Once lunch was over it was time to leave the ice behind. But not before the captain had offered everyone a small shot of whisky, with ice from the glacier That certainly warmed me up for the journey back! We went back along the other side of the fjord, which is home to lots of nesting seabirds. It hasn't come out very well in photos, but all the white dots on the undergrowth in the picture below were nesting seagulls. We also passed some waterfalls coming down the rocks and into the sea. Then we had a lovely sunny journey... ...sailing all the way back to the colourful houses of Nuuk again. It was an absolutely fantastic day trip and I'm so glad we didn't end up missing the boat!
  18. We slept well in the Keflavík hotel, although only because I'd bought us some posh eye masks in preparation for this holiday. It was still bright daylight around 11pm when I gave up searching Greenland transport options on the internet and went to bed. It was still too early to have got any response from the boat transfer companies when we got up, so we went downstairs to make the most of the breakfast buffet. With walking boots and waterproof trousers, I felt like I hadn't really packed the right wardrobe for this hotel! The breakfast buffet was quite extensive, with some nice bacon and scrambled eggs in addition to the usual bread and pastries. We ate as much as we could, then checked with the hotel receptionist what the plan for the rest of the day was. She confirmed that we needed to check out at 11.00, we would be served lunch at 11.30 and the airline would send a bus to take us back to the airport at 13.45. That meant we had plenty of time to kill before we departed for the airport, so we decided to go outside for a stroll around Keflavík. It wasn't quite as sunny in Iceland as it had been yesterday, but we found a coastal path and had a nice walk by the sea. We didn't get far before Tim found a friend She was sitting on the rocks, perhaps lying in wait for seagulls. As we walked we had views of mountains in the distance. It was nowhere near as warm in Iceland as it had been back in the UK, but it wasn't terribly cold either. Although it was quite a dull day the temperature must have been around 15 degrees; certainly not cold enough to need a coat. We walked back to the hotel where I checked my email and found I had a message from the boat company who had been due to transfer us from Narsarsuaq to Qaqortoq last night. They said they couldn't promise anything at the moment but that there was a possibility that they'd be able to put on an extra boat from Narsarsuaq this evening if our flight arrived. That sounded promising! We made our way to the hotel restaurant for our 11.30 lunch. After the enormous breakfast we'd had it was a bit hard to work up an appetite, but I'm guessing the hotel wanted to get our meal out of the way before their normal paying guests wanted lunch. We were told we were having pork schnitzel and fries, which sounded good. The schnitzel came with mushroom sauce, but we managed to scrape most of that off After lunch we retired to a quiet hotel lounge where I got to work with more emails. During lunch the boat company had been in touch to say there was going to be a transfer from Narsarsuaq this evening and had sent me a new ticket. This was fantastic news, except that this revised transfer was going to get us to Qaqortoq at 20.40, with our ferry departing Qaqortoq at 19.00. I emailed back and asked whether we could be put on a boat to Narsaq instead, which they very helpfully agreed to and issued me with yet another new ticket. If all went to plan, we could get to Narsaq for 20.00 and catch the ferry there at 21.00. I just needed to email the ferry company to tell them that this was what we were doing and make sure they didn't think we were a no-show at Qaqortoq and give our cabin away. By 13.45 the bus to the airport arrived. We loaded our luggage and got onboard. The bus had free WiFi so I was able to keep checking my emails as we drove towards the airport. Still no confirmation from the ferry company that we were okay to board at Narsaq, but assuming they didn't object to that it felt like we now had a plan coming together and we'd actually only lose the 2 hours of the ferry trip between Qaqortoq and Narsaq, which definitely wasn't the end of the world. The rescheduled flight to Narsarsuaq was due to depart at 16.45. We arrived at the airport, made a beeline for an information board to see which desk we needed to find to check our luggage back in... and found that the flight was cancelled In between the Icelandair sending a bus to pick us up from the hotel and us actually arriving at the airport, they'd decided to cancel the flight. Unbelievable! We went to the Icelandair service desk, where we learned that the weather was still too bad for the plane to land in Narsarsuaq. Icelandair's plan was to transport everyone back to the same hotel and attempt the flight for a third time tomorrow. For a lot of the people on the flight - many of whom seemed to be scientists coming to work in Greenland for the summer - that probably wasn't the end of the world. But this second cancellation meant that we'd definitely missed our ferry and there was no point us flying to Narsarsuaq on Thursday. Our best hope now was to get on the flight to Nuuk, which was taking off in a couple of hours. Tim explained our situation to a lovely lady at the service desk. She was keen to help, but it turned out not to be straightforward. It seems like it's no problem to switch passengers between different flights to the same destination. But she didn't have the ability to switch us onto a flight to a different destination, so she had to call another department who were in charge of bookings. This department didn't seem keen to switch us to the Nuuk flight, instead suggesting that it would be better for us to wait and fly to Narsarsuaq tomorrow. At one point they also seemed to be suggesting that we'd have to book the flight ourself, which would not have been a good outcome because I'd looked at the tickets last night and they were £660 each (which was more than we'd paid for our original itinerary from Heathrow to Narsarsuaq!). But Tim stood firm that we needed to go to Nuuk, the lady persevered, and about 15 minutes later the other department called her back to say it was sorted. Phew She was able to print us new boarding passes and luggage tags for Nuuk and off we went to check in! After that, things went smoothly for a while. We had a minor blip at the self-service baggage drop when an official refused to let us use it on the grounds that our cases were soft rather than hard. He made us go to a desk called "Odd sized baggage" instead, which made me slightly concerned we were never going to see our cases again. In the queue for odd-sized baggage we met another couple from our original flight who had just made the same decision as us and booked on the flight to Nuuk. They actually did need to be in Narsarsuaq, so were planning to then fly from Nuuk to Narsarsuaq the next day. Having spent four hours in the airport the day before we now had an in-depth knowledge of its layout, so we made our way to a quiet cafe where I could get online and start sorting out our travel arrangements again. First I emailed the boat transfer company, to say we wouldn't need a transfer to Narsaq after all. They confirmed I couldn't have a refund, which I knew already but it was useful to get that in writing for what I feel is going to be fun insurance claim further down the line! Then I had to email the ferry company, who had just confirmed that it was fine for us to board the boat in Narsaq at 21.00. I explained we'd had another change of plan and now wanted to board the ferry in Nuuk on Friday evening instead. They were absolutely wonderful, reissuing my ticket straightaway and promising that they'd refund my credit card for the unused portion of my ticket. Most importantly, we also needed to find somewhere to stay in Nuuk for the next two nights! Once we inputted the key requirements of private bathroom and WiFi into booking.com, there were only really two hotels to choose from. We opted for the one that looked slightly nicer, even though it was a bit more expensive. Then there was a the question of what we were actually going to do in Nuuk for two days. We'd always been going to spend Friday in Nuuk, because the ferry arrives there on a Friday morning and doesn't depart until Friday evening. Because of that I'd been doing extensive Nuuk research which had enabled me to establish that there isn't actually very much to do in Nuuk at all We might just about find enough sights to fill Friday, but there definitely weren't going to be enough to fill Thursday as well. But Nuuk is situated at the end of a fjord which looks absolutely amazing - and I'd seen boat trips in the fjord advertised somewhere previously - so I decided to book us onto one of those. I found the website, established there were spaces on the trip tomorrow, put in my card details, authorised the transaction in the Halifax app, got a message from the app saying the transaction was approved... and then a message on my screen saying the transaction had failed. Halifax had blocked my transaction as fraud. Again! This has happened to me enough times now that I know there's no point trying again (it just makes it worse and they add a higher level of blockage!) and there's no point waiting for them to send the text they're supposed to send saying they've blocked the transaction for your safety (because it never comes). I needed to get on the phone and speak to them now while I was still in Iceland (and could call for free) rather than wait until Greenland (where EE charge £2.34/minute to make a call!). The only problem was that there were just 5 minutes remaining until we were expecting to be called to our gate. What a nightmare! I made the call and luckily got through fairly swiftly. The first person I spoke to confirmed that yes, they had blocked my transaction, because making a transaction in Danish Krone is apparently suspicious behaviour. That person transferred me to a second person in the fraud department, who to be fair was very helpful; she unblocked my card, then stayed on the phone while I attempted to buy the boat tickets again to make sure the transaction actually went through this time. It did With all that resolved, we made a dash to the gate and got in the queue to board. We had our boarding passes scanned and queued up to board the bus, which was a tiny step further than we'd managed to get yesterday... and then the Icelandair employee announced that the flight was delayed by 30 minutes because of a shortage of crew! He "unboarded" us from the flight so that we could leave the tiny holding area and come back later. Tim and I went and had a glass of wine to steady our nerves... or my nerves at least... because I had a sinking feeling that this flight was about to get cancelled as well Back at the gate 30 minutes later there still seemed to be a lot of commotion about the missing crew member. I was starting to get quite annoyed by this point; I appreciate it's outside the airline's control if the weather makes it impossible to land a plane at Narsarsuaq, but having enough crew members definitely feels like a variable that they should be in control of.... The suspense was terrible but eventually we were allowed on the bus and the bus started driving us towards a plane. Maybe we were going to get to Nuuk after all! The plane was a little on the small size, similar to the one I'd flown back from the Isle of Man on earlier this month. Our tickets said we were supposed to be sitting in 3F and 3D. We'd just about sat down when the air hostess approached Tim and asked him if he'd like to sit in an emergency exit seat, moving him to the front row of the plane. She then moved down the plane looking for more English speakers and eventually moved me to 4F, next to another emergency exit. You have to be able to understand instructions in English to sit next to the emergency exits and of the maybe 10 other people on the plane, over half appeared to be natively Greenlandic and were shaking their heads when she asked them. The emergency exit rows had a ridiculous amount of legroom, which was nice as a it was 3-hour flight. But I must admit I was really hoping there wasn't going to be an emergency because the instructions for opening the emergency door looked quite complex! The first 2.5 hours of the flight were quite unremarkable. We had a brief view as we took off in Iceland... ...but then we spent the rest of the journey surrounded by clouds. Partway through we got served free coffee with a couple of chocolates, but that was the extent of the excitement. In the final half hour of the flight, however, I looked out the window and thought: "Hang on a minute, that's not cloud..." Sure enough, we were actually just flying over Greenland's ice sheet! As we flew a bit further, the views became clearer. We flew over what looked like an enormous glacier The views then became more mountainous. We flew over some incredible fjords with bright blue water. I hadn't realised that Greenland was so mountainous. We flew surprisingly close to the mountains at times too! The pilot announced that we were nearly at Nuuk, but we couldn't see it yet. Aha, there it was! If you zoom in on the picture below you may be able to make out the runway; it's a strip of grey ground partway up the mountain. We'd finally made it to Greenland! Happily, our bags had made it too We collected them, established there was no passport control (as far as our passports are concerned, we're still in Iceland!) and emerged from the airport. Let's just say there's not a lot there. No airport bus, not really a taxi rank either, and seemingly also no airport staff. For a couple of minutes, Tim and I contemplated carrying our suitcases down the hill to Nuuk. But then we met the couple from our original Narsarsuaq flight, who were in the same situation as us having unexpectedly arrived in Nuuk. They were trying to get a taxi and it turned out we'd all booked the same hotel, so we decided to share. Getting a taxi was a bit of a challenge because we didn't have a number to call one, but eventually a car turned up. He asked us if we'd called to book, we said no and he let us in anyway It was definitely a good decision. The airport is right on the outskirts of Nuuk and it would have been a long and difficult walk. Plus the taxi wasn't actually too expensive; it turned out to be something like €24, split between us. We checked into our hotel room and found it was absolutely fine, which was a relief given how little time I'd had to book it. Fingers crossed our bad travel luck is now over and the rest of the trip is going to go to plan
  19. Tuesday was the start of what was due to be a big adventure for us: our first ever trip to Greenland! I can't pretend Greenland is a place I've always wanted to go to - in fact, it's a place I've never really thought about going to - but earlier this year I was reading an Icelandic crime novel where the plot involved the murder suspects leaving Iceland on a flight to Greenland, hotly pursued by the Icelandic detective. Before I knew what was happening I started googling Greenland and ended up disappearing down a rabbit hole which ultimately resulted in me booking this holiday. The plan was to fly to a place called Narsarsuaq in southern Greenland, from where we'd transfer by boat to the small village of Qaqortoq. We were booked on a ferry called Sarfaq Ittuk which would be leaving Qaqortoq on Wednesday evening at 7pm and spending the next four days sailing up the western coast of Greenland. The pictures I'd seen online looked amazing! There are only two ways to fly to Greenland: via Reykjavik with Icelandair or via Copenhagen with Air Greenland. I had chosen the former option, which worked out as cheapest on the way out. Our first flight to Reykjavik was at 13.05 from Heathrow, so it wasn't a particularly early start by the standards of our holidays. We left home shortly after 07.30 anyway, slightly nervous about whether we might get stuck in rush hour traffic somewhere between home and Heathrow. We made good time initially and even had a quick stop for breakfast at a McDonalds on the M1, but partway to London we got caught in an unexplained traffic jam on the motorway and it was almost 11am by the time we made it to the airport parking. We were in luck and managed to jump on a bus to the terminal straightaway. That was probably the last lucky thing to happen on this journey I'd been worried about our boarding passes because when I'd checked in via the Icelandair website the day before, I'd only been given a boarding pass for our first flight to Reykjavik. We went to a desk to sort that out and were issued with a new combined boarding pass for both flights, plus assured that our luggage would go all the way through to the final destination. That was good news! We got through security with no problems, participating in another one of those trials where you don't have to take anything out of your bag, and then had time for a drink and a snack before it was time to board our first flight. The first flight was remarkably smooth and took off almost exactly on time, which is rare for a flight these days. There wasn't much of a view as we were mainly flying over the ocean, but we did have a useful screen to show us where we were. As we came in to land we got a tiny glimpse of Iceland, where it seemed to be quite a sunny day. The flight to Iceland had been three hours but we'd gone back in time one hour, so it was now around 15.15. Our connecting flight to Narsarsuaq was due to depart at 17.30, so we followed signs for transfers across the terminal and ultimately through passport control. The border guard asked Tim how long he was spending in Iceland and he said "two hours". Little did we know We were feeling hungry by this point so we explored the airport until we found a fast food restaurant where the prices didn't look too expensive. I had a pepperoni pizza while Tim had fish and chips. At some point around this time I got a notification from the Icelandair app on my phone saying that our flight had been delayed by two hours. Oh dear! Ordinarily a delay of two hours wouldn't be the end of the world. In this circumstance it was slightly stressful because, on the basis that our flight was due to arrive at 18.25, we had a boat transfer to Qaqortoq booked for 19.15. This was the final boat of the day and if we missed it, we'd be completely stranded in Narsarsuaq with no options for going anywhere else. Travelling in Greenland is somewhat complicated by the fact that there are no roads between individual settlements. So if you are in Place A, you have at most two options of getting to any given Place B: boat or helicopter. We found a quiet bar to have a glass of wine in the airport while I attempted not to panic. The airport and harbour in Narsarsuaq aren't right next to each other and the boat company have a shuttle bus which was supposed to meet the flight and transfer us to the harbour. Narsarsuaq isn't exactly a place which is overwhelmed with incoming flights so I figured they would know the plane was delayed and - hopefully - wait for it to arrive. When it got to the appointed time for our delayed flight we made our way to the gate, together with a small group of other people. We sat down and waited for a while until we saw that boarding had commenced and the first people in the queue had made their way onto the bus which would take us to the plane. Then we joined the queue and began to move slowly forward. We progressed - but hadn't quite made it to the front of the queue - when a staff member began to shout out an announcement. Our flight had been cancelled and we were all to go to the service desk to get help. There was mass confusion in the queue as everyone struggled to hear and process what had been said. We were some of the first to react and extricate ourselves from the line, heading back up the stairs from the gate towards the main terminal where we quickly located the service desk and got in line. The only problem was that there were no staff there to give any service. We stood there for 10 minutes or so while a large queue of people built behind us. Then eventually a staff member arrived and made an announcement to the effect that we all needed to go to the baggage hall to reclaim our bags, then make our way to the "meeting point" from where a bus would take us to a hotel overnight. It seemed that the flight cancellation was due to bad weather in Narsarsuaq. We set off towards baggage reclaim, where we stood around in confusion for a bit because our flight wasn't listed on any of the information screens so it was impossible to know which carousel we were supposed to wait by. After a while - more by luck than anything else - I saw one of our suitcases go past on a random carousel. We grabbed it and fortunately the other one wasn't far behind. Now all we had to do was find the mysterious "meeting point". There wasn't any obvious meeting point when we emerged into the arrivals hall, so Tim went to an information desk to ask. The guy on the desk was quite confused and said there were different meeting points for different things so he couldn't really help. Eventually, by wandering about a bit, we saw some signs saying "Meeting point" and followed those to the opposite end of the airport where we found... a man in a bow tie! "Greenland?" he said. We nodded and he explained that he was sent from the hotel to organise our transportation. As more passengers arrived, he began dividing us into different groups depending on who was going to go to which hotel. We'd been the first passengers to make it to the meeting point, so there was a lot of waiting around. I went outside to get a bit of fresh air. When I returned there was an airline employee walking around giving information. It seemed that Icelandair were arranging for the flight to try again tomorrow, but not until 16.45. That was late and didn't give us much opportunity to get to Qaqortoq for a 19.00 ferry departure. Oh dear Before we had time to ask any questions we were advised that our bus had arrived, so we headed outside and got onboard. When I say that we had flown to Reykjavik today, we'd actually flown to a town called Keflavík, which is where Iceland's main international airport is located. It's a 45-minute drive into Reykjavik so the bus wasn't taking us there, but rather into the centre of Keflavík, which itself is one of the biggest towns in Iceland with a population of around 15 000 people. Icelandair had booked us into what looked like a rather expensive hotel, certainly outside our price range for Iceland. We queued up to be allocated a room and a voucher for dinner in the hotel restaurant. The latter turned out to be rather disappointing (chicken salad!) but the room was rather nice. Most importantly, it had free WiFi. I spent some time online, trying to work out what on earth our options were for the next day. I quickly established that if our flight arrived in Narsarsuaq at the time for which it was now scheduled, there was no way we could get to Qaqortoq on time to catch the ferry at 19.00. But, there was a chance that we could make it to a place called Narsaq where the ferry was due to call at 21.00 as its first stop after Qaqortoq. I fired off emails to a couple of boat transfer companies to see whether they had a sailing to Narsaq at the time we needed, then emailed the hotel we had booked in Qaqortoq to cancel our stay for tonight. Luckily they were very nice about it and didn't charge me If it turned out that we couldn't get a boat transfer to Narsaq, we were definitely going to miss the ferry (which only runs once a week). In that case, there would be no point us flying to Narsarsuaq; instead, we'd be better off trying to get to Nuuk, from where we should be able to intercept the ferry on Friday evening for the final part of its journey. Icelandair had a flight to Nuuk tomorrow evening, as did Air Greenland, so that gave us options at least. There was nothing more we could do until we heard back from the boat companies, so we decided to call it a day and go to bed. Hopefully tomorrow would go more smoothly!
  20. We've got a flight home from Pisa at 17.50 today, but that meant we had almost another full day to spend in Italy. We needed to travel back in the general direction of Pisa to be in the right location for the flight in the evening, so we decided to visit the coastal city of Livorno, which is around 15 miles southwest of Pisa. We had another fairly early trip to the train station, catching a train at 09.28. Everything went smoothly this morning and we were soon on our way towards Livorno The journey was straightforward; about 90 minutes on a direct train. When we arrived in Livorno around 11am we found that the train station is located on the outskirts of the town, so we had a walk of a couple of miles ahead of us to get to the centre of town and the sea. The first sign that we were getting close to the centre was when we chanced upon this large square. Not far from the square we found Livorno's cathedral. It wasn't quite as impressive as the cathedrals we've seen in Florence and Siena this week! Shortly after that we got our first glimpse of the sea. Livorno is a port city and we could see there was a big cruise ship in town. We walked along the coast for a while, towards a lungomare footpath. The area around the port was a bit industrial in places, but other parts were pretty. We could see there were ferries coming in and out of the port as well as cruise ships. When we got to the end of the lungomare there was a large square with a chequered floor. The views of the coast from here were really lovely The best views in Livorno may be when you're looking away from it Once we'd finished enjoying the views we walked back towards the town and found a restaurant for one final meal in Italy. I had a lasagne which was really good Then it was back through the town to the station, for the short train ride back to Pisa and the flight home. We've had a lovely weekend away and really enjoyed the Italian sunshine This is a part of Italy well worth visiting!
  21. We had planned to make a day trip to the town of Siena today and that meant an early start. Although it seems like there is normally one train per hour between Florence and Siena, on Sundays the timetable is less frequent with the result that there is a gap in trains between half 8 and half 11. We decided our best bet was to get the 08.28 train and set off towards Florence's main train station well in advance of 8am to give ourselves time to buy tickets and find the correct platform. It was lucky that we did because when we got to the station and attempted to buy tickets for the 08.28 from the ticket machine, we were greeted with a message saying that the train we wanted had sold out I'm quite baffled by this as I didn't think it was possible for regional trains to sell out in Italy! It could have been a disaster, but it seemed like tickets were still available for a slightly earlier train, departing at 08.10. We hadn't expected to be at the station early enough to catch this one but we were - just about - because it was approximately 08.04. We faced a battle against time to get the slow Trenitalia ticket machine to sell us tickets, then locate the correct platform for the train. It turned into a bit of a sprint across the station, weaving in and out of the hordes of people with suitcases who filled the concourse, but we made it in the end with about 60 seconds to spare. Phew! What we hadn't had time to do was to validate our train tickets. That's quite important in Italy so could have presented us with a problem. Fortunately, Tim had a pen in his bag and was able to write the time of the train we'd boarded on the back of the tickets. When the inspector came around to check them, that turned out to be sufficient The journey from Florence to Siena took around 90 minutes. When we arrived and exited the station in Siena we were initially a bit unclear about where to go but everyone else who'd got off the train seemed to be crossing the road and entering a large shopping centre, so we opted to follow them. That turned out to be a good decision. The town centre of Siena is situated significantly uphill from where the train station is and by entering the shopping centre we were able to travel on a series of escalators and travelators which took us up the hill with little effort. I think there were at least six escalators in total, so it was quite a hill! Once we eventually emerged into the daylight again, we had a beautiful view of the countryside surrounding Siena. We passed through what looked like a large gate into the old town. Once we were through the gate we found ourselves walking down the narrow streets of Siena. We passed little squares... ...tiny churches... ...and the odd statue. It was all really beautiful. As we walked we noticed there were lots of green and red flags adorning the streets. We assume this is the local city flag. Some of the street lights were painted in matching colours too! At this point we heard what sounded like a loud drumming noise, so we decided to follow it and investigate. Following the drumming took us towards Siena's main square. A procession was passing along the far side of the square and that's where the drumming noise had been coming from. We've got no idea what it was about, but it involved a lot of waving of flags! The main square itself is enormous. The huge building at the centre of it is the town hall. Amazingly, the tower was built in the fourteenth century. It was designed to be the same height as Siena's cathedral, to show that the state and the church were equally powerful. We hadn't seen the cathedral yet, so we continued our explorations. Eventually we got our first glimpse of it at the end of a narrow street. It's hard to be impressed by a cathedral having just seen the enormous Duomo in Florence the day before, but this one is pretty amazing too. It has a really beautiful facade... ...and we could see some gorgeous stained glass inside too. The baptistry on the other side of the cathedral was worth seeing too. We walked around the town a bit further, passing a more modern brick church. The church itself wasn't that exciting compared to the others we've seen so far, but just around the corner from it we had a fantastic view. Not only did we have a spectacular view of the cathedral, but we could also see the tall tower of the town hall. The heat of the day was building up by this point so we found a nearby cafe to relax with a drink followed by a restaurant for a nice meal. I had pappardelle with wild boar ragu, which was amazing! After lunch we had a hot and sticky train ride back to Florence, where we arrived just on time to track down a sports bar to watch Leicester's final game of the season. Unfortunately, things didn't work out for them and they ended up getting relegated. We ate at the bar and then had a final walk through Florence, with some more beautiful views of the Duomo
  22. It was a lovely sunny day when we woke up in Florence this morning. After yesterday's very early wake-up we had a more relaxed start to this morning, having a bit of a lie in before heading out to explore the city. From where we were staying we walked through narrow side streets until we got down to the river Arno. We walked alongside the river for a while because we wanted to see the Ponto Vecchio, a medieval bridge across the river. It looks great when you see it from a distance, though from memory it is quite claustrophobic to walk across because it's lined with small shops! There were plenty of colourful buildings on the opposite river bank. We crossed the river by a less historic bridge and started to climb uphill. We were heading towards a square called Piazzale Michelangelo and the route there was rather steep. As we climbed, we started to get glimpses of the view through the trees. It was hard work climbing uphill in the sunshine, so we stopped partway up for a drink at a little outdoor cafe with a view. From there it wasn't too far up to the square and once we got there it was well worth the climb. The views of Florence from up here are incredible. While it's the huge dome of the Duomo which dominates the skyline, you can see lots of other churches and buildings too... ...and if you look in the opposite direction you can see the countryside outside of Florence as well. We stood there for ages admiring how beautiful it was. Then we climbed back down through the trees and found a restaurant in the old town where we had some amazing pasta for lunch. After lunch we set off to explore the main centre of town. We quickly found ourselves in a large square, outside the Palazzo Vecchio, which is Florence's town hall. As you can doubtless tell from the photos, this was a pretty busy part of town! We walked a little further through crowded streets and reached the cathedral itself. It looks just as impressive from this level as it does when you're up on the hill. And it's so large it's hard to fit it all in one photo! There was one more church I wanted to see and that was Santa Maria Novella, which is not far from the train station. It's an unusual church because it has an extremely ornate facade on this side, but then it's just plain brown bricks from all other angles. The heat has been scorching all day, so at this point we decided to head back to the apartment and cool off in the air conditioning for a while. It's been a lovely day in a lovely city
  23. Another bank holiday means it's time for another trip! This time we've headed to the Tuscany region of Italy, accompanied by Tim's cousin Baden, who has had Italy on his bucket list for quite some time. We had an early start to the weekend this morning with alarms set for 3am to enable us to get down to Stansted on time for our 07.45 flight to Pisa. Stansted was pretty busy - not unexpectedly, as this bank holiday corresponds to school holidays too - but we weren't checking in bags so we made it through the airport with time to spare for a breakfast in Wetherspoons. The flight was on time and before we knew it, we were touching down in a warm and sunny Pisa Pisa is one of the most unusual places I've ever flown to, in that you can walk straight from the airport into the town without needing to take any form of transportation. Admittedly it takes half an hour or so until you get to the part of town with the famous leaning tower, but it definitely makes a change from squeezing on to overpriced airport buses. After a bit of walking the streets began to look more scenic... ...and we soon found our first pretty square. We crossed over the river Arno, which runs through the centre of Pisa... ,,,and found our second pretty square. From there it wasn't far until we got our first glimpse of the famous leaning tower of Pisa It leans an incredible amount in real life, so much so that it's hard to understand how it's still standing. I struggled to capture it in photos, but Tim got some good ones. This is the second time I've been to Pisa. I remember being surprised the first time I came how many other beautiful buildings there are surrounding the leaning tower. We did a circuit around the vicinity of the tower, admiring it from different angles. Before we came I'd been debating whether I should buy tickets to climb to the top. I didn't in the end and when I got here, I was glad I think if you're on the top you must feel like you're standing at a really funny angle! The area around the tower was obviously very busy and there were lots of people trying to get the perfect shot. We were hungry after our early start to the day, so soon headed off to a quieter part of the town centre where we sat outside in the sunshine with some drinks... ...and the most enormous pizzas! The intention was only ever to make a flying visit to Pisa and so after lunch we set off towards the main train station, Pisa Centrale. For the bargain price of €8.90 each we were able to catch a regional train to Florence, which only took around an hour. The apartment we're staying in in Florence is around a kilometre from the main train station, so it didn't take us long to find it. It's nice and spacious We've got a big living/dining area... ...as well as two large bedrooms and two bathrooms. The one thing which is not great about the apartment is the WiFi; it seems inexplicably slow this evening, hence only a brief blog. Hopefully it will be a bit faster tomorrow and I'll be able to upload some more photos from Florence!
  24. The weather took a turn for the worse overnight. When we woke up in the cottage this morning, there wasn't much of a view. Luckily the host didn't need us to check out straightaway, so we were able to have a relaxed start to the day and wait for the weather to dry up a bit. Once it did we had a few hours spare before we needed to go our separate ways, so we decided to drive back down the coast to Peel, which we'd really enjoyed visiting on Saturday. We didn't go into the castle today but we realised there was a little walk you could do around the walls of it, which we'd missed on Saturday. As we walked we had some lovely views of the coast... ...and back towards the town of Peel. The weather still wasn't great, but at least it wasn't pouring with rain From Peel we drove across to Douglas, on the opposite side of the island. The weather wasn't any sunnier there! Tim had to head off to the ferry terminal, to catch a ferry back to Liverpool at 3pm. Luckily this time around he had plenty of time I went to check into my hotel, where I'm staying with work until Thursday. It's on the seafront, which is nice. The room itself is fine, with a bed... ...and desk area. I was quite excited to hear it had a sea view... but I wasn't prepared when I pulled back the curtains to see this slightly scary statue of a raven right outside my window I guess maybe it's there to scare off other birds? Even if the weather hasn't been perfect today, it's been a fun weekend and a nice treat to get an extra bank holiday this May
  25. It was so nice and sunny yesterday evening that we decided to go out for another walk after dinner. We retraced some of our steps towards the nature reserve we'd visited earlier in the day and got some lovely sunset views as we went. We had to be careful not to walk too far though, as we didn't want to be caught outside in the dark. When we woke up this morning the weather seemed surprisingly good again. We decided to start the day by driving to a place called Point of Ayre. This is the northernmost point of the Isle of Man and home to the oldest lighthouse on the island. Theoretically it was possible to walk along the coast here for a while, but the beach was very pebbly and also fenced off. Eventually I found a sign which explained why - nesting arctic terns! I didn't fancy being attacked by aggressive arctic terns, so we soon made our way back to the car. Our second stop of the day was a rather unusual attraction: the Laxey Wheel. This is the largest working waterwheel in the world. It was built in 1854 to pump water from the nearby Great Laxey Mine. This is another site owned by Manx National Heritage, which meant we were able to get in for free with our National Trust cards. Otherwise, a visit costs £13 for adults. There are approximately 100 steps to climb to the top of the wheel. You can see the spiral staircase on the lefthand side of this photo. As we climbed, we had close-up views of the wheel. And once we got to the top, we had views out over the surrounding countryside... ...and down towards the village of Laxey itself (which is where I'm working next week). Here's me at the top of the wheel There's a Manx flag at the top too. Climbing down was easier than climbing up, although there was one tricky bit where we had to duck under a low beam. We managed it though and made it back down to the ground, where we were able to follow a short trail. At the end of the trail there's an entrance to a short section of the mine. We were given hard hats to wear and warned that it would be damp inside. And it really was! I think we only went about 30 metres in, but it felt like further with having to duck down and try to avoid all the puddles! Once we got to the end we had to turn around and retrace our steps to the fresh air. Working in a mine definitely wouldn't be a lot of fun! After the mine we went back to the car and drove a bit further south towards a place called Groudle Glen. This was a really pretty location for a woodland walk, alongside a stream. We met a slightly strange wood-carved figure along the way... ...and although they haven't come out very well in the photos, there were loads of bluebells growing alongside the path. We passed a miniature version of the Laxey waterwheel, which was built here in the 19th century when the glen was developed as an attraction for Victorian tourists. There was some very fast-flowing water here. We walked under a viaduct... ...and the glen became narrower, with fallen trees across the stream in places. There were more bluebells here too It wasn't a circular walk unfortunately, so eventually we had to turn around and retrace our steps back towards the car park. We were only a few miles outside Douglas at this point so we drove into the town and found a lovely pub to have lunch. By the time we emerged it had started to drizzle with rain, which put an end to our exploring for the day. The weather has been much better than I expected this weekend though, so can't complain
  26. This time last year I had to go the Isle of Man for work. I'd never been before, so wasn't sure quite what to expect, but found it to be a really pretty place, at least when the sun is shining The time I needed to go back again this year happily coincided with the extra bank holiday we were getting for the King's coronation, so Tim and I decided to make a weekend of it and travel to the Isle of Man on Friday evening. When I went with work last year I flew, but it's the sort of place where it's useful to have a car so this time it seemed more sensible to go by ferry. There are two places in England - Liverpool and Heysham - from where you can catch a ferry to the Isle of Man. Liverpool is the closer of the two to Nuneaton, so I opted for that. Our ferry was scheduled to depart Liverpool at 19.15 on Friday, with check-in closing at 18.30. Google Maps suggested that Nuneaton to Liverpool would be a drive of around 2 hours and 20 minutes. I decided we should set off at 15.30 to make sure we were there on plenty of time and had a bit of leeway if we got stuck in rush hour traffic around Liverpool. We left the house almost at 15.30 on the dot and I put the postcode of the ferry terminal into the satnav. I was rather surprised to see the satnav calculating our arrival time as 18.25, suggesting the journey was going to take almost the full three hours available to us. I had obviously underestimated just how much traffic there was going to be on a Friday evening! Just getting out of Nuneaton seemed to take forever, then our route took us along the A5 where we seemed to get stuck in endless roadworks and traffic jams for roundabouts. By the time we made it to the M6, we had lost so much time that our estimated time of arrival was now 18.41, 11 minutes after check-in for the ferry closed. We managed to make some more time back on the motorway initially, then lost it all again when an accident brought traffic to a standstill again. By the time we were getting close to Liverpool, our estimated arrival time at the docks was 18.45. Oh dear! There was a fair bit of traffic in Liverpool on a Friday evening too and the minutes began to slip away even further. Eventually we made it to the water and I even saw an Isle of Man symbol with three legs on the side of a building, so I figured we were in the right place, albeit 20 minutes late by this point. We couldn't find a way to get to that building though and when I looked at the map on my phone, I realised the terminal we needed was marked further away down the docks. We lost another 5 minutes navigating our way around a one-way system before we eventually found ourselves at the correct ferry terminal.... 25 minutes after check-in had closed. The ferry was still there but there was a horrible second where it looked like the car check-in booth was closed. Luckily, the people in Liverpool were absolutely lovely and allowed us on regardless. We were definitely the final car to make it on to the ferry and as we parked we could see that they were closing the gates ready for departure. One of the ferry workers explained that the place where we'd first ended up is the location of a new terminal for the Isle of Man ferries, due to open in August/September. Phew!! It was a big relief that we had made it. We found a seat and got some drinks and snacks from the onboard cafe as the ferry began to pull away from Liverpool. The journey time from Liverpool to the Isle of Man is just under three hours, so we were timetabled to arrive at 22.00. It was daylight when we left Liverpool but obviously pitch black by the time we arrived in Douglas. It had been raining for most of our drive to Liverpool but seemed to clear up once we arrived, so we had a nice calm crossing at least. Once we arrived in Douglas we had a drive of around 20 miles to our accommodation, which is on the northwestern side of the island, not far from a small village called Andreas. I booked it on Airbnb and the host had given amazing instructions on how to find it, so despite it being pitch black and in the middle of nowhere we actually located it on the first attempt. Once we got inside we could see the place was really lovely. There's a big kitchen.. ...a cozy living room... ...and a lovely bedroom too. Arriving in the dark meant we obviously couldn't see the views outside the cottage but when we woke up in the morning it became clear that it's in a really beautiful location. This was the view from our bedroom window... ...and when I got up I realised that from the landing we could even see the sea! It was one of those fantastic places where they leave you some food, so we had some bread and coffee for breakfast which was really great. We'd arrived far too late last night to pick up any supplies ourselves. We clearly weren't far from the sea, so after breakfast we set off on a walk to explore. Although we had to start by walking down an A-road, it was pretty quiet... ...and we had some great views as we walked. Before too long we arrived at the sea. There were some beautiful sand dunes... ...and the beach was lovely and sandy too. Definitely sandier than the one we'd been on in Spain last weekend, even if not quite as warm! Once we'd finished admiring the views, we had to climb back up towards the road. We walked back to the cottage, got in the car and began driving south towards the town of Peel. It was a pretty seaside town, with a colourful promenade. The reason I wanted to come to Peel though was to visit Peel castle. We parked and followed signs towards the entrance, which took us around the harbour. Somehow we actually missed the entrance and had to double back on ourselves. We got some good views though. Eventually we found the entrance and made our way inside. The castle is run by Manx National Heritage, who have an agreement with the National Trust, so we were able to get in for free. We were free to explore wherever we wanted, although the man on the gate warned us to be careful as there were a lot of rabbit holes in the grass. The castle was built in the 11th century by Norwegians, to whom the island belonged at the time. It was a really nice place to walk around and there were some good views of the town... ...as well as of the coast. As you can see, it was a bit of a cloudy day - but not raining, which is the main thing Once we'd finished exploring the castle we walked back into the town and along the promenade, from where we had a good view back towards the castle in the distance. We went into a local pub for lunch where I ended up with this amazing chocolate pyramid desert! Then we went back to the cottage to relax. It actually got a bit sunnier as the day went on and so we were able to enjoy some amazing views of the hills in the middle of the island. We've had a great first day and I'm very relieved that we made it! Hopefully tomorrow will be similarly dry
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