Blog England Wales

A Liverpool Birthday with the Trainline

There are a few things in life that are really worth paying for…

When you get to my age you come to realise that there are certain things that you should never skimp on.

Whilst my parents have always advocated frugality above all else, I’ve taken a somewhat different approach to the way that I spend my money over the years. When I was younger, still fresh out of University, with the weight of my student-debt hanging over my neck like the proverbial albatross, I often obsessed over the cost of my weekly shop and would regularly decline invitations to parties or events – often months in advance.

Back then, I felt that every penny that I frivolously spent was another I would have to diligently save to pay back to the loans company. As a result of these penny-pinching tactics I found that my life became an increasingly predictable string of events that would revolve around my 9-5 job and plain pasta-based meals at home whilst watching the telly – not exactly the most exciting way to live out your twenties…

I eventually learnt my lesson though and, after a helpful pay rise at work, soon discovered that I had quite the flair for flashing my cash should the necessity to do so arise. Such a need cropped up recently when my Mother (who’s never treated herself a day in her life) turned 80. We decided to celebrate in style and catch a first-class train up to Liverpool to have a meal out and (more importantly) get some shopping done!

Liverpool has undergone quite the transformation in the last 40 years, dropping the shackles of poverty stricken ex-industrial power house and picking up the shiny, new crown of blossoming metropolitan city of culture (it claimed the European accolade back in 2008, whilst it was still ascending).

As a result of this meteoric rise in status, exciting startups, restaurants, bars and retailers have made their humble beginnings in the city, bringing thousands of visitors eager to snap up everything from Swedish meatballs to social media marketing in Liverpool.

For my Mum, though, the allure of Liverpool is still wrapped up in the warm, fuzzy glow of Beatlemania. She was obsessed with the band when she was a teenager and spent all the money she had on their merchandise and records – she amassed so much Beatles memorabilia, in fact, that my bedroom was turned into a shrine of sorts for the Fab Four after I left home. Although the city has undoubtedly changed since my Mum’s heyday, the spirit of the swinging sixties is certainly still alive and kicking there.

After being thoroughly pampered on our first-class train ride up from Conwy, we alighted in Liverpool Lime Street a little light-headed from the complimentary champagne and feeling dangerously careless with our spending money. The Liverpool One shopping centre, one of the more recent additions to the city has brought dozens of high-end brands and designers into centre of the city, bringing shoppers from all around. There’s a real sense of occasion here and it’s probably due to that sense of occasion that my Mum and I fritter away a lot of money in a matter of just a few hours.

Thankfully, we were able to save money for our wonderful dinner that we enjoyed at Jamie’s Italian. By the time we rolled ourselves back onto the last train home, we were both exhausted – it’s just a good thing that we didn’t miss our stop!

Blog Ireland

Road Tripping to Dublin with Irish Ferries

Pints, Pals and Piety in Dublin

Following a rather typical week in Conwy, filled with the usual ups and downs, I knew that I needed to get myself away from Wales for a few days.

Living in semi-retirement may sound like a rather idyllic lifestyle, but you’d be surprised how quickly living in such a place can start to make time drag. The monotony of daily existence took it’s toll on me quicker than I thought it would, so by Wednesday I was up at 6am, scrambling for my laptop and madly researching my next adventure.

After my rather hair-raising trip to North Wales last weekend, I knew that my next trip needed to be decidedly more laid back. No dangling from wires suspended hundreds of metres in the air and no diving into ice-cold plunge pools. Nope – this weekend needed to be stress-free and, most importantly, fun. The open road was calling me once more, but this time I had something a little more out of the way for my little Ford Ka to tackle.

Although I’ve visited dozens of far flung countries in exotic locales, there are still many places much closer to home that I’ve yet to make the journey to see. Places in Europe, like Germany, Croatia and the Netherlands are still huge gaps in my travelling history. Up until last weekend, Ireland was one of those countries and, although I only saw a fraction of what this stunning country has to offer, I know I’ll be back to explore even more of it.

When I visit a country for the first time, I prefer to experience it on foot. There’s something to be said for getting down on street level and becoming familiar with the city as if you were a local. However, when I took a passing glance at the possibility of taking my car across the Irish sea to the Emerald Isle, the sheer practicality and affordability won me over and led me to embark on a 450-plus mile round trip from my home in Conwy to Ireland’s beating heart in Dublin, down the country’s stunning coast to Rosslare and back up through Wales, spearing through Snowdonia National Park.

My Irish Ferries booking had me set off from a bustling port in Holyhead, just a 45 minute drive from Conwy.

Rolling onto the ferry, I experienced a sharp moment of nostalgia pulling me back to an ill-fated voyage to Calais involving a rather destructive bout of sea seasickness. Thankfully, my stomach remained gloriously settled for the entirety of the trip, so I’ll put that early experience down to a mixture of nerves and adolescence.

Arriving in Dublin, I was initially taken aback by the industrial nature of the city. In my mind I’d envisioned green hills, rosy cheeked avuncular bar keeps and flowing pints of the black stuff. What I found however was a rather grim looking city – the overcast weather didn’t help matters – with a beating heart of gold hiding beneath the surface. I made a beeline to my hostel for the night: Abigail’s Hostel is a smart looking modern establishment that has been converted from a hotel, it’s staff were friendly and the clean spacious rooms made for a comfortable experience.

I had just the one day and evening to spend in this iconic town and I wasn’t about to waste it lying around the hostel, no matter how friendly the staff were. Two tourist attractions were on my agenda.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of two grand religious buildings in the city. It has the honour of being the tallest church in Ireland, as well as the largest. It’s been a holy site for over 1500 years, with it’s chief claim to fame (if a cathedral can have such a thing) being that Saint Patrick used the well to baptise converts into Christianity. I always try and make time for a visit to a city’s cathedral, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a breather and gaze in wonder at the usually stunning architecture. At €6.50, I’d say the visit is well worth it.

From pious quiet to something a little more sinful.

Just a 20 minute walk away from the Cathedral grounds is arguably Ireland’s most popular tourist destination (in fact, it was the number one recommendation from the receptionist at my Abigail’s Hostel).

The Guinness Storehouse experience is one that should not be missed. Yes – the free pint of the black stuff might well have put in a particularly receptive mood, but that came after a genuinely interesting near-2 hour stroll through some wonderfully interesting exhibitions. Everything from Guinness’ rich advertising heritage to the actual production history is covered in this self-guided tour which ends on a real high, as you enjoy a well-earned pint (and a 360º view!) at their Gravity Bar on the 7th floor. At €14, this experience is not only a steal, but an absolute must-see.

Once I’d got my feet back on the ground, I felt an incurable thirst for more Guinness. After a quick trip back to the Hostel to gather up an extra jacket and a few drinking companions, we hit the town and began a night of revelry that I wish I had more memories of. Dublin’s nightlife is famed, the locals are friendly but the drinks are regrettably not that cheap. However, what the city lacks in affordability it more than makes up for in characters and sights. My top tip is to get settled in one pub (we chose Grogan’s for it’s old-school charm and top-notch toasties) and simply watch the place spiral out of control as the night goes on.

I awoke with a sharp headache and a deep hunger within me. Thankfully, I was up in time to grab the free breakfast in the Hostel. A sorry display of hungover faces presented me in the dining room, with a few sheepish smiles as plates were piled high with ample breakfasts. I had just enough time to wolf my food down before making a quick dash for my Ka and a rather shaky drive down the tranquil south-eastern coast of Ireland.

There’s nothing quite like a nice slow drive to ease the latter stages of a hangover.

The drive from Dublin to Rosslare can take you anywhere from 2 hrs 20 minutes (when taking the direct route on the M11) to around 3 hrs and and a half, if you’d rather take the scenic route. Desperately needing a dose of fresh air, I opted to take the R115 from through the Wicklow Mountains National Park. I’d stocked up on a meal deal (not very cultural but the only cure for my particular kind of hangover) and took a break to admire the landscape. Although I’d only got a small glimpse of what Ireland had to offer, I knew that I’d be back again.

The ferry ride back from Rosslare to Wales was less smooth – I think I lost my sea legs somewhere around the 5th pint in Grogan’s.

Blog England

May Day Bank Holiday with My Parents

Both of my parents should have retired a long time ago.

They got married incredibly young (my Dad was just 18 when he proposed) and have always cited their busy work lives as a driver behind their marital bliss.

Even at the ages of 60 and 62 they both still insist on pulling full time shifts. Dad used to be a mechanic, but the job proved to be too physical for him later in life. He now loves working down the local supermarket, talking to people all day and keeping active, stocking shelves. Mum’s been working as a receptionist at the same GPs for her entire working life, keeping order behind her desk and ensuring the most needy patients are seen first.

Bank Holidays tend to not mean much to people who live overseas for any great stretch of time, after all, it’s not like you can demand to have the May Day Bank Holiday off whilst you’re living in Dubai, just because everyone back home is taking it off. When I finally made it back to Blighty, after nearly 20 years spent abroad working, I had to remind myself (as well as my parents) all over again about the joys of Bank Holidays. These wonderful 3 or 4 day stints pop up throughout the year offering the British public a well earned break and a chance to indulge in extended weekend adventures.

When Bank Holidays come around, my parents usually like to indulge in a lie-in, get the papers and catch up on some television. However, since I returned to Conwy, I’ve insisted on them making the most of their time off. That’s how we found ourselves bundled into my car with a picnic hamper, rolling down the M6 on our way to glorious Devon.

Although Wales is full of great places to visit, not to mention some truly epic landscapes, my parents often have to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the country, even when we have the luxury of long weekends.

When I was a child they were always content with taking me to the beach and hiring a couple of deckchairs for the day. As much as I can still find huge nostalgic thrills from walking down our local waterfront, I don’t mind getting into the car and taking my parents out of their comfort zone.

Staunch patriots that my parents are, it takes a lot to convince them that there might be better beaches outside of Wales. However, they were pleasantly surprised by what we found on the gorgeous coast of North Devon.

With miles of coastal trails and paths to explores, there’s more than enough variety to appease even the most stubborn Welsh nationalist. After a day of breaking in and out of stunning moor land, my Dad was more than a little pleased to stumble across The Village Inn in the town of Lynton.

Lynton is one of those quintessential coastal towns that makes you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. There’s a functioning Cliff Railway system (the highest of it’s kind in the world) that hauls happy tourists up throughout the warmer months of the year and you can even a watch a movie in the adorable Lynton Cinema, a 68-seat capacity theatre that usually puts on two showings a day.

In addition to these charming diversions, there’s also the picturesque High Street that is home to some lovely cafes and souvenir shops.

After a long day of exploring Exmoor, it would have been nice to hole up in a pub for the evening and settle into a B&B for the evening, however this was May Bank Holiday and my parents were eager to get back to Conwy.

Within minutes of setting off from Lynton, the half pint of ale had taken effect and I spent the drive back to Wales listening to the soft rhythmic snores of my Mum and Dad.