Blog England

A Trip to the Capital with Megabus

London has been in the news a great deal lately.

Our capital has been battered this year with what has felt like an endless stream of protests, attacks and terrible accidents.

When each incident arose, I would find myself gravitating to the closest smart device so that I could compulsively check that all my friends and family there were safe – they always were. Still, with this slew of events, it’s made London feel like a destination that might not be worth the risk, especially when you consider how much it costs to stay there.

Before I went on my travels with work, out to the far flung countries of Asia and Africa, I made my money in London. Back in the 90s, if you had a decent enough job, you could make a good living there and still have enough cash to enjoy the city with – something that’s become increasingly difficult over the last few years. Put simply – the cost of just existing in a place like London has significantly increased over the last two decades. Everything from rental prices to pints, to the price of a bacon sarnie has sky-rocketed, which has resulted in it becoming something of a rich person’s city.

With this in mind, and with a whole bunch of friends that I’d not visited in ages hollering at me to make a trip to the city, I decided to challenge myself to enjoy a weekend in the Capital for less than £100…including travel.

Now, I understand that the parameters of this challenge are somewhat loosely defined.

£100 is all well and good, but ‘enjoyment’ is something that’s very much up to interpretation. The most expensive part of the weekend could thankfully be booked well ahead of schedule. I’d not taken a coach for a very long time. The last long journey that I had used one of these for was an 11-hour trek through the hills of Vietnam; certainly a very scenic route but not the most comfortable. That journey cost me the equivalent of £3 back in 2005. I booked my Megabus from the nearby city of Liverpool, a return ticket to London that set me back £25 – not too shabby for 2017.

My Mum was kind enough to drop me off at in Liverpool, before the coach arrived on the Friday morning at an eye-watering 6am. Once I hustled myself onto the bus, all thoughts of comfort soon dissipated as I slipped into unconsciousness. 6 hours flew by, by the time I woke up, I was in London and it was lunch time.

So many of the big costs of taking a holiday in the capital can be negated if you have friends living there. Accommodation, food and drinks can all be covered at a much smaller price if you stay with friends in the city. Luckily, I had a string of mates that I’d not seen in a while, so there were plenty of couch options at my disposal. After dropping my gear at their flat Clapham and wolfing down a couple of sandwiches, it was off into the city for an evening of culture, drinks and food.

Some of London’s most iconic attractions are completely free to enter, something that many people are always surprised by.

Although you’ll have to pay a pretty penny to gain entry into some of London’s more sensational attractions (The Tower of London, Madam Tussaud’s etc.), some of the more interesting (and often quieter) attractions are completely free. As it had been so long since I’d visited the capital, a day spent enjoying the National Portrait Gallery and the National History Museum was more than enough for me and it didn’t cost me a single penny.

Enjoying London on a budget is certainly achievable – you might not be able to live the high-life, but you can certainly survive for a weekend.

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.