Cinque Terre, Italy

Our time at the Cinque Terre, or five villages on the Italian coast was really more of a whistle-stop tour. We were in the area and couldn’t just pass by without checking it out. Obviously. We drove from Rome up the coast as we needed to spend one night in Genoa before hopping back over the border in to France. It’s actually a much easier trip from Florence – just about 2 hours drive. The Cinque Terre was a necessary stop on our route as we just had to get some vitamin sea 🙂 It’s hard to pick just one village to stop off at so we settled on checking out a few, research for a possible future longer trip I guess! Honestly, the parking situation isn’t great but it’s also not as much of a nightmare as the internet makes out. If you can, forego bringing the car but there are parking spots if you’re patient. Leave space for gelato 😉

Here’s a little photo essay of our afternoon drive-by:

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

That there is vino growing land

That there is vino growing land

Those views

Those views

Corniglia

Corniglia

The colours here - just beautiful

The colours here – just beautiful

Talk about an enticing entrance

Talk about an enticing entrance

Vernazza; flood damage from 2011

Vernazza; flood damage from 2011

Vernazza's streets

Vernazza’s streets

Vernazza

Vernazza

Vernazza's beach

Vernazza’s beach

Fishing time!

Fishing time!

Perfect lunch spot

Perfect lunch spot!

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Byron Bay, NSW, Australia

Hello!!

We’ve taken a few trips to hippie-haven Byron Bay over the past few years and it’s a nice spot to stroll around. You can easily do it in a day or you could chill here for a week. While the beach is definitely not Australia’s best, there’s plenty of room to get a bit of personal space and the little town is great for wandering around, grabbing coffees, ice-cream and engaging in some light or back-breaking retail therapy.

Obligatory Graffii shot

Obligatory Graffii shot

Byron's Beach

Byron’s Beach

The Farm Byron Bay, is worth a visit, it’s about a 5 minute drive from the town or just off the motorway on your way to town. It’s a working farm with a great restaurant (Three Blue Ducks), boulangerie (Don’t you just love that word, the Bread Social), and also the Produce Store. We had breakfast here and oh God, delicious. So fresh too. They have a lovely sunflower patch (I’m gonna say patch because of what we saw in the Dordogne region of France recently but for kiddies it would be an endless sunflower field), black pigs – happy as larry lounging about in the mud, cattle, chickens…and snakes. There are signs everywhere saying watch your step. Yowsa! If you don’t have a car then you can take the Farm Bus, $15 and you can hop on and off all day and see some local hot-spots.

Where first?

Where first?

Sunflowers

Sunflowers!

Chia Pudding

Amazing Chia Pudding

Coffee was had by himself at the little hole in the wall Barefoot Roasters, you’d have to go looking for this spot, it’s down a little lane and you’ve to sit sipping on the footpath. Quirky little spot.

Byron Bay Lighthouse sits overlooking Byron beach on one side and the absolutely stunning (and much quieter) Tallows Beach. Up here is the most easterly spot of Australia’s mainland – you’re basically looking out at Chile. Kinda cool.

The Bluesfest (music festival) is on here every March and there are markets on all year round. There’s lots of signage all around town promoting yoga classes if you fancy getting all chillaxed and the Cape Byron walking track is a great spot to work up and appetite…so you can go back to the Farm for lunch!

Byron Bay Lighthouse

Byron Bay Lighthouse

Tallows Beach

Tallows Beach

Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York

First things first – you have got to listen to this song before taking a trip to Coney Island!

We took the subway to Coney Island (D, F, N, Q lines all go here) which probably took about an hour from Manhattan. A little bit of a trip I suppose but definitely worth it. The first thing we did was head to the famous boardwalk to have a little wander around. It was exceptionally windy but therefore quiet – it actually felt quite special visiting a deserted Coney Island. I’m sure that changes in June…

Private subway carriage!

Private subway carriage!

Subway art

Subway art

We've arrived!

We’ve arrived!

Coney Island's famous boardwalk

Coney Island’s famous boardwalk

Now that's a beach!

Now that’s a beach!

Just a hop, skip or jump on to the sand

Just a hop, skip or jump on to the sand

We stopped off in Nathan’s Famous for a bite to eat after a windswept trip along the boardwalk. There are a couple of Nathan’s franchises around the area but the original, opened in 1916, is just across from the subway station. John had the mother of all hot dogs and I went with a lobster roll – typical New York fare! Next, decided a visit to William’s Candy Shop was an absolute necessity – the selection of candy apples here is amazing and they’re absolutely delicious…do not pass on this place!! The staff could probably use a lesson in customer service mind…

An original for an original 😊

An original for an original 😊

So tasty

So tasty

Yes please!

Yes please!

The Brooklyn Beach Shop on the boardwalk is a pretty nice spot to pick up some cool (albeit overpriced) souvenirs or even cute workout gear. They sell homewares from Fishs Eddy, the most awesome store for home-goods on the planet. I think a nice Brooklyn dish-towel is a nicer souvenir than a fridge magnet – it has an actual use!

The New York Aquarium is on the boardwalk too, although currently undergoing what looks like significant construction. The entrance fee is $10.75 (if you buy online) which honestly seems like a pretty good deal – the cheapest you can get in to Sydney’s Aquarium (which is not amazing by any stretch of the imagination) is $28. Robbery.

Unfortunately Luna Park was closed so we didn’t get to go on any of the rides but we’ll definitely pop out on our next visit to New York. Tea-cup time!! All in all I’d definitely recommend a little side trip to Coney Island if you’re taking a break in New York. The vibe on a warm and sunny weekend would be awesome.

Good store

Love the stuff in this store

Beachside baby

Beachside baby!

Aquarium artwork

Aquarium artwork

Seriously

Seriously

Ooh Luna Park!

Ooh Luna Park!

The plan!

The plan!

Let me in!

Let me in!

Aw, teacups!

Aw, teacups!

Serious name!

Serious name!

 

Sydney’s Best, an A – Z Guide

As we lived in Sydney for over 3 years and I only managed one post (ridiculous) I thought it was about time to share our favourite spots of this oh so beautiful city. Ya so it’s mostly food because apparently that’s what our lives revolve around.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Vivid Sydney Festival

Vivid Sydney Festival

Sydney’s Best…

A

Afternoon Tea. I definitely consider myself a connoisseur of Afternoon Tea. It’s my absolute favourite thing in the world. After shoes, obviously. The Langham in the Rocks area of the city does a pretty good afternoon tea. I also love the Tea Cosy in the same area, an Irish themed tea spot located in a lovely building (with a balcony) and the scones are delicious. They even have lamington (chocolate and coconut sponge cake) scones in celebration of Australia Day (January 26th). The best afternoon tea isn’t actually in the city though, it’s in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, in Lilianfels Resort and Spa. Glass of champagne in hand, fire crackling in the background and live piano music. Perfection in the winter. Yes, Sydney gets a bloody cold winter. Not Ireland cold but definitely scarf and woolly hat cold.

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B

Beach. Obviously need to include a beach in a Sydney post. There’s no situation where Palm Beach doesn’t win this medal and it’s less than an hour from the city. Don’t miss brunch from the Boathouse. Bondi Beach is obviously world famous, and it’s great for people watching but if you’re looking for a city beach then I’d go for Maroubra. It’s way quieter than Bondi so you’ll always get a spot to yourself, although there aren’t many food options at the moment so it’d be a good idea to bring a picnic. It’s up and coming though so there’ll definitely be more foodie options in the next few years. Bookstore. Another B I know but I have to share! Hands down, the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya in the city for choice – they stock everything but it is a little pricey. Berkelouw in Paddington has a nicely curated selection as well as a cafe. Sappho Books (and cafe and wine bar!) in Glebe is a little like Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, a warren like maze of a store brimming with secondhand and rare books.

Palm Beach

Palm Beach

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach

Maroubra Beach

Maroubra Beach

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C

Coffee. No joke, John has actually sampled every single coffee shop in this city. Morning coffee was had and loved from MLC Grind in the MLC Centre in the CBD. Weekend brews were most enjoyed from the tiny Reuben Hills in Surry Hills.

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D

Drinking Spots. My absolute favourite bar is Grandma’s in the city. It’s a tiny basement bar (and well hidden) but the cocktails here will knock off any cobwebs. John loved the Button Bar in Surry Hills and the Barber Shop in the city. The Wild Rover, actually a small bar in Surry Hills and not a crazy college scene Irish bar like the name would suggest, is a pretty nice spot too. Shady Pines Saloon is hilarious and located in Darlinghurst. What you see in movies and expect a bar in the Wild Wild West would have looked like.

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E

Eggs. It’s really easy to find fantastic breakfast spots in Sydney – you’ll find poached eggs with avocado on sourdough toast pretty much any time of the day. Our favourite hang out was Baffi & Mo in Redfern. God, their sweet potato hash browns. Unbelievable. VargaBar Espresso in Newtown used to have the most delicious eggs benedict but they went and changed their menu. Rude. They can still cook an egg though. Surry Hills is your best bet in terms of breakfast in general. Plenty of places to choose from.

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F

French Fries. Although it’s a hotdog spot, Snag Stand has the tastiest fries made with Tasmanian potatoes no less; an Irish girl championing potatoes that aren’t from Ireland? Yes! Also Fish and Chips from Doyles on the Wharf in Watsons Bay is really tasty and is the perfect place to watch a Sydney sunset.

View towards the city from Watsons Bay

View towards the city from Watsons Bay

G

Gelato. Actually this one’s a tie – Gelato Messina (a few locations) or Anita (Chippendale). Both heavenly.

H

Hot Chocolate. I’d probably have to say the mint hot chocolate in the Hyde Park Barracks Cafe but I’ll give Max Brenner second place since you get it in a hug mug. Aw. Hair Salon probably needs a mention here too – Renya Xydis in the city is bliss.

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I

Italian Food. One of the cheapest and tastiest places you could eat in Sydney is Bar Reggio in Darlinghurst. They can do no wrong. No wrong. Jamie’s Italian in the CBD is pretty good – there’s always a queue though. Unless you go on December 26th. Random.

J

Jewellery store. Lovisa. They’re everywhere and super cheap.

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K

Kept Secret. The Golden Age Cinema and Bar in Surry Hills is a tiny cinema, which was the former screening room of Paramount Pictures in the city. Pre-cinema cocktail? Pretty cool spot.

L

Lunch Spot. Most of my beautiful Sydneysider ladies adore Din Tai Fung (plenty of locations but we frequented the one in Pyrmont) but I’m not a dumpling lover so I generally favoured a hole in the wall sushi spot closeby. My actual favourite place to grab a sandwich is in the Met Centre/Wynyard train station in a hole-in-the-wall spot called La Petite Expresso. Fantastic chicken and walnut sandwiches. John’s favourite spot was pretty much anything from the David Jones Foodhall or steak from the Fairmont Restaurant in the Occidental Hotel.

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Not the Food Hall but David Jones in the Spring

Not the Food Hall but David Jones in the Spring

M

Market. I love love love the Flower Market in Flemington. A pain in the ass to get to for sure – and you’ve got to get there early but waaay cheaper than stumping up CBD prices. The Rocks Market probably needs a mention if you’re looking for an Opera House Christmas bauble or any form of souvenir you could possibly dream up. Sydney Fish Market in Pyrmont is also great; this is where you’ll find most of Sydney’s population on Christmas Eve stocking up on prawns for Christmas Day barbecues (the market has a 36 hour marathon (opening hours) to keep up with demand).

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N

New Year’s Eve Spot really depends on how much you want to cash out. Observatory Hill is a fantastic free spot for a view of the fireworks behind the bridge and the suburbs up along the harbour (you can’t see the Opera House from here though). Lawn with the View within the Royal Botanic Gardens is located on a hill just behind the Opera House so you see the Opera House and the front of the Harbour Bridge (the epicentre to be honest). Tickets are close to $300 per person which is ludicrous but this is Sydney. The good thing about a ticketed event is that you don’t have to get there super early but honestly we loved the atmosphere at Observatory Hill and we didn’t get there until about 10pm. The water around Pyrmont would also yield some good free firework watching spots of the Harbour Bridge.

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New Year's Eve view at Observatory Hill

New Year’s Eve view at Observatory Hill

New Year's Eve view at Lawn with the View

New Year’s Eve view at Lawn with the View

O

Oatmeal or Porridge. Served at the always delicious O Organic Produce cafe in Surry Hills. Everything they serve is amazing.

P

Pizza. Ok there’s a little contention over this one. John adores Lucio Pizzeria in Darlinghurst and Pizza Mario in Surry Hills and I’d likely give up my first born for Il Grappolo in Rozelle.

Q

Queen Victoria Building (QBV). The architecture, shopping, those beautiful clocks, Santa. Wonderful.

R

Rainy Day Spot. Time spent in the Art Gallery of New South Wales is time well spent. Free entry, a cafe with lovely scones, a great museum shop and jazz evenings make this the perfect spot to spend a rainy day in Sydney. And that does happen more than you might think!

S

Suburb. No question here – Surry Hills. Where you’ll want to roam every Sunday. Beautiful tree lined streets, fabulous people, shops and cafes. Whilst we’re in Surry Hills, I’ve got another S for Supermarket. Thomas Dux is a great place to find things not readily available elsewhere like CoYo or baking ingredients. They have lovely homemade chocolates and beautiful fresh bouquets too.

T

Tea. The Tea Centre in the Glasshouse Shopping Centre. So. Many. Options. Delicious soups too.

U

Utterly Awesome Experience. The Moonlight Cinema in Centennial Park every summer is a fantastic evening out – black and white movies and a bottle of vino under the stars. Perfection.

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V

View. This isn’t a difficult decision at all. Walk aross the Harbour Bridge and set up shop beneath same. If you take the train you’ll need to get off the train at Milson’s Point. Take a wander around the very residential Kirribilli for views like this:

Wowsers!

Wowsers! Also a good New Year’s Eve spot…

W

Wandering Spot. One of the most beautiful places you can take a stroll in Sydney is within the Royal Botanic Gardens. The Rose Garden is a beautiful place to chill out with a book, watch a wedding (yep) or catch a glimpse of the Opera House. You also cannot go to Sydney and not walk from Bondi to Coogee along the coast. It’s stunning.

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View of the city from the Botanic Gardens

View of the city from the Botanic Gardens

Coogee Baths

Coogee Baths

X

What the hell am I, Scrabble Champion? Nope.

Y

Yogurt Spot. Frozen yogurt spot to be precise. George St. is yogurt avenue. Yogurt everywhere. Yogurtland was my favourite, the perfect post-power-yoga stop off (and they always had discount deals for some reason or other).

Z

Zoo. One of the most spectacular locations on earth. Good for you Taronga Zoo! Bring the credit card though – a $46 admission price ain’t cheap ($23 for kiddies).

Note: You can hop on the 555 bus for free up and down George St., this will take you from Central Station all the way up to Circular Quay/The Rocks area.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Getting to Rio from Montevideo in Uruguay on the cheap is not easy! We had to get the ferry back to Buenos Aires from Colonia in Uruguay (again with Colonia Express), then fly from BA’s Ezezia International Airport (taxi from the Colonia Express port to the airport was $ARS150 and took about 40 minutes) to Sao Paolo (we flew with Qatar Airways but bring a fleece to Sao Paolo airport as they have the air-conditioning set at Antarctic) and then catch another flight (we flew with TAM who were wonderful) to Rio de Janeiro. It took us about 24 hours in total and going to Rio was really a last minute decision but we’re sooo glad we did it – it’s just beautiful.

We booked an AirBnB a couple of blocks from Copacabana beach (taxi from the airport cost R$70 – about $30 but took 2 hours – it’s only 20km from the city!!) and although we didn’t really have time to do much research on the best locations to stay in Rio I think it was a perfect location for a first-timer in Rio. Copacabana is in the Zona Sul or South Zone. We were pretty short on time in Rio, just 3 days so we tried to pack in as much as we could. It’s definitely a place we can’t wait to get back to so that can only be a good sign! So I guess I’ll start with Copacabana, one of the most famous beach resorts in the world. We were a couple of blocks back from the beach and the roads were exceptionally busy so we didn’t get much sleep. We went to visit the Belmond Copacabana Palace (hotel) and that’s DEFINITELY where we’re staying next time! Plush. The beach itself is 4km long so there’s plenty of space for strolling, sunbathing and beach-sports. There are lots of places to eat all along the beach, I guess shacks really but they sell more fast food really, burgers, chips and ice-cream but they also sell fresh coconuts with a straw and there are plenty of places to stop off for a cocktail. In the evening there are plenty of market sellers selling souvenirs, trinkets and the like. If you walk a couple of blocks inland you’ll find plenty of supermarkets; the best one we found was Zona Sul – very like the supermarkets in America, plenty of choice. So, I now have a new addiction, açaí bowls. They’re absolutely delicious and a superfood you know! My 3-a-day habit has not yet ensured my transformation into Gisele but I’ll keep you posted! This might be because we found an AMAZING gelato spot. God, I can’t even explain how good it is – it’s from Oficina del Gelato (Address: 903 Ave. Nossa Sra. de Copacabana) – just try it out.

If you continue walking down Copacabana beach you’ll eventually find yourself at Arpoador, a huge rock that separates Copacabana from Ipanema. Watching the sunset at Arpoador is one of the most touristy yet essential things you should do in Rio. There’s a great buzz here, with guys selling cocktails (caipirinhas of course), hippy singers drawing groupies and people just chilling out and chatting making it a lovely place to watch the sunset. The sunset itself wasn’t great to be perfectly honest. I had heard it’s so amazing there’s often clapping and standing ovations so we were a little disappointed with a grey sky – I compare every sunset we see to Borneo though (see post and pics of Borneo and those sunsets here) and nothing has come close yet. I’ll keep searching!!

Once you’re on Arpoador rock you’re looking up along Ipanema beach all the way up to Leblon, the most affluent area of the Zona Sul. Our AirBnB hosts told us it was the nicest beach in the city so we spent a few hours relaxing here. Beach-life is definitely different to what we’ve been used to in Australia for the past few years. In Australia you’re a little stroll across from all the eateries when you’re on the beach. In Rio, apartment blocks and busy roads (with crazy drivers) line the beachfront and you have to go a couple of blocks inland to find food and shops. We walked a lot on our first day looking for food!! We did find a wonderful açaí place in Ipanema, Polis Sucos, delicious! T.T. Burger lies in between Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and is a pretty good spot for food after the sunset. They make their own guava ketchup and delicious summer mint and mango milkshakes.

Obviously another very important piece of Rio’s tourist infrastructure is Cristo Redento or Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Mountain. You can see the statue from pretty much everywhere in the Zona Sul which is pretty cool. Quintessentially Rio. Google Maps was honestly absolutely useless for the rest of South America but it’s fantastic again in Brazil so we used that to help us get around the subway and buses. There’s a flat cost of R$3.40 for each journey you take on the bus and R$3.50 for each journey on the subway. Pretty easy to work out! We took the bus from Copacabana to the neighbourhood of Cosme Velho (how to get here) and then purchased our tickets on site for R$51 (R$62 in high season (round-trip). You can buy tickets here too). The train takes about 20 minutes to get up to Cristo Redentor and the views from the top are amazing. Rio is honestly gigantic!

Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro or the Botanic Gardens are at the bottom of Corcovado Mountain so can easily be done on the same day that you visit Cristo Redentor. The gardens have been in existence since 1808 – what??!!! Since we love an old rose or two we had to go and check it out (entrance is R$7)! There are over 900 different varieties of palm trees in here, a gunpowder factory and a beautiful building housing a fantastic collection of orchids – oh, and toucans and a tiny monkey! Awesome!

We hopped off the subway one evening at Botafogo. There’s a beach here but it’s in no way sanitary so it’s not a beach-day spot. There are plenty of yachts moored here so it makes for a nice place for an evening stroll (aside from the millions of cars whizzing by) and a shopping centre called Botafogo Praia Shopping which has plenty to keep you occupied for a couple of hours.

Rio is full of favelas or city slums which are apparently run by druglords. You can visit these if you wish (through an agency – do not go there on your own) but there was no way we were giving more cash to these guys to watch people living in squalor. There’s a huge favela right behind the Sheraton hotel at the end of Leblon beach. It’s crazy how close those who have and have not live together here.

Copacabana Beach

Copacabana Beach

Such a tough life!

Such a tough life!

Amazing sandcastle on Copacabana Beach

Amazing sandcastle on Copacabana Beach

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach

Wandering down the promenade

Wandering down the promenade

So pretty

So pretty

John admiring an old tram before going up Corcovado Mountain

John admiring an old tram before going up Corcovado Mountain

The Zona Sul en-route to Cristo Redentor

Overlooking the Zona Sul en-route to Cristo Redentor

Would you just look!

Would you just look!

Cristo Redentor in all his glory

Cristo Redentor in all his glory

Rio from above

Rio from above

It's one gigantic city

It’s one gigantic city

A stop off in Botafogo to see Sugarloaf Mountain

A stop off in Botafogo to see Sugarloaf Mountain

Cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain

Cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain

Rio's Botanic Gardens

Rio’s Botanic Gardens

A lonely rose in the rose garden

A lonely rose in the rose garden

A durian fruit tree

A durian fruit tree

I'm sure these are safe...

I’m sure these are safe…

Caught mid-flight!

Caught mid-flight!

Ugly but still pretty!

Ugly but still pretty!

Lily-pads

Lily-pads (and hearts!)

Aw, and a lily

Aw, and a lily

Orchid storage!

Orchid storage!

Just so many

Just so many

I want them all!

I want them all!

Hands down THE prettiest flower

Hands down THE prettiest flower

These gardens are gigantic

These gardens are gigantic

Ya...am...I don't know

Ya…am…I don’t know

The Cacti Garden

The Cacti Garden

They've got everything here!

They’ve got everything here!

Look who made an appearance

Look who made an appearance

You don't want to get caught in these babies

You don’t want to get caught in these babies

Graffiti in Ipanema

Graffiti in Ipanema

Sunset samba at Arpoador Rock

Sunset samba at Arpoador Rock

Sunset session

Sunset session

Overlooking Ipanema and Leblon

Overlooking Ipanema and Leblon

Next stop: Sao Paolo, Brazil