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 ūüôā 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 ūüėČ

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 ūüėä

An original for an original ūüėä

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 Рit 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 Рblack 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, a√ßa√≠¬†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¬†a√ßa√≠¬†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 Bot√Ęnico 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

The Gal√°pagos Islands, Ecuador

Some of the Gal√°pagos Islands

Some of the Gal√°pagos Islands

We flew with AeroGal from Guayaquil to Baltra on the main island of Santa Cruz in the Gal√°pagos for ¬†8 days. To get from Baltra to Puerto Ayora, which is the main town on Santa Cruz, you get a free bus from the airport to the ferry, then hop on the ferry for $1 across a short stretch of water and then you hop on a bus for $1.50 for the 45 minute trip to the bottom of the island (or a taxi costs $18). We hadn’t booked accommodation before arriving so found a place by just wandering around – we stayed at the Hotel Espana just parallel to the main thoroughfare for $35 a night. We stayed in Puerto Ayora for a few nights to suss out prices for cruises¬†and eventually went with a 4 day cruise on the Estrella del Mar, stopping at Isla Bartolome, Isla Genovesa, Las Bachas (on Isla Santa Cruz) and finally Isla Santa Fe. It’s best to bring enough cash to pay for this trip as most agencies don’t accept credit cards and if they do they have whoppers of fees attached. We also tried to get a cash advance which didn’t work and our card was put on hold in Australia and it’s really difficult to find wifi good enough to Skype call the bank – let that be a lesson learned!

Puerto Ayora and Isla Santa Cruz

The main thoroughfare in Puerto Ayora is Avenida Charles Darwin and this is where most of the shops, restaurants and bars are situated. The walk along the port at night is pretty nice; we saw lots of small Gal√°pagos¬†sharks here and a even a cheeky sea lion chilling on a bench.¬†There’s plenty to keep you occupied on Santa Cruz island.¬†One afternoon we rented bicycles from the little shop just next to the Isla Grill restaurant for $7.50 for 4 hours and took in the whole town.¬†The Charles Darwin Research Centre (free entry) at one end of town has a number of giant tortoises and some iguanas – not amazing by any stretch of the imagination but it’s free. A lot of cruises actually bring you here on your last day too.¬†There’s a little rocky beach next to the station called Playa de la Estacion which was nice for sunset.

Tortuga Bay, reached by a good 40 minutes walk out of town, is absolutely stunning. The first time we visited we made the mistake of cycling but you can only get to the entrance of the 40 minute walk! We had no locks for our bikes but lots of people seemed to just¬†leave them for the day so we thought when in Rome…happy ending too – they were still there when we returned.¬†You need to sign in and out at the entrance station so you need your passport number. Tortuga Bay is where sea turtles come to lay eggs but we saw none of this – just lava gulls, pelicans, little sharks (some of the guys saw a hammerhead shark one evening) and the motherload of iguanas. The huge beach just before Tortuga Bay is stunning and you could easily while away a few days chillaxing on these beaches.

We rented a taxi dude another day for $30 who took us to the Bellavista Lava Tunnels ($3 entrance) and El Rancho Mariposa ($3 again). You get a flash-lamp to guide you through the lava tunnels – it’s pitch black in places with some lovely puddles thrown in for good measure for you to dunk your converse. El Rancho Mariposa is a tortoise ranch which was pretty cool – we got stuck in a tortoise jam on the way in ūüôā The tortoises have acres of space to roam around here and they are everywhere you look. Not sure I’d recommend this to be honest – $30 is a bit saucy for the distance you travel and we had a tortoise ranch and some lava tunnels included on the cruise we took.

Our favourite food haunt in a Puerto Ayora was the Gal√°pagos¬†Deli which has delicious thin crust pizzas, good (for the Galapagos) wifi and lovely chocolate cake. The ice-cream at Il Giardino down at the end of town is hands down the best in town. We must have had at least 10 scoops each in our time in Puerto Ayora! The main supermarket up the top of the town is definitely worth a visit. It’s so old-school; definitely like something out of an olde time film, plus they have organic chocolate.

En route to Tortuga Bay with an Opuntia Cactus

En route to Tortuga Bay with an Opuntia Cactus

Home to iguanas...

Home to iguanas…

and Sally Lightfoot Crabs

and Sally Lightfoot Crabs

Tortuga Bay

Tortuga Bay

Local Resident

Local Resident

Taking in the beach

Taking in the beach

Ceramic Garden in Puerto Ayora

Ceramic Garden in Puerto Ayora

Isla San Cristobal

We took a day trip to Isla San Cristobal to see La Loberia where the sea lions hang out and we weren’t disappointed – so many baby sea-lions – too cute! The 7am speedboat trip over there ($60 per person return – absolute robbery but we were hardly going to swim!) was horrible – 2.5 hours of nausea. After breakfast (don’t eat before that boat trip) we got a taxi to La Loberia for $1 and decided to walk back, alongside¬†the tiny airport which takes about 45 minutes. Unfortunately that’s really all we had time to do on San Cristobal as the speedboat back leaves at 3pm.

Mummy and baby on La Loberia Beach

Mummy and baby on La Loberia Beach

Aren't they just dotie?

Aren’t they just dotie?

Cruise aboard Estrella del Mar

We booked our cruise with Jenny at Moonrise Travel 3 days before we travelled. She was fantastic and called everyone on her contact list to get us on the most suitable cruise. We ended up on the Estrella del Mar for a 3 night/4 day cruise with 9 others – a relatively small number for a Gal√°pagos¬†cruise which was perfect for us – the others were really lovely so we had a wonderful time. Our guide, Alfredo, was √ľber passionate about his profession and very happy to field a bazillion questions from John. Our itinerary started with a visit on day one to Isla Bartolome, overnight cruise north to Isla Genovesa, back overnight to Las Bachas on Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Santa Fe and the last night at the port of Puerto Ayora.

Isla Bartolome was our first stop and here we just took a little wander up some steps to see one of the most iconic images of the Gal√°pagos¬†– Sullivan Bay and Pinnacle Rock. We didn’t see any wildlife here but on the little dinghy on the way back to the boat we saw some darling little Gal√°pagos¬†Penguins taking in the evening sun. We anchored for a while to have some dinner and did some fantastic star-gazing from atop the boat. We cruised through the night to awake in the far north, at¬†Isla Genovesa.¬†This island¬†is great for bird lovers as it’s the only place you can see red-footed boobies, which are birds lads and believe me there were plenty of boobie jokes on the whole trip so enough already! We started our day in Genovesa at Darwin Bay, taking in lots of Nazca boobies, frigatebirds (massive black birds with fork-like tails – the males have a red pouch under their necks which inflates to attract a female)¬†and some sea-lions on the walk up to a look out point over the bay. It was wicked hot here so you definitely need a hat and at least SPF¬†50. Sadly, there’s a little plaque up the top in dedication to two women who were lost at sea whilst scuba diving here. After our little walk we did some snorkelling just off the beach and saw plenty of brightly coloured fish, some sea-lions, and some of the guys saw some Gal√°pagos¬†sharks. Back to the boat for a spot of lunch and then later on in the afternoon we climbed up the Prince Phillip steps to see the huge red-footed booby population. It’s quite baron up where this population lives so I don’t believe they have any predators. We then cruised overnight back to Isla Santa Cruz to Las Bachas on the north coast. This was my absolute favourite part¬†of the entire trip! I had been dying to see blue-footed boobies and we finally saw them here – and not just some, probably hundreds. They are hands-down my new favourite! After only 15 minutes on Las Bachas we’d already seen the boobies, some flying flamingos (apparently quite rare), a nesting sea-turtle (extremely rare), and the ubiquitous crabs and iguanas. Amazing! In the afternoon we went to¬†Isla Santa Fe¬†where we spotted some endemic iguanas, a nice sized population of sea-lions, a couple of hawks and loads more blue-footed boobies. The blue-footed boobies have an amazing fishing technique; they dive from about 40m to 2m underwater to catch their dinner. It’s an awesome sight. Las Bachas ticks all boxes!

Pinnacle Rock

Pinnacle Rock

Galapagos Penguins

Galapagos Penguins

Red Footed Booby

Red Footed Booby

Hermit Crab

Hermit Crab

Catching the sunset on Genovesa

Catching the sunset on Genovesa

Las Bachas Beach

Las Bachas Beach

Nesting Sea Turtle

Nesting Sea Turtle

On her way back home

On her way back home

Finally - a blue footed booby

Finally – a blue footed booby

Many boobies!

Many boobies!

So peaceful!

So peaceful (on Santa Fe)

On our last morning, back on dry land in a Puerto Ayora, we took a bus to see the twin craters, Los Gemelos, which are basically two massive holes in the ground with trees growing inside them. We then went to another tortoise ranch, Rancho Primicias which was pretty cool. They had a really good set up here, with Some food options and a really well stocked souvenir store where I picked up a nice Galápagos tote/beach bag for $15. After this, we went to some more lava tunnels just next door. These ones had lights and were pretty big but even though the others were more expensive to get to, I think they were better.

Why so serious?

Why so serious?

Posing with a resident at Rancho Primicias

Posing with a resident at Rancho Primicias

Turf War

Turf War

I cannot wait to go back to the Gal√°pagos! Although we saw loads there’s still so much more to see. Isla Espanola down south sounds awesome and our guide raved about Isla Isabela so¬†it seems like there’s a lot to see there too. I think the islands would be a great place to bring kiddies too.

Side note: The Gal√°pagos¬†Islands are honestly a money pit – I actually think currency evaporates here. Bring your life savings ūüôā

Next stop: Havana, Cuba.

Montanita, Ecuador

Lots of love going around Montanita

Lots of love going around Montanita

We spent a week at Montanita although I’m not really sure where the time went! The bus from Puerto Lopez to Montanita cost $2.50 and took less than an hour (expensive in Ecuadorian terms). You’re dropped off on the highway just up one street from the main thoroughfare so refreshingly, no need for a taxi here. We trudged up along the beach trying to find accommodation but everything seemed full (we always end up travelling to new places on Sundays; bad idea) so we stopped at a caf√©…which ended up having accommodation and so began our week at Hosteria Comuna Montanita. We had a beachfront shack here for $25 per night with hammocks on a little porch area; ok I want to call it a porch but it was just about swingable in a hammock. Still, many an hour was spent chilling here. Montanita is like the Byron Bay (in Australia) of Ecuador. Full of hippies, backpackers and I heart Montanita fringed vest tops. There are probably a hundred or more places to get a cocktail, they even have a cocktail avenue running from the beach to the town. There are plenty of caf√©s too (all with wifi) so there’s lots to keep you occupied. The beach is huge, whisper quiet during the week and filled with Ecuadorians at the weekends – they seem to congregate near the town so a five to ten minute walk up or down the beach gives you plenty of space. One afternoon we wandered down the length of the beach to the next village, Manglaralto. It’s tiny and quite run down but it’s a nice thirty minute wander along the beach, complete with a host of skeletons from the sea (not human now lads), bloated puffer fish and hundreds of little crabs peeking out of the sand and scuttling about.

Our shack on the beach

Our shack on the beach

One of Montanita's main streets

One of Montanita’s main streets

Local hammock sellers

Local hammock sellers

It is what it says!

It is what it says!

Local graffiti

Local graffiti

There’s not too much one can say about Montanita to be honest; it kind of is what it is! We found a caf√© called Hola Ola where we pretty much ate all our meals – good pizzas and lovely fresh juices. We tried the Italian run Pigro one evening (they make their own pasta) but it just wasn’t great and Tiki Limbo is another spot where a lot of people seemed to frequent; we just had cocktails and wifi here. We also tried Papillion who had a pretty nice granola breakfast. On our last day we found the fastest wifi (John actually does a speediest every time he connects!) at CoffeeArt just across the road from Tiki Limbo. Typical! Montanita also has done frozen yoghurt spots – yay! We went to Greenfrost where you get plain frozen yoghurt, 3 fruit toppings and hot chocolate sauce which tops it off beautifully for $2.50 (for a pretty massive portion). The largest portion toy could get would easily feed 4 people and it $6. I’m used to paying about $7 for the tiniest portions in Sydney!!

Admiring the sunset

Admiring the sunset

Next stop: The Galapagos Islands.

Manta, Montechristi and Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

So sorry for the lack of posts – we’ve been in the Galapagos Islands and then we took a side trip to Cuba (or 1960 where the internet has not yet found a home…it’s also the spot where we realised that we’re wifi junkies…) but I managed to write a bit so I’ll pop up a couple of posts for you now.

Manta

We travelled from Quito’s Quitumbe bus station ($10 in a taxi from La Guayunga Hostel in the old town) to Manta on Ecuador’s coast (I think the company was called Flota Imbalala or something along those lines) which took 9.5 hours and cost $10. There’s absolutely nothing in Manta so we stayed overnight in the Hotel Santa Fe for $45 (saucy for us on this trip but they had really good wifi – I literally streamed episode after episode of The Mindy Project – heaven). Manta had a Subway restaurant so we were sandwiching it up once again. The real reason we travelled to the coast is because we wanted to see Montechristi, the home of the Panama hat (yep!). Since I do enjoy a hat it was obviously a must visit destination.

Montechristi

We travelled from Manta to Montechristi for 40 cents each which probably took about half an hour. Montechristi is a cool little village with a lovely whitewashed cathedral which almost looks like it sits on stilts. The locals are very friendly here and everyone says hello as they pass. Just like Killarney then ūüôā

We stopped off at a little caf√© on the main square for some dessert (at like 10am but we’re on holidays so what you gonna do) to get ourselves prepared for the hat-trying-on-expedition we were about to take on. Plus we had our backpacks with us so needed to chill for a millisecond. Our first port of call was the street to the right behind the church to some chaps house (he’s called Jose Chavez Franco) which had a few hats strewn around and was less than impressive to be honest.¬† It’s mentioned in the Lonely Planet guidebook (which we just bought online as the Rough Guides South America just isn’t cutting it for me to be honest). Instead, we popped into Montechristi Factory Hats just next to the church. They have an amazing selection of fantastic quality Panama hats – John looked at one for $400! Needless to stay he didn’t acquire that one…but it was amazing. The hats are woven with toquilla straw and can actually take months to weave, depending on how fine the weave is. John found this fantastic Brent Black website with superb information on what to look for etc. so we had some notion of what to look for in a hat. I bought a lovely little hat (which obviously I’ve named Monte). Obsessed a little. Side note: the other day in Cuba we were on a bus and this Canadian guy was sitting behind us chatting to a women. He was an importer/exporter and John overheard him talking about my hat and saying it was a really good one and it would cost around $400 – $500!! WTF! I paid $60. I love it more now!

Jose Chavez Franco's Home or Store

Jose Chavez Franco’s Home or Store

Monte's First Home

Monte’s First Home

The beginnings of a hat

The beginnings of a hat

Puerto Lopez

We had to double back to Manta to get the bus to Puerto Lopez, a little fishing village on the coast. The bus took about 3 hours and cost $3. We stayed at the Hostal Machilla ($20) just up from the (not so nice) beach. Not sure I’d recomment it to be honest as it was incredibly noisy. The best thing about Puerto Lopez was hands down Mojito from a little shack of a bar on the beach down by the fishing boats – I believe it was called Sadhana – the most delicious cocktail I’ve ever had; yum!

Monte and I in Puerto Lopez

Monte and I in Puerto Lopez

On to Montanita

Perth and surrounds, Western Australia

We’ve just had a lovely long weekend in Perth. Our base was the Hyatt Regency in East Perth – great location for exploring the city and surrounds. First impressions of the city were pretty good, it’s really picturesque with some beautiful architecture and most importantly so many places to eat! Everything seems really well finished and clean. It’s a compact city and the public transport seemed pretty good although we had a car.

We had some scrumptious breakfasts on our trip, particularly at the¬†Secret Garden caf√©¬†in the CBD and also at¬†Perth City Farm. Perth City Farm¬†is a market, caf√© and garden in East Perth, which is definitely worth a visit for a wander around (open Tuesday to Saturday). We had another breakfast at Small Print in the¬†Print Hall. It was jam packed – definitely in with the locals. We also spent an evening at Bob’s Bar on the roof of the Print Hall – had some well needed outdoor heaters and the tastiest Pimms punch – perfect evening! We also happened upon¬†Bar Lafayette, an¬†old school bar across from the Print Hall just off St. Georges Terrace in the city.¬†We went to the Crown Casino one evening to gamble a little…and had some drinks at La Vie, the champagne lounge in the huge foyer – nothing to write home about to be honest…even though I am…

There’s plenty to see wandering around the city streets and shops. London Court (Hay Street) was one of the coolest things we came across – it’s technically a shopping arcade but it’s like walking through Tudor England, a nice surprise and definitely worth a wander through.

Perth City Farm

Perth City Farm

Bob's Bar at the Print Hall

Bob’s Bar at the Print Hall

Fremantle or Freo as it’s known to the locals…

Fremantle Market

Totally thought Freo was just another way of the Aussie’s saying freeway since they just add o’s to everything! Anyhoo… Fremantle is a beautiful place to visit just about 20 minutes drive from the city, the colonial architecture is just amazing. The University of Notre Dame seems to own the whole town! We spent a good bit of time in this area – there’s just so much to see and do.¬†The Fremantle Market is on every Friday to Sunday in the centre of the town – about 150 stalls selling all things imaginable. Great spot.

We had some awesome wood-fired pizzas from the Little Creatures Brewery down by the Boat Harbour, definitely a destination in itself. Weekend brunch from 9am Р11am!!

Fremantle Ports houses the Maritime Museum too if that floats your boat; and some more markets actually.

The Docks, Fremantle

The Docks, Fremantle

Margaret River

Margaret River is both a town and an area just over 3 hours south of Perth. There are plenty of wineries to visit, it’s actually quite similar to the Hunter Valley in NSW.

We started our trip with breakfast at Dew’s Berry Bar in Mandurah – took away some brownies for latter in the day – delish.¬†The Margaret River Chocolate Company¬†is a must visit destination. They’ve just opened a store in Perth city so obviously we visited that too. The town of Margaret River is really cute, I was sorry we didn’t spend a night here – the Settlers Tavern looked like a great spot for an evening. We got ourselves some coffee and a peppermint hot chocolate from the Brew Shack (awesome spot) and went to the beautiful Prevelly Beach to watch the sunset.

Margaret River Chocolate Company

Margaret River Chocolate Company

Sunset at Prevelly Beach

Sunset at Prevelly Beach

Busselton

We stopped at Busselton on the way to the Margaret River – thankfully! We had a fabulous walk out along the Busselton Jetty (for $2.50 each) albeit with the rain literally slapping our faces! It’s actually really long so the lunch we had sitting next to the open fireplace in the¬†Goose Beach Bar + Kitchen¬†was well-deserved and quite possibly the best food we’ve had in ages – John had some breaded mackerel and I had the cauliflower and pancetta soup – just delicious.¬†

Busselton Jetty

Busselton Jetty

York
We took a trip c. 90km inland from the city to to historic town of York for an afternoon trip out of the city. Quaint. Quiet. Worth the trip if you’re happy to just chill. We had some soup to warm us up in the York Mill Caf√©. That was pretty much all we did in York…

Old school sweet shop in York

Old school sweet shop in York

Tasmania, Australia

We decided to take an extra long weekend to check out Tasmania. We were very lucky with the weather as the sky stayed so blue for the entire trip! Bit chillier than Sydney-side but still about 20 degrees so not too shabby.
 
We flew in and out of Launceston. Started the trip with a quick lunch on Friday at the Milkbar Cafe and Workshop which was very cute. Followed this with a coffee in Velocci on Balfour Street. We checked out Cataract Gorge and took a drive up around the beautiful houses overlooking Launceston. 
Melita Honey Farm

Melita Honey Farm

Next on the agenda was¬†Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm¬†in Elizabeth Town. I had read about it in a number of reviews but it wasn’t the most amazing spot to be honest. Where was awesome though was the¬†Melita Honey Farm¬†in a tiny little village called Chudleigh. Definitely worth a visit – they have a little museum at the back of the shop and SO many different types of honey to taste. Great ice-cream stop too!!
We drove around the Highland Lakes area for a few hours before making our way to Hobart for our stay at the Amberley Guest House. Really cute guesthouse in the Sandy Bay suburb of Hobart. We had dinner and drinks in Smolt in Salamanca Place. Seriously tasty.
 
Saturday morning started with the Salamanca Market which happens every Saturday morning rain or shine down in Salamanca Place. Hundreds of stalls selling everything from fresh fruit and flowers to vintage tea sets. Really great market. 
 
We pottered around the historic Battery Point for a while after the market. It’s quite similar to the Rocks in Sydney but probably a little bit bigger. Some beautiful sandstone cottages nestled around the area with amazing views out over the River Derwent.
 
On to the most important part of Battery Point – the food…
 
Jam Jar has apparently got the best coffee that John has tasted in quite a while. Shame I knocked that out of his hand…funny though!!! I had a Chai Latte at the Pollen Tea Room which is a tiny little cafe – they make their own chai in there – really good. Hot drinks followed by AMAZING goodies from the¬†Jackman & McRoss Bakery.¬†
Salamanca Market

Salamanca Market

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Started on the road to Port Arthur which is a former convict settlement about an hour and a half drive from Hobart. We went with the Bronze Pass which was $35 per person. Close by we checked out the Tasman Arch and Blowhole in the area.
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En route to Port Arthur

En route to Port Arthur

Port Arthur

Port Arthur

We stayed at¬†the Piermont¬†Retreat which is 3km from Swansea for 2 nights. Pretty remote but absolutely beautiful.¬†We had breakfast at¬†Kate’s Berry Farm¬†which was literally across the road from the Piermont on Sunday morning – cr√©pes and scones. Yum! Continued on to Freycinet National Park for the day. We started off by getting some H2O supplies in Coles Bay (which is another tiny little village) for the hike to see¬†Wineglass Bay. It’s only about a 30 minute hike each way but it is uphill so quite strenuous. Totally worth it though as it’s an absolutely beautiful view. Our next stop was¬†Cape Tourville Lighthouse just to check it out. Pretty. We then stopped at¬†Richardsons Beach for a lovely walk along the beach. The beaches are so long in Tasmania – absolutely beautiful. We went to¬†Freycinet Lodge overlooking the beach for a bite to eat.

We ended the day with a trip to the 
Friendly Beaches – one of THE BEST beaches I’ve ever been on. The sand was white and the water crystal clear. Just beautiful.
Funny place-names we came across: Bust Me Gall Hill and Break¬†Me Neck Hill. Also a gn for the Wye River had a sign under it saying ‘coz it’s bigger than a creek. HA!! Oh ya, and we passed through the Walls of Jerusalem and Baghdad…
Kate's Berry Farm

Kate’s Berry Farm

 Wineglass Bay

Beautiful Wineglass Bay

Friendly Beaches

Friendly Beaches