Monaco, Èze and Avignon, the French Riviera

Monaco

We left Genoa/Genova in Italy for the 2 hour jaunt across the French border in to the stunning French Riveria, stopping off at Monaco for a quick coffee on the way. I had been to Monaco on a girls trip a few years ago so had done the Prince’s Palace and seen all about Princess Grace, not exactly something John was too into visiting but from last trip, I recommend taking a tour of the palace if you can fit it in. As we wandered Monaco’s waterside, I thought I’d give a cappuccino a go, randomly at the Wine Palace Monte-Carlo, it was AMAZING. John just goes for a long black but that was apparently awesome too. At a wine shop.Who knew?!

Prince's Palace of Monaco up on the hill

Prince’s Palace of Monaco up on the hill

Views for everyone!

Views for everyone!

Yep, that's a yacht in a yacht

Yep, that’s a yacht in a yacht

Back of the Casino Monte Carlo

Back of the Casino Monte Carlo

Botero's Adam et Eve

Botero’s Adam et Eve

Èze, France

If you’re looking for the most beautiful village in the universe, get yourself to Èze. It’s just a 15 minute drive uphill from Monaco. We spent a few hours meandering this little medieval spot (mostly looking for a parking spot – haha – this is like 40% accurate – it did take us ages and we ended up parking quite a bit away and walking in to the village – or you could just park at the Fragonard factory/perfumerie right at the base of the village). There are lots of little cafes, shops and art galleries to check out in Èze. The scent of lavender emanates from even the stones here – you can pick up soaps, pillows, post-cards, lotions, candles…whatever you can think of that you could possibly put a drop of lavender in here. We stopped for lunch at Deli’ and it was delicious. The staff were very helpful too. We brought home some flavoured olive oils here from A L’Olivier and I’m now planning our next trip to Èze…which is looking likely to revolve around olive oil. Rightly so.

Village map

Village map

Èze

Èze

Taking in the surroundings

Taking in the surroundings

Bougainvillea, gets me every time

Bougainvillea, gets me every time

Craving the ancient

Craving the ancient

Lavande

Lavande

Inspo!

Inspo!

Who wouldn't like a French escape pad?

Who wouldn’t like a French escape pad?

Gorgeous

Gorgeous

The Church of Èze

The Church of Èze

Garden of Èze

Garden of Èze

I'll take them all!

I’ll take them all!

Teas, herbs and spices

Teas, herbs and spices

 

Avignon, France

We continued on our journey for about another 3 hours from Èze to Avignon, and spent the night at La Mirande. You really need to follow the hotel’s directions to find yourself at their door – it’s not easy to drive around Avignon; all one-way and closed off minuscule streets. We just had an evening in Avignon, a UNESCO listed site, so took a wander around and had dinner at the hotel’s garden restaurant and a morning courtyard breakfast before leaving for the drive to PARIS!! Avignon is a lovely town to spend some time. There are lots of shops here for souvenir hunting but also plenty of history. The Palace of the Popes/Palais des Papes was built in the 14th century as Avignon was the seat of the papacy back then. It sits right in front of La Mirande; there’s even a passageway from the downstairs kitchen/cooking school across to the palace.

The Pont Saint-Bénézet/Pont d’Avignon bridge houses the church of St. Nicholas and is a must visit on a trip to Avignon.  Four of the original 22 arches still stand.

Le Mirande

La Mirande

Cosy rooms at La Mirande

Cosy rooms at La Mirande

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes

Pont Saint-Bénézet/Pont d'Avignon

Pont Saint-Bénézet/Pont d’Avignon

Options, options!!

Options, options!!

Opera Theatre d'Avignon

Opera Theatre d’Avignon

Strolling in Avignon

Strolling in Avignon

Soaps all around

Soaps all around

Mmm tea!

Mmm tea!

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Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland

The most colourful shop in the land!

The most colourful shop in the land!

Ah the good ol home town. I suppose I should write something about Ireland’s prettiest town! So obviously it rains a lot but when the sun shines you just can’t beat Ireland. It’s gorgeous and we’re a pretty friendly bunch 🙂

St. Mary's Cathedral

St. Mary’s Cathedral

Hotels and Food

I haven’t had to stay in any of Killarney’s hotels but there’s a fantastic selection. One of my favourite places for afternoon tea is the small Royal Hotel in the centre of town. It’s where my parents had their wedding reception and we’ve had a fair few more family occasions here so it definitely holds a special place in my heart. Sitting by the open fireplace on a rainy day with a pot of tea is just bliss! Don’t get me started on their crab and avocado sandwich. Delish. The Killarney Park Hotel also holds a prime location, pretty much in the middle of town but set back from the road so you won’t have noise at night. It’s olde-worldly and the food is pretty good but their spa is probably the selling point for me – their Elemis and Eve Lom facials are divine. The relaxation suite is great and comes complete with a starlit ceiling and huge fish-tank. Proper relaxation. The Brehon Hotel is home to Europe’s only Angsana Spa. The place to come for a massage. Although the spa is in the basement of the hotel you might be lucky and be taken to one of the treatment suites on the top floor overlooking the Lakes of Killarney. The Europe is undoubtedly Killarney’s most lavish (albeit not the prettiest architecturally) hotel. It’s built lakeside with beautifully manicured gardens and the absolutely stunning ESPA. You can relax in their outdoor heated vitality pool or lunch (although the food isn’t overly impressive for what you’re paying) overlooking the lakes. Yes please! They’ve got hands down the best vitality suite facilities in town. Well, outside of town. You’ll need a car here. The Aghadoe Heights Hotel is built overlooking Killarney, and therefore has spectacular views over the Lakes. The staff here are really lovely and they do a ridiculously filling afternoon tea.

John relaxing on the Europe's dock

John relaxing on the Europe’s dock

We’ve recently gone all cosmopolitan and recently acquired a Starbucks. Well, half a Starbucks, it’s basically just a Starbucks counter at the back of a pub. HA! Quinlan’s Seafood Bar is a huge hit in Killarney – for all your fish and chip needs! You could feed a family of four with one plate from here. Expect queues out the door. Lir Café does a pretty good hot chocolate. It’s located across from the cinema. Noelle’s is one of my favourite little spots in town. The staff are lovely, the quiches are tasty and the cakes are worth trying too 🙂 Jam is up the street from Noelle’s; it’s always busy and it’s not a bad spot for a scone or soup. DYNE is a great spot – they’ve got a fabulous soup and sandwich deal every lunch (like €8) and really nice thin crust pizzas in the evenings. Gaby’s Seafood Restaurant has been around forever and is a pretty solid choice for a relaxed evening meal. Ain’t cheap though. Outside of town, Avoca at Moll’s Gap (a beautiful viewpoint on the Ring of Kerry – a drive you absolutely positively HAVE to do!) is a great spot for homemade soups and lovely gifts too. Actually, if you’re looking for goodies to bring home then the Kilkenny Shop is a good spot to check out. You’ll find pottery, jewellery, glassware and aran sweaters and scarves here. Keane’s is a great local jewellery shop. There’s also an excellent Penneys/Primark in the town centre. Did you know that Primark was established in Dublin back in 1969? Claim to fame!! For cocktail-time you’ll want to try the Lane Bar in the Ross Hotel.

Market Cross

Market Cross – AKA the epicentre!

If you find yourself wandering around down by St. Mary’s Cathedral then pop across the road and you’ll find yourself in Killarney National Park – hands down one of Ireland’s most beautiful places. Below is Deenagh Lodge, a café run by the wonderful folk at the Kerry branch of Down Syndrome Ireland.

Deenagh Lodge

Deenagh Lodge

Strolling around the National Park with the parents

Strolling around the National Park with the parents

Moll's Gap

Moll’s Gap

On the Ring of Kerry

On the Ring of Kerry

More of the Ring

More of the Ring

Back to Killarney’s and the jewel is without a doubt Muckross House and Gardens. 6km from the town centre and completed in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert, the Chief Secretary for Ireland in the UK Parliament, you could walk or cycle out here (there are paths) or hop on a jaunting car for the princely sum of €10 per person. You can wander around the gardens and lakes for free but if you want to take a tour of the house you’ll need to pay €9. Who wouldn’t want to live here?

Muckross House in all its glory

Muckross House in all its glory

Relaxing with my Dad

Relaxing with my Dad

Side view

Side view

View of the Lakes from the house

View of the Lakes from the house

Gigantic, eh?

Gigantic, eh?

Some secret gardens

Some secret gardens

Pretty well manicured

Pretty well manicured

What a glasshouse!

What a glasshouse!

Inside this behemoth

Inside this behemoth

A beautiful edged lily

A beautiful edged lily

A bit more prettiness

A bit more prettiness

Dripping with wisteria

Dripping with wisteria

Possibly the oldest glasshouse in the world

Possibly the oldest glasshouse in the world

Another fabulous piece of Irish history is 15th century Ross Castle. You can walk to Ross Castle from Muckross or vice versa. It’s 2km from the centre of town but it’s also a lovely walk within the National Park (€4 entrance). You can take boat trips around Lough Leane from here.  I won’t share a photo because this aerial footage of Ross Castle by Killarney cameraman Marek Hajdasz gives you an idea of how amazing this place is. Also, I have no photo. Haha!

You can see news from Killarney at KillarneyToday.com or try to get your hands on a Killarney Advertiser or Killarney Outlook free publication to see what’s going on.

Bordeaux, France

We stayed in a lovely apartment we rented on Airbnb about a 15 minute stroll from the centre of the city. Airbnb really is awesome – you definitely feel like you’re living in the place you’re visiting. We had 2 days here and honestly one of them was pretty much dedicated to perusing the ol’ shops. The streets of Bordeaux are perfect for ambling around, stalling for a vino and photographing doors…haha I can’t stop taking pictures of doors and windows. They’re just so bloody awesome sometimes!

Chateau en route to Bordeaux

Chateau en route to Bordeaux

Our street

Our street

One of the most beautiful places we saw in Bordeaux was the St. André Cathedral at night. It has been here since 1096 (yep! ok, only one wall is around since then, the rest since the 13th and 14th centuries) and is an absolutely stunning building (currently undergoing some renovations). It’s absolutely worth strolling in here – it’s a behemoth of a building and the internal architecture is amazing. The 66 metre high Pey Berland Tower adjacent to the cathedral is a tourist attraction all on its own; you can climb 200-odd steps to get a view over the city. Randomly, the tower was home to residences and a lead factory prior to getting its bells. It was built separate from the cathedral so the (eventual!) bell vibrations wouldn’t damage the cathedral. Just next door is the beautiful Hôtel de Ville or Town Hall.

There seems to be a hell of a lot of places to eat in Bordeaux – plenty of cafés with outdoor seating for people-watching. We stopped in at a few cafés but none of major noteworthiness – we did have cocktails one evening in Cafe Brun, a pretty cool music bar on Rue Saint-Rémi. The main shopping street here is Rue Sainte-Catherine. Bring your flats – it’s suuuper long. There are plenty of high street stores here;  Galeries Lafayette is pretty large, Sephora is here (yay!), Mango, 7000 or so shoe stores, Zara, H&M etc. etc. – it’s not a bad weekend shopping destination.

One place I couldn’t find in Bordeaux was Ladurée. Can’t a girl get a damn macaron?

St. Ándre Cathedral

St. Ándre Cathedral

Little sculpture outside the Cathedral

Little sculpture outside the Cathedral

By moonlight

By moonlight

Hôtel de Ville

Hôtel de Ville

There are lots of little windy streets in Bordeaux and a wealth of architectural surprises at every corner. The French know how to pretty concrete up you know! The 18th century Place de la Bourse is probably Bordeaux’s most beautiful spot. Designed by Jacques Gabriel and his son, Ange-Jacques for King Louis XV and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s a glorious square with a stunning water mirror across the street which reflects the image of the building…not that we got a picture of that. Pat on the back for that one…

Pont de Pierre

Pont de Pierre

Place de la Bourse

Place de la Bourse

Fountain of the Three Graces

Fountain of the Three Graces

Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux

Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux

Bordeaux's adorable carousel

Bordeaux’s adorable carousel

Honestly, such a random sculpture - it's completely flat

Honestly, such a random sculpture – it’s completely flat

Oh the loveliness!

Oh the loveliness!

You're coming with me!

You’re coming with me!

Typical Bordeaux buildings

Typical Bordeaux buildings

Street scene

Street scene

Pretty details everywhere

Pretty details everywhere

Just delightful

Just delightful

Lovely streets

Lovely streets

Cocktail hour?!

Cocktail hour?!

Little glimpses :-)

Little glimpses 🙂

Colour in the city

Colour in the city

Rustic :-)

Rustic 🙂

 Porte Dijeaux - the gate in to the heart of the city

Porte Dijeaux – the gate in to the heart of the city

Since when?!

Since when?!

The coolest cinema in the world?

The coolest cinema in the world?

John carrying Mum's shopping :-)

John carrying Mum’s shopping 🙂

Local life

Local life

Eglise Saint-Pierre

Eglise Saint-Pierre

Too true lads

Too true lads

 

Sucre, Bolivia

Sucre was probably one of the highlights of Bolivia for us. It’s a really pretty whitewashed colonial city with a warm and sunny climate (and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site). We stayed at Casa de Huéspedes San Marco (80 BOB) which had wifi but that’s really the only good thing I can say about it. Let’s just say it’s a voyeurs dream. Moving on! Sucre’s main plaza, Plaza 25 de Mayo, is a great spot to while away some time just watching life go by. On one side of the park lies the Cathedral which is nearly the size of an entire city block. Massive! We visited Sucre’s market and it was absolutely fantastic. There’s amazing fresh produce, really friendly stall owners (we got a free apple. Result!) and lots of food spots upstairs. We didn’t try the food upstairs but there were hundreds of people chomping away. There’s also a couple of supermarkets which we got really excited about since we hadn’t seen one since Cusco. SAS is a brand new supermarket (which also has a cinema above it) down Calle Juan José Perez (about 3 blocks down from the main plaza). Sucre is chockerblocked full of chocolate shops (pardon the pun. I actually think they might have a diabetes problem!).

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Relaxing by the park

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Prefectura

Cooking up a storm in the market

Cooking up a storm in the market

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Plenty of fresh produce

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Putting John to work at a pasta stand

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Carnations everywhere

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Love it!

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Pink potatoes!!

Cafés-wise, Abi’s, on the main plaza, and Abi’s Patio, about three blocks further down are Belgian/Bolivian owned have really good Belgian chips and mayonnaise (and wifi which is hard to come by in Bolivia). The Belgian owner is a lovely chap too which always helps. We had breakfast a couple of times in Condor Café (also a tour agency). The muesli was delicious and wifi strong enough. Dutch-owned Florín (pub) was a good spot for a catch up with our lovely Dutch friends, Dorianne and Sam. They have a really tasty apple crumble here and they also brew their own beers but they actually had like two options out of a large menu. We stayed so long here one evening we got locked out of our hostel. John had to bang on the door for about 20 minutes before we had any joy. Fecking midnight curfew, come on!

Parque Bolivar is Sucre’s largest park and a worthwhile stop if you want to sit and chill for a while. It’s about a ten minute walk downhill from the main plaza and is full of playing children, ice-cream sellers and dogs. It’s overlooked by the stunning Supreme Court of Bolivia and the park includes a climbing frame Eiffel Tower which is cute for kiddies.

El Hospital Real de Santa Barbara

El Hospital Real de Santa Barbara

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On the walk to Parque Bolivar

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Plenty of these in Sucre

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Sucre’s Eiffel Tower

We took a micro bus (1.50 BOB) to the Parque Cretácico (from the back of the market) to see the world’s largest collection of actual dinosaur footprints. It was a bit expensive, 30 BOB for foreigners (10 BOB for Bolivians) plus 5 BOB to take photographs. Not enjoying this paying extra for photos malarkey – like you’re going to come here and not take pictures? They police the hell out of it too. The footprints are actually out across the way from the parque (which has a one room museum too) so it looks like the dinosaurs were climbing up the walls; in actuality the shifts in tectonic plates have pushed the ground upright. Perfect for viewing though! There is supposed to be a tour included but they decided against it on our visit as there was a smattering of rain. I mean smattering too. I’d like to send them to Ireland for just one day!

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Dinosaurs approaching…

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All the pock marks are prints

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Plenty more

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And some more

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I’m done now…

Next stop: Back to Potosí to get to Uyuni and the Salar de Uyuni or Salt Flats

Trinidad, Cuba

Typical street in Trinidad

Typical street in Trinidad

Plaza Mejor

Plaza Mejor

We booked the bus to Trinidad with Transtur inside the Cubanocan office in the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel in Havana. It costs 25 CUC per person (each way) to travel around 320 kilometres and takes about 7 hours. It only takes that bloody long as they stop every hour along the way – if you hired a car you could easily travel from Havana to Trinidad in 4 hours (we tried but there weren’t any hire cars available – plus they wanted 200 CUC deposit which I’m sure you’d get back…). Cuba is really set up to screw tourists to be honest; you can’t travel from Havana’s bus station in local transport which I’m sure is a fraction of the cost of the tourist bus companies (Transtur and Viazul). Hitch-hiking is the only way to travel for local prices in Cuba and it’s actually well set up so you’re not 100% likely to be murdered. The landscape changes from city to greenery just five minutes outside Havana. There are plenty of tobacco plantations to see en route and the roads are in pretty good condition for the whole journey – very little traffic on their highways though.

Upon arrival in Trinidad you are accosted by about 20 touts trying to get you to stay at their casa particular – it’s full on insane. Instead, we found one by knocking on doors we liked! We ended up right near the bus station in a beautiful colonial house with a lovely courtyard. We payed 25 CUC per night at Casa de Alquiler. I think they make their money on food, 5 CUC per person for breakfast which consists of some fruit, tea/coffee, bread rolls and a rubbery omelette – it’s still the best food you’ll have in Cuba though. You wouldn’t believe how bad the food is in restaurants and cafés here – we’re pretty much living on ice-cream from this little spot called Crema Dulche – 1 CUC for a sundae (!!) and John reckons their coffee is some of the better stuff he’s had over here. Man I miss Sydney’s foodie culture 😦

So we decided to spend 3 nights in Trinidad which is definitely way too many – one full day would have been perfect as it’s a tiny spot. The main square, Plaza Mejor is probably tourist central and has some lovely fenced in gardens, palm trees , a view out to the Carribean Sea a few kilometres from the ‘city’, and is the perfect spot to watch the sunset. Kids come here in the afternoons to expertly fly their kites. The top of the plaza is dominated by the Santisima church and surrounded by beautifully painted colonial mansions (most of which are now museums). The church has 14 altars and is worth a quick look in if only to escape Trinidad’s midday heat. Next door to the church is the Museo Romantico (2 CUC entry, plus an extra 1 CUC should you wish to take photos) which is a colonial mansion as it once could have been, a labyrinth of rooms seemingly readied for guests; the dining room table is set with French crockery (I’m not joking lads – Cubans are obsessed with telling you where things are from and most of France’s crockery and tiles seem to have found a home on the island), a four-poster bed with pretty armoire in he bedroom, lots of chintzy ornaments everywhere, an amazing Italian marble bath (minus plug-hole) in the bathroom and a separate mahogany ‘throne’ across the upper courtyard from here. Whilst the Museo Romantico was definitely worth seeing, they have so many staff just teetering around pretty much on top of you that’s it’s quite annoying – they also try to sell their embroidered handkerchiefs and other wears so you pretty much rush through to get away from them. You’re then ushered out through a shop at the back for even more spending options. Unfortunately, Cuba is the worst place we’ve visited in terms of touts – it’s non-stop and I definitely would have liked to have been prepared for it – relentless! I know they’re  just trying to make a living but it riles me up something wicked. Anyhoo!

Just to the left of the Santisima church on Plaza Mejor is the little wander up to the ruins of La Popa church – probably only worth doing if you’ve got a bit of free time (it only takes five minutes to get there) but there’s a nice vista from the top.

Santisima Church

Santisima Church

Orchids in the beautiful courtyard of our accommodation

Orchids in the beautiful courtyard of our accommodation

Trinidadian Art

Trinidadian Art

Typical Houses

Typical Houses

La Popa ruins in the background

La Popa ruins in the background

They're a proud bunch

They’re a proud bunch

Not at all random

Not at all random

Well where do you keep your eggs?

Well where do you keep your eggs?

Fruit shop in Trinidad

Fruit shop in Trinidad

The best thing we did in Trinidad was a visit to the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos (which used to be a convent). The yellow bell tower of this building is the most recognisable image of Trinidad. For just 1 CUC you take a walk around the museum downstairs, complete with speedboat and Russian artillery truck as well as pictures of all those who died during the Cuban revolution. The walk up the wooden staircase to the bell-tower is the best part; there are a few different levels with 360 degree views around Trinidad. It’s beautiful looking across this UNESCO city’s terracotta rooftops with locals hanging colourful washing on their upper terrace. You can hear beats from the surrounding houses too – Trinidad has music pouring out of every crevice.

Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos

Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos

That's one old bell

That’s one old bell

There’s a market too selling lots of handicrafts which was on all the days we were there – you can buy lots of Cuba branded bits and bobs; maracas, embroidered tablecloths, little dresses for kiddies, painted license plates, woven bags and jewellery to name but a few.

Trinidad's Market

Trinidad’s Market

Market buys

Market buys

Overall, Cuba was always somewhere high up on our must-visit list. I think maybe because we had such high expectations it didn’t really live up to our expectations. Centro Havana, where the locals still potter about doing their thing was amazing, as was wandering around the old town of Havana. The persistent touting, terrible food and abundance of litter everywhere (they really just don’t care!) really put us off. I’m glad we’ve seen Cuba now though, before things inevitably change. I’d still return though 🙂

Stunning sunset from the Plaza Mejor

Stunning sunset from the Plaza Mejor

Next stop: Back to Ecuador – to the town of Banos.