Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Exploring Cantabria: A glimpse of Santillana del Mar

My encounter with the Spanish town of Santillana del Mar can only be described as a fleeting one, but that does not mean it did not leave a strong impression.

On the contrary, the very first fact that I heard about Santillana del Mar immediately affirmed that I would like the place very much.

"Santillana del Mar is a town that is founded on three lies," our guide announced.

I was already intrigued. 

The lies come from the very name of the town:

1. 'Santo' implies that the town has something to do with the life of a saint. It doesn't.

2. 'Ilana' means 'flat'. Santillana del Mar is located within a very obviously hilly landscape.

3. 'Mar', of course, means 'the sea'. The town, although located in northern Spain, is not a seaside destination.


Always one with a soft spot for the quirky, I had, after that introduction, already decided that my experience of Santillana del Mar would be an overwhelmingly positive one.

Located about 30 km from Santander and near the world-renowned Altamira Cave, Santillana del Mar is often referred to as a living museum. As our walking tour progressed, I could definitely see why.

The town is easily explored on foot, as the oldest part of Santillana del Mar is compact. Filled with cobblestoned streets and alleyways of irregular widths, these thoroughfares are lined with some of the most exquisite - and most well preserved - medieval buildings I've ever seen.

Decisions, decisions! Picking the right tapas bar is never as easy as it should be.

I adored this building purely based on the fact that none of the windows had the same size.

Just some of the medieval houses in central Santillana del Mar.

Monday, 15 September 2014

In the past seven days...

A last reminder of this blog's beginnings as a personal one, I keep posting 'In the past seven days' to cover events/adventures that aren't featured elsewhere on this blog.

In exactly one week's time, I'll be enjoying my first evening in Cape Town. I've had this trip on my mind for a year; it has always been a distant thing, a future thing, and now it is finally here. 

Apart from planning for upcoming trips, these are some of the happenings of recent times.

#Rhinoswithoutborders

This week, I came across a great campaign that I'm proud to say that I've donated to.

With World Rhino Day just around the corner (22 September), andbeyond has started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money towards alleviating the rhino-poaching crisis in Africa.

You can find out more about the campaign (and about the colourful origami-rhinos) by checking out the donation page


A weekend in Poland

I am terrible at surprises, and I was convinced that I would not be able to pull off my latest attempt.

As a belated birthday gift, I took my boyfriend, Chris, to the beautiful tricity area of Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia in Poland. The surprise involved a 2AM wake up (sorry) but it was worth it - and the weekend just served as another reminder of why I consider this to be one of my favourite places in the whole world.

Birthday surprise coordinator extraordinaire - over and out!




Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Climbing Mount Snowdon

When I decided to visit Wales for a long weekend, it only seemed logical to pair this up with a hike up Mount Snowdon. 

Having grown up in Cape Town, I started hiking regularly when I was a teenager. My dad was my main companion for these excursions, and my love for the activity has only grown over the years. 

Since emigrating to London two years ago, I have nurtured this crazy urge to climb all of the UK's most famous peaks, and Snowdon was one of the top summits on that list.

Standing at 1,085 metres, Mount Snowdon is the highest peak in the British Isles outside of Scotland, and there are a number of ways to get to the top. Each of these routes vary in length and difficulty.

After some deliberation, I decided to pursue the Pyg Track on the way up and, for a variation of scenery, the Miners' Path on the return trip. 

When that weekend finally rolled around, my Snowdon hike officially unfolded once I caught the Sherpa bus service from Llanberis. The bus service is regular during the summer months, and there is also a rail service (via steam train, nonetheless) from Caernarfon to Rhydd Ddu.

The start of the Pyg Track is the Pen y Pass car park. I was lucky, because I met a group of experienced climbers from Manchester as soon as I arrived in the car park. They invited me to join them for the first part of the climb.

Pyg Track, Mount Snowdon climb

Pyg Track, Mount Snowdon climb

I know it may be predictable to state this, but the scenery was breathtaking from the very beginning of the trail. And this only increased as I proceeded further along the path.

Each trail leading to the summit of Snowdon has some sort of history attached to it, yet the Pyg Track's story is the haziest. No one is entirely sure where the name came from. Some say that it was named after the Pen y Gwryd (PYG) hostel that climbers used, while others hold that the path was named after the black tar (pyg) that used to be carried from nearby copper works.

I didn't spend too much time pondering on this, as I was kept busy negotiating stone steps while trying to take in the amazing landscape around me.



Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A room with a view

Another month (happy September!), and it's time for another travel link up. This month's theme is, as the post title suggests, a room with a view.

When I first saw the theme, I was, strangely, immediately filled with horror. The truth is that much of my travel (read: 99.999999%) has been on the 'budget' side of the spend spectrum. Usually, the amount of money you're willing to fork out on accommodation directly correlates to what appears outside your bedroom window.

After a lengthy period of head-scratching and rummaging through old travel photos, I realised that my immediate reaction wasn't entirely warranted. True, I've never slept in a hotel right outside the Eiffel Tower or at the doorstep of Rome's Colosseum, but that doesn't mean I haven't seen some pretty spectacular sights outside my window while on my travels.

And, since the really pretty views are rather few and far between, that surely just makes them more special, right? (Oh, hush, and just let me justify my thrifty habits to myself.)

Pelekas, Corfu

Taking in the view at Sunrock.

My sister chills out in Sunrock's awesome communal area.

Just a few steps away from the hostel, you get to see this!

While all of the other young twenty-somethings made a beeline towards the shuttle to the party-mad Pink Palace, we headed over to the lone guy holding up a placard for Sunrock Hostel

We were in Corfu, and we were on the lookout for a relaxing island experience. As we jumped into the chap's car, which was noticeably diminutive next to the loud (and very pink) bus next to it, we already knew that we had made the right choice.

Sunrock Backpackers Hostel is one of my favourite accommodation options of all time. Family-run and full of traveller-staff who had made it to Sunrock and never quite left, the comfortable and friendly atmosphere is contagious.

From our private room, as well as the stunning communal areas, we could see the beautiful shoreline of this part of Corfu. I've been longing to go back to Pelekas - and Sunrock - ever since.

Lisbon, Portugal





Now, what you see above may not be the most obvious choice for the best views around, but I remember falling in love with this sight.

It's a mix of Lisbon's past and its more modern aspects - and I can't help but love anything to do with the city's orange rooftops.

We were staying in the heart of the city, and I loved that we got an eyeful of the real Lisbon - not just the postcard-perfect sights.

Caernarfon, Wales

The entrance to Seiont Manor Hotel.


The super-green view just outside my window.

Another contender for one of the very best places I've been lucky enough to stay at definitely has to be Seiont Manor Hotel. Just outside Caernarfon, Wales, Seiont Manor is in a prime location for those wanting to explore Snowdonia National Park.

Apart from the eye-achingly perfect exteriors, the hotel is set within the grounds of a farm and it's so peaceful. Coming from London, the crush of built-up suburbia seemed to be part of an entirely different universe compared to Seiont Manor.

I only stayed there for a weekend, but I know that I would've loved to enjoy the tranquility of Seiont Manor and its surrounds for much, much longer. 

***

What has been your favourite room with a view?

As mentioned, this post is part of a link-up, which is hosted by Rebecca, Emma, Kelly and Angie. Join in on the fun by writing your own post, or check out other contributions by clicking on any of the above-mentioned bloggers.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

A return trip: Five destinations to rediscover

Moving to London has meant a substantial increase in travel and, I'll admit, I sometimes get caught up in this mad desire to just see as many new places as possible. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing; getting to experience new cities or countries could never be negative.

Nonetheless, I sometimes lose focus of the amazing places I've already been lucky enough to visit. When the opportunity to be part of Booked.net's Top Destinations to Go There campaign came along, I couldn't resist.

The challenge? Pick five places that you'd like to revisit or rediscover. There are so many places that I wanted to include here, but these are my top choices for a return trip.


Paphos, Cyprus




The beach near the Rock of Aphrodite. Wacky-looking anti-pebble swimming shoes recommended!

I went to Cyprus with my mum back in 2012 with very few expectations. Within a few hours, I had fallen in love with the island, with its rich, complicated history, beautiful coastline and friendly people.

Having studied ancient history and mythology back at university, the island is full of significant archaeological finds and sites. Many of these reside in Paphos. Often overlooked as obviously touristy, I couldn't get over just how much there was to see in Paphos.

There are tiny 12th Century stone churches, the eerie Tombs of the Kings - a massive subterranean necropolis - as well as the archaeological park of Nea Paphos. It's here that you can see over 2000 square metres of some of the world's best preserved Roman-era mosaics. 

Petra tou Romiou, the alleged birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite, is a short bus ride away. Covered with large pebbles, it's a beautiful beach to while away a sunny afternoon.

The combination of all of these elements has resulted in this nagging feeling that I have to go back to Paphos and re-experience all of those sights - and sunshine - once more. 

Railay, Thailand


Me, in rockclimbing mode.


One of Railay's beaches, as seen from a cave that I managed to climb into.

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