Through the Fleahole

Friday 25 August 2017

It was my birthday last week and I totally forgot to tell you guys! Andrew took me to Disneyland to celebrate (amazing) but since everyone was either at work (Andrew, friends) or asleep (dad, hungover brother) on the day, I got to spend the majority of it with Molly.

I'm thinking she enjoyed my birthday just as much as I did because in the morning whilst everyone was still awake, we started off with a nice long walk through the park and to the high street where we had brunch in the sunshine! Avotoast for me, obviously and Molly got most of my brother’s sausage along with some of my halloumi and a load of my dads feta so everyone was happy! Then we went to the bank which she enjoyed more than I would have thought, she had everyone on the floor stroking her for a good ten minutes. When we got home everyone else went off to bed and Molly and I got cozy in her bedroom (the second lounge) and settled in for an afternoon of TV and snacks whilst it was raining outside.

Talking of little doggies, I wanted to share with you FRONTLINE’s new campaign. They sent it over to me on Friday and I managed to get it to play on the TV; Lucky Molly, having the room with the only smart TV in the house! Anyway, the videos are really fun - they're working with two celebrity pooches on a little campaign. Luna and Scrumble star in a couple of videos showing you around their owner’s house and viewers have to guess who they belong too; hence the title, Through The Flea Hole! OMG they are too cute.

Can you guess who Scrumble and Luna belong to? 


*Sponsored by FRONTLINE

Walking Camino de Santiago del norte

Monday 14 August 2017

The Camino de Santiago del norte, The Northern Way, is a well trodden pilgrimage route, along northern Spain and as it turns out, 2017 is a holy year for it. Originally, pilgrims walked this route to reach a monastery but these days, people who enjoy walking take this route to see northern Spain and stop off to see and do things along the way. It's a bit of an adventure really.
I did a little section earlier this year, and spent four days exploring the route starting in Santandar and finishing at the monastery. Santander is a seaside town and reminded me a little of Brighton. We ate outside in the sunshine before taking a stroll the front with an ice cream and finishing up with a glass of cava at a beachside bar; My kind of afternoon!
Spain Ice Cream
Northern Spain Tapas
Over the next four days, from Santander, we walked a little along the coast through the Oyambre national park. With beautiful green landscapes and a lovely stretch of very quite beach, I really enjoyed walking this part before we headed inland. There we visited a cave, El Soplao, although that's not really my style so I spent that hour outside in the sunshine. We also got a cable car to the top and explored picos de europa mountain range.
 Spain Cable Car
Of course there was also lots of food along the way. Cantabria is full of local culinary delights and as usual, I wanted to try them all. We ate Cocido montañés which was the perfect hearty lunch after a morning exploring in the cold!
Cocido montañés
spain food
My favourite stop of the trip had to be Potes; the cute little cobbled town that we reached just before our final stop. The old town was a lovely place to spend the morning wandering around I just love a town with a river running right through it. A very pretty place!
Our trip finished at the monastery. We walked through the door of forgiveness, as pilgrims had come to do in the past, and once inside was able to see the Lígnum Crucis. This metal cross houses the largest surviving piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified on.
 After chatting with the priest, we took a group selfie to celebrate the end of our trip!
*Thanks to The Spanish Tourism Board for hosting me.

Halong bay on cristina diamond cruise

Monday 7 August 2017

It’s kind of impossible to go to Vietnam and not hear about Halong Bay. Located in the north, 4 hours drive from Hanoi, Halong Bay consists of almost 2000 limestone islands and it’s pretty incredible. It'll probably be the priciest expense on your trip to Vietnam (it definitely was on mine) but it is worth paying for!

You can go for one, two or three days trip but it's a long drive there and back so overnight is recommended. With so many different boats, choosing one online was turning into a bit of a nightmare; they all looked exactly the same but the prices were completely different so in the end, I emailed the hostel that I had booked for Hanoi and asked for their help. They sent me some options at different prices and I picked the 2 night, 3 day Cristina Diamond Cruise which they went ahead and booked for me. Shout out to Nexy!

Our three day cruise cost $255 each which admittedly, was quite a lot (I opted for the luxury boat, come on - lady of luxury at heart remember? plus it was the only one with (terrible) wifi) although that included everything from the three hour transfer there and back, two nights on the boat, all meals and all entrance fees; we only had to pay extra for drinks which were actually very expensive for Vietnam; were talking $1 bottles of water (which really isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things.) 
Halong Bay Cruise
Cristina Diamond Halong
Day 1
We locked our bags away in the luggage room at the hostel and waited in reception to be picked up with just our overnight bags and all of the extra Pringles and Oreos that I'd bought as a precaution. A minibus came to get us at 7.45am and along with about 15 other people we began our journey to Halong. After a tourist trap toilet stop, we were checking into our rooms on the boat by 11.30. Our twin room was a little bit old but it was clean and it was comfortable - I would have been upset if they were any nicer because we hardly spent any time in there at all. We had a big window, a rusty balcony and a very modern bathroom complete with products. 

After dumping our bags down, the first order of the day was a buffet lunch in the restaurant as the cruise got going. The food wasn't incredible but it wasn't bad and there was more than enough of it. I didn’t touch my snacks!
Halong Bay Food
The first stop was to visit a pearl farm. I had read that this was a big waste of time and another tourist trap but actually, we took a 45 minute ride on a bamboo row boat to get there. We then spent 10 minutes watching how they make the pearls (this was actually really interesting) and spent less than 5 minutes walking through the shop to get back on the tender and then went straight to a beach so not a waste of time at all.
We were welcomed back on board with a ‘sunset party‘ on the top deck which involved some (free) wine and juice, some fresh fruit and some mini matcha cupcakes which I ate far too many of. It was all very romantic and on the first night there were a lot of couples which made me start to actually miss Andrew 12 days into my trip (sorry Andrew) but it varies because the next night was full of groups of friends.
Dinner was at 6.45pm back in the dining room and afterwards we spend the rest of the evening chatting to Tugen, the bar man who was the same age as us. I always find it fascinating talking to locals about their life in the country; he was super smiley and sounded like he loved working on a boat. After a little bit of unsuccessful squid fishing we headed to bed and were gently rocked to sleep. I always sleep so peacefully on water.

Day 2
The mornings start with 6.45am Tai Chi on the top deck so I left Nathan asleep in the room and went up to have a go. After 15 minutes of waving our arms around in the air; trying to follow the Tai Chi master, I went back down to the restaurant to meet Nathan for breakfast - I had a couple of scrambled eggs whilst he went a little bit more adventurous and had a pho.
 Then it was time to split from the two day cruisers. They went off to see a cave (what we would be doing on our third day) whilst we waited on the main boat for our day boat to come and pick us up.  There was only one other couple who had booked the three day trip like we had so we near enough had a private tour which was absolutely incredible. This second day we got a proper experience of Halong Bay so I would completely recommend booking the three day trip.
The day started with an hour of sailing in the sunshine. There wasn’t another tourist boat in sight all day, it really did feel like we were the only ones there and it was so peaceful. We lost all track of time and had started drinking beer before anyone realised that it was actually only 9am.

In between sailing, we stopped off to explore a deserted cave and go out fishing with a couple of local fishermen - they took us out in a tiny wooden boat that they had somehow put a motor in and were controlling it with a hook on a piece of string and a branch, it was quite the experience!
That was actually a replacement activity since the government banned both kayaking and swimming just a few days earlier. No one could tell us why but luckily we were more than happy to relax on the boat instead. With an on board BBQ for lunch and a nap on the sun deck, we returned back to the main boat at around about 5pm feeling totally refreshed and just in time for the sunset party again.
Whilst we were away, they had offloaded the two day cruisers that we originally got on with and loaded up with another group. Then we started again with the sunset party up on the deck followed by dinner. This time they prepared a different meal for the four of us so we ended up spending all day and all night with our new friends! Luckily we got on pretty well and ended up spending the rest of the night at the dinner table drinking cocktails.
Day 3
Again, my morning started with Tai Chi on the deck followed by breakfast and now it was our turn to visit the first cave from yesterday. I actually decided to stay on the beach instead as it was super crowded and it was making me feel a bit ill. Still, they came out 20 minutes later and it was time to get back on the boat and check out of our rooms. We had a spring roll making lesson (yeah it really is as easy as it looks) before our last lunch on board and the long drive back to Ha Noi.
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