Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Half-term last-minute mini-break travel plans

I don't know about you, but I'm a bit of a last minute planner when it comes to travel.   
So it's only been a week since we booked our  UK half-term adventures, which coincided wonderfully with MiniDgtl's sixth birthday (seriously, the girl has so much stuff, we're doing experiences as gifts for the foreseeable future). 

Mr Dgtl is off to Bristol tomorrow for work, so we'll all bundle into the car at daft o'clock tomorrow morning, for a two hour drive and drop off to the Mall at Cribbs Causeway for a Mummy-Daughter day out.

  • Indoor shopping doesn't care about rain, sleet, snow or burning sun. 
  • Cinema and soft play to while away time with an energetic six year old.
  • Plenty of food and rest opportunities to suit both our tastes. AND half-term discounts at plenty of chains. 
  • Did I mention shops? And birthday money? 


Win-Win. 



We'll stay over night with friends, then drive to Windsor, to take part in the Legoland Junior Builder Week, which I'm so excited about.  

Yup, more indoor activities, as the park doesn't open until March. But MiniDgtl doesn't enjoy rides, and happily declared in Lapland that Disneyland Paris was her favourite holiday, because it had a Lego shop.  

Plus, we've queued forty minutes for a 1 minute ride, far too often (I'm thinking of you, Peppa Pig World, Blackpool Pleasure Beach), so I'm fine with spending more quality indoor time than batting away wasps and boredom. 

Mind, when she opened her present last week, she thought she was going to Lapland, not Legoland. 

Still, I'm sure she'll dive right on in to the Lego theme everywhere - watch this blog for a review.

It also meant we could enjoy the hotel experience for a decent cost (£140; I'd pay that for city centre Hilton stay) and includes lots of Lego-based activities and a free Lego box on arrival.  A similar stay, with park access later in the year, works out at double the price, plus a bit more.  

And, because it's the fifth anniversary of our first Butlin's break, and because I'd much rather be on holiday over half-term, than do housework, we're driving to Minehead for the weekend, having snapped up a three-night room-only break for just over £200.  








And, we're Butlin's alumni now, so know how to balance the tons of free entertainment with pay-as-you-go food, which will cost considerably less than the £120 suggested cost for adding buffet-style breakfast and dinner options for three of us for the weekend.  

How are your half-term plans looking? 

Would love to read your plans in the comments below... after all, Easter is just around the corner! (PS: Here's our travel round up from last Easter)

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Size15Stylist Insights: Top Ten Travel Books

'You have brains in your head. 
You have feet in your shoes. 
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose'.
Dr Seuss: Oh, the Places You’ll Go.


Have you ever lost your WiFi connection at an airport, railway station or ferry port? 

Frustrating, isn’t it? 

Or the battery goes before you’ve finished scrolling your social media (does anyone ever finish scrolling?)


Not to worry – here are my Top Ten Travel (paperback) Books that you can pop into your carry on (possibly even your pocket), in case of such emergencies.


This is the first travel writing book I read, of Josie’s cycles around the USA, and I remember how awed I was by her adventures. And, whilst I’m not a cyclist, I knew I wanted to travel across the States as much as I could (I’ve visited eight of the fifty states so far) and create my own stories.  Josie has since written several other books of her cycling and cooking tales around the world.  

Insights into: USA


Perhaps not an obvious travel book about Italy, I was so drawn into the monuments and the trails of the Illuminati’s Path of Illumination across Rome that I checked flights on Expedia.  I was living in China at the time, which made visiting tricky, but one day I’ll visit the Italian capital.  I will probably head straight to Antico Caffe Greco, a centuries old coffee house and writer’s hangout.  

Insights into: Rome, Vatican City


The film and subsequent merchandise have seeped into our psyche so much, however this short story popular in the sixties, has to be the ultimate New York fantasy for a lot of first time visitors. I was no different when I visited Manhattan – Fifth Avenue and a bagel – for the first time in 1997.  I remember reading Capote’s novella as part of my American Studies degree, and collecting black dresses on my travels ever since.

Insights into: New York City


No surprise that a second book around the USA has made my list; a fascinating and infuriating country, and many writers have penned their North American stories.  Not many have done them with a (large French?) poodle called Charley, and with a few classic stories already written.   

Insights into: USA



I read these books about Chinese characters, before my own travels around China, and I imagine they planted the seeds of what it meant to be a woman in one of the largest countries in the world.  And how to deal with a Chinese Aunty (you let them deal with you).  Tan’s tale of second generation Chinese women in San Francisco is a direct contrast to Hui’s characters living in 21st century Shanghai, but both are engaging, and have travelled with me to my bookshelves in 2018.  I think it’s high time for a re-read of these great stories, almost fifteen years since I returned from living in China’s  Guangdong province.

Insights into: China.

Follow Harold, a retiree, as he unintentionally walks from the Devonshire South Hams to Northumberland’s Berwick-upon-Tweed.  It’s the reflective and unintended actions of Harold that swept Joyce’s debut novel to award-winning position.  And, of course, it starts in the Spring – a perfect time for a stroll across the country.

Insights into: UK


From the opening airline desk passenger-name confusion, in a Norwegian town I’d never heard of (Hammerfest), I was hooked on Bryson’s comedy, history and geographical knowledge.  I’ve since spent time in the utterly gorgeous (and still pricey) Oslo and in the Arctic Circle (Tromso) in search of the elusive Northern Lights (spotted them once) and would happily encourage buying this book for any travel enthusiasts.  Armchair or otherwise.   
Insights into: Europe, from a US perspective


I’m a little bit in love with Irish prose, especially of the humorous wanderings, and although I haven’t quite finished reading this book, it’s straight in the top three on the first couple of chapters alone; ‘I immediately implement Plan B, which in this instance is to drive at random until something happens. It’s important to have a Plan B, especially when there’s no Plan A.’ We’ve all been there, McCarthy.  I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in the northwest of Ireland – Sligo and Mayo – one summer, and I will happily return.   

Insights into: Western Ireland.



It’s no surprise Bryson has made the list again, such are his wry cultural observations, informed by his sterling resourcefulness – namely utilising underwear for headwear, to fend off a foggy March arrival to the UK in 1973.  Recognising the need to balance honesty with a magnetic pun opportunity, ‘I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to’,  I suspect he has made Iowa very proud, in the way of an elderly relative ruffling-your-hair and digging you just a little bit too hard in the ribs, muttering about what a scamp you are.  I’ve gladly shared more than one copy of this book with travel companions.

Insights into: UK, from a US perspective


Books have the power to transport you back in time, and Lee’s autobiographical prose has me longing to set off for a walk across the UK to Spain each time I re-read it.  No airline seat is too uncomfortable when I have this book in my hand. From the opening scenes of waving goodbye to his mother, ‘silently watching me go, one gnarled red hand raised in farewell and blessing,’ I’m ready for travel delays.      

Insights into: 1930s UK





I'd love to hear which travel books inspire your adventures. Drop a message in the comments box, or catch up with me on Twitter.  


Disclaimer - As I'm an Amazon Affiliate (show me a Blogger who isn't), if you buy any books from these links then there's a good chance I'll receive a few pennies for your sale. All opinions and reviews are genuinely my own. 

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Ireland: Five Days Exploring the Wild Atlantic Way

To celebrate my 40th birthday, we headed to Ireland’s west coast, to spend five days exploring a few towns and beaches along the, frankly gorgeous, Wild AtlanticWay.  At around 1500 miles long, the coastal route takes in nine counties along the north, west and south of the country. 

We flew Ryanair (who else for Ireland?) from Bristol to Knock, on the west coast, and  because it was August - arrived during a torrential downpour.  Mr S15S sorted out the hire car, while Mini and I waited in the dry; it was my birthday weekend, after all.

We’d decided to spend a couple of days in the north-western coastal area of County Sligo (pronounced Sly-go, not Slee-go, as I kept saying), before driving towards Westport House, around an hour’s drive south-west, for the inaugural Harvest Fest country music festival.  Yup, five-year old Mini was off to her first gig. And it was country. 

Recent AirBnB converts, we had two nights booked nearby Sligo (meaning shells in Irish, and plenty there were, too), and two nights booked in Westport.  Well, who doesn’t love a bit of spontaneous adventure on holiday?   

It didn’t take long to reach our first accommodation.  After a quick rest and chat about the local area with the fantastic host, we were beach-bound; the weather was slightly less torrential.  In around fifteen minutes we reached the beautiful wide expanse that is Strandhill beach.  And the parking was free! In Devon and Cornwall we’d have had to pay a few quid for an evening by the sea.  

The downpour slowed to a misty drizzle, so Mini was off climbing the beach rocks, giggling as the crashing waves seemed made purely for her entertainment.   


Strandhill, County Sligo, 

We opted for dinner in a local restaurant of Mini's choice - Chinese - and it cost as much as it had for Pete McCarthy when he explored western Ireland back in the Noughties.  We then made our way back to our accommodation via the essential offie for a bottle or three.  

The next morning the rain was still with us, and we drove to the other side of Sligo, towards Rosses Point, another rocky beach, and, in the dry, what suggested a spectacular viewpoint.  

More free parking, too.  

Mini had decided we were building towers, and although it was fun for the first ten minutes, the area was too wet and barren to really enjoy ourselves.  So we did what anyone does on a rainy holiday and hit the shops in Sligo town centre. Hello Dunnes

That afternoon we opted for a boat cruise on Lough Gill - the inspiration behind WB Yeats' - Sligo’s poetical legend - The Lake Isle of Innisfree.  Little ones can also explore the family-friendly Parkes Castle to extend the stay for half an hour or so, or while waiting for the boat. 

The Captain of the Rose of Innisfree gathered us all up in a warm sing-song of Yeats’ poems and Irish ditties, and brightened up a dull day with his vast and continual knowledge of the area.  I'd highly recommend the cruise, even in the rain.  Guess how much the parking was, too?  Yup, my favourite price.

A TripAdvisor search revealed that Glencar Waterfall was only a ten minute drive away from Lough Gill, so we hauled Mini away from her castle worksheet colouring and back into the car, for more free parking at a spectacular tourist spot.  


Glencar Waterfall, County Leitrim

Please note that nature should be free to admire, explore and learn from, Devon and Cornwall councils.

Although a small tourist attraction, there was a tea shop and playground at the entrance to the Glencar waterfall, so there was plenty for a lazy afternoon’s entertainment.    

We found our way to a pub for Irish stew (Mr S15S) and fish and chips (me and Mini) and then it was back to the guest house for the night. 

The following morning we drove west along the coast towards Easky, a designated Wild Atlantic Way stop, surfing haven, and home to the remains of Rosslee Castle.   Again, drizzly, but perfect for Mini explorations and photos.

Rosslee Castle ruins, County Sligo 
And because we had a car, and had just discovered that strand meant beach, on the way to Easky we happened up a gorgeous, and the almost deserted – in August - Dunmoran beach, and managed a good half an hour of dry before the drizzle made another appearance.  Mini’s sandals were off faster than we could say go-for-it. 

Dunmoran Strand, County Sligo

After a quick lunch in the car we set off south, driving through Ballina and Castlebar, arriving into the pretty town of Westport, at the foot of Croagh Patrick (St Patrick’s mountain), around four pm.  Plenty of time for a few photos, before heading off to find our second accommodation.

Hah!

Although the drive from County Sligo to County Mayo took only ninety minutes (and that was fifty miles), it took us almost as long to search for our AirBnB, over a five mile radius.  Bit of a drawback of the accommodation service, especially in remote and unknown areas, where WiFI seems a bit baffled. 

Mind, we’ve been known to lose Butlins IN Minehead.  And I have more than one travel story of trying to exit bus stations across Asia (how enormous are they?!)

Once we did arrive at the stopping point for the night, however, our host was super friendly, welcoming, warm, sincere - she offered us a tin of biscuits to enjoy with our coffee (take note, Hilton)  and then drove us into the town (took about three minutes) to find dinner; much needed fish and chips.  

Then to the pub, where Mini practised her phonics with the menu (#proudmama).  

Westport was Friday-night ready for a good time, and the cider knocked the edge off the misplaced AirBnB. Mini was welcome in the pubs until about 9pm.  

We wandered outside onto the narrow, hilly, exuberant streets and found a sign for a taxi across the road. When we knocked, it looked just like someone’s house.  Turns out it was.  A bit of a natter with the owner and she rang her husband, assuring us he wasn’t far away, and offered Mini a biscuit.  

Mr S15S started to wonder how we were going to explain the route back; could I remember?  

Absolutely not - I’d had a beverage to celebrate my last night of being 39.  

But I found the AirBnB directions on the app, and showed them to the taxi driver.  He took one look at the profile, said  -sure, I know, Annie-  and dropped us at the door a couple of minutes later. 

It was, thankfully, not raining the next morning, my actual 40th birthday, and my head was fine.  Quick breakfast of freshly baked scones, and we were off to a day of country music (THAT’S how much Mr S15S loves me).  

And what a craicing day(!), if marred a little by a confusing late gate-opening, but the event staff were charmingly apologetic - they'd had to rope in a few local farmers to cover the unexpected mud with straw (how country can you get?). 

We spent the whole day at the front of the barrier, thanks to a lot of folks supporting County Mayo at a vital Gaelic Football match, met a wonderful lass from France - who I’ve since become good friends with - and belly-laughed as I watched Mini dance through the mud (when she wasn't sat on the barrier) revelling in a day of country music; will have to watch her as a teenager when it comes to long-haired bass players, mind.  Had a chat with a couple of performers, and a cuddle from Kip Moore (#happybirthdayme) then pottered along to the taxi house where the fella recognised us and dropped us home for free. 

The next day, on the recommendation of Annie, we drove around the back of Croagh Patrick, on a well-known loop of Lochs towards Louisburgh, in an area known as The Lost Valley,  testament to the 19th century potato famine.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for the three-hour walking tour, but we were able to stop at the beautiful Aashlegh Falls. 


Aasleagh Falls, County Mayo

Cheers, Ireland, you were a great place to celebrate turning 40 – can’t wait to explore much more of the Wild Atlantic Way.  Maybe even on a sunny day next time. 

I'd love to hear of your stories and plans to travel around Ireland; pop them in the comments below and maybe it'll spark off another round of exploration! 

Half-term last-minute mini-break travel plans

I don't know about you, but I'm a bit of a last minute planner when it comes to travel.    So it's only been a week since we bo...