Must see places in Ireland: Powerscourt Gardens

Every year I mean to do more tourist things in Ireland, however my plans always get way laid or postponed due to my love of travel outside the country, work, hikes and hangovers. I live in a beautiful country that people spend a lot of money to travel to so why not take advantage of that?

One place I kept wanting to visit is Powerscourt Gardens. It is in county Wicklow about 30 minutes outside Dublin and whilst I visited the waterfall two years ago I wasn’t able to visit the gardens as I had my cairn terrier Izzie with me. 

This week I changed that by heading down with my mam. It is €10 entry fee per adult in and takes approx 1 hour to walk around the full garden. 


I would stress to wear comfortable shoes as there is a few steep hills you will encounter and it would be more enjoyable without the stress of heels. 

When you first walk in you notice the huge fountain and the beautiful landscaping that takes your breath away. The gardens are set against the backdrop of the sugarloaf mountain which adds to the stunning scenery surrounding them.


There are different sections marked on the map to visit and audio guides are offered if you wish. We declined these however if I go back I would like to get these to know more about the history. 

We wandered to the different gardens, enjoying the smells and the views around us. I don’t need to say much more about the gardens as the pictures speak for themselves!


Afterwards we had intended on sitting in one of the cafes within the house, however they were extremely busy. We had a look in some of the shops and window shopped in the garden centre before heading back to the car.


We drove two minutes down the road to Enniskerry which is a pretty village that offers a couple of dining options. We opted on pub grub that we got to enjoy outside as the weather was lovely. 

Overall I would recommend a trip to visit the gardens if you have the time. They are voted the third best garden in the world by National Geographic so it’s not just my opinion!!

http://powerscourt.com/

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Chilling in Brussels

Earlier this year a friend and I decided we would take a weekend break somewhere. With the prices in Ireland rising I checked out Skyscanner for cheap flights and settled on Brussels. Return flights were €60 with Ryanair and most 4 star hotels averaged at €100 a night, so it worked out cheaper than what we could pay here with the added benefit of ticking off another country on my list.

The flight was an early one and even though it was slightly delayed we still arrived at 9am. After looking at a website that showed prices for transport from the airport to the city we chose to take a taxi as there were two of us and seemed to be the same price as two rail tickets. However I would not do choose this option again if I return to Brussels. The taxi cost €45 to the centre which isn’t far, on a Saturday morning so there was no traffic. The driver was also extremely rude and unhelpful. It also turns out that on our return to the airport the train tickets were cheaper than expected at only €8 each. So I would go with the train in future!

Our hotel was Novotel Brussels Centre Tour Noir that I had picked due to price and TripAdvisor rating. It was €100 a night or €115 with breakfast if you booked as non refundable. I recently noticed on my booking.com app that if your friend books and stays somewhere using a link that you both can receive a €15 refund off booking.com so we did that and basically looked at it as getting our breakfast for free!

The hotel is nice with a bright reception. There is a small lounge area with computer games for children and a few computers for guests use. Our room wasn’t ready so we left our luggage and went to explore Brussels.

We ended up taking a couple of right turns which lead into a small market place where a lot of restaurants were putting out their outdoor tables. We browsed the different menus and commented how pricey they seemed to be. I was quite ignorant going to Brussels, unaware of the language or culture. It didn’t take long to realise that French and Dutch are spoken, you can also see it in the architecture with the different styles. I am a big fan of Paris and I loved Amsterdam so I liked how Brussels looked. 

We made our way back to the hotel to use it as a base and looked up Grand Place as we had a walking tour booked for there in the afternoon. As we made our way to Grand Place we noticed the amount of restaurants and chocolate shops everywhere. There seemed to be a nice vibe around the city. Though a lot of homelessness too. 

Grand Place is a pretty square steeped in history. The buildings were centuries old. It’s also extremely busy with tours and tourists. After a quick bite in Starbucks’s we decided to find the shopping street to kill time before the tour. It wasn’t far away at all with the likes of Zara, H&M, Mango etc. Shopping isn’t top of my list when visiting countries however the street doesn’t have as much to offer as other cities that I’ve visited so if that’s what you are into I might pass on Brussels. 


We joined the tour at 1:30 with our guide Frazer who is Scottish. He gave us an entertaining run down on the tour and Grand Place. From there we moved on to see Manekin Pis, a miniature statue, an old church that was part of a pilgrimage to El Camino, the royal galleries which are beautiful filled with chocolate shops and restaurants. We stopped at a beautiful cathedral on our way to the Royal Park. We stopped here as Frazer told us about the EU parliament buildings, spoke about the recent terrorism in Brussels and thanked us for coming to view the city he called home for four years. He was very passionate when speaking about Brussels and it was nice to hear. We then went to the Royal Palace where he briefly spoke about its history and we finished our tour with a gorgeous view of gardens and the city. As it is a free walking tour a tip is expected to a certain extent. However on both SANDEMANs tours that I have taken part in it is not hard to part with your money. The guides I have met are well read in their history and entertain you aswell. I would recommend this if you are visiting.


The walking tour is a brilliant way of finding your feet in a city. I am good with direction anyway and there’s always google maps but I still appreciated the fact that I had an idea where I was going thanks to the tour. Brussels is compact so everywhere we wanted to go we walked to.

We were peckish so we made our way to a burger restaurant, where we just had a mains and some rosé. It wasn’t nearly as expensive as the restaurants we had viewed earlier! Due to our early start at 3am and the km’s we covered on our tour we were feeling tired but decided for one last drink before heading to bed. It was only about 7pm so we didn’t want to go too early! I don’t normally do this so don’t judge but we ended up in an Irish bar. It had the GAA match on tv for us to watch with a bottle of wine so we settled in there. Soon enough we were joined by a stags from London and before we knew it it was 1am. We made our way back to the hotel to get our backs and check in!

Obviously the next day we weren’t in any hurry to leave the hotel so after breakfast we went back to bed for a while. Breakfast had the usual cold meat and pastries offering along with a small selection of hot food. Tea and coffee were offered along with a juicer to have fresh oj. It filled us up anyway.

When we got up we went and got Belgian waffles with strawberries and cream. Not really my thing but I don’t drink beer so I thought I’d try the waffles! They were nice but too much for me. We strolled through the city as we made our way to the Palace. It’s open only in August for viewing. However after going into the cathedral we passed the day before we got to the gates at 3:45pm to find that they close at that time! We decided to go to the park and chill out for a while. It’s nice to take time to do that on a city break as so often you are trying to cram things in! 


Afterwards we continued to stroll as we get we had seen everything that we wanted to see. We settled in a nice Thai restaurant to people watch and have dinner. Again this wasn’t as expensive as we had expected. I think mainly if you are just having a mains and either drinking house wine or local beer it will be similar prices to Dublin. However imported beer or cider is pricier with a pint of Magners costing €8! 

We arrived back at the hotel a lot earlier this time as we were exhausted from the day before, we also still managed to clock up a lot of steps walking around! 

The next day we tried the palace again to discover it doesn’t open on Mondays so we never got to see inside! We also picked up six boxes of chocolates for €10 and split them between us. They were by far the nicest chocolate I had tasted! 

We walked to Central Station which was ten minutes walk from our hotel. It was quick and easy to get to the airport. I would advise though that once past security there is only one restaurant really for food and I thought it over priced. €20 for a burger meal. We went to the newsagents where I got a salad for €5 so a lot cheaper. Just maybe eat before going through security unless you don’t mind paying that!

Overall I liked Brussels. I’m not sure there was enough to make me return there however I have heard Bruge is lovely…

https://booking.com/s/e570c380

This is the link booking.com offer €15 reward on if you use to book and stay 😊

Rocking solo in London Town 

Ok so last weekend saw my solo visit to London to view The Killers in Hyde Park. I’m a massive fan and as they hadn’t toured in four years I booked my ticket once presale started. I booked my BA flight into Heathrow after much deliberation. I thought I would get it cheaper but in the end prices for flights to Standsted, Gatwick and Luton weren’t enticing me enough once you factor in having to take a train then the tube. 

Landed on a beautiful day to 28 degree heat. Got my tube alright and luckily enough the picadilly line went straight to the station I needed. I booked a hostel in Kensington beside the park. The only thing was the gig ended up being the exact opposite side to where I was staying. 

My flight was slightly delayed and the tube takes approx 60 minutes to get to Kensington. I then had to walk fast and follow googles directions to my hostel as quickly as I could due to a booking for a tour that was to begin quite soon. 

Kensington just screams money. Everywhere I looked Landrovers decorated the streets, white pillared residences gleamed and children with bonnets happily walked with their parents. I was shocked that a hostel would be in this area but it was. It was a good one too!

Astor Hyde Park was a great choice. Not only was it close to the park, the staff were friendly, the dorm was bright and airy and security was important. I checked in ok but as my room wasn’t ready I locked my bag pack away in a luggage room before racing to catch my tube to Covent Garden. 

I looked online at free walking tours and settled on Sandemans as it got good reviews. I later discovered a friend used them in Paris and was quite pleased with them. I made my 1pm booking with a minute to spare. Though in the end we ended up waiting a few minutes before we began. The large group was split into two and introduced to our guide. His name was Angus and he is Australian. He had studied Shakespearean theatre and this stood well to him as our guide. There was never an issue with hearing him and he had an entertaining way of telling us the history of the places we stopped. As I said it was a beautiful hot day so the walk at times was sweltering, at any chance we could we took shade. It was a royal tour so we visited St James Palace, Prince Charles residence, Buckingham Palace and Westminster. The walk took about 2/2.5 hours and my feet were very sore at the end. However I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though it is free a tip is welcome. After the tour I realised I hadn’t eaten for about 8 hours so I grabbed food and cider in a pub Angus took us to. 


Afterward I made my way to Oxford Street as I had to pick up a gift for a nephew. On my other occasions of visiting London I purely went to shop so I had been on that street a lot. However I never noticed its proximity to Hyde Park before. Don’t get me wrong it’s at the very bottom of the street, but still only ten minutes walk. I decided to walk there as it was so nice out and get my bearings for the gig the next night. On my way I passed Selfridges which had a different meaning to me after watching the tv show! 

The park was full of bars and activities thanks to BST who were hosting the festivities over the couple of weeks. Only for my feet were blistered from walking and I was exhausted I would have spent more time there on Friday evening. Instead I decided to walk back to the hostel to get an idea of the walk for the next night. 


Back at the hostel I made friends with girls in my room and went to a nearby pub for a drink. The hostel was hosting a charity night in aid of Grenfell tower with live music which I thought was a nice touch. Was also a good way for people to mix.

The next morning after breakfast I was indecisive about what I wanted to do. I ended up walking to Kensington Palace and queuing to get in. A tip though would be to book ahead and skip the queue as even though I was very early there was still a thirty minute wait. I spent about ninety minutes wandering about the exhibitions. I enjoyed the Diana one the most. Some of the talks gave a good insight into the history of the palace. I left the palace and looked around the gardens which were beautiful. 


I then decided to spend the afternoon doing nothing! The weather was gorgeous and I was tired, so I lay on the grass reading. There’s so much going on in the park though, I recommend a visit. 


After grabbing food and beverages in the local newsagents I went back to my hostel to clean up for the concert and meet one of the girls. We walked with the crowds to the concert. The park was set up well for an outdoor gig. The bars were a long wait as usual. I am not a fan of being too close to the stage as I always get stuck behind tall people! We got a good spot near the merchandise at the back. The Killers as always put on a great show. My only complaint is that it went by too quickly! 


The next day I checked out of the hostel and started walking with my bag pack. I decided to walk towards Harrods as I had never before seen the famous store. As it was a Sunday morning it wasn’t open but I felt like it was a box ticked. I still had time before making my way to the airport so I decided to fit in St Paul’s Cathedral. I didn’t mind the fact that I wouldn’t have time to go inside and explore. The main thing I wanted to see was the steps, as these were the storyline for the homeless lady in Mary Poppins selling pigeon food for “tuppence a bag”. After walking the circumference and marvelling at the detail in the architecture I noticed a fancy bridge down the street. A geeky part of me really enjoys architecture and engineering so I ventured towards it. I’m glad I did as the bridge went over the Thames river towards the Tate museums. From there I got to see Tower Bridge in the distance. Another box ticked off my tourist list. 

On the bridge I took a moment to enjoy the moment and to be proud of myself for another solo trip that I greatly enjoyed! I made my way back to the tube and to reality unfortunately. Though I always look forward to getting home to Izzie!

Phuket; The first stop on my Thailand Vacation

Ok so flying solo wasn’t too bad, I just didn’t dwell on the fact that I was alone. I watched movies & dozed off when possible. After customs in Bangkok I grabbed my luggage & headed upstairs to check in for my flight to Phuket. (By booking separately I saved time & money) I had booked a later flight in case there were any delays so I was expecting a 4 hour stopover, however the airline asked if I would like to check in for the earlier flight so that was a bonus. The one thing I noticed was how there were signs with power banks everywhere. You have to carry these in your hand luggage & not in your check in. They are strict about this.

I didn’t prearrange transport to the hostel & though I did look at ways to save money on getting there, I ended up getting a cab. It cost 800 baht but after nearly 20 hour travelling & the humidity enveloping me from every direction I didn’t mind paying it. It took about 40 minutes to get to the hostel.

On the drive I was amazed at two things;

  1. The electric wires running from post to post & the quantity of them grouped together
  2. The scooters, multiple passengers facing all directions with no helmets to be seen

Safety obviously not an aspect in this country.

The driver had to ring the hostel for directions. I had booked Bearpacker Hostel due to the reviews on Hostelworld & the proximity to Bangla Road & the beach. I also wanted a private room which they could offer for approx. €20 a night. The reception is bright & airy but before you step in you have to remove your shoes & be buzzed inside. Security is a big thing in this hostel. There are signs everywhere warning of penalties to any guest sneaking a non-guest inside. Check in was easy & I was shown to my “room”. Each floor is named after bears & come equipped with male & female bathrooms. The floors also have washing machines beside the bathrooms. My “room” was more like a pod at the front of the dorms. I am small (5’2) so it wasn’t much of an issue for me, though it could be claustrophobic at times. However if you are over 5’6 I recommend the dorms. I have to say the aircon was very good & effective compared to others I encountered, also the locker provided was large. After getting changed into a bikini & shorts, I made my way upstairs to the pool. There is a lady serving food from the kitchen in the common area up there, beers in the fridge & a sofa in front of a tv. Outside there were tables and chairs, the pool and bean bags on the decking. There was nobody there so I decided to explore. 

I headed down the street, past the various women offering massages, fast food restaurants and made my way to the beach. I found a place on the sand and took in my surroundings. The weather was overcast but the beach was still busy, many traders offering goods or refreshments, however once you say no thank you they move on. I like this as I hate being rude to people. I stayed about an hour before moving along. The beach wasn’t spectacular at all, nothing I haven’t seen before in Spain. This is most likely due to tourism taking over.

I was quite tired after traveling so I headed back to the hostel. Though there was people in the pool this time there was no effort at making conversation. They all seemed to be in groups. Though I tried initiating conversation, I was politely answered and that was that. I got some food of the lady in the hostel, it was nice and also only about €2 for dinner. I then headed to my room to FaceTime home (wifi was good here) then fell asleep early enough. 


The next day was similar. I spent a few hours at the beach, walked up Bangla Road and grabbed a cider, then went back to the hostel. Again failing to get proper conversation out of other guests! I gave up and spent my time reading and texting home. I had a nap before getting changed and heading back to Bangla for dinner and to watch Manchester United play terrible football. I went to the Aussie sports bar and I have to say the chow mein was lovely. Though I wasn’t finding Thailand as cheap as what people made it out to be by any means. For example most bars that served wine were charging €5 per glass. Cider (if served) was €2/3. Your best bet is beer if you can drink it.

I headed home wondering if I would ever make friends, also looking forward to the day ahead where I was being picked up early for a trip to the Elephant Sanctuary. I had to email them to confirm booking as luckily enough I had looked online where they mentioned they were having issues. I would recommend doing this if you booked well in advance. 

I was collected early and I was the first. By the time we got to the sanctuary we had an Australian family of 4, a solo young English girl, an English guy and his Polish girlfriend. For the first time in days I had conversations with people!! It was already a good start. They even shared mosquito spray with me. We had an introduction about the sanctuary and where our fees were going (€70 approx). We then were asked to help prepare the sugar and bananas before we went to meet the elephants. There were a few babies and they were very cute, but at the same time when one runs toward you get out of their way!! We got to feed them, pet them then bathe them. They were never tied up. We got a small lunch, a group photo then headed on our way. A good experience I have to say. 

After I returned from the sanctuary I headed up to the bean bags to chill out. After a while I started conversation with two Swedish girls and one engaged properly with me thank god. We had a few drinks when more people came up and when the two girls left I got to join them. They invited me on their night out and I gladly accepted. Everyone was ten years younger but when talking about travel and experiences age doesn’t seem to matter. We went to Bangla road and tried a few bars. It is an experience, very commercial and full of drunk tourists! I was so happy though to be mixing with people and having fun.

The next day, some were hungover so they remained in bed. Some of us went to the pool and spent the day chatting. I went off for a while to book my accommodation in Phi Phi which took forever as most hostels seemed to be party hostels which I’m too old for and the hotels weren’t getting great reviews either. Finally chose one and booked my transport at reception for the following morning. That evening I joined others for a meal on the beach which was nice then had a walk whilst paddling my feet. We got a few drinks and headed back to the roof for an hour before saying our goodbyes.

Overall I have to say it was tough at the beginning and Phuket wasn’t what I imagined Thailand to be like. Very touristy and commercial, not like paradise at all. However I was warned and some people like that. Everyone has different opinions.I didn’t  rent any bikes during my trip and maybe if I had I would have seen more amazing places. The hostel was lovely and would stay in it again. If like me you have a hard time getting people to engage, keep trying with different people. It isn’t you! Some people just rather keep to their own groups.

Jungle trekking to Machu Picchu; Day 2 a long hike

Day two started with me in good enough form, though I was still unable to eat breakfast. I managed a banana & some water to give myself energy. My friend had organized for our bag-pack to be sent on so we only had to share the weight of one. We were transported to the foot of the mountain so we skipped a long enough walk at the start.

I personally had spent the summer hill walking constantly to prepare myself for inclines on this trip but nothing could have prepared me for how much I struggled on this day. It was constant inclines & the heat even in the morning was zapping any energy I had. I held the group back as I had to stop a lot & to be honest the very first hour I was so close to tears. I felt guilt over slowing the others on their journey & I had hit a mental block of where I just wanted to give up.


In the mountains many locals have shops set up for tourists to rest & purchase refreshments. I took this opportunity to rest a lot & drink water. The others dressed up in local garments for fun & took pictures with the monkey that was tied to a post. We spent longer than planned here, probably due to my obvious struggle. In this time I discovered another reason as to why I found it so tough & was so emotional, lets say although it didn’t help matters physically it made me feel more normal!

Peruvian Tequila has a snake instead of a worm

My friend told me she was struggling with the hike too. At first I thought it was just to make me feel better, however as it went on I could see she wasn’t lying. What I found hard was due to altitude & shortness of breath as a result of the climb, I realised that no-one was talking. On my hikes at home with friends its the constant chatter & banter that takes your mind off the journey ahead. This hike however I was constantly in my own head, telling myself I wasn’t good enough, I was holding everyone back, how much I hated the walk etc. When I told my friend this she kindly took my mind off things by asking me trivia about the Kardashians! It was the only topic that came to mind at the time & it actually passed an hour easily enough. This in turn boosted my spirits somewhat so I wasn’t a constant moan-bag for the whole trek.

During this time we reached the part that I was dreading, the narrow part of the trail where you don’t want to look down. When we first arrived here I didn’t think it was as bad as I thought it would be, however I did freak out when I looked at what was in store. To descend from this cliff meant narrow steps, a tiny mistake could mean you plummeting down into the valley below. To help I looked down at my feet & clung to the rocks at the side. I was terrified but we kept conversation flowing to distract both of us from our fears.

You can’t see the drop from here but it’s a big one!!

We continued down hill which really helped my mood. I perked up a good bit & made conversation with the Dutch couple in our group. It was nice getting to know them & for them to get to know me, see that I wasn’t just being a pain for no reason.

The locals are really friendly & we were astounded how they could live so isolated from everything. At one point on our walk we came along a bundle hanging from a tree. We were informed by our tour guide that it was in fact a baby! When the locals need to do errands they leaved the child asleep in a swaddle hanging from the tree.

We stopped for lunch in this nice restaurant where other groups were. We got to rest before & after, in hammocks & on seats in the shade. Lunch was nice however I could only manage a couple of spoonfuls of soup. My main regret about being sick is that I missed out on a lot of good meals in Peru. I am a fussy eater but everything I ate was really nice & the smells of the meals on this trek were amazing.

We continued on our trek, in parts we mixed with the other group. There was a lot more of them but they were always ahead of us. Rain started which cooled us down. We crossed streams until we eventually came to an old Railway bridge. The gaps in the sleepers turned into a blur as I quickly stepped over them to get to the other side.

Not the railway bridge obviously!!

After a rest we moved on to more gravel & rocks that we had to make our way over. Soon enough we reached the cable car. This is pulled by locals on either side to get you over the Urabamba river. I never felt scared on this by the way, it was actually fun. From there we made our way through a tunnel & walked to Santa Theresa Hot Springs.

The trail to Saint Teresa was a gloomy one in this weather

The weather had changed to a drizzle & the sky was covered in grey. The hot springs were a lot nicer than I had imagined. There were numerous changing rooms, shops to buy refreshments & beer, along with sunbeds to chill out by the springs if you would rather that. I chose to get in as I am not sure when I would get the chance again. The temperature depended on which pool you chose, though I never found anything too hot. The smell wasn’t overwhelming either which was good. I enjoyed my time in the baths, talking to my new Dutch friends, taking in the different cultures around me. Thunder & lightening began which was nice for a period until it got closer. I chose to get out of the baths in case any electricity hit the water (which it didn’t but safety first etc).

We got transported to our lodgings for the night, which was like a shed. It wasn’t the most comfortable of surroundings but it beat sleeping in a tent in stormy weather! I went straight to bed without dinner hoping to enjoy the next day more than I did that day. I honestly was fed up of being sick & dragging the group along. I was praying to be better the following day!