Archive of ‘Travel’ category

Hiking Roy’s Peak, New Zealand

We had no intention of hiking Roy’s Peak on our New Zealand trip but after the Tongariro Alpine Crossing  we were keen to squeeze in more amazing day hikes. The New Zealand National Parks website lists Roy’s Peak as easy, I am not sure which ultra fit person wrote that listing but I am here to say it is far from easy but so, so rewarding!

Hiking Roy's Peak, New Zealand

We were in New Zealand in the middle of Summer so we knew we had to start hiking early. We got up at 5am so we could go via the Wanaka Tree and then on to the start of the hike. The start of the hike is about 11 minutes out of Wanaka and by the time we made it to the start it was about 6.15am. There was only a couple of cars in the carpark so we knew we were some of the first people to start the hike for the day. As a side note the hike is on private property and is closed from 1 October to 10 November for lambing season. There is a small donation box at the start of the hike to contribute to keeping the track in good condition.

Hiking Roy's Peak, New Zealand

 

Hiking Roy's Peak, New Zealand

The hike up is pure steep hill, our calves were already burning about 10 minutes in but we were committed to making it to the top. Luckily even though it is super tough right from the start, the views are also amazing right from the start. Watching the sunrise over Lake Wanaka was absolutely breathtaking. For the next two and a half hours we just gritted our teeth and pushed ourselves up the hill.  As we got closer to the top we could see that the peak was completely covered in fog. We crossed our fingers that it would move by the time we got there.

Hiking Roy's Peak, New Zealand

You have probably seen the amazing photos people take at Roy’s Peak – if not check out this link. I had assumed these photos were actually taken at the top… I was wrong.  It was slighlty heart crushing when we realised that we still had not made it to the top. The good thing is that it is not that much further, about another half an hour and we finally made it to the top… completely covered in fog!!

With a handful of other people we sat and waited, and waited and waited. Luckily I had read a review were a girl had waited at the top for hours for the fog to move when she finally decided to walk down within 100m of her descent the fog was completely gone. The fog had literally just been sitting right at the top of the peak like a little piece of candy floss. With this in mind we decided to go back down a little bit and it was exactly the same the fog was just sitting right on the top of the peak and under it was beautiful clear blue skies and views of Lake Wanaka.

Photos cannot do justice to the breathtaking scenery from the top of Roy’s Peak. It was worth every painstaking step.

Hiking Roy's Peak, New Zealand

Hiking Roy's Peak, New Zealand

Hiking Roy's Peak, New Zealand

On our way down the path was absolutely packed with tourists making there way up to the top of the peak. By this time (about 11am) it was nearly 27 degrees and we were so grateful that we had got up early and did the hike before the heat struck. It took us a little over two hours to get back to the bottom. The downhill was probably just as tough on our bodies as going up. My knees were pretty achey the next day. But seriously after 3 hours of pure uphill and the most amazing views of my life I was nearly skipping down.

Hiking Roy's Peak, New Zealand

Would I recommend hiking Roy’s Peak? In an absolute heart beat. All four of us have said it was one of the best things we did on our trip, it is super hard work but seriously rewarding! Helicopters are also available to take you to the top but if you have the ability to walk yourself it makes the view even more amazing because you have worked so hard to get there.


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Hiking Roy's Peak, New Zealand

The Terrace Restaurant, All Saints Estate, Rutherglen

All Saints Estate, Rutherglen

Last weekend we packed our bags and headed to Beechworth in north eastern Victoria (about four hours from Canberra) for a weekend of wine and cheese. Visiting this area has been on my bucket list for ages so it was so nice to finally make the trip. We were staying in Beechworth but decided to make a detour through Rutherglen to visit All Saints Estate and eat at the one-hatted Terrace restaurant.

All Saints Estate, Rutherglen

When you arrive at All Saints Estate you are greeted by a beautiful long drive way lined with elm trees that are currently a striking yellow. I imagine they will soon be bare as we head into the middle of winter. We arrived at about 1.15pm but our booking wasn’t until 2pm. Luckily, there is lots to do at All Saints Estate including a dedicated cheese factory. We also decided to do a wine tasting before lunch so we could choose which wine to have with our meal. We were both fans of the All Saints Estate Prosecco and the Shiraz.

All Saints Estate, Rutherglen

The Terrace restaurant is literally located on the terrace to the cellar door. You can easily imagine how beautiful it would be in summer with the partitions up sitting in the open air looking over the vineyards. The menu at The Terrace is curated by Head Chef Simon Arkless and largely influenced by his European heritage. I had read other reviews online that said bookings were essential but the restaurant was very quiet when we were there. Considering it was a Friday in the middle of winter it is hardly surprising but I am glad we booked just in case. Our waitress was extremely warm and welcoming and let us choose where we would like to sit which is always nice for a blogger – lighting is king!

All Saints Estate, Rutherglen

We had the option of two courses for $60 (with matching wines $80) or three courses for $80 (matching wines $110). We decided to share an entree and dessert and have our own mains. We also decided against matching wines as one of us needed to drive so both ordered a glass of the shiraz. Apparently a lot of people choose to do this and we weren’t made to feel “cheap” at all which is nice when you are dining at a fancy restaurant.

All Saints Estate, Rutherglen

To start we were brought bread that had been baked at the restaurant that morning with smoked butter. So simple but so delicious. We were off to a good start. Our beetroot tarte tartin arrived next which was made of layered beetroot and flakey, buttery pastry accompanied perfectly with a goats cheese. We both really enjoyed this dish.

All Saints Estate, Rutherglen

For the main I had the lamb cooked three ways, one of which was crumbed lamb belly which I had never had before and thoroughly enjoyed. The lamb is from the All Saints Estate property in true paddock to plate style. The lamb was accompanied by a pureed pea sauce that I could have drank out of a cup. Alesha had the pork belly which was perfectly tender and the skin crispy. We both agreed however that the lamb was the clear winner. We were also given more of the fresh bread to mop up the sauces.

All Saints Estate, Rutherglen

We finished our meal with a rich hazelnut chocolate dessert with salted caramel. It really was the perfect end to a superb meal. Reading back over this review I sound like I am raving a little bit but I really cannot fault the whole experience we had at All Saints Estate and in particular the meal at The Terrace. We left very full and a bundle of wine, cheese and our own slab of smoked butter.

All Saints Estate, Rutherglen

I highly recommend heading to All Saints Estate if you are ever in Rutherglen…. it is also a pretty perfect halfway point if you are driving between Canberra and Melbourne, the perfect excuse for a break from driving!

A weekend at the Batlow Cider Festival

A weekend at the Batlow Cider Festival

Batlow is about two and a half hours from Canberra with a population of 1700 people. Batlow produces approximately 10% of Australia’s apples (1.6 million cases of apples a year). The Batlow Cider Festival started in 2012 as a way to recreate the street party atmosphere of traditional European events and to celebrate Batlow’s 120 years of apple production. I love country towns and I love festivals, so when I heard about the Batlow Cider Festival it went straight onto my bucket list and this year we finally managed to make it there.

A weekend at the Batlow Cider Festival

On our way to Batlow we decided to stop in at Sugar Pine Walk located in the Bago State Forest about 5 minutes south of Batlow. The walk is less then 500m but it is so beautiful to be surrounded by the large pine trees and the quiet of the forest. There are lots of longer hikes that you can do in the forest which means you can easily make a weekend out of coming to Batlow for the Cider Festival.

A weekend at the Batlow Cider Festival

A weekend at the Batlow Cider Festival

When we arrived at the Cider Festival at midday (the festival started at 10am) it was absolutely pumping. Big tip make sure you already have cash, we didn’t and there was a huge line for the one and only ATM at the festival. Once we had money it was time for a quick pork and apple sauce roll (the only food stall without a huge line) and time to start tasting the cider.

A weekend at the Batlow Cider FestivalFirst up we tried the Granny Smith Cider from the Apple Thief. This was my favourite cider of the day, crisp and dry, slighty tart, very refreshing.  We then moved on to Jolly Miller Cider, which is made just outside of Canberra at Gundaroo. The Jolly Miller Cider was also quite dry and crisp and full bodied. Most likely because Ron Miller makes his cider like wine, on vintage, meaning it ends up more flavoursome but with a much higher alcohol content of 7% compared to 4.5%. The final cider we tried was the pear cider from The Cheeky Grog Co, this cider was much sweeter then the other ciders with berry and floral flavours.

A weekend at the Batlow Cider Festival

Unfortunately we were a little disappointed with the food at the festival. The lines for everything were huge and also the pressure on the small number of food stalls did seem to affect the quality. I imagine as the festival continues to grow these little kinks will be ironed out. Also if you have plans to take home a famous Batlow apple pie get in early as all the stalls had sold out when we went searching for one at about 2.30pm.

A weekend at the Batlow Cider Festival

Overall, the Batlow Cider Festival was a great day out, with a big community feel, there was plenty of cider on offer and I am sure in the years to come the festival will only get bigger and better!

If you are keen to go next year it will be held on 20 May 2017.

Five tips for hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Crossing

As soon as we decided to head to New Zealand we knew that hiking and lots of it was at the top of our to do list and we knew the Tongariro Alpine Crossing had to be on that list. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, is in the North Island and is a 19.4km hike through New Zealand’s oldest national park. You cross Tongariro but are also right near the volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. You can hike up the other two peaks as part of the hike if you are super fit and have calves of steel.

We actually ended up doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on Christmas day, definitely a Christmas we will never forget. We were up at 5.30am to make it to our 7am shuttle. We were both nervous. Mainly me because it had rained all night and the thought of walking 20kms in the rain was not how I had envisioned the day. But I need not have worried weather on the Crossing never stays the same for long. We had an amazing hike and it was easily one of the highlights of our trips.

Before we left for New Zealand I read numerous blog posts and tripadvisor reviews on people’s experience of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Nothing can really prepare you for the awe-inspiring reality of Tongariro.

Tongariro Crossing

1. Be prepared for every weather condition

We arrived in a cold fog, I was convinced that we weren’t going to be able to see anything the whole walk but 5 minutes into our walk the fog cleared and the path and Mount Ngaruruhoe (or Mount Doom) appeared before us. We were lucky and managed to have clear weather for the next couple of hours before once again transcending into a thick fog on the way down to the end point. I swear I had more outfit changes then a Madonna concert as we went from cold fog to blaring sun throughout the nearly 20kms.

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2. Book a shuttle from the end point to the start 

The hike is a straight line which means you need to leave your car at the end and get a shuttle to the starting point. Despite this there was at least 5 or so people who turned up to the end point and had not booked a shuttle to the start. Despite it being quite clear if you do any research on the Crossing that you need to do this these people all seemed very confused by the whole idea. They then had to beg each shuttle that arrived to let them on. By the time we left the end point most people had found a shuttle to take them to the start but it is definitely not something I would leave to chance.We took the Mountain Shuttle from Ketetahi carpark to Mangatepopo which worked perfectly.

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Tongariro Alpine Crossing

3. Go at your own pace, take it all in.

A lot of Tripadvisor reviews say how easy they found the hike. I am a pretty fit hiker and unless I took a wrong turn and went up the wrong volcano it is not easy, there are some really steep bits, I even fell over once. Even some of the downhill bits are hard. It is definitely doable if you are moderately fit just take it all in and enjoy. Rest when you need too. We had too picnics along the way, it is not often you can have a picnic on a volcano.

Go slow. Take it all in. It is not every day you get to walk across a live volcano.

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4. Just because you can see the end point doesnt mean it is close

I hestitate to share this but it was actually something I was thankful to know. There gets to a point on your decent where you can see your car in the carpark. You get a little bit excited because you have been walking for 14kms but yes your car is still 6-7km away. A lot of people think this part of the walk is boring but we loved it. There is a moment where Lake Taupo becomes visable and it is really beautiful. As I said before just take it all in.

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5. Stay at the Turangi Bridge Motel

Simple but clean and homely accomodation about 20 minutes from the Crossing. Most importantly though the restaurant is excellent. The pork belly I had on Christmas Eve was devine, it made up for missing all the Christmas feasting at home. After our hike we spent our Christmas afternoon washing our clothes, eating biscuits and cheese and lying in the sun. Definitely an amazing Christmas.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Crossing was one of the highlights of our trip. Please feel free to email me if you need more information.

Beginners guide to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

edinburgh film festival_www.thegirlhassparke.com

Brendan was lucky enough to live in Scotland for a year when he was 19 and one of his fondest memories is the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In light of this when we planned our Europe trip last year we made it a top priority to be in Edinburgh for the festival and despite my initial reservations (I long ago hung up my music festival hat) it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Despite being there for four days we actually considered cancelling part of our trip to stay for longer we had so much fun. Instead we have vowed to make it back one day and stay for longer. Despite only being there for four days there were a few lessons I learnt on how to make the most of the festival which I thought I would share for people who might be heading there for the first time this year in my guide to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

1. Book accommodation early. I am at the age where staying in a dorm room, in a hostel, is not my idea of fun however the only accommodation in our price range (booking nearly 4 months in advance) was two beds in a six bedroom dorm. Despite staying in a hostel (we stayed at Kick Ass Hostel) not being my cup of tea we actually stayed with some really nice people, no one snored, the hostel was clean, tidy and relatively quiet and we were in an excellent location.

2. Shows that are “free” are not free. A lot of the shows sell themselves as being “free” however you are expected to throw some change in a bucket at the end or risk public ridicule. On average we would tip between 5 and 10 pounds a show.

3. Pre-book tickets for shows you really want to see. Brendan really wanted to see a particular Australian comedian who we didn’t think anyone else would be interested in, we went to buy tickets right before the show and it was completely sold out. Brendan was devastated. This rule particularly applies on the 2 for 1 ticket nights where shows sell out extremely quickly.

4. Be prepared for crowds. Approximately 500,000 people come to the Fringe so the city is completely packed, especially in areas like the Royal Mile so be prepared for long lines and slow walks. The thing is it is such a happy place to be, everyone is having a fun time, it is not a bad crowd to be apart of – just be patient and respectful of your fellow festival buddies.

5. Leave plenty of time to get to your destination. The shows are spread out all over the city from big locations to tiny little places that you can walk around in circles trying to find. Plan your trip, anticipate crowds, get there early and have a drink. You can pretty much walk everywhere as long as you plan the route.

6. Prepare for any weather. Edinburgh is one of those amazing cities where you can have four different seasons in a day. We were leaving the house and pretty much out and about until it was time for bed so layers and an umbrella were an absolute necessity.

7. Be spontaneous. Some of the best shows we saw were ones where we literally got handed a flyer on the street and walked straight into a show without even knowing what it was about. Walk out of your accommodation and just see what the city has to show you. Go with the flow. Try something new. Worse case scenario you lose a few pounds and sometime for a mediocre show, it is part of the experience.

Have you been to the Fringe? What would your advice be for a first timer?

Exploring Game of Thrones country, County Antrim Ireland

COUNTY ANTRIM IRELAND GAME OF THRONES WWW.THEGIRLHASSPARKE.XOM

IMG_7036 Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset IMG_7097 IMG_7098 IMG_7103 Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset IMG_7126 IMG_7132 IMG_7136 IMG_7142 Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset One of the highlights of our trip to Ireland was hiring a car and exploring Northern Ireland. As soon as we got in the car at the Belfast airport we felt a sense of freedom, the ability to go anywhere we wanted, to stop and see anything that took our fancy. The weather was not on our side but the Irish were. At every place we stopped we were asked where we were heading what we wanted to see and then more often then not given directions on the best way to get there. No word of a lie we were given three different maps by people who wanted to help us out (of course we still managed to get lost). So I thought today I would share the highlights of what we saw and a few tips that people were nice enough to give us along the way.

What to see:

Torr head as you drive along the main highway from Belfast to the top of Northern Ireland you can take a turn off to Torr Head. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, take the detour past Torr Head. You can walk to the top of Torr head where there is an abandoned little house that use to be inhabited on top of the cliff. If you are in luck the travelling coffee van will be at the bottom of the cliff on your return – I definitely needed a tea to warm me up. Overall Torr Head is unbelievable ruggard coastline that has to be seen to be believed. The roads are tight and windy so drive carefully and prepare to stop for the multiple photo opportunities.

The Dark Hedges – if you are a fan of Game of Thrones this will be on the top of your list to see but even if you are not a fan (like me) the Hedges are a beautiful and somewhat eerie place to visit. The beech trees are over two hundred years old and have bended and winded themselves through each other to create a beautiful archway over the road. We got completely lost trying to find them so be more organised then us and follow these directions to get there. Oh and getting a photo of the trees without other tourists in your photo is nearly impossible (the day we were there it was absolutely bucketing down and there were still heaps of people there) but just be patient and you should get an opportunity.

Carrick – a – rede – bridge – the bridge opens at 9.30am during Summer and I recommend you get there and be in line for a 9.30am start. Tour buses get there at about 10am and will flood the bridge with people (on average 10,000 visitors a day). We were the first ones there and managed to get on the bridge and take photos without anyone else there. Some people had told us to skip the bridge, that it is a gimmick but I loved it, having the ocean roaring under you with nothing but a rope bridge holding you up is exhilarating. Plus the bridge is a lot safer then the first bridge erected there over 350 years ago by the salmon fishermen.

Giants causeway – to be honest I didn’t know whether or not to put this on the list. The  views from the cliffs are amazing and I really enjoyed the walk along the causeway but to a degree it has been turned into a tourist trap (I know its like a lot of places). Visiting the Causeway is meant to be free however to park in the car park it is 9 pounds per adult  and 4.50 pounds per child so about $A60 for a family of four. To me a natural site should not be inaccessible for people on a budget. You can try and park at a car park that is further away and cheaper but it would be a long walk for people with a disability or children.

Derry/Londonderry – we stopped here on our way to Donegal and made it just in time to do the free walking tour (we love doing these walking tours, we did them in nearly every city/town we visited). So much Irish history makes up this walled city and we only got to scratch the surface. I would have loved to have spent more time here.

Where to stay:

Whitepark House – this is one place where we splashed out on accommodation and it was worth every dollar or pound should I say. Bob the host is absolutely lovely and will help you plan your trip to suit what you want to see and where you want to go. The rooms are beautiful and it is probably one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in.

Whitepark Bay Youth Hostel – this hostel was basically across the road from Whitepark House and honestly the views from there were probably better. If you are on a budget this place looked like a good option.

What to eat:

Bushmills Inn – known for good food, music and a big night out. They also have accommodation available.

Distillers Arms – they have a great early bird special that is worth checking out.

O’Connor’s Bar Ballycastle – Brendan and I had a great night here. I had a delicious seafood platter, the staff were friendly and there was great music. I would go back here in a heartbeat. Though we nearly ended up having to stay the night as the taxis had stopped running when we went to go home, luckily someone who had just went off duty took pity on us and took us home.

Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge walk, Scotland

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge Walk www.thegirlhassparke.com

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge Walk www.thegirlhassparke.com

There are lots of things we did right when planning our road trip around Ireland and Scotland as well as a few things, that with the beauty of hindsight, I would definitely change. One of those things would be the length of time in each destination. Most of the time we would stay for two nights in a location but there were a few places where we only stayed one night. In my crazy planning phase I imagined us being able to squeeze in all the things I wanted to do in less then two days but didn’t really factor in slow  traffic especially as there are hardly any overtaking lanes which ate into our exploring time.

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge Walk www.thegirlhassparke.com

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge Walk www.thegirlhassparke.com

We only planned one night in Fort William and ended up with time to do only one of the hikes I had planned for (I was ABSOLUTELY kidding myself thinking we would get up and down Ben Nevis, easily a ten hour walk). Luckily the walk we did do was phenomenal. The walk we did was Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge and the scenery was just breathtaking – these are probably my favourite photos from the whole trip. You can find instructions for getting there here. The one thing I would add is where it says go to the last car park it is literally the last car park, you will see a car park and think it is the one they are referring to but keep driving until you literally are at the end of the road, cannot drive any further and thats where it starts.

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge Walk www.thegirlhassparke.com

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge Walk www.thegirlhassparke.com

By the time we got to the where the walk started it was 6.30pm (remembering it doesn’t get dark in Scotland until 10ish during summer) and lightly raining. We considered throwing in the towel and going to the pub for a pint but we got out and started walking and the rain cleared and little spots of sun gleamed through the clouds – we had made the right decision! I have to say the rain and overcast actually made the photos that much more beautiful.

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge Walk www.thegirlhassparke.com

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge Walk www.thegirlhassparke.com

The walk took us about an hour. There was some uneven terrain and it was also a little slippery due to the rain but I would say overall it is a walk that most people can manage if they take their time and walk to the conditions – oh but be careful of the midgys if it has been raining. This walk was one of the highlights of our Scotland trip and I highly recommend fitting it in if you are there.

Visiting the Champagne region France

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As soon as we decided to head to France I knew we had to head to the Champagne region. The fact that it was a hop, skip and a jump away from Paris where we started our journey was an added bonus. We intended to stay in the town of Epernay, home to Moet and also the so called capital of the champagne area. Despite trying to book 7 months in advance the ‘Tour de France’ was going though the area at that time and the town was completely booked out.

Champagne region france reims www.thegirlhassparke.com

We instead went to the larger town of Reims and stayed at the Hotel de la Cathedrale. It was a cosy, clean little hotel that I would recommend if you are ever in Reims. We also managed to catch the ‘Tour de France’ leg ending in Reims which was definitely a bucket list moment (and something you should do if you can time it right).

Champagne region france reims www.thegirlhassparke.com

Champagne region france reims www.thegirlhassparke.com

Though what we were really there for was the Champagne. I really struggled to find information on the internet about how to get to the cellars or to find an affordable tour. In the end we decided to wait until we got there and figure it out. We decided to forego a tour as I couldn’t find anything under 150 euro per person. We asked our hotel to book us into Taittinger (one of the big champagne houses) and GH Martel (a smaller house). We were there in high season and easily got onto the tours by booking on the morning of the day we wanted to go, so don’t stress when you are planning your trip to book months in advance.

Champagne region france reims www.thegirlhassparke.com

Taittinger was first on our list and gave the impression of grandeur, wealth and opulence. The tour was run like a tight ship, the tours ran every half an hour and they bustled us together and ready to go right on time. The champagne caves were impressive and as it was the first time I had ever seen them I was in awe. It cost us 17 euros and at the end of the tour we received a glass of champagne.

Champagne region france reims www.thegirlhassparke.com

After visiting Taittinger I have to say that GH Martel offered great value for money. Getting to try three of their champagnes at the end of the tour for 9 euros was a bargain. We learnt alot and enjoyed the much more relaxed nature of the tour. I also enjoyed that all the guests sat around and drank the champagne together at the end and learnt about the different types where as at Tattinger we were just handed our glasses at the end of the tour with no explanation. It is probably also important to note that Brendan proposed between Tattinger and GH Mattel so maybe the champagne tasted a little sweeter 😛

Champagne region france reims www.thegirlhassparke.com

We also visited a local wine bar where we tried a few more local wines and it was definitely a more affordable option. The downside was that you didn’t get any information about the wine other then what was offered on the menu. We didn’t mind too much though and it was a nice way to people watch as well. Plus once you have been down into the champagne caves twice you probably don’t need to go again. I would also like to mention that we had some delicious pizza in Reims from Pizzeria L’Antica – one of the best I have ever had!

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If I went to Champagne again (and I really hope I do) I would definitely pay to go on a tour (probably the one Anisa went on and wrote about in her post here) and experience more of the smaller houses that we cannot buy here. I would also try and get to ‘Perching Bar’ because how cool does that sound?! Much to my joy though I just discovered that i can get a special taste of Reims in little old Canberra. You can buy GH Mattel at Dan Murphy under the name Duperrey – I think we will need a couple of bottles for the wedding.

If you liked this post you might also like to read ‘Where to find good coffee in Paris‘.

A guide to Melbourne, guest post by Nicole from Champagne & Chips

Melbourne guide_www.thegirlhassparke.com

This week’s travel post was written by Nicole who manages to run not one but two blogs ‘Seeking Victory‘ and ‘Champagne and Chips‘. I am really grateful to Nicole for providing this post as it is such a comprehensive guide to Melbourne food and wine that can fit all budgets. Nicole lives and breathes Melbourne and is studying a Wine and Spirit Diploma so I completely trust this lady when it comes to recommending wine bars and the like, without further ado welcome to Nicole’s Melbourne.


Welcome to Melbourne.

First things first; you need to push any preconceptions about beautiful Australian weather right out of your mind. Do you know the Crowded House song “Four Seasons in One Day”? Yep, that’s Melbourne. Okay, so now you won’t get concerned when you disembark the plane on a gloriously sunny Friday afternoon and it has begun to hail by the time you get to your hotel.

Drop your bags off and …..oh look…. it’s sunny again. Let’s go. Melbourne has the largest tram network in the world and remarkably it is pretty reliable, so jump on one and head up to Lygon Street, Carlton. This is the Italian part of the city according to the tourist brochures, but really there is a large Italian influence all over Melbourne. Wander up and down Lygon Street,  and start noticing what this city is about- rocking coffee, affordable food (although not necessarily in Lygon street) and a lovely village-like sense of belonging; even though you have just arrived. Make sure you pop into Readings, one of the best bookshops in the city, also don’t miss King & Godfrey, an extraordinary deli/wine shop. if you are tempted, pick up a bottle of Sangiovese (a Victorian one of course) because you will be needing it later. Make your way back up to Jimmy Watson’s Wine Bar, one of Melbourne’s first wine bars. Weave your way through to the back courtyard into the Wolf’s Lair where you can order a glass of wine (Victorian of course- are you sensing a theme?) and head upstairs to the ‘treetops’, a cute rooftop garden and a perfect way to relax into the weekend.

Hungry yet? You need to carb up for the weekend I have planned. Head back to the street and veer off the main drag to D.O.C Pizza & Mozzarella Bar. Did you remember that Sangiovese? Because these guys do the best perfectly crisp and chewy Italian pizzas and they are BYO! If there is a queue out the front, don’t be deterred it moves quickly, or better still, pop across to The Carlton Wine Room for a glass of something delicious (I’ll settle with Australian wine this time) while you wait (I hate queues). Once you are tucked up at a table in D.O.C, go wild on the pizzas but make sure you get a Caprese salad with big salty chunks of buffalo mozzarella, ripe tomatoes and sweet basil leaves. For dessert it’s a tough choice between the Tiramisu with goats cheese or a Nutella Calzone. Or get both.

For second dessert (it is totally a thing), duck back onto Lygon Street for Brunetti’s cabinets and cabinets (and cabinets) of the prettiest cakes, pastries and biscuits you ever did see. Hopefully your stomach is sufficiently stretched now. See you in the morning.

Did I Mention Melbourne is the coffee capital of Australia? You shouldn’t have trouble finding a good brew at any little side street cafe you pass as you make your way to the Queen Victoria Market. In the Dairy Hall you can grab your second coffee from the marvellous Market Lane coffee bar and a magnificent Borek from the (conveniently named) Borek shop. Crunchy, fluffy layers of not-quite-bread-not-quite-pastry enclose fillings of spinach and cheese, spicy lamb, or potato, for you to munch on as you explore. Spread over two city blocks, the Vic market allows for some serious exploring. Start in the general area where you can pick up souvenirs, homewares, jewellery, clothing from local designers and everything else you can think of. If you arrived without a warm jacket or an umbrella like most people do, this is the place to sort you out. Work your way back towards the dairy hall and collect a picnic of cheese, artisan breads, cured meats and olives before jumping on a City Circle tram (it’s free) which will drop you off at the Carlton Gardens.< Most locals can be found lounging in one of Melbourne's many inner-city parks on a sun-shiny day. Don't be surprised if you are invited to an impromptu game of frisbee or soccer. Next up take a stroll into Fitzroy and explore the eclectic mix of stores, many featuring work by local designers and artists. For some of the best gelato in Australia, stop by Gelato Messina– you’ll need at least two flavours and make sure one of them is salted caramel and white chocolate. Then make your way to the Brunswick Street Cider House for some stonkingly good Australian cider while you plan your next move.

melbourne guide www.thegirlhassparke.com

You simply must go to the theatre and there is a range of options; from big touring musicals; MTC, one of Australia’s leading theatre companies; something edgier at Malthouse Theatre; or fabulous independent works at La Mama in Carlton or one of the many small venues dotted throughout the city. Afterwards snap up a couch at The Melbourne Supper Club and while away the evening over share plates and fine liquor.

Sunday morning, if you can manage, get up bright and early and head to the famous Hardware Société for life-changing baked eggs or french toast. If the queues are too long then don’t despair, Manchester Press can sort you out with some of the cutest coffee art, and bagels piled high with indulgence.Once you are fortified, there is a serious decision to make- art or shopping? For art head to the The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australiaafter a few selfies in Federation Square. For shopping, don’t miss The Emporium, recently launched by Baz Luhrmann, and housing an array of local and international designers as well as homewares and gift stores.

I haven’t fed you a burger yet. What kind of blogger am I?< For the art-types, it's a short stroll to Huxtaburger for a burger named after your favourite ‘The Cosby Show’ character (my guinea pig when I was 8 was named Theodore; Huxtaburger’s version comes with bacon, a double patty, double cheese and BBQ sauce- and no guinea pigs, I apologise for that bizarre segue). Shoppers head to Charlie & Co. for a wagyu burger (do not miss the parmesan and truffle fries).Once you’ve had your fill of fashion/art, it is time to pick your drinking location for the afternoon. If cocktails are your thing, it doesn’t get much lovelier (or naughtier) than a jug of Pimms and cupcakes, served by waiters dressed in tennis whites, in the third floor astro-turfed garden at Madame Brussels. Named after a very high profile brothel owner of the late 1800s, this “rather fancy terrace and public house” is so Melbourne- hip and daggy at the same time and everything is a bit tongue-in-cheek. If wine is more your thing then head to the aptly named City Wine Shop for an astonishing list of wines by the glass.

For your last supper go to Gazi, owned by George Calombaris, one of Australia’s celebrity chefs and Masterchef host. Described as Hellenic dirty food, it is all the best parts of Greek dining; beautifully charcoaled meats, fluffy breads, salty cheese and fresh salads; wrapped up in exceptional service. The soft-shell crab souvlakia (‘small souva’) is not to be missed and leukomathes (greek doughnuts) with honey Nutella is the perfect end to your weekend.

Except I know you’ve already decided to extend your stay.

10 things you must do on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

fairy pools, isle of skye, www.thegirlhassparke.com

As soon as we decided to head back to Scotland last year going to the Isle of Skye was at the top of my list of places to visit. Isle of skye is somewhere you see on pinterest and instagram and can only think how can somewhere be that gosh darn incredible and then you are there and you are even more awestruck as it is even more beautiful in real life. So, promise me one thing, put it on your bucket list and when you get there try out some of my favourite things.

Just as a side note one of the days we were there it bucketed rain all day so a lot of our walking plans didn’t go ahead. This list would probably look a bit different if we had have had different weather but I can only recommend what we were actually able to do. When you are in Scotland it is bound to rain at some point so you need to be flexible with your plans.

isle of skye www.thegirlhassparke.com

10. Hire a car 
You really need a car to see Skye properly. From what I experienced there was limited public transport and if you wanted to get to places you would be restricted without your own transport. The thing is a lot of Skye is single lane and a lot of tourists don’t obey the road rules – like pulling aside to let cars pass, it is really frustrating, so please read up on single lane road rules so you don’t drive the locals crazy (or other tourists who are trying to do the right thing).

9. The small and cosy teahouse
It was raining and cold and we saw the sign for the Small and Cosy Teahouse we had to pull in. The cafe was absolutely packed – everyone had seen their sign at Kilt Rock but their tea and scones were worth the small wait especially in the cold weather. I would love to say a hidden gem but everyone knew about this gorgeous and literally small and cosy teahouse.

Isle of Skye, www.thegirlhassparke.com

Isle of Skye, www.thegirlhassparke.com

8. Explore the Coast line
One of the best things we did was just get in the car and drive and see where we ended up. We followed the coast line which is so rugged and wild but beautiful. We stopped a lot to take in the view but in the rain we really couldn’t make the most of the walking trail that goes around the different areas.

7. Go to the Pier Hotel and Restaurant
Brendan has a knack for being able to pick the pubs were the locals hang out. This places was filled with locals who were willing to chat and tell us all about the Island. The walls are covered in photos of the regulars (some which are quite rude but made me giggle). The food at the restaurant was divine, Brendan reckons one of the best we had in the UK and very affordable. Definitely go and hang out here for one night.

fairy pools, isle of skye, www.thegirlhassparke.com

isle of skye, www.thegirlhassparke.com

6. Visit the Fairy Pools
This was a lovely little walk that we did early on our last morning. The pools are deep, crystal clear pools created from a stream running down the Cullin Mountains. The pools are beautiful and the water very fresh and crystal clear but a lot of the photos you will see of the pools on the internet are photoshopped and I definitely would not describe the water as turquoise blue as some photos suggest. If you are brave you can swim in the pools (there were a group of young travellers when we were there) but at barely 14 degrees celcius in the middle of summer I wasn’t brave enough. You can hike from the pools up into the Mountains, we would have loved to do this if we had more time.

Isle of Skye, Grand Designs, www.thegirlhassparke.com

Isle of Skye, Grand Designs, www.thegirlhassparke.com

Isle of Skye, Grand Designs, www.thegirlhassparke.com

5.Visit the Kendram Turf House (featured on Grand Designs)
I am the biggest fan of Grand Designs so imagine how excited I was when we were driving along and I spotted a house that I swear I had seen on Grand Designs. I of course made Brendan stop and it was indeed the house from Grand Designs. The owners have now turned the original “art studio” into a cafe – we had to go in! The ladies were so friendly and their gourmet sandwiches were so, so good (plus they had good coffee which is worth its weight in gold when you are travelling). The view from the cafe is amazing and you can’t help but appreciate the modern but simple design of the building. We left happy, full and with two packets of salted caramel marshmallows.

Portree Harbour, Isle of Skye www.thegirlhassparke.com

4. Stay on the Portree Harbour at Marine House
Despite trying to book accommodation 6 months in advance, Skye fills up quickly in the high season and I struggled to find us accommodation. I had my heart set on staying on Portree Harbour, famous for its multi coloured buildings lining the shore but it didn’t seem like it was meant to be. However, by pure luck a B&B rejecting us gave us the number of Marine House, a B&B on the Harbour that you will be hard pressed to find any information about on the internet. It is run by the sweetest lady we meet in our travels, the room is immaculate and the sunsets over the harbour were just lovely. This is seriously one of the best kept secrets of Isle of Skye. I can’t find any details of Marine House on the internet so I don’t feel comfortable posting Fiona’s details here but if you are heading to Skye email me and I will pass them on.

Kilt Rock_isle of skye_thegirlhassparke.com

The herbivores, isle of skye www.thegirlhassparke.com

3. Kilt Rock
I am obsessed with waterfalls so going to a waterfall that falls over the side of a cliff was a no brainer. the waterfall was really lovely but even more so was the location, so many times in Skye you realise you are surrounded by untouched wilderness that takes your breath away.

three chimneys, isle of skye, www.thegirlhassparke.com three chimneys, isle of skye, www.thegirlhassparke.com

2. Eat at the Three Chimneys 
If you are fan of seafood then you have to go to the Michelen starred Three Chimneys restaurant located in the north-west of the island. Beautiful fresh seafood, lovely service and a wild and isolated location. For a Michelen star restaurant it was quite affordable (about $A100 each for three courses including two amuse bouche and three courses plus bread. Though important to note we only had one alcoholic beverage each as we had to drive back to Portree which was about half an hour away.

Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye www.thegirlhassparke.com

1. Hike up the Old Man of Storr
This was amazing! The rocks at the top are huge (535m tall to be exact) and are actually solidified lava from a volcanic eruption. It is a tough hike but if you go slow and steady I am convinced people of all fitness levels could get to the top. It took us about 90 minutes to go up and back with a rest at the top. If you are an avid photographer you will love it here. A storm was brewing as we came down but luckily we avoided the rain.

I know we only scratched the surface of Isle of Skye and I honestly hope we make it back one day to discover more and hopefully do some more of the walks that the island is famous for. If you have been to Skye I would love to hear your favourite memories. And as always if you have any questions feel free to chat with me.

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