Thursday, 21 April 2016

Mug #17 - Windsor, England

I often feel as though I'm cheating when I buy a mug in the UK. Like when I bought a mug at the British seaside in Broadstairs last summer or when I started my travel writing by not travelling and instead having a staycation in London.

But the thing is that I've set myself quite the challenge! I am attempting to collect 80 mugs from different places around the world before my current passport runs out in August 2020. And although I hope my collection will increase significantly when I Travel outside of Europe for the first time this summer, I'm still only on mug 17 and so maybe you can forgive me the odd cheat? Plus I think it's just as important to see as much of the wonderful Isle I'm from, as much as all the other wondrous places around the world that I'm just dying to see before I die (in 80 years time... slightly ambitious, but hopefully not by too much haha.)

So last weekend, on a rare occasion when both my girlfriend and myself had a free Sunday to use as we pleased, we jumped on a train at Paddington and within 35mins and at the cost of just £10.50 return each, we found ourselves in the lovely little town of Windsor. Which - don't tell my girlfriend - but if I was mad enough to want to leave London - I am not haha - might just be the perfect commuter town.

Now I'm guessing that Windsor is probably too nice to be cheap to live in, but compared to London living, surely it's like shopping at Asda, compared to Waitress? But then you normally get what you pay for. Yes London housing prices as INSANE! and obviously London is not for everyone, however it is just one of the best places in the world to live (in my opinion). There is always something going on, everyday of the week you can go and see a play, gig, poetry performance, go to a writing workshop or an immersive event like Secret Cinema. It's just a brilliant and exciting place to be.

I'm pretty sure you can't say the same about Windsor? But then that's not why people live there and that's not why we visited. So maybe there isn't enough to keep me entertained for a lifetime but there was definitely more than enough to keep me and my girlfriend busy for an afternoon.

Now the big draw in Windsor is Windsor Castle: "the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world."

And the castle is pretty impressive. I definitely wanted to go inside and have a nosey around, however, the only sticking point was the £20 entrance fee. I'm sure it's amazing inside and part of me thinks that we should have just bitten the bullet and gone in, but £40 for the two of us?  It seemed too much. Especially when we're not exactly rich and supposedly saving up for our big trip this summer?

But castle or no castle, we still had a really lovely time!

Upon arriving at Windsor, we had our pictures taken with Queen Victoria obviously!:

And then we had a little look in the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum, which is free for the yocals and a whole £2 for invaders like me and Liliana. But even at just £2 was frankly quite disappointing. Well at least the actual museum was but luckily while we were there, we joined the free tour of the Windsor Guildhall, a Grade 1 listed building which makes up the majority of the building the museum is housed in.

The tour was fun, I'd definitely recommend it. We were guided by an elderly gentleman - and gentleman is definitely the appropriate term, apart form his ill fitting clothes, he was the absolute epitome of the quintessential English gentleman - who was very knowledgable about the history of the building and the general history of Windsor.

It was a really nice building - mostly used for wedding services these days, including the wedding of Charles and Camila, which was a nice little bonus:

Next we went for something to eat. Liliana fancied a roast dinner, which was more than ok with me. So we found a nice looking pub called the Carpenters Arms and ordered the roast chicken:

The food was good, it took a little too long to arrive but once it did, it really hit the spot.

All fuelled up, it was time to grab a mug, before I forgot:

and then we headed off for a country walk down the Long Walk:

and boy was it a long walk! That picture above is close to the end of a very long path. In total we must have walked for an hour and a half - in a straight line - before we reached it's end. The plan was to head into the Great Park. I was hoping to see some deer - something we failed to do again, as we did in Dublin - and Liliana wanted to see the Savill Garden - 35 acres of interconnecting gardens - it did look amazing in pictures.

But after walking all that way to find that we were still miles from the gardens, we decided to turn back around and walk back up into the town centre, after all we had another long, long walk ahead of us. That's the castle in the distance.

And it was a long walk, one our legs weren't quite used to, but it was really lovely to get out into the great outdoors, get some exercise and breath in the fresh air (which unsurprisingly smelt of cow sh#t! haha).

By the time we finally got back into town, there was only really time for a quick sit down - we really needed a sit down by that time haha - a quick hot chocolate:

and then grab the train home:

Not this one unfortunately but we had a lovely little day out in Windsor. If you're visiting England or just want to get away from the hustle and bustle of London life for a few hours, I would definitely recommend a visit. I think we'll be back again soon and maybe we'll check out the castle and take in the beauty of the Savill Gardens this time.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Mug #16 - Lisbon, Portugal

As I write this, it is exactly a week since my flight from London Stansted took off bound for Lisbon, Portugal. 

I had the most wonderful 3 days - it's just a shame the trip was so short - it was especially nice to get a little taste of where my lovely girlfriend Liliana is from and to meet her family for the first time. 

As is almost traditional, maybe a ritual even, this adventure started like pretty much all of my previous adventures: with running, rushing, stressing and panicking. As always just getting myself to the airport proved to be quite the drama. What with washing clothes in the bathroom sink the night before after the washing machine broke and making sure that they were dry enough to wear in the morning with the assistance of a fan heater and a hair dryer. Then leaving the flat late, getting on the wrong train and missing my coach. Waiting 30mins for the next coach before being told that it might be best to get the train, as the traffic is bad and I will be pushing it a little on the coach. 

But in the end I arrived with "plenty" of time to spare and got onto my flight without any further hassle. The flight was uncomfortable - I flew with Ryanair, something I had already promised myself I wouldn't do again after flying to Dublin with them last August - but short and turbulence free.

This is my first sight of Lisbon (from the air).

It looked quite nice from the air but even nicer from the ground. 

Liliana - who went to Portugal a day earlier than I did - picked me up from the airport (eventually haha) and we drove the short distance to the city centre. Where we had a fantastic Portuguese meal at a nice little cafe/bar/restaurant.

Before doing a little sightseeing. Taking in Rossio Square:

 And Rua Augusta Arch:

While also walking down to the coast to take pictures and selfies:

And of course making sure to buy myself a mug (getting the purchase out of the way quickly so that I didn't forget):

The next day (Saturday) - my first full day in Lisbon - was all about the wedding. Seeing as Lisbon is where my girlfriend was born, where she spend most of her childhood and where most of her family and friends live, I was bound to visit sooner or later. However, this trip happened - or happened now - because one of Liliana's friends was getting married.

I've never been to a Portuguese wedding before, or in fact any wedding that has taken place either outside of the UK and/or involving a couple that are not from the UK. So I was obviously really looking forward to the day and I was not at all disappointed! It was one of the best weddings I have ever been to and I think that it is probably one of the best
I will ever go to.

The ceremony started at 11am. Except it didn't. I mean it was supposed to begin at 11am but apparently nothing ever runs on time in Portugal? When we arrived at the church at 11am - me stressing out that we were running very late - we were one of the first people there! Here is a picture of the church when we arrived:

The church was really lovely inside and out:

The groom arrived at 11.05am and the bride finally arrived at 11.40am and even then some of the guests continued to arrive after the ceremony had begun. But that was ok because it was a Catholic ceremony and so it lasted about 3 weeks!

From the church we had a 30 minute drive to the venue for the wedding reception. It was a wonderful venue, out in the hills outside of Lisbon. Unfortunately the weather wasn't quite as nice as the weather forecast had suggested but it was mostly dry and not too cold (around 13 - 14 degrees).

I don't have too many pictures from the reception but then that was because we were too busy enjoying ourselves.

A Portuguese wedding is a lot like a British wedding, only with more of everything. More food. This is the food menu, one course after the next, after the next.

I ate so much it was insane! It's definitely the most I have eaten since I spend Easter in Italy last year (Milan & Mantova). We had soup, fish, pork, strudel and ice-cream (including seconds whenever you wanted).

Then after a lot of dancing - Portuguese weddings definitely have more dancing! - there was a buffet at around 11pm with seafood, cheese, fruit and cake (lots and lots of cake!). I think I tried six different types of cake/desert haha.

And then at midnight, when you surely couldn't possibly eat anymore. They brought out the wedding cake! But don't worry, I loosened my suit trousers and somehow managed to squeeze in a slice of wedding cake (or two haha).

As well as more food and more dancing - apart from when everyone was eating, the dance floor was rammed from 5pm until 2am - a Portuguese wedding also has a lot more noise haha or at least this one did. People ousted seems to be cheering, toasting and laughing all day. I had the most wonderful time at the wedding, I really did. A big part of that was being there with my girlfriend Liliana who really is great. It was also thanks to her friends and the bride and groom who all made me feel really welcome. And it was great to experience how a different culture (or two, the groom was from Angola) celebrate a wedding.

The wedding was amazing. So much fun. But it was also a very long day which had started at around 9am - rushing out for breakfast and to find a card for the happy couple - and didn't finishes until around 2am. So we were pretty tired out by the end of it and so the next morning we made sure to enjoy a nice long lie in.

On the Sunday (our last day in Lisbon) when we finally got out of bed, we visited an area of Lisbon called Belem. If you go to Lisbon, I would highly recommend a trip to Belem. We enjoyed a beautiful afternoon walking by the river and seeing the sights (including Torre de Belem, Padrao dos Descobrimentos & Cristo Rei):

While we were they we also made sure to visit Pasteis de Belem, which is the home of the famous and extremely delicious Portuguese custard tart. I would also highly recommend a visit. Although expect a long, if quick moving queue:

But they're famous/busy for a reason! We took our custard tarts around the corner to the Jardim Botanico Tropical (gardens):

Where we found a quiet bench - away from the aggressive ducks - with a nice view and stuffed our faces yet again:

There wasn't an awful lot to see in the tropical gardens - although for 2 euros each you cat complain too much - but we did get to see these male peacocks calling to the females on the other side of the wall:

And that was my our super short but fun packed trip to Lisbon. As I have probably said already many times, I had a truly wonderful time in Lisbon. I definitely hope to go back again soon, only for longer next time!

Now where to next? Well I already have my next trip planned (for the beginning of June) but I can't tell you where I'm going, as it's something of a secret and I haven't told Liliana our destination yet.

Friday, 1 January 2016

End of Year Review (2015)

2015 was the first (proper) year of my new project, where I attempt to buy a souvenir mug from 80 different places around the world, before my current passport runs out at the end of August 2020.

But how did it go? How many new places did I visit? And "most" importantly, how many new mugs did I add to the collection?

So all in all I think it was a fairly/moderately successful year? Yes, I was hoping to do even more travelling. I was planning to go away in October and also for New Year. The plan was to visit Marrakech and Istanbul. Two places I have wanted to visit for sometime now. Unfortunately neither of those trips happened but I still visited a number of new and interesting places during 2015.

For someone who has done limited travelling up until now and is still to leave Europe for the first time; 2015 was a pretty successful year. But just how many mugs did I add to my ever growing collection?

The first trip of 2015 came at the beginning of April, when I was lucky enough to spend Easter with my friends family in Northern Italy. I had an amazing time and while I was there I managed to add two new mugs to the collection:


& Mantova

I then had to wait all the way until August for my next trip - but it was well worth the wait - when I visited the truly magical Croatia, a country I completely fell head over heels in love with and added three new mugs to the collection:



& Pula

Then for a short while, the mugs started to come thick and fast. First, while still in the middle of August, I took a little day trip out of London with my girlfriend Liliana and added another new mug to the collection, when we visited:


Then at the end of the month, we took our first trip together and I collected the final mug of the year, when we enjoyed a three day city break for two in:


So yes I was hoping to visit a few more places and add a few more mugs. After all I only have until the end of August 2020 to reach my goal of 80 mugs - and I'm currently on 15 - but all in all it was a pretty decent year, where I added 7 new mugs to the ever growing collection! :)

ps. be sure to click on the place names to go through to the original blogs and if you have any comments, then please do leave them in the comments section below. I'd love to hear about your experiences in the places I went to or your travel plans for 2016 etc.