Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Mount Keen: Bagging our first munro!


Climbing a proper mountain has been on my bucket list for a while now. Bennachie and Arthur's Seat make for good days out, but both are classed as hills and I really wanted to "bag" a munro! Mountains over 3000 feet in Scotland are considered munros and the popular hillwalking challenge to climb all 282 of them is known as Munro bagging. After reading Love From Scotland's recent adventures, I was inspired to get off my backside and get out and do it!


As our first attempt, we wanted to pick a fairly easy option. Mount Keen was our choice, due to it's location - it's the most easterly munro, only an hour's drive from Aberdeen. Despite it's moderately easy reputation, at 3081 feet Mount Keen its almost double the size of Bennachie and a bit of a challenge for beginners like us.


Keeping an eye on the weather forecasts, we took advantage of my day off and the warmest day in October and made our way to Invermark, Glen Esk. From a car park in the hills, we made our way through the gate and followed the path through the picturesque glens.


I'd read up on the route before we headed, and knew to look out for the Queen's Well to know we were on the right track. What I hadn't realised was just how far along the walk the well was! Eventually we reached it after a good 45-60 minute walk. The story goes that Queen Victoria herself stopped at the spring while pony trekking in the Angus glens and so these grand granite arches were built over it.


Only after reaching the Queens Well, the mountain comes into view and the path finally starts to ascend and become increasingly harder.


We took a few pit stops along the way to take photos and quench our thirst. The weather was more than kind for an Autumn day in Scotland. I'd wrapped up extra warm thinking the temperature would drop the higher we climbed, but it was so warm I was dripping in sweat (attractive, sorry) and had to carry my jacket until we were just about at the summit!


Just as you turn the corner and think you've almost reached the summit, you realise there's another twist and the climb just keeps on going! It was at this point that Gordon pretty much lost the will to live. He'd made the mistake of wearing work boots (who does that?!) and his feet were suffering!


Finally, the end was in sight and we climbed the last few steps to the bouldery top of our first munro! It took us 2 and a half hours from the start. A trig point marks the summit, and offers stunning views across the glens with Lochnagar to the west. If you look closely you'll even spot Bennachie! Finding shelter among the rocks, we tucked into a little picnic before heading back down.


The descent was almost as fun as the climb. Although Gordon might disagree - he had blisters for days afterwards! And that ladies and gents is why you should always wear sensible climbing footwear. My normal gym trainers were just fine. In total our walk lasted about 5 hours. Despite being a relatively small munro, the hour long walk from the car park to the base of the actual hill adds a fair bit of time to the trek.


On the way back down we encountered lots of sheep and even spotted a herd of deer on the hillside! Apparently its common to see them roaming around the moors here, especially at this time of year. Not only is munro bagging good exercise, it's a great way to get our and explore our beautiful country. Scotland's hills, glens and lochs are breathtaking. You can't help but feel all patriotic and Braveheart out there.


Our calves ached for days but it was well worth the pain! I loved climbing our first munro and spending time with my husband, just the two of us out in the wilderness. We're already planning to tick off a few more in 2017.

Have you ever bagged a munro?

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Spanish Stories: Discovering Cartagena

You'd be forgiven for mistaking these pictures for Rome itself, but in fact this is Cartagena. A historic naval port on the east coast of Spain, famous for it's Roman amphitheatre and Mediterranean marina.


We picked a beautifully sunny, Wednesday afternoon to take a short but scenic roadtrip to the nearby city. Cruising down the Spanish highways, we eventually came to a stop in a random car park at what I presume to be a University campus. Cartagena is a pretty hilly city. We made our way down a steep hill, to go back up another on the opposite side of a road, and climbed our way to the top for a picture perfect (and free!) view of the Teatro Romano.


In recent years, the Museum of the Roman Theatre has opened its doors, so for a small fee you can actually walk among the ancient steps. It took us a few more hills, getting slightly lost, ending up at the exit and then lugging in to another conversation to figure out how to find the entrance!


Eventually we found ourselves in the town hall square, and made our way into the museum. Inside we learned about the history of the theatre, built between 5 and 1 BC(!) and only recently discovered during archaeological excavation in the nineties! Crazy to think that all this was buried beneath a whole history book of buildings.


Opened in 2008, the museum leads you through a corridor of history with displays of jugs, pots, and all sorts uncovered during the excavations and tells how different periods changed the area and built over the theatre until all trace of it was lost. A strong Arabic and Christian heritage is visible throughout the exhibition, which goes from marble statue remnants to an "Archaelogical corridor" under the Santa Maria church, before emerging out into the overwhelmingly striking Roman Theatre.


Inscriptions dedicated to the grandsons of Ceaser Augustus have been uncovered, proving the importance of the theatre in Roman history. It's such an amazing space to explore. We climbed the steps, and ducked into the cave-like entrances at the top to look down over the theatre, it's ruined columns, and the city beyond.


Eventually we left the museum and headed for the marina in search of ice cream. Would you believe we didn't find any?! To be fair it was mid November and probably siesta time. Top tip - don't wear your brightest, most summery dress on a winter's day in Cartagena. You will get some funny looks! Apparently 20 degrees is sweater weather to the locals. And scarf and jacket weather. Meanwhile my ghost skin was burning in the heat.


Despite it's various museums, hilltop forts and churches to explore, we found Cartagena to be fairly quiet on the tourist front. With places like Alicante and the Costa Blanca nearby, tourism is a booming industry in the area but seems busier around the beaches and purpose built complexes. Again though, we did visit in the off season and this is perhaps a different story through the summer months.


Personally I preferred exploring Cartagena to wondering aimlessly along beaches full of Brits. Our holidays are usually city breaks to places full of history, architecture and culture - Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin - packed full of sightseeing (and eating). The city was right up our street. Next time we hope to add more city stops to our Spanish adventures, with Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia all on the bucket list!


Next time you take a trip to the coastal resorts of Espania, get out and explore! Hire a car, drive the desert lined roads and see more of what Spain has to offer. You never know what you might discover.

Where's your favourite place to explore? Any must visits in Spain?

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Spanish Stories: Paella, Ponies & Pink Salt Lakes

While our minimoon in St Andrews was a welcome break for Gordon and I after the wedding, we're still planning/saving for a bigger, more exciting, once in a lifetime kind of honeymoon next year. Where or when that will be, nobody knows. We're still working on it! In the mean time though, we booked ourselves a little winter getaway and found ourselves in sunny Spain in the middle of November.


Despite being the top holiday destination for more than 12 million Brits, neither of us had ever been before. In fact this was the first time we'd ever seen an actual palm tree in real life! We landed in Alicante on a Sunday morning, jumped in our hire car and cruised the roads of the Costa Blanca to our home for the week. Day one was spent wondering, getting used to our surroundings and hunting out an open supermarket! We stocked up on essentials (read: beer and chorizo) for the week at La Zenia Boulevard - the biggest shopping centre in Spain! Think Union Square on steroids.


Our first evening was a cosy one. I rustled up a huge prawn and chorizo paella, which we ate out on the terrace and washed down with surprise bubbles (cheers Mum & Dad) and ended the night wrapped in blankets, playing Uno under the stars!


Day two was a fun one! We made our way to Lo Rufete adventure park near San Miguel and after much deliberation (AKA me refusing to go quad biking) we settled on horse riding around the stunning La Pedrera lake. I haven't been on a horse since my 6th (?) birthday but I've loved horses ever since!


Our guide was a Yorkshire lass who introduced us to our beautiful white mares - Clara and Sombre. We got to brush them while they got saddled up as a way to get to know the girls and bond with them. Clara was lovely and soft and very needy. She'd stamp her hooves for attention if I stopped stroking her for one second. Basically the horse version of me! Sombre on the other hand, didn't seem to enjoy human contact quite so much. She was happy to let you touch her until you got anywhere near her face... then she'd try to bite you! Sombre by name, somber by nature. Of course I ended up with her.


I was helped up onto the saddle by a Spanish man who didn't seem to speak much English. He literally told me to swing my leg over, waited til I got myself comfortable... and then buggered off! No guidance on how to hold the reigns or steer poor Sombre! Gordon meanwhile was told all of the above, despite having owned horses and already knowing far more than me. A quick "Pull left for left and right for right!" and we were off. Luckily Sombre was much kinder to me on her back (not so much the other horses, who's bottoms she nipped to  make them speed up!) and we relaxed with each other along the way.

Our hack around the lake lasted an hour and was lovely and peaceful, with clear blue skies and beautiful views across the picturesque, turqouise lake. Turns out horse riding is pretty tiring, and not easy on the legs, so our daily siestas became a thing soon after!


In the evening we headed for a bite to eat before the infamous Monday night pub quiz and discovered our favourite restaurant of the trip. A fairly recent addition to Los Dolses, Brooks California BBQ boasts their very own smoker and unbeatable prices. Three tacos for 6 euros? Yes please! Gordon enjoyed a BBQ pulled pork bun while I tucked into the best tacos I've ever tried!


The highlight of day three was our visit to the pink salt lakes at Torrevieja. An alga and a certain type of bacteria thrives in the salty environment and turns the water at the Salinas de Torrevieja this striking colour. It's also responsible for the colour of the shrimp and for turning the flamingos that eat them from white to pink - who knew?! I was gutted there weren't any flamingos on the go that morning. The locals use the lake as a natural spa as the salty water is apparently great for your skin, and it's not uncommon to see people just floating around! 


While we weren't quite brave enough to take the plunge (or not, apparently the water is such a think consistency it's impossible to sink. Hence the floating spa users!) I did dip my toes as we strolled among the washed up salt crystals on the banks. Maybe next time! 


Wednesday was completely overshadowed by the lakes and the rest of the day was a casual affair, strolling along the prom at Torrevieja and tucking into some tasty tapas back at La Zenia Boulevard. A look around the many many shops, a late afternoon siesta and a lovely Italian meal washed down with a huge glass of sangria in the evening and our third day in Spain was complete.

More Spanish stories coming soon...

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Bloggers Brunch at Rye & Soda, Aberdeen


A few weeks back I was invited along to Rye and Soda to check out their exciting new menu. After seeing many a tempting Instagram post from the man behind the foodie offerings, I jumped at the chance to taste test, and brought a friend along to help.


Our day started off with a DIY Bloody Mary station, beautifully laid out, ready and waiting. Having never tried one of these infamous brunch cocktails, I was eager to get involved. I started with a vodka nip, added a classic tomato based Bloody Mary mix (carrot and beetroot being the alternative) and a little lemon juice. BBQ sauce and tobasco were popular additions but I wasn't brave enough and sprinkled a little bacon dust on top instead. Garnished with some decorative vine ripened tomatoes, pepper and celery (provided fresh from The Veg Company), my very first Bloody Mary was complete!


I wouldn't go as far as to say I'm converted but I'd definitely give it another go. Maybe next time I'll leave it to the experts though! If you fancy having a go at making your own hair of the dog, Rye & Soda are adding the DIY Bloody Mary Station to their brunches soon!


A generous selection of tasters was laid out for us to sample and I worked my way around the lot - hard work but somebody has to do it! The new menu is all about keeping it fresh and local, as shown with their fresh veg box soup of the day and the use of The Veg Company and Katy's eggs on various dishes.


Particular highlights were the gin and beetroot cured salmon, feta and pomegranate salad, mac and cheese bites and bruschetta. The burgers weren't quite as good as the ones from our wedding but my absolute favourite by a mile was the curried smoked haddock risotto. The menu is an eclectic mix of tasty, affordable dishes, bound to cater for everyone. I've got my eye on the tacos next time! With head chef Chris Tonner on the team, Rye and Soda is one to watch on the Granite City food scene.


Meanwhile, they continue to add to their ever growing drinks options with 10 Dollar Shake keeping the bar at the top of their game. Other offerings at Rye and Soda include the Tasting Academy and Bottle Shop. We were treated to a wine tasting session from bar manager Elias, who paired three wines with particular meals we had sampled. First up was a Chilean white wine to go with the salmon, followed by a much sweeter tasting dry white with the bruschetta. The red was our final wine, paired with the mini burgers in sweet brioche buns. I'm no wine conissieur but thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the various options from Elias.


After all that, I just about managed to fit in one of these mini chocolate muffins! If you're looking for a delicious and relaxed brunch this weekend, I'd highly recommend a trip to Rye and Soda. You'll find them in the Academy shopping centre, just off Belmont Street!

*I was invited to Rye & Soda's blogger brunch in exchange for an honest review. As always, all opinions are my own and 100% genuine.
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