12 Hours in Key West

Here come some palm trees, key lime pie and gypsy chickens to brighten up this very gloomy Monday morning!  I can’t believe that this time last month (I’m pretty sure down to the day) I was wandering the streets of beautiful, balmy (and – let’s be totally honest here – a little bit barmy) Key West.  The southernmost city in the USA and the westernmost island of the Florida Keys, it really is a little world all on its own – a stepping stone between the star-spangled mainland and Cuba.  By day it’s a quaint island town full of clapboard houses with shady porches, lazy bars, bakeries and stray chickens… but by night?  As soon as that sun sets over Mallory Square, ANYTHING goes.  Sunny and I were there slap bang in the middle of Fantasy Fest (Key West’s annual 10 Day adults only extravaganza) and we saw… things.





Since we were staying on the middle keys (Islamorada and Marathon), we only had a day to explore Key West – which was more than enough because the island’s tiny and the city even smaller.  We had breakfast at a bar on Front Street, wandered around looking at the pretty houses on Emma and Fleming Streets, and then climbed the old lighthouse for a 360° view of the sea.



When the heat started to hit (it was close to 100 °F out of the shade of the palm and banyan trees) we hit up Ernest Hemingway’s House just off Whitehead Street.  The writer lived there in the thirties and descendants of his lucky polydactl (six-toed) cat Snow White still live there now and pretty much have the run of the house.  I think there are over fifty wandering around the house and gardens, snoozing on the bed and in the shade beside the massive (for Key West, anyway) swimming pool that Pauline Hemingway sneakily had fitted while Ernest was working as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War.




When lunch swung around we ducked into Moondog Cafe for some fresh limeade and (finally!) some real, homemade Key Lime Pie.  I say “real” because true Key Lime Pie has to be made from Swingle Limes, which are smaller than regular limes with a slightly different flavour and a yellow juice.  Apparently it was first whipped up by the cook of Key West’s first millionaire – but the recipe might have come from local sponge fishermen who took canned milk, limes and eggs out onto their boats.  🙂


We finished the day off on Mallory Square where everyone gathers on the dock to watch the sun set over the water.

Have a lovely week everyone! 💚

 

A Floridian Halloween

I was so excited when I found out that my (very late) summer holiday in Florida was going to clash with Halloween – I mean, come on, America’s pretty much the mothership when it comes to all things Autumn Fall. 

There’s something really weird about visiting a tropical climate around this time of year when everyone’s shivering and slugging around in the drizzle back home.  I mean, I just couldn’t get on board with the Christmas Trees that sprung up between the palm trees on November the 1st, but Halloween was a totally different story.  Floridian Halloweens are weird in the best kind of way.  Because it’s warm in the evenings, everyone sits out on their porch to watch the trick or treaters come and go – grilling, drinking beer and chatting with their neighbours in between. Plus, the costumes are incredible because no one has to worry about bundling coats on top or layers underneath.


Because we were staying in a community full of families rather than a hotel, Sunny and I really got to experience Halloween – from the night itself and the preparations beforehand, including the amazing decorations.  We saw some really creative ones just driving around the neighbourhood; from 6 foot tall inflatable vampire bats and giant spiders, to this crafty pair of skeletons… 😉



Pumpkin Patches sprung up in parking lots everywhere – not just for buying pumpkins but for staging family (and pet!) photoshoots.

Because we were heading to a Halloween party, I decided to bake some holiday appropriate Welshcakes… which turned out to be really, really salty because American butter is way, way saltier than British Butter.  Not the best I’ve ever made, but the Candy Corn ones did look pretty cool!


Oh, and Sunny and I dressed up as Spongebob Squarepants and his Pineapple.  Sunny found the head in Walmart and I just kind of had to fall in line.  I mean sure, eating was almost impossible, doors were a struggle and when I tried to sit down I kind of disappeared into it like a terrified turtle… but I think it’s my favourite thing I’ve ever worn (including the time I dressed up as an egg salad baguette – long story).  Also, because it was inflated by a battery powered fan, I had my own personal air-conditioning, which in Florida is not a bad thing at all.  We were a big hit with the neighbourhood, especially Sunny, who creeped out the older kids just enough to be considered cool, and was completely adored by the smaller kids.  🙂



I was posting on Instagram Stories the whole time I was in Florida, so if you fancy seeing more of what I got up to, swing by my Highlights. Have a great weekend everyone! 🍍

The Canadian Lakes

Back when we were planning our Canadian Road Trip – searching up itineraries and must-see/do lists – I couldn’t help but raise a skeptical eyebrow at all the beautiful pictures of the glacial lakes puddled along the road through the Canadian Rockies between Jasper and Banff.  I mean, are they really that blue?  REALLY?  That kind of colour just doesn’t exist when it comes to lakes in ol’ Blighty.  No offence to my local lake, but on the Pantone colour scale Roath Park’s stuck somewhere between Bone Brown and Duffel Bag Grey (sorry Roath Park, you know I love you really).  So you can see why I was so determined that there had to be some sneaky editing going on when it came to the lakes in Canada.

Well, I can confirm that they really are that blue and the only nifty bit of editing going on is to do with the sun.  If you want to get nerdy about it, the brilliant colour comes from silt-rock flour flowing into lake straight off the glacier which refracts blue and green light – especially when the sun’s out. And lucky for us, we managed to hit up most of the lakes on the road between Jasper and Banff while the weather was holding up. 🙂

Lake Patricia, Jasper

Lake Patricia – tucked away off a narrow road just outside Jasper town centre was my absolute favourite and was so beautiful it looked completely fake!  We arrived there really early in the morning before a long day of driving; the water was nice and still and we had the whole place to ourselves for a good hour.


Peyto Lake, Banff

Bluest of the blue, the best way to see Peyto Lake is climb Bow Summit (or cheat and drive to the top…).  You get a beautiful bird’s eye view of the lake and surrounding mountains… but, good luck getting a clear shot because the tiny viewing platform gets really busy!  I was so proud I managed to get this picture without anyone bombing it, but whaddya know, there’s a floating head in the corner.  Pfft!

Bow Lake, Banff

Sunny and I loved Bow Lake and the oh so picturesque Num-Ti-Jah Lodge so much that we ended up bringing a print of it back home to hang above our bed.  We walked right down to the lake and dipped our feet in the absolutely freezing glacier water (not the best idea at the time considering I was struggling with an air con cold I’d managed to catch somewhere between Vancouver and Jasper…).  I’m not sure how many people swim in these lakes – I mean, we were there in the summer and they were still absolutely freezing even when the weather was boiling hot.  That’s why they call it the polar dip!





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Moraine Lake, Banff

It was starting to grey over when we reached Moraine Lake (just down the road from the much more touristy, Lake Louise) and we really noticed how much the sun changes the colour of the water.  We followed the path around the side of the lake away from the crowds to take some pictures and watch people kayaking before the rain arrived.


Lake Louise, Banff

The big kahuna.  Everyone says you’re missing out if you go to Banff and don’t visit Lake Louise.  Honestly?  It was the busiest of the lot and wasn’t much to write home about compared to the others we’d seen.  I mean, yeah, we’d seen a lot of lakes by that point and the rain dulled the views a little, but the best part by far was blagging our way into the Fairmont Hotel for an early dinner (it’s so busy there that the hotel usually only allows guests to dine).  My parents happened to be road tripping the opposite way and we managed to meet up for dinner which was really lovely 🙂


Have you ever visited the Canadian Rockies?  Which lake was your favourite? 🙂

Vancouver in a Day

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Okay, let’s be clear; we actually had a grand total of three days in Vancouver (two and a half, really, when you count the fact that we were stuck in immigration for most of the afternoon after we landed).  But, we pretty much explored the whole city in one day and then used our second day to explore North Vancouver – including Capilano and Grouse Mountain (stay tuned for that one…).  Of course, Vancouver isn’t a small city and we were absolutely cream-crackered by the end of the day (maple cream-crackered), but we saw pretty much everything we wanted to see. 🙂

MAIN STREET

Back when we booked our trip we were stunned by how expensive hotels in Vancouver are and really struggled to find something that wasn’t either horrendously expensive or waaaaay out of the city.  We settled on the Best Western Plus Uptown Hotel, which was just off Main Street in an area called Mount Pleasant.  I’m told by an ex-Vancouverite that it used to be a bit of a run down neighborhood, but recently it’s undergone a bit of gentrification with its mural art, poke restaurants and taco bars.  The hotel was great; especially the crew on reception who were full of insider info and put out fresh drinks at the end of the day for weary, overheated guests to take back to the room.  We weren’t far from downtown but not close enough to walk (especially as there was heatwave on while we were there) and so we ended up using the bus to get around quickly.




GRANVILLE ISLAND

We started off the day on Granville Island, heading over there nice and early for breakfast waffles before all the crowds of other tourists swooped in.  It’s not technically and island but a peninsula wedged between downtown and South Granville and while it used to be full of factories and warehouses, nowadays its home to Vancouver’s Public Market and foodie heaven.  From fruit and veg to doughnuts and bagels, and pies and oysters to clothing and artwork, it’s my number one recommended place to hit up if you’re ever in Vancouver.  We wandered around the stalls, stuffed our faces and shopped for some unique bits and bobs to bring home.



STANLEY PARK

From Granville Island, we caught one of the cute and colourful little Aquabuses that ferry people around False Creek, and got off at Yaletown.  From there we had the crazy idea to walk the seawall to Stanley Park, hitting up Sunset Beach and English Bay along the way.  By that point it was late morning, it was getting hot and it was much longer walk than we realised.  BUT!  It was a lovely walk and well worth it to see the beaches.

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s not-so-little oasis right on the edge of downtown.  It’s more than just a public park, it’s actually 400 hectare rainforest and home to plenty of wildlife (including racoons and beavers).  It’s also where you’ll find the famous Vancouver Aquarium.  We didn’t have much time to explore the whole park, but we did walk the scenic sea wall route which took us right past the famous first nation Totem Poles.



JAPADOG

By the time we did a loop of the park it was time for a pitstop and we just happened to stumble across a Japadog Stand.  I’d heard about Japadog before heading out to Canada and then passed one of the stands on the afternoon we arrived.  They’re basically Japanese-themed Hotdogs, which sounds really weird, I know.  But, as a self-proclaimed hot dog connoisseur I felt it my duty to give one a go.  I know, how I suffer, right?  We went for the Terimayo, which is a hot dog topped with teriyaki sauce, mayonnaise and seaweed, and d’you know what?  It was… really weird.  But good weird.  Like, really good weird. The salty seaweed totally made it.



VANCOUVER LOOKOUT

Next we took a tip from our hotel receptionist and headed back downtown to visit the Harbour Centre’s Vancouver Lookout.  We like to climb to the highest point whenever we visit a new city, so the Vancouver Lookout was definitely on our list.  However, it costs $17.50 each to zoom up in the glass lift to the viewing platform.  Thanks to a sweet little tip from our hotel receptionist, we got in the lift (for free!) and whizzed up to the revolving restaurant instead.  It was mid-afternoon, they were only serving small appetizers and drinks and it was pretty much empty.  We bought a hot drink for around $6 each and just sat and watched the view go by. Of course this trick would never work during peak restaurant hours, but during the middle of the afternoon it worked like a charm 😉


GASTOWN

Gastown is the oldest part of downtown and is named after “Gassy” Jack, a steamboat captain from “oop norf” who made it to Vancouver in 1867 and decided he’d had enough of the high seas and opened up the city’s first saloon.  It’s full of old brick buildings that reminded me a little bit of New York and is the best place to head to if you’re looking for a bite to eat.  We ended up at Gringo on Blood Alley which is basically where I want to retire to someday.  80s Music?  Check.  Stadium Nachos and Street Tacos?  Check.  Cocktails with Gummy Worms?  Check.  Neon Lighting?  Check.






COAL HARBOUR

We ended the day in Coal Harbour, which doesn’t really have that much to see or do – it’s basically a big harbour and bagged the name “blue blood alley” thanks to all the swanky apartment blocks and mansions there.  But, it was a nice place to round off our first day.  We walked down to the water and watched all the sea planes coming and going – flying off across the water towards the mountains – and then ended up soaking up the sunset on the terrace of the oh so trendy (and very reasonable) Cactus Club with a burger each. Perfecto.  🙂

Phew, that was a long one!  Have a great weekend everyone 🙂

 

Climbing Pico Ruivo

Madeira is a hiker’s dream.  The whole island is criss-crossed with trails up mountains and alongside Levadas (irrigation channels).  Sunny and I, we’re not hikers, but we like walking and exploring so we knew we wanted to do a couple of walks while we were in Madeira – especially seeing as we had the rental car as a lot of the trails are difficult to get to without one.  There’s a handy website that lists all the walks based on level of difficulty and distance and overall time, and based on that information we picked Pico Ruivo.  The highest peak in Madeira at 1861m, the website stated that the 5 kilometre walk up Pico Ruivo was an easy one over the ridge and would only take three hours to complete.  Brilliant, it was the one I was hoping to do and considering some of the walks apparently could take up to thirteen hours I thought we’d lucked out.


Holy whoa.  If that walk was easy, I don’t even want to know what a tough one looks like!  We drove up winding roads to the car park and then began the 5 kilometre walk along the ridge towards Pico Ruivo.  We climbed up and down steps and wobbled along an uneven, narrow stone path with a terrifying drop on one side and the wind battering us from the other.  There were hardcore hikers there with walking sticks, proper boots and all-weather anoraks and I was there hopping rocks in my converse and leather jacket.  It was a hell of a hike, but worth it.  The trail took us up into the clouds and the view from the top was incredible.  I’m telling you guys, Madeira is a total stunner. 🙂