Finding Frankenstein... in Geneva!
Did you know that Frankenstein is 200 years old? Yes! Two centuries ago, the story of the world's most famous monster was read for the 1st time. Mary Shelley's story, 'Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus' was conceived and written in beautiful Geneva, and was published in January 1818 when Shelley visited her friend, Lord Byron. Here is a photo of myself and my college pal, Niav, when we took a road trip to Lake Geneva, a long time ago. This is just before we took a dip in the magnificent lake on a hot August afternoon. We saw no sign of the monster, but we did make friends withThumper, the rabbit!
We left rainy Dublin and just over an hour later we were stripping off on one of the most beautiful white sandy beaches I’ve ever seen. Not far from the Normandy coast - you can see France on a clear day - Jersey is known for being the sunniest part of the British Isles. But it’s not just the warm weather that will attract you here. The first beach we visited was St Ouens Bay on the west coast. The sun beat down on the clear blue waters and I felt slightly ridiculous carrying the rain jacket I’d brought from Dublin, just in case. From St Ouens Bay we drove up to the dramatic North coast to the ruins of Gronez castle, where we could get a glimpse of the other Channel Islands in the distance. Guernsey is a smaller island than Jersey and the island of Sark is even smaller still with no cars allowed. Imagine, no traffic! So if you really want to get away from it all, Sark is the place to hide out!
We continued driving along the North coast past La Mare Wine Estate, home of, not only the local wine, but also Jersey apple brandy and black butter. This delicious spread has to be tasted to be believed! I snuck a few jars into my suitcase! Then we stopped for another break at Bonne Nuit bay, a good lunch stop-off point for walkers, as it commands sweeping unrivalled views of the ocean. We also visited the picturesque harbour of Rozel with its many fishing boats and fishermen’s huts. After touring much of the island in just a few hours, we finally stopped off for a well-deserved and scrumptious dinner at the Crab Shack, Gorey, overlooking the magnificent Mont Orgueil castle and the bay of Grouville.
After finishing off our meal with some obligatory
Jersey ice cream, it was then off to St Helier.
We checked into The Hotel de France, which is old-fashioned but charming and leaving our luggage in our room without hanging around to unpack, it was straight down to the bar for a nightcap! The following morning after a self-service breakfast we hired bikes to cycle around the island. Thankfully the sun was up before us and it promised to be another scorcher of a day. We started off in Liberation Square, outside the tourism office, where we read up about the history of the island and we even sat in on a government debate in Parliament. Jersey has its own parliament separate to the UK, although they still have Queen Elizabeth as their queen. After this we visited Jersey’s maritime heritage centre, which I would thoroughly recommend for kids. After the tour we hopped on the bikes again and cycled round the harbour. Heading west then, we passed the historic Elizabeth castle as we went along the cycle track round St Aubin’s Bay. Jersey is very bicycle friendly so therefore if you’re fit and don’t mind peddling for miles, this is an ideal way to explore the island. If you follow one of the many specially designated cycle routes, you can take advantage of the Green Lanes, where pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders have priority and cars must slow to 15 miles an hour. We joined the leafy Perquage path where we headed into the lush countryside.
We kept peddling, pausing now and again to exchange pleasantries with the odd Jersey cow, then continued past the Jersey war tunnels, a constant reminder of when Germany occupied the island. This museum here is rare in that it allows visitors to walk along the very tunnels, which are now a permanent memorial to the many slaves who tragically lost their lives during its construction. In 1946 the States of Jersey re-opened the tunnel complex to facilitate inquisitive locals. However viewing the tunnels became so popular that they began charging sightseers and today it remains one of the islands premier attractions!
After the museum visit we mounted the bikes once more and continued on down to the West Coast along to the magnificent Corbiere lighthouse which was surrounded by screeching seagulls. From there we cycled to Jersey lavender Farm, which is well worth a visit. The strong delicious smell of lavender is amazing and you can see a small factory where they make lavender goodies such as bath oils and perfumes.
After returning the bikes, I felt my legs were about to fall off. After all I hadn’t cycled since I was a teenager. So it seemed only fitting to head back to the hotel and relax in the luxurious spa facilities.
That night we had dinner in The Bohemia, a Michelin-star restaurant, which was a treat! The following morning there was just enough time to visit the Occupation tapestry museum beside the harbour, and also see the interesting Victorian indoor market. Then it was off to the delightful Durrell Wildlife Conservation trust to say hi to the exotic animals. The animals are very well looked after here and loved by the International staff who work there. And then, after taking a few snapshots sadly it was all over and time to go home. I would absolutely recommend the beautiful island of Jersey for a weekend away. However, as it’s on the pricey side, make sure your cards are topped up! www.jersey.com
Who holidays in Hull?
I do! This fun City is a great for a night out, or a weekend of shopping and sightseeing. You can party with the penguins by day, and by night lose yourself in a pub crawl of ancient watering holes. Hull is full of character and atmosphere, and the chatty inhabitants are probably the friendliest I’ve ever met. People literally start talking to you in the street!
I visited recently with a couple of female pals. I wasn’t sure what to expect but as Hull was the city of culture for 2017 my interest in the place was certainly piqued. We flew from Dublin to Birmingham, a nice short hop over the sea, and then drove up to Hull. The surrounding countryside is lovely along the way, rolling green fields and actually quite different from what I expected the north of England to be like.
Hull itself is steeped in history and is the third largest port in England after Liverpool and London. Sadly it suffered significant damage during World War 2 and many buildings had to be replaced. But there is still lots to see and do here. The city is on the very wide river, Humber, and we stayed in the Holiday Inn overlooking the pretty marina which was a nice view to wake up to in the mornings.
If you want to shop in Hull, the city has all the usual high street offerings including a massive Primark, but I decided to forego the shops and lose myself in a bit of local history instead. I ambled off to the Streetlife museum of transport where I found my mind wandering back in time as I got lost in all the sights, smells and sounds of the past. If you’re interested in history this is an absolute must-see and best of all, it’s free in for all the family.
Also free is entrance to Ferens art gallery whose collection includes paintings and sculptures from medieval to modern times. Some of the art work is spectacular and this is a place where you can happily and peacefully pass a couple of hours and not even notice the time flying by.
Of course, no visit to Hull would be complete without a trip to the amazing aquarium, The Deep. The Deep is one of the world’s most spectacular aquariums, home to over 3,500 fish and Europe’s only pair of green sawfish. Watching the fish swim about is almost hypnotic and this most impressive attraction is proving very popular, even hosting a couple of marriage ceremonies in the past year! You could easily spend half a day here as The Deep has two restaurants, a large gift shop, and a penguin area which will entertain the kids and the big kid in you!
When you’re feeling peckish, the cosmopolitan city of Hull has something to suit everyone’s palate. We dined one evening at the quaint, historic landmark, the Lion and Key pub which is to be found down a small cobbled street in the old town. It’s a traditional establishment serving good ales and generous food portions at reasonable prices. Another evening we ate at the upmarket 1884 near the marina which was impressive, full of diners (always a very positive sign) and had a great atmosphere. If you’re travelling to the North of England your best bet is to hire a car and combine this city break with exploring the nearby East Yorkshire countryside. Also worth a visit is the delightful town of Beverley which hosts many gorgeous boutiques selling designer clothes, and also boasts Beverley Minster, one of the country’s finest examples of medieval gothic architecture. You don’t have to travel too far from Ireland to experience all of this, and you’re guaranteed a holiday to remember.
Do you ever read a book that makes you want to visit the location? This delightful novel by Kerry Fisher is making me yearn for a trip to Corsica, the French island where the book is set. The book has fabulous descriptions of the island. It's about two best friends experiencing a mid-life crisis. Put it in your suitcase!
The Intercontinental, Dublin - what I love and don't love!
This hotel is local to me, and so I visit quite often for coffee, drinks, etc I also stay here a couple of times a year and look forward to it. The hotel was previously owned by the Four Seasons, and sometimes you notice the slight changes since it has been taken over. The staff, though pleasant, are not as well-trained, and there seems to be fewer of them. The parking charges for guests staying in the hotel, are unacceptable in my opinion. I was also charged a steep parking fee when I took my mother for afternoon tea, which I was cross about, and never booked the afternoon tea again. I also miss the reading room, which was quiet and lovely to read by the huge fire in the evenings.
Having said that, this is still my favourite Dublin hotel. It is so near me, I can walk to it. In my opinion, the staff are friendlier than in the equally luxurious Merrion Hotel (although you can't beat the Merrion for location!). The rooms are a decent size, and you're not tripping over your luggage. The pool is warm and the sauna and steamroom are always fabulously hot. There are plenty of fluffy white towels to use. However I do miss the iced face cloths the Four Seasons used to provide in the spa.
The biggest plus of this hotel is the soundproofing. I have stayed here maybe 25 times and I've never been woken up by my neighbours or people talking in the corridors. As I sometimes check-in to finish a novel, I need complete peace and quiet, and in the Intercontinental, I get just that. A fabulous, comfortable sleep is always guaranteed, and that to me is priceless. 4.5/5 stars from me.
Everyone’s mum and granny has at least one Wedgewood item at home, right? I know I have at least twice that number. I’m obsessed with the pieces! Josiah Wedgwood was a man way ahead of his time. Having survived smallpox in early childhood, the forward-thinking founder of Wedgwood Company was already a skilled potter by the age of nine, and served as an apprentice under his brother Thomas Wedgwood IV. Fascinated by science from youth, this diligent worker eventually became the most famous potter of all time.
When the wooden-legged Wedgwood founded his pottery factory more than two and a half centuries ago, he couldn’t possibly have foreseen that the same factory would be in operation today, still selling all over the world. Set among the rolling green fields of Staffordshire, it is still receiving commissions from members of the Royal family including Prince Charles and Camilla. The grandfather of the famous English naturalist, Charles Darwin, Wedgwood was born in Staffordshire in 1730. By 1763, he was receiving commissions from nobility such as Catherine the Great of Russia, and British Queen Charlotte. A canny entrepreneur, he sought permission from Queen Charlotte to name a pottery collection ‘Queen’s Ware’. She agreed and the royal stamp of approval ensured that his collection subsequently became one most coveted. Sadly the pottery industry has suffered a huge decline since the glory days but the Wedgwood Company has survived to tell the tale.
Unlike many factories in grim northern industrial towns, Wedgwood in Stoke-On-Trent is set among hundreds of acres of glorious countryside. It is also home to a £10 million pound visitor centre and museum showcasing its priceless art. During the factory tour I experienced first-hand the highly-skilled employees mastering their craft and transforming pieces of clay into beautiful works of art to be sold in the likes of Harrods and similar department stores all around the world. A large outlet store on the premises tempts you to buy seconds from Wedgwood to Royal Doulton so if you‘re a fan of pottery and dinner sets, bring a car with a sizeable boot!
Wedgwood has enjoyed worldwide popularity since its humble factory beginnings, especially in its native Britain and America, but surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, China is now the biggest importer of Wedgwood, followed closely by India. Brazil is also a significant customer.
Even today, all raw materials for the factory are sourced in Britain itself. Some of the clay is from its home in Staffordshire, but most of it comes from Cornwall. The dedicated factory craftsmen and craftswomen, many of them long-standing, do the exact same work as the employees of yesteryear. The only difference between these folk and their predecessors is that today’s workers wear jeans underneath their overalls!
The factory, which once employed 7,500 people now has just 140 staff members. It receives many special commissions from Saudi Arabia and Japan.
I cannot recommend the factory tour and the museum highly enough. There is also a very good tea rooms on site. Go there with all the family. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped right back in time!
NB. The factory opens from Mon – Fri, 10 am until 4pm. Last entry is 3pm. It is closed at the weekends.
Find your inner child on the Isle of Wight!
Chalky cliffs? Buckets and spades? Dripping ice-cream? If you’re already dreaming of a summer break without venturing too far from home, then the Isle of Wight may be your next port of call! Often referred to as the ‘garden isle’, the alluring island was the perfect summer treat for Queen Victoria and her young family. ‘It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot’, the queen said of her former sea side home, the palatial Osborne House, set in magnificent gardens and overlooking the sea. If you visit in May, when the flowers are in full bloom, you are in for a treat. Fortunately, the afternoon I was there, the sun appeared and shone in all its glory. Do get a guided tour if you can!
The Isle of Wight, is these days, well-known for its annual music festival, but it’s not all rock and roll! In fact, it’s a perfect family destination, just a short ferry ride from Southampton port with the very efficient and comfortable Red Funnel Ferries.
We stayed, en famille, on a campsite in Wroxall, called Appuldurcombe Gardens holiday park in a 2 bed, 2 bath luxury mobile home. With a heated pool, free wifi and within walking distance of shops/pubs and an adorable donkey sanctuary, this was the perfect place to rest our heads at night, following our time exploring the island.
We absolutely loved the Robin Hill Country Adventure Park. Our highlight was the alpine toboggan run and the fun train ride. It’s a perfect place for a spot of lunch outdoors, with plenty of space for a walk in the lovely grounds, all 80 acres of it! However, the absolute highlight of our island adventure was the Blackgang Chine, Britain’s oldest theme park. Located in Ventnor, it has spectacular views of the cliffs, and beaches below. The rides are thrilling for people of all ages, and the staff are friendly. It’s a definite must-do on your holidays. Enjoy!
Beautiful Armagh - orchard county!
Attention, cider lovers! Have you visited Armagh recently? This orchard county, is beautiful, green, and charming. It also boasts a tiny, yet intriguing city with two cathedrals, Catholic and Protestant, living together in harmony. Both are called St Patrick. Both are magnificent, looming over the town with its quirky cobbled streets, and friendly residents. Armagh has a special place in my heart. I was born there. The timing wasn’t great. I arrived during the height of the troubles, and in fact my mother’s maternity ward in Craigavon hospital was evacuated on the eve of July 12th due to a bomb scare. Unsurprisingly there were few tourists around milling around town back in that period of unrest. But things are different now. Restaurants offer international cuisine, cocktails, Prosecco, and of course, the popular, locally-produced Irish cider, made from freshly pressed apples. The county is thriving, and very much open for business. The annual festival is a must-visit for artisan food and cider lovers to sample the local hospitality! Or If you fancy your own private tour to see where the apples are grown, and watch how the cider is made and bottled, check out www.armaghcider.com
My childhood memories bring me back to picking apples off the ground in my grandfather’s orchards. Like many of our neighbours, we were an apple family. I think the only dessert I ever had was apple tart! Local kids would come to the orchards every year for a couple of weeks to pick the apples properly, for pocket money. ‘They won’t do that now,’ an apple grower recently sighed, however, ‘so we get people in from Eastern Europe mostly.’
Armagh is known for its orchards, however the days of just producing eating and cooking apples, are in the past. Now the industry is so much more than that. Pear cider, cider vinegar, sparkling apple juice and apple jam are just some of the varied citrus offerings.
The county isn’t far from Dublin, less than two hours’ easy driving. Or approximately an hour from Belfast. If you’re taking a day trip to the city, you absolutely must stop off at Gosford Forest Park which is fabulous woodland for the whole family to enjoy. I’d recommend at least an hour there, to get lost in nature, and enjoy its serenity, spot the red deer, and enjoy the new playground. Bring a picnic, but also a rain jacket just in case!
Armagh city, the oldest city in Ireland, with just 15,000 residents, is perfect for strolling around. A walk in the superb palace grounds is glorious on a sunny afternoon. The palace itself, now a government building, was the residence of former Archbishops of the Church of Ireland between 1770 and 1975. Public tours are available in the summer season. I recently popped into The Moody Boar Restaurant and Bistro, the former palace stables, for a delicious slice of apple pie (to revive my childhood taste buds!), after a walk in the Palace Demesne public park. Afterwards, I wandered through town, and paid a quick visit to the gorgeous Georgian library. Flicking through the guest book, I noticed messages from impressed visitors as far away as Canada, Holland, Germany, Korea, Japan and New Zealand! Gulliver’s Travels fans were especially enthralled, given that Jonathan Swift’s own manuscript from 1726 with his own handwritten corrections, is given pride of place in the collection of over 42,000 historical books.
If you’re heading to Armagh, I’d recommend leaving early in the morning, to have the whole day there. If you’re heading to the upcoming food and cider festival however, leave the car at home, and indulge! There’s plenty of value in nearby accommodation, and if you’re hungry after all that cider tasting, why not try out the small, but fabulous 4 Vicars Restaurant, in a quaint Georgian-listed building, for a culinary treat. Booking is advised as this place is popular! www.armagh.co.uk
Blue Marlin, Ibiza
This was a couple of years ago, but I really liked the Blue Marlin beach club and restaurant in Ibiza. As it was May, it wasn't too hot or very busy. The beach is stony but the water was lovely and clean. I didn't get in as I didn't have my swimsuit, but other members of our party did, and enjoyed their dip! It was lovely to relax on the sunbeds and chill before sunset. The music at night was very good and had everyone on the dance floor. The food in the restaurant was a high standard, and I'm a fussy vegetarian. I set a chapter of my new book. Last Summer in Ibiza, in this romantic setting.
Don Carlos Hotel, Marbella review
This is a very relaxing hotel, about 20 minutes from Marbella. It's very clean and our room was warm and comfortable. We had a balcony which offered us stunning views of both the sea and mountains. There was a little noise from the busy road, so we kept the sliding door closed. We were there in January and the weather was mixed, so it was a joy to be able to swim in the outdoor heated pool. As it's out of season, there weren't many tourists besides ourselves, and my son seemed to be the only child staying in the hotel. There were a lot of conferences going on and it was busy during the day. The gardens are beautiful and lead you right down onto Nikki Beach. There are tennis courts and a spa, but there's a charge for both. We didn't use them as we were paying enough for the hotel. The breakfast was nice, with plenty of delicious fresh fruit on offer, but service was a little slow on some mornings. We didn't have dinner in the hotel but chose to dine in Elviria, a short distance away. Mr India serves fantastic food at a great price, and seems very popular. We loved the food. This is a 5 star hotel but I would probably rate it more as a 4 star. I preferred the Puente Romano and the Marbella Club which are more luxurious, but the Don Carlos suited our budget better on this trip! Would I come back here? Yes, definitely. The pool was definitely the highlight of our holiday.
Fly Aer Lingus!
Flying Aer Lingus is always a treat. I worked in the company for six and a half years, starting as cabin crew and ending up in head office, editing the staff newspaper. I sometimes really miss the job as there was never a dull moment! I stayed in fabulous hotels from Paris to Zurich to Santa Monica and Boston! My son, Gary, is now 8 and on a recent trip to Malaga, he was thrilled to get into the cockpit for a look! The captain even gave him a loan of his cap for the photo! Maybe he'll consider becoming a pilot one day, and flying the skies like his mum once did! www.aerlingus.com
Worth heating the pool in winter Florida?
This villa is called Bear Lake villa and obviously it's overlooking a lake. This is Orlando in January and it was well worth getting the pool heated. It's so nice when you come back from the parks or the malls to be able to go for a quick dip. If you're a bird watcher, you can spend the whole day by the pool watching the wild birds and turkeys stop by the lake. It is fascinating.