This weekend we took a little drive out of Manchester to discover the Manjushri Buddhist Temple in Ulverston, Cumbria. We’re so lucky that within an hour of leaving the city, we can be driving along the beautiful A590 surrounded by greenery and the peninsulas of the Western Lake District. Nestled on the flat coast just through the tiny village of Bardsea is this beautiful spot. Just driving into the car park you’re hit with a real sense of peace and quiet.
The temple itself is built in the grounds of the old Conishead Priory, which built for Christian monks hundreds of years ago before falling into disrepair in the late twentieth century. Now, though, the grounds bustle with Buddhist monks and dog walkers, taking a stroll through the woodlands and down to the beach, or sipping freshly brewed coffee in the cafe. After picking up a book in the bookshop, we visited the temple. Once inside you have to slip off your shoes, which just adds to the slow, peaceful atmosphere of the place. It was empty when we went in, so we took a pew and enjoyed a couple of quiet moments. We spent a couple of hours here but time really slowed down, it felt like we’d been there all day. And with it being such a short drive from our home in Manchester, I think we’ve found our new sanctuary.
After weeks searching for the perfect birthday pressie for my partner, I decided to invest in a car boot full of camping equipment. The idea was to surprise him on his birthday, then get on the road for our trip back in March. My body had other plans, and I ended up in hospital for a few days with a nasty infection. Now fully recovered and back at work, we decided it was finally time to try out our brand new tent somewhere spectacular. I’ve always been a fan of the Llyn Peninsula, having spent countless childhood and teenage holidays at our family caravan in Llanbedrog. I remembered a beach where the sands were white and the waves high, and where the bustle and bustle of nearby Abersoch seemed to melt away. The beach I had in mind was Porth Ceiriad, close to the Cilan headland on the other side of Abersoch itself. Up on the cliffs above the beach is a campsite called Nant y Big, which offers panoramic views of the sea and Porth Ceiriad.
We booked a night at Nant y Big for just £18, and headed off straight after work on a Friday, packing up some bacon, beans, eggs and halloumi (for veggie me!). The guys at Nant y Big couldn’t have broken us in more gently. Our camping field was huge, a big hump of cliff that looked like the world just dropped off into the sea, and we only had two neighbours. There were great facilities, showers, toilets and washing up sinks, as well as other fields away from the cliffs for those without a head for heights! We pitched up in a cosy corner and got to frying up some halloumi cheese, enjoying a good old mug of pasta, proper camping style. We took a duvet with us for sleeping on, putting our sleeping bags on top with a couple of pillows, and it couldn’t have been cosier. The wind picked up a little in the night, which led to some broken sleep (just a little!), but it was all worth it to wake up and unzip the tent to a jaw dropping view of Cardigan Bay. After a mug of Yorkshire Tea we nipped down to the sea using the Wales Coastal Path, where I took a couple of early morning photographs with my Hasselblad. We discovered some absolutely amazing cliffs, and some spooky hidden caves. Then we climbed back up the hill and cooked up a delicious breakfast and sat drinking coffee, watching the waves. We headed home via Beddgelert, one of my favourite spots in Snowdonia, and after a pot of tea and some Bara Brith hit the road home and enjoyed a deliciously hot bath when we got home.
A couple of weeks ago we were whisked away to the Eternal City for a weekend. This was a trip what was a long time coming for us – having bought the travel guide back in 2014 with the best intentions of booking some flights. Alas, it was well worth the wait.
Upon arrival, we soon discovered our hotel was in the perfect location. Nestled away on Via Flavia close to the Roma Termini Station, the Royal Marcella Hotel was quiet enough to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, but central enough to be able to walk right into the heart of Rome. Even better, the hotel had a stunning little roof terrace serving up coffee and pizzas, with absolutely breath-taking panoramic views of the city, including the iconic dome of St Peter’s Basilica over at the Vatican.
First things first, we grabbed a pizza to go from Pinsere, a cute little pizza deli on the corner opposite our hotel. The option ‘to stay’ meant to stand at the bar and eat with friends, but eager to see the city we got our spinach, cheese and raisin pizza packed up to eat on the road. Soon, we’d stumbled across the Spanish Steps and then the Trevi Fountain, before heading back to a local restaurant close to our hotel where we enjoyed fresh risotto and tomato and mozzarella Caprese.
The next morning only one thing was on our minds – the Coliseum. We thought it best to start at the very beginning of Roman history, and this magnificent building did not disappoint. We got there super early to avoid the queues and were lucky enough to be able to walk straight in. After taking in the structure, we headed over the road and spent a few hours wandering around the Forum, where the amount of history was dizzying. Thoroughly sore-footed, we headed back to the hotel roof terrace for an afternoon of sun catching before heading to Rome’s Hard Rock Café for an Italian burger.
Another day and moving onto another era of history, we pounded the pavements down to the Vatican City. Spotting the queue to enter St Paul’s, we joined onto the end and waited
just over an hour to get in – apparently a drop in the ocean compared to normal waiting times! We bravely bought some tickets to head straight up to the Dome itself, taking the lift for the first leg of the climb, then wobbling our way through some very tight staircases to the top. The views were just unbelievable, and we even enjoyed a spot of espresso on the roof terrace. After heading back down and exploring the actual Basilica, we went to find the entrance to the Vatican before realising we’d make a terrible mistake! We didn’t know that once in St Peter’s, you can’t enter the Vatican. So we headed around the corner and joined the back of ANOTHER queue, this one taking us two hours to get through. Again, seeing the Sistine Chapel was worth it, but it was so insanely busy in there – we couldn’t quite believe that so many tourists were allowed in at the same time!
After heading back to the same restaurant we visited on the first night (I wanted to try the homemade ravioli – it didn’t let me down!), we enjoyed some drinks back on the roof terrace as the sun was setting over the city. To top off a stunning trip, our taxi driver the next morning took us right through the heart of the Coliseum on the way to the airport. Saying goodbye to Rome on a quiet, sunny Sunday morning is something we’ll never forget.
Because the British summertime always lets us down and because we can’t let it get us down, we tend to venture out to my home town of Manchester whatever the weather. We’re used to it raining up here. If it’s not violent sudden downpours, then it’s persistent miserable drizzle. I don’t mind so much, I find the rain homely and comforting and I love nothing more than getting all wrapped up ready to face some weather. On a Saturday not so long ago we did just that, and headed into town to enjoy some coffee and some bookshops and some reading.
First off we headed to my favourite new bookshop in Manchester, Chapter One Books. It’s nestled in the Northern Quarter just behind Picadilly Gardens, and though it looks nothing special from the outside of the concrete prefab it’s in, it’s like a literary wonderland when you get inside. Not only do they do a beautifully curated selection of books, but they do breakfast too – always a winner for us. We tucked into a hearty bowl of chocolate and coconut porridge with a pot of loose leaf tea, before browsing the books on offer. The decor is so different to any other bookshops around Manchester, with a moodily lit corner for horror and a really cute mezzanine adorned in fairy lights.
After fuelling up at Chapter One, we moved onto some of the record shops in the Northern Quarter. Piccadilly Records, Vinyl Revival and the large Oxfam on Oldham Street are all great for picking up something different to listen to. After a good wander around in the rain, we decided to dry off at one of my favourite little cafes in the area. Blue Daisy Cafe is about halfway up Oldham Street, next door to Pop Boutique, and is really easy to miss. There are more seats outside than in, but we managed to bag ourselves a cosy window seat inside the tiny cafe’s shopfront. Piled high with cushions, it’s a cute little place that still serves tea in a big mug and whips up a mean beans on toast. Everything is homemade, and the soups and deli salads are delicious. Loads of veggie options, too! It’s a perfect place to people, watch, with a great view of the streets. Especially in the rain, when people are scurrying about with brollies and jumping over puddles. We managed to while away at least an hour here, before getting a proper soaking on the way back to our car…..
Spotting the black and white sign above the pokey doorway we dive down into Meyers Bageri. We’re on a quest to discover Danish hygge and we have an inkling that we might just find it in one of Copenhagen’s finest bakeries. There’s barely room in the tiny Nørrebro shopfront for both of us, yet somehow there’s a queue of four or five people eagerly awaiting service. The panic sets in as it gets closer to our turn and we still haven’t decided what we’re having. There are trays upon trays of pastries and buns, and they all look and smell unbelievably tempting. “What’s good for breakfast?” we ask, unashamedly in English. The girl behind the metre long counter smiles that impossibly kind Danish smile and points to a freshly baked batch of cinnamon pastries on display in the window. “These are good, and filling too” she replies. We nod – sounds great – and she swiftly bundles two rolls up into a brown paper bag, flipping the bag to close the top and taking a handful of our coins. We don’t care how much.
Stepping out onto Jægersborggade, we cross over onto the sunny side of the street and over again to Assistens Kirkegard. The yellow walls of the graveyard offer up a pair of understated iron gates, and we find ourselves off the bicycle laden streets and into the peaceful green of the park. It’s a beautiful blue morning in late April, and birds are beginning to chatter as the rest of Copenhagen wakes up around the gardens. Seeking out the plot of Søren Kierkegaard we take a pew on a bench opposite the final resting place of Denmark’s resident thinker. Blossom falls gently at our feet, and we sip at the paper cups of piping hot coffee we picked up to see us through our walk to the bakery.
The anticipation is too much, and we rip open the bag to get to the good stuff inside. The pastry is layered beautifully, with deep red ribbons of cinnamon running through like the pattern on a snail’s shell. They’re still warm. Taking our first bite, the taste gets better as the mouthful goes on. Cinnamon and sugar has crystallised on the bottom of the bun, leaving a sticky, toffee-like goo that we lap up like nectar. We smack our lips and lick our fingers. We look at each other and grin. Reaching the middle of the pastry and we’re supping at pools of liquid chocolate, oozing from the soft and squidgy heart of it. Heaven. The best pastry we’ve ever had.
Pausing for a moment we relish the fresh morning air blowing in from the coast. Brushing pastry flakes off our knees, we’ve found our hygge and are ready to continue our journey into town. “Onwards?” I say. Onwards we go.