Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Travel Bug's Three Fascinating Facts About New Orleans

While he was roadtrippin’ in Lousiana; eating gumbo and drinking moonshine, The Travel Bug uncovered these fascinating (and creepy!) facts about New Orleans:

Travel Bug NOLA
Road trip, road trip, road trip!
  • New Orleans is where voodoo was introduced to the United States.  The Travel Bug doesn’t like that very much because he doesn’t want to have pins jammed into his lovely squishy back

  • New Orleans is considered to be the most haunted city in America.   TTB doesn’t like this either, because he’s scared of his own shadow.

  • Tombs in the city are all above ground.  This is due to high water levels.  The Travel Bug will be avoiding all cemeteries for the foreseeable future. 

Do you have any fascinating facts about New Orleans to share with The Travel Bug?? 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Open Doors Wales: 3 Castles in 24 Hours.

As soon as I realised that Wales has an Open Door weekend, I immediately ran to the laptop to reserve tickets.   After logging on, I soon discovered that prioritising the sites I wanted to visit first would be a nightmare.   It was.   There are simply too many to choose from and I spent a good while saying: "Ruthin Jail looks AMAZING!', and "Ooooh, check out the Castle at Caernarfon!', and so it went on until LT got annoyed and decided that we'd hit Caernarfon and Criccieth on the Saturday and then take a leisurely walk up to our very own castle in Harlech on the Sunday*.   And so we did just that.  

Caernarfon Castle holds a very special place in Welsh hearts as the ancient 'capital' of the nation.   The future Edward 11 was born at Caernarfon as his father, Edward 1, lived at the site.  Edward 1 would later go on to become the first Non-Welsh Prince of Wales, which would probably annoy me.    Much like an English/Greek Duke of Edinburgh does.  I'd much prefer to have Harry, if I'm being honest, but that just makes me a hypocrite as he's not  exactly Scottish, either.  Still, big Ed was Prince of Wales and that's not a bad title to hold.   From his perspective, anyway,   

Caernarfon castle
I'm not sure which was more spectacular; the Castle or the sunshine.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

48 Hours in New Orleans

I planned to visit New Orleans back in late 2005, but the city, and its good people, had been devastated by Katrina in the autumn and I ended up just driving through on the way to Baton Rouge.  I was aghast at the upturned vehicles sitting against walls, people crammed into hotel rooms, billboards completed flattened, and an entire bridge completely blown away across the Ponchartrain. 

A little more than 9 years later, I finally had the chance to go and I was so looking forward to getting back to Louisiana and spending some time there.    We found a cheap hotel in the Empress on Ursulines Avenue, and that left us around 10 minutes walk from Bourbon Street.    We had two nights to spend in the city before heading to Mississippi, and these are the highlights of our visit:

bourbon street new orleans
FINALLY made it! 

Rooftop Terraces on Bourbon Street:
Grab a beer and a menu at any of the great eateries along the main drag and enjoy watching the action in the street below.  I love a bit of people watching and, it’s even better somewhere as beautiful as NO.   Indulge in some local crawfish or gumbo (sooo good!), have a few drinks, and watch the street performers.  We spotted a guy flipping around like Michael Jackson, who was drawing in quite a crowd.  We were also treated to some karaoke from the bar below, which was a decent rendition of a Jason Aldean song.   Interestingly, we also heard a Jason fan singing the same song at a different karaoke later the same night.    I had no idea he was quite so popular there.  Live and learn, folks, live and learn.

A busy evening on Bourbon Street
Billie Jean is not my lover....

Drive Across the Ponchartrain Causeway:
Yeah, it totally doesn’t sound that interesting, but let me tell you this:  the PC is in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the longest continuous bridge over water On. The. Planet.   Not that new one that you’ve read about in China, oh no.  It’s in New Orleans and that’s that.   Spanning 24 miles across the water, it’s colossal.   For 8 miles of the bridge, you can’t even see any land and you drive very carefully and, obviously, completely within the speed limit.    I did, anyway, but more because I wanted to crane my head out of the window and see how awesome it was.    Once you get to the other side, feel free to get out and explore the lovely city of Mandeville, LA.    Or, at least go eat at Subway, like we did, before heading back across the bridge to our digs in New Orleans.  What can I say?  It's a long drive and we were peckish... 

Feels like it goes on forever...
Mercedes-Benz Superdome:
Ok, so there wasn’t any sport on when we visited, but if there is when you’re there: go see it!   Regardless of the fact that it was shut during our visit, I really wanted to see the stadium that made so many headlines, not just for the recent success of the Saints NFL team, but also that housed and made safe so many victims of Hurricane Katrina.  

The Superdome is easily reached in the car and there’s parking immediately outside.   The gold dome shines brilliantly in the sunshine and is quite a magnificent spectacle.    It is the largest fixed dome structure in the world and can hold more than 76,000 people.  So, you know, it’s quite big…

Outside the stadium is a 10-foot high statue of former player Tom Gleason, who famously blocked a punt against the Atlanta Falcons in 2006.   However, the statue isn’t really about blocking a kick, it’s really more about showing resolve and strength in the face of adversity, as the city’s people did after Katrina.  It’s beautiful, and is titled ‘Rebirth’.  How apt.


super dome new orleans
Holy crap, it's big!

Jackson Square and St Louis Cathedral:
Located in the French Quarter, Jackson Square is a large, beautifully manicured, park, with a large statue of Andrew Jackson in the centre.   Jackson was famously victorious in the Battle of New Orleans and the name was changed in his honour.  Well done, Sir.

On two sides of the Square are various shops and cafes, whilst the Mississippi and St Louis Cathedral dominate the others.   St Louis is one of the oldest cathedrals in the US and it looks a bit like it should be in a Disney theme park.  I mean that in the sense that it’s completely magical, not plastic and ugly.   No offence, Walt.   

The interior of St Louis is equally impressive and is free to enter.  The Old Ursuline Convent Museum is next to the Cathedral and is also open to the public, for self guided tours.   Thie Convent is the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley. 

The Square and Cathedral are lovely areas to spend some time and we were lucky enough to see a small 4-piece band having a jamming session in the park.  They didn’t play a single Jason Adlean song, so maybe he’s not as popular in New Orleans as we first thought.  Hmmm...

The stunning Jackson Square
General Andrew Jackson statue.
See?  It could totally be out of a Disney movie! 

Coffee with Joan of Arc at Café du Monde:
We stumbled upon Café du Monde on our way to Jackson Square to meet General Andrew, and decided we’d have coffee with Joan of Arc first, and then visit him later.    That’s just how we roll.  As well as being famous for its milky coffee, Café du Monde is also famous for beignets.   These are a kind of deep fried choux pastry, like churros.   Not being a doughnut fan, I managed to resist, but LT is never one to shy away from food.   They smelled amazing, if that makes any difference at all.  No?  Ok, then.

Just next to Café du Monde is a rather large statue of Joan of Arc, which was gifted to the city by France.   The Maid of Orleans stands proudly at the French Market, all gold and shiny.   She’s quite an impressive size and comes complete with her weapon of choice: the cannon.   Actually, she comes with two, but I guess it’s like shoes…you can’t get by with just the one, can you?  Exactly.   She hasn’t always been located here, but I’m assuming the smell of the coffee and beignets was too much to resist.  And who could blame her?

Have you visited New Orleans?  What are your recommendations?  

coffee, please!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Travel Bug's Three Fascinating Facts About Madrid

After a hard day's fact-finding mission in Madrid, The Travel Bug relaxed with a cold beer in Plaza Mayor and told me all the things he had learned about Spain’s fabulous capital city. 

Quiero cerveza, por favor! 

This is what he found out!

  • Madrid is the highest capital city in Europe, sitting approximately 650 metres above sea level

  • Madrid has more cloudless days that any other city in Europe.  

  • Madrid’s main square, Plaza Mayor, was once used for staging bullfights and inquisitions.   No one expects the Spanish inquisition…

Do you have any fascinating facts about Madrid for The Travel Bug??

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Visiting The Knitted Village of Llwyngwril

I recently read an article in the Cambrian News about the village of Llwyngwril in North Wales.   The reason for the coverage in the weekly newspaper is that the community has been trying to raise funds for their local community centre.   A very worthy cause, I'm sure you'll agree. 

However, not satisfied with your everyday, bucket round the houses, bake sale fund raising activities, a group of local residents got together to form the Llwyngwril Yarn Bombers.   What is a yarn bomber, I hear you cry?   Well, basically, it's a local person with mad knittin' skills who joined together with other locals with similarly mad knittin'  skills...and then they, well...started knittin' stuff.   

However, instead of the usual jaggy jumper type monstrosities, you know, the ones your parents used to threaten you with wearing when they were trying to keep you in line when you were young?  No?  OK, so just my parents, then.  How awkward.    Anyway, instead of these, the good people of Llwyngwril have been in a knitting frenzy, decorating their village in the most colourful and smile-inducing way.   

Where was I?  Oh, yeah, so I read about it in the paper, told LT about it and Boom!...a month later, we finally had the chance to visit!   The village is around 4 miles south of Barmouth and the setting is really spectacular.   It's a beautiful area anyway, so the enhancements, and the fact that so many people seem to have taken part, totally made my day.   If you haven't see it, you absolutely must go - it's guaranteed to make you smile.   

This is the work of the Llwyngwril Yarn Bombers in all its fabulous, wooly glory: 

copyright @ sightseeingshoes 2015
How amazing is this???  Nearly got myself run over trying to take this shot, but it was totally worth it.  
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a gorgeous little mousey couple 
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a red dragon because, obviously... 
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check out these lovely wooly sisters 
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Who's a pretty boy, then?
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Who doesn't want to live in a village that knits cosy bench-jumpers??  
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Gwril, the village Ogre
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the detail is amazing on this little guy 

Have you been to Llwyngwril to see the work of the Yarn Bombers?   

To read more about my Welsh adventures, click HERE

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Harlech Castle NEW Visitor Centre and Cafe

Since moving to Harlech in May, I’ve been watching the progress on the building works on the new visitor centre at the castle with some interest.   I found out, through social media, that my favourite Harlech haunt, Llew Glas, was taking over the franchise in the centre and would be operating another Cafe in the new building.   

It opened a couple of weeks and LT and took a walk up The Steepest Hill In The World on Sunday morning to have a potter around and indulge in what has become our one of our favourite activities in Wales: drinking coffee, eating cake and talking about how gorgeous the scenery is.   Seriously, this is what we do.   

For reasons unknown, I rarely visited coffee shops back in Stirling where we lived in Scotland.  We never wandered into the city on a lazy afternoon to grab a drink.   Here, however, despite us both working, we feel a little like we’re on holiday and we’re forever seeking out new coffee shops to visit on the weekends.    I can’t function without my coffee and LT is partial to a slice of home made cake, so living in an area with so many excellent establishments has fairly ramped up my coffee consumption.

copyright @ sightseeingshoes 2015
The new Castle visitor centre entrance
The visitor centre looks great and, aesthetically, it has been designed in a way that it looks very modern and yet still seems sympathetic to the look of the ancient castle sitting opposite.   You don’t have to purchase a ticket for the castle in order to make use of the new Café and the same goes for the gift shop which occupies the adjoining space.   The Café is very modern, with floor to ceiling windows and a beautiful deck outside, where you can get the best view of the Castle and out across Cardigan Bay.    
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The gorgeous new deck
The staff are every bit as warm and friendly as they are in the main square, despite being rushed off their feet during our visit.  The selection of home made cakes was rapidly depleting due to the volume of orders and, by the time it was my turn to be served, I’d missed out on a massive slice of a cream filled, meringue topped number that would have made LT a happy man.  I purchased him a rather large slice of Victoria sponge instead and he made it disappear fairly quickly.   

It looks like we’ll just have to go back again next weekend…

copyright @ sightseeingshoes 2015
Aaaah...coffee and castles: two of my favourite things.