A Trip to Snowdonia National Park in North Wales

Wales is a pretty amazing country.

While based in Llangollen, we went on a day trip through Snowdonia National Park, visited a castle, a steam railway, a slate museum, spotted fields of bluebells and more sheep than we could count. 

Neil from Tours by Locals picked us up from the Tyn y Wern B&B in the morning. He is a local from Liverpool. Not a qualified guide. Just a local with a passion for the place where he grew up and lived his whole life. 

We drove through the beautiful green landscape, appreciated slate quarries that starting with the 19th century 'roofed the world', and finally, stopped at Blaenau Ffestininiog steam railway. There has never been a nation that loved their steam trains more than the British. The narrow gauge Welsh railways used to transport the slates from the mines, however, many of them have been transformed into touristic attractions. But the slate roofing tradition in North Wales dates all the way back to Roman times. 

Neil gave us the option to take the train and meet us at the end of the ride. However, we preferred to continue by car and listen to his stories. It was interesting to have a different kind of guide, one that wouldn't talk about dates and history, but rather tell us about childhood memories and family holidays in the area. 

Following my recently discovered obsession with bluebells, we spotted quite a few beautiful blue carpets along the way. We jumped at the opportunity and asked Neil to stop so we could take some pictures. It was quite cool that we could stop whenever we wanted. This was one of the best features of such a personalised tour. This and the fact that we could tailor the route to our own needs and interests, as Neil was quite flexible.

Our next stop was at the grave of Gelert, the faithful hound of the medieval Welsh Prince Llewelyn the Great. Neil told us how kids in Wales are brought up with this moral tale. One should never be quick to judge!

Here's the story as written on the stone.

"In the 13th century Llewelyn, prince of North Wales, had a palace at Beddgelert. One day he went hunting without Gelert, ‘The Faithful Hound’, who was unaccountably absent.

On Llewelyn's return the truant, stained and smeared with blood, joyfully sprang to meet his master. The prince alarmed hastened to find his son, and saw the infant's cot empty, the bedclothes and floor covered with blood.

The frantic father plunged his sword into the hound's side, thinking it had killed his heir. The dog's dying yell was answered by a child's cry.

Llewelyn searched and discovered his boy unharmed, but nearby lay the body of a mighty wolf which Gelert had slain. The prince filled with remorse is said never to have smiled again. He buried Gelert here".

At the National Slate Museum in Llanberis we learned the story of the Welsh slate mining industry. Built in the shadow of the Dinorwig Quarry, the museum is a trip into the past. The row of four quarrymen houses from different time periods talk about the everyday life, but throughout the whole museum stories of strikes and suffering are told. The largest waterwheel on mainland Britain is to be found here, as well as UNA, the century old quarry locomotive.

Next stop was Caernarfon. Build by Kind Eduard I, Caernarfon Castles is an architectural marvel. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it boasts hexagonal towers and intimidating looks.

The nearby River Seiont, with its pretty, colourful boats is just as attractive.

And the proud Welsh city offers some amazing shopping opportunities.

We passed gorgeous scenery, with rugged mountains and clear streams. Snowdonia National Park is the first out of three national parks in Wales. It is an area of outstanding beauty, and far in the distance we spotted Snowdon, the highest point in the British Isles outside the Scottish Highlands.

We found even more bluebells in the courtyard of Mt Michael's Church, in the picturesque village of Betwys-y-coed. The pretty, small stone church is considered to be the original prayer house in the wood.

Next to the church, this little pedestrian wobbly bridge connects two communities that for a very long time had almost no contact with each other. We crossed it back and forth and had a good laugh at how dizzy go got.

On the other side of the road lays the Conwy Valley Railway Museum with its extensive miniature railway.

Back to Llangollen, Neil took us to see the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a navigable aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the River Dee. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the highest aqueduct in Britain, and to be honest, it is an jaw-dropping piece of architecture.

Around 6PM, Neil drove us back to our hotel. We sayed our good-byes, happy to having made a new friend and smitten by all the beauty seen during the day. North Wales is gorgeous and we would come back to see more of it in the blink of an eye.

Relaxing on the Cornish Coast. The Old Parsonage B&B in Boscastle

The Old Parsonage B&B is ideal for sunset lovers; for couples looking to rekindle the romance; for photography enthusiasts; and the freedom obsessed ones as well. Did I mention just about everyone? 

The gorgeous Georgian house with only five guest rooms is situated in a quiet lane at the edge of Boscastle. And the picture-perfect Cornish coastline with its hiking trails, grazing livestock, pretty flowers and secluded beaches is a stone's throw away.

The house boasts perfectly manicured lawns and colourful geranium decorate the windows. We are welcomed with complimentary slices of homemade cake and steaming cups of tea in the garden, before we are shown to our room.

The room is spacious and elegantly decorated. It comes complete with a comfortable king size bed, two armchairs, a fireplace, and beautiful floral drapes. Everything is prime quality, from The White Company linen to the St Kitts Herbery toiletries. We find more complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits in the room, and the bright afternoon sun peeking inside creates a very charming atmosphere. 

But what grabs us are the views over the village of Boscastle and the nearby rolling hills. We long to explore the surroundings, and at Margaret and Morag's recommendations, we go for a romantic picnic on the meadows nearby to witness the sun setting in the sea. They are experts in sunsets, and they make a habit our of rating them every evening. Apparently while we stayed with them the sunsets were either a 7 or an 8 out of 10. 

The area is unbelievably serene. Margaret and Morag go out of their way to help us in any way possible, recommend us costal walks and attractions, give us directions to St Nectans Glen, and talk about their favourite spots with passion. We love relaxing in the garden and meeting other guests, which is incredibly easy to do, especially at breakfast when tips and stories are shared like among old friends.

The beautiful conservatory is our favourite place to have breakfast. It is luminous and tastefully decorated, in the same pastel colours as the whole house. There are fresh cut flowers as well as potted plants and the place is spotless. The two ladies invite us to help ourselves from the cold water and milk supply at the bottom of the stairs whenever we want to and we are happy to find such relaxed and accommodating hosts. 

Besides cereals, fruits and other usual suspects, we are handed a hot breakfast menu to choose from all the options cooked to order. No matter what we opt for, everything is delicious. The omelettes are creamy and the presentation spot on. Margaret and Morag are simply amazing and really know how to get to our hearts.

For more information on The Old Parsonage B&B or to book a room, please see their website.

Pre-Theater Dinner At Indigo At One Aldwych in London

Visiting London and not going to the theater or seeing a musical would be a sin and we try to make a habit out of seeing at least one performance per visit. This time around we went to 'Mamma Mia!', our favourite musical ever. But before that, we booked a table at Indigo, one of the two restaurants inside One Aldwych Hotel.

Situated in Covent Garden, the restaurant is within walking distance of many West End theaters, including the Royal Opera House, but it is probably closest to Novello Theater where the ABBA inspired musical is playing. 

Indigo is found at mezzanine level, with views over the dynamic Lobby Bar. It has a relaxed and informal atmosphere, nevertheless, the service is quick and friendly. 

They serve both pre and post-theater dinner here, but since we chose the first option, not wanting to eat all that late, we were asked right from the start the hour of our performance so they could time the service with our schedule. We could tell the waiters had this present in their mind throughout the meal, but never rushing things for a split second.

They serve both à la carte and a reasonably priced set menu that changes periodically. We went with the second option, accompanying the main courses with Merlot and Chenin Blanc from South Africa.

Rabbit and bacon rilletes with Yorkshire rhubarb, apple relish and toast

Beetroot and dill cured salmon with horseradish cream and crisp beetroot

Fresh organic ingredients and a beautiful presentation characterised every single plate. The menu is Modern European, with mild flavours that blend together nicely creating a symphony you will want to taste over and over again. 

The menu has 3 starters, 3 mains and 3 desserts to choose from, the first two having a vegetarian, fish and meat option to satisfy every taste. An (n) is placed next to the plates containing nuts, a very thoughtful decision.

Pan-fried whiting fillet with cream potatoes, roasted field mushrooms, broccoli and capers

 Curried chicken ballotine with rice, bok choi and oyster sauce

Choosing a favourite plate would be pretty difficult, since we were impressed with every single one of them, but the pan-fried whiting fillet really stood out. The crispy skin was delicious and the fillet cooked to perfection, combining nicely with the soft cream potatoes.

Coffee creme caramel

Valrhona chocolate mousse with English strawberries and pistachio 

We ended on a sweet note, ready to see our favourite musical. Having a pre-theater dinner proved to be a great idea, even more so since the food was exquisite, the service excellent and the restaurant literally only a stone's throw away. Going to a musical is a must do in London, and is you happen to choose a theatre in Covent Garden, we really recommend you stop by the One Aldwych.

Beautiful England. Bath, Lacock, Salisbury and Stonehenge Day Trip

London is a great base for day trips and the English countryside surely is dotted with charming villages and lovely towns worth discovering even if only for a few hours. 

Having previously visited Bath and Stonehenge years ago, we decided that refreshing our memory wouldn't be a bad thing, as long as new experiences were added to the mixture. We joined Premium Tours for one of their newest day trips that included a visit of Bath, Lacock, Salisbury Cathedral and champagne reception at Stonehenge. Since this was the last day of our 6 weeks trip though the UK, there couldn't have been a better way to end our journey than with a glass of bubbly. 

Pulteney Bridge, Bath

They picked us up from our hotel early in the morning and drove us to the hectic Victoria Coach Station where we met our guide and switched to a smaller, more comfortable coach. This tour is organised only for small groups of maximum 15 people, which made the experience pretty intimate and pleasant. 

The first stop was at the beautiful city of Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We had fallen in love with it years ago and we were happy to rediscover it by following our guide for a short introductory tour of the city that included a sneak peak at the magnificent Royal Crescent and other stately Georgian architectural marvels. However, when we were left to freely explore the city, we decided to visit the Abbey and have a look at Pulteney Bridge, one of only four bridges in the world with shops across its full span on both sides.

Having visited the Roman Baths before, we did not go inside this time around, but I can assure you they are a must. Bath was famous for its hot springs and spas ever since the Roman times. It was later on revived starting with the Elizabethan age and Princess Victoria inaugurated one of the first British public parks outside of London here. Nevertheless, the event did not end up very well, since during the ceremony a gust of wind blew up the princesse's dress and she did not take kindly the comments that she had chubby ankles. She vowed never to visit Bath again due to humiliation and later on, as a queen, she would always shut the curtain when her train passed through Bath.

King Bladud's Pig in Bath

Our next stop was in the village of Lacock. Most of the group decided to have lunch here at one of the local pubs dating back to the 14th century, however, we felt compelled to skip it and rather take pictures of the unspoiled village steeped in history.

Lacock served as a film set for Pride and PrejudiceHarry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. No wonder, since its stone and half-timbered houses are delightful to say the least.

For photography enthusiast, Lacock holds a very special meaning, since it was here where in 1835 Talbot made the earliest known surviving example of a photographic negative, a print of one of the windows of the Abbey. Later on he discovered the chemical way of recording photographic images.

We visited the church and spotted lots of cute details on the way, however, what impressed us most was this little unattended flower shop where buyers could simply help themselves and leave the money in the letterbox. It's amazing places like this still exist!

Salisbury Cathedral was next on the list. A must visit for any architecture lover, Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire and largest cloister in Britain, the oldest working clock in the world and the best preserved surviving copy of Magna Carta.

It also has some amazing stained glass windows and an interesting nave with a cross-shaped fountain in the middle that catches some amazing reflections.

We ended out day trip at Stonehenge, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were received with champagne and homemade shortbread in the newly-opened visitor centre. After an introductory video and a short presentation of the ancient site that we found rather kids orientated, we had plenty of time to visit the new interactive museum and the henge.

Ancient history always fascinated us. Even though there were hundreds of people circling the henge, we found the site to be peaceful and reigned by the local crows that apparently have names that suit their unique personality. We are yet to visit Avebury and Marden Henge, however, Stonehenge being smaller than the other two henges, it is still by far the most beloved one.

The landscape surrounding Stonehenge was so serene, with noting but livestock in sight, we felt mesmerised. The fields of poppies, crops and puffy clouds in all directions were just the perfect ending to our trip. 

On the way back, our guide went into further details about the sights we visited during the day and once returned to London, she even made a short introduction about the new trends in the city. We found the tour extremely informative and pleasant. The four locations surely are some of the best England has to offer and shouldn't be missed.