Italy, August 2016 – Florence

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Hello! I mentioned in this post that I had found myself some freelance work, and I’ve now found a part-time office job to go alongside it. I’m finding it the perfect balance, and it’s such a weight off my shoulders to know I have a regular income again! And now that I have job-hunting off my plate, my brain is free to get some blog posts written! So bear with me through the next few posts as they’ll be somewhat unseasonal – but I reckon a break from Christmas gift guides can’t be a bad thing, right? šŸ˜‰

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

This is the third and final post from our Italy trip – part 2 covers our accommodation in a small town in the Tuscan countryside, and part 1 was some tips (aka a rant) on using the local buses!

Our favourite thing to do in a new city is to just have a good wander and see what there is to see. We decided to skip going inside the Duomo, but it was the first landmark we headed for since it’s near the bus station and really stands out as the most visible and unique building.

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

The Duomo is really stunning, but tricky to photograph as it’s just so huge!

We wandered on through Piazza della Signoria, which contains lots of grand old statues, the grand old Palazzo Vecchio… and a giant gold turtle, which Google tells me is a Jan Fabre exhibit. It was a little odd but kind of worked.

Pallazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

By this point we had started to follow signs for Ponte Vecchio, and shops were getting more and more upmarket! The bridge itself is stacked full of expensive jewellers.

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

I love Ponte Vecchio’s unique hodgepodge of structures and shutters and colours, and again it really stands out from afar.Ā The shops on the inside are flawlessly well-kept and clean, whereas the outside is a lot scruffier – I edited the photo above a fair bit to make the paint colours a bit brighter and the whole thing less dirty-looking. Ā But I guess if they were constantly cleaning or painting it, it would always be covered in scaffolding and safety nets, so I’ll take a bit of scruffy charm šŸ™‚

City Walls, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

City Walls, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

From Ponte Vecchio we made our way through the city walls and up the (oh-my-gosh-so-very-relentless) hill to Piazzale Michelangelo. These are the only close-up photos I managed to get of the walls as this was the only time we were near them on foot, but they surround the whole city centre. It was quite fun zooming along the side of them on the bus and they add another layer of character to the city.

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

This quiet little public rose garden is halfway up the steps, and provides a welcome break from the climb and also from the crowds at the main sights.

Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazzale Michelangelo is a big open square, containing a replica of the Statue of David (the original is in an art gallery to protect it from damage) and providing beautiful views of the city.

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

This post contains affiliate links.

Happy Things, October 2016

Autumn Leaves - Emma's Picture Postcards

I always enjoy reading people’s collections of little positive things but it’s been ages since I last wrote one! Here are a few things making me smile:

  1. My new job, self-employment and my first big tax refund! Since quitting my last jobĀ I’ve been (and still am) looking for a new, traditional, 9-to-5 office job. Aberdeen is full of unemployed, overqualified people at the moment though and it’s a bit of a struggle. In the meantime, I’ve started working as a freelance audio typist, and I absolutely love it. The pay isn’t great (you get paid for each minute of audio you transcribe, rather than how long it takes you, so with practice I’ll start earning more per hour) but it’s enjoyable, gives me at least a little income, means I won’t have a big gap in my CV, and gives me another skill and experience which will hopefully be useful for future jobs. I also received a great big tax refund since my tax had been calculated on the assumption I’d continue in my oldĀ job for the rest of the financial year – I knew it would be coming, but it still felt like an amazing bonus when it did!
    Apple and Bramble Pie - Emma's Picture Postcards
  2. Baking and cooking! James is the one with the skills (enthusiasm, patience, imagination) in our kitchen, and normally does most (all) of the cooking. Recently I’ve been trying to give him a break and take a week off his plate (I can’t think of a less punny way to say that, haha) every 3-4 weeks. Usually I rustle up a few of his or my mum’s regulars and try one new thing that I’ve half dreamed up myself and then looked up on BBC Good FoodĀ for rough guidance on quantities and measurements. Last week I made what I’d imagined as a stew/casserole, but decided to turn into a really delicious pasta sauce, with tomatoes, sausage, chorizo and peppers, and my mouth is watering just at the thought of it. While it was simmering away, I made an apple and bramble pie as my October effort for Bumpkin Betty’s Baking Club. I used this Hairy Bikers’ recipe, but because we only have a teeny little flan tin, I halved the ingredients. This didn’t leave me enough pastry for the lid and I’d pretty much run out of flour, but with the help of the internet again (what on earth did we do before Google?) I found this open-top apple pie recipe, and covered mine with a half-lattice, half-crumble concoction. I popped it in the oven and proceeded to hover around, peeking through the door to see how it was getting on, because by this stage I had no idea how long I needed to bake it! And the result? *Drum roll*… it turned out perfect. Yay! To date, I am 3 for 3 and the world’s luckiest baker.
    Dornstetten, Germany - Emma's Picture Postcards
  3. A quick trip to the Black Forest, for the wedding of my favourite German! We started out asĀ exchange students when we were 15, and were lucky enough to actually like each other and stay in regular contact afterwards! We’ve visited each other every couple of years since then, and really feel like family now. It was wonderful to be there for her wedding, to be back in her home village, to spend some quality time with her family and friends, and to introduce James to a place that’s been a big part of my life.
    Stranger Things Halloween Party - Emma's Picture Postcards
  4. A wonderful week in London. I’ll write a full post soon, but the original premise was for Dad and I to go to anotherĀ NFL game. The friends I’d planned to stay with then invited me to a Stranger Things themed Halloween party the following weekend, so I decided to stay a week! I really enjoyed both events, the chance to catch up with London- and Nottingham-based friends, and the opportunity to spend a whole week with my Kiwi friends. There’s nothing like knowing your friends will eventually return to the literal opposite end of the Earth to make you appreciate their current, relatively convenient home!

Happy Halloween!Ā Let me know your October highlights šŸ™‚

Italy, August 2016: San Casciano, Tuscany

San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Italy is one of my favourite destinations. Before this trip to Tuscany, I had been to Rome and Turin, and there are so many places still on my list. This time around, we went to the Florence region and stayed in a villa recommended to us by James’s boss, in a village called – deep breath – San Casciano in Val di Pesa. San Casciano is (in theory) conveniently located a half hour’s drive out of Florence, and felt to me like the epitome of Tuscany. Rolling hills, olive groves, vineyards, little churches with tall, thin bell towers, and an abundance ofĀ gelaterias, cafes andĀ pizzerias with relaxed outdoor seating areas.

San Casciano, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

We stayed at Il Visciolo,Ā a farmhouse-style villaĀ that manages to feel rustic and traditional, while still having all the mod-cons we needed (so, wifi, lights and a fridge then, haha, but also automatic sun awnings and solar outdoor lighting, which were really nice to have).

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture PostcardsIl Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

The whole building pictured above is the rental property, and it would comfortably sleep four. As well as theĀ master bedroom, there’s another doubleĀ bed on a mezzanine level in the study, which sounds like it might be warm, but I think it would be ok. The window is covered over by a brickwork lattice (you can see it in the external photo above)Ā which keeps the room cool and allows you to see out without letting anyone see in – the bathroom is the same. The thick walls and tiled floors also keep the house nice and cool. In any case, the amount of space was a luxury for just the two of us, and we spent a lot of time relaxing and reading, and enjoying the peace and quiet and beautiful views:

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

The owners are extremely helpful for anything you might need, and welcomed us with some fruit, bruscetta served with their own home-grown olive oil, and a bottle ofĀ Chianti. We had some additional friendly visitors in the form of their cats, and a praying mantis who came to hang out one evening!

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Praying Mantis, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Unfortunately, Mr Mantis wasn’t the only insect to visit us, and I took a severe reaction to mosquito bites – scroll quickly past if you’re squeamish! Even more unfortunately,Ā since James didn’t seem to have been bitten at all, we assumed that I was allergic to the washing powder used on the bedsheets, and didn’t use the mosquito net provided. Rookie mistake.Ā This was the most dramatic allergic reaction I’ve ever had though, so I definitely learned my lesson and will be well-armed with anti-histamine tablets in future!

Mosquito Bites, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Mosquito Bites, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

San Casciano, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazza della Repubblica, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Our first night in San Casciano coincided with the village’s Saint Day celebrations, with a market on Piazza della Repubblica, fireworks launched in the valley below and visible from the piazza’s terrace, and live music in Piazza Cavour. As an almost-Bonfire-Night baby (I was born 4th Nov), I’ve always adored fireworks, soĀ it was a lovely way to start the trip, especially if we pretended they were celebrating our arrival šŸ˜‰

Pizzeria La Carbonaia, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Otherwise, our time in the village was spent sampling the local cuisine – tough job, but someone’s got to do it šŸ˜‰Ā We started off at Pizzeria La Carbonaia, where I had the Carbonaia pizza (above), topped with sausage meat and, at a guess, about ten cloves’ worth of garlic. It was soĀ delicious that we bookended our trip with dinner there on the first and last nights of our trip, and I had the same pizza the second time too! We also sampled, at Nello,Ā the local speciality of a 1kg T-bone steak – so, half a cow, basically – at a casualĀ ā‚¬45/kg, which is the minimum portion size. We expected to have major meat sweats and aching jaws and stomachs after sharing one, but actuallyĀ it was beautifully tender and melt-in-the-mouth, and we managed it fine between two with some fried potatoes on the side. If you’re travelling in a larger group though, I’d definitely recommend one between three or four of you! We also went for lunch at Cinque di Vino (fancier and a little theatrical!) and dinner at the more down-to-earth Trattoria Cantinetta del Nonno, where we had simple but tasty pasta starters and meaty mains. All washed down with local Chianti wine, served in adorable little glass jugs.

Emma's Picture Postcards

Back soon with photos of Florence šŸ™‚

This post contains affiliate links.

Italy, August 2016: Tuscany Travel Tips

Last month James whisked us off to Tuscany for a week of sunshine and relaxation. I started writing a post about our stay, and before I knew it I’d written half a novel just about the local buses! I consider myself an experienced independent traveller, and I found the buses really difficult. So I decided I’d devote a post to our experience with them, in the hopes that it might help someone out!

Before I dive in to the buses though, I have to briefly mention our air travel. We flew via Amsterdam, which is always my favourite airport to transit through anyway, but was on particularly good form thanks to police on Segways…

Amsterdam Airport - Emma's Picture Postcards

…and a variety of fun art displays, including this fascinating clock, which aĀ “workman” repainted each minute:

Once we reached Florence Airport, we had the “simple” (ha) task of taking a bus to the centre of town, and another to the village of San Casciano, where we were staying. This was much easier said than done, but by the end of our stay, I feel like we’d gotten our heads around it. Here’s what we learned:

– The main bus company in the Florence area, or at least the one that covered theĀ routes we needed, is called SITA. It was formerly known as Busitalia, and some of the buses still have the old name on them, but are otherwise identical.

– Tickets costĀ ā‚¬1.20 if purchased from a ticket vendor before boarding the bus, orĀ ā‚¬2.30 if purchased on board from the driver. For the airport bus, I’ve seen the price quoted online as anywhere betweenĀ ā‚¬3 andĀ ā‚¬6 each way, but we got there fine with standardĀ ā‚¬1.20 tickets, and actually had them checked by a bus conductor who happened to get on board.

– Tickets aren’t always available to buy on board, so ask the driver when you get on. If he says no, just hop back off and wait for the next bus, and/or make use of that time to see if you can locate a ticket vendor (more on that below!) The one time we did make use of this option, the driver said yes and waved us on, and we sat down behind him, James hovering on the edge of his seat waiting to be summoned forward to make the purchase. 20 minutes later, we figured he’d forgotten and we’d landed ourselves a free ride, butĀ he sold them to us as we disembarked šŸ˜‰

– Tickets must be validated on board the bus – stick your ticket into the slot in the red box and hold it there until it clunks.

San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

– TOP TIP! Tickets aren’t valid for a specific date/time/route until validated. So if you’re lucky enough to find a ticket vendor early in your stay, buy as many tickets as you’ll need for the duration. One ticket covers one person for one journey, and a journey starts and ends at Florence, so for the two of us to go from the airport, to Florence city centre, and on to San Casciano, was two journeys each, therefore four tickets. Including another four to get back to the airport for our departure, and another four for a day trip into (and out of) Florence, meant we needed twelve tickets in total.

– We found the bus drivers generally quite helpful, and bus stops clearly marked and easy-ish to find, with the help of Google maps. Trying to buy tickets… not so much.

– So where are these magical bus ticket vendors where you can buy cheap tickets? Well, good question. Generally, there will be a shop of some description (a newsagent, tobacconist, bar, cafe, etc), vaguely near eachĀ bus stop, ish, which sells tickets. However. Italy is overrun with little shops, and a single street could have three tobacconists, and two of them might (apparently) have no idea that the third sells bus tickets. The one that does might also close for four hours (and then some) in the middle of the day, or if you’re really unlucky, might be closed for the entire month of August because the owner is on his holidays. Yay.

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

We managed to buy tickets in advance at three different places, as follows.

– the SITA bus station in Florence. Google Maps knows this as “Busitalia Nord Autostazione” and it’s onĀ Via Santa Caterina da Siena. Because we had just missed the shuttle bus and couldn’t work out where to buy tickets at the airport (I’ve read since that you can buy them at the bar inside), we ended up taking a taxi from the airport to this bus station.Ā Compared with our later sagas, this was by far the simplest and most familiar bus-related location, and I wish we’d bought our full trip’s worth of tickets at this point!

– there are four bus stops together on Largo Fratelli Alinari, just around the corner from the train station, and there is a shop selling tickets that’s actually directly at these bus stops (hallelujah!) – I believe it’s called Cap Tours, I tried to double-check using Google Street View, but ironically there’s a bus in the way, ha!

Piazza della Repubblica, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

– and thirdly, the Latteria (dairy shop (yes really)) in San Casciano. This is located on Piazza della Repubblica, and is closed from 12:00 to 16:00, and when I say 16:00… At 15:45, havingĀ finally located the right place thanks to a helpful waitress from the bar a few doors along and being told it was closed until 16:00, I finished the ice cream I’d bought at the bar and did a few laps around the village while I waited. The bells rang for 4pm and I slowly wandered back the the Latteria and took a seat outside with a crowd of old men, one of whom turned around in his chair to slowly look me up and down. Pleasant.

At 16:10, an old fella in a bright orange t-shirt wandered at about 1mph out of the shop’s side door, went to the bar along the street, drank an espresso, wandered back to the shop, sat down outside to smoke a cigarette… smoked another cigarette… and then went back in the side door. At this point, an old lady marched up, quizzed the gathering of men, marched around the corner, marched back, and slammed her face against the shop door to peer through the glass. I dread to think what she saw, because a moment later, the shop owner, having changed from his orange t-shirt into a white shirt, opened the door and let her in, followed by me, a small boy who had darted up, andĀ the crowd of old men, bringing the total queue to about 15 people. By now it was 16:25. The old lady proceeded to order whatever it was she was after, and pour a purseful of 1- and 2-cent coins onto the counter to pay for them. Thankfully by this point I’d had plenty of time to prepare “due biglietti a Firenze” and the correct change, and was out of there in about 5 seconds. What an adventure.

I’ll be back soon with a couple more Italy posts… and only one other drama šŸ˜› Have a great week, and please comment belowĀ if you have any more tips!

Isle of Skye, March 2016 – Day 3: Fairy Pools

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

After our hikeĀ up Storr on day 2, IĀ was relieved that the other place I’d hoped to visit, the fairy pools, was a much easier walk!

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

The Fairy Pools are a succession of small pools and waterfalls, created by a stream coming down off the Cuillin mountains. The water is bright blue and beautifully clear, and it’s easy to see where the name comes from as the place feels very magical.

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Although the walk is a lot less steep than the one at Old Man of Storr, you still have to be nimble enough to navigate the stepping stones above. We saw a lovely little Westie carefully hopping his way across, with lots of encouragement from his owners šŸ™‚

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

When we arrived back at the car, we discovered that it had made a friend…

Emma's Picture Postcards

We spotted this gorgeous little chaffinch from about 10 metres away and inched slowly closer, but he was completely relaxed and only flew away when he was finished admiring his reflection šŸ™‚

Emma's Picture Postcards

On the way back to Kyleakin we stopped in at Cafe Sia inĀ Broadford. They take pride in using local ingredients, hand-roast their own coffee beans and grind them to order, and have a traditional wood-fired pizza oven. I tried out the Traditional Italian pizza (mozzarella, basil oil and tomato) and a flat white, and both were delicious. With his pizza, James tried another tasty local ale (from Plockton Brewery), which was served in a frozen glass! Yum. Despite grinding the coffee beans to order meaning it tookĀ a while to prepare each one, the cafe was doing a roaring trade in take-away orders as well as people having a relaxed sit-down lunch, so I think that speaks for the quality!

Cafe Sia, Broadford, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Full up on our pizzas, we relaxed at the hotel for a while, before realising it was 7.30pm, on a Sunday, in the Highlands, in the winter season. Good luck finding somewhere open for dinner! Google informed us that the fish and chip shop in Kyle of Lochalsh was open until 8pm, so we jumped in the car and zoomed across, realising when we reached the villageĀ that we’d forgotten to take a note of where exactly the chippy was. We ended up driving past the Kyle Chinese Takeaway (on Main Street) and decided that would do nicely! Our meals were decentĀ but apparently forgettable – I think we had chilli chicken – but the highlight was the ribs, which were fantastic.

Fairy Pools, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

And that was our weekend complete! We had such a lovely stay – Skye is a very peaceful and refreshing place. I’d recommend everywhere we visited, but most especially our accommodation, walks and lunch spots. Here are the links to Day 1 and Day 2 in case you missed them šŸ™‚

This post contains affiliate links.

Isle of Skye, March 2016 – Day 2: Old Man of Storr

Isle of Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

After a tasty breakfast of poached egg, bacon and – er – vegetarian sausage, because that’s how I roll, we set off up the island to tackle the walk up to the Old Man of Storr.

Storr, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

The Storr hill is part of the Trotternish ridge, and includes a rocky cliff-face looking out across the water to nearby islands Rona and Raasay, as well as a tall rock formation that stands slightly apart and is visible from afar, known as the Old Man.

Old Man of Storr, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

The route is well-marked, with a gravel track winding its way up the hill, giving way to a smaller dirt path near the top, with some large rocks acting as steps in places. A word of warning though, it’s very steep! Even with a few stops to drink some water, I got pretty out of breath, and I’m fitter than James, who managed to puff “I lead a sedentary life!” before returning his concentration to putting one foot in front of the other šŸ˜€ The tides turned on the way back down though and he got to be the patient one, as I took tiny steps and clung on to him to avoid sliding on the gravel. It was all worth it though, as the sea breeze certainly blew away the cobwebs, and we had a clear day granting us a stunning view.

Storr, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Storr, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Storr, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Storr, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

After tumbling our way back to the car park, we drove into Portree for a well-deserved late lunch at Cafe Arriba. This lovely, cheerful little place changes its menu regularly, with specials from around the world. It was American Diner day when we were there, so James hadĀ a burger while I went for the mac ‘n’ cheese, both with bacon on top! The portions wereĀ generous and everything was delicious. James also sampled another Isle of Skye Brewing Co. ale – he made his way through their range during our stay (all in the name of research, of course) and declared them all worthy of praise šŸ˜‰

Cafe Arriba, Portree, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Cafe Arriba, Portree, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Cafe Arriba, Portree, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

After a wee wander around Portree, we headed back to the hotel to rest our weary legs, then went for dinner at Taste of India. Because the standard is so high at our regular Indian restaurant (Jewel in the CrownĀ in Aberdeen), we keep our expectations low when eating elsewhere, especially in the countryside where there might be less competition, but we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food at Taste of India. The main criticism on Tripadvisor seems to be that the service isn’t the best, and I can understand that complaint although we weren’t hugely fazedĀ ourselves. There were only two staff members in the customer area of the restaurant, covering the tables, bar and take-away orders, with occasional help serving from a member of the kitchen team. TheyĀ were very efficient and the waitress was pleasant,Ā but the waiter seemed to be one of those people who needs to be in a mood to get stuff done. He stomped about and was quite abrupt, and spent a few minutes scowling in our direction while correcting our bill, which was a littleĀ uncomfortable! (We had ordered a naan, which never arrived, but we didn’t chase it up because we had plenty to eat withĀ just our curries and rice, especially after our earlier feast at Cafe Arriba, so when we asked for our bill we just asked for it to be taken off, and assured them it wasn’t a problem.) I understand that it was busy and that they were presumably understaffed, butĀ I have enough customer service experience to know that taking it out on the customers doesn’t helpĀ anyone!

Portree, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Hope you have a great start to the week! I’ll be back on Friday with part 3 (and part 1 is here if you missed it).

This post contains affiliate links.

Isle of Skye, March 2016 – Day 1: Eilean Donan Castle

Last month James and I had our five year anniversary! Whaaat! We decided to celebrate with a little weekend away to the Isle of Skye.

Eilean Donan Castle - Emma's Picture Postcards

We set off from Aberdeen around 9am, with a little pit stop in Keith (“The Friendly Town”) for petrol and snacks, and made it to Eilean Donan Castle around 2pm. Eilean Donan was built in the 13th century, in a key location to defend the Highlands and Western IslesĀ against Vikings and the English. It was restored in the 20th century and is now one of Scotland’s most beautiful and well-recognised landmarks.

Eilean Donan Castle - Emma's Picture Postcards

Eilean Donan Castle - Emma's Picture Postcards

Eilean Donan Castle - Emma's Picture Postcards

Eilean Donan Castle - Emma's Picture Postcards

Eilean Donan Castle - Emma's Picture Postcards

Look at that sunshine and stunning blue sky! What a great start to our trip…

…and then we went over the hill and into the cloud. Ha.

Kyleakin, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

Kyleakin, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

At least it was nice and atmospheric šŸ™‚ We stayed at the White Heather Hotel in Kyleakin, which isĀ a real home away from home. The rooms areĀ comfortable and clean, and the pictures above show the view from our bedroom! The owners are very friendly and helpful, and along with a good breakfast and in-room wifi, guests also have access to two living rooms and a little study complete with a computer, DVDs, books and board games.

White Heather Hotel, Kyleakin, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

White Heather Hotel, Kyleakin, Skye - Emma's Picture Postcards

For dinner we popped along the road to the King Haakon Bar, which was… fine. It’s a pub, with standard pub meals, and a nice view out across Kyleakin’s village square and over the water to the bridge. The bar is on the back of the Castle Moil restaurant, which we didn’t see open – I presume it was still closedĀ for the winter.

Pop back on Monday for Day 2 šŸ™‚

This post contains affiliate links.

Favourite Blogs, part 3

Time to shareĀ another few of my favourites with you!

Wander to Wonder

Wander to Wonder

Miho lives in London and is a major foodie. She takes the most mouthwatering photos to accompany her restaurant reviews, and also when her husband E cooks up something beautiful – his Instagram here. I try to remember to read Miho’s blogĀ when I’ve just eaten because otherwise my stomach rumbles too loudly! She also hasĀ some gorgeous travel posts, including recent trips to Japan and New York, plus regularĀ happy posts where she rounds up all her favourite things from the past month.

Oh That Film Blog

Oh! That Film Blog

Amy’s blog is the one and only film review siteĀ that I’ll always readĀ before watching a film. She has a knack for whetting my appetite for a film, providing a really thorough review, without dropping any spoilers. She covers the big blockbusters, the small indie films, and the vast majority of genres. Plus she lists Samuel L. Jackson as one of her favourite actors, so what’s not to like šŸ˜‰

Nishaantishu

Nishaantishu

Freya is a humanitarian photographer who lives in London and works in various far-flung locations such as India and Pakistan. As you can imagine, her work is pretty exhausting, both physically and emotionally, so she makes a conscious effort to allow herself the time to recharge her batteries when she’s home. Her photos are breathtaking and the accompanying text is very honest and thought-provoking. I’ve appreciated reading her journey to find some peace and quiet without the guilt that so often comes with doing nothing or saying no (to your to-do list, to socialising, or whatever else), because it’s a journey I’ve been on for a few years as well. Especially as a student, I found it so difficult to switch off, and still find it tricky toĀ balance letting myself have some down time without completely losing the will to be productive.

Hope you’re having a great weekend, and have some new favourite blogs to enjoy!

USA, October 2015: Part 2 – Atlanta, GA

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

My aunt, uncle and cousin moved to Atlanta when I was around 10, and although I’d been to visit a few times before, the last time was when I was 16 (12 years ago!) My cousin got married in October though so it was time to take another trip across the Atlantic. We started our holiday with a week by the beach in Florida, and finished up with a long weekend in Atlanta.

The bridal couple had block booked rooms at the Loews and Four Seasons hotels in Midtown, which were a little pricier than James and I had in mind, so after a little look at alternatives we found an amazing apartment on AirBnB, which was right across the street and was a fraction of the cost. I couldn’t believe my luck and told practically everyone I knew about it, so of courseĀ karma bit me in the behind – I received a message from our host about six weeks before our stay, saying that there had been a shooting in the building (!) and that the building managers were tightening up on security and had told him he wasn’t allowed to take AirBnB guests any more. He was really apologetic and we were fully refunded, but by that stage, our options were pretty limited on accommodation nearby – we discovered once we got there that along with our family wedding (the most important event of course), a Taylor Swift concert, a college football game, and the Red Bull Soapbox Race were also being held in town that weekend!

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

On the Friday, after returning our hire car to the airport, we stayed at the Hilton Doubletree Atlanta Airport. It was pretty dated and not really up to the high standard I’d expect from the brand, but was clean and comfortable and fine for one night, and I’ve seen on Tripadvisor that they’re carrying out a refurbishment this Spring so hopefully it’ll be up to scratch again soon. My biggest grievance was that the curtains only covered half the window, and there was an enormous, brightly lit billboard outside, which kept me awakeĀ until 3am, when we finally found the secret full-length curtain, cunningly concealed behind both the stupid half-curtain andĀ a net curtain. Gah. “At least check out isn’t until 12,” I thought, “so I can sleep in…” – untilĀ 9am, when housekeeping rapped loudly several times on every door in the corridor, yelling “HOUSEKEEPING” at the top of her lungs eachĀ time.

Thankfully though, it was all worth it in the end, as weĀ had bookedĀ the beautiful Georgian Terrace for the remainder of our stay. It’s used as home base for actors starring in stage shows at the Fox Theatre across the street, and it’s easy to see why. The architecture is stunning, with two traditional brick buildings connected by a glass and steel foyer, the rooms are stylish, comfortable and spacious, and the staff are friendly and helpful. Admittedly, this hotel also has the stupid curtain set-up, but thankfully we’d already learned that lesson!

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

FridayĀ evening was spent at a family get together at my new cousin-in-law’s apartment, with great food and even better company. I had met the bride before but it was good to meet her extended family, and it’s always lovely to spend time with my own extended family too. The wedding was held at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, which was gorgeous especially with all the autumn leaves. The ceremony was held outside and then we went indoors for a buffet (yum) and a night of traditional Scottish and Romanian dancing! Oh and a little trivia for you – Coldplay’s current singleĀ Adventure of a Lifetime was recorded here.

Callanwolde Center, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Emma's Picture Postcards

Emma's Picture Postcards

with my “little” cousins and sister!

On Sunday James and I went to see the Georgia Aquarium. Admission is around $40 per person, which seemed a little pricy at first glance, but it’s definitely worth it, especially as there’s a fantastic dolphin show included in the general admission. The main aquarium is split into several sections, each one centred around a different ecosystem – freshwater, Arctic, etc. It was a nice way to break up the huge volume of exhibits, and each one felt individual while still containing a range of different creatures.

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

The tanks are spotlessly clean and very large, which allows plenty of viewing windows but also hidden areas where the animalsĀ can beĀ without a human audience. As well as a huge variety of fish and other smaller sea creatures, they have river and sea otters (my favourites), whale sharks, rays, beluga whales, dolphins and penguins. The penguin enclosure has a little tunnel underneath where you can crawl in and poke your head up amongst the penguins… it was quite surreal to see human heads, in perspex tubes, amongst a little flock of penguins! Hard to explain, but hopefully this photo illustrates it a bit better:

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

As well as being visually stunning, Georgia Aquarium is really informative and interactive. The above picture is of a Q&A that one of the staff members was holding with aĀ volunteer diver in the tank, there are info panels throughoutĀ the exhibits, and as I mentioned briefly above, there are a few teams of dolphins who you can see performing and training, which I really enjoyed and also learned plenty from. The one thing that was a bit jarring was how very corporate the exhibits were. I’m all for corporate / charity partnerships where companies gain advertising in exchange for funding research, conservation, etc. TheĀ dolphin show, for example, is called the AT&T Splash 101 (and they must have said the nameĀ about 101 times), and the actual plot of land the aquarium sits on was donated by Coca Cola, so there’s a lot of Coke branding around. All that’s fair enough in my book, but I felt some of the “info” panels around the exhibits were a step too far – they were literally as bad as “beluga whales don’t use plates, but if they did, they’d choose these blue ones from Target”.

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

This fella is in every photo I have of this tank – he wanted to be the star(fish) (groan)

We spent a couple of hours exploring the aquarium late morning, and decided to stick around for the next dolphin show, which was at 2pm. While we waited we popped out to Centennial Park and picked up a delicious hot dog from a street vendor for lunch. Afterwards, we strolled back to our hotel along Peachtree Street, which had been closed for the day for Atlanta Streets Alive – there were loads of people out on bikes, plus a fabulous stilt walker in gold-sequined trousers šŸ˜€

Centennial Park, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Centennial Park, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Fox Theatre, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Fox Theatre and Emory University Hospital, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Mary Mac's, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

We finished up with dinner at Mary Mac’s, a traditional Southern dining room. I loved the unique ordering system of filling out a little slip, the casual, relaxed, community feel of the place, the home made lemonade, and the food – oh my God, the food was heaven. No frills, just a good, hearty, home cooked feed.

And then it was back to normal life! I hope you enjoyed my huge, photo-heavy post, and make sure to check out part 1 if you haven’t already.

USA, October 2015: Part 1 – Destin, FL

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Hello! I’m back, after an unexpected month off from blogging. I was planning to schedule a post or two for while I was away on holiday, which… didn’t happen… and then when I got home it took me a while to get back into the swing of things.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times on here that I had a holiday to the US planned. My cousin, who lives in Atlanta, was getting married, and we (my boyfriend, parents, sister and I) decided to make the most of the opportunity for some beach time as well. To minimise driving time (or, heaven forbid, the cost of flying into and out of different airports) we decided to head for the Florida Panhandle, and after a little bit of searching online we found this beautiful rental apartment in Destin.

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The apartment was one of the best and most spacious rental accommodations I’ve ever stayed in. The kitchen was fully equipped with everything you could need, and there was a lotĀ of storage space, so it would be ideal for a longer stay. It hasĀ three bedrooms, two with king size beds and one with two doubles, and all have en suite bathrooms. There are two balconies, the main one looking out over the marina and accessible from the living room and master bedroom, and the second looking down on to the pool and accessible from the second (our) bedroom.

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The sea was mostly hidden by a neighbouring apartment complex, but we did have a sea view on either side of it, and were treated to some spectacular sunsets. It was also fun to watch the wildlife in the marina – there were oftenĀ enormous shoals of fish circling around in there, and casual fishermen would swing by toĀ haul up a net full of them, plus there was a regular heron, some extremely tame sparrows, and we even saw a great big ray swimming around one day.

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The apartment complex had a beautiful swimming pool, which was mostly deserted, since it was “cold”, to quote the locals – the temperature was in the upper 20’s every day, and perfect for sunbathing as far as we were concerned! We also had an access code allowing us onto the beach – as far as we could tell from exploring, the beach seemed to be entirely private access, so that’s something to bear in mind if you’re visiting Destin. There are some public access beaches in the national parks, but from what I read on Tripadvisor the quality isn’t as high, and you often have to pay for access and/or walk a considerable distance from your car to reach the actual sea side. Anyway, our particular stretch of white sand was pretty perfect, and also quiet, so we were more than content to stay close!

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Since we were visiting out of season, we knew that the majority of Destin’s local attractions would be closed. To be honest though, I’m not sure there was a huge amount we were missing out on, other than Big Kahuna’s, a water park which looked fun, and a weekly fireworks display on the beach front. We were also told that the traffic in summer is CRAZY, and it was stillĀ busy by our standards in October!Ā In any case, our number one priority was just to relax, and we took that seriously šŸ™‚ We did venture out to the local outlet mall – a few items of clothing were found by all, and my sister and I also got a greatĀ deal on a beautiful Calvin Klein handbag each, but it was mostly an exercise in sighing over all the beautiful things – and to try out the tasty cuisine and Southern hospitality. With a member of the party who is both gluten intolerant and a vegetarian, plus another two who don’t like fish or seafood, this turned out to be much more difficult than I would have imagined. Most places have a gluten-free menu, but almost all the dishes on there are meat-based. I can recommend the following though:

La Paz, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The Local Market – We ate here at least three times, and loved it. The decor is lovely, really open, with big wooden tables and benches, with chalk board menus and shelves full of produce. The majority of the lunch menu is sandwiches, which are on the pricier side (around $12-13) but 100% worth it – they are big, stuffed full of high quality, fresh ingredients, and come with generous sides plusĀ a packet of Lays chips (Walkers crisps to us Brits). They also do amazing specials – I had a half rotisserie chicken, which was safelyĀ the biggest portion of chicken I’ve ever had in my life, with friesĀ and coleslaw, for $6. $6, folks. The staff are friendly and relaxed, patiently waited for us to slowwwly decide what we wanted to order, and welcomed us back when we returned.

La Paz – La Paz is next door to, and shares a car park with, The Local Market; I noticed some of the staff in both; The Local Market is open for breakfast and lunch and La Paz is open for dinner; they have a similar vibe… I’m going to go ahead and say they’re sister restaurants, although they’re not advertised as such. Anyway, La Paz is a Mexican restaurant with a friendly, family feel. The decor is quirky, with walls covered (and then some) in fun / crazy art and pictures. Most importantly though, the food is fresh and tasty – the photo above (sorry for the poor quality!) is of the South of the Border salad. 100% of the dishes on the menu are available gluten free (with the carbs coming in the form of corn chips, corn tortillas or rice) and there are plenty of veggie options.

Mimmo’s – A more upmarket option, Mimmo’s is an Italian restaurant open for both lunch and dinner on weekdays, dinner only on weekends. The front windows are almost entirely covered by enormous curtains, which made me doubt it was open despite one of those neon “open” signs, but it’s nice inside and the food and service were great. Gluten free pasta is available, although only one type, but that was a happy compromise.

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture PostcardsĀ Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

A few others we tried:

– Waffle House – The waffles, bacon and maple syrup get my vote; the coffee, not so much. The wait staff were the friendliest of the trip, which is saying something, but this is one to avoid if you’re coeliac – the one “gluten free” option, an omelette, was served with toast…

– TGI Friday’s – TGI’s is TGI’s – reliable quality, if a little overpriced. Bonus points for an extra lovely waiter, and a complete GF menu including dessert, beer and cider.

– Pizza Hut – mentioned here only because the GF pizza was enjoyed; the rest of us suffered from huge amounts of grease! The restaurant was largeĀ but always empty, which is never a good sign.

Cheeseburger in Paradise – goodĀ fries, and a GF vegetarian burger!

Island Wing CompanyĀ – really good, baked chicken wings. Choose how many you want (from 5 to 100!) and which of the many sauces takes your fancy. We visited on a Sunday lunch time so there were several different NFL games showing on the multiple TV screens, which was… overwhelming. When we left I noticed that they have an outdoor seating area with only one screen, so if I were to go back I’d definitely sit there!

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

I hope y’all šŸ˜‰ have a lovely weekend. I’m off to a ceilidh tonight and a wedding reception tomorrow, and inspired by this post by Sunny Sweet Pea, I think I might have a relaxing movie day on Sunday to recover!