Street Art in Ireland

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Wherever I travel in the world, I always take photos of any street art I see and share it with you all here on my blog. In Ireland I didn’t see much street art at all, even in the cities I visited like Cork and Limerick. However, on our last full day in Ireland and just as I was thinking there was no street art to be found, we arrived in Waterford. There are only a few photos, but I just had to share them with you all before I finished my series on Ireland.

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Back to Rosslare

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

For our return trip to Rosslare to catch the ferry back to Wales, we travelled across land and stopped off in Tipperary and Waterford on the way. After learning that my family name is actually originally from Tipperary, I was even more excited to see some of the county. I was glad that I’d been given a heads up, because when we stopped in the town of Tipperary my surname was everywhere. It was on estate agents’ signs and shop fronts all over the place. I know there is only a slim chance I may be distantly related to one of them, but it felt comforting to find another connection with my family history.

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Our other stop on our last full day in Ireland was at Waterford, our main reason for visiting that we have a friend who is from there. She said we couldn’t visit Ireland without stopping by her hometown. Waterford is probably most famous for its tradition of glass manufacturing, which centres around the House of Waterford Crystal, although some designers have broken away and started their own collections. Aside from the glass manufacturing, which was at its heyday in the 18th century, there is a lot more history to be explored in Waterford if you have the time. I found the town to be a great mix of old and new and, although the locals exhibit the same exceptionally high level of welcoming customer service as elsewhere in Ireland, it still very much has the feel of a port town where people just stop off on their way to somewhere else.

Eating Vegan in Ireland

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

I only have one word to describe all the vegan food I tried while I was in Ireland – wow! The same as when I travel anywhere, I searched every destination we stopped at on Happy Cow to find out where the best vegan food was to be found.

Here are the restaurants we tried, and I would recommend them all. There are lots more to choose from, and I wish I’d had the time to try them too. Just another reason to return to Ireland I guess.

Quay Co-op, Cork

There is so much to choose from at this great eatery. And make sure you leave room for dessert, including gluten-free options. They also have a HUGE health food store on the ground floor.

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Box of Frogs, Bantry

Tell the chef what foods you like, and he’ll whip you up an amazing dish from the delicious components he has in his fridge. They also serve incredible smoothies and great coffee.

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Dish, Tralee

Great tasting vegan alternatives to some comfort food classics are on offer at this great little restaurant in Tralee. Burritos are their speciality, but if you’re looking for a vegan cooked breakfast this is the place to go.

The Grove Veggie Kitchen, Limerick

Tell one of the lovely ladies behind the counter what you dietary requirements are, give them €10 and they will exchange it for a huge plate of satisfying, plant-based deliciousness. They’d unfortunately been victims of a break-in the night before we visited, but that didn’t slow them down at all and we were still greeted with that great Irish welcome.

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Momo, Waterford

Right in the centre of Waterford, eating at Momo is an amazing experience. Lovely food, lovely people and a great atmosphere. The chef even came to our table to ask if my vegan, gluten-free dessert was OK.

 

The Ring of Kerry

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Although driving for 8 days hadn’t seemed like a great prospect for a vacation, I have to admit that driving around Ireland was a really enjoyable experience. For one day, though, I decided to take a day off driving and go on a coach tour of the Ring of Kerry.

Booking an excursion in Ireland reminded me of trying to book an excursion in Iceland. Everyone is so laid back. There were two excursion companies I could choose from, and I decided to go with O’Connor Autotours because I would be able to park my car for free near their head office. I’d been phoning them the day before the excursion, as instructed on their information leaflet. When no-one answered I sent an email, but got no reply. I got up early the next morning anyway, and tried the phone number one more time only for a lady to answer like there was no hurry (an hour before the bus was due to leave).

I think they were amused at someone with an Irish name booking the excursion (this is the only place in the world that I haven’t had to spell it for them) and it was the lady who greeted me at the coach who told me that my family name is actually from Tipperary, not Cork as we had always been led to believe.

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As with the whole of the Wild Atlantic Way, the scenery on the Ring of Kerry is absolutely breathtaking. There are a few photo stops, but the disadvantage of being on a coach is there aren’t many places it can stop. It was nice not driving for the day, but I missed the flexibility of just pulling the car over to the side of the road. There are also stops for, as described in the promotional literature, ‘tea/coffee/guinness’ – only in Ireland!

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Our first proper stop was at The Kerry Bog Village. Peat is a soil that is made up of the partially rotted remains of dead plants which have accumulated on top of each other in waterlogged places for thousands of years. In Ireland, it is used as a source of fuel. The buildings at The Kerry Bog Village show what life was like for various local inhabitants  during the 18th and 19th centuries, when everything revolved around the digging-up and trading of the peat. Just like wooden logs are stored as fuel in other parts of the world, the peat rolls are stacked, albeit in a slightly more floppy style, against houses and places of work.

Next up was the sheep dog demonstration. As a vegan I chose not to partake. Besides, I spent a lot of time at agricultural shows as a child, part of which is always a sheep dog show. There are only so many times you can watch a frustrated border collie try to persuade a flock of sheep to run into a pen. I wonder if there’s ever been a sheep dog who has refused to perform for the show. I know I’d be annoyed if I’d spent an hour rounding up the sheep only for the farmer to release them again ready for the next bus load of tourists. Apparently the sheep herding demonstrations is one of the most popular attractions in Ireland and visitors, excuse the pun, flock back every year to watch it. Everyody who went to watch the demonstration in our group seemed suitably impressed when they returned to the coach, so I’d say it’s worth the 5 euro entry fee if it interests you.

We stopped at the most bizarre restaurant for lunch. It’s a self-service restaurant that also has waiting staff.  As you enter the restaurant, a server greets you and carries your food tray for you as you decide what you want to eat. The same server will then seat you at a table. I get the impression they came up with this strange system years ago, and everybody is too scared to tell them what an actual self-service restaurant looks like. I completely screwed up the system by saying I only wanted a coffee, at which point I was politely told I’d have to carry my own coffee cup and would still have to queue for food. The other diners around me seemed to be so pressurised throughout the whole conveyor belt, I could hear them panic ordering fish and chips and vegetable soup. I’d be surprised if they ever sold the last item listed on the menu, even the fastest reader in the world coudn’t get to it before they were pushed to the checkout.

Aside from the bizarre lunch experience, I have to say the Ring of Kerry excursion was well worth it and a welcome break from doing all the driving myself. Our driver/guide was very entertaining and informative. He also proved my theory that visitors from overseas generally understand the Irish accent and dialect better that us Brits do. There were parts of his guiding speech that I completely missed, but my fellow passengers from far flung parts of the globe were laughing along with him.

 

Useful info

Ring of Kerry Excursion with O’Connor Autotours €25 to pay on coach, €21 via Paypal

Entry to The Kerry Bog Village €5

Sheep Dog Demonstration €5

Camping in Ireland

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

First of all, I would like to apologise for this post not being as good as it could be. I spent about an hour writing a post about my experience of camping in Ireland, only for WordPress to delete it!

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When we disembarked the ferry at Rosslare, we casually drove towards the south coast, expecting there to be lots of camp sites to choose from along the way. We learnt the hard way that, although there are many campsites along the west coast of Ireland, there isn’t so much choice further south. After a few hours driving, and stopping as a coffee shop where a kind barista did his best to give us some encouraging words, I spotted a teeny, tiny sign for a campsite in the village of Leap. It was already gone 9pm, so I turned the car off the main road and followed the signs to The Meadow, Glandore. I  felt a bit rude turning up so late, but the owner didn’t bat an eyelid. The campsite was lovely, with good facilities and just a short walk from the village. Although very quiet, Glandore is a beautiful setting to sit with a drink in the evening.

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Purely by chance, we also happened to be camped about a mile from the Drombeg Stone Circle, which my friend had really, really wanted to visit.

We decided to camp in 2 different sites on our trip, and use them as bases to explore the area. Equally as lovely was our second campsite, Woodlands Park at Tralee. Virtually in the town centre, it’s really convenient for exploring both Tralee and the surrounding area. The campsite also has great facilities including Wi-Fi, a TV room and even a fully fitted campers kitchen and BBQ area (apologies to all my fellow campers who were trying to eat their dinner when I lit our BBQ and smoked you out).

Ireland seems to be a perfect mix of what you  would consider traditionally Irish and modern European. For example, you still have to pay cash in a lot of places as they don’t accept card, but that cash is euros. The campsites, though, feel very European. At least the ones I experienced did. They were all very clean, well thought-out with great facilities. I find it annoying in Wales that, unless you stay on a very basic site (ie a field with a toilet if you’re lucky), you are charged based on the size of your tent. Even though, whether I take my 2-man or 4-man tent, I’m still given the same size pitch. Rules, which there are a long list of, are often very strict on UK campsites. I’m sometimes not allowed in at all because I ‘look young and could make noise’. I was once questioned by a campsite owner when I was travelling on my own with my young godson, I wondered how much trouble they expected me to make with a 5 year old. In Ireland, all they asked was how many of us there were and if we wanted electric hook-up.

As we had to catch the ferry at 8am the next morning, on our last night in Ireland we decided to stay at a hotel in Rosslare.

Useful Info

Off-peak camping for 2 adults @ The Meadow, Glandore: €22 per night + €1 for shower

Off-peak camping for 2 adults @ Woodlands Park, Tralee €24 per night (showers included)

The Wild Atlantic Way

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Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

After having trepidation about driving so many miles and for so many hours on what was supposed to be my week off, by far my most favourite part of the trip to Ireland was driving along the coast. For most of it we hopped on and off The Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500 km driving route that passes through 9 counties and 3 provinces.

We only covered a tiny part of this outstandingly beautiful stretch of coastline, taking in places like Mizen Head, Bantry, Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry. I will talk more about the Ring of Kerry in a later post, but for now I wanted to share some photos with you that I took along the way and let the spectacular scenery do the talking for itself.

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On a humorous note, my friend and I didn’t realise we had been following the Wild Atlantic Way until we had already covered part of it. My friend said to me ‘What are all those signs with the hearts I keep seeing everywhere?’ and I answered ‘What hearts? All I keep seeing is the signs with the waves on’. It turns out we were both mistaking the WAW symbol for other shapes.

If I am ever lucky enough to return to Ireland, and I intend to one day, my trip will be planned around driving the coast taking in all the little bits I missed on the South West coast this time and travelling further north to discover more.

Finding my ancestry at a kebab shop in Cork

Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

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My main motivation for travelling to Republic of Ireland is that is where my grandfather grew up. My grandfather died when I was 10 years old and, although I spent a lot of time with him, he rarely spoke about his childhood or his family. There were rumours and snatches of information that had been passed from other family members to my grandma and my dad, but I didn’t really know that much about him. A few years ago, my dad decided to research our family tree to find out more. Considering I am a product of my family, it was no surprise to discover that they moved around a lot, and therefore it’s difficult to find useful information. We do know, though, that my great-grandfather was a cabinet maker. Although raised in Ireland for some of his life before they moved to England, my grandfather was actually born in Scotland because that is where his dad happened to be working at the time. One document my dad did manage to uncover was the marriage certificate of my great-grandparents, which detailed their addresses in Cork. With the information that my dad had already gathered, I was fairly confident I could find at least one of the properties where my family had lived. My great-grandmother appears to have lived just outside the city before she was married, although I was unable to find the exact address on a google search. I think I know which area she lived in, but I suspect it has been redeveloped, and therefore decided not to pursue that one. My great-grandfather’s house, however, is on Coburg Street, virtually in the city centre. Even with my ability to get lost anywhere, it was easy to find.

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I should probably let you all know at this point that the house my great-grandfather lived in is now a kebab shop run by immigrants, which by the way, my dad found hilarious when I told him. I wasn’t expecting to find anything other than a building, if I was lucky, and I know I’m unlikely to have family still in Cork. I was just happy to stand in front of the house where one of my ancestors lived. Coming from a family that has moved around so much, and had various scandals and tragedies that have resulted in records and documents being lost, it was just nice to have a concrete connection to my great-grandfather. I doubt he would have ever thought about his great-granddaughter travelling from Wales one day just to see his house. I really liked the neighbourhood, too, and if for some reason you do find yourself on Coburg Street there’s a cool little coffee shop on the corner that weirdly reminded me of being in Alaska.

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It was great to visit the city of Cork too. I hadn’t really thought about what cities in Ireland might be like. I would expect Dublin to be big, but I wasn’t sure what to expect with the smaller cities. Cork, like Limerick where we would visit later in the week, both seemed nice. They have everything you would expect of a city centre, with a nice atmosphere and a slightly more laid back feeling than other cities I have visited. Most of the tourist attractions seem to be churches, which doesn’t really interest me, but it was nice to spend time in both cities. Whilst we were in Cork, I also learnt that there is a district called Blackpool. I was born in Blackpool, England. Although I would like to think there is some unconscious connection between the two thanks to my family, I imagine that the residents of Cork also just had a muddy swamp they wanted to drain to build houses on.

Coburg Street is as far back as my dad has been able to trace that part of his family. However, purely by chance I may have discovered some more information whilst I was in Ireland. Towards the end of my trip, I went on a bus excursion around the Ring of Kerry. One advantage for me being in Ireland is that, as I have an Irish surname, it’s the first place I have travelled that I don’t have to spell it for people. The lady who took my ticket immediately noticed my Irish name and also that I am clearly not Irish. She asked where my family are from, and I told her Cork. She then asked if I was sure, because apparently my surname comes from Tipperary. I passed the knowledge on to my dad, who so far had found no Tipperary connection in his research. Who knows, though? One day I might be stood in front of a kebab shop in Tipperary thinking ‘this is where my great-great-grandfather lived’.

1,000 miles of new places

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Wow, I have had such a busy summer so far. I feel like I’ve barely had time to keep up with my laundry, let alone keep up with my  blog. We’re still only halfway through the summer as well, and I have lots more activities and trips planned. A few weeks ago I spent an amazing few days at Vegan Camp Out 2017. I initially planned to camp alone, but thanks to the magic of facebook I joined up with a group of other ‘vegan lonelies’ and we all camped together. Vegan Camp Out was such an incredible experience, I would highly recommend it to anyone who is vegan or vegan-curious.

Before going to Vegan Camp Out, I spent 8 days driving around Republic of Ireland with a friend. I’ve wanted to visit Republic of Ireland for so long, mainly because my grandfather’s family originate from there and I’ve always wanted to see where that part of my family are from. In the end, it was a random and slightly drunken conversation in a pub that got me there. My friend, who was born in Ireland and moved to Wales when she was a small child, and I were having a few drinks one night and talking about how we would both like to go to Ireland. The conversation soon developed to plans of how we could drive around the country and camp along the way. Cork and Limerick, the two cities where our families are from, were on the list of must-see places to visit, along with Waterford because we have a mutual friend from there so said we couldn’t visit Ireland without stopping by her home town. My friend then started telling me about all the other places we could visit, which meant nothing to me as at that time I had zero knowledge of the geography of Ireland. Everywhere sounded amazing, though, and I wanted to visit them all too.

A few days later, my friend turned up at my house with a road map of Ireland and I realised that this trip was definitely happening. Less than 3 months later, we were in a car packed with camping gear heading for Fishguard ferry terminal. Now, I have to tell you at this point that we didn’t pick the cheapest or particularly the easiest way to get to Ireland. Taking a car on the ferry is expensive, although there are some special offers if you book in advance, which we didn’t. If you’re travelling on a budget, flying to Ireland or catching the ferry as a foot passenger and then hiring a car on the other side is probably a better option. As we wanted to take our camping gear, though, we decided the extra spend was worth it.

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The ferry journey between Fishguard and Rosslare with Stena Line takes just over 3 hours each way and, for us at least, the sailing was very smooth. From Wales, you can also sail from Pembroke or Holyhead. I did have a small chuckle at the choice of film they showed on the ferry journey over. They decided to screen ‘Sully’, a true story about a plane crash-landing in New York. I wondered if it was their not-so-subtle way to convince people to stick with ferry travel.

I try to keep an open mind and not listen to other people’s reviews when I visit new places. When I told people I was visiting Ireland, that was difficult. Everyone was eager to tell me what a beautiful country it is, how friendly the Irish are and how much I would love my trip. Even people who had never visited Ireland before had something to share with me. Incidentally, people also told me that the Guinness tastes much nicer in Ireland (apparently it doesn’t travel well), but as I’m allergic to gluten I was never going to be able to prove that either way. After everyone’s rave reviews, I hoped that I wasn’t going to be disappointed.

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Thankfully, and probably not surprisingly, Ireland was everything I had been told and more. Although I’d decided to take my own car over on the ferry, I was slightly concerned about spending my holiday driving. I can’t imagine a visitor to Wales driving around the country for a week and then describing it as relaxing and enjoyable at the end. Driving in Ireland, though, was an enjoyable experience. It’s a great way to explore the country if you want to see as much as possible, at your own pace, with the flexibility of being able to stop when and where you want. There are 3 types of road in Ireland – national, regional and local. They are all really easy to navigate, and everywhere is very well signposted. There are tolls on some of the national roads. The tolls are only a few euros, but I’d advise you keep some euros change in the front of your car so you don’t get caught out like we did. Rooting around through bags and camping gear in the back of the car looking for cash while you’re holding up the other traffic waiting to pass through the toll isn’t the most fun experience. Unlike my fellow drivers here in the UK, who would have responded to being held up by beeping their car horns and getting aggressive, they simply sit back, smile and wait patiently in Ireland. In fact, I’m pretty sure if they saw you searching for change for long enough, one of them would probably get out of their car and pay your toll for you.

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We didn’t have a definite plan when we arrived in Ireland, just a list of places we would like to visit. We ended up taking a circular route south, past Cork, and down to the South West coast taking in Bantry and Mizen Head. Then, we headed further up the west coast to Tralee and visited the Dingle Peninsula, the Ring of Kerry and Limerick. On our return to Rosslare, we travelled across country and stopped in Tipperary and Waterford. I’ll tell you more about all of these places, as well as sharing lots more photos, in further posts.

Useful Info

Return ferry for 2 adults in 1 car Fisguard to Rosslare cost us €405. If you’re taking a car from the UK, make sure your car has a green card and you’re covered for European travel on your insurance and breakdown cover.

Júrmala

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Thanks to the unique way that Ryanair flights are scheduled (ie when no-one else wants to fly), on my recent trip to Riga I arrived 3 hours before the rest of my group and left 7 hours after them. This equated to a whole day on my own in Latvia. The first 3 hours I spent finding a health food shop in Riga, and generally getting lost in various parts of the city. The 7 hours I had spare on the last day I used to explore outside of the city.

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During our walking tour of the old town with our excellent guide Tom, he’d told us about Júrmala. About 25 kilometres (16 miles) west of Riga, Júrmala is a resort town that stretches 32 kilometres (20 miles) between the Gulf of Riga and the Lielupe river. The sea side of Júrmala has beautiful sandy beaches stretching along it’s whole length.

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Only about a 30 minute train journey from Riga city centre depending on where you get off in Júrmala (I’d recommend Majori), the resort is very easy to access. And if you’ve been wondering why Riga is fairly quiet for a city on the weekends, it’s because this is where all the inhabitants are hanging out. On the Sunday I visited I think it was particularly busy in Júrmala as we were experiencing a heatwave. The beach was the place to be. As with a lot of things in Latvia, it’s also very cheap. I’m not sure whether I bought a single or return ticket (I asked for a return but the lady at the ticket desk wasn’t the most communicative person I’ve ever met), but I paid less than 4 euros. Back home in Cardiff, 4 euros would barely get me to the train station on the bus.

Júrmala is also known for it’s buildings. All the guidebooks describe the architecture as romantic and classical, to me they just looked like something out of an American movie. Immaculate, pristine hotels that have been preserved in their original style stand next to abandoned houses that would be a renovator’s dream. Both are beautiful and intriguing, and I could have spent a whole day taking photos of the buildings alone.

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Away from the beach, the main shopping street is buzzing with tourists and Latvians. As I walked along eating my sorbet (I could have hugged the guy when he said he sold dairy-free), I could have been back in Skagway, Alaska mixing with the cruise ship passengers.

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As much as Júrmala felt comfortingly familiar, there is also a definite uniqueness about the place. I might not have known much about Latvia before I went there, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to find a beach resort with such character only a short train journey from the capital city. Purely by chance, I happened to walk past a derelict plot that was boarded up at 4pm. There was a group of people stood by the temporary wall, singing beautifully. A sign on the wall explained that a church once stood on the site, and even though it’s no longer there the congregation still gather at 4pm every Sunday to worship.

If you find yourself in Riga and you have a spare afternoon, I would definitely recommend an excursion out to Júrmala. And if it’s a hot day, the dairy-free sorbet is a must too.

Riga

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I kind of have a split personality when it comes to travelling.

I travel on my own quite a lot. There are a lot of advantages to travelling solo. For one thing, I get to do pretty much everything I want to whenever I want. I also tend to meet more travellers when I’m on my own and make friendships, however fleeting, that I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced. As a vegan traveller, when I’m on my own I will try and get to every vegan-friendly food outlet listed on Happy Cow. I also tend to research destinations intensely, and by the time I get there I have a clear idea of what I’m going to see and do.

Other times, I travel as part of a group. This version of me is almost the complete opposite of the solo traveller me. If someone else is planning the trip, I barely know anything more than which flight I’m on. And sometimes I’m not even clear on that. When I’m in a group, I’m happy to follow everyone else and see what happens.

My recent trip to Riga was as part of a group. Other than it being the capital of Latvia, I knew very little about Riga before I went there. Our long weekend was kindly organised by friends I first met when I travelled in Alaska. They planned a fun-filled, varied weekend for 8 of us and they couldn’t have done a better job. I got to experience the culture of Latvia, learn about the history and also party the night away in some of the best night spots.

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One of the advantages of group travel is that I get to experience activities that I wouldn’t be able to on my own. Bowling, for example, isn’t much fun if you haven’t got anyone to compete with. Whilst in Latvia, we took party in an Escape Rooms challenge and also enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in a top spa. The two activities could not have been more different, and both would have been more than a little awkward had I been on my own. I think it was a good idea we did the Escape Rooms first, after one of the most adrenalin-fuelled, stressful but also immensely fun 60 minutes of my life, I definitely needed that spa experience. I don’t want to give anything away about the Escape Rooms, but our group did manage to escape with 5 minutes to spare :).

Over the past year, I have developed a new obsession whenever I travel anywhere. I have to find a free walking tour. For the price of a well-deserved tip, you get to experience your destination at an easy pace with an enthusiastic guide. The free walking tour of Riga did not disappoint. Our guide Toms was very entertaining and informative. He gave us a potted history of the city, and also Latvia in general, and showed us lots of points of interest in the old town that we would have otherwise walked past without even noticing. I think the most interesting part for me was learning about The Baltic Way. Although I was alive, albeit a child, during this event, I have no memory of seeing it on the news at all. To peacefully protest their right to independence, inhabitants of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia joined hands and formed a continuous line through their three capital cities. If you want to learn more about this incredible feat, which was planned and executed in just one month, click on the link and watch the video made by a 6th grader. She does a much better job of explaining the history and significance of the event than I ever could.

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