Toledo

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

If you do visit Madrid, I highly recommend you take a day out to also explore Toledo. There aren’t many destinations that make me literally say ‘wow’, but Toledo is definitely on that list.

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We booked the bus excursion to Toledo with Sandemans. At €25 per person, it’s definitely not the cheapest way to get there (if you’re travelling on a budget, I’m pretty sure there’s a direct train) but I would highly recommend it. When we arrived in Toledo, we were joined on our bus by an excellent tour guide. She took us on a panoramic drive of the city outskirts first, and then walked us into the city for a much more detailed tour. Myself and my friend were the only two non-Spanish speakers, but the guide went out of her way to translate everything so we didn’t miss a thing.

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Toledo wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The ancient city, one of the most impressive I’ve seen, sits atop a hill and inside thick city walls. At the bottom of the hill, the river further protects the city. You can try Europe’s longest urban zip line over the gorge. I did feel a little pride when I noticed the ‘urban’ had been recently added to the promotional material, the longest overall zip line in Europe now being in North Wales.

The very modern escalator that takes you from the bus station up to the top of the hill seems very out of place in the ancient city, but the majority of people wouldn’t have any breath left to explore anything if they had to take the steps instead.

If you’re particularly into religious history, you’ll love Toledo. And if you’re not, it’s lovely just to get lost in the narrow streets and wander.

Top tip – there are some lovely wine bars on the back streets of Toledo where you can taste some incredible, and very cheap wines. Also, there aren’t really vegan options in Toledo (the one and only vegetarian restaurant has closed), so you might want to take some food along with you.

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El Retiro Park

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

Although I live in a city, and I enjoy visiting cities, I also quite often need to get away from all the hustle and bustle. Every good city has a great park. In Madrid, that park is El Retiro. Over 125 hectares of peaceful, tranquil surroundings help you forget you’re in a large city. There is so much in the park to explore, especially on a nice sunny day. Here are a few photos from my time there.

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Madrid

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The eagle-eyed amongst you, especially if you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, will know that I actually visited Madrid before I went to Jersey. My intention was to blog about Madrid first, but then life got in the way and that’s not how things turned out. I definitely do want to tell you about my trip to Madrid, though, because I loved it there so much.

There have been quite a few new followers to Sasieology recently. First of all, welcome to all of you. For those of you not yet aware of our philosophy, Sasieology is all about achieving your dreams. One of the goals I have set myself is to visit as many new destinations and try as many new activities as I can. A good friend of mine, who I actually met when I was working overseas, and I try to meet up once in a while. As Ryanair had a sale, we decided it would be fun to go somewhere in Europe for a few days.We looked at our options, and Madrid was the one place neither of us had been to, so that’s where we went.

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I wouldn’t recommend Ryanair as an airline, but if you want to get between two points and not spend much money they will get you there. Although they inflate their estimated flight times to make it look like they land a lot earlier than they actually do, they also want to avoid paying compensation so will usually get you there on time as well. Safety is the number one priority for Ryanair, and the only thing they will not compromise on. The downside to flying with them is that they will compromise on everything else, and try to save/earn money wherever they can. On our flight we were joined by a very loud, rowdy, offensive group of British men. It was clear pre-takeoff that they were going to be a problem, but the cabin crew continued to serve them alcohol and did little to control them. The Spanish passengers were visibly shocked at the behaviour. Quite a few people complained, including families with young children, and for doing so were met with a torrent of abuse from some of the men. The attitude of the cabin crew was that they didn’t really want to get involved, and as they work for an awful company that probably pay them peanuts I couldn’t blame them.

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Fortunately, Madrid is big enough that we didn’t bump into the abusive men from our flight again. We booked 4 nights accommodation only at Hostal Santillan. In Spain, a hostal is different to a hostel, although they do have plenty of the latter as well. A hostal offers private room only accommodation to the same standard as a hotel room. It’s like you’re staying in a hotel, but without all the extra facilities. Hostal Santillan is located on the top floor of a beautiful old apartment building on Gran Via, one of the main streets of the city. Our en-suite room was the perfect place from which to explore Madrid.

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As is now my habit when I visit a new city, the first thing I did was find information about free walking tours. If you are of at least a moderate fitness level, I highly recommend joining free walking tours. They are a great way to get your bearings in a city, learn about the history and culture, meet new people (considering we have such a small population, there always seems to be one other person from Wales!) and find out about other things to do. The guides are people who live in that city, and they will often tell you about events and hidden gems off the beaten path that you wouldn’t otherwise have known about. Their income, ie the tip you give them, depends on how good an experience they provide so they’re always keen to impress. Our guide, Sebastian, explained the slightly complicated and almost unbelievable history of the Spanish royal family to us by convincing others in our group to play the different characters. It was the most entertaining history lesson I’ve ever attended.

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In order to see as much of Madrid as possible, we combined the walking tour with a ticket for the Madrid City Tour hop-on hop-off bus. Central Madrid is fairly easy to walk around, it’s not very big, although I would recommend using Google maps if you don’t have a great sense of direction. Here are some of my favourite bits.

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Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor is the focal point of Madrid’s medieval quarter, also known as Madrid de los Austrias in reference to the Habsbury Dynasty who ruled Spain from 1517 to 1700. Having both worked in Austria, my friend and I have long since accepted the inability to escape the legacy of the Habsburgs. It was no surprise to us to be hearing about them again in Spain. The square is surrounded on all sides by restaurants and expensive-looking apartments. This is also where you’ll find the tourist information office. Just off the square is Sobrino de Botin, a restaurant that was founded in 1725 and is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest continuously operating in the world. It’s not recommended for vegans, though, their speciality is suckling pig. The reason I wanted to mention the restaurant, though, is because it plays another big part in the history of Spanish food. Tapas literally means ‘cover’ or ‘coaster’. Back in the days when Sobrino de Botin would have been one of the few places for weary travellers to stop for a bite to eat on their way into the medieval city, beer was the drink of choice. Back then, water was far from the healthiest option because it usually contained a lot of things you definitely wouldn’t want to drink. Beer, on the other hand, was fermented and therefore much safer. However, is was also very popular with the flies that lived in the hot climate. Restauranteurs, also concerned about the drunken state their customers were in when getting back on their horses, began handing out small portions of food that neatly fit on top of the beer glasses. The  happy patrons, a stomach full of tasty food and no flies, went on their way.

In the middle of Paza Mayor is a statue of King Philip III riding his horse. The statue originally stood in the extensive El Retiro Park, a much more spacious location. When the statue was moved to the plaza, a horrendous stench emitting from it led to a rumour that it was cursed. It was only when the statue was pulled down by protestors during the Franco dictatorship of Spain that the truth was revealed. Hundreds of bird bones fell out of the statue, causing the protestors to flee in fear. Later, a small hole was found in the statute that the birds could enter through, but due to the angle they couldn’t fly back out again.

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Street Signs

This may seem an odd thing to highlight in a city as exciting and varied as Madrid, but they have the most intruiging street signs I’ve ever seen. Every street is named for a particular meaning, and the signs are illustrated with intricate paintings on ceramic tiles. You only have to notice one to become addicted to the game of translating the Spanish name and working out what the picture means.

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Meninas Madrid

The Meninas, or Maids of Honour, of Madrid are placed all around the city as part of an art project. Each one is designed by a different artist. I’ve seen similar projects in other cities. Here in Cardiff, we had sculptures of dogs in aid of a local charity. As with the street signs, you soon become very excited to find another Menina that you’ve not spotted before as you walk around the city. If you feel the need to find them all, there’s an online map you can follow.

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Temple of Debod

As well as all the classical periods of architecture you would expect to see in an old European city, Madrid also has some unusual sites as a result of various influences. My favourite by far is the Temple of Debod. I think I would love this Egyptian temple, reconstructed brick by brick in the centre of Madrid, wherever it was in the world. Although the public are not currently allowed to access the temple, it’s so serene to walk around the outside edge of the still pool. But what makes the temple so special is that, right behind where I was stood taking this photo, there is a bustling major European city.

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Puerta del Sol

As well as being a great point at which to gain your bearings in Madrid, which with my sense of direction I had to do a few times, Puerta del Sol is also the centre of the radial network of Spanish roads. Look for the queue of people waiting to have their photo taken at km 0  on the opposite site of the road from the metro station.

Puerta del Sol is a cool place to hang out, day and night. This is where the 2 bus routes of the Madrid City Tour cross over. Some of the most extreme human statues I’ve ever seen mix with other street entertainers and photo opportunities. There’s also a web cam on the corner of one building that transmits a photo every few seconds, so your friends and family can watch you live. Be careful, though, pickpockets take advantage of the large crowds and easy distractions.

Useful Info

Ryanair flight Stansted to Madrid return: £51.56 per person

4 nights twin room at Hostal Santillan: £265

Madrid City Tour hop-on hop-off bus: €21 per adult

 

Brigton Street Art

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A couple of weeks ago, I was supposed to go to a vegan festival that was sadly cancelled. So, myself and two friends who were also supposed to be at the festival decided to camp in Hassocks for a few days. Just 2 short stops on the train from Brighton, it’s the perfect place to stay in the summer months if you want to visit the city considered by many to be the vegan capital of Britain. I’ve been to Brighton quite a few times, and it’s never somewhere I tire of visiting. Every time I go there, I find some cool new vegan cafe, or quirky little shop like nothing else I’ve seen. Highlights on this trip included one of the tastiest vegan and gluten free burgers I’ve ever eaten at Green Kitchen, and trying incredible teas at Bird & Blend. My two friends had never been to Brighton before, so it was also cool to see things through their eyes as a vegan visiting for the first time. I’ve blogged about Brighton before, so I’m not going to go on about it today. One thing I did want to share with you, though, is my new photos of the street art in Brighton. While there are old classics that have remained for years, there is also new work constantly appearing on walls, shop fronts, in fact pretty much anywhere you can get a spray can or a paint brush to. I also noticed that one of the streets I photographed last time is now being built over. I guess that’s a sign that things develop and move on. The builders, though, haven’t painted over the art on the surrounding walls, they’ve simply built another wall in front of them. I’d like to think that, in many years to come when that area is developed and rebuilt once again, someone will be pleasantly surprised to uncover original street art from the early 21st century.

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Guernsey

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

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For my two night add-on trip to Guernsey, I stayed on the outskirts of St Peter Port, the capital of the island. Just like St Helier on Jersey, the harbour is right in the town centre, so travelling by boat is super easy.

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As the ferry sailed into St Peter Port, I immediately noticed that Guernsey  is quite different to Jersey. For one, the hills are a lot steeper. When I booked my accommodation on booking.com, the guest house was described as a 25 minute walk from the harbour. I figured that would be fairly easy with just hand luggage. What I didn’t realise, however, was that the 25 minute walk was up a near vertical climb. OK, that may be an exaggeration, but the residents of St Peter Port must have some of the strongest leg muscles in the world walking up and down those hills all day. When I found my guesthouse, I was a little annoyed to discover a sign on the door telling new guests to check in at another hotel, 80m back down the hill. Not overjoyed at the thought of having to back track, only to then climb the same 80m again still carrying my rucksack, I set off back down the hill. I passed two guys who saw my expression, smiled at me and said ‘we just did the same thing’. Somebody was definitely looking down on me during my time on Guernsey, though. My first bit of good luck was the receptionist telling me he had a spare room in the main hotel and giving me a free upgrade, also saving me that extra 80m trek in the bargain.

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I made a lot of journeys up and down that hill in the following two days. St Peter Port’s labyrinth of winding, narrow streets and my distinct lack of any sense of direction combined to ensure I never took the same route twice. Every time I was confident I’d figured out the best route, I’d find myself stuck in a dead end or approaching the coast a couple of hundred metres along from where I expected to be. It also took me a while to figure out the different harbours, which is an issue when the guide book uses them as landmarks. That is the charm of St Peter Port, though. It’s a great place to just wander and get lost, enjoy a coffee or window shop. On my first evening there, I grabbed some snacks from the Co-operative (still an actual local Co-operative on the Channel Islands) and made the most of the lovely weather by sitting on one of the harbours to enjoy my dinner. There are not many places in the world that would let you sit on a park bench amongst multi-million pound yachts while you munch on hummus and vegetables, but the boat owners seemed quite happy to leave me be while they went about their business.

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Guernsey is about half the size of Jersey, although with about two thirds of the population so the roads are quite a bit busier. They’re also a lot narrower, especially across the middle of the island where it is very rural, the speed limit down to 15 mph in most places. I assume because of the narrower roads and slightly lower, although still pretty high, level of wealth on the island, cars are generally smaller. There are very few of the huge, four wheel drive monsters that are a common show of personal wealth on Jersey, even though their roads aren’t really designed for them nor does the terrain require it. Cars on Guernsey are more practical, they have to be otherwise no-one would ever get anywhere. I did notice one man driving round in a very flash sports car, which I thought odd because he must never get it over 30 mph. He seemed happy, though.

As I spent a whole day on Herm, I only had half a day to explore outside of St Peter Port. My flight was departing at 4pm, so I needed a way to see the island and still get back to my hotel in time to leave for the airport at 2.45pm (the nice staff at the Grisnoir Guesthouse/Abbey Court Hotel offer free transport to and from the airport). There is a local bus service that loops the island, but due to it’s size it’s restricted to the wider roads along the coast. I considered hiring a car, but it’s difficult to actually see anything when you’re the one trying to navigate the roads, and I wouldn’t have had a clue what I was looking at anyway. I ventured to the Guernsey Information Centre for some inspiration, only to find there wasn’t much on offer. Then I noticed a flyer for Tour Guernsey. Run by Andy Taylor, born and bred on the island who just wants to show everyone how amazing his home is, they offer unique tours of the island in their 11 seater Land Rover. And, the tours are approximately 3 hours long to fit in with cruise ship arrivals, so it was perfect for me. For not much more than I would have  paid for the hire car, I’d also got a real local guide  who could tell me all about the things I was looking at. This was when my second wave of good luck hit me. None of the cruise ship passengers wanted to join the tour that day. It was a German cruise ship and, although I offered my translation skills, they weren’t keen on an English speaking excursion. I thought Andy would cancel the excursion with only me booked on, but he said he was happy to carry on with only one passenger. So, I got my very own private tour! Not only that, but he said we would get to see even more because we’d save time not having to wait for the other passengers to get in and out.

I am so glad I picked up that Tour Guernsey flyer, I had so much fun touring the island with Andy. There was history, culture, beautiful scenery, industry and stories only a local would know. We drove down lots of those narrow lanes I mentioned earlier, along the coastline and even through a field at one point. Almost every person we met knew Andy. The locals are obviously still getting used to the sight of the open-sided safari-style Land Rover driving around, one old lady teasing Andy by asking if we’d seen any lions yet.

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We stopped outside St Martin’s church, where the Grandmother of the Cemetery stands. The pagan stone carving, originally created about 4,000 years ago and then updated two thousand years later, is a local good luck charm. She originally stood in the church grounds, but was moved by Christian church members to the edge of the property. They even tried to destroy her at one point by pushing her over. Locals came to her rescue and put her back together, although she still has a crack through her middle.

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As we drove across the centre of the island, Andy told me about the agricultural history. There are hundreds of commercial size greenhouses filling the fields, but most of them are derelict today. Guernsey once had a thriving fresh produce industry, but as it became cheaper to import from other countries with hotter climates, like Spain, to the UK the demand dwindled. Islanders, including Andy, have lots of ideas for other uses for the greenhouses, but the problem is that they are only licensed to be used for growing fresh produce. I hope this is an issue that Guernsey resolves soon because it’s so sad to see all that potential resource go to waste and ruin the Guernsey landscape. I’d love to go back to Guernsey one day and see they’ve become a new centre for some ecologically sound product like hemp or bamboo. Which brings me nicely along to our next stop on the tour, because the hemp and bamboo could be used to make an eco-friendly version of the famous Guernsey jumper. I have to admit, visiting a Guernsey factory wasn’t on my to-do list. Aside from the fact I’m vegan, I’m also allergic to any kind of animal wool. I think I must have been the most awkward looking visitor they’ve ever had! Having said that, I did appreciate the tour and explanation of how the Guernseys are produced, and it’s fascinating. The machines had been turned off for the day by the time we arrived, which I was actually glad of because standing in a room full of flying wool fibres can get itchy and uncomfortable for me to say the least. The main sections of the Guernseys are woven on huge looms at the small factory, before being sent to knitters dotted all over the island who start to piece them together. Then, they return to the factory to be finished off. The factory has customers all over the world, and you  can expect your Guernsey to last for around 20 years. Even then, it can be returned to the factory for mending. The most common downfall of a Guernsey is a frayed collar, which can easily be replaced. If they weren’t made of wool, I’d recommend them as an almost zero waste product.

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Keeping up the historic rivalry between the two islands, Guernsey’s west coast competes with Jersey for wartime defence structures. They are everywhere, dotted in between historic forts and stunning beaches. Once again, Andy was very knowledgeable about the wartime history of the island.

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This is where we stopped for a refreshment break. I felt disappointed that I had to get to the airport in just a couple of hours, I would have loved to spend a few days chilling in the sun on the beaches of the west coast.

We talked about the newly released movie The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, it’s portrayal of Guernsey during the war, and the effect it will have on local tourism. I bombarded Andy with questions about living on the Channel Islands, and the relationship between the different islands.

Whether you have a half day, like me, or a week to explore Guernsey I would definitely recommend taking one of the tours with Tour Guernsey. There really is no better way to experience a location than with a local.

Useful Info

Ferry Jersey to Guernsey: £31.00 (foot passenger)

2 nights accommodation @ Grisnoir Guesthouse: £76.50

Tour Guernsey REAL Guernsey Tour: £55

 

Herm

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

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As I mentioned in my earlier post from Jersey, I really wanted to visit at least one of the smaller Channel Islands on my trip. Only 20 minutes on the ferry from Guernsey, where I stayed for the second part of my trip, Herm is the perfect day excursion to experience another side to Channel Island life. Boats run daily, and tickets can be bought from the Trident kiosk between the Weighbridge Clock Tower and the harbour.

Peter Wood, a retired army major, arrived in Herm in 1949 and set about transforming it into his idea of paradise. As the island’s tenant he owned the hotel, pub, shops and cattle. His successors have continued his work since he passed away in 1998. Their lease expires in 2050.

Rules are strict in Herm. You are not allowed to play radio in the open, there are no cars on the island (although the locals do use quad bikes to transport cargo) and, apart from for the children who live there, cycling is forbidden. However, as the island is only 500 acres in size, and you can walk around the whole thing in less than two hours, the transport restrictions at least shouldn’t bother you.

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Unless you’re happy staying in the Harbour Port, home to the tavern and a handful of eating options, Herm is only for the active. Although there are varying grades of difficulty to the multitude of paths that crisscross the island, to see anything worthwhile you will have to walk up steep hills and along cliff paths. Turquoise signs tell you how many minutes it takes to reach the sites. DSC_0194

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I decided to turn left at the port and circumnavigate the island, sticking to the coastal path as much as possible and then finally cut across the middle to the main village. With that route I could cover pretty much everything to see on the island.

The first site of interest is the small, two-person cemetery that was created when the cholera epidemic of 1832 claimed two victims travelling on a passing ship. Further along the path, I found Robert’s Cross and the remains of a prehistoric tomb.

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All the scenery on Herm is exceptionally beautiful, but the northeast coast makes it hard to believe you are still in the British Isles. On a sunny day, which I was lucky to have, stepping on to Shell Beach is like stepping into another, tropical world. Indeed, this beach has the highest incidence of sunburn in the Channel Islands. The name Shell Beach comes from the many varieties of shells that gravitate here from all over the world. If you want to know more about the shells you find, the beach cafe sells guide books. The much smaller, but still beautiful, Belvoir Bay is another popular sunbathing spot.

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From Belvoir Bay, a lot of people take the path inland through the main village where the islanders live. I stuck to the coastal path back round to the port and explored the much quieter south of the island. The landscape is totally different on this part of the island. The cliff top paths can be quite treacherous in places, and it was so quiet I could hardly believe I’d just been on a beach packed with sunbathers. I saw hardly any other walkers on this stretch of the coast, I could see why the local puffins choose to live there.

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Once back in the port, I was pretty tired. But I couldn’t come to Herm without seeing everything, so I braced myself for one last hill to the main village. There are only 10 families that live on Herm, so it’s small even by regular village standards. The little cluster of houses is a fascinating insight into what it must be like to live in such a small community. Halfway up the hill to the village, someone had the great idea of developing an area of woodland that makes a much more scenic route than the main path. It at least helped to distract me from the steep hill.

Info

Ferry from Guernsey to Herm: £13.50 return

Eating vegan in Jersey

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

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Before I flew to Jersey, I had visions of myself living off rice cakes and fruit from the supermarket. Usually, when visiting anywhere with a sizeable population, a quick search on HappyCow and a couple of questions on Facebook results in a fairly lengthy list of options. With Jersey, though, I was a bit worried. The limited recommendations I was getting from people were generally not good for a gluten-free diet.

I needn’t have worried, though. The few options on HappyCow were very good, and I was also lucky to have a friend on the island who did lots of research for me before I arrived. Most of my friends are omnivore, but I am extremely lucky that they are very supportive of my vegan diet and understanding about my gluten allergy. My friend not only managed to find restaurants with vegan and gluten-free options for me, by the time I left for the next part of my trip in Guernsey I’d eaten so much good food I could barely walk onto the boat!

Breakfast

Usually, my friends and I like to book Airbnb type accommodation when we travel together. There are lots of benefits to this, including that we usually have access to a kitchen and I can prepare my own food if I need to. Unfortunately, we were unable to find suitable options in Jersey that didn’t cost a fortune. Instead, I found the Stafford Hotel on booking.com. Most of the accommodation options included breakfast, and I figured that if I have to pay for breakfast I should at least find a hotel where they have vegan options. Admittedly, I didn’t contact the hotel in advance, but I chose the Stafford because all the reviews said they had an excellent breakfast buffet. So, unusually for me as I practice intermittent fasting and don’t normally have my first meal until after 11am, I started everyday with hash browns, beans, fresh fruit and coffee from the hotel. For a 2 star hotel, we were very pleased with the Stafford. It’s a rickety old building with very thin walls (I could hear someone snoring very loudly from another room, and was kept awake by creaking floorboards in the corridor outside), but it’s exceptionally clean with good facilities and very attentive staff. The team at the hotel seemed very eager to please, and I’m sure if you contacted them in advance they would do their best to provide more vegan options for breakfast.

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Moo

Whether you are vegan, omnivore or part-time flexitarian (?) you have to stop at Moo for lunch. I bought mine to go and ate it in the sunshine in Royal Square. Moo aim to offer as much local, seasonal, organic produce as possible. They have lots of vegan and gluten-free options, and the staff are the coolest people to have a chat too whilst they’re preparing your food. I had the beetroot and mint rice paper wrap (I’d advise you to pick up cutlery if you choose the wrap, it got a bit messy) and a sloan ranger juice. I also tried some of their juice shots whilst I was in the cafe.

Cafe Spice

Handily located right opposite our hotel, Cafe Spice offers excellent Indian cuisine and great customer service. The entire vegetarian menu, except the korma, is vegan and gluten-free if you order with the boiled rice. Poppadoms are also vegan and gluten-free. The manager got very excited when I asked about the vegan options, telling me they’d had a large vegan group in the night before and proudly showing me the Viva card they’d left.

Banjo

For a more upmarket night out, Banjo is a great restaurant, although make sure you book in advance. There are 2 dining rooms, decorated in different styles, and a cocktail bar. If you have a passion for interior design, you should definitely check out this restaurant. As well as the cool eating and drinking areas, the bathrooms have also been designed in a very unique style. They have a couple of vegan options. I chose the lentil curry, which was lovely. My only disappointment was the poor selection of vegan and gluten-free spirits. The bar is known for it’s cocktails, but unfortunately I couldn’t try any of them.

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El Tico

I think El Tico is probably my favourite spot out of everywhere I ate on Jersey. They have a separate vegan menu with gluten-free options, huge portions and the food tasted amazing. I chose the tico super salad (see picture above) which I can highly recommend. My only disappointment was that my fruit smoothie (ingredients vary depending on fruit available) was served in a plastic cup with a plastic straw, and not particularly big for what I paid. The use of plastic was a shame, as I’d noticed lots of bars and restaurants around the island using paper straws and trying to discourage customers from using them at all. If you are easily offended by the smell of seafood, El Tico might not be the best place for you. Most people in the restaurant were eating mussels as this is the local delicacy.

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Big Vern’s

Big Vern’s is the restaurant I was least impressed with. It looked really hopeful. They had vegan options clearly marked on the menu, including a vegetable curry which I went for. The menu clearly stated that it’s vegan if you ask for it without the yogurt, but when I tried to order none of the serving staff knew what a vegan is. I patiently tried to explain, and also said I didn’t want the naan bread that came with the meal because I’m allergic to gluten. Not once, but twice I was served the curry with naan bread and yogurt. Having said that, once I actually received the meal I ordered, it did taste really good. It’s just a shame that the staff don’t know their own menu.

Pizza Express

I’m sure you are all aware of Pizza Express, but I have included them here to show that there are chain restaurant options on Jersey as well. We went to Pizza Express one evening for a meal, and it was lovely. I had the Vegan Giardiniera with gluten free base.

Jersey Zoo

We opted to take a picnic for our day at the zoo, but there is a cafe there. I don’t know about the meal options, but I thought I’d include it in the post because I noticed they had a vegan and gluten-free cake on the menu.

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Guernsey/Herm

As I mentioned above, I felt like I ate my own body weight in amazing vegan food whilst I was on Jersey. For that reason, and also because I was travelling alone once I left Jersey and trying to cram in as much as I could, I just lived off snacks whilst I was on Guernsey and Herm. The Co-operative in St Peters Port has a great selection of vegan and gluten-free options, including the Savse smoothies pictured above which I found to be a handy breakfast option.

 

Jersey Zoo

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

I really struggled to decide if one, I wanted to visit Jersey Zoo and two, if I did go, I wanted to write this post about it. As a vegan, obviously I don’t agree with zoos as a form of entertainment where animals are kept in cages purely for the enjoyment of humans. Having said that I do understand that, mainly due to the actions of humans, many species are now threatened with extinction and there are people trying to prevent this. Had I visited Jersey alone, I probably wouldn’t have visited the zoo. I have a friend who is a keeper there, though, and she was keen to show me how they are working hard to improve situations worldwide for these animals. I think it is important to note here that the zoo is also known as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. This isn’t a zoo in the traditional sense.

The zoo was funded by Gerald Durrell in 1959, and except for the meerkats, all the animals that live there are threatened with extinction. Like myself, and everyone who works at the zoo, Durrell would have much preferred to see all the animals in their natural habitats in the wild. His ultimate goal was that the zoo would close once all the animals received sufficient protection, but sadly that didn’t happen before his death in 1995 and still looks to be a long way off.

One again lucky to have our own personal guide who introduced us to lots of the other zoo keepers, we got to meet a lot of the animals close-up. These experiences are available to book at an extra charge through the Durrell website. If you’re happy to get stuck in shovelling animal dung and carrying heavy buckets, they also have volunteering opportunities.

It’s a surprise to a lot of people, as I’m vegan, but I’m actually not a big animal person. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike animals and I obviously try not to exploit them in any way, but I’m happy to respect their space and leave them to their thing. I feel honoured to have met so many of the zoo’s inhabitants close-up, though, something I never thought I would get the chance to do. Nowadays, the zoo uses a hands off approach with the animals. Although they live in a zoo, they want them to have minimal contact with humans. Some of the older animals remember times before the new rules came into effect, though, and are quite curious about the humans who have come to see them. The keepers explained to us they are also working on techniques to avoid having to tranquillize the animals, for example, when they need medical treatment.

Is Jersey Zoo perfect? I think even the staff at the zoo would admit there’s lots more they could do. There are always enclosures that could be bigger, habitations that could be better or more natural and ways of doing things that result in less stress for the animals. What I experienced at the zoo was a team of people who want to achieve all this and more, because they genuinely care for the animals and love what they do. I completely understand if anyone feels visiting the zoo makes me not vegan somehow, but until we can fix bigger problems in the world that means all the animals can once again live free we need places like Jersey Zoo. So, here are some of my photos from our day at the zoo. We actually saw a lot more animals than the ones below, but I was limited by the poor capabilities of my camera. Much, much better photos than mine are available on their website.

 

 

 

 

Exploring Jersey by Car

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

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As there were five of us exploring Jersey together, we thought the best transport option was to hire a car. Driving in Jersey is very easy (they drive on the left side of the road, same as in the UK), especially if you’re used to driving in a British city like I am. The Channel Islands do have their own rules of the road, but they’re fairly logical and easy to work out. If you’re unable to drive, both Jersey and Guernsey have very good, cheap bus services. Two of our group live on Jersey, so we had the added bonus of personal guides as we navigated the island.

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On the west coast of the island, in fact it pretty much is the west coast it’s so long, is St Ouen’s Bay. Five Mile Road runs almost the length of the beach, although neither the road or the beach (4 miles) is 5 miles long. The road got it’s name from the distance between the two furthest points in the bay. Or, as I heard one old lady comically call it in error, ‘8 mile road’. I wanted to correct her, but I felt it would take too long to explain 8 mile refers to something totally different. This is the place to come if you’re a surfer, and also the best place to watch the sunset.

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Almost at the northwest point of the island is Plémont Point, also known as La Grève au Lançon (Bay of Sand Eels), where we hiked along one of the many coastal paths. At low tide, more steep steps will take you down to Plémont Bay, but at high tide the beach completely disappears. This area has accessible caves that you can explore, although again be aware of tides. There is yet more evidence of the German occupation along the north coast. Plémont Guardhouse was originally built in the 19th century, and converted by the German Army into one of their reinforced field positions.

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Right over the other side of the island, on the east coast, we also visited Gorey. This is the home of Mont Orgueil, Jersey’s oldest castle. As a site that has been adopted and used by various groups over the years, the castle contains buildings from the early 13th century right up to the German occupation in 1940-45.

If you’re comfortable being on the left side of the road, driving in Jersey is a great way to see the island. It’s small enough to get around fairly quickly, and interesting enough to keep you occupied for as long as you want. If unlike us, you don’t know a local who can sit in the passenger seat and act as guide, I would recommend getting hold of a good travel guide so you know what you’re looking at.

St Helier and the South West Coast of Jersey

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Anyone who follows me on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter will be aware I recently spent some time in the Channel Islands. My first stop was Jersey to catch  up with some friends.

As I arrived in Jersey 24 hours before the remainder of our group, I had a whole day to explore on my own. I had hoped to visit Sark, but unfortunately I was there on a Friday when there were no boats running. If your goal is to visit other islands, my top tip would be to plan well. It’s easier to visit both Sark and Herm from Guernsey than Jersey, although there are some ferry connections between Jersey and Sark. However, locals don’t seem too interested in travelling between the islands, so ferry schedules can be infrequent, especially out of season.

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My original plan scuppered, I headed into Liberation Square to see what else was on offer. Liberation Square is easy to identify by the Liberation Monument that stands on it’s own little island (watch your step) in the centre. During World War II, the Channel Islands were the only part of Britain to be occupied by German troops when Britain claimed them indefensible. The statue marks their liberation on 9th May 1945.

Although it is a tourism hub on the island, don’t expect Liberation Square to be an overly busy place where you’ll be harassed by ticket touts and local entrepeneurs like in other destinations. I visited in May, and there were 2 stands selling excursions, both run by very laid back locals. Unlike my trip to Iceland, where people were so laid back it was difficult to buy tickets for the excursions I wanted to go on, I felt that in Jersey they’ve got it just right. They’re happy to sell to you, but if you decide to go somewhere else they’ll wish you a nice day and probably even give you directions to their competitors.

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I knew we would be hiring a car to explore the rest of the island, so I thought my solo day would be best spent on a boat. My only option was the Jersey Bus & Boat Tours Waterbus which departs from the Albert Pier at 10:30  and 14:00 every day (free hotel pick-ups on request). The company also offers various bus tours around the island, and bike hire if you’re feeling fit. Complete with English commentary from the skipper, the boat excursion is well worth the £20 ticket price. Jersey is a windy place, though, and the sea can get choppy, especially when the ferries pass back and forth. So, the boat trip is maybe not a good idea if you struggle with sea sickness. The 2 hour(ish) trip takes you west along the coast from St Helier. Although it’s the capital of Jersey, St Helier is only small. The permanent population is around 33,000, over a third of the total island population. Because of it’s size, there don’t seem to be any particular touristy or local areas. Everyone just mixes together, and the locals are so polite and friendly that you don’t really notice. I sat and ate my lunch in Royal Square, now a very picturesque sun spot that was once where prisoners were punished and alleged witches were burned. The main, pedestrianised shopping area is King Street and it’s off-shoots.

Once on the boat, we headed out of the harbour. There are actually several harbours in St Helier, the names of which our skipper did reel off to us and after listening to him I began to realise why you have to take a local test to work as a commercial skipper here. This is very much a working port, so it’s normal to see container ships, ferries of all sizes and multi-million pound yachts sharing the water. There is one marina that has instant access to the sea, the waiting list to get a spot there is currently more than 20 years.

As we headed out to the open water, I was sad to see lots of the cages that fishermen use to hold lobsters and other sea creatures. Once the lobsters are caught, they are stored alive in these tiny cages for up to 5 days, when they are sold to restaurants and locals. Lobsters are clipped to prevent them from fighting whilst crammed together in what must be a very stressful situation. To our skipper, as with most of the people on the island, this is seen as something positive that brings money to the local economy. He proudly told us that the price of lobster has recently doubled. To a vegan, however, the whole process sounds barbaric.

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The most noticeable landmark on the St Helier coastline is Elizabeth Castle, which has guarded the harbour since 1600. Elizabeth I decided that building the castle was the best defence against cannonballs, which were the height of modern technology at the time. As with a lot of the smaller islets off the coast of Jersey, at low tide you can walk out to Elizabeth Castle. Jersey has the third largest tides in the world after Alaska and the Bristol Channel in England. When the tide is out, the island almost doubles in size. You can also access the castle at high tide via a ‘duck’ tour. The same amphibious military vehicles used for tourism all over the world, the World War II DUKWs to give them their official name will ferry you across to the island for around £15 for one adult.

A little further along the coast from St Helier is St Aubin’s Bay, which was the original (tidal) airport  here until 1937 when they built a more permanent runway in St Peters.

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Normoint Point stands at the other side of St Aubin’s Bay. If wartime history is your thing, this is one of the best palces to go. The German’s used the point as a strategic strong point, complete with a four-storey concrete tower from where they could manage their artillery batteries. There are lots of these ugly, concrete structures dotted along the Jersey coastline. Their presence goes against the strict planning regulations Jersey enforces today, but they are such an important part of the local history I can understand why they are still there.

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The next bay from Noirmont Point is the smaller, but very beautiful, Portelet Bay. I was lucky to get to visit Portelet from both the sea and the land, first on the boat trip and then again the next day in our hire car. You have to be very fit to access the beach from inland, the only way is via a very steep staircase. I’m sure someone told me there are over 200 steps, but I didn’t count and I can’t find anywhere to verify the answer. In the centre of the bay is a tiny island with a single-storey, single-cell tower on top. It is the last resting place of a local sea captain, Philippe Janvrin, who dies of the plague in 1721. Upon returning from his last voyage, his ship was not allowed to dock on Jersey for fear the plague  would spread across the island, and he and his crew were quarantined on their ship. They all succumbed to the disease, and the rest of the crew were buried at sea. As the son of a wealthy Jersey family, Janvrin was due to receive a much grander burial, but authorities were still concerned about the threat and wouldn’t allow his coffin onto Jersey. So, he was buried on the rock in the bay, within sight of his home. The tower was added in 1808, one of three built during the Napoleonic Wars. It was at Portelet Bay that the difference in tides became very apparent to me. One day I sailed right the way around Janvrin’s tomb in quite a sizeable boat, and 24 hours later at low tide I walked out to the little rocky islet from the beach with my friends and we climbed to the top.

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Further on again from Portelet Bay, and our last stop on the south coast, is St Brelade’s Bay. This is one of the busiest beaches on the island, but it’s big enough that you’re unlikely to be bothered by crowds. As well as visiting on the boat, this is also where I got to try stand up paddleboarding (SUP) for the first time. OK, I admit, for me it was more like kneel up paddleboarding but I still managed to keep up with my more experienced friends and it was a lot of fun. As a beginner, I also received excellent instruction from Jono’s Watersports where we rented our equipment. I have nothing to compare it to, but my friends who SUP a lot in Norway told me that the water in St Brelades is more choppy than they’d usually expect.

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St Brelades is home to an example of the insane wealth to be found on Jersey. At the western end of the bay is a house that, 2 years ago, was sold for £11 million. The family who bought it are spending a further £10 million on renovations.

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Corbiè Lighthouse marks the end of the south coast and the corner of Jersey. The first concrete lighthouse in the British Isles was built here in 1873. It’s no wonder there have been so many  shipwrecks on the point, and that they decided to build such a sturdy lighthouse here. During storms, ocean spray is known to go right over the top of the lighthouse.

To look at the south west coast of Jersey on a map it seems such a small area, but there is so much of interest there. I couldn’t wait to find out what the rest of Jersey and the Channel Islands had to offer.

 

Useful Info

One-way flight from Bristol to Jersey with Flybe: from £70

Bus from Jersey airport to St Helier: £2 (all stops are announced on a matrix screen well in advance, so the local bus service is super easy to use)

4 nights accommodation at the Stafford Hotel, St Helier: from £180 bed & breakfast

Jersey Bus & Boat Tours Waterbus excursion: £20

1 hour SUP and wetsuit rental at Jono’s Watersports: £17