Travel theme: Mischievous

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A couple of years ago I spent a few days in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. These little fish stencils were painted on the paths to direct you from the port to the major sites of interest in the town such as the castle, old town and the aquarium.

On my last day there, as I was waiting for my bus back to London, I noticed that a mischievous yet creative individual had made an addition to one of the fish…

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Click here to join in with Ailsa’s Travel theme.

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New

Seeing as one of my personal goals is to visit at least one new place and try one new activity every year, I thought this week’s photo challenge would be a good opportunity to look back at the new places I’ve visited and the activities I’ve tried since starting this blog.

My trip to Pisa was as amazing cultural experience…

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Pottery is something that I’ve always wanted to try, and I seemed to always just miss out on the opportunity until I enrolled on the one day workshop at the Howardian Centre in Cardiff…

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Sleeping ‘rough’ in St Davids 2 car park in Cardiff as part of the Sleep Easy Challenge helped to raise awareness of the issues surrounding homelessness. We also raised enough money to keep an emergency room open at the YMCA hostel. Click the link to see an updated comment from Mandy Caddy about this year’s event and how you can get involved…

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Taking part in the Cardiff Photo Marathon saw 400 of us running around the city like mad people for 12 hours, desperately trying to find our next shot. I was exhausted by the time I handed in my memory card, but it was a great experience…DSC_0032

I volunteered at an eco-campsite in Anglesey, North Wales for a week. I later found out from my mum that this was possibly not my first time visiting Anglesey, although if I have been before it was when I was a baby and I don’t remember it…DSC_0085

I’ve visited London lots of times, but every time I go there I found another part of the huge city that I haven’t explored before…DSC_0202

I decided to visit Boulogne-sur-mer, France because it is accessible by bus from Cardiff. I love that I live in Wales, yet I can be in a foreign country with a totally different culture within a day…DSC_0108

The high ropes course at Go Ape is not something I would have signed up for before, but I agreed to try it as part of a friend’s hen weekend. Even though I’m petrified of heights, I conquered my fear and completed the whole course…PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Completing my first 5k was a reminder to myself of what I can achieve…IMG_0289

There are some new activities that I’m not very good at, and some that I just plain suck at. Archery is one of those activities…DSC_0325

New places that involve snow I can ski on are always my favourite. In January 2014 I went to Pila, Italy (not to be confused with Pisa, see above) with my parents and their friend…

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My initial reason for visiting Iceland was to see the Northern Lights, but I discovered so much more whilst I was there. I can’t wait to go back some day and explore more of the island…DSC_0236

I love being an aunty, and getting to try new activities with my nephew, nieces and godchildren make them even more special. I hadn’t planned to go mountain carting, my niece and nephew chose the activity and I’m so glad they did…DSC_0680

Learning to scythe was also a skill I never thought I’d acquire, until my volunteer work at the community garden led me to Phil the scythe master…DSC_0925This post is part of the Photo Challenge ‘New’. Click here to see more entries and a photo of a really cute baby.

Follow the Fish

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One of the first things I noticed on my trip to Boulogne were these fish stencils painted on the pavements and pedestrian crossings. As well as providing an interesting talking point about the town, they also serve a purpose in directing tourists to the major attractions like the Old Town and the Castle.

On my last day, as I walked over to the port to wait for my coach back to the UK, I noticed that some creative local had taken artistic license on one of the fish (below). It certainly made me giggle.

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Nausicaa

I couldn’t visit Boulogne without spending some time at the National Sealife Centre. Unfortunately, it’s not until I enter these places and encounter the ‘underwater viewing areas’ that I remember I have a phobia of fish. To make matters worse, this sealife centre is laid out in a very orderly fashion. You have to pass through each exhibit to reach the next one. Luckily, I didn’t encounter too many scary big fish.

Impressively, Nausicaa is home to 32,000 living creatures. 1000 different species are housed in 36 aquariums which are filled with 4.5 million litres of water. At €18.30 it is by far the most expensive attraction in Boulogne, but well worth setting aside a few hours to visit. Right from the moment you step through the front doors at Nausicaa, the clear message is that they want to help preserve the Earth’s seas and oceans and teach people how to live more sustainable lives. All of us are connected to the sea, and just like every other species on the planet, we need it to survive. I still find it sad to see the loggerhead turtles and sharks swimming back and forth endlessly in their little tanks, but I believe Nausicaa when they say they care about preserving sea life.

The main attraction at Nausicaa, a fairly new addition, are the sea lions.

Sea lions love nothing more than playing and frolicking around together in the water, so giving them an audience only encourages them more. If you want to see how talented these intelligent creatures really are, the trainers host demonstrations at set times during the day. This is where they really get to show off (the animals and the trainers). The sea lions are trained to jump, somersault, lay down, wave, blow a kiss and pick out shapes and letters. And all for their ultimate reward – fish.

There was also a smaller exhibition when I visited Nausicaa, which housed some penguins. Although these cute little creatures aren’t trained like the sea lions, they are still very entertaining to watch.

Whenever a penguin looks at me, I always think they look a bit impatient, like they’ve been waiting for me to do something. A bit like the penguin equivalent of a raised eyebrow.

Our history that almost was

Whilst exploring Boulogne, I learnt that much of the town’s legacy is based upon a plot by Napoleon to attack the British Isles that never actually happened. From the information I gathered, Napoleon used Boulogne as a military base to assemble thousands of soldiers and build ships with which he could attack his enemy (ie us). It took him so long to get his act together that the British army heard of his plans and attacked France first. When he tried to sail the new ships that his plan was based upon, they pretty much fell apart in the water. If Napoleon had been better organised, or known more than us about building boats, our history could have been very different.

Even though the plan essentially failed, there are nods to Napoleon all over Boulogne.

Even without Napoleon’s contribution, Boulogne has a heritage of seafaring activities. A short, but steep, walk up the cliffs above the beach brings you to the Gunpowder Magazine and the Seaman’s Calvary, a sanctuary dedicated to the memory of sailors lost at sea. Unfortunately the Calvary was closed whilst I was there. The chapel is adorned with commemorative plaques and buoys – coloured for the boats still at sea and black and white for the vessels that never came home.

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Boulogne’s Castle and Old Town

Although a lot smaller than other walled cities that I have visited (400m x 300m), Boulogne’s old town still has that romantic aura about it. The first thing I liked about the old town was a small cafe I found that served good coffee. When I asked for a black decaf coffee, I actually got a black decaf coffee. Not a black coffee with a jug of cow’s milk next to it. As I’d been unable to secure self-catering accommodation in France, I decided that little cafe would be my first stop every day for my morning coffee fix.

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The architecture in the old town is as quaint and photogenic as you would expect it to be. I found it to be like a ghost town until 10am, and then all of a sudden it seemed to come alive with people, both locals and tourists. Although there is a tourist presence, mainly British and French from what I could hear, there isn’t a huge amount of souvenir shops selling the usual tourist wares. Instead, the odd one is dotted amongst regular shops and restaurants. Interestingly, the Rue de Lille was filled with workshops making candles during the Middle Ages. These were then sold to pilgrims. The candles were probably the equivalent of today’s friendship bracelets and postcards.

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Boulogne’s old town was built at the beginning of the 13th century by the Count of Boulogne on the foundations of the Gallo-Roman walls. The current walls, or ramparts, were built between 1227 and 1231 by Count Philippe Hurepel. There are four gates into the walled city, and a footpath runs around the top of the walls.

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The jewel of the old town is the castle, which was constructed at the same time as the ramparts and was the first castle to be built without a keep in the history of military architecture. The museum which is attached to the castle is ecclectic to say the least. I was surprised to find that the artifacts within it had very little to do with the castle or Boulogne.

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The museum was created in 1825 after Boulogne acquired the cabinet of curiosities created by the Viscount Isidore Leroy do Barde. It takes you on a journey through cultures from all over the world, from Alaskan fishing implements to ancient Greek pottery. It’s like the museum is one big cabinet of curiosities itself, and I really liked that idea. Probably my favourite exhibit from the whole collection was some Haida masks. I studied this culture as part of my Bachelors degree, and it was a pleasant surprise to find such fine examples in a small castle in France.

The museum also houses a temporary exhibition. Whilst I was there, it was Egyptian artifacts on show.

Out in the courtyard, there was a fascinating installation art piece. All I was able to find out is that it’s untitled and by an artist called Michel Dhalenne. If anyone knows anymore, please pass the info on.

The aesthetics of the piece blew me away, although I did wonder what problems they must encounter when it rains. Surely there is a danger they could end up with a huge, sticky mess of paper pulp?

Boulogne and my first journey through the Channel Tunnel

If it seems like I’ve been jumping all over the place for the past couple of weeks, it’s because I have been. My lovely employers (heavy sarcasm intended) informed me on 8th January that I HAD to take two consecutive weeks holiday this year, and I had to tell them by 14th January which two weeks I wanted. Needless to say, as I am clearly more organised than my managers, this sudden change in the rules completely messed up my plans for the year. Instead of being able to take lots of smaller trips throughout the year, I’ve instead had to cram as much as possible into sixteen days.

After returning from Anglesey and my stopover in Skrinkle Bay, I headed back towards Cardiff. I’d carried my bodyboard around with me for a week, and I was determined to find some waves. Or at the very least, exhaust all possibilities. In the end, I stopped off at Rest bay in Porthcawl for a couple of hours. Less than an hour’s drive from where I live, Rest Bay is my local surf beach that I visit most often. Although a little annoyed that I’d carted my board and wetsuit all the way around the country to end up almost back at home, I was just happy to be in the water.

The next part of my journey was a bit of a military maneuver. I had only 12 hours back at home before I had to head off again, and in that time I had to empty one lot of dirty laundry into the washing machine, pack a clean lot into my rucksack, catch up on my emails, prepare at least one blog post and grab my passport ready to go.

As I’ve learnt more about living plant-based, one of the subjects that has caught my attention is eco-travel. I love to travel, and I don’t want to stop, but I’m also aware that my passion increases my carbon footprint dramatically. In an ideal world, my goal would be to travel by land and sea only, and infact I think this would make travelling an even better experience. Unfortunately, though, the restraints of my modern lifestyle do not allow me the time to do this. I am under no illusion that I’m changing the world by avoiding one plane journey. I know that even if I lived carbon neutral for a whole year, all my efforts would be erased the second I stepped foot on a plane. And I know that I will be taking at least four flights this year. What I hope to do instead is try alternative modes of transport when I do have the time. This is just another one of those small steps that, when considered together, create a better future.

Megabus offer cheap coach travel between European cities. For only £25.50 one way, I was able to travel from Cardiff to Boulogne-sur-Mer in France. My other options with Megabus were Brussels or Paris. I didn’t fancy Brussels, and a friend advised against it. I would love to visit Paris and spend a few days wandering around all the galleries and museums, but unfortunately it just isn’t in my budget this year. I also liked the idea of spending some (more) time by the sea, so Boulogne it was.

As well as adding Boulogne to my list of new places, I also got to travel through the Channel Tunnel for the first time. Although I have crossed the Channel many times before, I have always used the ferries. I didn’t realise how fast the train is. Only 35 minutes! And boarding and disembarking is super quick and efficient as well. The longest period we had to wait was for immigration. (Why do you always get one person who insists on travelling without a passport? And they look genuinely annoyed that customs won’t just allow them through the border.)

Once we arrived on the French side, it was just a short drive to the drop-off at Boulogne and 3 days of exploring and relaxing for me.

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