25
Aug 18

Oslo, Norway – Day 1

For my birthday, Gina treated me to a long weekend away in beautiful Oslo! I’ve always wanted to visit the Viking Museum to see the epic long boats they have there, so I was super excited to visit. I was in charge of planning this trip, so I made sure I planned it well :)

We dropped Lilly off at our favourite cattery, and headed up to Stanstead airport for our afternoon flight to Oslo. We arrived without a problem, smooth flight, and an even smoother train ride into Oslo city centre. We navigated our way to our Airbnb which Gina had picked for us nicely – centrally located. We dropped off our bags, and decided to take a walk down to the sea front to get our bearings and see what the city was like.

First stop, was the Oslo Opera house – it’s located right at the head of the Oslofjord, and looks out right across to the little islands and the peninsula across the other side. The building is so epic, that the roof angles down to the ground, which creates a marble plaza that invites people to walk up to it’s roof and enjoy some fantastic panoramic views of Oslo & the fjord – so that’s exactly what we did, with all the other tourists.

Gina on the Opera House

Iest, chilling

After taking in the sights, Gina thought it would be a good day to visit the headland that was just down the way to get some ever higher-up views of the city. The headland was part of the Ekebergparken Skulpturpark – which I had down on our itinerary for another day, but seeing as it was such a beautiful sunny day, we decided it would be a perfect evening stroll.

The Opera House

New Architecture

We made our way over, through the newly build buildings that lined the inlet, and hiked up the hill through some woodland to start the sculpture trail. The first thing we came across happened to be the view in which Edvard Munch used as the backdrop for his most famous painting ‘The Scream’, which was a pleasant surprise. We continued on, ending up in a large opening at the top of the hill, where there were some interesting art hanging from trees, and some smoke-lined moody trees. We spent a couple of hours in total enjoying the park, and it’s many sculptures and statues – before heading back down towards the city centre as the sun was going down.

Iestyn’s ‘Scream’

Overlooking Oslo

Gina admiring the sculpture

Wood woman

Foggy Trees

By this point, we were both hungry for dinner – I had just been listening to a great podcast about Oslo’s food culture and the exciting Vippa community down on the waterfront, so that’s were we headed! It was a lovely little place, with about 12 different ‘sea containers’ halved, and turned into a kitchen, selling every kind of cuisine. We both had a fresh bowl of salmon Poke, while enjoying the sunset over the sea.

Gina at Vippa

Iest eating Poke

With full bellies, we headed back to our AirBnb, and chilled for the evening, as we had a full on culture day coming tomorrow!


07
Jul 18

Skerries & Wild Camping, Wales

Saturday, 7th July

Back in Christmas 2016, we got a lovely gift from our little nephew Eban – a RIB ride excursion to the Skerries, off the North coast of Anglesey, and back down to South Stack. Unfortunately, due to us living in London and bad weather when we were actually up in Wales, the trip was somewhat delayed. Thankfully, we planned a little break away to Wales for a long weekend, and the weather looked incredible – so, a year and a half after getting the gift – we were all booked in to go on the RIB ride.

Our trip started from the Holyhead marina. We were greeted by our skipper called Olly and after we were shown around the boat and the various health and safety tips, we were off – blasting through the waters, North bound towards Church Bay & Carmel Head, before venturing out to open sea, and The Skerries.

The Skerries, [are] a unique group of rocky islands with Trinity House lighthouse, built in 1716, on the highest point. In Welsh the islands are known as Ynysoedd y Moelrhoniaid, which means ‘the islands of the bald-headed grey seals’.

This Important Bird Area and SSSI has a very large Arctic Tern population (over 2,000 pairs), Common Terns and a smaller Roseate Tern population; it is also home to Puffins and Kittiwakes. This uninhabited group of islands has a distinctive cliff and maritime grassland environment.

Trinity House lighthouse

Trinity House lighthouse & the Terns

The first thing we noticed was just how many Terns there are out here, incredible! They kept swooping in and over the boat as we made our way towards Trinity House lighthouse to anchor and watch the wildlife around us. According to the internet, there’s over 2,000 pairs on the island. Just over the brow of the crags, we could also see a handful of Puffins just chilling and coming in to land from being out feeding.

Artic Tern (left) and Common Terns

A Puffin coming in to land

We spent about 15 mins anchored to a buoy just underneath the lighthouse, surrounded by crystal clear seas. All around us, chilling on the rocks, swimming casually and making the most amazing sounds were a whole lot of grey seals. So much wildlife, and never had we seen Wales to sunny!

A cheeky Seal

Look at that face!

As the RIB Ride website says; “We then begin the adventurous nine-mile open-sea crossing to the island of North Stack. Here we explore the caves and the dramatic 100m high sea cliffs of Gogarth Bay to reach the lighthouse on the island of South Stack. We will watch the Chough, Guillemot, Peregrine, Puffin and Razorbill at the RSPB South Stack Cliffs nature reserve before we return.” – which is exactly what we did.

Along the way, we spotted a circus of Puffins out at sea – Olly slowed down for us, so we could take some great snaps.

A circus of Puffins!

Startled Puffin

Being the sharped-eyed skipper that he was, Olly also spotted a few Porpoises out at sea. Down over underneath South Stack we were met by the massive cliffs, and a whole lot of guillemot and razorbills swimming casually in the sea.

A Porpoise

Guillemot (brownish) and Razorbill (black)

From here we dipped in and out of the sea caves, all while Olly was giving us the historical information about the lighthouse, and how they used to load goods onto the island before the steps were constructed etc – all super interesting. Then, we blasted over to Gogarth, a very popular bit of rock, where we could see climbers starting their climb up to the top.

Looking back towards South Stack

And that was it… we cruised back on over to the Holyhead marina – what a fantastic start to our day!

After a quick stop in sunny Rhosneigr for lunch, we cruised over to Tesco’s to pick what would be our dinner – as tonight, we were camping in the mountains.

We packed, and got dropped off at Pen y Gwryd by Dad, our destination was Llyn Caseg-fraith, inbetween Glyder Fach and Foel Goch, overlooking the mighty Tryfan in the Glyderau.

Gina in the Glyderau

Gina crossing Nant Y Gwryd

We headed on up, and had nothing but good times – the sun was blasting, the evening light was starting to fall, and it was looking lovely! We knew once we got to the top, we were in for a great night camping.

Gina on the gamfa

Fantastic evening light

We arrived at Llyn Caseg-fraith, a small lake that’s nicely located above Tryfan just as the sun had started entering its golden hour. Much to our surprise, we weren’t the only ones up there wild camping. There was another tent on the other side of the lake, and soon another guy arrived, hiding his tent behind the rocks nearby. Everyone minded their own business though, and it was very quiet all around. We pitched the tent without a bother – and began our plans of chilling to-the-max.

Our tent, overlooking Tryfan

Gina about to chill with a book

Iest, chillin’

And yeah, this was the scene pretty much for the whole evening. We ate our picnic, did some time-lapse photography with my iPhone, Gina read her book and hit the sack. It was super pleasant up there, not a whisper of wind – awesome.

The evening colours

 

Sunday, 8th July

We awoke to another beautiful, cloudless sky morning. We had a leisurely breakfast, chilled some more, before packing up the tent and sleeping stuff. The goal for this morning was to head up Glyder Fach, over to Glyder Fawr, and down into Nant Peris the other side of the mountains – where Dad would then pick us up in time for lunch.

Everything on the way up to the Glyderau went super well, we were cruising – enjoying the views.

Morning Gins!

Looking back at Llyn Caseg-fraith

Unfortunately, on the way down the slippery scree of Glyder Fawr, my knee (which I’d been having physiotherapy for for the past 3 weeks) totally gave way. I went down and yep, this was agony. It took me about 2 hours to get down, whereas it should have taken about 30mins – this wasn’t good – as Dad was down in the valley waiting for us. Dad suspected that something might have been up, but he continued to wait until Gina went ahead and met up with him, while I took my time getting down safely. Damn knee!

We got back home, I iced my knee for a few hours, and went over to meet the newest addition to the family; little baby Erain. Then headed over to Pant Du for some lunch and apple juice – which was great! We then decided to take a trip to our fave beach, Llanddwyn for the evening, to chill in the sea (legs only) whilst the sun gently went down.

All in all – a pretty awesome trip back home for the bank holiday!


30
Jun 18

RSPB Minsmere & Aldeburgh, Suffolk

The sun has been shining for a good few weeks now, so we thought it would be a great idea to get up super early, and head up North to Suffolk for a day trip. RSPB Minsmere was our destination, with 7 different hides, located right on the coast.

We arrived in Suffolk without any trouble, and headed straight for the reserve. We were greeted nicely by the RSPB volunteers, and headed straight in to catch some wildlife action. Right out of the gate, we were treated to some lovely little sand Martins, all flying in and out of their little homes, inside the sandy wall, and some rabbits.

A pair of Sand Martins

A bunny!

The reserve is quite big, with a couple of big fresh water lagoons in the middle, and the big circular loop that goes around the lagoons takes you over towards the sea. So we decided to do the loop, and stop over at the hides. It’s a very pretty reserve, I must say – we had a lovely time walking through in the sun and the tall grass. Once we reached the coast, we continued on down, spotting the Artic Tern out at sea, before heading back in to one of the various hides.

Artic Tern

A couple of Black-tailed Godwits

The first for us was spotting a lovely Avocet – I’d never heard of them before (Gina had, probably), but there was a very knowledgeable chap in the hide we were in, making a massive fuss over the Avocet that was out in the lagoon.

Avocet (black & white)

Gina on the coastal path

After we continued around the loop, we were both pretty hungry. As Gina was armed with her Lonely Planet book, we decided to head into Aldebrugh for lunch – what a beautiful little place! The village was full of very colourful little houses, right on the coast, with some nice little shops. We had a nice seafood lunch at one the little restaurants that the Tripadvisor recommended for us, followed by a home made ice cream, and a walk along the sea front.

All in all, a lovely little Saturday outing!


20
Feb 18

Santa Barbra – London

20 February 187 miles (total 1,295 miles) 14°C 8:30am

Nice breakfast in Pismo, and just driving down to LA with a small stop in Santa Barbara. Arrived at Gatwick in time (the next day tho), and couple hours later reunited with Lily finally!


19
Feb 18

Morro Bay – Pismo Beach (via Big Sur)

19 February 152 miles (1,108 miles total) 5°C 7am

Early start as usual, early morning stroll in the marina front, fresh and beautiful – OTTERS! We did not even know they live here, so it was a nice (cute!) surprise seeing these little furry buggers frolic in the water. Plus also one hummingbird. All that before breakfast. Breakfast at The Coffee Pot – massive pancakes and bottomless coffee, just like we like it; great way to start the day.

Hummingbird

Drove over to Piedras Blancas for the main attraction of the day, elephant seals observation spot. Excellent season as they come to the beaches to breed before leaving in March. The beaches were jam-packed with the massive yet adorable beasts, and we spent a lot of time just admiring their beach life.

A lone Elephant Seal

The beach littered with seals!

Gina and the seals!

Iest and a seal

The lighthouse was closed and so was a good chunk of Highway 1 up to Big Sur due to last year’s mudslide, but we made it as far north on the coast as we could, enjoying the sun, ocean and fresh air. Had a traditional Olallieberry pie in Cambria, pleasant little coastal town, where we also bought a couple of bottles of local wines for home.

Ragged Point, Big Sur

Turkey Vulture

Oystercachers

Afterwards we took a stroll on the beach of San Simeon, which was not only beautiful but also had loads of oystercatchers. We made one last stop by the seals before driving down to Pismo Beach for our last night in sunny California. Our hotel was very nice and after checking out a couple of places in town we ended up in the hotel restaurant for a nice seafood dinner.

Gina & the San Simeon pier

San Simeon

Gina admiring the seals


18
Feb 18

Death Valley – Morro Bay

18 February 401 miles (956 miles total) 8°C 7am

Driving day! Needed to get from the Valley back to the coast – not many stops on the way, and the scenery nice but not spectacular and also not much diverse. Still in Death Valley we stopped by Mesquite flat sand dunes, bathed in soft morning light – Star Wars Tatoonie unmistakably, with the Panamint Ridge on the horizon! Drove through Stovepipe Wells again on the way out and had a last look back at the Valley from Father Crowley Vista.

Gina chillin at Mesquite sand dunes

Morning at Mesquite sand dunes

Father Crawley vista

Even out of Death Valley the scenery did not change for quite a while, very dry and desert-y. We soon had a great view of the Yosemite Ridge on the horizon, with all the snow-covered peaks. Lunch at a Mexican place in California City, very filling. Afterwards it was just driving all the way, through agri lands and rolling hills, progressively less dry and yellow and more lush and green. We reached our motel in Morro Bay at about 5pm – and finally took showers, first ones since Palm Springs! Felt great. Found a nice seafood place on tripadvisor, but still were so full that we decided to give dinner a miss and make a space for a nice breakfast tomorrow.


17
Feb 18

Death Valley

17 February 105 miles (total: 555 miles) 8°C 6:30am

Zabriskie Point

Creeping sun

Creeping sun

Super early morning, rushed out to catch the sunrise at the Zabriskie Point – we were by no means the only ones with this idea but it was still a very nice experience.

Gina at Zabriskie Point

Iest at Zabriskie Point

Afterwards we headed back to Furnace and managed to snatch an early spot in a beautiful tent-only camp (Texas Spring) from someone who’s just left. There was a lot of competition, that’s for sure. Amazing views. After breakfast it was still nice and early morning and we headed to the Golden Canyon for a nice hike before it got too hot. We chose a nice walk to the Red Cathedral combined with the Gower Gulch loop, and it got us to some pretty magnificent viewpoints. Not many people around either.

Golden Loop trailhead

Hiking through the canyons

Iest & his hat

Gina’s bicep

Us overlooking the canyon

Hiking to the highest point

The viewpoint at the top

Afterwards, the top afternoon heat, we went for the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (some 86m below sea level). Top tourist spot but nice salt plains and an unearthly feel to the place.

Gina at Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin salt plains

On the way back we swung by a ‘natural bridge’ spot which was not really worth it tbh. Then we went once more to the visitor centre in Furnace Creek, to watch the half hour film on the history and geology of Death Valley, before heading for dinner all the way to Stovepipe Wells. Nice place and a first glimpse of data connection after like three days (since Palm Springs). We got some firewood and beer for the evening, although must be said I retired to my sleeping bag fairly soon, leaving Iest with the fire and all the stars.


16
Feb 18

Joshua Tree – Death Valley

204 miles (total: 450 miles) 3°C 7am

Iestyn jumped out of bed at 6am because he was too cold, and gave me no choice than to follow suit, even though I was nice and snug in mine. It was super cold but nice sunrise and there were rabbits hopping around the campsite. In no time we were cruising away from Joshua Tree. This was not very smart though because Iestyn wanted to find a place for breakfast somewhere on the way despite the fact that the best place would have been Joshua Tree village itself (I even had a place circled for that purpose in my guide).

Roads for days!

Mojave National Preserve

Scenery was amazing though, even before entering Mojave National Preserve. Short stop in Amboy ghost town on Route 66, with famous(-ish) Roy’s motel. In Mojave we stopped over at the Kelso dunes, and at Kelso proper.

Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes

Had lunch at a Greek place in Baker, and then continued our scenic drive up towards Death Valley with a short break for gas and terrible coffee at Shoshone village. We arrived at Furnace Creek in late afternoon – too late for one of the nice camps given that it is three-day weekend and prime season on the Valley. Had to settle for the Sunset camp among RVs but was not actually so terrible. Air was balmy, sun was setting, and we just about managed to make the Artist scenic drive at the best light of the day. Dinner at a local joint in Furnace Creek, not much choice of places, the saloon we were going for does not exist any more.


15
Feb 18

Palm Springs – Joshua Tree National Park

141 miles (total: 246 miles) 11°C 7am

The advantage of a westward jetlag is that you wake up real early to make the most of the day, and so I did. Proper Americana breakfast in our hotel (thick and sweet waffles) and then to Ralph’s supermarket to stock up on supplies for our trip. Fresh and super sunny, it’s only 7:45 and we’re already on our way out of town.

Nice desert views already along the way. Listening to the American roadtrip playlist Iest picked, was not perfect but had some classics. Missed the Joshua Tree National Park visitor centre, and arrived to the entrance unprepared but managed to wing it. First point of interest – Keys view (1581m) with breathtaking panorama over the Coachella valley. In addition, our first encounters with wildlife – antelope ground squirrels, and tiny zebratail lizard.  

Entering Joshua Tree

Cochella Valley

Antelope Ground Squirrel

Afterwards, still pretty much early morning, we went for a nice loop hike on the Lost Horse Mine trail. Real desert & Joshua tree experience with added thrill of an authentic Old West silver and gold mine remains (operational until 1931). Spent some nice three hours on the trail, and got some spectacular views towards the other side of the valley too. Next stop, Cholla Cactus garden. It must be said that this, while very pretty, is a bit of a misnomer – it is not really so much fo a cactus garden as it is a cactus field, given that there is only one kind of cactus growing there but there is a lot of it. We enjoyed the walk though, it is a pretty place.

Gina at the Lost Horse trailhead

On the Trail!

Spectacular views!

Gina at the Cactus garden

By now I was a bit sleepy, but valiantly made it to see another nice spot – the Barker Dam (real bit of water, with actual ducks and a few other birds, originally built for cattle and mining use), and the Wonderland of rocks (nice rock formations, but really they are all over the park).  Afterwards it really was time to find our campsite at Black Rock, which turned out to be nice with some amazing views. It was getting proper cold in the evening, so we pitched the tent and drove to the village to get something to eat. Eventually we even managed to start the fire and got to admire all the stars in the clear sky.

Phainopepla at Barker Damn

A Black Phoebe at the damn

Camping under the stars


14
Feb 18

London – L.A. – Palm Springs

14 February 123 miles (total: 123 miles)

Early morning travel from LB to Gatwick with too much spare time, but one cannot rely on the trains in this country to run on time (or at all); missing Lily intensely. Flight was long but ok actually, sat by the window, watched stuff on tv, read a bit, and there we were, descending over a massive urban sprawl of sunny LA. Flew through the customs no probs, and Iestyn was already waiting for me at arrivals. LA was all fresh and sunny but we had no intentions to see more of it (well, Iest already did in the previous days, and I did years before), so just took the rental car (with some disorganisation hiccups eating into our time) and were on our way out. Nice car though, KIA Sportage, Iestyn’s first automatic, learned to love it pretty fast.
Drove through some unsavoury LA hoods to 60 East to Palm Springs. I was holding up pretty well, considering the long flight and 8hrs time difference but towards the end of the drive I was already dozing off.
Palm Springs was off season, so was very quiet (more like Calm Springs, amirite?) even on Valentine’s night. The evening was balmy, we checked into our nice hotel and went out for a mexican dinner with live music (not mexican). Fast asleep before Family Guy’s Valentine’s day episode was over (well, before the first scene was over, really).