A visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

20 August 2017

As I mentioned in last week's Wonderful Wednesday post, I spent last Sunday enjoying the sunshine in Kew Gardens. I really can't believe that I've never properly visited the stunning Kew Gardens before, particularly when it was right on our doorstep, but that always seems to be the way with some of London's more 'touristy' sights. I know I'll be back again though, next time with a delicious picnic to fully appreciate the day. There are several restaurants scattered around the park but they were absolutely heaving on the day we visited. We did pop into the café by the main entrance at the end of our visit and I had a cup of tea and THE most delicious slice of a gluten free lemon and courgette cake - sounds dubious but it was super tasty.

I wanted to share some photos of our day...a little walk through the Gardens with us. Apart from the Treetop Walkway though. Did you know that giant metal structure shakes ever so slightly?! Neither did I. I was too busy praying/swearing to take any photos from there.

Onto the photos, beginning with the stunning Palm House.

The wonderfully peaceful Japanese garden:

All of your problems suddenly feel ever so slightly insignificant in the scheme of things when you're gazing up at the ancient Redwood trees...

Have you ever visited Kew Gardens? Did you love every moment of the Treetop Walkway?! Thoughts on making cakes with vegetables? After that courgette and lemon cake, I think I could be persuaded...

Wonderful Wednesday 41

16 August 2017

A few weeks without a Wonderful Wednesday as things were a little busy in the happygolucky-household and I just didn't get the time to sit down and write my little weekly catch-up. This week's is slightly shorter than usual too as we've had a visitor staying with us since Friday and so I've just snatched moments here and there to share a few things that have made me smile since we last spoke.


♥ A book you just can't put down... A friend lent me the book 'Restless' by William Boyd and I wasn't able to put it down all week, devouring it in about 4 days (and it wouldn't even have taken that long if work hadn't got in the way!) It made my morning and evening commutes fly by and it was one of those books that you spend all day just longing to get back into. In a nutshell, it's the story of a woman who discovers that her mother was a spy during WW2 but it is so much more than that. Thrilling, fascinating, an absolute page-turner. If you're looking for your next read, I couldn't recommend it more (if that isn't clear enough already!) I've already lined up 'Any Human Heart' to read next, which is another of William Boyd's books and apparently amazing.

♥ Friday night curry... Is there anything better?! We've had my mother in law staying with us for a few days and we celebrated her arrival on Friday by treating ourselves to a curry, delivered from a local (really tasty) curry house. I think it's made even more special when you know that you've planned it that evening and then spend all day looking forward to it, planning what you're going to have. I practically ran home. 

♥ Pre-birthday excitement... My birthday isn't until the end of the month and it's not an age to celebrate (trust me) but we wandered into town on Saturday to have a little look for things to put on my birthday wishlist. There's a bag in John Lewis that I've been coveting so that is firmly in the top spot. How exciting!

♥ A sunny Sunday at Kew Gardens... We used to live 2 tube stops away from Kew Gardens and only went once for the Illuminated Trail at Christmas, which was absolutely stunning. We had a slightly longer commute this time but it was still so worth it and I really don't know why we hadn't visited more often when it was that close! It was a glorious day to visit, the sun shone all day...although it felt slightly chilly for a few moments after the heat of the Palm House. We were there for about four hours and I don't know if we saw even half of the gardens - next time we'll be back with a picnic. Not planning to go on the Tree-Top Walk ever again though, that was a special kind of terror. 

♥ Neighbourhood puppies... Now this is partly a good thing and partly a really bittersweet pleasure considering how much I want a dog but there seems to be a sudden influx of puppies in our local area. I've been tackled a few times by an excitable little hound on my way to and from work or to the station over the last week and it's been absolutely wonderful! Their owners are always so apologetic too but is there anything better than an excited puppy jumping up at you?!

♥ Hampstead wanderings... This gets a special mention as it was actually the week before last. We've had two sunny Sundays in a row in lovely London town. My husband was away for a few days last week, returning on Saturday night and we decided to make the most of our Sunday together by going for a long walk on Hampstead Heath. Lots of people had the same idea as us but the size of the Heath means that you just don't feel like you're all on top of each other. We chatted, ate ice cream, dog watched and admired the brave souls swimming in one of the ponds. 

The area around Hampstead is really lovely too, with gorgeous houses like the one at the top of this post, lots of tempting coffee shops and Daunt Books where I could happily while away a few hours. I picked up a new book that's been on my list for a while ('Life After Life' by Kate Atkinson, if you're interested!) and chatted to the staff while paying, who then recommended another few books to me - the to-read list is growing ever longer!

♥ Do let me know what's made your week a little rosier by leaving me a comment below or dropping me a tweet (I'm @happygoluckycat) or better yet, why not join the fabulous bunch of #WonderfulWednesday bloggers? Pop over to their blogs for a dose of mid-week happiness - SallyMichelleHelenKateJoSamanthaKerri, LauraSarahPetaElLauraSarahMimmiMartinaLynseyKatieDebbieKelly and Em (I think that's everyone - shout at me if you're not on the list!) - and then join me in counting down the days until the weekend. It's in sight! 

Stepping back in time in Solunto

6 August 2017

This is the last of my Sicily posts (from this trip at least!) and I've completely saved my favourite thing 'til last. A little happygolucky-fact, a childhood love of the Indiana Jones and the Mummy films led me to a Classics degree and dreams of becoming an Egyptologist. Alas that was not to be (student loans had to be paid off somehow!) but I'm still at my happiest wandering around an archaeological site and can find my way to the Egyptian/ancient Greek and Roman rooms in the British Museum blindfolded. 

When I was researching Palermo in the weeks leading up to our holiday, I kept coming back to a tiny section in the guidebook recommending an ancient Roman town, about a 20 minute train ride out of Palermo. Apparently, the fact that it's a steep 30 minute walk uphill puts a lot of people off and you can wander the partially-excavated site undisturbed. That was enough to move it right to the top of my must-do list - how often can you visit an ancient site without jostling through hordes of tourists?! So, was it worth the walk in the July sun? Abso-bloody-lutely.

Located high above the town of Porticello, on the slopes of Mount Catalfano, lie the remains of the Hellenistic Roman town of Solunto. It was founded in the 4th century BC on the site of an earlier Phoenician settlement. If the remains of the town around you aren't impressive enough, the sea views are spectacular too.

You wander along the main street towards the agora, but can also detour up the steep side streets and wander amongst the ruins themselves. There are the remains of the shops and poorer houses along the main street, with the larger villas higher up - some of which even have the remains of staircases leading to now non-existent floors above. 

The most exciting element of it all for me was the fact that could still see traces of the original paint on some of the walls, and mosaic flooring. It was absolutely incredible.

I think what made the whole experience even more magical for me was that we were the only ones there for practically the entirety of our visit and even when some other visitors arrived, there were only a handful. I think the walk does put a lot of people off but it really shouldn't. Granted, Solunto is not on the scale of somewhere like Pompeii but the intimacy of a small site makes you feel like you're stepping back in time, particularly when you can wander through the town so freely. If you're planning a visit to Palermo and fancy visiting somewhere very special, you must add Solunto to your list. Just don't forget your hat and make sure you bring lots of water!

Have you visited Solunto before? What's your favourite place to visit for a good ol' historical wander? It doesn't have to be classical - there are few things that beat a trip to a castle on a bank holiday weekend!

A day trip to Ustica

30 July 2017

The longer I make these holiday posts last, the longer I can pretend it wasn't almost a month ago now, right?!

One of our favourite memories from our week in Sicily was our day trip to Ustica - an island about 60km off the coast. It's a favourite summer holiday destination for the people of Palermo and there were plenty arriving on the boat with us, although it was nowhere near as crowded as it apparently gets later on in July and into August. 

Look at that shimmering reflection! This was when we first arrived in Ustica in the morning and the chap below captained our boat home in the afternoon - ciao!

If I was planning the trip again, I'd have booked a hotel on the island itself for a night or two because a day really wasn't enough time for this gorgeous place. The water surrounding Ustica is sparklingly clear and it's hugely popular for snorkelling and scuba diving, which I would love to try. So I would definitely recommend spending at least one night here, particularly to make the slightly expensive ferry fare go that little bit further!

I read that Ustica is actually the tip of a submerged volcano, which made perfect sense particularly on the flamingly hot (for me!) day we visited - when you walk around the island, you can see that the land itself is scattered with volcanic rock dotted with all manner of exotic cactus and stunning hisbiscus flowers.

The best way to explore Ustica is on foot. There are several different walking trails and it's only 8.7 sq km around so it's not the longest distance...although perhaps on a slightly cooler day! Apparently a full circuit of the island takes about 4 hours, although you'd want to stop for breaks en route - you could even break it up over the course of two day if you stay overnight, and that would give you a chance to enjoy a swim in the beautiful sea too.

Our guidebook recommended asking at the tourist office for directions/a map of the walking routes but when we Google-mapped the tourist office, there was no sign of it. We did however find the marine reserve information office, which we wandered into hoping they might have maps of the island that would serve just as well. Inside was the loveliest old Italian man! We can speak very little Italian (I've learned how to say "that was delicious", which I say at every opportunity but apart from a few other food-related phrases, that's it) and he spoke absolutely no English. We managed to communicate what we were looking for and he produced a map, pointing to a few routes that he recommended we try and a lot of other things, which I'm sure were all very interesting indeed but were all in very fast Italian! He came out into the street with us and pointed us on our way to our first walk - to the Rocca della Falconiera, a defensive tower overlooking the sea.

It was only a short walk but it was a very very hot day! The trail leads you first to a lookout point at Punta Omo Morto, where we stopped to reapply some more sunscreen and took in the beautiful views out to sea from one window and inland from another, over the island itself.

You then continue walking further up the path to the Torre Santa Maria, a Bourbon-era tower.

After a few hours enjoying a relaxed lunch, we headed towards the other side of the island - we only had an hour or two left on the island before our ferry was due to leave so we decided to follow a trail that passed through some pine woods to the summit of Guardia di Mezzo. We didn't get a chance to finish the trail but apparently if you followed it further, it descended to a part of the coast where you can swim in natural rock pools.

It was so incredibly beautiful - the air was filled with the smell of hot pine needles and the sound of the cicadas in the trees.

I sat on a rock at one point to have some water while my husband walked on ahead. He disappeared out of sight and I felt like I was the only person for miles around, it was wonderfully peaceful.

Where we ate

Between our first and second hikes, we stopped for some food just off the main square at the Ristorante da Umberto (Piazza della Vittoria 7), which could not have looked more inviting to two very hot, bedraggled English folk with its glorious shaded frontage and regularly-supplied chilled lemon ice tea! 

The staff were so helpful, pointing out the various gluten free options on the menu. Apparently all the seafood on the menu is sourced from the water around Ustica itself and so I decided to go with some octopus to start (just simply chopped, drizzled with olive oil and a fresh squeeze of lemon, and sprinkled with fresh parsley) followed by a pasta course (they had gluten free pasta!) - a spaghetti dish with a local fish that I didn't recognise but was quite meaty in texture. My husband (who isn't coeliac) had a fried local cheese to start which came with a pistachio pesto, and followed this up with some swordfish. It was all so delicious and we stayed there for a few hours hiding from the sun high above us, relaxing and chatting over a few chilled glasses of wine - that's what holidays are for, right?! 

If you planning a visit to Palermo, a visit to Ustica is not to be missed! Have you visited the island before? Did you get a chance to swim while you were there? That's the one thing I'm really sad that we didn't get a chance to do at all this holiday. Time to book another one perhaps...

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