Category Archives: Travel

Life Lately :: Summer Holiday in Cascais, Portugal

Dream Team in Cascais - Hello Sam Goodbye Samantha

Long time, no blog. You may have guessed, I’m back at work! Not too long ago, however, I was living it large in the sun. 

I never really expected to be the kind of person that has ‘summer holidays’ where, you know, I actually went on holiday! I tend to be more of a staycation kind of a gal, truth be told.

Mr H and I have had one hell of a hectic first year of marriage, and the only improvement we would have made to our last holiday, our honeymoon in Warsaw, would have been to have been able to have a few days beside a pool. So we booked two weeks in Portugal with that very goal in mind.

Hotel Amazonia Estoril 2 - Hello Sam Goodbye Samantha Mr H in Cascais - Hello Sam Goodbye Samantha Hotel Amazonia Estoril - Hello Sam Goodbye SamanthaBy the Pool - Hello Sam Goodbye Samantha The Sisters - Hello Sam Goodbye Samantha

We were delighted to be joined by my fabulous sister T, who managed to wangle 2 weeks leave and joined us from Australia, to celebrate a belated birthday with us. Result!

The first week of our break was spent in Estoril and Cascais, both along the Portuguese coast, about 30 minutes drive from Lisbon. Estoril has a sleepy sort of resort feel about it, and is most famous for the Casino Estoril, said to be the inspiration behind Ian Fleming’s Bond novel Casino Royale! Very glam.

Mr Hello and I were booked into a studio apartment in the Hotel Amazonia Estoril. Having booked our August trip in February, we got an excellent deal, and while I wouldn’t necessarily class it as a luxury hotel, it was spotlessly clean, with helpful staff and had a quiet, boutiquey feel about it. It was exactly what we wanted – nothing too crazy or busy, and there were about 10 or so other groups staying at the same time, who, over the course of our week’s stay, we grew to be on polite head-nodding terms with. The exact amount of getting to know people on holiday I wanted to do! You may not believe it, but I occasionally lean towards the antisocial side of things….

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Cascais is definitely more well known for it’s beach and party scene, and this is where we spent most of our time in our week there. It’s very touristy, being a holiday hotspot for the Portuguese as well as those of us from overseas, but very pleasantly so, in my opinion.

We walked and walked and…..walked over our first week. Mr Hello lived in the area for a few years as a child, and so we spent some time exploring his old haunts. We also drank quite a lot of Super Bock, a rather lethal local beer. It was quite delightful!

If I’m totally honest, the area is not full to the brim with ‘sights’ – and if that’s what you’re looking for I would head closer to Lisbon, but it was absolutely perfect for a relaxing holiday (just what I needed).

There are a few things I would recommend that you do if you do find yourself in either Estoril or Cascais though:

  • From June to September, Estoril is home to a wonderful artisan’s fair – Fiartil Feira de Artisanato do Estoril – which is home to some excellent open air restaurants, local street food vendors, arts and crafts to die for and if you’re lucky, some traditional rancho dancing and fado. A must see.
  • Mercado de Cascais – this is a huge food, fish, flower and general goods market in central Cascais. It feels like a real local market, and can get incredibly busy, but is worth a wander around if you want to feel like a local and marvel at women standing on tables and shouting at the top of their lungs with a baby on their hip.
  • Head to Masala in the centre of Cascais. Living in England, I’m certainly no stranger to a spot of Indian food, but our meals (yes, plural) were incredibly delicious, and I’m pretty sure the term ‘service with a smile’ started off in this restaurant. The team at Masala were fantastic, so good, in fact, that we returned a couple of days later, where they continued to win us over by remembering us! They are always busy, so try and get down there before 9pm, but even if you’re later, the queue moves quickly. I highly recommend the 5 euro gin and tonics, too. They are quite *ahem* large. 

We had a fantastic time in this part of Portugal and I would not hesitate to recommend it. It’s clean, the public transport is cheap, it feels like there are things going on but not too many, and there is also an atmosphere of active relaxation. I highly approve. 

Our Anniversary :: Kynren

That evening we headed over to the Kynren site. The seating area, known as the ‘Tribune’ is about a 10/15 minute walk from the carpark, but it was very clear all the way down and quite a lovely view. We’d been advised to wear comfortable shoes and warm clothing, and so found the walk quite pleasant!

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The volunteers on the site were absolutely amazing. All of them had such lovely welcoming attitudes, actively trying to be helpful, which is definitely not always the case with events like this! They’d obviously been very well trained, and enjoyed being a part of the Kynren process – it definitely added to the experience for us.

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The Tribune was a large wooden grandstand, and outside were a great selection of food and drink vans and bars. The atmosphere was great, everyone seemed to be a little bit buzzy waiting for the show to start, and Mr H and I definitely enjoyed taking a step back and doing some quality people watching! We went through to our seats about 40 minutes before the show started.

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Unfortunately, this is where things started to go a little wrong. I’d paid for swanky cushioned seats, and the view was excellent as we were really central. The seats themselves, however, were all jammed in next to each other, so I was practically cuddling Mr H *and* the random gent on the other side of me. This might have been ok for a short show, but having gotten into our seats early, it was Squishville for over 2  hours, which was uncomfortable to say the least!

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I couldn’t take any images of the show, and I will try and avoid spoilers, although can you spoil a show about the history of Britain, considering it’s already happened? I digress.

I will say a couple of things though. The show was visually stunning, in fact I don’t think I’ve seen anything so impressive in live performance – ever. They made full use of the landscape in which they were set, as well as the lake, and lots of technology.

There were, however, some parts of the show that I was hugely disappointed with. All the audio was pre-recorded. All of it. There was no live audio in the show at all. I can almost understand why they did this, being an outdoor show in England, but it was hugely disappointing and I felt like it almost encouraged the performers to mime more. Their physical performance became a little over-egged to match the audio, rather than them being extensions of one another.

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The show touches on events of historical importance, such as the mass migration of Asian people to the area. This was represented in the show by Bhangra dancers, but it was disappointing to see that these were obviously not trained Bhangra dancers, and in most cases from what I could see, weren’t actually Asian people. I think it’s a sensitive topic but I thought it was odd – sure in the huge area that is the North East there is at least one Bhangra dancing group? It would have been more effective, more impressive and driven the point home more about the diversity of the area if the performers had been more diverse.

The other disappointing element was the Colliery band. They mimed. It was obvious. So instead of following the story I was thinking “Why are they miming?” and cringing. I don’t think I need to say much more than that!

Overall, the show was good fun, and as I’ve said, it was visually spectacular. I’m not sure though, that it was really worth it considering the distance we drove. If it was in Kent, I think I would recommend it, but if you’re not in the North East I think you will be disappointed. They very nearly got it right, but for me as a theatre-lover, the small things they got wrong added up to a night that was just a bit off target.

Our evening went fully pear-shaped after that, as our taxi driver didn’t wait for us and we ended up having to wait for nearly 2 hours to get back to the hotel! Luckily the ladies we ended up sharing with were so hilariously drunk that it took my mind off it!

~

We did have a lovely weekend all in all though, and it was great to see some more of the country. I’d like to spend some more time up North, and even head out to Beamish Museum, which we heard great things about but ran out of time for.

Have you seen Kynren? What did you think?

Our Anniversary :: The Houndgate Townhouse Review

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So about three or four months ago, I booked some tickets for us to go and see the show Kynren in Bishop Auckland. It was billed as 2,000 years of British history, with the involvement of over 1,000 local people. I love a bit of community art interaction, so I thought this sounded like as good an opportunity  as any for our first little road trip! The dates happened to coincide with our first anniversary, so it was perfect!

Now if your British geography is as good as mine (i.e. awful) you will be interested to hear that Bishop Auckland is what we call “Up North”, pretty much as far north as you can get before you hit Scotland. It took us about 5 and a half hours to get there, because we did faff around a little bit when we left, and stopped off for a coffee en route.

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We stayed in the Houndgate Townhouse in Darlington, which is about 30 minutes from Bishop Auckland. The Houndgate is an 8 bedroom boutique hotel, with a bar and restaurant. From the first moment we were utterly impressed with the hotel. The front of house staff were all very courteous and helpful, booking us a taxi for the evening and helping us to find the carpark.

Anniversary Trip 11 - Hello Sam Goodbye SamanthaUnfortunately this was the only downside of the hotel – because of its central location there is no on-site parking, and so you need to park in the multi-storey which is behind the hotel. This is paid for by the hotel during most hours during your stay, and it is very new and secure, but a tiny bit of a faff, and after the long drive I was feeling particularly brain dead.
Anniversary Trip 2 - Hello Sam Goodbye SamanthaI had booked a luxury  double room for us to stay in (it’s only your first anniversary once!) and we were not disappointed. The bed was gorgeously comfortable, and the carpet had that reassuring thickness which prevented the am-I-walking-too-heavily angst that I am prone to.

The room was absolutely spotless, and decorated perfectly on what I would call the the tasteful side of Laura Ashley. The staff even wrote us an anniversary card, which was a nice touch!Anniversary Trip 3 - Hello Sam Goodbye SamanthaSomething to bear in mind was that we could hear the bar below our room playing music and getting ready for their Saturday night trade, which we didn’t actually find disruptive, but it was definitely audible through the floor. If you’re a light sleeper  it may be an issue, although given my experience of the staff, I am sure they would turn the music down at a moment’s notice if you mentioned it!

That evening we went to the show, and ended up getting back quite late (see my review of Kynren here).  I have never been so glad to crawl into bed.Anniversary Trip 12 - Hello Sam Goodbye SamanthaAnniversary Trip 14 - Hello Sam Goodbye SamanthaAnniversary Trip 13 - Hello Sam Goodbye SamanthaIn the morning, we headed downstairs to grab some breakfast. The hotel offers an a la carte menu for breakfast (although it was included in the cost of the room) and so Mr H and I both decided to go for the full English. I neglected to take photos, unfortunately! It was beautifully cooked and presented, with our baked beans coming out in their own little copper pot. It was very cute. 

The coffee was hot, fresh and tasty, and our waitress sounded exactly like Sarah Millican. It was *most* satisfactory.Anniversary Trip 17 - Hello Sam Goodbye Samantha Anniversary Trip 16 - Hello Sam Goodbye Samantha

I would have liked to stay in the hotel a little longer than one night, and to have tried their restaurant, because the menu looked delicious and it had great reviews.

Despite our short day, would recommend the Houndgate Townhouse to anyone in the area because the service was impeccable. It’s a stylish retreat, perfect for couples, and sometimes that can be intimidating. On the other hand, I feel like you can often overlook shabby decor if the service is great. Luckily in this case you don’t have to, and can enjoy great decor and great service, which is the best of both worlds!