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This blog has mostly been about my life travelling, ever since it was born as my way to record my time in Thailand almost three years ago. There will still be plenty of travel stories since I don’t plan to stop expanding my list of countries visited, but now I’ll also be telling you about another kind of travelling. More specifically, running.

I’ve been thinking for a little while about doing a charity run. For one thing, I’ve never been a good runner (trust me, this is no false modesty talking) so it’s a sort of personal challenge. I’ve also had a few loved ones suffer through cancer (and come out the other end) and it does make you think about how you can help.

So, after an afternoon watching the London Marathon yesterday with my friend Heather we agreed to start running for charity. We’re going to ease in with a 5k, although that will still be no small feat. Then perhaps a 10k, a half marathon, and if I survive, I hope one day to manage a full marathon. This blog will tell you whether or not I make it.

Of course I’ll be sharing my tales here (and all the information about sponsoring me, naturally…). If you want to join us on the road, even if just for the first 5k, get in touch. The more the merrier. See you on the road.

A few days ago, I had dinner at Corrigan’s restaurant in Mayfair. A fantastic place run by Richard Corrigan – a fun, outspoken Irishman who knows his food. I was there to meet Nadim Sadek, the owner of Inish Turk Beg – a quiet little island off the West coast of Ireland.

The night kicked off with champagne and canapés to break the ice with the other travel industry guests. I found myself talking to two women as we bonded over our love for the parmesan encrusted loveliness that kept appearing on the trays…

Inish Turk Beg. Image courtesy of www.inishturkbeg.com

Inish Turk Beg: Image courtesy of http://www.inishturkbeg.com

I was assigned my seat at the foot of the table which felt strange, but luckily all the talk was happening at the other end where all eyes were on Nadim as he told his story of making his millions, leaving his business and buying a rundown island almost on a whim after deciding that it was important for his children to be more connected to their Irish heritage. Now, Inish Turk Beg is a beautiful piece of Irish wild land where Nadim and the rest of the Inish Turk Beg citizens raise horses, distill their own special brand of whiskey in beautiful handblown glass bottles, create their own style of amazing Irish music and generally live their lives completely.

As I enjoyed my steak & kidney pie and fillet of beef, the whiskey was passed around and enjoyed, perhaps a touch too much.. By the time dinner was over, and Richard Corrigan joined us from the kitchen an unknown number of champagne and wine bottles had already been emptied. By the time the restaurant was shut down, the whiskey bottle was dry too.

A few years ago, I spent a very short weekend in Dublin and otherwise have never been on Irish soil. Next week, I’m headed to Cork for a few days (thank you Bank Holiday) and, while Cork and Inish Turk Beg are not comparable places, the food, the company, the whiskey, the music, and the spirit of Inish Turk Beg and Nadim’s passion have me really excited to at least see a taste of that in the Irish countryside.

Hopefully it won’t be long until I can get myself a ‘lungful of life‘ on Inish Turk Beg itself, but meanwhile I’ll be sure to let you know how my own Irish experience goes next week.

My American days

A recent catch up with wonderful friends Stateside has had me reminiscing on my days in the good ol’ US of A.

If you’re just getting to know me, then I shall explain: From age 11 to 21 I lived in the States and was lucky enough to travel around a bit and see some of this rather large country.

Key Largo

Key Largo

Being an East Coast girl, I explored the Atlantic side a good amount, from time in the sun on a family Florida holiday to freezing my little derrière off during my university days in Massachusetts. Two very different places. Pretty incredible when you think about it. That’ll always be the selling point of the US (in my humble opinion) – it is seriously crazy how different each region of this country can be. Okay, you’ve heard that before, but hey, I speak the truth.

Swimming with the dolphins

Swimming with the dolphins

In Florida, my best memories are of visiting the Keys. My parents hired a car and we travelled down towards the States’ southernmost point. Road trip: The classic American holiday. Oh yes.

In Key Largo it was all about swimming with the dolphins. The feeling of being pushed through the water by a creature like that was amazing and is hard to forget. We had two different experiences – one was playing with the trained Flippers of Florida, and the second was simply swimming in a natural ocean water enclosure with untrained dolphins. Just hanging out with the dolphins, as you do. The second experience scared me a little. Turns out I’m a bit of a chicken. But looking back, it was truly amazing getting to see these creatures close up.

Got to love those tourist hotspots

Got to love those tourist hotspots

Then of course there was Key West. Florida is fantastic because they live for visitors and that’s visitors of all kinds. I was young when I visited, and loved the street entertainers at Key West’s sunset parties. I loved the Key Lime pies, and I loved the ridiculous cheesy tourist spots like the southernmost point. If I went back to Florida now, I’d love the unrivalled nightlife of the Keys, Miami’s Strip…and probably still the Key Lime pies…

I need to get back there soon. Getting hungry…

*This post was sponsored by Ocean Florida however they were not involved in the writing of any of the content.

White sand beaches courtesy of the Sahara

White sand beaches courtesy of the Sahara

You think Tenerife is all hot and tropical? Think again. It’s an amazing diverse little island with a lot more going on than you might first assume.

I headed there for a week of visiting a wonderful friend, Naomi, and got a lot more than just the hot sun and the beach. I also got snow, rain, cities, fishing villages, and volcanoes.

Tenerife has multiple microclimates. The number varies depending on who you ask, but travelling the island from North to South you need clothes for all four seasons.

Pina Colada time

Pina Colada time

Heading South for the sun

I arrived in Los Cristianos, Naomi’s neighbourhood, and got just was I was expecting (and craving after months of cold English weather) – hot sun, white beaches, swimming pools, hotels and lots of tourists. Los Cristianos isn’t quite as built up as it’s close neighbour, Las Playas de Las Americas (literally, the beaches of the Americas, or Americans), but it was still the sunny escape most of us Brits crave around this time of year.

I spent my time there filling up on paella, tapas and cocktails whenever I could, exploring the boardwalks and the tourist beaches.

How do you tell a tourist beach from a local untouched beach in Tenerife? Tenerife doesn’t have white sand, the sand here is black. All that glistening white stuff is imported from Africa just to fulfill the picture perfect beach image…fit for a postcard.

A quick ray of sunshine

A quick ray of sunshine

Santa Cruz: Soggy city life

Okay, I admit that Naomi insists that I managed to pick the worst week to see Santa Cruz, but I can only go with what I saw. I was there for Carnaval week, and so was ready for a day of parties in the street, with drinks and carnival food in the hot sun. What I got? Cold, grey skies, and more rain than I’d left behind in England. Less than an hour’s drive back down South in Los Cristianos, it was 30 degrees and baking. In Santa Cruz, I had a scarf and jeans on and was still cold. Having said that, Santa Cruz is a nice city, and while it’s much more built up than the rest of Tenerife, it’s worth a visit to explore. I felt like it fit somewhere in between Barcelona and Madrid, it’s mainland siblings. And I’m sure the Carnaval would have been a lot more impressive if the umbrellas hadn’t blocked most of the view… I did manage to get one quick snap in between rain clouds though.

Mount Teide. Notice the snow.

Mount Teide. Notice the snow.

Pico del Teide: Let it snow

One of the sites on the top of my Tenerife list was visiting Mount Teide. The highest elevation point in Spain, and one of the world’s largest volcanoes, Teide and the surrounding National Park are unmissable. You hear the word ‘lunar landscapes’ thrown around a lot when people describe this place, but, well, few things could say it better. It really is like another world. And at the elevation, forget the 30 degree heat of Los Cristianos, at this point I was even missing the chill of Santa Cruz. In Teide National Park, there was snow at my feet, not that I could feel them, and we in fact had to wait over an hour before leaving the small cafe as we couldn’t see more than 30 metres ahead of us from the snow and fog.

Lava fields. (It may not look cold, trust me, it is)

Lava fields. (It may not look cold, trust me, it is)

When we finally did get out, the paths towards the volcano were almost deserted (not that many people crazy enough to leave the beaches) which meant a peaceful light trek through some seriously strange rock formations.

Small towns and smaller children

After spending time in the capital, the tourist capital, and the highest point on the island, I got a chance to see some local Canarian life in the towns of Candelaria and La Laguna. Naomi is an English teacher, teaching mostly very young children both in the capital and Candelaria, a much smaller town on the East Coast. Both Candelaria and La Laguna are beautiful towns well worth exploring and far away from the tourist hoards. And the children know their colours, numbers and body parts vocabulary very well…

Back to the pages

So it’s been awhile, and my additions to this blog have been a random article here and there over the last few months.

When I started this blog (back when it was Marianne in Asia) I was living the life of a nomad, travelling around and seeing the world. Ah the days. Now I’m living in London, travelling as much as I can and (lucky me) working for a travel company, so hey, things haven’t gone too badly.

But I’m back! I miss writing and I hope perhaps you’ve missed me just a tiny bit? Just a little?

So here we go, the resurrection of Filling The Pages. Watch this space.

Coming up: Remembering why I do love the States, and my recent exploration of Tenerife.

Speak to you soon

Yours

McPhee

Croatian favourites

The chilly weather today has had me thinking back to my Croatian holiday and memories of a hot sun, clear water and beautiful islands. My office desk doesn’t seem to quite compare… Ah well.

I went on a fantastic tour of Croatia’s main stops last month, and I definitely had my favourites along the way…

Dubrovnik

I arrived in Dubrovnik airport and already the scene was set – the landing strip is surrounded by stunning hills rolling down to the waters edge just out of sight. A few minutes drive and we were welcomed into the Villa Dubrovnik. You’d miss it if you didn’t know about it – the hotel is below street level, built on the cliff side hanging right over the stunning blue sea below. From the road, all you can see is a white tower with a door and a friendly looking man waiting for you. After seeing that the tower was in fact a lift I was shown down into the Villa. It’s a stunning bolthole, just ten minutes walk from Dubrovnik’s Old Town (but why walk when you can take the hotel’s private boat?).

After soaking in the views from my waterfront balcony, I headed into town for a little exploration. There are only two ways in and out of the town through the old city gates, and no cars are allowed in. Perfect pedestrian escape. After walking around the city walls I found the main promenade, a small square brimming full with the town market and the old harbour. But the best parts are more hidden. Off the main street, the town is riddled with narrow winding alleys full of small local restaurants whose tables and chairs flood the streets every evening, and hole in the wall bars selling local beer and impressive cocktail lists. A wander around the edges of the town had me discovering a small door carved into the outer walls. Through the door, down some rock stairs, and I had discovered a hidden bar/café clinging to the outside walls. It was absolutely the best place in town to sit with a cold beer taking in the sun and the endless sea views. It also happened to be the perfect cliff diving spot if you dare…

Korčula

Korčula is like a smaller island version of Dubrovnik. I stayed in the Lešić Dimitri Palace which is a beautiful boutique hotel. There are apartments of all sizes scattered down an alley of the old town leading down to the water and the hotel’s restaurant. I was staying in the Venice residence – an enormous 3 bedroom apartment, styled and furnished to an impeccable degree. The giant dining table and chairs made me feel rather tiny, but the beautiful stone bath tub made it all better…

Korčula was the perfect island for peaceful afternoon wanderings and finding secluded manmade piers jutting out from the rocks – perfect for cracking open my holiday book and taking a dip in the crystal clear waters. In the evening it was all about discovering impromptu singing groups under ancient arches and a cold drink sitting by the water’s edge. Then I couldn’t resist heading back to Lešić Dimitri to indulge in the private balcony to listen to a live musical performance going on below. Perfect.

Hvar Island, Split and Zagreb were my next stops and all are beautiful Croatian hits well worth a visit. But we all have our favourites right?

Before I could get on the boat, I had to don my wind and waterproof coverall. I felt a bit like a balloon but then again so did everybody else, and it was actually pretty comfy. Then, after a little safety briefing by our skipper, Henrik, (it’s like riding a horse apparently), I donned my ski goggles, zipped up my marshmallow suit and climbed aboard the RIB boat. That’s Rigid Inflatable Boat. I was off for a splash (sorry) of island hopping in West Sweden.

Once upon a time, apparently, the sea was silver with herring. That’s according to the locals we meet on the islands. There was a time when you could dip buckets into the water and they’d come up brimming with the country’s national dish. The fish have come and gone from Sweden’s west coast, but now they’re back (in slightly less legendary amounts) they make for a great dish and another reason to head this way.

My first stop was Pater Noster. Small enough to throw a stone over (almost) I enjoyed a glass of bubbly at the top of an iconic 19th century red iron lighthouse to accompany the amazing 360 degree views. After exploring the island (hunting down the outdoor hot tub) and enjoying some warm fish soup, it was off again to Marstrand Island.

Marstrand is definitely a summer playground for the Swedish. The island was full of picture perfect white houses with red roofs and stunning flower gardens. Along the harbour, people were sitting out in the sun enjoying themselves at the cafés or shopping in the boutiques (I gave in to my retail addiction too…) before walking up to the fort to explore and climb the walls for sunbathing on the grass, or going down to the beaches and harbours around each corner of coast.

Leaving Marstrand, the RIB boat caused quite the stir as it sped between the yachts on our way to Åstol for more amazing seafood (including my first taste of herring) before heading to the lovely Salt & Sill Restaurant and Hotel for yes, more food. I lost count of how many meals I ate in one day. They served us one of their classic meals– three bite sized portions of different herring dishes, paired with three glasses of schnapps – a different flavour to match each different herring.

Then we were singing traditional schnapps songs, drinking our shots and enjoying our fish. A hot coffee on the balcony wrapped up in a blanket was the perfect unwind after all that eating. Salt & Sill is home to Sweden’s first floating sauna too which you can hire for the night. You’ll be out at sea for a night of steaming away, bubbles on the balcony and sleeping to the sound of nothing but the local seals. Pretty great, right? After my coffee I was on my way to my own hotel’s sauna…

At Björholmens Marina hotel, after dropping my bags in my waterfront studio room, I got into my new swimsuit courtesy of a Marstrand boutique, wrapped up in my fluffy robe and headed down the boardwalk along the harbour’s waters to the sauna. But before I steamed away, there was one thing I had to do first. Go swimming. To make the sauna all that more welcome, I first climbed down the ladder, shut my eyes and leaped into the chilly Swedish waters. Refreshing just about covers it. But it’s all relative – the sauna is open year round, and in the heart of winter, the hotel cuts holes in the frozen water for you to jump in – so the water I was paddling in was practically balmy. I still shivered. The sauna was definitely welcome.