36 hours in Perpignan – worth the visit?

Absolutely!

But what I’d like to know is if you have a list of places you want to visit?  Maybe in your home country or further afield? In the UK, for example, I have never visited the Lake District (I am ashamed to say!) yet. Further afield, India would be top of my list.  Here, in France, my wish list of places to visit seems to get longer by the minute. This brings me to Perpignan.

I have wanted to visit Perpignan for ever. It was even one of my choices when I did a teacher exchange. Therefore, I was delighted when we actually spent some time there, recently. We took the train from Carcassonne which goes all the way to Barcelona. It’s a fabulous journey and only takes an hour as it is direct.

Perpignan station is famous for its links with Dali.  He claimed that he was inspired simply by sitting in the station’s lobby. In 1963, Dali said that Perpignan  station was ‘the centre’ of the world. He later created a painting entitled ‘La Gare de Perpignan’  which hangs in the Ludwig Museum in Cologne.

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Leaving the station, we decided to head into Perpignan for a coffee and croissant and as we wandered into the city centre (about 15 minutes walk) we walked past the statue of Dali ‘en Levitation’. He is seated on a high red chair, outside FNAC, on the Place de Catalogne and facing towards the train station. The FNAC shop is located inside the original ‘Dames de France’ building which was opened in 1910.

I’m a fan of ‘hop-on, hop-off’ buses when arriving in a new city for a short visit. These aren’t available in Perpignan. We did the next best thing and caught ‘Le petit train’. The journey lasts for about 50 minutes and takes you around 34 of the main sites. Mr FF doesn’t share my enthusiasm for these ‘little trains’ but he had to admit that this was an excellent introduction to Perpignan.

After the train, we dropped our bags at our hotel. We often stay in Airbnb’s but, on this occasion, had opted for a hotel as we would be there for only one night. Location was important, as we would be doing a lot of walking! Our  hotel ‘Campanile Perpignan Centre’ was situated opposite a lovely park: le square Bir Hakeim.

Our room overlooked the old city walls.

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There was so much to discover and only limited time. This is what we manged to see:

  • Le Castillet 

This is a distinctive red brick tower and the only remaining one of the old town walls. It was built in 1368 to repel invaders and serve as a gate into the city. It was turned into a prison in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Casa Pairal Museum is located in the Castillet. The highlight, for me, was the views from the top of the monument. There are 142 stone steps to get to the top but it’s definitely worth the effort!

  • Le cinema Castillet

This is round the corner from Le Castillet and was completed in 1911. I loved the art nouveau style and this cinema is said to be one of the oldest and most beautiful in France.

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  • Le Palais des Rois de Majorque 

This magnificent 13th century palace was built as a residence for Jaume 11 of Mallorca. Perpignan has strong Catalan roots having belonged to Spain for long periods of its history. It only became French in 1642. Street names in Perpignan are written in French and Catalan.

To reach this impressive palace, there are  zig zagging steps until you reach the beautiful gardens. Here there are breath taking views of the Pic du Canigou. The day we went, entrance was free. I don’t know why. I believe it normally costs 4 euros; well worth it. We opted for the self-guided tour and there is plenty to see.

  • Cathedrale St-Jean Baptiste

On the day we visited, there was a small, family service taking place but we were still able to appreciate the nave, side chapels and stained glass. The foundations were laid in 1324 but it was elevated to cathedral status in 1601. The style is Gothic and the dimensions are impressive.

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There are many beautiful squares in Perpignan where you can people watch and enjoy a coffee, beer and a snack. We were there on a beautiful, warm sunny day. Perfect!

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This brings me on to food. There is no shortage of restaurants in Perpignan. As we were only there for one night, it was quite difficult to chose! In the end, we decided on Casa Santa which is known for being the city’s best Catalan restaurant. It was established in 1846 and is very popular. The inside is best described as ‘intimate’ as there isn’t much space between the tables. We didn’t mind as the food was extremely good! I was enjoying my meal so much that I forgot to take any photos. Here’s one from the restaurant’s Facebook page. I’m sure they won’t mind as I’m singing their praises!

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I’ll finish with a selection of photos which I hope will give you a further flavour of Perpignan. We certainly didn’t manage to see and do everything and we will definitely go back as we enjoyed the city so much!

Have you visited Perpignan? What did you think? I’d love to know!

 

Lou Messugo

Joyeuses Pâques! Happy Easter!

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A very short post, today, just to say  ‘Joyeuses Pâques’ or ‘Happy Easter!’ wherever you may be.

This is a photo I took last weekend in Perpignan. I thought the display in this shop window was delightful.

No wonder that French people call window shopping: ‘le lèche-vitrine.’ This equates with ‘lick a shop window’.  In this case, never was a phrase more appropriate!

 

 

6 Amazing Adventures Beyond Cape Town

Having spent a fantastic week with Mr CT , as I shall now call him, (our friend who lives locally) showing us the ropes, it was time to set out on our own. We hired a car and hit the road! Driving in SA is easy for us Brits, as it is on the left hand side! The roads are also incredible – in general – but we were well aware of some of the crime  issues that are car related.  We were cautious and sensible but that didn’t spoil the driving experience.

Our first stop was an overnight stay at the Aquila Private Game Reserve. Before undertaking a Safari in the Western Cape, it is important to understand that it won’t be like staying in one of the iconic South African Game Reserves e.g. the Kruger National Park. However, it will be malaria free. You will still have the opportunity to see the Big 5: Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard but you need to bear in mind that all five of these species were reintroduced to the Western Cape, having been driven to the brink of extinction. Aquila is also home to the Aquila Animal and Rescue Conservation Centre.

Our accommodation was in a ‘luxury cottage’. It had a patio, corner bath and outdoor rock shower, plus fan and feature “coal‟ stove. The latter wasn’t needed. I liked the elephant towel arrangement that welcomed us!

We went out on safari on the afternoon of our arrival and also at six the next morning. Our driver/ranger was brilliant and it was a fantastic experience.  These photos give you an idea of some of the animals we saw, although there were many more besides, including giraffes, hippos and buffalo. These pics were taken with my phone. The ones (still) on the camera are miles better but I’m too impatient to wait for them to be uploaded.

Following this we set off on our next adventure which was to explore the Garden Route. Our first stop was Mossel Bay and our last was Plettenberg Bay. The natural beauty of the Garden Route is outstanding and the coastline is dotted with fantastic beaches. Many of these beaches are excellent for surfing. We didn’t have our wetsuits – haha!

We spent two nights in a lodge overlooking the beautiful lagoon in Knysna.

One of the high spots (literally!) of our stay here was driving to the top of two sandstone cliffs known as the Heads. The views were amazing.

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Soon it was time to go inland and travel along Route 62. We were heading for Oudtshoorn which is also known as the ostrich capital of the world! We drove away from the ocean and beaches and through a very different type of landscape.

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Oudtshoorn is located in the Klein Karoo between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains. It is an area of surprising contrasts and has its own natural beauty. As we were in the ostrich capital of the world, we had to visit an ostrich farm.

We went to Highgate Ostrich Farm. It started over a hundred years ago. The tour we went on was very informative and hands-on. We now know everything there is to know about ostriches, from their conception to their transformation into ostrich products. We were able to hand feed some of the ostriches and hold a baby ostrich. Ostrich riding does not take place at Highgate (I am pleased to say!) because of the potential injury to the bird. I was so immersed in the tour that I forgot to take photos!

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29km from Oudtshoorn, we visited the amazing Cango Caves. These caves are home to some of the biggest limestone stalagmites in the world. The system of tunnels and chambers run for over 4 km but only about a quarter is open to visitors.

We were taken on a tour of the caves by an informative and amusing guide who demonstrated the cave acoustics by singing! He did have a very beautiful voice.

However, the most surprising element of the whole visit was bumping into someone I had once worked with! I hadn’t seen her for years and I couldn’t help but wonder what are the odds of meeting someone you know, in a cave in South Africa.

A trip to the Western Cape wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the  Winelands. We opted to stay in Franschhoek  which is known as “A corner that is forever France”. This is because about 200 French Huguenots, escaping religious persecution in France between 1688 and 1700, were offered a passage to the Cape and granted land here.

Franschhoek has a wonderful setting, surrounded on three sides by mountains. It has a very laid back, charming atmosphere. It was the ideal place to relax and recuperate at the end of a busy but fantastic trip.

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We also enjoyed eating at two of the many excellent restaurants. After all, Franschhoek is known as the culinary capital of the Cape!

And the wine tasting? We opted for the Leopard’s Leap Estate where we sampled 5 of their delicious wines.

To complete our trip, we returned to Cape Town and enjoyed a final fabulous dinner with Mr CT.

What I’d love to know is if you have ever bumped into someone you know, in an unexpected place; maybe on holiday!

 

 

 

5 Brilliant Blogs

I read a lot of blogs on a variety of topics. One of the reasons for starting this blog was because I was inspired by other blogs.

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This post would be too long if I selected all the blogs I enjoy reading! Therefore, this is just a selection of some my favourites, in no particular order! There will be future posts about other blogs I love, so I hope I haven’t offended anyone by not mentioning them here.

Some of the bloggers  write about life in France, some on fashion, some on food and some on travel. Other blogs I enjoy may not have one specific focus but cover a wide range of topics. The ones, in this post, are all written by women but I also read blogs written by men! Many are written by bloggers who are in a similar age group to me and who tend to have a very positive attitude to the aging process but I like to read blogs written by younger authors, too.

Not all the bloggers I follow are in the UK or France. It’s great to connect with bloggers all over the world. One of the best parts of blogging – for me anyway – is linking with other bloggers.

Barefoot Blogger : inspiring travel over 60.

This is one of the first blogs that inspired me to start blogging. It is written by Deborah who retired from a career in corporate marketing and divorced after 40 years of  marriage. Three years ago, on a whim and following a dream, she moved from South Carolina to Uzès in SW France.

I’ve followed her adventures and attempts to master the French language with fascination. Her blog is truly inspirational!

https://bfblogger.com

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The Frugal Fashion Shopper: charity shop fashion for the stylish woman

 This  blog is written by 72 year old Penny who lives in Brighton. I mention her age because Penny regularly blogs about issues around women and ageing. Penny mainly buys her clothes from charity shops and then styles them in a stunning way. She is a hat lover and is a great believer in colour. I always enjoy reading Penny’s posts which I find interesting, stimulating and generally fabulous! Have a look here:

https://frugalfashionshopper.co.uk/

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Atypical60: A Typical Blog. A Typical Woman. A Typical Take on Life. With an Atypical Twist!

Catherine is a feisty American Blogger with a sharp sense of humour who writes with a blunt honesty. She blogs about all aspects of her daily life as a sixty plus blogger. Her husband happens to be French and Catherine has developed a love of all things French, fostered by regular visits to France. Catherine is a passionate advocate of wigs. She has thinning hair and changes her style of wigs frequently with impressive results. Her blog makes me smile!

https://atypical60.comFC6DAF8B-333E-4446-9FF4-462F9518380C

 

Taste of France:  The beautiful life in the other South of France

This blogger lives near Carcassonne and has a love affair with France and everything French. I love reading this blog because the author is relatively local and writes about an area I know and like. The blog is written with a great deal of detail and each post has a special quality. If you want to know more about the ‘other South of France’ or even discover some luxurious AirBnB apartments, in Carcassonne, do have a look here:

https://francetaste.wordpress.com

The photo below is one I took in Carcassonne

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This is Sixty: All sorts of everything

Eloise writes about what it is like being sixty and so much more besides. You only have to look at her home page to get an idea of the range of different topics that are covered within this blog. These include family, work, leisure, food, poetry and that’s just for starters!

https://thisissixty.blog

I don’t have a photo or gravatar for this blog so here are some spring flowers!

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I hope you have enjoyed reading about these blogs. There will definitely be a future post about some of the other blogs I read and appreciate. Perhaps you have some recommendations for me?!

6 highlights from my trip to Cape Town

Cape Town exceeded my expectations in so many ways. Initially, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the city, its geography, geology and landscape. My eye was constantly drawn to Table Mountain and the ocean.

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It is actually difficult  to select my highlights when there were so many! Therefore, in no particular order:

Watching the sunset over Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain. Incredible! I’m not great with heights, so I was little apprehensive about the cable car trip but it was absolutely fine and I’m so glad I did it. We were very fortunate in having a very good friend, and local resident, to accompany and advise us! His wealth of knowledge meant that we avoided all the long queues to go up the mountain.

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A free Historic City Walking Tour which our friend also organised for us. It was brilliant in terms of understanding what has made Cape Town the city it is. Our guide, who was absolutely wonderful , was one of several who are not paid and only work for tips. He clearly loved Cape Town and did not flinch when talking about slavery, apartheid and the effects of colonialism. Here are some of the photos I took during the walking tour:

If you click on each photo, the caption should appear!

In a similar vein, our visit to Robben Island was outstanding. I think it is an essential destination if you want to learn about and understand some of South Africa’s complex history. It is the symbol of ‘the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering and injustice’.

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Robben Island has housed a leper colony, been a military base, a whaling station and a prison which held convicts and political prisoners. Of course, it is most famous for having Nelson Mandela as a prisoner for eighteen years.

To get there, you catch a ferry from the V&A Waterfront. We booked out tickets on line which meant we avoided all the long queues. The weather was very favourable when we went and the sea calm, so we got there in about thirty minutes. When you arrive on the island, you are transported by buses to visit the main sites. One of the stops was at the limestone quarry where Mandela and fellow prisoners had to carry out hard labour. Each bus has a guide and our one was very entertaining and informative.

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The tour ended with a visit to the maximum security prison and was led by a former political prisoner. Their personal experience is very moving and impactful. As was the visit to Mandela’s cell which remains as it was when he was imprisoned there.

 Bo-Kaap is known for its bright, colourful houses and is the cultural home of Cape Town’s Muslim community. We decided to do another Free Walking Tour as we had enjoyed the first one so much. This enabled us to learn about the history, culture, architecture, traditions, religion and economics of the area. Here are a selection of the photos I took of some of the very distinctive houses.

The last highlight was a drive from Cape Town to Cape Point returning via Boulders Beach and Simon’s Town. Our friend drove us along the Atlantic Seaboard from Sea Point, through Camps Bay and Hout Bay. These were just some of the scenic places we passed through, there were many more besides. As we were passengers, we were able to truly appreciate the breath-taking views.

We stopped several times, en route, to take in the stunning scenery and, in this case, to take a look at the Shark Spotter. What a job! If he spots sharks, the call goes out and a warning given to people on the beach.

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Cape Point is where the most powerful lighthouse, on the South African coast, can be seen. The sea is  very dangerous here and there are 26 recorded shipwrecks in the area.  We all walked up to see the lighthouse and to enjoy the amazing, panoramic views. Unfortunately, I was so taken with views that I didn’t take any photos! However, Mr FF did record the views but hasn’t downloaded his photos yet. Eventually, I made the descent alone, as our friend and Mr FF took the Flying Dutchman funicular to save their knees!! Just to confuse you, the lighthouse below is not the one I just described but another one we saw en route!

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Trivia: Contrary to popular belief, Cape Point is not the place where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, although the warm and cold currents mix slightly in the nearby False Bay…The actual point is at Cape Agulhas.

Whenever we were driving, I was amused by the signs warning of Baboons and tortoises on the road. Possibly, because we had a pet tortoise when I was a child. The most baboons we saw were when we stopped for refreshments at Cape Point.

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Finally, I need to talk to you about penguins! In particular, the colony which lives at Boulder’s Beach, between Cape Town and Cape Point. This is one of the few sites where African penguins can be observed at close range, as they wander freely in a protected natural environment.

This has turned out to be quite a lengthy post but it was extremely difficult to select just a few highlights when there were so many.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and I would love to know if you have ever been to Cape Town or South Africa or where your dream destination might be.

Coming up … my highlights outside of Cape Town, including a safari, the Garden Route, Route 62 and the Winelands.

36 hours in Dubai

Dubai has never really featured highly on my list of places I want to visit. However, when the opportunity did arise I felt we should grab it. This was because we were en route for Cape Town to celebrate a special birthday for Mr FF! I am not the biggest fan of flying, so the chance to break our long haul flight was too good to miss. I’ve read and heard so much about Dubai that I thought I should find out about the city for myself.

Our flight was with Emirates on a 380 Airbus. I must say that I was very impressed, both with the food and the in flight entertainment. We arrived in Dubai quite late and caught a taxi to our hotel.

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This is the view from our hotel room balcony. Pretty dramatic?! Our first impressions were of the tall buildings and the lights. Of course, Dubai is home to the tallest building in the world: the Burj Khalifa.

We were pretty tired by this time and decided to settle for room service, so that we could get up early and make the most of the next day.

I’ve blogged about Hop on, Hop Off buses before when we visited Barcelona and Glasgow. I think if you’re spending a relatively short time in a city, they are a great introduction.

There are three possible routes: the city, beach and marina. We only had time for one of these, so we decided to take the city route which would give us some understanding of the history and culture of Dubai.

The tour begins at the Dubai Mall. This is the largest shopping mall, in the world, and has over one thousand shops. It also houses an aquarium and an ice rink!

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If you are a fan of shopping, especially designer brands, Dubai is a tax free haven. Here’s the Wafi shopping mall, photographed from the top of the bus. We didn’t go in but from the outside it looks more like an Egyptian museum.

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As we continued our route, I was surprised to see how much green there was in Dubai.

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As we continued, this building caught my eye:

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We decided to hop off and visit the Dubai Museum and see one of the original parts of the city. Unfortunately, we hadn’t factored in the long, lunchtime closure of the museum. Below you can see some of the original city walls. There was a strange type of heat mist and the sun had gone behind the clouds, so the colours seem rather dull.

For our final stop we opted to visit Dubai Creek. Some people say that this is the real heart of the city. It is a saltwater estuary and when trade with the outside world began, over a century ago, this sheltered inlet was the natural place to develop a trading port. The creek has been widened many times and is nowadays busy with abra – small wooden water taxis – carrying passengers between the souks of Deira on the northeastern bank and the historic district of Bur Dubai on the southwestern bank.

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We started by visiting the souks:

I’ve visited souks in other countries but I found the ones in Dubai were much less intimidating than others I have experienced. Although we were approached by guys trying to persuade us to buy their goods, they weren’t pushy or nasty. We managed to resist purchasing any items – even in the utensils souk!

Our Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour included an hour long ‘cruise’ on a traditional dhow. This is a traditional wooden boat originally used  by fishermen. The boat trip was a very good way to experience both sides of Dubai, the old and the new.

We ended our day by having dinner in a Lebanese restaurant that happened to overlook Dubai’s Dancing Fountains. These are the world’s largest musical foundations and spray up to 150 metres. The display is illuminated and accompanied by music. It was impressive! Here’s a clip I found to give you an idea of the experience.

I was so glad that we had taken the opportunity to sample Dubai.

I’d love to know if you’ve ever been there and what you thought.

Next stop: Cape Town

5 recommended places to eat in Brighton

We have just returned from a five day house and dog sit in central Brighton.

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The owners of the lovely little Lurcher, pictured above, had left us with plenty of recommendations for places where we could eat, so we decided it would be rude not to try at least some of them!.

One of the reasons we like Brighton and Hove is because there is such a diverse range of restaurants and cafés. I love that it is so easy to find excellent vegetarian and vegan food and that all the places we visited were within walking distance of the house.

Here are the 5 recommendations, ordered only by when we visited them:

  • Billie’s Café 

This is a very homely café which is well known for its all-day breakfasts and massive hash browns. All the hashes are made to order with various toppings. There are plenty of vegetarian options, too. Having seen the size of the hashes, I wimped out and went for the Welsh Rarebit which came with a generous and delicious side salad. This was more Hare-sized, than rabbit, but I somehow managed to eat it all. Will definitely go back and next time have a hash … garlic mushroom and avocado is calling to me! Below is my husband’s hash. I tried a piece and it was yummy.

  •  Flour Pot Kitchen

This is the Brighton Beach branch which is situated in the Kings Road Arches. It was the perfect place for us to stop after a long walk along the beach with the dog! It’s a dog friendly café and has a very welcoming atmosphere. The only problem is what to eat, as there are so many delicious choices. I had a lentil and mushroom roll, the veggie equivalent of a sausage roll! This was followed by a slice of flourless chocolate cake. Mr FF had a pie which did have meat and, instead of having a cake, decided to try the mushroom and lentil roll.

Here is Edie, in the café, hoping for a doggy treat!

  • Bincho Yakitori

Bincho Yakitori was very different to anywhere I have eaten before and is probably best described as Japanese tapas! There are a variety of small sharing dishes on the menu with the addition of daily specials. Everything is cooked to order. Our choices included the Tempura Sea Bream, Pork Belly and mushroom rice. We had some others as well which I can’t remember but I do know that everything we had was delicious!

  • Bankers Fish and Chips

You can’t possibly stay in Brighton and Hove without having fish and chips! This particular venue was recommended by our hosts and was very local. We opted to eat in, rather than take away, on this occasion. I’m not a fan of greasy food, particularly when it comes to the batter on my fish! I’m happy to report that everything was fresh and beautifully cooked. We had mushy peas and Mr FF also had bread so that he could make a chip butty. You can’t take him anywhere! This was all washed down with a very tasty bottle of white wine.

  • Foodilic

Last but not least was the Western Road branch of Foodilic. We actually lunched here twice! The emphasis is on healthy eating and there is something for everyone; vegetarians, vegans and carnivores but I would say the emphasis is on the former. The buffet (eat as much as you like) is incredible value at £7.50 and everything I chose was delicious. I had vegetarian moussaka accompanied with some excellent salads including roasted vegetables, lentils and spinach. I felt spoilt for choice! Mr FF even managed a raw cake for dessert. He chose pistachio and mint, pictured below.

Although we were very unlucky with the weather, we still had a fantastic stay and walked miles and miles every day which is the great advantage of having a dog. In light of everything we ate, this was probably just as well and we thoroughly enjoyed trying out all these new food venues!