Sunday, 30 April 2017

Having A Whale Of A Tyne

The title is rather punny, I know. I recently made a spur-of-the-moment decision to accompany my mum and brother to Newcastle Upon Tyne for a few days. It was a much needed break as I haven't been away since Amsterdam in September and was starting to get itchy feet, and a chance to get my head together. I've been struggling a lot with anxiety recently, which I'll probably go into a little bit more at a later stage, and I'm trying to say 'yes' to doing different things more and develop some more hobbies. So what better way to do all this than to go somewhere new?

We flew with Ryanair which was very handy, and stayed right in the centre of Newcastle in a hotel/hostel type called Sleeperz, which was fabulous and very affordable. The staff there were so friendly and I loved the chilled vibe. We had breakfast included and when you book online they give you a £5 off voucher to spend on food and drink which I think is a really nice touch. 

Our first stop, after we dropped all our luggage off - I typically packed about 50 outfits even though we were only away for 4 days - was Grainger Market. A 5 minute walk from Sleeperz and we were there already - Newcastle is so easy to get around. We were overwhelmed by the choice in the market and how cheap everything was. Sandwiches for £1, strawberries for 99p a punnet, gigantic pizza slices for £1.80 - you'd never get that value in Ireland. We had to stop at The Pudding Parlour to try a Mars brownie and a Malteser Slice, for research purposes obviously. The Pudding Parlour do the most incredible looking treats and they tasted as good as they looked, I was tempted to try one of everything but my jeans said no.

We wandered around the market and saw the oldest remaining Marks and Spencers, quirky gift shops, sweet shops, and then we found the pizza stall where I'd seen so many people eating huge pizza slices from. We shared a slice of Margherita and it was nearly as big as my head - for £1.80 you can't go wrong and honestly I'm still dreaming about it, it was absolutely delicious. The queue for the stall definitely represented how good the pizza was!

We'd booked a spot in one of Newcastle's two cat cafés, Mog On The Tyne (love the name). They very kindly let us in before our booking because we were dying to see the kitties. We sat by the window and after making embarrassing cooing noises at the cats we ordered 2 of their speciality hot chocolates and a cheese and onion pasty. My hot chocolate was called The Jaffa and mum had their Stan The Man hot chocolate (Stan is one of the resident cats). The drinks came out and they were incredible - topped with candyfloss, cream, chocolate sauce, mine with Jaffa Cakes and mum's with Oreos. Definitely a treat. Stan himself was very taken with the idea of a hot chocolate and he managed to dip a cheeky paw into my cream before I snatched it away! All of the cats at Mog On The Tyne are rescue cats and they were all absolutely gorgeous. They even had a wheel to run on and an automatic laser pointer machine! We eventually had to say goodbye to the moggies and I got a Mog On The Tyne sticker as a momento to stick on the back of my phone. I was very tempted by a cat watch and I'm kicking myself I didn't get one now.

In the evening we got the bus out to the Metrocentre shopping centre - which is apparently the biggest shopping centre in the UK?! To my mum's dismay I headed straight for the Primark, but I was pretty happy to potter around in there on my own for a bit. I came out with a big bag of things for a great price, as is typical with Primark. I had a quick look around some of the other shops but as it was quite late in the evening and we'd arranged to meet at Wetherspoons for dinner I didn't look too much. We left the shopping centre with full bellies and, in my case, a very full shopping bag.

The next day was a bit of a touristy day. We walked to Ouseburn Valley and saw the cute little beach huts before heading to the Ouseburn farm. Ouseburn farm is free to enter and it was really lovely. We bought some food for the chickens, pigs and sheep and spent a while feeding them and talking to them. Mum was very taken by one of the cows - they are lovely creatures, such gentle eyes, even though one of them tried to lift my jumper up by licking it! I was very tempted to see if I could bring one of the piggies home with me in my suitcase, he was so cute. As well as the typical farm animals, Ouseburn farm also have snakes, a parrot, tortoises and turtles, chinchillas, and guinea pigs and rabbits. I highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Newcastle, it's a lovely day out.

Of course I had to take some animal selfies...

Our next stop was Seven Stories which is an exhibition devoted to some well known childrens' authors. Don't be fooled though, it's for all ages and was very interesting. Because we're actually 5 years old we tried on the costumes and drew pictures of teddy bears, as you do. I was very interested in the Michael Morpurgo exhibition, he was one of my favourite authors growing up and I loved how he said you shouldn't be afraid to write, just get it out whether it be on paper or online - it definitely inspired me to blog more.

We'd booked a tour for the Victoria Tunnel so we headed there next. We were all given torches and hard hats to use in the tunnel. The Victoria Tunnel was used in WW2 as an air raid shelter and would sometimes hold up to 9,000 people. Our tour guides played an imitation air raid siren before we headed into the tunnel. We were shown replicas of the 3-tier beds people used to have to share, the chemical toilets they used to have to use and the system they used to transport coal in wagons through the tunnels. The government back in the day decided to make several entrances to the tunnel but they only had a budget of £9,000 yet they ended up spending £37,000 - some of the entrances ended up in really random locations like people's back gardens!

The tour took about 2 hours and it was very interesting, albeit a little too long for my liking. At the end of the tour, we were asked to switch our flashlights off so we were in pitch black. The tour guides played audio of a deep rumbling as though a wagon was travelling through the tunnel. I am a little bit afraid of the dark so I was already apprehensive, but when one of the tour guides started screaming and shouting into our ears that we were all 'going to die' I have to admit I lost my cool a bit and got extremely anxious. I just about managed to stop a panic attack because I really got a fright and wasn't expecting it. I do wish the tour guides would've warned us if we had a nervous disposition we might not like this part, and to be honest it did ruin the tour a little bit for me. That being said, if you're not jumpy like I am, I'd recommend it as it is good value for money and it's a very interesting insight into how people lived during the war.

Mum went to check out the Angel of the North while I went for a wander around some of the more local shops. In the evening we met up again to have dinner in a place called Zaap Thai, which was absolutely unreal. Zaap aim to give an authentic Thai dining experience, and that it was. I actually felt as though I was dining in the streets of Thailand! The food was incredible - I had crispy tofu, egg fried rice and also shared a tofu Pad Thai with mum. Delicious. For dessert we got fried banana and banana fritters and they were heavenly. If you're in Newcastle go to Zaap - it's such an experience.

The next day it was sadly time to go home. I loved every minute of my Newcastle experience (except maybe the 1.5 minutes of the tunnel scare!) and would love to go back - it's an amazing city and the people are so friendly. As always thanks for reading and stay tuned for more ramblings.

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