Author Archives: Karen Bryan

About Karen Bryan

Hello, I'm Karen Bryan, I created Europe a la Carte in 2002 to highlight the best places to visit in Europe with travel tips, photos and no fluff reviews. I’m also an artist; my artworks are often inspired by my travels

Where are the Best Places to Downsize in the UK?

Life changes such as the children finally leaving home, or retirement from work can lead to people reconsidering their housing needs. Whether it’s to save money, or simply the desire to have a smaller home and garden to maintain, downsizing can be an exciting opportunity.

Once the decision to downsize has been made, it could be worthwhile considering not just the size of home wanted, but also the location. A new home in a different part of the country with interesting places to explore visit can offer a whole new lease of life.

Consider these two prime locations in England. A town and a city that are very different but enjoy an excellent range of affordable properties available for downsizers, as well as offering an incredible quality of life.

The South Coast

Fareham in Hampshire featured in the top 50 places to live for quality of life in both the Lloyds Banking Group’s Halifax 2019 survey and Yopa’s Retirement Guide. Up 36 places in the same survey from its position in 2018, this is a market town
conveniently located between the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth.

Fareham has a coastal location with easy access to beautiful countryside nearby. Both the South Downs and the New Forest make for great days out, offering a range of leisure activities such as walking, cycling or horse-riding. There are plenty of water-based sports available nearby, from sailing to kayaking and paddle-boarding, the Solent hosts them all.

For history buffs, Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard has a replica of Nelson’s ship, HMS Victory, and the Tudor warship the Mary Rose on display. There are also naval museums, shops, restaurants harbour tours and seasonal events. For those living nearby, it would be worth buying an annual ticket to regularly enjoy everything on offer. No doubt any visiting family or friends would also enjoy this attraction.

The town’s pedestrianised shopping centre and choice of cafes and restaurants are well-regarded. Tripadvisor reviews are positive, with reviewers writing that the range of well-known brands and smaller independent shops holds its own against the competition of the city shopping centres. Parking is plentiful and the town is well-connected by public transport with both a bus and train station. Trains run regularly to local destinations as well as further afield to London Waterloo, Brighton and Cardiff.

This location has a healthy but competitively priced property market. Flats average around £167,000 and smaller houses can be seen on the market for £230,000 plus. Properties for the over 55s are available for under £100,000.

The North West

Further to the north, the city of Chester is a wonderful place to live. Named Deva Victrix by the Romans who founded it as a fortress, the city sits on the banks of River Dee. It is notable, amongst other things, for its amazing black and white architectural buildings and the intact city walls.

The city has an impressive thousand year old catherdral for residents to visit or worship in. Built from sandstone with amazing details externally, it is also worth venturing inside to enjoy the stunning nave and painted roof. Shopping is an upmarket experience. Visit the Rows which have shops in two tiers and photograph the beautiful historic Eastgate Clock which is reputedly the second most photographed clock in the UK, after Big Ben.

For leisure activities, residents are thoroughly spoilt for choice. As well as the usual sports centres and golf courses, the city is home to the Cheshire County Cricket Club and a local football club. For horse-racing fans, the city boasts England’s oldest racecourse, the Roodee, as it is known. The Roodee hosts its most valuable festival meeting in May, with the Dee Stakes used as a Derby trial by top trainers and racehorses.

As Cheshire’s county city, the streets are full of top-quality places to eat and drink including a Michelin starred restaurant, Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor.

Chester has so much going for it, downsizers might find it hard to believe it could have properties to suit the downsized budget. Average prices are very slightly less than in Fareham and pleasant properties can be found on the market for just under £200,000. For those wanting to get the full historic experience, there is a range of beautiful period properties to choose from, but expect to pay more for these, particularly when located nearer the city centre.

Top 5 Destinations in Iceland

Iceland is a country of volcanoes, lava fields, glacial lakes and rivers, and vibrant and diverse cities, villages, and towns. The country’s unusual geology and the ruggedness of the terrain make it perfect for road trips of every kind. Many use Iceland camper rental options to get the most out of their visit.

Within this mind, let’s look at five destinations you should visit on any trip to Iceland.


Landmannalaugar is a region of the Icelandic Southern Highlands and has some real gems to savour. It is a region of geothermal activity, and some kind of volcanic activity formed much of it. It is housed within the Fjallabak Nature Reserve.

It is a favourite among hikers and campers, and there are some brilliant trails to follow. They either take you to some  magnificent awe-inspiring places such as the Grænagil Canyon or The Rhyolite Mountains.

To reach the Highlands, you will need a 4 x 4 vehicle as two-wheel drive cars and campervans won’t be able *to negotiate the terrain*.This top 5 camper companies guide will
help you choose the right vehicle to reach this brilliant destination.

Golden Circle

Iceland’s Golden Circle is a highly popular ring road that features some of the best attractions in the country. A two-wheel drive vehicle will let you savour all of it, and you can get several day tours from Reykjavik too.

It is impossible to list all of the attractions on The Golden Circle, but here are a few gems.

  • Thingvellir National Park –  For many, this is the first stop on The Golden Circle and is a UNESCO protected sight. The park contains many geological wonders, and it is easy to see why the region is deemed the cradle of Icelandic civilisation. There is so much to see and do here it is impossible to list everything. The fact the park sits where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet is probably enough to pique your curiosity.
  • The Geysir Geothermal Area – This features a 3km square of geothermal land that shoots hot water into the air. The star of the show is Strokkur, that shoots water hundreds of feet. The whole region, however, is fascinating and local spas simply get heated water from the ground.
  • Gullfoss Waterfall – The Gullfoss Waterfall is probably going to be the first waterfall you see in Iceland. Water cascades over two levels,which is awe-inspiring in of itself. The fact that you view it from aboveand you can do it all angles will keep your Instagram feed busy for hours.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Two hours from Reykjavik and featuring *pink sand beaches*, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is referred to by locals as Iceland in a nutshell or Iceland in miniature. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula forms the Snaefellsnes National Park, and you can see the Snaefellsnes volcano, lava fields,waterfalls, and caves.

As well as the geology and the land, the fishing villages along the peninsula are delightful.

Delights include the Eldborg Crater which is a delightful hike to thetop of the crater which is 50 metres deep and the Landbrotalaug Geothermal Pool. Here, the temperatures are a perfect 36 – 40°C all year round and perfect for a quick dip.

Skaftafell Nature Reserve

The Skaftafell Nature Reserve has been part of the *Vatnajokull National Park* since 2008 making it the second biggest national park in Europe. It is a wilderness region of the country and contains some brilliant vistas.

Many climbers that want to reach Iceland’s highest summit,
Hvannadalshnjukur, use it as a base camp. Any visit to the region will allow you to savour waterfalls, icy lagoons and rivers, volcanoes, beautiful floras, and black sand.

Due to the rugged and varied landscapes, several movies have been shoth ere including Batman Begins, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Perhaps the fact that Vatnajokull, Iceland’s largest glacier, has its roots here is the most inspiring reason to spend time in the Skaftafell Nature Reserve.

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa that is a constant 39°C all year round. The milky blue waters that are teeming with minerals and vitamins have attracted the world’s rich and famous. Beyoncé and Bjork have all been spotted here, so any visit may see you sharing the Blue Lagoon with a celebrity or two.

There are a high number of hotels and retreats based around The Blue Lagoon. It is only 15 minutes from the capital, however,  so a day trip here works well if you are planning to drive around the Ring Road.

The water’s minerals and vitamins provide rich skin nourishment and only The Golden Circle tour receives more visitors.

Iceland is a fantastic country and one you should visit as soon as you can. Hire your campervan and get out on the open road. Each day will bring adventure and wonder, and you will never want to leave.

Perthshire Open Studios Showcase Exhibition at The Bield

As I didn’t have sufficient free time to do the rounds at Perthshire Open Studios 2018, I decided to visit the two showcase exhibitions. I was disappointed by the exhibition at Pitlochry Theatre, which consisted of a few pieces in one section of the restaurant. This made me wonder if it was worth stopping off at the other Pertshire Open Studios showcase exhibition, held at the Barn Gallery at The Bield Christian retreat, on the outskirts of Perth.

Thank goodness that I did go the exhibition at The Bield, as it was wonderful. There was one piece from the majority of the 122 studios taking part in the event. Below are some of my favourites.

I was so glad that one of the artists told me that it was possible to go into the garden at The Bield that day, as I didn’t see any signs saying that the garden was open.

There was a pretty courtyard as I walked around to enter the garden.

The garden was really beautiful. Evidently the other time which it is open to the public is during a Open Gardens event in June, to raise money for charity.

I hope that I have more time to visit individual studios during the next Perthshire Open Studios.


Art Walk Porty Edinburgh

Art Walk Porty is an annual event held in Edinburgh’s seaside district of Portobello. There are walks, artist’s talks, themed shop windows workshops, music and a parade. Lots of local artists open up their homes to display their work to the public (called Art Houses).

The dates for the 2019 Art Walk Porty are 7-15 September. If you’re planning to stay in Edinburgh for attend the event. check out Tripplo UK for hotel voucher codes to reduce the price of your accommodation.

Below are photos of some of the Art Walk Porty 2018 shop windows.

The ‘Carousel’ installation at St Marks Church, one of the Pleasure Ground locations, reminded me of the logo for my Dad’s former toy and book shop called Merrygoround.

The first Art House which I visited, was home to one of my favourite pieces.

The artist, Jude Nixon, had created a beautiful sculptural installation from rice paper panels decorated using paint applied hydrated seaweed.

Another one of my favourite Art Houses was Robin Baillie’s.

Robin’s very large, calm dog took all the visitors in her stride, as she settled down on the floor for a sleep.

I liked the fact that Teresa Gordon’s woman in a swimming costume was a more normal shape than often portrayed.

Teresa’s fish and bird lampshades were striking.

Jenny Martin’s screen printing demonstration was very interesting. Below is some of her work.

There were two artists exhibiting at Art House 36. Karl Stern’s prints were lovely.

Javier Ventura’s pieces were inspired by the former Art Deco style outdoor swimming pool in Portobello.

John Thayer’s geometric pieces appealed to me.

In 2018, Porty Art Walk lasted for ten days from 30 August to 9 September. But most of the events were on during the two weekends.

Orginally, I had only planned to attend on the first Saturday. I had an enjoyable morning visiting several Art Houses and one screen printing demonstration.

I had booked on the Pier to Pier  participatory art walk by Greig Borgoyne at 1pm. I turned up expecting a saunter along the prom, starting at the location of the former pier in Portobello.

Prior to the walk, I had been emailed a link to a video on Vimeo, which was of the artist Greg walking on Hastings Pier taking a few steps then changing direction.

The 16 participants assembled to start the walk,  Greg produced an enormous piece of elastic. Each participant’s video had a different number from one to twenty. Greg explained that we had to space out within the the perimeter of the elastic, trying to maintain tension. The person with the the video numbered one would start off copying Greg;s steps on their video. Everyone else would copy their steps. Once you had lead the walk, you left.

You could either hold the elastic in your hand or push against it with your body.

My video was number 19, so I knew that I was in it for the long haul.

It became really difficult to maintain the tension as the number of participants diminished. This meant that the elastic started to drag in the wet sand on the shore line. I began to wonder if I would end up with friction burns on my hands or body, as I tried to keep the elastic taut. It felt a bit like using a turbo charged Slendertone muscle toning belt. I felt as the event would have been more user friendly, if the elastic hadn’t been so long.

The art walk lasted for 50 minutes. Suffice to say that I was absolutely knackered by the end. My face was the colour of beetroot and I was covered in wet sand.

I was so exhausted, that I had to abandon my plan to visit more Art Houses in the afternoon.

That meant that I decided to return to Porty Art Walk the following day. That turned out to be a good decision, as despite arriving before opening time of 11am on Sunday, I still didn’t have enough time to get around all the Art Houses.

I did attend Greig Borgoyne’s talk on Sunday afternoon, as I was intrigued to find out more about his practice. I discovered that the length of the elastic used in the Pier to Pier participatory walk had been determined by the length of the former Portobello pier.

I thought that Porty Art Walk was a wonderful event. It was very well organised. It felt like there is a great  community spirit on Portobello. All the artists were so welcoming to visitors to their home.

Edinburgh Art Festival

I spent several days at the Edinburgh Art Festival 2018. There was so much to see.

I’ve already written articles about three exhibitions, Liberty Art Fashion and Fabric at Dovecoat Studios, Green Man by Lucy Skaer at the Tablot Rice Gallery and Joana Vasconceol’s Gateway at Jupiter Artland,But I wanted to highlight more of the venues which were part of this art festival.

There was lots on at the Edinburgh College of Art. The MA Postgraduate Show was only on for one week.

Rhubaba Gallery and Studios, in Arthur Street, around half way down Leith Walk had a sound installation All in a Day’s Work by Andrea Zarza.

Further down in Leith was Andy Cumming’s Adam Lunklater: Mythopeia, based on the artist’s research into mythology and the occult.

A couple of miles east in Newhaven, was the Hemispheric Phases exhibition at Edinburgh Sculpture  Workshop, based on a six month exchange between Scotland and Argentina.

The Open Eye Gallery in the new town was exhibiting work by the Scottish artist John Bellany.

Confusingly some art exhibitions were not part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, but part of the main festival. I’d read about one these, Paperwork 5 at the Edinburgh Ski Club.

On my walk back to the car from the Ski Club, I was really glad that I spotted the Six Women in Glass exhibition at Converge

I attended a free Saturday morning workshop at the Partriothall Gallery in Stockbridge, based on the  It Is Incredible How Much Happiness We Sometimes Share Together by the Slip Collective. I didn’t see this exhibition mentioned in the Edinburgh Art Festival programme, but knew about it as I am on the Patriothall mailing list. The workshop participants took a walk along the nearby Water of Leith to collect some flora to use for printing fabric. Below is my piece.

It illustrates that it’s a good idea to look out for exhibitions and events which may not be part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, but take place during the same period.

Arts & Crafts Trail in Kirkcubright

The Arts and Crafts Trail in Kirkcubright, in south west Scotland, celebrated it’s 15th year in 2018. It’s usually held over the first weekend in August.

In 2018, there were 108 venues on the Art and Crafts Trail, predominantly in town. I arrived one hour before the official opening time of 11am, to ensure a good parking space and get my bearings.

The Sea Hames willow sculpture was located by the harbour car park.

Some local residents also opened their gardens to the public during the event. I popped into see one, as the rain had stopped when I came out Kirkcubright Galleries.

The theme of the 2018 Arts and Crafts Trail was pirates. Some local residents were participating by having pirate pictures in their window.

I spent quite a bit of time at the Tolbooth Arts Centre, which was hosting three exhibitions.

The winning entries from the Rotary Young Artists’ Competition were displayed in the stairwells.

I loved the jewellery display by Red Squirrel Crafts, desgined and created by Beth Currie.

The crocheted jewellery inspired by nature.

My next port of call was Cochrane Hall.

I enjoyed my visit to Greengate, the former home of Scottish illustrator Jessie M King, whose work I had seen earlier in the day at Kirkcubright Galleries.

Greengate is still home to an artist, Pauline Saul, one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Trail.

The view from the Garden Studio, venue 33, reminded me of the scene painted by Peploe, which I had seen that morning in Kirkcubright Galleries.

The Harbour Cottage Gallery is in a great location.

Below are photos of some of the other venues on the Arts and Crafts Trail in Kirkcubright.

I did manage visit one of the venues located outside Kirkcubright, at the Marrbury Smokehouse, which sits beside Carsluith Castle, as you drive west of the A75 towards Dumfries. I was only able to the pieces by Ruby Marr which were on display in the cafe. You had to come to an evening event to see the full exhibition.

I reckon that you could spend two or three days on the Arts and Crafts Trail in order to visit all the venues. I think it is a wonderful event. Everyone at the venues was so friendly and welcoming. There is so much artistic talent in the area.

The Garden at House of Dun

I visited the gardens at the House of Dun, near Montrose in Angus, in the early evening in mid September. It was after closing time for the house, but I was happy to enjoy the evening sunshine in the garden, which is open until dusk.

As I am a member of the National Trust of Scotland, I was exempt  the £3 parking charge. There’s no charge for entry to the garden.

I spent most of my time at the House of Dun in the walled garden.

I sat on a  bench where it was sheltered from the wind,

There were still plenty of flowers in bloom.

There was a crown shaped hedge in the centre of the Walled Garden.

I then spent a few minutes at the front of House of Dun, admiring the circular hedge and the countryside views.

I could make out the Montrose Basin in the distance. There is a path down to the basin, but I didn’t have the time or energy for that.

I really enjoyed my evening visit to the garden at House of Dun. My only quibble was that the toilets were closed. In my opinion, they should be open until dusk too.

Visiting Gatehouse of Fleet

I popped into the town of Gatehouse of Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway when I was driving from Barholm Accommodation in Creetown to Kirkcubright, I’d read that there was a pop up artist’s shop in the town which I wanted to see.

There is free parking with public toilets in the town centre. As it was a lovely morning, I decided to go for a short walk along the Water of Fleet. I spotted a picnic bench, next to a wooden sculpture, with a river view, so decided to return there with my flask.

Then I crossed the road and walked down to the Mill on the Fleet, as the pop up artist’s shop was on the top floor there. As I approached the mill, I saw an enormous wooden sculpture.

There were a couple of enormous mill wheels outside the building.

There’s a small wheel at the side of building.

On the ground floor there’s the Mill Cafe, which has some outdoor seating.

On the first floor, there were exhibits charting the history of Gatehouse of Fleet, There was scale model of the town.

Information boards related some facts about the town.

For kids there were some historic costumes for dressing up.

There was also an old school desk.

You could try your hand at carding, spinning and weaving.

I liked the collages made by local children.

I enjoyed the views down over the river.

One part of the top floor is a book shop.

I was very impressed the artist’s shop. The quality of the work was high and the prices reasonable.

I really enjoyed my stop in Gatehouse of Fleet and spend more time there than I planned. 21 recommend it as a pit stop if you are driving on the A75 between Dumfries and Stranraer.

Kirkcubright Galleries

Kirkcubright Galleries opened in June 2018. I was keen to visit, as Kirkcubright has a reputation as an artists’ town.

I liked the wrought iron work on the gate in front of the the main entrance door.

My first impression positive. The staircase was beautiful and there was a feeling of light and space.

The first floor cafe had views over to the church opposite.

As I have a National Art Pass, I didn’t have to pay the £4 adult admission fee to see the Stars of Scotland temporary exhibition. My favourite piece was by the Scottish colourist J D Fergusson. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted in the exhibition.

The permanent collection is housed on the ground floor.

I really liked the decorated chairs by William Miles Johnstone, a bird and animal artist.

There were some gorgeous ceramics.

Peploe’s depiction of Kirkcubright is more colourful that reality.

Jessie M King, who lived in Kirkcubright, was best known for her book and magazine illustrations, but she also designed fabrics (for Liberty), jewellery and painted pottery.

Below are greetings card designed by King.

Below are two of her illustrations for Wynken, Blyken & Nod by poet Eugene Field.

There were sculptures of animals and their young by Phyllis M Bone.

Below are some photos of other exhibitions at Kirkcubright Galleries.

Kirkcubright Galleries is open on Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm. On a Sunday it’s noon to 5pm. It’s free to enter, except for some temporary exhibitions. There’s plenty of free parking in Kirkcubright.

Holidaying With Another Couple

Going on holiday with your couple friends isn’t everyone’s idea of a perfect break. You might be worried about potential clashes when staying in such close proximity or that you and your partner won’t get any time alone.

However, holidaying with another couple can be great if you’re open and honest about any worries because let’s face it, they’ll probably feel the same way as you do! Here’s a few things to bear in mind when you’re planning a holiday with another couple.

It Could Be Much Cheaper

One of the main benefits of holidaying with coupled up friends is how much money you could save. With the price split between you all, you could rent an full-blown apartment or a Spanish villa with a pool, like from Villa Plus for example. Somewhere like this might be out of your price range when it’s just the two of you, but it could become an affordable option when split between two or three couples. A luxury villa in Spain for less? Sign me up!

Plan Some Separate Couple Time

Remember that just because you’re on holiday with other couples, it doesn’t mean you have to do everything together! Make sure everyone’s on the same page in this respect; plan group events together, such as day trips and meals, but also schedule some separate couple activities so you’re not spending 24/7 as a group.

After all, your holiday budgets won’t be the same and you’ll probably have different things that you want to see and do. However, don’t write these off too quickly as having individual interests can be a good thing! You might get to see a whole new side of your holiday destination that you wouldn’t normally.

Be Respectful

Last but not least, be respectful of your holiday pals. The good thing is that you’ll all be on your best behaviour already, so you’re less likely to engage in silly couple squabbles that could arise if it was just the two of you.

Even so, remember to give each other space. Holidays can be intense experiences that can shake even the strongest of friends! This is particularly important when partners are involved as there’s likely to be at least one person who doesn’t know the others as well, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re not living in each other’s pockets.

If you want a luxury holiday villa for cheaper, it could be a good idea to book with your couple friends. As long as you all agree about the important aspects (such as budgets, the itinerary and giving mutual respect) going away with another couple could be a match made in holiday heaven!