Hotel Review, mini break, Travel, Travel inspiration, UK, Uncategorized, weekend break

Sheffield: A stay at the Psalter Hotel and how to get around during the pandemic

It’s pretty clear that we’ve moved into a new phase of bizarre normality. We have found ourselves once again in a national lock down. With the rule of 6, hands, face, space dominating the news a few weeks ago and a tiered system set to continue dividing our communities after the 2nd of December; it’s hard to fast forward to a time when things will be ‘normal’ again. But, we have to hold on to hope that these restrictions to our lives, no matter how difficult, will at some point fade away. Until that time, we must support our communities, small businesses and the hospitality sector where we can particularly in this run up to Christmas.

For the first time I have teamed up with guest writers, Kate Boddy from Hydracreative and Harriet Dolphin from the Psalter Hotel, Sheffield. They have written a brilliant guest post on vising the Northern city of Sheffield, focusing on getting around this Northern powerhouse and a stay at the gorgeously boutique hotel, the Psalter.

Sheffield City Centre re-opened its streets and shops in June following the national lockdown, and since then the city has been working hard to make sure it is COVID-19 safe. The city is set to do the same again come the end of lockdown two. With new signage, socially distanced shop queues and pedestrian systems, and new hand sanitiser stations installed in places with high footfall, Sheffield is ensuring it remains a safe city for both its residents and visitors.

Sheffield has many great places to stay: here we’ll look at how hotels are handling the ongoing changes, and what they are doing to remain welcoming and above all, safe, places to stay.

With so many great sights to see when visiting Sheffield and the surrounding areas, it’s useful to be aware of the best ways to get around. Here are some of our top tips on how best to get around in Sheffield to make sure you get the most out of your trip.

Hotels

Government guidelines on COVID-19 have required hotels to adhere to certain precautions to make sure they are keeping their guests and staff safe during the pandemic. Over the past few months, many of Sheffield’s hotels have reopened their doors and have followed guidelines set by AA’s COVID Confident and Visit Britain’s Good To Go standards and have gained accreditation.

The Psalter is a boutique hotel tucked away in Nether Edge, a well-connected area of Sheffield. They have re-opened their doors in adherence to the strict government guidelines. The hotel offers its visitors contemporary, luxury accommodation which is in no way compromised by the restrictions in place. Offering en-suite shower rooms and a café bursting with local produce, as well as a modern bar offering cocktails, wines and beers, it is a home away from home for anyone wishing for a relaxing stay.

Here in more detail, are a few ways in which the Psalter and Sheffield hotels are staying COVID-19 safe.

Social Distancing

Social distancing measures have been put in place to help reduce the amount of contact between staff and guests. Reception desks have transparent screens to separate staff and guests, with guests now required by law to wear a face mask in public areas. Check-in and check-out processes have been made as contactless as possible, with some hotels asking guests to prepay. Keep an eye out for signage informing you of social distancing, as some hotels may have a one-way system or queue points for you to follow.

Cleaning procedures

Hotels are employing further cleaning measures to ensure all areas of the hotel are sanitised to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. Deep cleaning now involves using a high-grade disinfectant at more regular intervals. This includes rooms, public areas, door handles and communal bathrooms. Many hotels will have hand sanitising stations located at various points, and staff in public areas will be wearing some form of PPE, whether this be gloves, a mask or a visor. Some items that you would usually find in a hotel room might have been removed, such as pens and pads, as these are viewed as non-essential. Measures have also been put in place for any external deliveries to ensure they are handled safely and in accordance with the safety guidelines.

Guests with COVID-19 symptoms

Hotels have identified procedures for guests that have symptoms of COVID-19. Many of these include the guests self-isolating, and staff will assist them to the best of their ability, providing them with food and drink, fresh linen and any other items they may need. However, these will be left outside their door, and when guests retrieve these, they are asked to wear a face covering.

Flexible Cancellation Policies

Many hotels have introduced a flexible cancellation policy so that if you can’t make your visit, you can cancel at shorter notice. The time period will vary from hotel to hotel, so make sure to check before booking.

Other changes to look out for

Depending on the hotel, there may be some other changes to look out for and check before booking. Some of the food and beverage options will have changed as buffets are no longer permitted, and table service is required by law. Other measures to look out for relate to gyms, pools or spas. Some hotels have kept these facilities closed, but others have re-opened them but with some limitations.

Travelling around Sheffield

Public Transport

With Sheffield being a green city, it benefits from excellent public transport routes. Before travelling, plan your journey to make sure your trip runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Visit Travel South Yorkshire to see which mode of public transport will work best for your trip, plan your journey, and find out about ticket pricing. If using public transport, remember to take a mask with you as this is required by law.

Bus

Sheffield benefits from a variety of bus services, getting people around the city and surrounding areas. With the main bus station right by the train station and lots of stops situated around and about, it is an easy option to get you from A to B. Fancy a trip to the Peak District? No problem; Sheffield has plenty of buses that can take you there, whether you’re looking for a scenic walk or to explore one of the local villages, such as Bakewell, where the Bakewell Tart was invented!

Scenic walks in the peak district…

Tram

Sheffield’s tram system extends all over the city and surrounding areas, linking to some key attractions. Connected by the yellow route tram are Sheffield Arena and Centertainment, which has a cinema, bowling alley and children’s soft play, as well as an abundance of restaurants. It is within walking distance (or short tram ride) of Meadowhall, a shopping centre with around 290 stores and a vast food hall – a must-visit for anyone who loves to shop. To check out which tram lines get you where, visit StageCoach Supertram.

Train

Sheffield is on many direct train lines and the train station is located right in the city centre. As a major city, Sheffield has many links to nearby towns and cities, including Rotherham, Barnsley, Huddersfield, Wakefield and York. So, if you fancy a day trip to a surrounding town or city, the train links make it an easy, direct journey.

Other ways to get around Sheffield

Although the public transport links in and around Sheffield are excellent, there are other ways for you to get around with ease. These include:

Walking

Sheffield is a beautiful, green city with many attractions within walking distance from the city centre. Whether you want to do a spot of shopping or enjoy one of the many parks, everything is within a doable walking distance. In high footfall areas, such as The Moor or West Street, it is recommended to wear a mask as social distancing is harder to keep in place.

The Botanical Gardens is a stunning collection of gardens situated near Ecclesall road. It’s easy to get to on foot from the city centre and if you’d rather just walk around the gardens it is well connected to by bus. The glass pavilions are currently closed due to restrictions but are just as impressive from the outside. There is no parking at the gardens which is why walking or public transport is advisable – if driving it is best to park on the surrounding roads, but be aware they may be busy. Disabled parking spaces are available at the top of the drive of the Thompson Road entrance.

Cycling

Many of Sheffield’s main roads have cycle lanes so it feels a safe way to get around. Cycling is a great way to see the sights around the city and helps beat the traffic in rush hour, though just to make you aware – Sheffield has a lot of hills!

Taxi

Need to get somewhere quickly? Although not the cheapest option, there are a lot of taxi services around Sheffield, such as City Taxis or Uber. If you do choose to get around in a taxi or Uber, remember to take your mask with you, otherwise, you might be refused service.

It is recommended to check visiting times and transport times before setting off to avoid any delays in your day.

Stay safe & happy travels!

Written by Kate Boddy & Harriet Dolphin

Hotel Review, mini break, Travel, Travel inspiration, UK, Uncategorized

Hotel Review: Storrs Hall Hotel, Lake Windermere, Lake District

After five months of lock-down and having to put our more adventurous travel plans on hold, we decided a change of scenery was needed. Both my husband and I have been lucky enough to continue working throughout the pandemic. Whilst we have loved having the time together and the time to be at home, it’s been exhausting and work has been intense. When there is no defining boundary between work and home, we fell into the trap of working 24/7. So, like many people this summer we set about a booking a UK staycation.

We formed a bubble with my parents at the end of July and began looking for a break close to their home in North Yorkshire. Cue, a furiously busy morning with my mum calling hotels across the north and finally finding the gem that is Storrs Hall in the Lake District. Luckily, they had two rooms available for the dates we were after. Booking confirmed we were all systems go.

Getting to Storrs Hall

We travelled over to the Lake District from Harrogate, North Yorkshire by car. We set off on Friday morning, and the journey took around two hours. The journey by road is relatively simple although there were very limited places to stop. I would suggest stocking up your car snacks and having a wee before you go. I noticed a number of the petrol stations had closed their toilet facilities due to the pandemic, this is something to bear in mind as you move away from the main roads and larger rest stops.

If you plan to travel by train, the nearest station is Windermere which is five miles from the hotel. There are direct trains to Windermere from Manchester Piccadilly, Preston and Kendal. Windermere can also be easily reached with one to two changes from Birmingham New Street, Liverpool Lime Street, Leeds, Newcastle and London Euston.

First Impressions

It’s been a long time since I’ve visited the Lakes and do know it is a hugely popular UK destination. But I have to say my levels of anxiety skyrocketed as we drove into Windermere. It was heaving. There were people everywhere and social distancing and the wearing of face coverings didn’t seem to have quite permeated the psyche of these British holidaymakers. However, as we drove out of Windermere towards the hotel, we were wrapped up with country and lakeside views. Not a tourist in sight.

Storrs Hall occupies a lakeside spot about ten minutes outside of Windermere. Close enough if you want to venture in, but far enough away to offer you some space and quiet. The Grade two listed family-owned Georgian manor house crept into view as we swept round the long-curved drive. Nestled in seventeen acres and wrapped on two sides by Lake Windermere, Storrs Hall certainly packs a punch on the first view. With the sun shining and lake glistening we were keen to get checked in and settle down for lunch with a view.

Which Room?

For a relatively small hotel, Storrs Hall has an impressive range of room options.  In the main part of the manor, you have the choice of a Classic room, Classic with a lake view, Superior, Superior with a lake view, Feature lake view, Deluxe, Deluxe with a lake view and a Master lake view bedroom. These thirty rooms have recently been refurbished and had a modern contemporary feel whilst remaining sympathetic to the grandeur and history of the building. The original architecture has been carefully preserved, so each room has a unique character and feel. This helps make your stay a truly exclusive experience for you.

In addition to the rooms in the main manor, Storrs Hall offers six lakeside suites and a boathouse. The lakeside suites are set in woodland just metres from the main building and are incredibly luxurious. With lounge space, hot tubs and sophisticated sumptuous design, these lakeside suites are the perfect hideaway. 

Finally, at the pinnacle of luxury is the boathouse. Set over two floors, the boathouse is an exclusive retreat with a hot tub, fire pit, steam room and lounge.

For our stay, we were able to secure a Classic Lake View, which my husband and I stayed in and a Deluxe room which my parents stayed in.

Classic Lake View (Room 35): What a view! South facing towards the lake and the fells was utter perfection. Even better, our bath was plinth mounted allowing some significant post-hike marinating taking it all in. Our luxurious bathroom was also furnished with a large rainfall shower. Finally, on the topic of luxurious bathrooms, Storrs Hall generously provides a gorgeous range of toiletries courtesy of Molten Brown.

Our room was well appointed with a comfortable king-size bed, tv, wifi, desk and tea and coffee facilities, robes and slippers.  

Deluxe (Room 8 & 9): In the deluxe room you sacrifice the lakeside view for a separate sitting room. The sofa in the sitting room can also be used as a sofa-bed to accommodate small children if you are travelling as a family. The room was stylishly decorated and had all the amenities of the classic lake view. The only drawback of room 8/9 was the lack of a bath. This room, however, is the only Deluxe room without a bath so it might be something worth checking when you make your booking.

Food & Drink

Our stay at Storrs Hall was a bed and breakfast deal but we opted to eat at the hotel for two of our four nights. Lunches and afternoon tea also made an appearance in our schedule. The food was incredible. Locally sourced ingredients, seasonal produce and exquisite presentation made for some sensational meals.

Due to the pandemic, the hotel is offering a reduced menu. However, there is still plenty of choices, and the carefully selected menu should provide something for all tastes and dietary requirements.  

Breakfast: The range of breakfast options on offer was brilliant. Cooked breakfast, toast, cereal, croissants, eggs, whatever your preference nothing was too much trouble. I can thoroughly recommend the vegetarian breakfast; it was the perfect set up for a day hiking through the fells.

Lunch/ Light Bites: Despite a reduced menu due to the pandemic there was plenty on offer for lunch. Sandwiches, salmon plate, burger or just a bowl of chips. Nothing was too much trouble and the service was fabulous.

Dinner: Every dish looked spectacular but my recommendation goes to the Heritage Beetroot starter (There’s a gooey ball of fried goats’ cheese…job done) The pan-fried sea bass and the chocolate slice with sticky honeycomb and cherry sorbet. Whilst the menu is subject to seasonal and producer change it is clear that the quality of kitchen staff will remain. The food was flawlessly prepared and beautifully presented. Dinner at Storrs Hall was perfection.

Afternoon tea: What’s not to love about a hot beverage and cake? The only way to make that combo better is to add finger sandwiches and warm fluffy scones. Coupled with a magnificent view and you’re on to a belter of an afternoon. The Storrs Hall afternoon tea is a must if you are visiting, just make sure you book in advance.

COVID 19 Response

It stands to reason that in the current climate I should outline everything the hotel has put in place to ensure that safety and comfort of the guests. From the moment of my booking, the staff were in contact every couple of days with updates following the latest advice. The main essential of further  information was the requirement for face coverings in all communal parts of the hotel. Once you were sat down with drinks or food of course these could be removed. This open communication from the outset put my mind at ease before we even checked in.

Check-in & check-out: The hotel requested that only one person from the group check-in for each room. This minimised the number of guests in the reception area at any one time. Before check-out, I was emailed a copy of my invoice for checking. Again, this reduced the need to spend additional time in the reception area. In terms of your luggage, the reception staff are happy to help you to your room. However, they will leave the luggage at the door to minimise the number of people coming into contact with the freshly cleaned room.

Sanitising & Social Distancing: Throughout the hotel, there were sanitising stations and signage encouraging you to use them and reminding guests of the two-metre distance requirement. After the checking in the staff talked us through the one-way system in operation throughout the communal areas of the hotel. As a Grade Two listed Georgian manor house, the hotel has space in abundance and social distancing was easily accomplished with the support and planning of the staff. Although the hotel was at maximum occupancy when we checked out, we never felt anxious about running into other guests. Even in corridors and on the stairs, guests and staff were conscious of each other and always moved aside or waited until you had moved on.

Dining: Like many places, the hotel was enforcing a prior booking policy concerning mealtimes. It was no great hardship to pre-book dinner and breakfast. The hotel has a brilliant service system in place. Having reduced the number of tables in the dining room each table was equipped with a ‘service’ table. The restaurant staff would serve the dishes and drinks to the service table and you help yourself from the service table. Once you were finished, you returned your dishes to the service table from which they were collected. This system ensured the staff could stick to the two-metre social distancing guidelines. This new system of dining genuinely didn’t detract from the experience or the high level of service.  

Your room: Aside from no turn-down service there wasn’t any great change to how your room was looked after or your use of it. In the room, there was a comprehensive two-sided document outlining everything the hotel is doing to ensure the safety of the guests. The main thing you needed to do as a guest was to ensure you hung the green service sign on your door each morning. Without the sign, the cleaning staff would not enter your room. Again, this measure ensures a minimal number of people accessing your room, thus reducing risk.

Final Thoughts

Our stay at Storrs Hall felt like a little slice of luxury and calm in what has been a very turbulent time. We felt safe throughout our stay, and the service was impeccable. We really couldn’t have asked for more. If you are considering getting away in the next couple of months, I can’t extol the virtues of Storrs Hall enough. Our short trip has left me planning a return, and I’m looking forward to a more walking focused trip to the Lakes in the future.

Travelling at home and putting money back into our economy has never been more important. So, let’s support local business, private hotels, guesthouses and b n b’s. Everyone is doing all they can to comply with government guidelines to keep us safe. If we want our hospitality and tourism sector to recover then we must invest in it’s future now.

Stay safe & happy travels

Jess

health and fitness, health and wellbeing, mini break, top tips, Uncategorized, weekend break

11 Sure-Fire Ways to Stay Fit and Healthy Whilst Travelling

It can be really tough to stay active during your holidays. The urge to fly and flop for two weeks can be pretty strong as we so often just need the rest. However, keeping active and making healthy choices can make a big difference in how you feel at the end of your break. Here are eleven top tips for helping you create and sustain those healthy habits whilst travelling.

1. Walk – Walk everywhere

Ever drive past a tiny alleyway or interesting looking building on your travels but you can’t check it out as you’ve already driven past? Problem solved, skip the taxi, bus or car and travel by foot. You will discover so much more about a place on foot. You can indulge your curiosity at every corner. Some of the best travel finds, be it food, local crafts or fabulous people are often found off the main thoroughfare.

Walking around your destination will not only give you a great sense of the place but will help you hit that all-important 10,000 step target. I love my Fitbit activity tracker and am always interested to see how many steps I’ve achieved at the end of a day wandering around a new city. On just one day in Dubrovnik, I managed to clock up 20, 682 steps. I would recommend a fitness tracker to anyone looking to keep tabs on their activity levels.

2. Take the stairs

Climbing flights of stairs can be a great way to get your heart rate up. So, if your room is located on the 9th floor of your hotel hit those stairs. You can always get yourself out of bed early and make a workout out of your hotel’s stairs. Try sprinting up and walking back down for recovery and repeat. This will send your heart rate shooting up and earn you your breakfast.

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

3. Don’t drink your calories

Need a drink? Grab some water. Fizzy drinks, fruit juice, speciality coffee and energy drinks are packed full of unnecessary sugar. All that excess sugar has to go somewhere. If your body can’t store it as glycogen it is quickly converted to fat for longer-term storage. If you feel thirsty it’s water your body is crying out for.

Holidays can absolutely be a time to chill out and enjoy yourself, however, give a thought to the calories you drink through alcohol consumption. According to the NHS, one pint of 5% beer is 239 calories or one mars bar. Would you really sit and eat five mars bars back to back? A standard glass of wine is about 133 calories or three Jaffa cake biscuits. Yes, I have eaten a whole packet of Jaffa cakes in one sitting, but I definitely didn’t feel good about it afterwards!

Photo by Olenka Sergienko on Pexels.com

I am a big fan of everything in moderation. So, if you can fancy a few drinks in the evening why not increase your activity during the day to help offset any additional intake?

4. Take some simple fitness equipment

Skipping ropes, resistance bands and gliding discs are lightweight and easy to throw in your hand luggage as they don’t take up much space. This means you can get a workout in from the comfort of your hotel room. I would recommend the Pro Box wire speed rope, light durable and super grippy for clammy hands. https://www.pro-box.co.uk/wire-speed-rope-p-781.html.

5. Hotel room HIIT

I think we have all found a new love for online workouts during the pandemic. I have always been a fan of Joe Wicks’ recipe books but now I love starting my day with a quick twenty-minute HIIT. Everyone has twenty minutes, and you don’t need equipment or huge amounts of space. If you don’t believe me, check out The Body Coach 7 days of sweat 2019…7 days of workouts in small hotel rooms.

 HIIT workouts are perfect if your hotel doesn’t have a gym or you are on a tight schedule. Twenty minutes of high-intensity interval training will leave you sweaty, out of breath and set up for your day. Give your all for short bursts of activity then catch your breath and go again. This type of training helps sustain an elevated heart rate and is a time-efficient way to burn calories.

Photo by Li Sun on Pexels.com

For free HIIT workouts check out The Body Coach, Kayla Itsines, Pamela Reif or Chloe Ting on YouTube. All provide lots of free content and give you plenty of choices. If you haven’t got internet access have a go at these three twenty-minute hotel room HIIT’s.

You can download an interval timer from the app store, there are lots of brilliant free options.

HIIT 1. (Work for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds) LEGS, BUMS & TUMS

  1. Squats
  2. Glute bridge
  3. Reverse lunges
  4. Single leg bicycle crunches
  5. Sumo squats
  6. Plank
  7. Donkey kicks
  8. Curtsey lunge
  9. Side plank (15 seconds on each side)
  10. Slow mountain climbers

REPEAT

HIIT 2. (Work for 35 seconds, rest for 25 seconds) CARDIO & ABS

  1. Running on the spot
  2. Crunches knees raised to 90 degrees
  3. Climb the rope
  4. Elbow plank
  5. Imaginary jump rope
  6. Flutter kicks
  7. Star jumps
  8. Reverse crunches
  9. Mountain climbers
  10. Heel taps

REPEAT

HIIT 3. (Work for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds) WHOLE BODY WORKOUT

  1. Mountain climbers
  2. Press-ups
  3. Squats
  4. Bicycle crunches
  5. Running on the spot
  6. Shoulder taps from a high plank position
  7. Jump lunges
  8. Tricep dips
  9. Alternating single leg crunches
  10. Chest to floor burpees

REPEAT

6. Take a walking tour

Without a doubt, this is one of the best ways to familiarise yourself with a new city. Very often you can find a free walking tour or book onto a tour during your stay. This is a fab way to get in the steps without even thinking.

You can always combine a walking tour with a food tour…just in case you need some additional motivation. I would recommend any of the eating Europe food tours. We took the tour through Prague and it was a gorgeous day of walking and eating. We certainly earned our treats that day.   https://www.eatingeurope.com/

7. Get active with the locals

Some of the best travel experiences can come from immersing yourself in the local culture. If you’re in South Asia, why not try getting involved with some yoga, take a Flamenco class in Spain or join with some local cricket in India. Between white water rafting in Canada, kayaking on the Rideau Canal, cave swimming on the Croatian coast and learning Bharatnatyam dance in India, I have never regretted getting stuck into activities with local people.  

Active experiences can really help you connect with a culture and will enrich your travels as well as burning a few extra calories.

8. Have a good breakfast

This sounds simple but eat a good breakfast. I know the breakfast buffet can be all kinds of tempting with waffles, pancakes and pastries. But, a high protein breakfast will set you up for the day and keep those mid-morning hunger pangs at bay. I would always opt for an omelette, yoghurt and fruit or even egg and beans on toast. Choose something which will keep you tied over until lunch and not leave you flagging at eleven AM. Lots of hotel deals come with breakfast included, make sure you take full advantage.

Kedgeree for the win!

9. Stay hydrated

Keeping your hydration levels topped up is key. Good hydrations helps your body regulate temperature, aiding digestion, removing waste from the body and can help curb unnecessary snacking throughout the day.

Hydration is hugely important if you are travelling in hot countries and are particularly active during the day. Physical activity and a warm environment can cause dehydration so make sure you’ve got a reusable bottle handy and fill up at any available opportunity.

Photo by Julia Zolotova on Pexels.com

10. Plan your snacks

The breakfast buffet can be a brilliant time to stock up on some snacks for the day. Very often you’ll be able to snag a couple of pieces of fruit to keep you going. I would recommend packing some trail mix or nuts. These are excellent sources of energy and will keep you feeling full much longer than a quick fix sugar hit.

11. Hit the water

Getting onto the water can bring a whole new perspective to your travels. Whether you swim, kayak, canoe or paddleboard, getting active in the water is a great way to build in physical activity and make some fabulous travel memories.

I would love to know any top tips you have for staying active whilst travelling.

Stay safe & Happy travels

Jess

mini break, top tips, Travel inspiration, Uncategorized, weekend break

9 Top Packing Tips for Your UK Staycation

Thanks to Coronavirus many of us are setting aside plans of a trip abroad this year and choosing to explore our own fair country. With campsites, air b n b’s and hotels seeing a boost in bookings here are nine top tips for getting our packing just right.

  • Choose the right luggage

Soft sides holdalls are the way forward. Easier to pack, easier to manoeuvre in the car, better hand luggage, what’s not to love. You can always squeeze a little more in around the edges. You can wear your trainers or walking boots for the journey to save on shoe space. I love a bright holdall, and my North Face bag has never failed me.

https://www.thenorthface.co.uk/shop/en-gb/tnf-gb/bags-and-tents-travel-duffels

My trusty backpack…
  • Pack your layers

British weather is unpredictable. Biblical downpours followed by blistering sunshine, who knows what you’re going to get. Cotton layers and wicking fabrics are brilliant if you are walking or hiking. I would also recommend a pack a mac. Small, lightweight and easily fits in your backpack. It is the perfect solution for those sudden downpours.

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

https://www.trespass.com/qikpac-x-unisex-packaway-jacket#color_code=Cassis

  • Appropriate Shoes

Whether you are hitting up the coast, lakes or opting for a UK city break; you’ll want to get your footwear right. 48 hours pounding the pavement, fell climbing or beach walking in uncomfortable or inappropriate shoes is going to taint your otherwise lovely break. We’ve all felt the constant nag of a burgeoning blister with the dread that you’re still an hour walk from home. Nothing says I’ve had a lovely holiday than the blister limp and ten days of flipflop wearing. So, get your footwear right.

Photo by JACK REDGATE on Pexels.com
  • Ditch the heavy toiletries

Leave the big bottles of shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser at home. You don’t need the extra weight, and you can save on space. Dispense your products into smaller bottles before your trip. They will easily fit in your luggage and if they are under 100ml you can easily check them through airport security in your hand luggage. For an eco-friendly option check out these gorgeous travel bottles.

https://www.wearthlondon.com/travel-toiletry-bottles

  • The perfect capsule wardrobe

To minimise the amount of clothing needed for your trip try to pick a couple of key items which can be dressed up or down with just a few key accessories. I would always go for neutrals, black jeans or navy chinos can be great for daytime wandering or evening drinks. If you are heading off for four to five days, I recommend the 54321 method. Five sets of socks/ underwear, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one interchangeable accessory.

  • Reusable water bottle

Whether you are planning an epic hike or just a stroll around the town I would always take a water bottle. Not only will you save on an unnecessary trip into a shop, but it’s a small step towards doing your bit to reduce our single-use plastic consumption. I adore my Chilly’s bottle, and they have so many quirky patterns and colours you’ll be sure to find something you’re proud to take out and about.

https://www.chillysbottles.com/uk

  • Quick-dry, sand resistant towel

This was one of the greatest purchases I have ever made. A microfibre towel is perfect for throwing in your backpack. It’s quick-drying, and sand resistant, after a quick shake and rub down you’re good to head off home. Just ten minutes hung up or laid out in the sun to dry and this handy travel staple is ready to go again.   

https://www.decathlon.co.uk/microfibre-towel-m-blue-id_8501072.html

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com
  • Leave the plugs at home

Even if you’ve booked into a luxury hotel, it is still a good idea to ditch the multiple plugs. Instead, I would opt for one plug with USB outlets. This will allow you to charge at least 2 devices at once. Just make sure you pack the right cables.

  • An OS Map

If your staycation plan involves exploring the local area or countryside, I would make sure you’ve got a copy of an OS map. Whilst maps on your phone are fine there is no guarantee you’ll have signal in remote places and online maps tend to sap your battery. With depleted battery life, you’ll find yourself in a tricky situation if you do need to call for help. Having an accurate map will help you plan out your routes. It is also invaluable if you find you’ve lost the trail or can’t see the footpath signs. There has been a huge rise in calls to emergency rescue services in many of the UK’s national parks and countryside areas recently. Make sure you are well prepared if you are keen to explore and make sure you hike within your capabilities and comfort zone.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

Stay safe and happy travels

Jess

Germany, mini break, top tips, Uncategorized, weekend break

Munich: A quick guide to 3 days in the Bavarian capital

When we first set out to book a long weekend German jolly, Berlin was a firm front runner. Yet, after some swift price comparison and a little research, Munich came out on top. Tickets booked, and excursions planned we had a May bank holiday break to get excited about.

Getting to Munich

There are a variety of ways to get to Munich, if you’re flying from the UK, flights regularly operate with direct flights from most UK airports. There are options to change in Frankfurt, so breaking up your trip with a few days taking in the sights of another German gem is definitely an option. The average flight time direct to Munich is one hour and ten minutes.

If you feel like taking a more laid-back approach to arrival in Munich, there is a direct train from Berlin. The journey is around four hours and allows you to take in the beautiful German countryside. If your starting point is another European city, the rail links to Munich are excellent as it sits on a European mainline serviced by high-speed trains.

Where to Stay

Munich isn’t a small town so choose your hotel wisely if you want easy access around the city. That being said, the transports links in the city are excellent. As has proved easy, cost-effective and efficient we booked our hotel as part of the British Airways Hotel and flight deal. This is great service allowing you to specify star rating, dates and price for your accommodation. We opted for the 4* Hilton Munich City. The hotel is a twenty-minute walk to Marienplatz at the heart of the old town and a fifteen-minute walk to the Ostbahnhof. The location was perfect for city exploring and quick links to the airport.

Our room was a standard double but very comfortable, it was clean and bright and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful during our stay.

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Where to eat

Bavarian cuisine is meat and potato heavy, luckily, I’m a big fan of both and when you throw gravy into the mix any dish becomes a winner.

Haxenbauer im Scholastikahaus

If its meat perfection you’re after then you need to eat here. I promise the smell from the street alone will be enough to get you through the door. Upon entry, you are greeted by 24 hours marinated and grilled pork knuckle turning on a spit by the window. The meat melts on your plate and combined with creamy mash, sauerkraut, crispy onions and thick gravy, this meal is everything you could wish for. Washed down with yet more beer Haxenbauer became an instant hit, so much so we returned for a second night.

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Viktualienmarkt Food Market

This well-known grab and go food market is the ideal spot for lunch or a late afternoon pick me up. Smells, sounds, and the incessant chatter of locals and tourists make this vibrant market worth a wander before settling down to eat. Whether it is artisan coffee, crispy pretzels, cold cuts or yet more beer the Viktualienmarkt has something for everyone.

Café Luitpold

Old school charm. If you are seeking, an elegant afternoon caffeinated kick back then I recommend Café Luitpold. This historic coffee house opened in 1888 and soon became a Munich institution. With writers, creatives and artists like Kandinsky historic regulars it’s hard not to feel a little bit glamorous whilst sipping your beverage in fabulously luxurious grandeur.

What to do

Drink Beer

So, I’m going to class beer as a culinary experience and a food group here. I mean you can’t visit Munich without sampling their world-famous wheaty, hoppy, amber magic. It is no surprise that Munich plays host to the world’s largest beer festival, Oktoberfest. Our trip didn’t coincide with Oktoberfest, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t grab a stein and see what all the fuss is about.

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The Hofbräuhaus is the mecca for beer lovers in Munich. However, we didn’t time our visit particularly well. Every tourist, stag party and beer lover seemed to have descended on the beer hall at the same as we did.  Unperturbed we took in the beautiful craftsmanship of the beer hall, had a quick nose at the beer garden and marvelled at the perfect choreography if the waitresses. Back on the street, we chanced our luck in a smaller establishment. To be honest it doesn’t matter where you sample the glorious beer, because it’s all good. We found a much smaller, quieter place than the Hofbräuhaus but had as much fun. We ordered our stein’s, sat back, drank and discussed our plans for the next day…perfection.

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Munich Residenz

Firstly ladies, be prepared to check your bag into storage or bring a smaller handbag with you if you want to visit the Residenz. This caught me slightly unawares and whilst I have no issue with checking my bag into secure storage to avoid knocking any priceless antiques; I wasn’t prepared for this level of security. Cue ten minutes of me faffing, talking to myself and desperately going through my bag to remove anything I thought necessary whilst walking around. This included my phone, purse, lip balm and an array of other pointless objects, but I could fit them in my pocket so naturally, they had to come to. So, you have been forewarned!

The Residenz served as the seat of government for the Bavarian kings, dukes and electors from 1508 to 1918. It is stunning. An opulent display of wealth, architecture, style and art are displayed in every room of the Residenz. It is a feast for your eyes and will take a good three hours to absorb it all.

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My favourite section of the Residenz was the grotto courtyard. A slightly bizarre, quirky, shell clad indoor folly. I loved it.

There are five different types of ticket you can buy for the Residenz depending on the areas you wish to see. We opted for a combination ticket costing €17 which allowed us access to the Residenz, Treasury and Cuvillies Theatre. The Residenz is open year-round from 9 am to 6 pm during the spring and summer months and from 10 am to 5 pm during the autumn and winter.

The Glockenspiel on Marienplatz

Marienplatz is the heart of Munich and has been at the centre of Munich life for over 850 years. The history, distinctive architecture and style of the square have enough going on to keep you occupied for hours.

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One of the prime attractions on Marienplatz is the Rathaus Glockenspiel. The glockenspiel chimes twice each day, at 11 am and 12 pm with an extra performance at 5 pm during the summer months.

The glockenspiel represents two different stories. On the top layer, a royal wedding and jousting tournament and on the bottom a folk dance performed by the red-coated city’s Coopers.

To this clockwork spectacle, I would recommend grabbing your spot early. As 11 am draws near the square is crammed full of expectant tourists, cameras poised. The whole event lasts fifteen minutes and is well worth the crowds to hear the forty-three bells combined with the magnificent figures.

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For a bird’s eye view of the glockenspiel head to the upper floors of the Hugendubel book shop just across the street.

The Englischer Garten

On our final day, we had just a few hours to kill before heading back to the airport, so we decided to take a stroll through the Englischer Garten. The Englischer Garten was beautiful and full of spring flowers, wide-open spaces to catch some spring sunshine, tucked away follies and meandering paths dappled in shade. One of the highlights of the garden is the river which runs right through it. If you visit during the summer months, you can expect to see avid surfers, surfing the river. Yes, that’s right the river creates waves good enough for surfing! If you are visiting during the summer months, I recommend bringing a towel and swimsuit as sections of the river looked perfect for a quick cooling dip.

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Summer time surfing! Images: Alistair McRobert & Luis Fernando Alves 

 

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Finally, after an ice-cream and a very leisurely stroll, the Englischer Garten provided the perfect spot for one last beverage. The Englischer Garten hosts Munich’s second-largest but oldest beer garden right next to the Chinese Tower.

As one of Europe’s largest city parks, it is definitely worth an hour or two to lose yourself in its natural glory.

Pinakothek Der Moderne

I’m not sure where my love and appreciation of modern art have come from, but a visit to a city’s museum of modern art seems to be a fairly permanent feature on my weekend travels.

The museum houses four different collections under one roof. A single ticket allows visitors to access artwork, architecture, design and work on paper. The artwork on display is from 1900 onwards and picks up where the Neue Pinakothek ends. I particularly enjoyed the surrealist and cubist work of Dali and Picasso.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday with adult entry costing €10. If you have an hour to two and enjoy modern art then I would suggest a visit to the Pinakothek Der Moderne is well worth it.

Dachau Concentration Camp

Visiting a concentration camp isn’t an easy or fun day trip, however, nor is it just a tick in the tourist box. I have long held the view that we have a moral responsibility to educate ourselves, respect and remember the millions of people who suffered under the Nazi regime during World War Two. With that in mind, a visit to Dachau was an absolute priority for our trip to Munich.

Dachau is located just outside the city and easily accessed by train in twenty-five minutes. The S2 train from the Hauptbahnhof will take you to Dachau station. The memorial is open year-round 8 am – 5 pm excluding the 24th of December and entry is free. If you do wish, there are audio guides, guided tours and brochures which can be organised through the information centre or online prior to your visit.

We decided to visit early on a Sunday morning, taking the view that it might be a little quieter. As we arrived it was as though we stepped into a vacuum. The whole place felt thick and heavy with silence. As you cross the road from the visitor centre, you follow train tracks through the gates, the gates which bare the infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei.’ From that point onwards I don’t think I spoke to my husband for the next two hours as we made our way around the site and exhibitions. It wasn’t until we sat down to dinner that evening, took stock and debriefed each other on our feelings from the day.

The sheer scale of the site was shocking, row upon row of hollowed out, gravelled rectangles, the outlines an echo of barracks long since torn down. Gas chambers, empty buildings harbouring absolute horror in every inch of its structure. It was difficult to reconcile what I knew to be true with these empty shells, with sunlight streaming through empty windows and bird song carried on the breeze.

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Whilst our visit was emotionally draining and a uniquely personal experience for us both in different ways. I can say with conviction that it was worth it and something every traveller to Munich must do.

Final Thoughts

Our trip to Munich was fabulous and almost unexpectedly so. I loved learning about the history of the city, both recent and long since passed. Like so many of our weekend adventures, I left feeling that there was more to do and see. I am sure a return visit to Munich will be on cards at some point. If I can tear myself away from roasted pork knuckle then I would be keen to explore what the Munich foodie scene has to offer. There is also the small matter of a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle to consider as well!

Happy travels

Jess

 

Germany, History, mini break, top tips, Uncategorized, weekend break

48 hours in Berlin: A weekend guide to the German capital

When my husband and I decided to embark on our honeymoon trip extravaganza (One trip every month for a year) Berlin was right at the top of our list. Each time we would sit down to plan our next destination, we would weigh up our options and strangely Berlin never quite made the cut. But come Boxing Day 2019 we found a brilliant flight and hotel deal with British Airways and booked up a weekend trip for the end of January.

Ok, so January isn’t the most desirable time to visit any city. But 48 hours of relentless rain and bitter temperatures didn’t dampen our sense of adventure and we set out to take in as much of the city as possible.

Berlin is nothing like I expected. In my mind, I would stroll down wide imposing streets, flanked on either side by a lustrous mix of Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Gothic and Renaissance buildings. Such as I had experienced in Prague, Stockholm or even Munich. My expectation could not have been further from the truth. I guess I thought more of the city would have survived the bombing raids of World War Two or would have been repaired and reinstated post-war. Berlin is a city which wears its history on its sleeve. The startling lack of historic buildings is a testament to the hardships faced by the city during the relentless bombing campaigns of the Second World War. Present-day Berlin is a concrete jungle. It’s not a European beauty. Yet, despite a limited stock of pre-war buildings and monuments the layers and depth of history secreted into every remaining and reimagined crevice of the city more than make up for any architectural shortcomings.

Getting to Berlin

Flights to Berlin Tegel airport operate regularly out of all major UK airports. The flight time is around 1 hour and 45 minutes. More than doable of a Friday night for a weekend break. Our flight left London Heathrow at 7 pm, and we were on the ground and on our way to the hotel by 10 pm. Berlin is 1 hour ahead of the UK. The time difference is worth bearing in mind if you are booking transfers or informing your hotel of your arrival time.

We opted for a taxi straight from the airport which was efficient and reasonably priced at around €35. The taxi ride took a little over half an hour as there were some pretty major road works going on in the centre of Berlin. If you’re after a cheaper alternative airport transfer, then public transport options are in plentiful supply. The TXL bus, S41 finally changing to the U8 will get you from the airport to Alexanderplatz in around thirty minutes.

Where to stay

Hotel location is always a priority when travelling for just the weekend. We wanted to be close enough to walk to the main attractions, hence, we opted for the Hotel Indigo at Alexanderplatz.

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The hotel was clean, quirky and perfectly located for a weekend gallivanting around the city in the rain. Read my full Hotel Indigo review here https://takemefarandaway.com/2020/02/20/hotel-review-4-hotel-indigo-alexanderplatz-berlin/

Where to eat

Café Einstein Unter Den Linden

This was an absolute gem. On our final day, we dashed in to escape the rain and found IMG_0836ourselves stepping back in time. Dark wood panelling, marble-topped tables and a charming feel of an old Viennese coffee house. There was also an eye-watering display of cakes and pastries. After securing a table, we ordered a proper lunch 2 bowls of gloriously rich, thick goulash complete with crispy yet gooey dumplings to soak up all those fabulous juices. I couldn’t resist a slice of passionfruit cheesecake to finish off – it felt rude not to indulge.

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The café serves up breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner and is a real hot spot for German politicians and journalists. With only a short five-minute walk to the Brandenburg Gate or a ten-minute walk to the Reichstag, it’s no wonder Café Einstein has famed popularity with tourists and locals alike.

 

 

Treffpunkt Berlin

If you’re after traditional German food, done well with no frills and good beer then, Treffpunk should be on your list. From the outside, it looks like a distinctly average pub, but don’t let first appearances put you off. Inside there’s a small bar area and around twelve tables for diners. It was pretty busy when we arrived without a booking at 7.30 pm, but we were lucky and snagged a table right by the bar.

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After sampling the delights of pork knuckle in Munich we both opted for this again. The dish came with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. But, unlike the knuckled served in Munich which was crispy and covered in onion, this was pure unadulterated boiled pork knuckle. The dish isn’t winning any Michelin stars but it sure was tasty. Nothing partners meat and potato better than beer and you’d be pretty safe ordering any beer from the extensive menu. I went for the Schöfferhofer Grapefruit beer which was delicious, very easy to have one too many of these!

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Currywurst

Ok, so this isn’t a specific location but currywurst should absolutely be on our Berlin food buck list. Currywurst is a fried pork sausage smothered in thick spiced ketchup, topped with curry powder and a side helping of chips. This is German fast food at it’s best. To get our currywurst fix we went for a mooch in the behemoth shopping mall. What started out as a roam around the shops to get out of the rain became a hunt for food. Once the food court was located there was no shortage of delicious offerings. But it had to be currywurst. I decided to embrace the opportunity to practise my very rusty German and ordered up two currywurst, chips and drink. What arrived five minutes later was exactly as planned, turns out I remember more of my GCSE German than I thought. Tray laden, we muscled our way onto a long table with ten strangers all digging into a plethora of worldwide cuisines. This multitude of sights and scents didn’t detract from the spicy pork goodness on my paper plate.

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What to do

Holocaust Memorial

Located close to the Brandenburg Gate at the heart of Berlin is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I had seen countless images of the memorial before my trip to Berlin but nothing prepares you for how you feel standing in front of the crude concrete slabs. Each of the 2711 slabs differs in height and as you venture through the narrow passages between you are soon engulfed by their presence. It really is quite overwhelming.

I’m unsure how I felt about the memorial if I’m honest. Whilst the scale of the 19,000 square metres stretching out before you are striking and poignant if you consider the representation of the six million Jews who lost their lives. But does this unmarked, fragmented monument really communicate the message it intended? I cannot help but think that if the names of the Jewish people who suffered were displayed as they are at Yad Vashem in Israel then, maybe a clearer narrative might unfold here. I guess we can only hope that the Instagram, selfie generation might just get a grip, pocket the phone and reflect on the real meaning of this place.

Berlin TV Tower

D2751D06-4478-4E38-838C-147163F86494Opening in 1969, complete with a revolving restaurant and panoramic viewing gallery the Berlin TV Tower was the height of sophistication and a beacon of hope for post-war Berlin. If you’d like to visit the TV Tower, you need to book in advance. This can easily be done online and with less than 12 hours’ notice, I managed to bag tickets for 10.30 on Saturday morning. Tickets cost €17.50 and can be purchased online or at the tower itself.

As you approach the tower, the scale and magnitude of it are impressive. I’m not afraid of heights but that viewing gallery looked an awfully long way up.

Be prepared that the only way up is by lift. I don’t know why this was a shock to me as 200m of stairs really would have been a killer. But I hate lifts, I’m horribly claustrophobic and the thought of ascending 200m in the air inside a concrete tube was daunting. Also, the stewards were clearly aiming to get as many people into the lift as possible. Nerves aside the views from the top are spectacular. 360-degree panoramic sights of the city spread out for miles are quite something.

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Our ticket included access to the bar where we enjoyed mid-morning coffee feeling like we were on top of the world.

Topography of Terror

The Topography of Terror is a must when visiting Berlin. Between 1933 and 1945, the central institutions of Nazi persecution, the Secret State Police Office, the leadership of the SS and, the Reich Security Main Office are located in the grounds of the “Topography of Terror.” The museum is completely free although you can make a donation. The museum houses two permanent exhibitions one indoor and one outdoor there are also a variety of changeable exhibitions.

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We arrived mid-morning on Saturday, the place was heaving with tourists but absolutely silent, it was like walking into a vacuum. My husband and I quickly found ourselves on our own path through the exhibition. The exhibition tracks the institutions of security and police during the Third Reich and the crimes they committed. The exhibition was overwhelming, deeply moving and explicitly detailed. I was appalled by the photographic evidence of the crimes inflicted on innocent citizens. But you cannot shy away from history. It was understandable why the museum was silent. Everyone was completely engrossed in their own personal battle and reflection on the information before them.Snapseed - Copy (19)

It was an odd thing to vacate the building, still in silence, it was like my husband and I didn’t quite know what to say to each other. Outside you can take in the remains of the original building and a section of the Berlin wall. The outdoor exhibition takes you through fifteen stations documenting the history of the original site.

German Spy Museum

Late on Saturday afternoon, I got to unleash my inner 007 with a trip to the German Spy Museum. In short, I loved it. IMG_0774The museum gives a unique glimpse into the veiled world of espionage; following the evolution of the spy right the way from biblical times to the spies we know and love from the world of film. The museum is interactive, well laid out and brimming with quirky information. There was even a laser maze, which was an absolute highlight of the visit, I felt like Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment however with none of the distinctive style. Sadly, I think my laser maze skills need some work…

Tickets cost €12 and I would allow yourself a good couple of hours to explore. The museum is conveniently located close to the Berlin Mall just of Leipziger Platz. Get your tickets online to save time:

https://www.deutsches-spionagemuseum.de/en/tickets/online-tickets/

DDR Museum

I love an interactive museum, and the DDR museum certainly delivers an immersive 75AFC6DE-679D-4C2E-9F7A-36C2FBDC0BF9slice of what life was like in East Germany. The museum covers all aspects of life for the average East German from what they drove to how they used their leisure time. A really informative and valuable insight into the past. I would recommend visiting later in the afternoon as it was very busy when arrived early afternoon on a Sunday. Buy your tickets here:

https://www.ddr-museum.de/en/your-visit/online-tickets

East Side Gallery

1.3km of history turned art gallery. Following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, 118 artists from across the world began creating political, social and culturally inspired artwork on the wall. The open-air gallery officially opened in 1990 and has been given protected memorial status. The wall continues undergoing renovation and clean up projects to protect and restore the work. The restoration is critical as the majority of the work has been graffitied, or chipped away by trophy hunters keen for their own litter piece of history.

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The East Side Gallery is easily accessed by bus and is the third stop on the blue route with the Big Bus tour. Alternatively, you can take the 300 bus or the U Bahn to Warschauer street which is a short walk from the gallery.

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I would recommend getting to the East Side Gallery as early as you can. If you want to snap the artwork without having to wait or turn or carefully crop out other tourists, then an early start is well worth it. We arrived at 10.00 am on a Sunday morning and by 10.30 am the crowds had already gathered around the Socialist fraternal kiss image. An absolute must for your weekend in Berlin, I would leave yourself at least an hour to two hours to explore the gallery in full.

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Brandenburg Gate

No trip to Berlin is complete without a visit to the infamous Brandenburg Gate. It is one of those monuments synonymous with the city itself. The Brandenburg Gate which once divided the city quickly became a monument for unity when the Berlin wall fell in 1989. Visiting the Brandenburg gate is recommended at any time however I found that visiting at night when the daytime crowds had dispersed was extremely impressive.

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Reichstag

Another key monument to visit during your trip to Berlin is the Reichstag.

If you want to tour the Reichstag and its beautiful glass dome then you’ll need to book in advance. To register for your visit please follow the link: https://visite.bundestag.de/BAPWeb/pages/createBookingRequest/viewBasicInformation.jsf?lang=en

Sadly, I didn’t get my butt in gear early enough to secure a spot for the weekend of our visit. It is possible to try and book onto the same day tour at the service centre next to the Berlin Pavilion. However, if you choose to risk it on the day then you may end up queueing for some time at the service centre, sacrificing valuable time exploring the city.

Bus Tour

As I’ve already mentioned our trip was plagued by rain and lots of it. Complete with a moany husband due to a hole in his shoe it was time to board a bus tour! Luckily our hotel was situated right outside the first stop for both the red and blue routes on the Big Bus Tour. We bought a weekend ticket for €30.50 which proved to be a good investment. Initially setting out on the red route our bus came complete with a live guide providing us with a historical and social commentary from the front. The live guide made a real difference to our orientation of the city. Also, his anecdotes and vast knowledge of the city aided us to uncover a little more of the ‘real’ Berlin.

Over the weekend we followed both bus routes in their entirety and developed a good sense of the city. A welcome respite from the rain and education at the same time, what’s not to love about a bus tour?

Final thoughts

In spite of the biblical downpours which accompanied nearly every moment of our trip to Berlin, I had a brilliant weekend. Berlin was nothing like I expected but as I boarded the plane home I was left wanting more. There is so much of this historic city yet to discover and so many factions of its history that I am keen to learn about. This 48-hour trip was a tantalising glimpse at a city which is so much more than the infamous wall, it’s wartime destruction or the seat of power for the Nazi party. Modern Berlin is characterised by art, food, culture, and an outward-facing acceptance of it’s past. I’ve got my eye on a food tour and an art tour, complete with DIY graffiti for my return visit.

Happy travels

Jess

Dubrovnik, mini break, Mostar, top tips, Uncategorized

Dubrovnik: How to devote 4 days to adventure on the Croatian coast

Getting to Dubrovnik

Flights to Dubrovnik operate daily from London Gatwick with British Airways. Flight time to Dubrovnik is around two hours and thirty minutes, making it a perfectly suitable option for a short break. We took an early morning flight and had landed and checked into the hotel by 9.30 am.

Thanks to our hotel, the Scalini Palace, transfers to the city were provided for a small fee. Being greeted at the airport by our own driver made the beginning of our trip wonderfully easy. Transfer from the airport to Dubrovnik Old Town took around thirty minutes.

Where to stay

Before arranging our trip to Dubrovnik, I’d heard how difficult it was to find good accommodation in the old town. Friends had advised me to find somewhere cheap outside of the city walls. Absolutely, accommodation in the old town is limited but, it can be discovered! I stumbled on the absolute gem that is the Scalini Palace. Located on just down a narrow snicket from the Buža Gate you find the Scalini palace. It’s nestled amongst shops, bars and restaurants so, you’ll need your eyes peeled, it’s easy to stroll past. Trying to find the entrance to the correct street after dinner on our first night was like trying to find the entrance to Diagon Alley. IMG_0016

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Despite our early arrival, the hotel was extremely happy to hold onto our bags allowing us to pootle off and check in later. The hotel is quirky in that it provides lovely self-contained rooms with the option to self-cater. There is no restaurant but the Scalini Palace does provide breakfast each morning, delivered to your room.

Our room was well appointed with a double bed, sitting room area, kitchen facilities and a bright clean bathroom. One of the loveliest parts was our little balcony, equipped with table and chairs. There is something quite soothing about sitting contentedly with the morning sun on your face with a peppermint brew.

Where to eat

The Croatian culinary landscape is a real mish-mash of tastes, flavours and traditions from its neighbouring countries. Traditional Croatian cuisine has also been shaped by the varied nations and empires that have ruled the Dalmatian coastline.

With such a broad and varied selection of food on offer, we were definitely spoilt for choice.

We arrived in the city mid-morning, so we quickly located a lovely bar area looking out to the sea where we indulged in a beer and a coffee. The bar was just a short walk downhill from the Revelin Fortress and the Ploče gate.

Gradska Kavana Arsenal

We ended up returning to this prominent restaurant in the old town. The imposing façade of the historic arsenal makes it hard to miss coupled with a long dark stone passage I was utterly beguiled and hungry in comparable measure.

The passage spits you out at the dining area but if you walk through you encounter the IMG_0018loveliest outdoor courtyard area overlooking the old city port. This idyllic vista made for the perfect lunch spot. The food was reasonably priced and the service efficient. Whilst this isn’t the spot for you if you’re after an authentic Croatian restaurant, the one where the locals eat, as it is particularly popular with tourists. That being said when you’ve left freezing cold blighty that morning it’s hard to turn down a seafront table with old city port and fortress views.

At the front of the restaurant is a terrace on the main square. The terrace proved to be the ideal spot on our final evening for a few glasses of Croatian wine.

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Proto

IMG_0076The most beautiful mash potato I have ever seen. Potato wizardry aside, Proto was a slightly more luxurious choice for dinner. However, it was our first night and the food and service were excellent. We were positioned at a beautiful table on the upper terrace overlooking the streets below. I imagine this place is heaving during the summer months. I would absolutely recommend prior booking if you are visiting during this time.

It goes without saying, but the menu was heavily devoted to fish and the bounty of the sea. We both ordered different fish dishes and both were perfectly cooked and beautifully presented.

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If you are looking for a dinner reservation that’s a little bit special then I would absolutely recommend Proto, the mango mojito is rather good too.

Bota Sushi and Oyster Bar

After a long day’s excursion to Mostar, we arrived back in the Old town around 8 pm. We wanted to something quick, easy and tasty. After significantly indulging in the delight that is Ćevapi in Mostar we didn’t require anything too substantial. So, when the Bota Sushi bar fell into tracks just around the corner from the cathedral it was an inspired choice. The sushi was spectacular, locally caught gorgeously presented and I could easily have ordered our entire meal twice. Whilst we bagged a table, no problem, again I feel that booking would be recommended if you are visiting during the summer months. Top tip – the salmon skin roll and the tiger roll were sushi perfection.

Taj Mahal

Meat. Meat. Meat. The Taj Mahal isn’t one for you if you’re a veggie. This quaint little backstreet eatery offers up a selection of beautifully cooked Bosnian dishes. With five or six tables inside and another eights or side on the cobbled street, our meal felt casual and intimate.

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We were left invigorated after our trip to Mostar that we thought we’d give it a try. And I’m sure glad we did. I went for a kebab and flatbread number whilst my husband opted for a no-nonsense lamb kebab and baked potato. Both were delicious and the service was so friendly and efficient.

What to do

The City Walls

Dubrovnik old town is surrounded by 1940 metres of the historic city wall and punctuated by six spectacular fortresses (Revelin, St John, St Lucas, Bokar, Minčeta, Lovrijenac). The views from the city walls are just fabulous, and I thoroughly recommend this being at the top of your list for your first day.

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Entry to the walls cost 200kn; your ticket should last all day, so you’re free to go up and come down as much as you like. I would, however, recommend doing the full circuit at once. I found that taking our time to walk the whole walls gave us a much more coherent sense of the city and helped with orientation.

Just a few things to note, if you are visiting between April and October it’s going to be hot, particularly throughout July and August. Take plenty of water with you. There isn’t any place to stop for refreshments whilst you are on the walls so, be prepared and stay hydrated.

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Finally, footwear, I’m an avid fan of flip flops being the ultimate footwear choice for most activities however the walls are old and uneven. If I was being clever, I might have donned my trainers rather than flip flops.

Day trip to Mostar

After seeing that a day trip to the historic city of Mostar was an option, I set about IMG_0120booking an excursion for our second day. Mostar is located around fifty miles from Dubrovnik and is a two-and-a-half-hour direct drive. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not currently in the European Union, as such your passport is essential on this trip.

I discovered the perfect trip operated by Laus travel which included a visit to the Kravice waterfalls then, on to Mostar. To read about our day trip in more detail check out my post below.

https://takemefarandaway.com/2019/11/02/dubrovnik-to-mostar-a-1-day-itinerary-from-the-croatian-coast/

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The Blue Cave

Although we didn’t visit during the summer months the weather was still gorgeous. So, I thought nothing of booking up a days’ boat trip to the Blue Cave and Sunj Beach. The sea was a little bracing but still warm enough for a dip.

We met our little group of four others and Captain Joseph at the harbour and set sail. Our first stop was the gloriously secluded beach in Sunj Bay on the island of Lopud. Now, I am under no illusion that this slice of white sandy heaven was only deserted due to the time of year we visited. Rocking up mid-morning at the end of October guarantees you free run of the beach and bar area. I am certain this is a vastly different story in the height of summer. The beach is connected to the other side of the island via golf buggy. The buggies run regularly from the beach bar and the trip takes about 10mintues. It is a pleasant twenty-minute walk too if you don’t mind the hilly parts and slightly rough and ready terrain.

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The other side of the island is utterly charming. One long street butts up against the sea, fishing boats gently bobbing in the blue. The scene which greets you is like something out of The Durrells, there is even a 15th-century monastery at the far-right end of the main street. This first stop on our trip was so relaxing I could easily have spent all day pottering around Lopud and paddling in the tepid waters of Sunj Bay.

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Once back on the boat we headed for the main attraction…caves. As the boat skirted round the coastline, I was speechless, the towering cliffs had been carved out by the water into so many intricate and captivating formations. The uppermost parts of cliffs were covered with trees and shrubs, and the whole scene was just filled with bird song. At the first set of caves, Captain Joseph gave us a quick snorkelling what’s what then we flippered up and headed for the water. At the end of October, there is only one way to enter those crystalline waters, jump.

Once accustomed to the water we headed for the biggest of the three caves. The further in you swam the colder and darker it got. Although it was the biggest there was only Snapseed - Copy (16)room at the very back for one or two of us. If you’re feeling particularly, brave the cave at the end of the trio is for you. There is the option to swim to the back, under the rock, into an antechamber brings you out the other side of the cliff. I am unashamed to say this was one step too far for my level of bravery. The thought of having to swim, even briefly under the rock fills me with absolute dread. Also, I’ve seen the film The Decent one too many times…Who knows what’s lurking down in the belly of a cave system. However, despite my disappointing lack of courage, I thoroughly enjoyed the snorkelling at the mouth of the three caves. There were so many gorgeous, alluring fish and technicolour starfish who were totally unperturbed by my less than graceful splashing about.

Last stop was the absolute highlight of the trip, and Captain Joseph did a fabulous job of hyping it up, the blue cave. As we puttered along the coastline, we were all silently scouring the cliffs to see if we could pick out which opening would be the elusive gateway. When Captain Joseph declared that we were there it is safe to say we were all a little perplexed. The bay we had come into showed absolutely no sign of any caves and the cliff faces were unmarked and remarkably crevasse free. Or so we thought, to our untrained eyes we hadn’t spotted the tiny slither of darkness at the bottom of one of the cliffs. The Blue Cave looks like every other cave we’d swum into not fifteen minutes earlier. But its true glory came upon reaching the back wall and turning around. The entire cathedral-like space was bathed in a luminescent azure glow. This phenomenon is caused by the reflection of sunlight through the opening of the cave off the white sandy floor.

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That little gap at the bottom…yep, that’s the entrance to the Blue Cave!

The whole day was absolutely fabulous, and Captain Joseph made the trip. He was knowledgeable, well organised and had a cracking sense of humour. If you are looking to book this trip, we booked the trip through Trip Advisor, the Blue Cave by Dubrovnik Island Tours. Tours cost £51 per person, and it is worth every penny.

Srd Hill Cable Car

This is a must-do. Make a plan to head up the mountain just before sunset because the view of the sun setting over the ocean and the old town is like nothing else. Once hidden the sun burns through the cloud leaving dappled streaks of pink and orange. The multi-coloured ombre perfectly reflected in the water was the most beautiful end to our trip.

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The cable car costs 170kn for an adult round trip or 90kn for one way. There is a path which you can walk down the mountain if you would prefer stretching your legs. We went for the round trip due to timing our visit at sunset there wouldn’t have been enough daylight to take the path down. I didn’t fancy getting stuck on a dark path halfway up a mountain.

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The cable car operates eleven months of the year but is closed throughout the month of February. The last departure from the lower station is thirty minutes before closing. Closing time varies throughout the year from 4 pm during December and January to midnight in the summer months.

If you fancy taking in more than the view, I can recommend snagging a window table or table on the terrace at the Panorama Restaurant and Bar.

 

 

Franciscan Pharmacy

Just before the mighty Pile Gate is a Franciscan Monastery complete with arguable the oldest pharmacy in Europe. Initially built to serve the needs of the Friars it rapidly grew to service the needs of the town and wider population.IMG_0240

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If you have a spare half an hour then I would recommend a visit. The pretty cloistered monastery garden is wonderfully peaceful. At 9.15 am there was an all-consuming quiet which seemed to wrap around and cocoon you. The old pharmacy museum is also open every day from 9 am to 6 pm.

Red History Museum

IMG_0248On our last morning, we breakfasted early and set off for the Red History Museum. The museum presents Croatia’s modern history and what life was like for ordinary people under the Communist regime of Yugoslavia. The more we travel through countries who were occupied by the Soviet Union or experienced socialist movements and communism, the more I am fascinated by these points in history.

The Red History Museum was around a thirty-five to forty-minute walk from the old town. Entry to the museum costs 50hkr and the museum is open from 9.30 am to 10 pm from April to October. If you are travelling during the winter months opening hours do vary.

The exhibition was exceptionally well presented and really hands-on. I am a total child when it comes to museums, I love nothing more than to be able to practically engage in some way with the information being presented. The Red History Museum did not disappoint, learning about the Communist regime in Yugoslavia, its subsequent disintegration and how it affected the lives of normal people was fascinating.

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Final thoughts

Our four days in Dubrovnik was the perfect mix of adventure and time to chill. I am so pleased that we opted for the two days trips away from the city. However, I do feel as though more time is needed to really get under the surface of this magnificent city. I reckon a return visit would see Dubrovnik as a stop on a more multi-centred trip of Croatia and its fabulous islands. One of the best things about our trip was definitely our choice to visit at the end of October. The crowds were diminished, and we got into some of the best restaurants without any prior booking. The weather was still glorious, and the sea was warm enough for an invigorating swim. If you can visit outside of July and August then I would urge you to get booking.

Happy travels

Jess