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

Destination wedding, top tips, Travel inspiration, Uncategorized, Wedding

18 Top Tips for Planning Your Dream Wedding Abroad

When my husband finally popped the question in 2015, we got down to planning the wedding pretty quickly. After 7 years together I had already got some fairly clear ideas about the wedding…that ‘one day’ Pinterest board had been getting some serious attention from about three years in. But, whilst I knew the guest list, dress designer, style of cake and theme the venue proved much trickier to pin down. Like many other brides, I was stuck with the little sister conundrum. My older sister had a beautiful wedding at the best hotel in our home town. Despite her flawless wedding, I knew I wanted mine to be different. It wasn’t until my husband and I starting seriously thinking about our plans that the idea of tying the knot abroad started to take hold. It was, without doubt, the best decision we made. So, if you are planning your dream wedding abroad, I hope these top tips will help with some of those all-important decisions.

  1. Is it legal?

Naturally, we assume that when we get married it’s legal, right? Wrong! You should ensure that your marriage in one country will be legally recognised in your country of residence. Every country will have different rules, and it might be difficult to have a legally binding ceremony if you are not living in that country. There are, sadly still some countries who do not permit same-sex marriage.

We opted for the island of Tenerife for our big day, but we had to complete a legal ceremony here in the UK first. We decided to make a thing of our legal ceremony, and it proved to be a lovely opportunity to share with our close family. The ceremony was no longer than 40 minutes and was held at the registry office of my home town. Our parents, siblings and family who could not attend the main event in Tenerife were present.

Having completed our legal marriage in the UK we were free to have a civil ceremony in Tenerife. Make sure you check the local laws in your chosen destination; you don’t want to be caught out!

2. Choose the right time of the year

Many couples tend to plan their big day to coincide with warm sunny days. But just because July and August tend to be some of the finest months weather-wise here in the UK, that may not be in the case in your chosen destination. If you’ve got your heart set on a Caribbean wedding you might want to skip July and August as that’s hurricane season or New Zealand where our British summer is their winter.

I would also consider checking out the top temperatures of your chosen destination. Whilst a tropical downpour or frigid temperatures may put a dampener on your big day, swelteringly heat may be just as much of an issue, particularly if you are inviting older guests.

Whilst you can never predict the weather, it is always best to be prepared. Despite choosing the island of Tenerife in October, where the average temperature is comfortably in the mid-20s degrees and they only see a maximum of 2 days rain during the month…of course, it rained on my wedding day! But a few showers and some excellent work by the wedding team meant that our day was still absolutely perfect.

3. Choose the right destination for you

It sounds obvious, but it’s important to pick the right destination for both you and your fiancé. If you hate sand but think the pictures of your beach wedding will be magnificent, don’t do it. Whilst the pictures may be beautiful, do you want to spend the day being uncomfortable with sand in places that only a good shower can sort out? If you have, a gorgeous English rose complexion, is the Middle East in July a good idea? As hard as it is, try not to get caught up in beautiful pictures of other people’s weddings. Yes, they are good for inspiration, but your day has to be personal and right for you.

4. Visit your venue

As soon as our mind turned to a wedding abroad there was only one contender for our big day. The Abama hotel on the island of Tenerife. This hotel has been a family stable for many years. It was where my husband and I had our first holiday together and it is somewhere we both feel so relaxed. Despite having stayed at the Abama more than seven times in as many years I had never stayed intending to scope it out as a wedding venue. So, nine months before the wedding my mum and I booked a week at the venue. The trip aimed to finalise some decisions, meet face to face with the wedding planner and her team and to sample some of the dishes we had decided on. This trip was enormously important to clarify some of the questions I had. Although I had eaten in the restaurant and admired the view from the terrace, I still needed a walk through with the wedding planner to visualise what it would be like on the day.

If you have selected a location but not a venue then a recce trip is essential. With the help of your wedding planner, you should have a shortlist of possible venues which will need a personal visit. Only by standing in the place and visualising your plans can you truly get a feel for a place to see if this is right for you.

5. Check your flight times and book a transfer

Make sure you consider when you want to arrive at your destination and when your guests will be arriving. If you are jetting off across the world, you’ll want to make sure that you and your guests aren’t struggling with jet lag. I would recommend arriving a few days before the wedding. This will give you and your fiancé time to meet with the wedding planner and go over any last-minute details. Arriving in advance will also allow you some much-needed downtime before the big day.

It is also worth considering the transfer times from the airport to your venue. I would make sure you have a transfer booked from the airport. You’re going to have some significant luggage and items to be handled with care. A properly organised transfer will not only give you peace of mind but also help set the tone for your wedding stay.

6. Think about your luggage

Normally when booking a flight, you automatically have one 23kg bag allocated to you. You’ll need to book another bag if not two. Be prepared to pay for these extra bags as it can come as a nasty hidden cost, but making sure everything gets to the venue safely is worth it.

In the month leading up to the wedding, I hadn’t quite appreciated how much extra stuff we were planning on taking with us. As more and more parcels starting arriving at my house it was clear a third checked bag was needed. We decided to take out our place settings, table plan, confetti, orders of ceremony and lots of other decorations. We were keen for everything to have a very personal touch, but we did need a clear plan on getting everything transported. We opted for carefully packing a heavy-duty plastic box and checking that into the hold, it worked perfectly and all of our hand-crafted efforts survived the journey.

Finally, my fiancé and groomsmen had the brilliant idea to play golf on the morning of the wedding. The hotel had a championship course, so it would have been rude not to. If you are planning on travelling with golf clubs, don’t forget these will also need booking onto the flight and will come at an additional cost.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

7. Think carefully about your dress

For any bride, your dress is a big deal. If you’ve had your heart set on that big poufy princess ballgown with the sweetheart neckline since you were seven, you might want to give thought to how practical a dress of that size and weight will be to transport. A call to your airline will help you make the right choice for transportation. The last thing you want is a bag of crumpled dress with no hope of steaming it out before the wedding.

You should also consider if your dress will suit the climate of the country you are jetting off to. If you know the temperature is going to be thirty degrees plus do you really want to be wrapped up in a heavy tulle ballgown?

You might also want to think about where your ceremony is going to take place. If you’re tying the knot on the beach, make sure your dress choice is practical for being on the sand.

8. Consider accommodation options for you and your guests

Many venues will provide you with a room rate deal for your guests. They will likely ask upfront about how many rooms you want to reserve for your guest. At this point, it is worth having an idea about who will be staying at your venue and who will be staying elsewhere. You might even want guests to give you an indication of this on their RSVP.

One thing to consider is the cost of your venue compared to other local accommodation. If guests have paid for their flights it might be, they are looking to save on the accommodation so the venue may not always be their first choice. Make sure you provide guests with other reputable options near your venue.

Finally, you and your fiancé will want to decide if you want to stay at your venue or jet off into the night to a more intimate location. We opted to stay at our venue. Not only was our suite stunning, but there was something extremely special about being able to have breakfast and socialise with our family and friends who had stayed on after the wedding.

9. Use a wedding planner

The experience, local knowledge and not to mention the language of a wedding planner is invaluable. A good wedding planner will have contacts with local suppliers and in all the relevant trades needed for your wedding. It is also likely using a wedding planner might enable you to access discounts and deals which you might be unable to secure on your own

Many hotels will have a dedicated wedding planner if weddings are a big part of the hotels business. Make sure you can easily communicate with each other and that you are happy before forging ahead with the relationship.  

Photo by Asad Photo Maldives on Pexels.com

10. Be adaptable

Yes, it’s hard when you have the perfect vision of your perfect day however for you to enjoy the process you will need to be adaptable. Booking a wedding abroad can throw up lots of different challenges which you might not consider, like the types of flowers or food available or the beach being closed due to strong winds or high tides. You can’t control everything. If you have an experienced wedding planner then let them take some of the slack, let other people help you and guide you to the best outcomes for your day. I had never envisaged rain or strong winds on my wedding day but rain it did right up until the time of the ceremony. With the ground wet and strong wind still in play, our wedding planner decided to move our wedding breakfast indoors. Best decision ever and I didn’t even make it. Whatever happens on your day go with the flow and don’t sweat the small stuff.

11. Book early & send save the date cards

If you want friends and family to be a part of your wedding then plan and book early. Guaranteeing your guest list can be a little trickier when marrying abroad. You are not only asking your guests to take several days off work but accommodation and travel expenses will be considerably more expensive than if you were celebrating in your home town. The more notice you can give your guests the better.

I would recommend having your save the date cards made/picked out or ready to go as soon as you confirm your venue. We booked our venue in October 2015 for an October 2016 wedding and had save the date cards sent to our guests by November 2015. Giving our guests a year to save and book proved helpful when finalising numbers.

As soon as you can, send your guests as much information as possible about the venue, location and what I expect from being part of your wedding party. I was not particularly tech-savvy in 2015 so we went for a good old-fashioned guest brochure of information. If I were planning my wedding now, I would set up a wedding website where my guests could easily access everything they need. You want to make the whole process as easy for your guests as possible. If everything they need is in one place you will spend a lot less time fielding individual questions about the same issues; leaving you free to focus on the big stuff.

12. Pinterest, Pinterest, Pinterest

As I have previously mentioned I was a wedding Pinterest fiend even before getting engaged. However, my late-night swooning over naked cakes adorned by fresh flowers and the perfect table settings came in really handy when communicating with our wedding planner. Although our wedding planner had fantastic English, many of her suppliers had no English at all. Pictures are a brilliant way of showing exactly what you are looking for.

Photo by Edward Eyer on Pexels.com

Your carefully crafted Pinterest mood boards will help the wedding planner and suppliers gauge your tastes and vision for the wedding. My flower board came into its own when I was told that due to the season in Tenerife and the types of flowers grown in that climate, I would need to reconsider my blousy peonies and tea roses. As heartbroken as I was the florist whipped some beautiful bouquets and buttonholes with local flowers based on the ideas from my Pinterest board.  Never regret those late-night pins.

13. Carefully consider your guest list

Immediate family are likely to make the trip for your wedding however will work colleagues who you’ve only known for nine months do the same? An invitation to a wedding abroad can be a big ask financially and time-wise for many. You’ll want to streamline your list as much as possible before you send out your invitations. Never invite guests assuming they will say no anyway, you may be surprised who suddenly messages to say they have booked their flights.

14. Wedding insurance

Worldwide pandemics, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires…if we learn nothing else from 2020, we should expect the unexpected. Whilst the unpredictable can be stressful, taking out wedding insurance should help to alleviate some of the stresses around of the things which are totally out of your control. There are lots of insurers who offer wedding insurance, make sure you compare what each is offering to make sure it best suits your needs. We opted for John Lewis Wedding Insurance as it was the best deal at the time. For more detailed information on wedding insurance check out the link below https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/insurance/wedding-insurance/

15. Set aside some extra cash for additional costs and fees

In addition to shipping and luggage costs, you will also be paying deposits to the venue and potentially external suppliers. This means there will be bank transfer fees and exchange rates to contend with. To avoid any hidden charges, make sure you educate yourself on the exchange rate between your currency and that of your destination. It is also worth finding out from your bank what their fees with international transfers are. For more information on sending money abroad check out the link below.

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/banking/foreign-currency-exchange/

Finally, weddings can be a bit of a bottomless pit when it comes to money. There will always be something you have forgotten or a small detail which needs correcting. Having a fund for these last-minute costs can be helpful and can ease your financial stress about the process.

16. Think about your honeymoon

So, you’ve chosen to get married abroad, but what about your honeymoon? Lots of couples will want to stay on at their venue or think about exploring more of the country you have chosen. This will not only save you money but will extend this precious time.

It might also be worth thinking about other countries you can easily access from your destination. With shorter flight times than you would get from the UK, it might be a good time to explore somewhere a little further afield.

Alternatively, you can drag that wedding vibe out for as long as you like. We decided to take ten days including the wedding in Tenerife but then chose to focus on travel for the first year of our marriage. Every month for one year we sought to jet off for a city break. These short frequent trips combined with an anniversary return to the Abama was perfect.

17. Think about planning time with your guests before and after the wedding

One of the best decisions we made was to stay on at the venue with our closest family after the wedding. This precious time was so chilled and a lovely way to come down from the big day. In truth, it felt like the whole ten days was our wedding. I can remember saying that I totally understood why brides got upset the moment the wedding was over. So, if you can stay on and drag it out I absolutely would.

Getting the chance to talk to everyone at the wedding can be a challenge on the day when you are being called for photos or dragged away for a myriad of other reasons. Two days after the wedding we were lucky, several family members and friends had stayed on at the hotel, so we decided to host a drinks party in our suite. It gave us another opportunity to properly speak with everyone for longer than a few minutes and was the perfect send-off for some of our guests.

18. Relax & enjoy your day

Without a doubt planning your wedding can be a stressful time, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Planning your time of celebration with your fiancée and family can be so rewarding so make sure you take step back and keep the process as fun as possible.

I would love to hear your destination wedding stories, so happy planning and good luck for your big day.

Jess

top tips, Travel inspiration, Uncategorized

19 Must visit destinations post coronavirus

I really thought I was handling this lock down situation quite well.  I’m reading more, eating and sleeping well. I’m even spending quality time with my husband and genuinely quite enjoying a slower pace. That was until my calendar pinged with a reminder that online check-in was open for my now-cancelled trip to Poland. I suddenly realised how much I have missed travel. Not just weekends away and the giddy excitement of long-haul trips but also travelling around the UK visiting my family. With wanderlust daydreaming the best we can hope for at the moment. Here are 21 fabulous destinations that should be on your list when things get back to normal.

1. Azerbaijan: Baku

Azerbaijan first came to my attention in 2011 after a historic win in the national institution that is, the Eurovision Song Contest (A guilty pleasure!). Celebrations from the capital brought Baku into the spotlight. Baku is a gorgeous tapestry of old and new. Skyscrapers rub shoulders with ancient architecture providing a juxtaposing backdrop for a city break with a difference.

Baku offers travellers excellent value for money and a host of incredible experiences. Notable sights include the Old City, The Maiden Tower and my personal favourite Yanar Dag or the ‘burning mountain.’ Something about this untamed natural fire burning for millennia at the base of the mountains outside Baku really appeals to my sense of adventure. Flames rip through the landscape and dance through the sky feasting on the natural gas escaping from the ground below.  A true natural spectacle.

If you’re looking for a luxurious base whilst in Baku, I would recommend the Fairmont Baku, Flame Towers. A 5* hotel situated on the Absheron Peninsula, with its sumptuous city and sea views, what more could you want?

2. Canada: Yukon

A true wilderness. Many travellers today are seeking a more remote and disconnected travel experience. Something a little more in tune with the natural environment. If this sentiment rings true in your heart then small Canadian territory of Yukon might be everything you’re looking for.

Yukon is Canada’s most westerly territory. Sharing a border with Alaska, Yukon has an Arctic coastline with a wild tundra climate. If you’ve ever fantasised about the aurora, midnight sun and husky sledging through wide snow-covered expanses then move over Norway!

But, the Yukon is so much more than a giant winter sports adventure playground. Glorious wildlife from arctic foxes to elk and bison call the Yukon home and can be spotted on hiking trails and making the most of this remarkable natural environment. The Yukon also holds a rich depth of culture of the territories First Nations. With almost a quarter of all Yukoners having Aboriginal ancestry First National history, culture and traditions are a celebrated part of Yukon life today.

3. Canada: Newfoundland & Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador is Canada’s most easterly province. Sitting in the frigid Atlantic Ocean is the island of Newfoundland and section of mainland Labrador. This spectacular province should be topping your list if you’re seeking close encounters of the aquatic kind. The waters surrounding Newfoundland Labrador is prime whale-watching territory. With the world’s largest population of humpback whales returning each year to feed on the superior fish stocks, you are guaranteed an awe-inspiring experience with these majestic mammals.

Newfoundland and Labrador aren’t just known for its phenomenal wildlife, the hospitality and friendliness of locals are well renowned. Coupled with world-class seafood and the infamous East Coast hiking trail, Newfoundland Labrador has plenty to offer any type of traveler.

4. Georgia

Georgia is stunning, yet despite being a clear European gem it attracts a relatively limited number of tourists. According to the World Tourism Organisation Georgia welcomed only around 7,000 tourists in 2018.

Allegedly Georgia is the birthplace of wine. But, if fabulous vino and food aren’t enough to get you booking your ticket then Georgia plays host to a spectacular landscape. Sweeping vineyards, luscious green valleys, stone carpeted beaches, snow-capped mountains, and that’s just the scenery.

Georgia has a brilliant depth of history, culture and architecture, evident in the vibrant capital city of Tbilisi.

My recommendation is Moxy Tbilisi. This cool quirky hotel is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. https://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/tbsox-moxy-tbilisi/

5. Germany: Passau

Tucked away in the heart of Europe, sitting on the German Austrian border sits the town of Passau. Due to its location at a point where three rivers merge Passau is also known as The Three Rivers City. This uniquely located city with its picturesque landscapes, Italian style architecture and centuries of history makes this Bavarian Venice a hugely underrated European destination.

For a perfect riverside stay, I would recommend The Hotel Residenz, an imposing salmon coloured icon right on the banks of the Danube. Sitting atop the foundations of a four-hundred-year-old merchant house, the hotel provides the ideal balance between historic restoration and contemporary luxury. https://www.residenz-passau.de/index.php/en/

6. Italy: Florence

Florence has been sat on my travel wish list for years! After reading Dan Brown’s Inferno his vivid imagery has kept my desire to visit this Italian gem alive.

Whether you’re a history, art, food or architecture aficionado Florence has something for every type of traveller. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, every street, gallery and piazza have an abundance of artistic and architectural treasures to immerse yourself in.

Florence is the perfect spot for a long romantic weekend getaway. Unlike other, popular city breaks like Rome or Paris, Florence has a small-town charm and a slower pace. I can imagine nothing better than strolling down cosy backstreets, leisurely gorging on gelato.

I would recommend booking a room at the Art Hotel Villa Agape. Surrounded by an eight-hectare park of olive and cypress trees this is an idyllic place to retreat to after a long day exploring the city.

7. Japan: Hokkaido

Japan has been firmly etched onto my bucket list for forever (hence why I’m recommending two incredible destinations). Hokkaido is Japan’s most northerly island and has been somewhat overlooked by travellers who often opt for the well-known cities of Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka.

Hokkaido is a winter paradise. Hot springs, thrilling skiing and the glorious Ice Waterfall festival just to name a few must-do items.

To take in everything this Japanese Island has to offer I would recommend a tour from North to South. For some inspiration check out this sensational  twelve-day itinerary https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2400_hokkaido_winter.html

8. Japan:  Kyushu

Japan is a land of contrast and while the island of Hokkaido is a winter nirvana, Kyushu is a temperate volcanic wonderworld.

Japan’s most southerly island is best known for its active volcanos, hot springs and the destruction of Nagasaki in 1945. With such a vast range of things to do and see any traveller should make a beeline for this less explored island.

Kyushu is the optimal location for getting up close and personal with live volcanos then unwinding on the beach with a cocktail. In my mind, all adventures to Kyushu should finish on Tomori beach.

9. Jordan: Intrepid Tour

If you’ve ever seen Raiders of the Lost Ark then you will have marvelled at the lost city of Petra. An entire city complex carved into the distinctive russet Jordanian rock. Whilst the 2,000-year-old city of Petra should rightfully be on your list, Jordan has more to offer the savvy traveller. Jordan is littered with incredibly well preserved ancient monuments. Remote desert camps of the nomadic Bedouin and coral laden shores. Jordan has so much to offer than simply the lost city.

To experience all this beautiful country has to offer, I would recommend starting your journey with Intrepid Travel’s Jordan Discovery trip. This luxury group tour could be the perfect starting point to ignite your passion for travel in the Middle East.

https://www.intrepidtravel.com/uk/jordan/jordan-discovery-125297

10.  Kyrgyzstan

I’m pretty sure I have a thing for mountains, and there is no more majestic display of dramatic craggy peaks than in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan is a historic point on the Silk Road where ancient peoples from all parts of the globe would meet to trade.

A stark contrast to the expansive mountain ranges which cut across the sky is the vast summer pastures dotted with yurts of the nomadic shepherds. Kyrgyzstan offers a unique and wild travel experience in the heart of central Asia. True adventure seekers will feel as though they are the only travellers to hike the mountain paths and delight in this Asian wonder.

For a fully immersive central Asian experience, I would recommend the Central Asia Explorer Trip with Intrepid Travel https://www.intrepidtravel.com/uk/uzbekistan/central-asia-explorer-126379

11.Macedonia

It wasn’t until I was on a boat trip in Croatia late last year that Macedonia firmly planted itself on my must-visit list. After chatting with our fellow travellers that day, they couldn’t have given Macedonia a harder sell for those who enjoy a more active type of holiday. White water rafting, unpopulated hiking trails, glorious mountains and glittering waterways are just a slice of what’s on offer.

Even if an outdoor adventure trip isn’t for you, Macedonia offers a rich history with Ottoman and Soviet influences. The capital Skopje and a UNESCO World Heritage site at Ohrid are particular highlights. 

12. Mexico 

Whilst tourists have been flocking to Mexico’s beach resorts for many years, Mexico is harbouring an incredible travel opportunity. The El Chepe train. Covering six hundred and fifty kilometres the El Chepe train works its way through the Copper Canyon from Los Mochis to Chihuahua. Significant attractions along the line include awe-inspiring scenery, particularly when travelling towards Los Mochis.   

There are a number of beautiful tourist stops along the route, the most significant of which is the town of Divisadero. Upon arrival in Divisadero, you’ll want to have your camera at the ready for the panoramic views over the Copper Canyon. Four times the size of the USA’s Grand Canyon, the Copper Canyon is a true natural spectacle.  

https://www.visitcoppercanyon.com/visit-copper-canyon-train/#schedules

13. Norway: Lofoten Islands

Having made two trips to Norway previously, there is something about this Scandi beauty that has wormed its way into my heart. Norway’s Lofoten Islands is a rugged archipelago suspended above the Arctic Circle.  

Norway is renowned for its incredible mountainous scenery and deep placid fjords. But, the Lofoten Islands push this to a whole new level. For the adventure traveller, there is no more unique place than the Lofoten Islands to hike up soaring peaks, pitch your tent and watch that midnight sun.

My recommendation for a perfect Lofoten base is Hattvika Lodge. https://www.hattvikalodge.no/accomondation

14. Namibia

The beauty of Africa’s skeleton coast is not a new travel destination, but Namibia’s growing popularly shouldn’t put you off. We’ve all seen the images of burnt ochre sands with blackened emaciated trees silhouetted against the desert. But, what’s behind this stunning collision of earth, sky and sea?

Namibia is one of the safest African countries and one of the most favourable places for a family safari. In addition to dramatic game drives Namibia offers a host of other activities. Hot air ballooning, sand dune skiing or hiking in the Fish River Canyon are just a few of your options.

15. Portugal: Sintra

Portugal’s Algarve is a synonymous holiday destination with the British public but, take a journey into the pine swathed hills to discover the town of Sintra.

Easily accessible from Lisbon, Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage site. With palaces galore, miles and miles of charming views and exquisite Moorish architecture Sintra is quite possible the perfect day trip.

If you do want to extend your visit to Sintra then you’ll need to book in advance as accommodation books up fast. My top pick for a luxurious stay in Sintra is the Penha Longa Resort. http://www.penhalonga.com/en/

16. Singapore

I’ve never spoken to anyone who had a bad word to say about Singapore. The clean, friendly, world-class food and unparalleled hospitality this city-state is the ideal backdrop for any visit to the far east.

Singapore has an incredible mix of colonial grandeur, sky-scraping luxury, innovative architecture and is a brilliant stop gap for further travels to Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines or Thailand.

If you’re looking to break up a long-haul trip then you can’t go wrong with a few days in Singapore. Take a walk through the opulent and ornate botanical gardens. Sip afternoon tea at the world-famous Raffles. Indulge in sundowners on top of the world and be dazzled by the evening light show in the bay. A short layover in Singapore could provide just the right amount of glitz and excitement on a long-haul journey.

17. Sumatra

At the start of 2020, I started planning an epic trip to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Whilst other islands on the Indonesian archipelago like, Bali and Java are fabulous holiday destinations. I’ve been feeling the need for something a little wilder and a path less trodden.

Sumatra is the largest of the Indonesian islands. Sweeping lustrous tropical terrain, active volcanos, orangutan strongholds and lakeside tranquillity, Sumatra might just be the most exquisite cocktail of adventure and holiday chill.

As with many locations off the main tourist thoroughfare, top-end luxurious accommodation isn’t always available. I think a trip like is all about fully immersing your self in the environment and really sinking a little deeper into the culture of this beautiful island.

18. Turkmenistan

Every now and then I am completely captivated by an idea, most recently it has been to discover the old cities of the Silk Road. Turkmenistan is located in central Asia, bordered by the Caspian Sea, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. If you are a traveler looking for a destination off the beaten path then Turkmenistan could be your ideal location. Ancient cities, deserts, mountains and even the infamous door to hell Turkmenistan has something for all types of traveler. If you are looking for the ultimate remote travel experience Turkmenistan might just be worth it.

19. Vanuatu

If it’s the island life you’re after then look no further than the South Pacific jewel that is Vanuatu. Pristine alabaster sandy beaches, blissfully blue sea, world-class diving and volcano trekking. Vanuatu has the optimal balance of blissful holiday retreat and ultimate travel experience.

For superior relaxation and island vibes, I recommend Tamanu on the Beach. A private peaceful 5* resort and spa would be the perfect couples’ getaway or honeymoon destination.

I hope these beautiful destinations have given you some travel inspiration. I’d love to know where you plan to visit when travel is unrestricted and coronavirus is confined to the archives of 2020.

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.

IMG_4862

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.

IMG_4877

IMG_4861

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.

IMG_4868

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.

IMG_8125

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.

IMG_4853

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.

Attachment-1 - Copy (4)

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.

Attachment-1 - Copy (5)

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.

Image-1 - Copy (2)
Summer time surfing! Images: Alistair McRobert & Luis Fernando Alves 

 

IMG_4882

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.

IMG_4865

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.

Attachment-1 - Copy

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.

IMG_0837

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.

IMG_0786

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!

IMG_0785

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.

IMG_0773

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.

berlin

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.

IMG_0771

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.

IMG_0802

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.

IMG_0825

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.

IMG_0826

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.

Attachment-1 - Copy (3)

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

Hotel Review, reading, Uncategorized, weekend break

Book & hotel pairings: Top 5 reads and where to stay for a UK weekend away

With the world in lockdown, I thought I would write something a little different. I am hoping this post will inspire you to take seek out some UK weekend adventures when all this passes, and we are free to venture past our own front door. I also hope to steer you in the direction of some fabulous books, because in the words of Mason Cooley “Reading gives us someplace to go, when we have to stay where we are.”

We’ve all heard of wine pairings to accompany your food, so why not the perfect book to bury your nose in during your travels.

One of the most thrilling parts of travel in my mind is the opportunity to get lost in a good book. Life is so busy and despite my worthiest efforts to read every night, sometimes, I just need my bed. However, with all this working from home malarkey, I have to say I am finding more time to read which is a lovely thing. But, in the confines of normality I approach every travel experience as an opportunity to raid the Kindle store, delve into my paperback stocks and consult my personal librarian; otherwise known as my mum.

I am a firm believer that some books better suit certain types of travel or experience. If you are staring down the barrel of a long-haul flight then I’m game for settling down with a good series. Alternatively, a cosy weekend holed up in a country pub definitely calls for an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery.

With that in mind, I thought I would share a few of my favourite titles with you. Books which I feel are perfect for a weekend tucked away at an English country pub; I’ll also throw in a few choice recommendations for fabulously snug country pubs.

A Death at Fountains Abbey by Antonia Hodgson & The Devonshire Arms

After being a devout kindle reader for many years it was this book that brought me back to the joy of reading a real-life paperback. Something about the feel of a real book in your hand is, I think, rather lovely.

IMG_1142A Death at Fountains Abbey is the third instalment from Antonia Hodgson. However, not having read the previous two it didn’t matter or have any disastrous effect on the plot or my understanding. My only caveat to that would be I might have liked a deeper understanding of the protagonist’s backstory. However, understanding and storyline hinge on this knowledge.

The story is set in 1728; John Aislabie is the victim of a malicious campaign to terrorise him and his family. Amidst the murderous threats, Thomas Hawkins and his ward Sam Fleet join the fray. Thomas is led into a lethal game of revenge in a fast-paced page-turner which definitely had me hooked and holding my breath from chapter sixteen.

But where to stay if this delightful thriller is in your bag? I would recommend The Devonshire Arms in Wharfdale. With luxury rooms, spa facilities, exquisitely cooked food and locally sourced produce, this country hotel on the Bolton Abbey Estate has a lot to offer.

The location of the hotel means that it is perfectly placed to offer a range of country pursuits. Activities include a 10-day luxury walking break following The Dales Way to tracing the path of the Tour De Yorkshire. Alternatively, if you want to take things a little easier you can relax on the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway.

Image-1 - Copy

The Devonshire Arms is only a thirty-minute drive from Fountains Abbey where the story is set. I took a wander around the abbey and the gorgeous water gardens at Studley Royal this Christmas. My little jaunt gave me a whole new perspective on the story. It was particularly thrilling to envisage the characters holding whispered conversations in the dark shadowed corners of the ruins. I found myself seeking out narrow paths in the woods trying to find a secluded glade where private conversations might be overheard. In fact, I was absolutely lost in my surroundings and imagination.

The Muse by Jessie Burton & The Methuen Arms

Jessie Burton produces beautiful books. We all know the saying don’t judge a book by its cover. But when it comes Jessie Burton novels the façade is as beautifully intricate and well crafted as the writing. A visual delight for your bookshelves.

The Muse is the second offering from Jessie Burton. The story centres on the hidden tale the museand history of a painting by the Spanish artist Isaac Robles. Isaacs’ work and mysterious death have left the art world mystified for decades. The narrative is split between 1967 where a young typist, Odelle Bastien, who has struggled to find her place and purpose since moving to London from Trinidad has been recruited by the mysterious and enigmatic Marjorie Quick.

The parallel narrative is set in 1936 in a substantial manor house in rural Spain where the truth of the painting is concealed. Olive Schloss, the daughter of famed art dealer harbours secrets, ambition and consummate artist talent. Olive befriends the family housekeeper, Teresa and her revolutionary brother Isaac. As tensions build and the country on the brink of civil war the relationship and secrets between Olive, Teresa and Isaac come to a heart-wrenching climax.

This story entranced me and truly felt as though I was a fly on the wall of this grand Spanish house. My hotel choice for this novel isn’t quite a palatial Spanish manor but a beautiful Georgian coaching inn, The Methuen Arms, Corsham. Don’t be fooled by the cosy country exterior as inside you are in for a luxurious treat. The hotel has 16 luxurious and recently renovated rooms. There is even accommodation for mans best furry friend. One of the main attractions in my view of the Methuen Arms is the food. Home grown and locally sourced produce which is creatively cooked and well presented, it’s hard to go wrong. My top recommendation is the breakfast omelette, with all the added extras. Brunch perfection.

the-methuen-arms
Image from Trip Advisor

The hotel is situated in Corsham in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside but only a stone’s throw from the Roman city of Bath. With undulating hills and sun-bathed sandstone, it’s not a million miles from rural Spain.

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver & The Blakeney Hotel

Yes, it’s another manor house thriller, except Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is much more subtle than a classic thriller. The story is as much about the protagonist, Maud as it is about the wild and eerie fens where the house ‘Wake’s End’ is located.

Snapseed - Copy (18)

After Maud’s mother dies in childbirth, she is left to the care of her father, Edmund, a strict and tyrannical disciplinarian.

The story tracks the isolation of Maud and the unravelling of her father. Maud gains an wakenhyrstinsight into his rapidly deteriorating mind through stolen moments with his diary. Edmund is stalked by scratching noises. Unseen eyes in the darkness and a religious and significant depiction of hell that draws the iridescent stench of the fen into every orifice of his being. Michelle Paver beautifully blurs the boundaries between reality and the ghostly. This story leaves you hung somewhere adrift with little pieces of the narrative returning to you every so often. I found myself turning those little pieces over and over. The sign of a good story in my view is one that doesn’t leave you after you finish the final page

I took my hotel inspiration here from The Blakeney Hotel. The hotel sits on the edge of the salt marshes and estuary of the North Norfolk coast. The hotel is comfortably and stylishly decorated, very Farrow and Ball chic. Situated right on the coastal path, the views are wild and expansive. On a squally day, you can well imagine you are looking out of the study windows at Wake’s End. The hotel has 60 rooms catering to couples, families and solo travellers. Many of the rooms have picturesque views over the estuary and salt marshes. One very welcome addition to the hotel’s facilities is a spa and swimming pool. I can thoroughly recommend positioning yourself on the sun terrace post-swim, book in hand and a cold beverage nearby. The afternoon tea is also a real treat.

 

blakeney
Image from the Honeymoon Project

 

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver & The Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk

I first read this little ghostly delight on a late train from Edinburgh to London. The carriage was empty, rain lashed the windows, individual torrents tracing their own path as we sped through the black. Honestly, it was  ghost story perfection. It’s a story I’ve come back to many times. Each reading grips me within the first, few pages, my consciousness held captive till the last page.

IMG_1143
My very well loved copy…

The Arctic, an expansive tundra full of secrets and possibility. When twenty-eight-year-old Jack gets the chance to embark on an Arctic expedition, he has nothing to lose. A motley crew of five men and eight huskies head north from Norway. As they cross the vast expanse of sea, they reach the bay where they will devote the next twelve months. The land of the midnight sun is enchanting and dangerous. Light fades and darkness reclaims the land. Restlessness, unease and a sense of foreboding grow whilst the escape route of the sea freezes over, something is out in the dark and the crew are not alone. Even revisiting the first pages of this gorgeous thriller gives me goosebumps. Michelle Paver successfully manages to hook you instantaneously all the while reeling you in page by page as the tension builds.

Failing a long winter train journey or a trip to Norway, I would recommend the Rose and Crown at Romaldkirk to hunker down in and bury yourself in Dark Matter. I have chosen the Rose and Crown as a bedfellow for Dark Matter as I remember so clearly driving up to the hotel in the dark and the rain through twisty, turning, lanes. Trees creeping over stone walls and vast expanses of nothing. It’s quite the dramatic drive in the dark. Something about the feel of the place links quite nicely to the book.

Set on the edge of the North Pennines the Rose and Crown is a coaching inn not far from Barnard Castle. The Inn is a family-owned and runs a business with a real focus on being eco- friendly, sustainable and sourcing locally for supplies. The Rose and Crown’s remote location makes it an excellent spot for hiking, biking, sailing, fishing. Classic car hire is even an option for pootling down those country lanes and taking in the view.

romaldkirk
Image from Country Hotel Breaks

Choosing to stay at the Rose and Crown presents you with a range of room options. You can opt for rooms in the Main Inn, The Courtyard or the Monk’s Cottage. All the rooms are well styled with a contemporary take on rustic country charm. With Molton Brown toiletries and good linen, you are guaranteed a relaxing stay and a good nights’ sleep. I also reckon the incredible food, and modern takes on the classics will have you staggering into a food coma.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield & The Old Bell, Malmesbury

My mum is a literary hero and my go-to girl when it comes to reading material. Every Christmas she carefully picks out something she thinks I’ll love. Christmas 2007 was no exception when I tore the wrapping from The Thirteenth Tale.

The story is a rich tapestry of mystery set again a backdrop of Vida Winter’s literary 13thimaginings. Now at the end of her life, Vida wants to expose the truth of her extraordinary life. After hiring a biographer with her own shadowed past the story takes on a gothic peculiarity where the reader is introduced to the Angelfield family, their governess and the devastating fire that altered everything.

The threads of the story flow seamlessly, characters lives intersect and the dialogue cuts from the past to the present. It is a masterclass in evocative storytelling. Now with the setting of a once spectacular house, I would recommend the Old Bell, Malmesbury for a spring week away.

The Old Bell is England’s oldest hotel. Set in the quaint Wiltshire market town of Malmesbury you cannot miss its historic wisteria clad façade on the main thoroughfare. The hotel is a luxurious escape with modern, stylish rooms, well-appointed bar area and exceptional Sunday roasts. The roaring log fire in the sitting room is the ideal place to cosy up with The Thirteenth Tale. Also if you fancy a weekend break with your four-legged friend then the Old Bell is dog friendly.

old bell
The Old Bell – England’s Oldest Hotel

With a 12th Century Abbey next door to the hotel and the world-famous Abbey House Gardens, this place is laced with history and mystery. A faultless match for ‘The Thirteenth Tale.’ Looking around the hotel there are snippets of times long since passed. The hooded stone fireplace in the brasserie dates to 1220 definitely makes me think of the centuries of stories that have been told around its hearth.

Stay safe, keep well.

Happy reading & 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

IMG_0015

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.

IMG_0229

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.

IMG_0075

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.

IMG_0233IMG_0234

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.

IMG_0027

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.

IMG_0047

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/

mostar

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.

IMG_0191

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.

IMG_0174

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.

IMG_0200 - Copy
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.

IMG_0225

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.

IMG_0216

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

IMG_0245

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.

IMG_0250

 

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

Hotel Review, Uncategorized, weekend break

Hotel Review: 4* Hotel Indigo, Alexanderplatz, Berlin

“I’m only there for less than 48 hours, the hotel doesn’t really matter right?” Wrong!

Weekend mini-breaks are a firm favourite of mine when it comes to travelling. I love the feeling of skipping out of work at 3.15 in the afternoon with a weekend of adventure stretching out before me. However, with less than 48 hours to experience a whole city do not underestimate the importance of selecting a good hotel for your trip.

We chose the Hotel Indigo for our recent weekend jaunt to Berlin, and it proved to be a great base for our weekend.

Attachment-1 - Copy (2)

Getting to the Hotel Indigo

Hotel Indigo is about a half-hour taxi ride from Tegel Airport. We landed late on Friday night, so a taxi was the easiest option. The taxi rank was located right outside the terminal building with an abundant supply of cars. The fare cost €35, which we were happy to pay for door to door service. However; if you’re after a cheaper alternative then the public transport options are plentiful. The TXL bus, S41 finally changing to the U8 will get you from the airport to Alexanderplatz in around thirty minutes.

First Impressions

Quirky. Clean. Perfectly appointed. I always enjoy staying in a hotel that has given some thought to design. Bright colours, interesting bespoke furniture in the communal areas and the most gorgeous use of old paperbacks behind the reception desk.

Attachment-1 - Copy

Check-in was quick and efficient; such is the beauty of the British Airways flight and hotel deal. As first impressions go, I was definitely feeling slightly smug with my choice.

Which Room?

IMG_0791There is a choice of four room types at the Hotel indigo; standard, deluxe, executive or suite. Although comfort is IMG_0793enormously important for a hotel room, we always spend so little time in the room on a weekend break I would always opt for a standard room. In this instance, the standard room was just right. A king-size bed, clean en-suite with Aveda toiletries and a killer view of the TV tower. We genuinely couldn’t have wanted much more. I particularly liked the Trevi fountain vibe emblazoned onto the glass wall of the bathroom. Yes, that’s right the back wall of the shower was glass. As I said, this place is a little quirky. However, fear not, there was a carefully placed trident/Roman God thigh covering the sightline from the bed to the toilet. So, no need to avert your eyes whilst your nearest and dearest go about their morning ablutions.

Hotel Facilities

For a weekend break, the need for extensive hotel facilities is to my mind somewhat limited. If you’re looking for a gym, spa or pool then the Hotel Indigo isn’t the right choice for you. But, if you’re all about a good breakfast, somewhere safe to leave your bag after check out, good Wi-Fi and reasonably priced taxi services to the airport the Hotel Indigo most certainly ticks these boxes.

IMG_0795As part of our flight and hotel deal with BA breakfast was included. I genuinely think a hearty breakfast as part of your stay is always worth it. If you’re anything like me, I’m up early plate loaded, tea in hand and itinerary at the ready. Breakfast at the Hotel Indigo consisted of the usual hot selection of bacon, eggs, sausage and pancakes to continental breads, pastries, cold meats and cheese. With less than two days to explore, I always want to cram as much in as possible. Therefore, not having to find somewhere for breakfast or stop mid-morning for a pick me up helps us cram just a little more into the weekend. Opting for an included breakfast is also a great way to keep the additional costs down.

Location

It can be tempting to opt for a cheaper hotel much further from the city centre. HoweveAttachment-1r, this is often a false economy as you could potentially spend that additional cash on public transport in and out of the city each day. For me, weekend breaks are all about getting the base location right. The Hotel Indigo Alexanderplatz is about a fifteen to twenty-minute walk from the Brandenburg Gate and only a five-minute walk from the infamous Berlin TV Tower.

If you don’t fancy the walk, the Hotel Indigo is two minutes’ walk from the bus stops for many of the main tour buses. Owing to the biblical downpour, we bought a weekend ticket for the Big Bus Tour which has two routes red and blue. Alexanderplatz is the first stop on both routes making the Hotel Indigo a great choice and starting point for discovering the city.

Final thoughts

Our weekend in Berlin was brilliant in spite of the perpetual heavy rain. By choosing a hotel with a central and well-connected location, it made it possible to squeeze a huge amount into such a short time. If you are planning a weekend in Berlin, I can thoroughly recommend the Hotel Indigo, Alexanderplatz.

Happy travels

Jess

 

Uncategorized, weekend break

Top 15 Unmissable things to do in Scandinavia

Glaciers, fjords, the Aurora Borealis and spectacular natural topography beautifully mixed with a unique sense of identity and culture. It’s pretty clear why Scandinavia ranks highly on people’s travel bucket list. It’s a new year and a new decade, what more reason do you need to get an adventure booked up? I know I am guilty of endlessly perusing the flight and holiday sales…just in case! So, in case you need a little inspiration here is 15 unmissable things to see and do in Scandinavia.

  1. Watch the Northern Lights in Norway:

Without a doubt, the Northern Lights is the main attraction in Scandinavia. The best place to catch a glimpse of these dancing absinthe coloured lights is in northern Norway, in the Arctic Circle.

FullSizeRender - Copy (3).jpg

But this elusive contemporary dance in the night sky is tricky and highly dependant on weather conditions. For your best chance at spying the lights, I would book a trip between October and February.

FullSizeRender - Copy (6)

For a luxury lodge experience in the Arctic Circle check out Lyngen Lodge. This gorgeous place has so much more to offer than being a blissfully secluded place to watch the sky dance from the warmth of a hot tub.

Web: https://www.lyngenlodge.com/en/

2. Take a tour of the Oslo Opera House:

Bursting through the waters of the Oslo Fjord rises the sharp angular iceberg of the Oslo

architectural photography of white buildingOpera House. Famous for it’s innovative and creative design the Opera house attracts scores of tourists and locals keen to experience the architecture, world-class opera and dance for themselves. The smoothly undulating oak interior perfectly partners the vast open light-filled entrance. This inspirational space truly feels like a catalyst for creativity. Guided tours encompass the main auditorium, backstage areas, workshops and design studios. Tours are given in a variety of languages. Don’t forget to book in advance to secure your place on a tour; places are limited to 25 people per group.

Price – 120Kr

Guided tour – 50mins

Web: https://operaen.no/en/booking/guidedtours/

3. Experience the joys of Paper Island:

Whenever I travel, I am always on the lookout for fabulous food. I found myself on a freezing cold squally night in Copenhagen stumbling upon the culinary delights which lurk on Paper Island. Paper Island, affectionately named after its history as a paper storage facility for the Danish press is located in the middle of the harbour right next to the Opera House and Royal Playhouse.

Paper Island is a mecca for Danish street food. Your senses can get lost wandering through rows and rows of vendors each emitting scent to make your mouth water. Pulled pork, seafood, Burgers, Burritos, Vegan bowls and more, there is something to suit every appetite here.

IMG_5810.JPG

I can thoroughly recommend snagging a spot by the huge open fire, grabbing a beer and a surf and turf burger with cheese sauce for a total foodie win.

IMG_5812.JPG

4. Stroll through Tivoli Gardens at Christmas:

If you’re like me, I often struggle to feel ‘Christmassy’ when the festive season comes around each year. After a trip to Copenhagen in the first weekend of December, I came home totally ready to hang my wreath up and get on it with my present shopping. My new found festive feeling was in part, thanks to Tivoli Gardens and their gorgeous festive light display.

Snapseed - Copy (15).jpg

Tivoli Gardens has the charm of an old-fashioned amusement park with the beauty of historic buildings and sprawling gardens. There is something for everyone; a trip during the festive period is a must. Just make sure you grab a warm cup of GlØgg to keep your hands warm as you take in the atmosphere.

Web: https://www.tivoligardens.com/

IMG_5797 - Copy.JPG

IMG_5808.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Visit the Vasa:

Adults, children, old, young, this one doesn’t matter as the Vasamuseet is a Stockholm attraction for all. The Vasa was a behemoth 17th Century warship, who, thanks to some very sketchy calculations and poor measurements managed to sink to the bottom of the Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage. The Vasamuseet is absolutely fascinating and seeing the ship in all its miscalculated glory is mind-blowing. The scale of the preservation is spectacular, coupled with the detailed exhibits you’ll want to make sure you’ve got at least two or three hours for this Swedish gem.

IMG_4707.JPGIMG_4705.JPG

6. Discover proper Swedish meatballs:

No offence Ikea, but the best Swedish meatballs are best eaten squished up alongside other savvy diners who know the secret eatery that is Bakfickan. Bakfickan is a cosy countertop restaurant serving traditional Swedish cuisine. The restaurant is located just opposite the Opera House. To bag one of the 28 seats, you need to pick your time carefully. Tables can’t be booked online so do consider your plans ahead of time. We went at around 8.00 pm on an evening when there was nothing showing at the Opera House. At this time, we snagged the final two seats at the main bar and those behind us were unfortunately turned away. A meal at Bakfickan was a true highlight of our trip to Stockholm.

IMG_4701.JPG

7. Go Husky Sledding through in the Arctic Circle:

FullSizeRenderSitting in a traditional sledge, wrapped in reindeer pelt with only the sound of the dogs heavy breathing and the sledge gliding through the soft powder I found a true sense of wilderness. Despite my husband busily ‘driving’ the dogs and our convoy of four sledges I genuinely felt totally isolated. The landscape was stunning, the sky heavily laden with snow narrow tree-lined paths crisscrossing through the forest only to emerge onto a vast tundra framed by trees and mountains. I was amazed by the speed and coordination of the dogs, combined with an outdoor camp lunch of locally caught salmon and hot sweet GlØgg it was the perfect wilderness activity.

8. Find some Hygge:

Hygge is a Scandinavian word for the mood of cosiness, the art of being comfortable and focussing on feelings of wellness and contentment. I am never more contented than when I’m warm, comfortable and have a hot beverage in hand. Warm cosy independent coffee shops and tucked away tea houses are in no short supply in the Scandinavian cities I’ve visited. So, if you find yourself with an hour or two to spare, grab a good book and hunker down with a hot beverage. My favourite coffee shops are El Fant in Helsinki and Sara’s Art & Coffee in Stockholm.

9. Wallow in the Blue Lagoon:

Chances are that if you’ve booked a trip to Iceland a visit to the Blue Lagoon is on the list of things to do on your trip. Rightly so, however, get in line and plan your visit carefully! All visits must be booked in advance and a trip to the Blue Lagoon can be pricey. The standard package which includes entrance, towel, mud mask and drink of your choice costs ISK 6990 around £43, other more luxurious packages are available must booking is advised with all additional treatments or spa experiences. The Blue Lagoon is open year-round however timings are dependant on the season. With a little prior planning and forethought, an afternoon wallowing the warm milky waters of this man-made lagoon is not to be missed. A note for the ladies…bring plenty of moisture-rich conditioner; the water contains high levels of silica which play havoc with your locks.

9A74AB90-75AF-4DFD-A094-E14D3134A479.JPG

 

10. Listen to the roar of Gullfoss Waterfall:

Gullfoss is part of Iceland’s golden triangle and is easily visited with any local tour company. Gullfoss is roughly translated as ‘Golden Falls’ and consists of two vast cascades. A trail leads your round the falls, allowing you to experience this magnificent natural spectacle from a variety of different perspectives. The trail can be completed in around an hour. Gullfoss is an easy day trip from Reykjavik and a must-see during a trip to Iceland.

11. Take to the water:

Whatever part of Scandinavia takes your fancy you’ll never be far from water. Where ever I am I always try to experience some part of the city from the water. I often find it gives you a completely new perspective on the city. I would particularly recommend a boat tour around Copenhagen departing from Nyhavn. The boat tour takes you through the canals and city waterways it was even felt like a much more intimate way to view the statue of the Little Mermaid. I would also recommend a Fjord cruise around Oslo, sadly when I booked onto a fjord cruise in March I hadn’t accounted for the -13 degree conditions but, the boat sold hot GlØgg and I just about managed two twenty-minute stints on deck before diving inside to warm up. Boat tours are easily booked from the waterfront.

Attachment-1.jpeg

12. Relax in traditional Finnish Sauna:

There are few things more traditionally Scandinavian than a hot sweaty sauna. On 26BE607F-C585-4AFD-A488-E6306712E596.JPGvarious trips to the Scandinavian capitals, I have stumbled on small wooden huts on the water perfectly placed for a pre/post-work relaxation. If you’ve ever had a sauna at the gym or spa I can guarantee a proper Finnish sauna is very different. No scented candles, mood music or fancy lighting what you do get is dim lighting, the scent of fresh Birch and natural tar to a perfectly peaceful accompaniment of nothing. Blissful silence. And as if dreamy relaxation wasn’t good enough, I would definitely recommend giving yourself a gentle brushing with the birch twigs, it’s fabulous for your skin.

13. Check out Oslo’s Ski Museum:

Piercing the Oslo skyline is Holmenkollen ski jump and museum. The ski jump is one of my favourite winter events to watch, there is something particularly alluring about those moments suspended in the air… although I’m not sure I’d ever have the courage to give it a go! Dreams of flying aside the museum and tower are open 365 days a year with the latter offering panoramic views over the city. The museum is dedicated to 4,000 years of skiing history and Norwegian polar exploration. A definite must for any winter sports enthusiast or simply enjoy the views from the top. Adult admission is 140Kr and opening hours are between 10 am – 4 pm in the winter months and 5 pm during the summer.

5D06E0ED-4EF4-4F3A-B063-52E341754D79

14. Marvel at Munch’s’ Masterpieces:

We’ve all heard of ‘The Scream’ but Edvard Munch has so much more to offer. If you’re looking for a thoroughly immersive monographic experience then put the Munch Museet at the top of your list for your trip to Oslo. We had visited the collection in Oslo before it closed for relocation to its new home in Bjørvika which is due to open in Spring 2020. A visit to the new Gallery which is spread over a vast thirteen floors is top of my list for a return visit to Oslo.

Image-1.jpg

15. Explore Suomenlinna Sea Fortress:

Built in the 18th Century by the Swedish this Finnish fortress is easily accessible via ferry from Helsinki’s market square (Kauppatori). There is usually a ferry every fifteen minutes so it is pretty easy to plan your trip. This garrison island offers walking trails, museums, military bunkers and even a World War Two submarine. There is plenty on offer to keep you busy for a few hours, this is definitely one Finnish attraction worth carving out time for.

Web: https://www.suomenlinna.fi/en/

Happy travels

Jess

 

History, Uncategorized, weekend break

Budapest: A chilled weekend guide for exploring culture and history in the Hungarian Capital

Budapest has been on my list of weekend destinations for some time. It is undoubtedly beautiful, steeped in history, culture and if you ignore the stag parties (Which it’s pretty easy to do!) I think it is a somewhat underestimated European city.

Towering fairy tale spires, romantic gothic churches and the pockmarked buildings bearing their war wounds; Budapest’s architecture, culture and history are enough to rival Paris or Prague. With easy navigation through the cities two halves, Buda & Pest and very reasonable prices all make Budapest a fabulous option for a weekend visit.

Our weekend in Budapest was a much-needed break from our hectic jobs, and I was looking to redress the work-life balance for 48 hours. With this in mind, I wanted a luxurious weekend with a slightly more chilled itinerary and Budapest more than delivered.

Getting to Budapest

As we are bound by our working schedules, we took a late flight, 8.45 pm out of London Heathrow and we were on the ground, transferred to the hotel and checked-in by 1 am. Although it was a late arrival, it meant that we got all day Saturday rather than losing our Saturday morning to travel. Flights to Budapest operate regularly from London Heathrow with carriers such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and Swiss International airlines. We took a taxi from the right outside the terminal which proved no issue as there were plenty to be had. The service was efficient, clean and reasonably priced around 6500HUF (£17-£20). For flights arriving after 10 pm, I would recommend a taxi as there are limited public transport options at this time.

Where to stay

Hilton

We booked our trip as part of the British Airways Hotel and flight deal, which is great IMG_9287.JPGservice allowing you to specify star rating, dates and price for your accommodation. We opted for the five-star Hilton Budapest located in the Buda Castle District. This was absolutely the best choice. Our room was a King guest room was a gorgeous view of Matthias Churchyard. The room was spotlessly clean and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful during our stay. Late check-in, storage for bags and sorting out room keys niggles; there was no problem they weren’t willing and happy to help with.

One of the biggest perks of the Hilton was breakfast. When I have the time, I’m a big breakfast fan. The Hilton offers the usual smorgasbord of continental and hot breakfasts including some phenomenal omelette offerings from the resident egg chef. However, food aside, it’s the view from your breakfast table that can ignite your appetite for adventure. I would advise arriving fairly early between 7.30 – 8.30am to breakfast to secure one of the window tables.

What to do

Bus Tour

This was a new one for my husband and I. Normally we would opt for solely exploring the city on foot. However, after a few hours of exploration in the blistering heat, the kind of heat where you can smell the asphalt, we came across the Big Bus tour. A Deluxe Ticket came with hop on and off for three days, River Cruise, Buda Castle Shuttle return, Night Tour and Guided Walking Tour. With so many options we felt it would be beneficial in helping us see more of the city in a short space of time. The ticket cost €36 and was worth every penny.

The bus stops are easily located across the city and the historical commentary you can plug into was particularly interesting. Driving past seemingly unremarkable buildings to discover they have a detailed and fascinating history. Such things we would never have known by simply wandering past on foot.

River Cruise

Take to the water. As part of our Big Bus ticket, a river cruise was included. We opted for the sunset cruise on Saturday evening. Watching the sunset above the city from the water brought a whole new perspective on our trip. The commentary was detailed and informative and helped to make sense of the history on both sides of the river. Snacks and drinks were also available throughout the cruise.

Snapseed - Copy (10).jpg

Buda Castle – Budapest History Museum

I absolutely recommend a walk around the castle district and Buda Castle itself. Despite various reconstructions healing the wounds of war the whole area and particularly the medieval part is still completely charming. Although Budapest is littered with museums and galleries, we opted for the Budapest History Museum. We wanted to experience a broader history of the city, and the Budapest History Museum was perfect. The exhibitions depict the 2000 years of Budapest’s turbulent history. From the Austro Hungarian empire to the horrors of World War Two.

The Budapest History Museum is open from Tuesday – Sunday between 10 am – 6 pm with an adult ticket costing 2400HUF.

Margaret Island

Imperiously sitting in the middle of the Danube is Margaret Island. Margaret Island is 500m wide and 2.5km long but, despite its small size, this gloriously green public park is packed with things to do. The island is located between Árpád Bridge and Margit Bridge and is easily accessed on foot.

For such a meagre strip of land, Margret Island boasts a varied past. From Royal hunting Snapseed - Copy (13).jpggrounds, the victim of a great flood in 1838 to the site of a Dominican Nunnery where King Bela famously sent his daughter Margaret after the Mongols departure from Hungary. Since that time the island has been known as Margaret Island.

We spent a very pleasant hour or so meandering around the park, taking in the musical fountain and availing ourselves of the various ice-cream sellers.

Buda Tower

Snapseed - Copy (7).jpgOnce part of the 13th Century Church of St Mary Magdalene, this stunning tower is all that remains after the church was heavily bombed during World War Two. A trip to the top is absolutely worth the panoramic views of the city. Be warned it is high, but the areas are enclosed and the steps although steep do have handrails.

A ticket costs 1500HUF but there are significant discounts for students or those who hold a Castle Shuttle Bus ticket. The Buda Tower is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm. Please be aware that opening times are different if you are visiting during January or February.

 

Fisherman’s Bastion

The Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the best-known landmarks in Budapest. It is located inIMG_9290.JPG the Buda Castle district; you simply can’t miss it. Stepping out of the Hilton Hotel, you are confronted with a fairy tale fortress with turrets, spires and mock Bastion features. My initial thoughts were it looked significantly different from the other historical buildings I had seen so far, beautiful, yes, but somehow artificial. The Fisherman’s Bastion was built in the 19th Century to serve as a lookout over the city. The purpose of the Bastion has never been used as an actual fortification for Buda.

As a lookout over the city, the Fisherman’s Bastian more than delivers. Panoramic views sweeping across the skyline in both directions. You’ll be spoilt for choice of which vista to snap.

Parliament

Budapest’s parliament building is hard to miss. It stands as a striking, landmark on the banks of the Danube. Any guesses as to which other famous European parliament influenced its’ design…

I had heard you could tour the parliament so as we circled the imposing spires to find the entrance, we were disappointed to find parliament was unexpectedly closed to the public due to an event. Disappointment aside a tour of the parliament is yet another reason for a return visit.

If you want to avoid our planning blunder then do book your tour tickets ahead of your trip via the Hungarian Parliament website: http://hungarianparliament.com/tours/

Snapseed - Copy (11).jpg

Thermal Baths

So, this one is on every Budapest list of things to do I read. Public baths in Budapest have been around for centuries. Sitting on a matrix of 125 thermal springs, marinating in warm water has been part of everyday life since Roman times. Sadly, an afternoon ‘taking the waters’ wasn’t an option. With time being short and the weather being unbelievably hot we didn’t make it to one of the thermal baths. However, I had read up on which one to visit. My top three choices for thermal baths would have been

F649872A-9ECF-40BC-AE64-3D6A473A7847.JPG

  1. Gellert Baths: These smaller baths were top of my list. I didn’t want to go somewhere that would be completely swamped with tourists. I had also read the Gellert Baths have some of the most beautiful Art Nouveau décor seen anywhere in the city.
  2. Danubius Health Spa Margitsziget on Margaret Island: This was my second possible option. Although this modern spa lacks the old-world charm of some of its more famous counterparts, it does offer an extensive range of spa treatments. Feeling in need this weekend for a bit of pampering I put the Danubius Health Spa Margitsziget up there on my list.
  3. Szechanyi Baths: Finally, although I would have preferred a smaller bathing environment to escape the tourist crowds the Szechenyi Baths boast fifteen different pools and is undoubtedly one of the largest public baths Budapest has to offer. If a large scale, wedding cake experience is what you’re after then the Szechenyi Baths should be on your list.

Hospital in the rock

Everyone I had spoken to before going to Budapest had recommended the Hospital in the Rock. This was one attraction, firmly etched on my list of places to go. The Hospital in the Rock is part of a six-mile system of caves and tunnels used during World War Two. During World War Two it was a working hospital caring for the bombing victims and soldiers alike. The hospital was called back into service in 1956 during the revolution. The hospital was expanded to meet the potential growing threat of chemical and nuclear attacks during the Cold War.

Locating the museum initially felt like a bit of a mystery, and I sure do love a mystery. There were well-labelled maps in the castle complex, shiny billboards informatively suggesting we were but a short walk from the museum, but it did not appear. We must have walked around the uppermost part of the castle complex a number of times to no avail. I blame the 34-degree heat! Anyway, as if by magic on our second day and umpteenth loop we came across a lift shaft and staircase with a small sign indicating we were finally on the right track. At the bottom of the stairs turn right and nestled into the rock as you would assume was the museum, unimposing and humbly fronted it might easily have gone unnoticed if you weren’t on the hunt.

The museum was fascinating, horrifying and completely immersive. Photography is not permitted inside but I was honestly far too engrossed in my surroundings to think about taking pictures. Some images that stay with you without the need to scroll through your camera roll.

Nuclear war preparation films, operating rooms and wards the information and displays were informative and engaging. If you are visiting Budapest then the Hospital in the Rock should be at the top of your itinerary. My only caveat is that the tunnels are cold so take a jumper!

Where to eat & drink

New York Café

Whilst trying to ignore the sweat that was definitely turning my white t-shirt a fetching shade of translucent and listening carefully to the audio commentary on the bus my attention was piqued by the mention of The New York Café. The New York Café was a favourite haunt of writers, creatives, artists and newspaper editors. So, with literary history just around the corner, we decided we would make a beeline to the New York Cafe for dinner.

Snapseed - Copy (9).jpg

I’m unsure what I was expecting but it wasn’t the elaborately decorated, multiple chandeliers imposing themselves on the room and intricate frescos lined walls that greeted us. Visually, it was stunning.

Attachment-1

The New York Café serves a variety of traditional Hungarian cuisine, more modern classics and of course a plethora of simply splendid cakes.

Snapseed - Copy (8)

Mazel Tov

Book. Book. Book. I’ll say it again…book. If you want to enjoy the gastronomical delights Snapseed - Copy (12).jpgof this Jewish Quarter garden party then you’ll need a reservation. We first tried for dinner on Saturday night to no avail but were lucky enough to grab a spot on Sunday lunchtime. Mazel Tov is a Middle Eastern restaurant set in the Jewish Quarter of the city. It has the ruin bar ambience combined with a conservatory. Cascading plants tumbling from the gallery perfectly set against the industrial interior design.

The cocktails and a Shawarma grill plate made for a perfect Sunday lunch.

Ruin Bars

Budapest now boasts a plentiful supply of these quirky secluded bars. Ruin bars litter the Old Jewish Quarter which was left to deteriorate after World War Two. The bars have popped up in the abandoned shells of buildings, shops and factories. Décor in the bars range from car boot sale chic to your nans living room circa 1970, whatever you choose you’re in for a visual and unusual treat.

Sadly, our Saturday night plans were cut short as I succumbed to the slightly less pleasant symptoms of heat exhaustion but a ruin bar beverage is up on my list for a return trip to the Hungarian capital.

Final Thoughts

Our weekend in Budapest was rammed full, blisteringly hot and proved to be a wonderful weekend escape. As with all our weekend adventures I left feeling keen to return and unearth more cultural gems of this glorious city. I would love to return in the winter months. I reckon a marinade in the world-famous baths with snow falling around you would be fairly close winter weekend perfection.