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  • las fallas in valencia, spain

    As Spain's third largest city, Valencia is often, unjustly, overshadowed by Barcelona and Madrid. This hidden gem of a city is full of tradition, color, gastronomy, fire, music and joy - Particularly during Las Fallas (the city's largest celebration and one of the craziest festivals in all of Spain)! The origin of Las Fallas dates back to the 15th century, when carpenters and other artisans celebrated the additional hours of daylight gained by the arrival of spring. Their parrots (the plank of wood attached to their lanterns, used to light up workshops during the winter months) were burnt at their doors in commemoration. Craftsmen and other people from the neighborhood would feed the fire with shavings of wood, old furniture and other flammable objects. Traditions gradually evolved and the parrots were given arms and legs, to make them more human-like. Clothes, hats and other adornments were eventually added. After a period of time, the parrots became known as ninots (doll-like effigies/puppets -- a group of ninots make up a fallas or fallero monument). Ninots today often depict famous people and/or critique current affairs, with a good dose of humor, satire and creativity. There are about 800 monuments set up in Valencia's streets and squares during the festival. Each take many months to design/build and can cost thousands of Euros. Individual ninots and elements of the fallas are hand-made, using various materials like cardboard, wood, plaster, Styrofoam, polyester and papier-mâché. They are constructed in warehouses and then installed in the streets, where the finishing touches are applied. The dates of Las Fallas festivities are officially 1st - 19th March, with things really ramping up from the 15th. The final five days and nights of Fallas are one big, continuous street party with lots of noise (fireworks, sparklers, poppers, music, parades, percussions, singing and car alarms). Around midnight on March 19th, at the culmination of the Fallas festival, the effigies are reduced to ashes in a ceremony known as La Cremà (the burning). Similar to the annual US pardoning of a turkey on Thanksgiving, one ninot is selected, by popular vote, and spared from the flames. That winning ninot goes on display at the Fallero Museum. I highly recommend experiencing this spectacular event in Valencia, but if your travels don't coincide with Las Fallas, below is a closer look at some of the other things that this lovely city on the coast of Spain has to offer. EXPLORE If it's nice out (and it probably will be since Valencia gets ~300 days of sunshine a year), go to the beach to catch some rays and shoot some hoops (errrr?). Check out one of the main works of Valencian Art Nouveau at Mercado de Colón. Whilst you're there, you might as well have a delicious sangria (for ~€4) at Wine & Flowers. Stroll through Plaza de la Reina (The Queen's Square) and take in the sights and sounds. The Lonja de la Seda (Valencian Silk Exchange) is one of Spain’s most beautiful, civil Gothic buildings. It was built during the Golden Age, when the city became famous for its silk trade. The Lonja became part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 1996. I only admired the building’s exterior, but it is possible to go inside. The Plaza de la Virgen, surrounded by historic buildings, was once the forum of Roman Valencia. Select an outdoor cafe, sit back, relax, have a drink and people watch. During Fallas, numerous parades will pass by you and the plaza will be buzzing. One of Valencia’s most iconic and futuristic landmarks is its City of Arts and Sciences. This architectural jewel is one of the largest scientific and cultural complexes in all of Europe. It is composed of impressive, avant-garde buildings, shallow blue pools and elevated walkways. Even if you don't have the time or desire to explore the museums, it's worth seeing the exterior of this complex. You'll find L'Oceanogràfic (Europe's largest aquarium) located at the far end of the City of Arts and Sciences complex. It is massive and impressive, and not just for kids. You could easily spend a whole day there. Buy tickets online, in advance, to avoid the queues. Valencia has one of the best urban parks in Spain. Turia Park is the perfect place to enjoy a walk, go for a jog, play sports or cycle. Just watch out for kiddos throwing firecrackers during Las Fallas. After dinner one night, enjoy an intimate flamenco show at El Toro y La Luna. You'll be welcomed here like you're family. CONSUME Valencia is the birthplace of paella, so get your fill. I had a lunch of champions, at El Tromp Paella House, when I was by the beach. Start with the Manchego and a sangria. Then share the lobster paella. Muy delicioso! If you fancy a cocktail and maybe a small bite, when you're by the beach, pop by the saloon-style Cerveseria Fregidura Sant Patrici. Indulge in some tapas at Clann, because, well, it's Spain! Try the stuffed tomatoes, grilled vegies and melted queso at this cozy joint, on a side street near The Plaza de la Virgen. Enjoy some egg-based dishes at Ahuevo in the Old Town. If you're nearby the Arts and Sciences complex and start to feel peckish, enjoy a few starters at Contrapunto. I recommend the shrimp and artichoke appetizers. Dinner at Vuelve Carolina is a must! This bright, contemporary space offers innovative cocktails and dishes. It's Michelin-level at a fraction of the price. If you like to be on a rooftop, like I do, I suggest daytime drinks at Hotel Puerta Serranos and night-time dessert/digestifs at El Mirador rooftop at Only YOU hotel. I was unable to get a reservation at Voltereta, but it looked beautiful and had great reviews. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Accommodations: If you visit for Las Fallas, stay centrally, near a Metro station so you can get to the airport. 700 streets are shut and become pedestrianized during the festival making it difficult for taxis/Ubers to operate. Local Eats: Try the Fartons. They may have a funny name, but they are typical Valencian confectionery sweets. Elongated and glazed with sugar, they are made of flour, milk, sugar, oil, eggs and a leavening agent. Language: Valencia has its own language - Valenciano. They do speak Spanish as well. #valencia #spain #espana #europe #lasfallas

  • cartagena de indias, colombia

    Counterpoint to my usual travel style, I didn't do a whole lot during my two weeks in Cartagena. I mainly worked on my tan, read a bunch of books, took lots of naps, walked on the beach, spent quality time with my family and ate my body weight in ceviche. That said, everything I did see, do and consume was wonderful! Below is my guide to the sights, sounds and flavors of this coastal Colombian gem. EXPLORE OLD TOWN (AKA OLD CITY, WALLED CITY, HISTORICAL CENTER, EL CENTRO) The first thing I noticed within the confines of this Walled City were the bright, colorful doors and intricate knockers, which served as a charming entryway into the soul of Cartagena's eclectic Old Town. In addition to doors, the narrow streets were full of modern shops, boutique hotels, exquisite restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. The architecture and vibe felt a little like if New Orleans' French Quarter and Havana had a love-child. GETSEMANÍ Next-door to Old Town, was its edgier sibling, Getsemaní. This artsy, semi-residential enclave is famous for its street art. Formerly a seedy area, full of prostitution and crime, Getsemaní is now a hip place to soak up culture, drink rum cocktails and interact with local artists. LA TUNA FEST Not to be confused with the fish, a tuna is a group of university students from Spanish-speaking and Latin American countries who sing and play traditional instruments. The second International University Tunas Festival was hosted in Cartagena's Historic Center whilst I was visiting, which meant that there were lots of parades and entertaining street performances. ROSARIO ISLANDS A visit to Cartagena would not be complete without venturing offshore to this 27-island archipelago. The journey, by boat, takes less than two hours. Although it's choppy and wet, it's well worth it! Isla Grande, AKA Escobar Island, was once a place of escape for the famous drug baron. Here the Cocaine King built La Casa Grande, his 300-bedroom secret party mansion. After his death, in 1993, and the gradual collapse of the Medellín cartel, the Colombian government bought the island. El Patrón's former island hacienda is now abandoned, only inhabited by squatters and a family of wild pigs. During your boat tour, I recommend stopping by Aura Beach Hotel, on Isla Barú, for lunch in a rustic, yet chic, thatched-roof tiki hut, overlooking the sea. Given the opportunity, have a delicious piña colada, shaken up in front of you, by a floating bartender, in a canoe filled with spirits and garnishes. LA BOQUILLA This stretch of sand, just off the tourist trail is worth a visit, if for no other reason than to see a functioning city self-contained on a beach. You name it, it's happening here - police patrol, trash collection, restaurants, city bus stops, taxi service, paratriking, kite surfing, photo shoots and commerce. Be warned though, a cacophony of hawkers, touting everything from cervezas and ceviche to jewelry and knock-off Ray-Bans, will pester you. If you're lucky enough to catch a youth football beach game, you'll be in for treat. These hearty kids have to contend with heat, sand, no boundary lines and traffic. EAT/DRINK: Foodies, rejoice! If there's a South American paradise for gastronomy, Cartagena is it. Hidden amongst the cobbled streets of the Walled City are some of the most talented chefs in Colombia, serving up delicious food in alluring restaurants. *Be sure to book far in advance, as many of these hot tickets fill up quickly. My favorites were... CARMEN This came recommended to me by three different people and it lived up to the hype! The food was yummy and beautifully plated, the cocktails list was extensive, the service was top-notch and the live music was delightful. On a windy evening, sit in the courtyard at your own peril (below are all the items that I got assaulted by). ALMA You'll find Alma tucked inside the incredibly chic Casa San Agustin, a boutique hotel where my interior dreams have been realized. Chef Eljach blends Japanese, Italian and French culinary influences together with local ingredients and anything that lives in the sea. CANDÉ Another star in Cartagena's dining constellation is this quirky, fanciful and very cool restaurant. It felt a little Alice in Wonderland-y, in a fun way. The food was an exotic blend of Colombian, Caribbean and Spanish and the dance shows throughout the meal were a bonus. LOBO DE MAR This is a slightly less formal dining option than some others on this list. It has a warm atmosphere, with great service and fun live music. Start with the tuna tataki. BUENA VIDA MARISQUERIA The restaurant's colorful and laid-back ambiance, great food and occasional live music make it a favorite rooftop dining spot for both locals and tourists. MAREA This delightful terrace overlooks the port where party-goers embark on their booze cruises. Go for the people watching, stay for the polpo starter and mujarra with creamy coconut rice. DOÑA LOLA Housed within the Casa Lola hotel, in the happening Getsemaní neighborhood, you'll find this decadently decorated space. If you're traveling with picky kids, the hamburger is served in an elaborate and unconventional way. SOFITEL LEGEND SANTA CLARA HOTEL Have a drink in the garden at this award-winning colonial luxury hotel located in the heart of Cartagena's historic center. Sofitel revived this former monastery, which dates back to 1621, but has maintained many of the historical elements and quirks. Every day at 6pm, waiters dressed as monks put candles on the tables in the courtyard to an accompaniment of chapel music. DONJUAN This buzzy, but relaxed, jungle atmosphere is perfect for lunch or dinner. The staff were friendly, but a tad slow. CAFÉ DEL MAR Take a walk along the wall at sunset. If you can get in, have a sundowner at Cafe del Mar. This place gets PACKED, so book in advance, via What’s App, from their website. LA MULATA Expect no-frills, filling Colombian food. The menu is limited, but the food is great and reasonably priced. You'll find mostly locals and backpackers in here. ROOFTOPS We attempted to go to the Movich Hotel rooftop, but it was closed for a private event. So we went to the Sophia Hotel to try to go to their rooftop, but it was at capacity. The La Cata rooftop, in the Santa Catalina Hotel was hosting a wedding. We finally found a spot at the Mirador Gastro Bar rooftop, but there was no sunset view. OTHER CONSIDERATIONS Celele, voted one of Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants, was on my list, but I had to cancel my reservation. Apparently this is not to be missed though. Likewise, I did not make it to Alquimico nor El Barón (both also on the 50 Best List), despite my best intentions. With its gorgeous Old City, funky neighborhoods, picturesque beaches, and top-notch culinary and nightlife scene, Cartagena ticks all the boxes for that South American vacation you’ve been longing for. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Airline Quirk: If you fly Avianca to/from Colombia, they will make you fold your blankets and put them behind your backs for take-off. No idea why. Weather: It's always hot and humid in Cartagena. And the sun is super strong! But, from January to March, the winds provide some relief and also eliminate flying bugs. Rainy season is considered to be September-November, with October being the rainiest month. Transportation: The Old Town/Getsemaní are best explored on foot. Outside the central area taxis and Ubers are widely available and affordable (a couple bucks for a 15-20 min drive). Be warned that the cars are small and junky, often held together by duct tape. Mobiles: I was told, by many people, including locals, not to have my mobile phone put in plain site. But I must admit that I wasn’t as careful as I should have been. All was fine in my case, but it's always good to be vigilant. Safety: Despite its dark and complicated past, Cartagena is one of the safest big cities in Colombia. Crime rates have dropped drastically. It felt safe to me and I didn't run into any issues, but like any city, be cautious and careful with your belongings and have your wits about you. Water: I wasn’t cautious about drinking from the tap and brushing my teeth with tap water and I didn't get sick. Tipping: Not necessary, but appreciated. Language: The language barrier is REAL! A lot of locals do not speak English. I would suggest downloading the Google Translate app. Currency Confusion: Colombia’s official currency is the peso (abbreviated as COP). Prices in Colombia are marked with a dollar sign, but remember that you’re seeing the price in Colombian pesos, not USD. The notes official denominations are $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, $20,000, $50,000, and $100,000, but are labeled as 1 mil, 2 mil, 5 mil, 10 mil, 20 mil, 50 mil and 100 mil. And often times the amounts are written with periods instead of commas. So ‘20 mil’, 20.000, $20,000 and 20 (veinte) are all the same thing. #cartagena #getsemani #oldtown #bocagrande #rosarioislands #pabloescobar #baru #islagrande #colombia #southamerica #spanish

  • beautifully unique restaurants

    Traveling is about more than just seeing new places; it’s about expanding your culinary canvas, tasting flavors and experiencing cultures, one dish at a time. There are restaurants all over the world successfully combining palate and palette. In no particular order, below is my shortlist for eateries that are as beautiful and memorable as they are mouth-watering. Manda de Laos in Luang Prabang, Laos - Dine day or night, surrounded by a UNESCO-classified lotus pond. You'll feel immersed in a tropical fairy-tale. The Laotian family cuisine is as delectable as the ambience, making this a truly special spot. La Plongeoir in Nice, France - This restaurant, situated on two pillars of rock, occupies an iconic location in the French Riviera. Enjoy fresh, locally-sourced, gourmet, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine whilst perched six meters above the sea. Grotto Palazzese in Polignano A Mare, Puglia, Italy - An exclusive, magical and enchanted space located within a natural cave, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Although the food wasn't as good as it should have been for the price, the wine, live saxophone and cliffside atmosphere made up for it. Amante in Ibiza, Spain - This three-tiered hideaway haven captures the essence of Ibiza, with a modern, natural decor and dramatic views of Sol d'en Serra bay and Formentera. The award-winning kitchen produces exquisite food and the cocktails are amongst the best on the island. QP Bistro in St. James, Barbados - Nestled along the idyllic and picturesque West Coast of Barbados, this restaurant boasts magnificent views and lots of hanging plants. Go here to indulge in the perfect blend of gastronomy, Caribbean delights and live entertainment. Good food, good vibes. #laplongeoir #nice #france #europe #grottopalazzese #puglia #italy #qpbistro #stjames #barbados #caribbean #amante #biza #spain #entredosfuegos #toledo #spain #mandadelaos #luangprabang #laos #southeastasia #asia #marbella

  • old new year in belgrade, serbia

    Like much of the world, Serbians celebrate New Year's Day on 1st January, but they also have a second observance on 14th January. The latter is known as the Old New Year, or Orthodox New Year. It's an informal, traditional holiday that follows the Julian calendar, and falls 13 days after the Gregorian calendar's NYE. 2024 was the year I decided I'd experience two New Years, two weeks apart. Technically, Belgrade became my 25th New Year's celebration spent in a new place. Although NYE part two ended up being fairly anticlimactic, it was still a good excuse to visit a new part of the world. Belgrade, Serbia's capital, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe, existing for over 7,000 years. During that time, the city has quite literally been through the wars - it has been fought over in 115 conflicts and has been destroyed and rebuilt more than 44 times. It's a resilient, interesting city, refreshingly non-globalized, but aesthetically displeasing. The communist government that came to power after the Second World War didn’t seem to pay much attention to the decorative side of things. There's not doubt that Belgrade has been around the block and seen a few things. If you want to do the same, below are my recommendations for where to stay, eat, drink and wander. ACCOMODATION: I stayed at the four-star Townhouse 27, centrally located in the historic district. This boutique hotel has been awarded a Certificate of Excellence, from TripAdvisor, for five consecutive years. It was comfortable and affordable. The staff was lovely and helpful and the free continental breakfast was more than decent. Hotel Moskva - A landmark in Belgrade, dating back to 1908. It's one of the oldest hotels still operating in Serbia. Albert Einstein, Ray Charles, Robert De Niro, Louis Armstrong, Brad Pitt, Richard Nixon, Jack Nicholson and Alfred Hitchcock are some of their famous guests. Even if you don't book a room, go and enjoy a drink and cake. FOOD/DRINK: Communale is a nice Italian joint within in Beton Hala (a former abandoned warehouse transformed into a tourist landmark, along the Sava River, with many upscale restaurants and bars). Magellan - This Michelin-recommended, fine-dining establishment is across the Sava River, in New Belgrade. It felt a little like dining on a yacht. The food was plated beautifully, the wine was delicious, the service was impeccable, and we were even given a box of truffles as a parting gift. Demokratija Cocktails - This cocktail and coffee bar was so cute, good and cheap that I went twice! Damar Tartufi - Just down the street from Demokratija was this adorable truffle shop, offering truffle tastings for €10. Included in the tasting was a few tapenades, some shaved truffles in oil, cheese, chocolate and even truffle-infused wine. Iva New Balkan Cuisine - The minimalist dining room, along with a friendly staff made this space feel immediately welcoming. The cuisine was a modern take on traditional Serbian food and was delicious. Široka Staza - You'll find this cozy seafood restaurant along the Danube River, in Zemun (the view from the restaurant is below). We stumbled upon it by accident. To get there, go to the end of Dunavska Street and descend down the stairs. It'll be on your right. If you see a cat, or eight, milling about, you'll know you're in the right place. Be sure to order the grilled perch. DO/SEE: Temple of Saint Sava - One of the most recognizable symbols in Belgrade. This beacon of faith is not only the largest Serbian Orthodox church, it is the largest Orthodox place of worship in the Balkans and one of the largest in the world. Its total height reaches 82m with the dome being 70m high. The Square of the Republic - Located in the Stari Grad municipality, this is the site of some of Belgrade's most discernible public buildings, including the National Museum, the National Theatre and the statue of Prince Michael. Zemun - A cute, bohemian district, located within the Belgrade City area, known for its cafes, late-night bars and the fish restaurants along the riverside promenade. Gardoš hill, topped by an 1896 tower, offered vast Danube and city views. Visiting felt a little like a mini-break from the main metropolis of Belgrade. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Currency: Serbia is not part of the EU and therefore does not use the Euro (although prices are often quoted in Euros, and I think Euros are accepted in some places). Its currency, the Dinar, is valued low compared to the Euro, making Belgrade a spendthrift’s dream. Hospitality: Serbians are famously hospitable. It is a custom that can be traced back to their ancient Slavic belief that a host won’t gain any favor from the gods if they are not hospitable to guests. I found people to be warm and friendly and service was pretty much flawless. Tipping: Although not obligatory, if you are satisfied with your service then leave a tip of 10-15%, in cash. Tips cannot be added on to credit cards in restaurants. Smoking: You can still smoke everywhere - even inside restaurants and bars. Blah! Taxis: Car:Go is the closest thing to Uber that Belgrade has. Sadly, I wasn't able to set up an account with my UK mobile number. The Pink Taxi app was second best, but I still needed to communicate about my destination and pay at the end of the ride (usually in cash). Split Personality: Belgrade is bisected by the Sava River and is a town of two halves: the old and the new. The majority of my visit was spent on the Old Town side. Famous Serbs: The country has produced some significant athletes and scientific minds. Nikola Jokić, regarded as one of the greatest basketball players and centers of all-time hails from Serbia. Belgrade is the hometown of one of the world’s best tennis players – Novak Djokovic. And Nikola Tesla made great discoveries in the disciplines of electric current and magnetism. #belgrade #beograd #zemun #serbia #srbija #balkans #europe #newyearseve #orthodoxnewyears

  • munching in mexico city

    From street tacos and casual cantinas to smart seafood restaurants, the Mexican capital is full of flavor. The combination of historical roots, indigenous and colonial influences as well as contemporary gastronomic trends have put CDMX and Mexican food firmly on the world's stage. And most of the city’s top chefs are women! 👊🏼 I was only in town for five days, so I had to make every meal count. Based on my consumption, below are my recommendations for a delicious culinary journey through Mexico City. Breakfast Restaurante Lardo - One of Elena Reygadas' creations (2023's world's best female chef). This cozy Mediterranean restaurant provides service at all mealtimes, but the breakfast really stands out. I highly recommend the saffron risotto with eggs, olives and pine nuts as well as the rosemary and sugar bun. Tr3s Tonala - Located in the Roma district, the quiet terrace provides a relaxing morning setting where you can enjoy typical Mexican breakfast dishes such as huevos rancheros and chilaquiles. Lunch/Dinner Cantina del Bosque - This traditional cantina, with its old school service, white tablecloths and roaming mariachi bands, has been a Condesa favorite since 1937. The salt-baked fish and the cheese and potato quesadillas are must-orders. Be sure to wash it all down with a margarita! Taqueria Orinoco - The length of the line to order is a great indication of how good this taqueria is. Don't leave without having the tacos al pastor, which are arguably the best in all of CDMX. Pigeon - After strolling through Plaza Rio de Janeiro, snag yourself a sidewalk seat at this bistro and people watch whilst sipping wine and slurping oysters. Contramar - You will find this Roma neighborhood gem packed for the entire extended Mexican 'lunch hour' (which seemingly runs from midday to about 6pm). It's a place to see and be seen, known for its fresh seafood and vibrant atmosphere. The restaurant's signature dish is the tuna tostadas. The chef, Gabriela Cámara, is kind of a big deal. In 2019, she was appointed as food advisor to Mexico's President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Cantón Mexicali - One of the more interesting spots in Condesa is this retro restaurant that pays homage to the Chinese immigrants of the capital of Baja California. Every Mexicali-style Chinese dish we ordered was delicious! La Gruta - If you find yourself in Mexico State (about 45-mins outside of Mexico City), by the UNESCO Teotihuacan Pyramids, be sure to pop into this mystical cave for a meal. Bring a coat as it gets chilly in the grotto. Do yourself a favor and order the guacamole and barbacoa (pit-roasted lamb) tacos. Bars/Clubs Tlecan - If you're looking for a mezcaleria run by a badass woman, this is your spot. Soho House Mexico City - Soho House opened their first location in Latin America, in September of 2023, and it's BEAUTIFUL! You have to be a member, or be with a member, to enter. New Year's Eve On 31st December 2023, my dear friend Jodi Moreno teamed up with Edo Kobayashi to cook eighteen of us a six-course meal, at a really cool, intimate chef's table. She served biscuits with chili chive butter, oysters with ginger mignonette and crispy shallots, million layer potatoes with whipped ricotta, cauliflower parmesan soup, fried chicken with salsa macha and caviar and ended it all with a mamey creme brulee. It was a truly unique and filling way to ring in the new year! I hope this list helps you navigate Mexico City's culinary tourism and captures the essence of its gastronomic prowess. Bon appétit! KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Airport Arrival: There are egates that US (and a few other) passport holders can use. Be sure to keep the printout for when you depart. Big Little City: The population is over 21 million and it's 573 square miles yet, somehow, everyone knows everyone. Weather: Temperate most of the year. A San Diego-like climate. Reservations: Book restaurants and museums well in advance. Tipping: Consider a 15% tip as standard. Water: Only drink bottled or filtered water. Ice in drinks is usually made with filtered water. Safety: Strolling around central neighborhoods like Roma, Polanco, Coyoacán or Condesa is generally safe, but always be vigilant. Police can be corrupt. Taxis: Stay away from regular taxis and opt for Uber instead. Altitude: Mexico City sits at an elevation of 2240m. You might notice you are more tired than usual after a day or two of arrival. Stay hydrated. Earthquakes: Mexico has a sophisticated seismic alarm system that gives up to a 60-second warning before an earthquake hits the city. #mexicocity #mexico #cdmx #ciudaddemexico #northamerica

  • 2023 travels

    It's that time of year again -- when I reflect on the past 12 months, document the places I've visited and reminisce about travel memories, adventures and achievements. This is my tenth year writing these! If you care to low-key stalk my whereabouts for the past nine years, you can view my travel summaries here: 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019 / 2020 / 2021 / 2022. In 2023, from a travel standpoint, I was most proud of the fact that I became a member of the Travelers' Century Club (TCC) - an international non-profit social organization for travelers who have visited at least one hundred of the world's countries and territories. Enough chit chat, let’s get to recapping... JANUARY I was in Manama, Bahrain, of all places, at the start of 2023. I was only there for about 28-hours, on an extended layover, as I made my way back to London from Muscat, Oman. The short stint worked out well though because the weather was rubbish. To circumvent the dampness, I visited the man-made Reef Island for lunch and then visited Gold City, where I treated myself to something sparkly to ring (💍) in the new year. In an attempt to combat the bleak, post-festive slump that the UK bestows upon its residents in January, I escaped for a weekend to the picturesque seaside Tunisian village known as Sidi Bou Säid (which means "Little Paradise"). It bears a striking resemblance to Santorini, with its white and blue architecture. It wasn't quite as warm as I had hoped it would be, but it sure was beautiful...and inexpensive. FEBRUARY The whole month of February was spent with my family in Madeira, Portugal. I had been once before, but only for a weekend. This time, I got to know the island more intimately and really took advantage of all the eating, drinking, hiking and Carnival festivities that Madeira had to offer! MARCH Aside from one countryside weekend spent enjoying long doggie walks, cherry blossom blooms and lazy pub lunches, I stayed put so I could catch up on life admin and with friends after being gone the entire previous month. APRIL Over the four-day Easter break, I enjoyed the historic sights, winding alleyways, shopping, buzzing riverside and distinctive cuisine that made Lyon, France a perfect destination for a long weekend. At the end of the month, I jetted off to Ibiza, Spain, with a group, to celebrate a friend's birthday. I was pleased to find the island to be just as fun and beautiful as I remembered it from previous visits. MAY On 6th May 2023, the UK celebrated its first royal Coronation since 1953. The Prime Minister proclaimed Monday, 8th May 2023 an additional UK bank holiday, in honor of His Majesty King Charles III. I took advantage of the extra day off and utilized it as part of a wider France wine tasting tour - in which I visited various châteaus throughout Bordeaux, Saint Émilion, Beaujolais, Sancerre, Chablis and Paris. JUNE Because I had to renew my work visa (for the final time), I was forced to remain stationary and wasn't able to leave the country for what ended up being ten consecutive weeks. I used this time to partake in all of London's summer offerings. I played a fair bit of tennis, picnicked with friends, visited Wisely Gardens, took a boat trip down the Thames, watched Wether at the Royal Opera House and attended the Cinch Championships tennis finals. I also dined at Le Petit Chef, which wasn't the most delicious tasting menu I've ever consumed, but it was a fun concept. This theatrical experience used 3D projection mapping and holograms to take me on an immersive culinary journey with the world's smallest chef, as he cooked right on my table, and found himself in precarious situations along the way. JULY I was lucky enough to score a pair of tickets to Wimbledon on the men's singles finals day. This was my fifth time attending the Grand Slam tournament and I love it more and more every time. I also had the pleasure of experiencing the relentless conditions that the heatwave of 2023 behest upon Spain when I visited Madrid & Toledo. Watching the peacocks display their feathers in Retiro Park was one of the highlights, but there were many culinary delights along the way as well. AUGUST For a week of relaxation (despite still having to work), I went to my aunt and uncle's new house in Pine River Pond, New Hampshire, USA. I thoroughly enjoyed lake life and got to see some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. After New Hampshire, I spent a week in Connecticut, catching up with friends and family. There seemed to be a bit of an unintentional sunflower theme during my time in CT, inclusive of a maze and vase painting. SEPTEMBER There are a myriad of reasons to love travel within the Autumn shoulder season, not least of which includes temperate weather nearly globally, fewer crowds/kiddos and lower costs on flights and lodgings. This year's trip between the peak and off-seasons was spent in Southeast Asia. I was in Singapore for one day/night, to visit a friend. I hadn't visited in 13 years, so there was a lot to see and do during my short stay. Then, it was onward to Indonesia, where I monkeyed around Bali, Nusa Penida, Borneo, Java and the Komodo National Park islands, for the better part of three weeks. Immediately following my Southeast Asia trip, I went to Athens, Greece, to top up my tan and eat all the Greek food. I heard mixed reviews about Athens before visiting, and, although it was gritty, I really enjoyed it. OCTOBER I got into the Halloween spirit in Romania. I stayed in Bucharest but made a special trip out to Bran Castle (home of Dracula). COVID may not have been working against the travel industry so much anymore, but other setbacks started to rear their ugly heads. This time, in the form of a recession, bedbugs and war. I had three, back-to-back, trips canceled in October due to circumstances relating to these issues - Prague, Amsterdam and Paris. NOVEMBER On 18th November, I hit the Big Apple for a couple of wild nights, before taking the train to Connecticut to celebrate Thanksgiving. It's always a hectic, but fun and delicious week filled with family, friends, gratefulness and carbs. This year, I was extra thankful for the special guests who surprised us from Florida and Georgia. DECEMBER After the craziness in New York and Connecticut, it was off to Barbados, for a full week of R & R. Beautiful beaches, clear sea, delicious seafood, boats, sunsets, rum, lovely people and swimming with turtles were just a few of the many highlights! My 24th consecutive New Year's Eve away was spent munching my way through in Mexico City, Mexico with my dear friend from university! 2023 was great for me personally, travel-wise, but it was a weird year overall. There were many world changes - natural disasters, economic turmoil, humanitarian crises and the ravages of terrorism, conflict and war. Hopefully next year will be calmer and simpler and full of further explorations for everyone! STATS FROM 2023 TRAVELS: Trips: 13 (14 in 2022) Air Miles Flown: 60,027 (2.4x around the world) Airline Segments Flown: 34 (29 in 2022) Airlines Flown: 10 (10 in 2022) Amount of Time Spent in the Air: 132 hours (121 in 2022) Total Countries Visited: 12 (16 in 2022) New Countries Visited (blue bubbles below): 5 (7 in 2022) Continents Visited: 4 (North America, Asia, Africa & Europe) Nights Spent in a Hired Accommodation: 84 (60 in 2022) #yearinreview #yearintravel #2023 #manama #bahrain #middleeast #sidibousäid #tunisia #africa #northafrica #funchal #madeira #portugal #lyon #france #casablanca #morocco #ibiza #formentera #spain #balearicislands #france #bordeaux #saintemilion #beaujolais #loirevalley #sancerre #paris #winetasting #madrid #toledo #spain #newhampshire #connecticut #usa #northamerica #singapore #indonesia #bali #borneo #nusapenida #java #komodonationalparkislands #floresisland #asia #southeastasia #athens #greece #bucharest #romania #newyork #newyorkcity #europe #barbados #caribbean #mexicocity #mexico

  • unwinding in beautiful barbados

    A calm week in Barbados was just what the doctor ordered after a fun, but hectic, Thanksgiving week, spent between New York and Connecticut. Contrary to popular belief, Barbados is geographically located in the western Atlantic Ocean, just east of the Caribbean Sea. Although this independent British Commonwealth island nation is not technically part of the Caribbean, it is still known for its tropical climate, white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, rich marine life, laid-back vibe and delicious local cuisine. It's also the birthplace of rum and has an exciting pirate history! ACCOMODATION I stayed at the Colony Club, set on seven acres of land in the exclusive St. James area of the island. I was upgraded to a spacious suite surrounded by lush tropical scenery. Although the room was very comfortable, offered a lot of amenities and the grounds were lovely, the hotel was in need of renovations - which I hear will be happening in 2024. ACTIVITIES There probably were many things to do and see on the island, but I mainly spent my week relaxing. The biggest decisions I made each morning were what to have for breakfast and whether to sun myself by the beach or the pool. I did spend a bit of time at sea though. I went out on a two-hour glass bottom boat excursion, where I drank rum punch and snorkeled amongst beautiful coral reefs and the S.S. Stavronikita freighter that sunk in 1978. Another day, I hired a luxury private boat for six hours (through Seaduced, which I HIGHLY recommend). Sebastian and Stacey collected me from the beach, at my hotel. We sailed up and down the West Coast, looking at posh residences and restaurants, all whilst being plied with delicious snacks and a full bar selection. I was dropped off at The Fish Pot for lunch. Afterward, I had the most magical experience snorkeling with a green turtle. The reptile swam with me for about ten minutes, popping his head above water to say hello and letting me pet him. I expected his shell to be rough and barnacley, but it was very smooth. *Fun fact: If turtles get too fat they can fracture their shell and become unable to pull their legs in and out. Poor little guys. FOOD/DRINK I enjoyed some delicious slices of paradise at the following restaurants... QP Bistro - Go for good food and good vibes! This place is breath taking with its multi-levels, hanging plants, water features and the most captivating view of the ocean. The live music is a bonus. You do have to book in advance and put down a sizeable deposit. About a five-minute walk from my hotel was the Horny Ram. I expected it to be a total dive, but it was actually a really lovely, informal, local gastro pub. The owners have a boat and catch the fish fresh each day. It was so good that we went twice. Next-door to the Horny Ram, is its sister restaurant, SeaCat, owned by the same people. The term sea cat is slang for octopus and the starter with the same name is not to be missed. The Tides is one of the top fine-dining beachfront restaurants in Barbados. Here, you'll eat whilst being serenaded by waves crashing against the rocky shore. There are also large trees in between the tables providing privacy and making it feel like you're in some sort of fancy treehouse. I received a lot of recommendations but didn't have time to visit many of them. Below is a list that I cannot vouch for, but I would like to go back and try: Sea Shed - Said to be ultra-chic, yet relaxed. Enjoy a ‘Shed Sunday’, sipping champagne by the magnum whilst listening to Bajan DJs. Due to growing popularity, it is recommended to book in advance. Baia - I'm told the ceviche is to die for. Lone Star - This beachfront restaurant and boutique hotel attracts high-profile guests (such as Simon Cowell and Rihanna) as well as other trendy clientele. La Cabane - You can relax at this St. Tropez-style beach bar haven all day. Pier One Restaurant - A full-service bar and restaurant set on a man-made island at the Port St. Charles Yacht Club. The Local - A farm-to-table restaurant, drinkery, beach club and marketplace housed in an early 1800's building on the beach. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Visas: Not required for Brits nor Americans Currency: Most places accept local Bajan currency or USD Taxis: Very expensive and require cash (USD or Bajan Dollars). There are no ride-sharing apps. It was 122 BBD from airport to the hotel (35 mins), 80 BBD to and from QP (9 mins) and 60 BBD to and from Tides (5 mins). Plugs: They use the same plugs as in the USA Weather: It was 26° - 29°C the whole week. We had two day of on/off quick rain showers, but mostly it was perfection Service & Tipping: Restaurants tend to run on island time (very slow), but everyone is friendly, so it makes it bearable. Tipping in Barbados is discretionary and should reflect the service you have received, however, a service charge of 10-15% is typically added to your bill in hotels and restaurants. Seating: In Barbados, you should be aware of the concept of wet or dry seating when making bookings. Wet seating offers you a beach chair and access to the beach/sea. Dry seating would be within the restaurant. Airport: Get to the BGI airport early as it took ages to get through check-in Independence Day: 30th November #barbados #caribbean #island #holetown #stjames #bridgetown

  • roaming around romania

    Romania is a country that is often overlooked as a travel destination, despite its rich history, diverse landscapes, affordability and many myths and legends. Its capital, Bucharest, architecturally experienced its heyday between the First and Second World Wars, when French-inspired designers transformed it into a grand city. A good portion of the Belle Époque buildings were destroyed by World War II bombings and many more by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in 1977. In the 1980's, dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu undertook a demolition and rebuilding program to create a Socialist capital, resulting in mostly rectangular, concrete blocks, devoid of decoration or individuality. Since the fall of the Communist regime, in 1989, the city has evolved, but scars from the past remain - many in the form of eyesore structures. As Bucharest continues to emerge from its Soviet times, it still is not a conventionally beautiful city, but what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in grit, determination, edgy spirit and a vibrant nightlife. I'd recommend spending a short while here before dashing off to find Dracula in Transylvania. BUCHAREST Stay Housed in the former building of Romania’s most influential bank during the late 19th century, the five-star Marmorosch Hotel is expansive and opulent. It features 217 rooms, four ballrooms, a pair of bars (be sure to have a drink in the Vault Bar), a fitness center and a spa with an indoor pool. It's located on the edge of Old Town, just 30-minutes from the airport. Sightsee Bucharest's pedestrian 'Old Town' is one of the youngest Old Towns in the world, with renovations only completing in 2011. What is now a touristy, nightlife-infused hub of Eastern Europe was a derelict and dangerous district of Romania’s capital at the turn of the 21st century. It's full of bachelor parties, cafes, pubs, clubs, restaurants and shops. You won't be able to miss the city's most notorious landmark - the Casa Poporului (also known as the People's House or People's Palace). It is the second largest administrative building in the world, after the Pentagon. One-sixth of Bucharest's land area was cleared, and 40,000 residents displaced, to make way for this building. It measures 365,000 square meters and contains 1,100 rooms. This colossal structure was commissioned by Nicolae Ceaușescu to reflect communist values. He was executed before it was finished though, and, in an ironic twist, this oversized symbol of communism became the headquarters of Parliament, a key democratic institution. Bulevardul Unirii (Union Boulevard), which was constructed at the same time as the Casa Poporului, connects the Palace with Unirii Square. Be sure to visit the Urban Fountains, at night, to witness the Water Symphony. The show runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday between May and October. Consume If you are looking for traditional Romanian cuisine, stop by Caru’ cu bere for a meal. It is the oldest restaurant in Bucharest and its atmosphere is authentic. The establishment is known for its richly decorated interior, its large portions and live music/dancing. If you want a bird's-eye view of Bucharest, grab a cocktail at Amethyst Sky Bar (atop the Union Plaza Hotel). TRANSLYVANIA DAY TOUR Your tour will start with a 7:30am pick up at Hilton Garden Inn Bucharest Old Town. It's about a two-and-a-quarter-hour drive to your first stop: Peles Castle. Nestled at the foot of the Bucegi Mountains, in the picturesque town of Sinaia, Peles Castle is a masterpiece of German new-Renaissance architecture. Commissioned by King Carol I in 1873 and completed in 1883, this castle served as the summer residence of Romania's royal family, until 1947. It boasts 160 rooms, all adorned with the fine European artwork, paintings, chandeliers and stained-glass. Each room is decorated in a different theme. From Sinaia, you'll motor on for about another hour, to Brasov (a city in the southern Transylvania region of Romania). There you can see the Black Church (it's not actually black, but its exterior was somewhat blackened by a fire in 1689) and then you'll have lunch in the cute Old Townhall Square. Another 30-minutes further into Transylvania will bring you to Bran Castle, where you can experience all the history, myths and intrigue of Count Dracula - a fictitious character created by author Bram Stoker, in 1897. Vlad III Draculea also known as Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes in Romanian) was the historical figure whom the literary character was loosely based upon. Vlad was a brutal, sadistic leader famous for torturing and killing his enemies, mainly by impalement. Because Bran Castle is the only castle in all of Transylvania that actually fits Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle, it is known throughout the world as Dracula’s Castle. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Getting Around: People drive on the right-hand side of the road. The roads are in very good condition. You can use Bolt and Uber ride-hailing apps to get around Bucharest easily and cheaply. Electrical: You'll need standard European plugs/adaptors in Romania (two round prongs). Tipping: Tips are not included on bills and servers like to remind their patrons. It's become expected that tourists leave small tips - 10–15%. Drinking Water: Tap water is drinkable. Currency: Although Romania is in the EU, it has not adopted the euro. They still use the Romanian leu or lei as their currency. Banknotes come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 200 and 500 although the 200 and 500 RON notes are seldom used. Homeless: Romania have a high rate of homeless. Don’t engage with the beggars, as they can become quite aggressive. #bucharest #sinaia #brașov #transylvania #pelescastle #brancastle #blackchurch #romania #easterneurope #europe #dracula

  • unexpected athens

    Is Athens gritty and graffiti-ridden? Yes. Is it also rich in history, artifacts, culture, heritage and cuisine? For sure. Is it worth Visiting? Absolutely! Athens is one of the oldest cities and longest inhabited cities in the world, dating back thousands of years. It has gifted the world with democracy, trial by jury, theater, the Olympics and clock towers. Most people quickly stop through the Greek capital, en route to the islands, but it has a lot to offer and is worth a dedicated itinerary of its own. Below are my endorsements... Stay The Foundry Suites: I initially looked at this hotel as a joke (my travel buddy and I both work for a company called Foundry). But, after clicking around only a short while, I booked it. Centrally located in Psyrri (a vibrant, edgy and gentrified district), this boutiquey accommodation is not your standard hotel. They have only 12 luxury, industrial-style lofts and offer a slew of cute amenities. TV's have been swapped for record players in the suites. For breakfast, which is included, you pick your menu and then an adorable picnic basket arrives at the time of your choosing, either to your room or to you on the roof terrace. A free welcome beverage, that you can enjoy any time during your stay, is provided. The staff are lovely and helpful. Oh, and it's super affordable! Historic Sites No trip to Athens is complete without visiting the Acropolis. I suggest booking your tickets in advance, for 8:00am (the first available slot), when there's a chance of smaller crowds. Don't bother showing up too early because they won't let you enter more than 15-minutes prior to your allotted time. Leave your stilettos at home, ladies. Since 2009, it's forbidden to wear heals when you're touring ancient monuments in Athens, because of concerns about scratching and damaging the stones. This ancient citadel consists of several important buildings, including the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena. During a visit to this iconic landmark, you can still see the age-old statues, beautiful ionic columns and old temples of worship. I suggest also visiting the Panathenaic Stadium. It's far less busy than the Acropolis and really neat. You can buy tickets onsite, for €10. Built in 330 BC, this stadium was home to the first modern Olympic Games, in 1896, and remains the only arena in the world built entirely out of marble. Don't miss the “Memories from Olympic Games: Posters and Torches from 1896 till today” permanent exhibition, which can be accessed through the tunnel located towards the rear of the stadium. Neighborhoods Right under the Acropolis sits a little village called The Plaka. Most of the streets are car-free, apart from the occasional motorbike/delivery truck. It's commercialized but has clean, picturesque streets and a ton of bustling cafes. Spend an hour or so café-hopping and taking photos of all of the colors. Adjacent to Plaka, you'll find the 19th-century neighborhood known as Anafiotika. The hustle and bustle of the city center melts away here. The cobblestoned alleys, white-washed walls, coloful doors and fuchsia bougainvillea will make you forget you're in the heart of a busy metropolitan city. Food/Drink If you're looking for one of the most Instagramable spots in Athens, look no further than Little Kook. It's not just a café; it's an experience. Serving mainly coffee and cakes, I don't necessarily recommend eating here, but definitely go have a look. The extravagant and quirky decorations change regularly and vary according to season (Valentine's Day, Halloween, Christmas, etc.). The Athenians do seem to love a theme. And once they pick one, they really commit! Noel is another of these overly-themed venues. Here, the magic of Christmas lasts all year. It's a nice place to go and have a drink, if you're feeling festive. I stumbled upon Thes "Greek creative cuisine", in search for lunch, and it was a great find! The flavors are fresh and bold, the atmosphere is chic and modern and the staff is friendly and attentive. Whether you’re in the mood for something light or something hearty, Thes has what you need. Make sure you order the Naxos Potatoes Triple Cooked. Boo! is an all-day cocktail bar, right in the beating heart of Athens. Its combination of wooden furniture and unique furnishings creates an eccentric and cozy atmosphere. Clumbsies is #19 on the World's 50 Best Bars list. Outside, it just looks like a house, with no signage. Inside, it's a cocktail lover’s paradise. The Attic Urban Rooftop has a sophisticated, contemporary, bohemian design and an unobstructed view of the Acropolis. Visit for a coffee or brunch in the morning, a sunny lunch, a highly Instagramable sunset drink on the flower-decorated swings or a stylish-casual dining and some tunes in the evening. Set in a restored neoclassical villa, Aleria is an elegant and delicious place to have dinner. The Greek cuisine is beautifully presented in two tasting menus (both with 5- or 6-course options): one 'Earth & Sea', the other, 'Garden & Nature'. The courtyard is beautiful, and the service is slick. T The view of the Acropolis from Strofi's roof terrace is one of the most impressive in town. Expect classic Greek dishes, white linen tablecloths and romantic vibes. Beach The beach isn't usually what springs to mind when you think of Athens, but like so many things about this diverse city, it is one of the many delights on offer. If it's nice weather, be sure to spend a day in the Athens Riviera. I went to Varkiza Resort Seaesta, which took about 30-minutes by cab. Athens is often overlooked and overshadowed by more glamorous European capitals and its own beautiful islands, but it boasts plenty of things to see, do and experience. Don't discount this destination for a city break. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Getting Around: People drive on the right-hand side of the road. You can use Free Now and Uber ride-hailing apps to get around easily and cheaply. Electrical: You'll need standard European plugs/adaptors in Greece (two round prongs). Tipping: There is not a strong tradition of tipping in Greece, particularly among the locals, but it's become expected that tourists leave small tips. 10–15% is standard. Drinking Water: Tap water is drinkable. Currency: Greece is a member of the Eurozone and its official currency is the Euro (€). #athens #ancientgreece #greece #europe #acropolis #parthenon #panathenaicstadium

  • monkeying around in indonesia

    More than 18,000 islands and 50 species of primates make up the archipelago of Indonesia. It's a country full of natural beauty, rare animals and warm, hospitable people. Over the course of two and a half weeks, I visited ten islands, got attacked by two monkeys and was urinated on by one orangutan. What an adventure! Read on for my recommendations, broken out by location and peppered with monkey tales. Quick Links: 1 Bali: 1.1 Ubud 1.2 Nusa Dua 2 Nusa Penida 3 Borneo: Pangkalan Bun 4 Java: Surabaya 5 Komodo National Park: 5.1 Flores Island 5.2 Padar Island 5.3 Komodo Island 5.4 Taka Makassar Island 5.5 Manta Point 5.6 Kanawa Island 6 Know Before You Go In anticipation of my Indo trip, Bali was the bit that I was most excited about visiting, but it ended up being the most disappointing. I can see why influencers, looking to promote their picture-perfect lifestyles, are drawn to Bali's beauty, but overtourism is tainting the island. The infrastructure is not robust enough to cope with the traffic nor waste management, there is incessant construction to keep pace with the demand, peaceful atmospheres have been ruined by badly behaved tourists, and, most upsetting of all, is the sorrowful amount of litter. That all said, with realistic expectations, research and a bit of patience, you can still find moments of tranquility in Bali. UBUD: Located in the uplands of Bali, Ubud is famous for its 'Eat, Pray, Love' vibes, wood carvings, Hindu temples, lush jungles, terraced rice fields, waterfalls and a whole lot of monkey business. Central Ubud is abuzz with motorbikes and young visitors searching for balance and harmony. Whilst in Ubud, I would recommend hiring a driver or booking a series of tours that include the following sights: Tanah Lot: This ancient Hindu shrine is famed for its unique offshore setting, perched on top of an outcrop amidst crashing waves. Ulan Danu Temple: A temple floating along the banks of Lake Bratan, devoted to the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Tirta Empul Temple: One of the busiest and oldest (it's been around more than 1,000 years) sacred water temples in Indonesia. You'll find shrines, gates, courtyards and purification pools where hordes of people 'baptize' themselves underneath a succession of waterspouts. Jatiluwih Rice Terraces: Over 600 hectares of lush green paddy fields cascade in tiers from the mountains down to the valleys. In recognition of the ancient rice-growing culture, these fields became listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2012. Wanagiri Hidden Hill: Also known as 'selfie peak', panoramic views from up here are very popular amongst Instagrammers. We were planning to give it a miss as visibility was restricted by a foggy mist, but we ended up getting suckered into feeding some monkeys a bowl of bananas and peanuts (for about $1.30). At first, I wasn't that keen on getting so close to the Macaques, but it ended up being a hoot. Monkey Forest: Home to over 1,000 long-tailed monkeys, this sanctuary is one of the most well-known and visited places in Ubud. For a fee, the staff will take photos of you with a monkey on your lap. Be careful though, the monkeys are known to steal mobile phones, jewellery and sunglasses. They also can attack, if they feel threatened. Don't make eye contact nor smile with your teeth showing, as these are signs of aggression in the non-human world. Kemenuh Butterfly Park: Over 500 butterfly specimens flutter around you as you meander on paved pathways through a garden enclosure – all covered by netted canopies. It's very beautiful and serene, and not overrun with tourists...yet. Banyumala Twin Waterfalls: This is another place that, so far, hasn't been discovered by the masses. From the car park it's about a 20-minute walk, down steep steps to get to the waterfall. There are a few sketchy bamboo stairs, and it can be tough on the way back up! Tegenungan Waterfall: Opposite to Banyumala, this waterfall is heaving with tourists. It's one of the busiest and most famous falls in Bali. Swing Heaven: Swing parks, around Bali, allowing people to soar high above magnificent vistas, have become one of the most popular attractions on the island as a result of the Instagram craze. I was curious, so I decided to check one out. Swing Heaven was recommended, so off I went. There are various packages offered, at different price points. They will even rent you a flowy dress, if that is your desire. I found it all a bit silly, but I must admit that I had fun. After you've got your fill of sightseeing, fill your belly at the following Ubud restaurants: Swept Away: Upon arrival at the Samaya Hotel, a golf cart will shuttle you down to the restaurant, which is situated along bank of the Ayung River. You'll be treated a romantic setting, the peaceful sound of babbling water and delicious food. Sayan House: The cuisine is an interesting mix of Balinese, Japanese and Mexican (think sashimi tacos and guacamole rolls). It sounds weird, but it works. Book in advance and arrive in time to enjoy the sunset. Hujan Locale: This is one of Will Meyrick's creations (a Scottish celebrity chef, born in Portugal, based in Bali). The main dining room is on the second floor, surrounded by large windows, overlooking a Balinese temple. I liked its family-style grazing menu concept. Be sure to order the scallop ceviche, tuna betel leaf and braised beef rawon. Cafe Lotus: This restaurant overlooks a beautiful lotus pond and the iconic Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati (Water Palace). If you go for dinner on a Wednesday, you'll get a free traditional dance show along with your meal (show starts at 7:30pm). NUSA DUA This area of Bali is perfect for families, honeymooners and travelers who want to enjoy the perks of large luxurious resorts. It is a gated area, developed in the 1970’s, and is known for its fancy hotels, serenity, manicured gardens, golf and spas. If you're into lavish 5-star beachfront accommodations, with meticulously landscaped grounds, set against white sands bordering the Indian Ocean, then you might want to consider staying at the Sofitel. What I found most unique about the hotel was the swim-out rooms, which I had never seen before. Many of their ground-level rooms allow you to literally roll of out of bed and slide into a lagoon-like plunge waterway system. It's only 3.5' deep, so you can walk, float or swim directly to the main pool. Whilst in Nusa Dua, make sure you go to the Kecak Fire Dance Show at Uluwatu temple. You must pay an admission fee to enter the temple (40,000 IDR), separate to the fee for the show (100,000 IDR). The temple doesn’t accept plastic so make sure to bring enough cash. I recommend buying the ticket for the show in advance though, as it sells out very quickly, every night. Sarongs are provided at entry to the temple, for everyone to wear - men and women. Watch out for the monkeys walking around the complex. The primates are EVERYWHERE and WILL steal your snacks. They have acquired a taste for human food and can get aggressive if they don’t get what they want. One cheeky fella disrobed me in an attempt to get at my grocery bag. Luckily, he only got away with my sarong and some Pringles in the end. From Nusa Dua, we went on a one-day tour around Nusa Penida. We took a fast boat from Sanur, which took about 45-mins. Once we arrived, we had a private driver take us around to the following places: Kelingking Beach: The unique rock formation on this beach resembles the backbone of a dinosaur. It’s even nicknamed 'T-Rex Bay' on Google Maps. Broken Beach AKA Pasih Uug Beach: This horseshoe-shaped cove's limestone archway has been carved out by the water over the years. You cannot swim here; you can only admire it from the viewing area above. Angel's Billabong: Located right next to Broken Beach, this beautiful rockpool is a natural infinity pool that sits between rocky cliffs and the Indian Ocean. Many holidaymakers have perished trying to swim in it, so I recommend you keep your feet firmly planted on sturdy ground. Virgin Beach Club: We ended the tour relaxing at this beachfront restaurant, where we enjoyed swinging, sunning, shell searching and strawberry daiquiris. PANGKALAN BUN If you were to fly the 55-minutes from Bali to Surabaya you'd land five minutes before you took off, as a result of a one-hour time difference. After a short layover and a slight delay, we took another flight to Indonesian Borneo -- *Fun fact: Borneo is not a country; it is an island that is politically divided amongst three nations: Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Of the three, Brunei is the only sovereign state situated entirely on the island. I spent the second flight, from Surabaya to Pangkalan Bun, reflecting on a time, 23 years ago, when the first ever series of Survivor aired. I remembered being intrigued by the remoteness of Borneo and mentally adding it to my bucket list. Whilst I was pleased not to be stranded in an isolated location, battling other contestants for food, shelter and fire, I certainly felt like I was going on quite an adventure! Pangakalan Bun was the jumping off point for our orangutan tour. We stayed at the Grand Kecubung Hotel, for one night, before the tour began. It was nicer than I expected it to be, but I was surprised to find out that there was no alcohol served onsite. I was even more surprised to learn that you cannot buy alcohol anywhere in Pangkalan Bun, because of Muslim customs. The next morning, we were collected around 10am to begin our dry three-day/two-night private tour aboard a klotok (a traditional river houseboat). We booked through a company called Be Borneo, but there were many tour operators to choose from (which all seem pretty similar). We had a staff of four onboard with us (a guide, a chef, a captain and a deckhand/wildlife spotter). Our tour guide, TeeTee, was awesome, but I would consider booking a boat with air conditioning if I had to do it all over again. The day light hours were spent relaxing to sounds of the jungle as we wound down the lazy Sekonyer River, into Tanjung Puting National Park. All our meals were prepared for us onboard and were abundant and delicious. We made the mistake of leaving a box of cookies out on the table one afternoon, which were never to be seen again, as a result of thieving monkeys. A couple of times a day, we would disembark for jungle walks and to observe orangutan feedings. The comedic apes swung effortlessly through the trees, like Tarzan, whilst consuming a mixture of sweet potatoes, mangos and sugar cane. Some of these primates were more generous than others with sharing their food. In Malay, orangutan means ‘man of the forest’. Albert, a particularly large male orangutan, verified the namesake when he walked directly at me, climbed a tree about three feet away (staring at me the whole time), made himself comfortable on a branch directly above me and then relieved his bladder. At night we played cards by candlelight, watched fireflies light up trees like twinkle lights, stargazed, doused ourselves in bug repellent and tried our best to sleep in the heat (on mats laid out on the deck of the boat, surrounded by mosquito netting). SURABAYA After three days of bug repellent build-up, sweating and not showering, we were pleased to arrive at the luxurious Shangri-La. We didn't do much, other than shower and bask in the joy of our newfound cleanliness. Komodo National Park is made up of 29 islands including Rinca, Padar and Komodo. It has been UNESCO protected since 1991. FLORES ISLAND The gateway to Komodo National Park is via Labuan Bajo, on Flores Island. It's often hidden in the shadows of its more famous neighbor, Bali, but is a lot more fascinating and charming. We stayed at the boutiquey and lovely Komodo Sudamala Resort, which I highly recommend. The 16-person speedboat excursion we went on, from Labuan Bajo, was my favorite! We saw so much and every stop was incredible. PADAR ISLAND This first stop on this daytrip was Padar, for an early morning hike up about 700 steps. There was no shade and it was sweaty work, but we were rewarded with spectacular views of what looked like Jurassic Park. It took about 30-minutes to climb and another 30 to descend. Next up was Pink Beach, on the north side of the island, reached by a short boat ride. The pink hue comes from tiny single-celled red organisms (foraminifera) that grow beneath the coral reefs. When these organisms die, they fall to the ocean floor and mix with bits of coral and crushed shell. The sand turns pink when this mixture washes onto the beach. KOMODO ISLAND Stop number three was the volcanic island that is home to the beastly and prehistoric Komodo dragons. They exist nowhere else in the world. We were lucky enough to see four adults and one baby. The babies are a particularly rare sight because as soon as they hatch, they climb up trees to avoid being eaten by their mother (savage, right?!). They don't usually come back until they are four years old and about four feet long. TAKA MAKASSAR ISLAND Also known as the ‘Maldives of Indonesia’, this island is smaller than a football field. The crescent-shaped sandbar is surrounded by shallow turquoise waters that look unreal! MANTA POINT This isn't technically an island, but, as the name implies, Manta Point is where manta rays can be spotted. It's a popular location to meet these gentle marine giants. KANAWA ISLAND Our final stop was the quiet and pristine Kanawa Beach. Its turquoise water was exceptionally calm and clear. Swimming and snorkeling are the most popular activities here. Indo has a bit of everything - beautiful beaches, deep seas, volcanoes, tropical rainforests, mountains, unique creatures, culture, good food, temples, world-class diving, friendly people and the most expensive coffee in the world (Google Kopi Luwak). What more could a tourist want?! I know that many people would feel short-changed going all the way to Indonesia and not visiting Bali, but please remember there is a lot more to this far-flung archipelago than just Bali. I recommend squeezing in as much variety and exoticism as possible. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Arrival: 96 nationalities may now enter Indonesia for up to 30-days, using a single entry Visa on Arrival (VoA). It can be attained at the airport and you can pay using cash or card, in various currencies. You will also need to complete an online customs form, which will generate a QR code that needs to be scanned before you can leave the airport. Getting Around: The Grab ride-hailing app can be used to get around Bali quick, cheap and easy. On other islands you'll need to arrange taxis through your hotel or just hail them the old-fashioned way. Driving: Indonesia drive on the left. There is a lot of traffic and motorbikes are everywhere. It is very chaotic on the roads, especially in Bali. You'll hear a lot of horn honking, but it's used more for safety and as a precaution, as opposed to aggressive rage. Electrical: EU on most islands (two round prongs), but I saw UK plugs (with three square prongs) in Surabaya. I'd recommend bringing both. Weather: There are typically two seasons - wet and dry - with warm tropical temperatures averaging 28°C during the day, throughout the year. In most regions, the dry season spans from May to September, with the rains falling between October and April. Tipping: Generally, this is not mandatory, but there is a government tax of 10% added to the bill in most restaurants and hotels. Since base salaries are low and service workers seek tips to provide extra income, it's best to tip if you're happy with your service. Drinking Water: Tap water isn't drinkable. You should always opt for bottled, filtered or boiled water, for drinking and brushing your teeth. Eating: I was surprised to learn that Indonesians do not eat with chopsticks. Instead they push food onto a spoon, using a fork. Food was mostly fried and could be very spicy. Mosquitos: Bring repellent and after bite care. Language: Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia, but there are 700-800 languages spoken in Indonesia according to the 2010 census. Most islands have their own language as well. Religion: The Indonesian government recognizes six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Bali was predominantly Hindu, Flores is mostly Catholic, but most other islands I visited were Muslim. Currency: The Indonesian Rupiah. Notes come in 1000, 2000, 5000, 10.000, 20.000, 50.000 and 100.000. You will need cash more than you think (there are admission fees, donations and lots of small tips). ATMs limit how much you can withdraw, so get cash whenever you have an opportunity. #indonesia #bali #ubud #nusadua #nusapenida #borneo #pangkalanbun #surabaya #java #komodonationalpark #floresisland #padarisland #komodoisland #takamakassarisland #mantapoint #kanawaisland #kelingkingbeach #brokenbeach #pasihuugbeach #angelsbillabong #tanjungputingnationalpark #orangutan #asia #southeastasia #monkey #primate #temple #ricefield #ricepaddy #riceterrace #waterfall #swing #lotuspond

  • instant asia

    Singapore is the only place in the world that is a city, a state and an island. Its diversity (mainly Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian) makes it a nation richly varied in heritage, cuisine, art and architecture. It has earned the nickname 'instant Asia' because it offers tourists a quick glimpse of the sights, tastes and cultures of all of Asia's main ethnic groups. 'Quick glimpse' described my fleeting visit perfectly. I went for only one day and one night, en route to longer trip around Indonesia. The short stopover was arranged purely to see a friend, check out a few landmarks that didn't exist the previous times I've visited and to enjoy Singapore's dynamic food/beverage scene. I landed bright and early on Friday morning. Luckily I was able to check into my sexy hotel straight away (Vagabond Club), allowing me to quickly clean up and get on with my full day. The first stop on my whirlwind daytrip was the Marina Bay Sands (which is new since that last time I was in Singapore). This extravagant three-columned building combines an ultra-luxury hotel with designer shops, upscale restaurants/bars, a casino, a theater, a nightclub and even a museum. The Sands SkyPark straddles the top of all three towers and provides cityscape views. There is a pool at the top as well, but access is limited to hotel guests only. Despite the scorching temperature and humidity, I walked the few minutes to Gardens by the Bay (which also didn't exist when I last visited, 13 years prior) to check out the Floral Fantasy exhibit and also to stroll amongst the supertrees on the OCBC Skyway (22 meters high). To keep my strength up, I stopped for a quick lunch at the Jurassic Nest food hall, where I ate at Tsuta, serving up the world's first Michelin starred ramen. After my sightseeing concluded, my indulgence began. I met up with my friend for a late afternoon, into evening, turned late night eating and drinking session, which included the following venues: Frozen (for a very short amount of time) margaritas at Piedra Negra on Haji Lane Blu Jaz Cafe for some prosecco Turkish cuisine at ByBlos Grill Mr. Stork rooftop, located on the 39th floor of the Andaz Singapore Hotel LeVeL 33, the world’s highest urban microbrewery Jigger & Pony, #2 on Asia's 50 Best Bars list After partying into the wee hours of morning, it was off to bed (for approximately four hours), before heading back to the airport to continue the holiday touring around Indonesia. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Arrival: Complete this online Immigration Card no more than 72-hours before arriving into Singapore, if you're not just transiting through the country. Getting Around: Use the Grab ride-hailing app to get around quick, cheap and easy Electrical: UK plugs (with three square prongs) Weather: It is hot and humid all year-round, with temperatures usually over 86°F/30°C. You should be prepared for rain at any time, which can be torrential, but usually brief. Tipping: This is encouraged when you have good service, and this would be in addition to the standard 10% gratuity that some restaurants/hotels already add to your bill. Drinking Water: You can drink straight from the tap as the water in Singapore passes World Health Organization standards. Language: Singaporeans are fluent in English. Currency: The Singapore dollar. Notes come in denominations of S$2, S$5, S$10, S$50, S$100, S$1,000 and S$10,000. Credit cards are widely accepted. #singapore #southeastasia #asia #piedranegra #hajilane #blujazcafe #mrstork #level33 #jiggerandpony

  • summertime in central spain

    Central Spain can be stifling hot during the summer months, with temperatures pushing 40°C (105°F). To escape the oppressive heat, many locals go on holiday in July and August, resulting in fewer people (which can be great), but also closed businesses (less great, if you're a tourist). TOLEDO I didn't feel the decrease in population as greatly in Madrid, as it's a big, bustling city, but it was hard not to notice it in Toledo, which was an utter ghost town. The windows on shopfronts and restaurants were barred and shuttered. Grocery stores were only open from 10am-2pm, on certain days of the week. And the streets and squares were completely desolate. Even with a lack of people and open establishments, Toledo is an enjoyable and cute place to explore. This ancient city is known as the 'city of three cultures' because Christians, Muslims and Jews managed to live and co-exist here for hundreds of years. It's history of diversity, tolerance and religious harmony is rare in this part of Western Europe. Other Toledo fun facts include: It was the capital of Spain before Madrid Swordsmithing has been world famous here for 2,000 years Toledian marzipan is the city’s most beloved confectionary and is said to be the best in Spain The city of Toledo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 Manchego comes from this region; there's a Museo del Queso Manchego in Toledo in its honor (but it wasn't open) Although summer in Toledo isn't a hive of activity, there are still some amazing places to eat. Chefs in Toledo take pride in their food, ingredients and the presentation of their dishes. Portions are fairly large, but it prices remain affordable. Below are my reccos for where to eat... Entre Dos Fuegos in Hotel Etre Dos Aguas - Formerly the Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia's house, this hotel is boutiquey and adorable. It's set right in the center of the Old Town and there's a rooftop, where I recommend having a glass of wine before you dine. You must book in advance in order to eat here as the restaurant only serves eight people, with one seating per night (at 9:00pm). It's an eight-course tasting menu, starting with tapas and ending with shots. The chef and sous-chef prepare everything in front of you. It's a very special experience. Lacus - An optimal lunch or dinner option. I suggest you wash the cod loin and lobster dishes down with a glass of cold, white wine. Eugenia de Montijo, Autograph Collection - Indulge in a beverage (or two) at this swanky bar. La Cabala - Everything here is simply delicious! Be sure not to over-order though; it's easy to get carried away trying everything. La Ermitaña - A must visit, for dinner and views. This restaurant is located outside the Old Town walls, but overlooks them. This restaurant is beautiful and superb. The cheesecake is to die for (made with mascarpone and manchego). Maybe book for a table inside though, to avoid getting attacked by wasps. A 35-minute high-speed Avant train will take you from Toledo directly into Madrid's Puerta De Atocha station. MADRID Having been to Madrid only one time previously, it was great to further explore the Spanish capital. Below are my recommendations for accommodations, sights and where to dine/wet your whistle. STAY: I highly recommend staying at CoolRooms Palacio de Atocha. If you can get past the cheesy name, you'll be pleasantly surprised by this grand hotel. It's centrally located, the pool is an oasis and the staff are delightful. Also, the rooms are enormous, with giant bathrooms and amenities like a GHD flat iron/hairdryer and fluffy robes/towels. The only down side is that they stop serving drinks by the pool at midnight, which is quite early by Madrid standards. *If CoolRooms full or out of your budget, have a look at Hotel Urban as a very nice alternative. DO/SEE: Retiro Park - Leisurely saunter through this park to escape the buzz of the city. It’s filled with gardens, fountains, statues, art galleries, street performers and a pond where you can rent row boats. The most beautiful part is the Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez, filled with glorious peacocks. IKONO Madrid - Take about an hour to play around at this immersive and interactive art experience. During the tour you will encounter a ball pool, indoor bamboo park, confetti rain, light installations and murals painted by local artists. Royal Palace of Madrid - Formerly the official residence of the Spanish royal family, this palace is now used only for state ceremonies. Plaza Mayor - Madrid's grand central square used to be the center of torture and executions during the Spanish Inquisition, but today is a very touristy spot that plays host to much less morbid events like concerts, Christmas markets, bullfights and football games. Torres Bermejas - Feel the rhythm of this classic Spanish dance, during a 1-hour performance. Although flamenco originated in southern Spain, dancers from far and wide come to the capital city to showcase their talents. MUNCH/SLURP: Florida Park - Eat lunch/brunch at this restaurant located inside Retiro. Each area of the restaurant has its own menu. I ate at El Pabellón (the outdoor terrace). Don't leave without trying the roasted avocado starter and the grilled octopus main. La Tasqueria - With all of its tasting menus incorporating ingredients such as brain, tongue, trotters, tripe, combs and head of suckling pig, this offal restaurant probably isn't for everyone. But, if you're into Michelin-stars and adventurous eating, give it a go. Mercado de San Miguel - Pop into this covered market for gourmet tapas. Over 30 different vendors sell a variety of freshly prepared tapas, hams, olives, baked goods, desserts and other foods. Beer, wine and champagne are also available. 360° Rooftop Skybar Hotel Rui Plaza de España - After you pay €10, you can access the roof terrace via a high-speed lift. This is one of the most spectacular roof terraces in Madrid, with 360° views of the entire city. If you're not afraid of heights, stroll across the glass walkway for views below as well as around you. Salmon Guru - You'll find this establishment in the #15 position on the 2023 50 Best Bars list and as the first place winner of the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award, in 2021. Both designations are well deserved. If you like a gin-based cocktail, try the Salmon Sherbet. Santita - If you get sick of Spanish food and want some Mexican, head here for tacos and frozen margs. Dani Rooftop - At the top of the Four Seasons Madrid, which only opened in September 2020, you'll find a stylish indoor lounge and outdoor terrace. This dynamic venue is one of the most beautiful rooftops in Madrid. And the panoramic views over the city are not too shabby either. Thanks for stopping by. I hope these recommendations help you cool off during your summertime visit to Central Spain! #madrid #toledo #spain #españa #europe

  • from the vineyard to the glass

    Cuvée, cellars, casks, corks, châteaus, charcuterie, cheese and charm pretty much sum up the wine-tasting tour that took me through some of France's most famous wine regions (Bordeaux, Saint Émilion, Beaujolais, Sancerre, Chablis and Paris). BORDEAUX Pair Bordeaux's production of world-famous fine wines with its exceptional gastronomy and it becomes evident why France's sixth largest city was a tasty place to begin my journey. Eat: Whilst in Bordeaux, do yourself a favor and enjoy a meal at Restaurant Influences. Started by a duo who met working at one of my favorite places to frequent when I used to live in San Francisco, La Folie (which has now closed, sadly), the couple then settled in Bordeaux and opened a restaurant with a delicious surprise tasting menu concept. SAINT ÉMILION About 30-miles from Bordeaux is a magical place that wine enthusiasts need no introduction to. This small wine appellation is renowned as one of the greatest wine regions in the world. It’s also an incredibly delightful ancient village, that was classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. STAY: As far as Airbnb's go, the one I stayed at in Saint Émilion was pretty fantastic. It was located right in the heart of the pedestrian village, had all the amenities one would need and was bright, charming and cozy. Taste: *Be sure to book your wine tastings in advance. **NOTE: Many places are not open on Sundays nor bank holidays. Château Ambe Tour Pourret - Try three wines, then buy a bottle of your favorite and enjoy it in the courtyard, along with some cheese and crackers. Château Croizille & Tour Baladoz - Experience both traditional and modern methods of wine production, with this two-for-one tour of neighboring wineries. It culminates in a tasting room with sweeping, panoramic views of the vineyards. Château Bellefont-Belcier - For €25 you'll taste a trio of wines in this 18th century estate (including one that retails for €150). Plus, you'll get some yummy paired nibbles as a bonus. Château Cardinal-Villemaurine - Just a few steps away from the center of Saint Émilion you'll find this lovely family-owned boutique winery. Christine, one of the owners, was welcoming and informative, the wines went down easily and the little, disabled dog was entertaining. Eat: L'Atelier de Candale - If you're getting around by foot, book this place for lunch, between tastings at Château Croizille and Château Bellefont-Belcier. Sit out on the beautiful terrace, amongst the grape vines, and enjoy the freshly grilled food. Le Bis - This place has a casual, neighborhoody sort of vibe. The cheese is out of this world and the entrecôte is cooked on an open flame, in a fireplace, by a comedic owner/chef. Chai Pascal - This 36-person cozy restaurant opened eight years ago and has since had an emphasis on traditional cuisine and, of course, wine. BEAUJOLAIS Beaujolais is bordered by Burgundy to the North; the Saône River to the East; Lyon to the South; and the Monts de Beaujolais to the West. I99% of the wines here are made from Gamay Noir grapes and tend to be light-bodied, acidic and low in tannins. Taste: To get a feel for the difference between commercial and independent wineries, I recommend doing tours/tastings at both of the following châteaus: Château de la Chaize - Designed by the same architect as Versailles, this 17th century castle is one of the most beautiful buildings in France. It covers more than 400 hectares, including 150 hectares of vines, making it the largest wine estate in Beaujolais. Following a recent major restoration of the chateau's wine making facilities, the equipment is top notch, pristine and very modern. Fabien de Lescure (Domaine de la Bouronière) - Conversely, this 11 hectare family-owned estate that has been passed down through the generations, follows a more traditional style of harvesting, crushing and pressing, fermentation and aging. I loved this winery the most. The lovely Joelle gave us a private tour, spent a lot of time answering our many questions and even refilled our glasses several time. Joelle is an active member of Femmes de Vin and is committed to highlighting the place of women in the world of wine. Eat: La Robe Rouge - The food is inventive, unique, delicious and prepared to perfection. You must book in advance. Lucienne fait des siennes - Located within a very cute, 11-room hotel, this funky little gem has mismatched furnishings and canine artwork adorns the walls. The dishes are designed to share and are full of flavor. Château de Pizay - I found the restaurant within this 4* hotel to be overwhelmingly just okay. The starters, bread, wine and desserts were delightful, but I didn't care for the mains all that much. It's still worth a visit to see the beautiful gardens and have a drink in the bar. SANCERRE Sancerre is not just a delicious, award-winning crisp, white wine, it's also an enchanting, medieval, hilltop village in the Loire Valley, with a maze of cobblestoned streets. Outside of the peak summer months, Sancerre is a pretty sleepy place, with only ~1,300 residents. A walk around the perimeter of town allows for beautiful views of lush vineyards and undulating fields. Stay: I highly recommend booking Le Logis St Pere for your accommodation. It's an unbelievable property, right in the center of the village. Parking is limited and a little difficult with the narrow streets, but it is free. Once we found a spot, we kept the car there for the duration and walked/taxied wherever else. Taste: Château de Sancerre - This was one of the most informative and interesting tours that we had on the whole trip. Coupled with a yummy tasting of four wines plus local goat's cheese and home-made biscotti, it was a real delight. Domaine de la Villaudière - Jean-Marie Reverdy & Fils - We didn't have a reservation, but we walked into this family run operation, to dodge the rain, and were pleasantly surprised! We tasted nine of their delicious wines and bought as much as we could carry back with us. Eat/Slurp: Taste Sancerre - We were welcomed here with a friendly atmosphere and beautiful views of the Sancerrois vineyards. With one Michelin star, dinner at Maison Medard is a must. In a recently renovated 13th century building, the local ingredients are honored in a modern and refined way. La Petite Maison - This spot has great service and inventive dishes, at an affordable price. At €20, the three-course lunch was a steal! Auberge Joseph Mellot - What this restaurant lacked in ambiance, it made up for in quality and price. We were the only people dining there, which was a bit odd. La Banque - This bar came recommended by just about every person we met in Sancerre, so we had to check it out. The former banking establishment turned trendy wine bar did not disappoint. Chèvrerie des Gallands - The perfect food to enjoy with a glass of Sancerre is the locally made creamy cheese known as Crottin de Chavignol. On our way out of Sancerre, we quickly stopped to taste some goat's cheese at a farm which is home to 150 goats and where the cheese is made fresh each morning. CHABLIS Chablis is the northernmost wine district of the Burgundy region in France. Its cool climate produces wines with more acidity and less fruitiness than Chardonnay vines grown in warmer conditions. Eat: Take a load off whilst enjoying some charcuterie, escargot, baguettes and, of course, locally produced Chablis at Marguerite de Chablis. This riverside spot is an ideal lunch spot. PARIS My French wine discovery adventure sadly came to an end in Paris. I had only planned on staying for one night, but ended up being there a few as a result of a Eurostar strike, which resulted in multiple train cancellations. Ultimately I ended up taking a grueling 9.5-hour bus-ferry-bus combination back to London. I would have flown, but I had bought too much wine in the previous 10 days. It wasn't the ideal end to a near-perfect trip, but there are worse places than Paris to get stuck for a few days. #bordeaux #saintemilion #beaujolais #sancerre #chablis #paris #france #wine #winetasting #frenchwine #vino #europe

  • ibiza, spain - still as charming as ever

    It's been some time since I last visited this blissful Balearic island, but I'm pleased to report that Ibiza is still just as heavenly as I remember it! All my previous recommendations still stand, but I thought I'd include a few more, based on my most recent trip. Beach Clubs: Ibiza offers a superb mix of beach clubs that cater to all all types of visitors, whether you’re looking for the best DJ set on the island, something bougie or just a chilled-out vibe. Because of Ibiza’s popularity, the beach clubs are often sold out months in advance. You can get lucky with a last-minute booking, but in order to avoid disappointment, I suggest advanced planning. Zazú: Right in the heart of Ibiza Town, this beachfront location has a delightful decor, a relaxed atmosphere and pretty yummy Asian style cuisine. Beachouse: Open for its 10th season. The bed packages, for four people, start at €200 - inclusive of a fruit platter, a bottle of champagne and four cans of water. Eat: Amante: I have been to Amante previously and can confirm that it is one of the best beach clubs and restaurants in Ibiza. Perched high on the edge of a cliff overlooking Sol Den Serra beach, Amante Ibiza is perfection from start to finish. Es Molí de Sal: You'll find this waterfront restaurant on the island of Formentera. The restaurant will come collect you, via speed boat, if you arrive by sea. Go for the view and ambience, stay for the salt crusted sea bass. Private Chef: If you're staying a villa or Airbnb and you want a really special meal, hire Tess to come cook for you. She is an absolute delight, very professional, easy to work with and her food is not only delicious, but also beautiful. I'm so pleased that Ibiza is still the charming destination I recall. It's a place where you can really choose your own adventure - let your hair down, enjoy the atmosphere, people watch to your heart's content, sip rosé all day, chill out on a Bali bed next to the sea and/or party into the wee hours at one of the island's world-famous clubs. #ibiza #eivissa #spain #formentera #balearicisland #europe #mediterranean

  • weekending in lyon, france

    Despite being France's third-largest city (behind Paris and Marseille), contestably the country's culinary capital and the home to a whole heap of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Lyon somehow remains largely overlooked by tourists. This underrated city manages to be simultaneously old and new, relaxed and exciting, metropolitan and intimate, making it a fabulous place to spend three-four days. Be sure to arrive in Lyon with an empty stomach because you’re going to want to eat everything. From family-owned bouchons, bistros, street cafés and brasseries to Michelin-starred contemporary cuisine, Lyon is a gastronomical paradise. I recommend dining at the following dinner spots: Les Enfants Terribles - You can't really go wrong with any of the restaurants on Rue Mercière, but this is one I happened upon. The space is quaint, the service is attentive and the food is traditional Lyonnaise. Regain - Don't let the lack of dress code and unassuming industrial, distressed interior confuse you, this is new-age fine dining. For dinner, they offer a three or four-course prix fixe menu, but there are several amuse-bouches included. Every dish is presented beautifully and is delicious. The portions are the perfect size, leaving you full, but not feeling uncomfortable. Léon de Lyon - This is a culinary institution of Lyon, dating back from 1904. A fine restored interior sets the stage for purebred French dishes with a new twist. In terms of daytime activities, let’s start at the top - literally. Take the funicular up from Vieux-Lyon station to Fourvière. It only takes a few minutes and costs €3.50. As soon as you exit the station, you will find yourself facing Notre-Dame de Fourvière. From almost anywhere in Lyon you can look up and see this basilica atop the city’s tallest hill. Built in the late 19th century, to honor the Virgin Mary and demonstrate the city’s wealth, this neo-Byzantine basilica has become the symbol of Lyon. Fourvière Hill is one of the best places to glimpse a panoramic view of Lyon. After exploring the ornate belly of the basilica head over to the terrace to view 2,000 years of history. Take the funicular back down to Vieux-Lyon and pop into Saint Jean Cathedral to admire the stained-glass work. If it's a nice day, take a stroll along the banks of the Saône and Rhône rivers, which split the city in three before converging in the south. If you have time, fixtures align and you're interested, go watch Olympique Lyonnais play football at Groupama Stadium. After exploring this lovely city, I highly recommend resting your head at the Boscolo Hotel. I really appreciated the lion touches (Lyon, lion...Get it?). It’s hard to resist the allure of Lyon, particularly without the bother of large crowds. Get there before that changes! #lyon #france #europe #auvergnerhônealpesregion #rhôneriver #saôneriver #olympiquelyonnais #groupamastadium

  • month in madeira, portugal

    I had visited Madeira only once, back in April 2022, for a long weekend. But I loved it so much that I recommended it to my parents as a destination to be considered for a month-long visit. Below were reasons I thought it would be a good extended-stay location: Everyone was so friendly Getting by in English was rather easy It was safe, clean and beautiful The food was amazing, and not terribly expensive It was easy to get around There were lots of things to do/see The weather was temperate After selling the idea to my folks, I decided to tag along. I thoroughly enjoyed spending the month of love and celebration on this delightful Portuguese island! Despite technically being 'off-season', with Valentine's Day and Carnival both occurring in February, Madeira was alive with color, decorations, festivities, parades, music and performances. The highlight of Carnival was the exuberant 'Allegoric Parade', which was held on Saturday 18th February, in Funchal. It featured about a dozen floats and more than 1,500 participants. On Fat Tuesday (21st February 2023), the 'Cortejo Trapalhão' (AKA the Slapstick Parade) took place. I had no idea what was happening, and I didn't understand most of the satire, but it was random, hilarious and good fun! As you can probably imagine, after such a long time spent in Madeira, I have quite a few recommendations (for dining, drinking, suntanning, hiking and visiting)... Restaurants: Whilst in Madeira, I ate. Boy did I eat! Nearly every morsel I inhaled, from hole in the wall bistros to Michelin-starred eateries, did not disappoint. My favorite dinners were at the following venues (in no particular order): Casal da Penha - This restaurant was not Michelin-starred, but Michelin did grant it a Bib Gourmand Award. This family-run restaurant was simple yet authentic. The terrace was adorable, with a view of a quaint church. Vila do Peixe - Located in Câmara de Lobos, a pretty fishing village, five kilometers from Funchal, was another delicious 'Bib' restaurant. We selected our fish, like we were at a market (sea bass and parrot fish for us). The fishies were weighed and grilled immediately. They were served with fresh veggies, potatoes and a beautiful view of the sea. Armazém do Sal - This rustic restaurant offered a contemporary take on traditional cuisine. I had ricotta ravioli with tempura asparagus, accompanied by a few glasses of Vinho Verde. Terreiro - As far as romantic courtyards were concerned, this place took the cake. We were able to comfortably dine outside because of the heaters, which was a bonus. Avista - With truly spectacular views, service and cuisine, this restaurant was deserving of its Michelin-star. I highly recommend the beef fillet, with lightly smoked mashed potatoes and barbecued pineapple. Wash it all down with a bottle of 2018 Casa da Passarella 'O Oenólogo' Vinhas Velhas. Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva Restaurant - Located within a former fort, both the space itself and the food served were works of art. I actually ate here twice during my time in Madeira because it was so unique. Start with the scallop carpaccio. For mains, I enjoyed both the courgette-wrapped scabbard fish and the fillet of Black Angus. Save room for the chocolate gold dessert. The Dining Room at Quinta da Casa Branca - The website did not do this place justice. Situated in a historic house, surrounded by gardens, The Dining Room was distinguished and elegant, but not pretentious. You really need to try the venison carpaccio with truffle ice cream to start. Mmmmmm! Kampo by Chef Júlio Pereira - This was my second time visiting this restaurant in as many trips to Madeira. Both times, I sat at the chef's table, which I highly recommend requesting when you book. The tuna tartare in a crunchy cone was the best starter. It sounds weird, but be sure to order the white chocolate, olive and passion fruit mousse for dessert. Ákua - Kampo's (more fishy, less meaty) sister restaurant. The chef's table at Akua was smaller and more intimate than at Kampo. It turned out, after pulling up photos from my April 2022 trip, that I had the same two chefs as when I visited Kampo the first time (shout out to Rodolfo and A. Ferreira). I tasted nearly every appetizer on the menu and I recommend them all. Il Gallo D'Oro - This culinary delight has well earned its two Michelin Stars. The 8-moment Top Experience menu + wine pairing (which was actually 12 courses), took 4-hours and was more of an edible 5* production than a meal. The cuisine was fresh, delicious and creative. It showcased a multitude of flavors using contemporary techniques and ingredients. Dishes ranged from gold foie gras hearts, to lobster with frozen gazpacho pearls and fancy breads/butters/salts to crab and suckling pig. Some less formal spots that were well worth munching at (for lighter meals) included: Why Not? - Bad name, good food. Really nice staff. Beef & Wines - Even worse name, but the chocolate mousse was to die for. Trust me! Rei da Poncha - Pair this steak sandwich with a poncha (or two) and you've got yourself an enjoyable afternoon. Bars: Whilst in Madeira, do as the Madeirans do...and drink Madeira wine, poncha and vino verde. I recommend consuming libations at the following watering holes: Skybar Galaxy at Savoy Palace Rooftop (16th Floor) - You must pay €15 per person to enter, but then the cover charge gets deducted from your tab at the end. Reid's Palace at the Belmond Hotel - This clifftop haven is classic and classy. Enjoy a libation alongside exquisite views on the terrace or a fancy cocktail in the Gastrobar. Dash Cocktail Bar - The cocktails were sweet, but the space was cool and the staff were attentive. Beaches: Many of Madeira's beaches were rocky, but I recommend catching some rays at the following sandy beaches: Calheta - Located west of Funchal, on Madeira's unspoiled southern shoreline. The sand was imported from the Sahara. The beach was quite small, but very pretty. Machico - East of Funchal you'll find this beautiful beach, with its artificial yellow sand and clear waters, nestled within lush mountains. Porto Santo Beach - To get here you need to take a 2.5-hour ferry from Funchal. But it's well worth the journey! Move over Greece, Italy and Spain, because this golden sand beach was awarded the title Best Beach in Europe 2022. Seixal Beach - Ranked #3 on Europe's Best Beaches 2022 list, was the volcanic black sand beach located on the north western coast of Madeira. It was definitely one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Levadas: Madeira was home to more than 2,500kms of hiking (mostly footpaths alongside a network of narrow canals called levadas). In my time on the island, I hiked the following three: PR8 Ponta de São Lourenço (AKA Dragon's Tail) - Located at the far east of the island. This hike was moderately challenging and about 7.4km (there and back). Throughout the trek, I was rewarded with amazing coastal cliff and beautiful azure sea views. PR9 Levada Do Caldeirão Verde Trail - You'll find this lush stroll in the north/central part of the island, in Queimadas. It was a flat 12km jungley hike, with a waterfall at the halfway point. PR11 Levada dos Balcões - This was the perfect trail for a short, easy adventure (only 3km roundtrip). Be prepared for epic, dramatic views over Laurel Forest once you reach the balcony. Bring some birdseed with you if you fancy feeding the brave Firecrest birdies who will eat right from the palm of your hand. Other Things To Do: Visit the village of Santana, on the north coast of Madeira, to see the cute, small thatched roof A-framed houses. Cape Girão (Cabo Girão) Skywalk - At 580 meters above sea level, this glass-floored viewing platform (the second highest in the world) offered exhilarating downward views of the Atlantic Ocean. 4x4 Jeep Tour - I did a few half day Jeep tours, to various parts of the island. I highly recommend using Madeira Offroad Tours (ask for João to be your driver). Valley of the Nuns (AKA Curral das Freiras) - This village was built in the crater of an extinct volcano. It was once a place where nuns hid when pirates attacked Funchal. We didn't go to the actual village itself; instead we overlooked it from the Eira do Serrado viewpoint. The views were spectacular, and it was very peaceful up at 1,095 meters above sea level. 3D Museum - This interactive museum was goofy and fun for the whole family! Luckily, we had the place to ourselves so we could take endless pictures without any photobombers. Funchal to Monte Cable Car - Take a 15-minute cable car up from downtown Funchal to Monte. Once in Monte, to your left you'll find Monte Palace and Tropical Gardens. I did not go but it looked beautiful online. To your left, after exiting the cable car, you'll find Babosas Village, where I suggest you stop and get a bite to eat and/or a drink, before carrying on further to the left, down to cable car #2, which takes you to the Botanical Gardens. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Must try typical Madeiran foods include: Scabbard fish with flambéed banana and passion fruit, limpets (sort of like mussels), bolo do coca (bread) and lupini beans (a bar snack). If you take enough Bolts around the island you'll start to recognize the drivers. According to my Apple weather app, in February, it was 59°F/15°C every single day, which was hilarious because the weather actually varied from hot to hail and everything in between. We experienced 75-mph winds, sand storms (from the Sahara), cloudy weather, rain and even a cracking thunder and lightning storm. #funchal #câmaradelobos #capegirão #monte #seixal #machico #calheta #santana #portosanto #monte #madeira #madeiraisland #portugal #europe #carmnival #valentinesday #parade #levadas

  • sidi bou säid, tunisia

    Perched on top of a cliff and surrounded by views of azure waters, you'll find Sidi Bou Säid. With its blue and white color scheme, it bears a certain resemblance to Santorini, Greece, but Sidi Bou Säid is actually in Africa, located about 12 miles north of Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. The village has become synonymous with art and creativity and its cobbled streets are lined with bohemian art shops, souvenir stalls and quaint cafés. ACCOMODATION: I was lucky enough to be able to stay in a friend of a friend's property, which has over 200 years of history. It was the formerly the family home of my acquaintance, but is now available to rent via Airbnb. This place is right smack in the middle of the pedestrian area of the village and offers five bedrooms with 11 beds, a library, two kitchens, a living room with a huge bay window, a dining room, a patio and a rooftop with breath-taking views of the Gulf of Tunis. It has all the charm of an old dwelling but has been modernized and decorated impeccably. FOOD/DRINK: Start your day by filling your belly at bleue! cafe. They offer delicious hot breakfast options, cakes/pastries and tea/coffee. Then, have lunch at Au Bon Vieux Temps, a romantic restaurant featuring Mediterranean and Tunisian classics. The food is complemented by mesmerizing ocean views and attentive service, and the wine list offers a chance to try local Tunisian vintages. I only went for a drink, but you could also try Dar Zarrouk for a meal. Also, there's The Cliff, if you fancy a fine-dining experience. DO/SEE: The most fruitful way to spend time in Sidi Bou Säid is to stroll through its winding passageways, taking photos of all the doors and visiting art galleries/restaurants at your leisure. Even with the crowds, Sidi Bou Säid somehow manages to feels both touristy and undiscovered at the same time. Once you've explored the tangle of narrow streets (maybe 2-3 hours if you inspect every nook and cranny), have a wander over to Carthage for a bit of culture and history. Carthage was strategically built on the Tunisian coast, to influence and control ships passing between Sicily and the North African. Rapidly becoming a thriving port and trading center, it eventually developed into a major Mediterranean power and a rival to Rome. From the middle of the 3rd century to the middle of the 2nd century BCE, Carthage was engaged in a series of wars with Rome, which ended in the defeat of Carthage and the expansion of Roman control. When Carthage finally fell in 146 BCE, the site was plundered and burned. The archaeological site of Carthage was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1979. After visiting Carthage, walk around the corner to the Baths of Antoninus (10 DT entrance fee) - ruins of the largest Roman baths outside Rome itself. Only the foundations remain, but they are substantial enough to give an impression of the complex’s size and opulence in its heyday. *Note: It is illegal to take photographs in the direction of the presidential palace. Doing so may land you in jail for up to three years, though the guards don't appear too concerned. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: I had barely any mobile service whilst in Tunisia, and WiFi was scarce. The currency is the Tunisian Dinar, but you can also use Euros. Credit cards can be used in some places, but AMEX is not accepted anywhere. European plugs are used. When you fly out of Tunis-Carthage International Airport, you will need to have a paper boarding pass; they cannot accommodate mobile boarding passes, even though the airline will allow you to check in online and download them. Bolt operates in Tunisia and is the best way to get around, although you can't pay through the app; you must have cash. Smoking is allowed everywhere - even in restaurants. #sidibousaid #carthage #tunis #tunisia #africa

  • oman and bahrain

    For 22 consecutive years, I have celebrated New Year's Eve in a different city/country. To keep the tradition alive for a 23rd year, I made way to the Middle East. It was a bit of a funny choice, since Muslim nations don't celebrate the Gregorian New Year, but it was warm and sunny, and I got to explore two lands where I had never been before. The first stop was Oman... OMAN Only in the last 50-odd years, under the rule of the former, and beloved, Sultan Qaboos, was Oman's infrastructure and landscape transformed from near-medievalism to modernity. Using oil revenues, schools and hospitals were erected, hundreds of miles of road were paved, a telecommunications network was established, discrimination and slavery were abolished and ports and airports were built. Qaboos was determined to preserve Oman’s traditional society while incorporating a modern framework. As such, Oman isn't flashy like its Emirati neighbour (I'm looking at you, Dubai). There are no high-rises and it's not in the running for the biggest, tallest, newest, glitziest of anything. In fact, no building in Muscat (the capital) is permitted to be more than 17 stories and all buildings must be white. Residents must obtain special permission to paint their house any other color. Today, Oman is still a developing nation, but it has a solid infrastructure for tourism and globetrotters are starting to catch on. Although there are many things to do and see in Oman, I must admit that I was pretty lazy. After a long year, I was craving pure relaxation. The only thing I had any desire to work on was my tan. I did manage one excursion though, which I highly recommend. On this day trip, the first, and best, stop was Wadi Shab. It was about a 1.5-hour drive from Muscat (I recommend getting there for 8am). If you're lucky, a tribe of wild goats will greet you in the parking lot. After parking, be sure to use the bathroom, as you'll have a long journey ahead of you (bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer). Post-pitstop, take a very short boat ride across the river (I'm talking REALLY short, like under three minutes). Unless you're going as part of a pre-arranged tour, the journey will cost you about 1 Omani Rial. The first boat is at 8am and the final one coming back is around 5pm. The opposite side of the river is where the 45-minute hike begins. Do not listen to anyone who tells you that this is an easy walk. It's definitely more of a moderate hike. You must climb slippery boulders, hop over puddles, navigate uneven surfaces and balance on narrow viaducts. Be sure to wear shoes with good tread (like trainers or hikers). Once you get to the crystal-clear blue water pools, you'll know it. You won't be able to walk any further. The only way to carry on to the secret waterfall inside a cave is by swimhiking. Find a spot to stash your gear and get in! The water was surprisingly warm. The first pool was shallow and crowded. The second pool got deeper and the third required strong swimming skills. At the very end of the third pool, there was a narrow passage, just about big enough for your head to fit through, if you swim sideways. Once through the slender sea corridor, you end up in a cave with a waterfall. Do not attempt this if you are not a confident swimmer, as you will have to be able to tread water/swim for quite a while. You will not be able to stand once inside the cave and there aren’t many places to hang on. I don't have any pictures from within because I couldn't get my phone out of my dry bag without drowning. Once you're tired and can't hang on in the cave any longer, do the whole thing in reverse -- swimhike, hike, boat. Allow at least 3 hours for the whole adventure. *A few tips: Wear your swimsuit as there is nowhere to change; don't have any valuables with you as there is no secure place to store belongings (although Oman is very safe); bring water for the hike, a towel that you don't mind getting dirty, a bag for wet stuff, water shoes (it's very rocky); goggles and a dry bag for your camera/phone. After Wadi Shab, it was onwards to Fins Beach, which you could probably give a miss. It's pretty much just a pebbly fishing beach. The last stop on the day trip was the Bimah Sinkhole natural wonder. It was late in the day by the time we arrived, and it was moderately crowded, so we didn't stay long nor swim. New Year's Eve was rung in at both the Intercontinental and the Crowne Plaza hotels. The Intercontinental offered more of a kid-friendly vibe whilst the Crowne Plaza was a paaartay. There were approximately 600 people, carrying on into the wee hours of the morning! After Oman, it was on to Bahrain... BAHRAIN The Kingdom of Bahrain (AKA the pearl of the Arabian Gulf) is located in one of the world’s chief oil-producing regions, but only stores small amounts of petroleum itself. Instead, its economy relies on financial, commercial services and communications sectors, as well as tourism. The country’s chief city, port and capital, Manama, is strikingly modern, relaxed and cosmopolitan. Bahrain was really just a long stopover on my journey. I spent about 28-hours there in total. And it rained for most of that time. To pass the hours, I lunched at a restaurant on Manama's artificial Reef Island and then spent the afternoon shopping at the Gold City, where I decided to treat myself to something sparkly to start the year off right. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: E-visas are necessary for Americans in both Oman (~$97) and Bahrain (~$25). Brits can visit Oman for up to 14-days without a visa, but do require an e-visa for Bahrain. In Oman, don’t worry about tipping; it is not customary nor expected. Service charges may be added on to hotel meal bills though. In both locations, tourists can only drink alcohol in hotels and restaurants with a proper liquor license. There wasn’t an ‘Omani Cuisine’ as such, but rather an eclectic mix of traditional Middle Eastern fare enhanced with foreign spices from India and East Africa. Both Muscat and Manama were safe and clean. The people were friendly, but there was no real sense of urgency in either place, so bring your patience with you. UK plugs are used in both countries. In Oman, you can use Otaxi to get around. Bahrain has Uber. #muscat #oman #sultanateofoman #manama #wadishab #finsbeach #bimahsinkhole #bahrain #kingdomeofbahrain #reefisland #goldcity #middleeast #newyearseve #nye #arabiangulf #arabianpeninsula #gulfofoman #persiangulf #arabiansea

  • 2022 travels

    Good riddance, 2021! You were less like a year, and more of a mutated variant of 2020. Yet again we, monotonously, spent the majority of the year working from/staying at home, watching too much telly and feeling uncertain about everything - particularly travel, where plans were everchanging to align with fluctuating COVID-19 infection rates and restrictions. Some were fortunate enough to have traveled domestically in 2021, mostly dipping their toes into staycations. Few were lucky enough to have gone away internationally - returning home, visiting loved ones or maybe even ticking off a bucket list trip. Others were left with only tales of cancellations, monetary losses and quarantines. In 2022 though, civilization rebooted, and we emerged from the pandemic with restored confidence. Society reimagined what travel looked like and realized new experiences. But there were setbacks as we eased into The Next Normal. According to CWT, air fares in 2022 rose by 48.5% and hotel rates by 18.5%. This was due to pent-up holiday demand coupled with skyrocketing inflation, rising fuel prices, labor shortages, strikes, the Russian-Ukraine conflict and travel companies trying to claw back lost earnings from the previous few years. This year, instead of racing to get the next passport stamp, I found that I traveled more intentionally. I took fewer, but longer, trips. Being a digital nomad, liberated me from having to go into the office and afforded me extended stays. Highlights in 2022 included dining in caves (Lanzarote and Polignano a Mare), drifting above mystical and magical landscapes in hot air balloons (Cappadocia and the Serengeti) and straddling continents in intercontinental states (Turkey, Georgia and Armenia). Read on for more about the lands where my tiny green shoes tread. JANUARY I managed to completely switch off during my winter break in the Canary Islands. The eight days spent in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote were incredibly relaxing and left me feeling revived, refreshed and ready for a fresh year. With Omicron still sweeping the globe, most of the remainder of January was spent at home, with reduced social contact and taking the recommended precautions to avoid infection...unsuccessfully. After nearly two years of avoiding the virus, I joined the COVID club, alongside 334M others worldwide. Luckily, I wasn't all that ill, didn't have too many plans to cancel/reschedule and no travel plans were affected. FEBRUARY Recovered from COVID, but sick of the UK's dark, damp and dreary winter weather, I really appreciated a solid dose of Floridian sunshine. After 21 hours of transit, I was pleased to arrive in St. Augustine, for a family wedding. At the end of President's Day weekend, I headed south, to Naples, where my next few weeks consisted of dolphin watching, airboat cruising, fantasy house hunting, suntanning, playing tennis/pickleball/bocce, living it up in Miami and enjoying lots of quality time with family/friends/colleagues. MARCH On my penultimate day in Florida, I attended the 2022 Swamp Buggy Cup Championship in Naples. Unique to Collier County, I had never seen anything like this before. It was like NASCAR met mud wrestling on Tinder and had a baby out of wedlock. Buggies lost wheels, capsized, broke down, got caught in sink holes and crashed into each other. The spectators were as interesting as the races. I returned to London in time to observe the first St. Paddy's Day in three years where we were able to celebrate outside of our living rooms. You can bet your pot of gold that I was shaking my shamrocks. APRIL I took advantage of the first two bank holidays of 2022 by visiting Polignano a Mare, Puglia, Italy, for the Easter long weekend. The high point was dining at Grotto Palazesse, a restaurant built into a cliff, that I've been wanting to eat at for many years! Just four days after returning from Italy, I traipsed down to the South of France to meet up with a friend who was on gardening leave (lucky girl). We visited Nice, Cannes and Antibes over the course of five days, experiencing all the glitz and glamor that Côte d'Azur had to offer! MAY The bank holiday weekend was spent exploring the 'Hawaii of Europe' (AKA Madeira, Portugal). The island was truly stunning, with its old-world charm, excellent gastronomy and adventurous spirit! JUNE Her Majesty The Queen became the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, after 70 years of service. As such, we in the UK received an extra day off, providing a four-day weekend. I took two additional days off and jetted off to Turkey, which officially changed its name to Türkiye whilst I was there. I visited Cappadocia and Istanbul. I absolutely adored everything about this trip! The hot-air balloon ride over the surreal terrain of Cappadocia, in particular, was an experience I won't soon forget. JULY A long weekend was spent in Marbella, Spain with some friends. We had a nice, relaxing time, eating all the Spanish tapas and exploring swanky beach clubs like Nosso. Then I went to the bohemian city known as Tblisi, Georgia, with a day trip to Armenia. If for no other reason (although there are many), go to Georgia for the food! Georgian cuisine is highly under-rated. AUGUST Anyone keen to visit the ugliest European capital, in one of the least visited, poorest and unhappiest countries, which also happens to border a nation at war with Russia? I did. So off I went to Chișinău, Moldova. And I must say, I was surprised at how much I liked it. Low expectations did help. SEPTEMBER After a year and a half of planning, I finally made it to Kenya and Tanzania. I went with my parents, to celebrate my mum's 70th. The trip was exceptional! There's nothing quite like being out in the African bush, up close and personal with free-roaming lions, buffalos, leopards, zebras, elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, etc., etc. OCTOBER Japan reopened for tourists (yay!), fall colors were on display in a big way (gorgeous!) and the UK's political system was crumbling (eek!). Kwasi Kwarteng was dismissed as Chancellor after his 'mini-budget' was negatively received by the world financial markets, resulting in the British Pound falling to near-historic lows against the US dollar. Shortly after, British Prime Minister Liz Truss announced her resignation just six crisis-filled weeks after taking office, becoming the shortest-lived PM in UK history. Rishi Sunak took office next. He would become the fifth PM we've had in the UK in the eight years I have lived here. Leaving politics behind, myself and eight family members met in Ireland to watch my cousin cross the finish line at the Dublin Marathon. NOVEMBER Four of us escaped to Marrakech, Morocco for a luxurious and relaxing girl's weekend filled with all that the Red City has to offer: sunshine, massages, shopping, dining and rooftops. My annual United States Thanksgiving Turkey Tour started off in mid-November, when I flew into Boston, Massachusetts. It continued on to Connecticut and then New York City. DECEMBER Turkey Tour 2022 ended with six days spent in Nashville, Tennessee, which was absolutely brilliant! Nashville was oozing with Southern hospitality, endless entertainment and was delicious in every way! After an uncharacteristically cold month, the I was ecstatic to ring in 2023 in Muscat, Oman, where the weather was lovely and there were wadis and sinkholes to explore! While many aspects of travel returned to pre-pandemic normalcy this year, there is still plenty to remind us that things aren’t quite the same as they used to be. It is encouraging, however, to see that our world is getting a little bit easier to explore. As this year comes to a close, I’d like to say good bye to a smattering of UK Prime Ministers, crossbody bum bags, Kanye West, endless strikes and Twitter...And a great big hello to a four-day work week (a girl can dream), steps towards lifting the 100ml liquids restriction and a new year filled with travel, laughter and adventure. STATS FROM MY 2022 TRAVELS: Trips: 14 (23 in 2019; 8 in 2020; 10 in 2021) Air Miles Flown: 53,719 (it's 24,900 miles around the world) Airline Segments Flown: 29 (48 in 2019; 18 in 2020; 12 in 2021) Airlines Flown: 10 (14 in 2019; 5 in 2020; 4 in 2021) Amount of Time Spent in the Air: 121 hours (183 in 2019; 57 in 2020; 55 in 2021) Total Countries Visited: 16 (17 in 2019; 6 in 2020; 6 in 2021) New Countries Visited (blue bubbles below): 7 (9 in 2019; 0 in 2020; 1 in 2021) Continents Visited: 4 (North America, Asia, Africa & Europe) Nights Spent in a Hotel/Airbnb: 60 (67 in 2019; 35 in 2020; 25 in 2021) #yearinreview #yearintravel #2022 #lanzarote #spain #canaryislands #europe #florida #usa #naples #maimi #staugustine #northamerica #puglia #italy #southoffrance #cannes #antibes #nice #france #madeira #funchal #portugal #turkey #cappadocia #istanbul #asia #marbella #spain #costadelsol #georgia #tbilisi #armenia #chisinau #moldova #nairobi #kenya #amboseli #lakemanyara #ngorongorocrater #serengeti #maasaimara #masaimara #safari #tanzania #marrakech #marrakesh #morocco #boston #massachusetts #newington #connecticut #newyorkcity #newyork #nashville #tennessee #dublin #ireland #muscat #oman #middleeast

  • nashville, tennessee

    Nashville is known as the Music City because of the important role it has played in music history, but it's so much more than just a music mecca. This city has something for everyone, whether you're a foodie, party animal, history buff or sports fanatic. Nashville is absolutely brilliant, oozing with Southern hospitality, endless entertainment and is delicious in every way! Read on for my suggested guide to this fine city... Where to Stay: Dream Nashville is a sleek 168-room hotel located on 4th Avenue, in walking distance to just about everything that makes Nashville's heart beat: Printer's Alley, Broadway, the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, Ryman Auditorium, Bridgestone Arena, Nissan Stadium as well as endless bars, rooftops and restaurants. It's also, conveniently, only a 15-minute drive from BNA International Airport. Getting Around: The best way to explore Nashville is on foot, so hotel location is clutch. As far as I can tell, public transportation isn't really a thing in Nashville, apart from a few busses. It's also not a city where it's easy to raise your arm and hail a taxi, but ride share apps like Lyft and Uber are affordable and work rather well. Where to Eat: Unique and appetizing restaurants are plentiful and can be found in every Nashville neighborhood. Whether you’re seeking traditional Southern country cooking or want to indulge in Michelin-starred cuisine, Nashville's food scene is guaranteed to leave you fat and happy. Fuel up for the day with breakfast at Biscuit Love or brunch at Church and Union. For lunch, gorge on BBQ at Peg Leg Porker in the Gultch, enjoy Mexican at Mas Tacos Por Favor in East Nashville or overindulge with a basket of hot chicken at one of the four Hattie B’s locations. If you have any space left in your tummy for dinner, I recommend Skull’s Rainbow Room. Go for the prime rib and stay for the live jazz/burlesque. You'll need to book in advance. If you're celebrating a special occasion and you feel like splurging, dine at Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak on the 34th floor of the JW Marriott, with spectacular views of Nashville's city lights. Broadway Honky Tonks: Nashville is the home of country, the birthplace of bluegrass and a hotspot for nearly all other musical genres. Y'all best put on your faded blue jeans and cowboy hats, shine up them boots and head on down to Broadway (AKA Honky Tonk Highway), day or night, for world-class live music, 365 days a year. Visit any of the down-home bars along this neon-lit strip to hear legends and wannabe stars playing covers for tips and free booze. Of all the honky tonks, my favorites were Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Robert’s Western World, Lucky Bastard Saloon and The Stage. Be sure to have your ID on you (I got carded in most places). Other Things to Do: If you can tear yourself away from the music and alcohol for a few hours, take in a bit of music history at the Country Music Hall of Fame and/or the Johnny Cash museums. Both were great! Attend a live radio show taping at one of America's most iconic venues: The Grand Ole Opry or the Ryman theater. With three professional sports teams and a AAA baseball team, sports fans are spoiled for choice in Nashville. If schedules align, I highly recommend going to Bridgestone Arena, home of the Nashville Predators, for a fun-filled night of ice hockey. Whatever you fancy, you're likely to find it in Tennessee's capital city. Nashville delivers a far more diverse experience than its music-centric reputation might have you believe. #nashville #smashville #broadway #honkytonk #honkytonk #musiccity #tennessee #usa #northamerica #predators

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