City Break: 48 Hours in Toulouse

Taking advantage of the bank holiday weekend and a cheap return flight (bargain at £25), I found myself jetting off to France’s southern Occitane region. 48 hours in it’s capital of Toulouse.

Known as La Ville Rose, (“the Pink City”) this charming location offered a idyllic whistle stop break away.

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On arrival at Toulouse-Blagnac airport I jumped on board the tram located right outside the arrivals hall. For a reasonable price of just under two Euros for a single journey, the transfer from airport to the city centre was simple and stress free – setting the tone for duration of my visit.

Albi

My first port of call was a trip to the small town located on the Tarn River, just an hour by train from Toulouse, Albi.

This UNESCO World Heritage Centre, offered bags of charm. With picturesque views from either side of the river, quaint streets, red bricked architecture and Saint Cecile cathedral standing glorious.

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If you enjoy spending an afternoon wondering old city streets, taking in historic monuments and simply enjoying some local wine in one of the many bistros or cafes, then this is the place for you.

My time was spent doing just that.

Taking in the impressive cathedral that dominated not only the skyline, but the centre of town. The largest brick build cathedral in the world and the largest painted cathedral in Europe, offers a rather impressive Gothic sight. For a small fee you can spend time inside taking in the colours and geometric patterns painted within.

Jardins de la Berbie was my favourite spot in Albi. Located between Palace de la Berbie and the Tarn River, the terrace offered a perfect view point across to the northern areas of Albi and the beautiful bridges spanning the river.

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Pont Vieux, one of France’s oldest bridges dating back to the 11th century provides quite the photo opportunity of the cathedral across the River Tam. Enchanted by this spot, I could quite happily have sat, taking in the view for hours.

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Toulouse

Back in the city centre of Toulouse there was plenty to keep me occupied. Working my way through the narrow cobbled streets and along the River Garonne, admiring the mix of architecture and enjoying the relaxed, friendly vibes.

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Heading to the heart of the city, I found myself reaching the Place du Capitole and it’s name sake building, Capitole – Toulouse’s town hall. Dated back to 1750 it’s pink marble columns provide a rather impressive facade.

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As one of the many buildings within Toulouse that is free to enter, you can spend time enjoying the artwork and painted ceilings of Salle de Ilustres.

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A short walk from this main square you will stumble across Basilique St-Sernin. With it’s prominent bell tower and distinctive organ playing, it would be hard to miss.

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Toulouse offered a multitude of religious buildings of significant interest. Couvent des Jacobins was by far my favourite.

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Wonder through this elegant structure, admiring it’s ornate stained-glass windows, before heading to the rather tranquil Cloitre des Jacobins. For a very small entrance fee you will be able to enjoy its russet-brick columns surrounding a green courtyard, providing an overwhelming sense of calm.

Before I knew it it was time to depart from the beauty of Toulouse.

The city of colour, with it’s warm climate, had provided a perfect location for a 48 hour break away from home – re-instating my love for the South of France.

City Break: Venice and Verona

After returning from the beautiful region of Tuscany last summer I quickly found myself missing the beauty of Italy. So I got set on planning my next adventure to the one country that captures my heart over and over.

The wondrous floating city of Venice was my destination.

After booking my trip I was rather sceptical after many friends and family advised the city was busy, smelly and often flooded.

I am never one to be put off by another person’s review or opinion. However, I made the decision to pick a date off season, to avoid the crazy tourist season and any extremities in weather. Early February proved to be spot on.

From the moment I landed at Marco Polo International Airport I was not disappointed. Whilst the weather in the UK was cold, wet and windy, I had arrived to blue skies, blazing sunshine and temperatures in double figures (though a jacket was still required now and then).

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Staying just outside the city in the Best Western Tritone, Mestre proved to be the perfect base to visit Venice and it’s surrounding areas.

Day One – Murano & Burano

No visit to the Venetian lagoon would be complete without a visit to these two remarkable islands. Booking a half day boat trip was a great way to experience what they had to offer.

Murano, renowned for a long tradition of glass-blowing, was the first port of call with a live demonstration at a glass blowing factory. The secrets of glass have been closely guarded for years. Even today, there is no official glass school – the skills can only by learned by apprenticeship to one of the glass masters.

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Wonder beyond the numerous glass shops and you can stroll along the tranquil Canal Grande with its 19th century iron bridge or the parish church of San Pietro Martire.

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A short sail away from Murano, is the explosion of colour that is Burano. According to tour guides, fishermen who live on the island painted their houses in bright colours so that they could recognise them from afar whilst out fishing.

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The cheerful island and its charming canals makes for a striking Instagram photo. Without a doubt, Burano has become one of the happiest places I have visited to date.

Day Two – Verona

When I knew I was visiting Venice I had to ensure a trip to Verona was included. Within easy proximity of our hotel base – the city best known as the home town of star crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet was a must!

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The medieval town has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO due to its urban structure and architecture. On visiting, it is clear to see why.

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We spent the day gently strolling around, taking in the sights of Castle San Pietro, Ponte Pietra, the Roman Arena and Ponte di Castelvecchio, to name a view.

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We climbed the 83 metre tower of Torre dei Lamberti, for exceptional views, and spent time at Juliet’s house marvelling at the sea of love letters and taking in the visitors from the famous balcony.

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Day Three – Venice 

On our final day it was the perfect opportunity to take in the sights of the main attraction itself. Jumping on the Vaporetto we cruised down the Grand Canal, taking in the floating city, we took the lift to the bell tower of Campanile di San Marco to marvel at the sights from up high and we stopped for pictures on the Ponte dell’Academia.

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With its famous gondolas, waterways and picturesque views I struggled to understand how anyone could not fall in love with such a beautiful location.

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From San Marco Square with its impressive Basilica to the multitude of bridges – including Ponte di Rialto – there wasn’t a moment I didn’t enjoy. Come off the beaten track and you will find the perfect pizzerias, quiet alleyways and a general sense of peace.

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As I reflect back on my trip to the floating city and its neighbours, it is clear to see I was at an great advantage visiting out of season. Had it been at peak, when cruise ships docked in the height of summer, I don’t see how I would have been able to navigate the tiny alley ways and bridges without feeling frustrated.

Without a doubt, Venice has become one of my favourite locations. To see it all, to take it all in would take more than a few days. I was simply happy navigating the canals, enjoying the view and soaking in the culture, to put down the map and relax with gelato beside the water.

 

City Break: Barcelona

Barcelona. The cosmopolitan capital in the Catalonian region of Spain.

With it’s Mediterranean charm, glorious climate and lively beach culture it is hard to picture Barcelona as a city. With cities you usually imagine a mass populated area at a fast pace.

When I visited Barcelona three years ago, I found the city a far cry from this expectation. Instead what I experienced was a laid back culture, no one was in a rush. Days were filled with Sangria and Siestas, and I instantly fell in love with the culture of the city. Who could not fall in love with a city that requires you to fall back into an easy, carefree way of life.

As with most city breaks, there is never enough time to see everything you want to see. But in my true style I tried to cram in as much of the culture and atmosphere as humanly possible.

Today I reflect on my highlights:

Sagrada Familia the monumental church devoted to the Holy Family. Construction on this iconic building began in 1882 by plans that were drawn up by Fransisco de Paula del Villar. Gaudi was then commissioned to continue the project in 1883. To this day the construction is yet to be completed. This is heavily evident as the two sides of the building look miles apart and, when I visited cranes still framed the impressive sight.

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Many people who visit the city don’t take the time to venture inside. A big mistake. For the rather ugly looking building from the outside, comes alive on the inside. The stain glass windows, filling the church with colour and beauty. If you are able bodied, take the time to walk up the towers of the church. Views from the top were simply stunning.

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Parc Guell

To visit Barcelona and not take the time to visit Parc Guell would be a criminal. Opened as a public park in 1926, it was designed to the work of Antoni Gaudi and provides its visitors with a exquisite display of colour and tranquility. In 1984 UNESCO declared it a world heritage site under “Works of Antoni Gaudi”.

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Tibidabo, the mountain that overlooks the city of Barcelona. Not only does it offer fantastic views of the city below, but also a day of amusement for those who wish to enjoy it.

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As it is here you will find the charming theme park that all the family will enjoy, as well as Tibidabo church. A day to be enjoyed in the Spanish sun.

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Casa Batllo, the renowned building in the centre of the city is one of Gaudi’s master pieces. The detail within the building showcases the work of this genius architect. Patience is needed to visit this sight, the queues can be long and some may say expensive.

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However, the wait and money to enter is well worth it. The work of this man is extraordinary – one of the most memorable and stunning pieces of architecture I have had the pleasure of experiencing to date.

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As with most cities, there is always plenty to see and do. Barcelona does not disappoint. From watching a football match at Camp Nu (not high on my list) and taking in the display of the  Magic Fountain to strolling down Las Ramblas and visiting Montjuic Castle – there is enough to keep everyone occupied for several days.

And with Barcelona’s laid back culture, you can spend those days sipping Sangria and eating Tapas whilst soaking up the atmosphere and the sun.

City Break: 4 days in Boston

When I planned a short break to Boston eight months ago, I expected a city much like others in the USA – busy, loud and fast paced. What I actually experienced on arrival was so much different.

A smaller city to explore in comparison to the likes of New York, you can easily take four days at a leisurely pace and manage to fit in everything you want to see.

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I made no set plan in the lead up to my trip. It was probably the least organised I have been when planning a holiday. Usually I have lists of sights to be seen and daily itineraries. Maybe I sensed the more relaxed city pace, maybe I was just happy to be away enjoying the company of the other half or maybe it was a mixture of the two.

Either way, I have never come away from a break to the USA with my head filled with so much culture and history.

As I mentioned, I did not plan out our days as I usually would, other than a half day trip. My other half had things he wanted to see, being a big sports fan, and restaurants he wanted to eat at after watching numerous episodes of Man vs Food! So we took each day as it came – we tried to get sights further away from our hotel ticket off first so we had more time to enjoy the area around our hotel – The Boston Park Plaza.

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Day one was filled with a leisurely walk down to Fenway Park, which was obviously closed for the season, as this was one of the sights furthest from our hotel.

On our way back we strolled down Newbury Street, checking out what the shops had to offer. If you have been to Boston, you will know it is one of the most beautiful shopping streets you will encounter. Known as the “Rodeo Drive” of the East the street is simply enchanting offering a mix of designer and high street stores to coffee shops and restaurants.

By the time we had got back to the main hub of the city it was approaching the afternoon, so we took time to take in Boston Public Gardens and Boston Common. I had read reviews about spending a leisurely amount of time around this area, enjoying the sunshine, perhaps taking a Swan Boat onto the pond. At the beginning of February, although the sun was beaming, the opportunity to linger was not there. The pond was heavily frozen over and there were no Swan Boats in sight. That did not make a difference, as it was just as stunning to take in during the colder months as a imagine it would be in the Summer. Many adventurers were even walking across the frozen pond and making patterns in the ice – definitely not something I was prepared to risk even with my adventurous nature.

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My favourite part of the Common was the “Make Way for Ducklings Statue.” Inspired by the children’s picture book by Robert McCloskey the ducklings were clearly feeling the sub zero temperatures as they were donning some rather fetching wooly hats to keep their heads warm.

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After lingering on the Common a little too long it was time to defrost ourselves and we did so by heading over to the Harpoon Brewery.

Located on the Boston waterfront, the transformed warehouse space offers a fantastic tour, including tastings for $5. Here you can learn about the history of the brewery, the process and the opportunity to obviously taste the majority of their produce. Not a massive beer fan myself (I much prefer the rolling hills of a winery), I tentatively tasted a few of the offerings – preferring the ciders or fruit tasting beers they had on tap. The other half was in his element – I believe tasting every beer they had on offer during the tour.

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His tasting did not end after the tour either, stopping at the bar for a few more tasters (paid for of course) before having to drag him away for a light dinner and early bed (we were still on London time after all).

After a restful nights sleep it was my day to drag the other half to the sights that were on my agenda, mainly Harvard University.

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We took the T Train just a few stops to the prestigious Ivy league university to take in the beautiful architecture and history. Interestingly – we would find out the next day – the university itself is actually made up of 70% international students.

The university buildings, the surrounding architecture and the neighbourhoods in the vicinity were simply divine, I was quickly trying to work out which houses we could purchase as a holiday home – throw in the snow that was starting to fall and we found ourselves in one of the most picturesque spots in the USA.

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We decided (well me) to walk all the way back into the city centre rather than take the train, so we could get more feel of the area – and I wanted to loop round to the Bunker Hill Monument. However, the beautiful gentle falling snow we saw at the beginning of our walk in Cambridge quickly turned into a snow blizzard in the space of twenty minutes. When they say snow is forecasted in Boston – they mean the snow is coming!

So we took a pit stop in a sports bar, just in time for the other half to watch the football game back home.

Eventually the snow blizzard turned to heavy rain and we decided, that night, to not stray too far from the hotel, get another early night so we were refreshed and ready for the half day trip booked for the next day.

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Day three was our bus trip to Lexington and Concord, via Harvard.

From the get go the tour we booked with Viator was superb. The driver and guide was clearly passionate about Boston, its surrounding areas and all the history it had to offer. We were bombarded for the whole trip with interesting facts and timeline of the American revolution and the Civil Wars.

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We drove along the famous battle trail, following the same path Paul Revere took in 1775.

At Lexington Green the guide unfolded history, going into detail about the battle that took place here – where the opening shots of the American Revolution were fired.

We then continued along the path taken by British soldiers and the road Paul Revere took to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that “the British were coming.” Though this was not the phrase shouted, as legend leads us to believe.

The tour continued into Concord, stopping by Old North Bridge – the historic site in the Battle of Concord, the first day of battle in the Revolutionary war.

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Along the tour we also passed the house of the famous Louisa May Alcott – the author of Little Women (a sight I was particularly interested in seeing) and the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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Soon enough our half day tour was coming to an end, so we were off down the pike back to the city centre.

Just in time for a spot of lunch at Cheers – “where everybody knows your name”.

Well they did not know my name, but I had the dish I had been craving for since arriving in the USA – Mac ‘N’ Cheese! I don’t know if it was freshly made or out of the box, but it was just what I needed after our morning tour.

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The day concluded with more wondering round the city, trying to spot the things we had not managed to see, taking roads we had not walked down and generally working off the Mac ‘N’ Cheese on my part.

We briefly passed the Boston Celtics, but was rather disappointed with not being able to see anything without a tour. We passed the Massachusetts State House in all its glory, we wondered around Quincy Market – picking up souvenirs to take home – and generally strolled through the city back to the hotel.

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Our last night in the city, we headed for Maggiano’s Little Italy for dinner. A stones thrown from our hotel, it had mixed reviews. But for us, we saw no fault. The service, the ambience and the food were simply excellent. It was just what we needed for such a jam packed day.

Day four, our final day. As with all final days you do feel at a loose end. Hotel check outs usually are around 12pm and flights back to the UK not until later that evening. So filling your time, but at the same time being conscious that you cannot venture too far, means you have to fill your time wisely.

So we simply spent the last remaining hours at the Samuel Adams brewery. This free tour must feature on your list. Like the tour with Harpoon Brewery, you will discover information about how the brew is made and the history of the company itself. But what stands out here is the way it is delivered. The insightful, friendly staff have bounds of energy (or perhaps beer) and are clearly passionate about what they do.

With the free tour they offer tastings, which in our group being so early in the day meant plentiful amounts of beer and root beer for those not so keen like me. In addition for me, I discovered that there are beers in the world (obviously Samuel Adams) that I actually enjoy. It’s just a shame that they are not distributed to general sale – only at the brewery itself.

The tour was a fantastic way to end what was a whirlwind, culture infused city break.

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Boston you have fast become one of my favourite places!

If you are thinking about visiting. Don’t think about it – just book it!

Eight Hours in Paris

As someone who loves to travel at any opportunity and a great lover of a bargain at the same time I was quick to book some cheap Eurostar tickets to Paris several years ago (almost exactly five years ago to be precise). With the return journey being less than £50 per person I would have been a fool not to, especially as Paris was on my travel bucket list.

So I quickly got to planning what I could fit into an eight hour trip to the French Capital, booking in a “hop-on-hop-off” to ensure that I ticked off as much as possible.

First port of call was the Eiffel Tower – the most recognisable landmark in the city. Exiting the Metro, the tower looming above, I headed straight to the line for tickets to see the view from the top. What a better way to start the day than having bubbles at the top, taking in the 360 degree views across the city.

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So after taking in the views and a few glasses of champagne I jumped on board the sightseeing bus to the next stop on my list – Notre Damme cathedral.

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The medieval Catholic cathedral is widely known to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and one of the most iconic church buildings in the world. It simply did not disappoint. The exterior is simply impressive, the interior equally so with beautiful architecture and stained glass windows.

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If you have a little time to spare I would thoroughly recommend spending a few Euros to climb the spiral staircase to the roof top of the cathedral. Although it could be a tough ascent to the top – the views are extremely rewarding, with views across the River Seine with the Eiffel Tower standing as a proud backdrop.

Next stop on the whirlwind day trip was the Louvre – the world’s largest art museum and the central landmark within the city. Famous for housing many pieces that would please many art fanatics, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, here you could easily spend hours upon hours roaming the beautiful building taking on all the collections the museum has to offer.

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Personally, as someone who is not that big on the arts, I found the actual building of the Louvre and it’s history, more impressive than what it housed. For many years I wanted to see the Mona Lisa believing in my head that it would be this massive masterpiece. I was rather disappointed to see it in the flesh. You know you have found the piece as visitors gravitate towards it. In reality, I found myself feeling deflated. Though I am not denying it is a impressive painting, it was rather smaller than I had expected.

Though the time at the Louvre was well spent wandering numerous rooms, I do feel that the hours I spent here were rather wasted for such a short trip. It would have been better planned to visit several other sights that were on my list and save the vast collections of the Louvre for a longer trip.

After an early dinner and wandering up the Champs-élysées, night was starting to fall and my time in one of the most romantic cities in the world was coming to a fast end.

It was only fitting that the final sight I would fit into the itinerary would be the Arc de Triomphe. Another amazing monument, which honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

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Here, if you take the lift into the attic you can learn about its history in the small museum. If you take the 46 steps onto the roof you will be able to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

By the time I reached the roof of this magnificent building, the city was dark but lit up spectacularly. The Eiffel Tower, the start of my Parisian adventure, was twinkling in the distance. It was rather fitting that my trip started and ended with the tower in sight.

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After lingering and taking in the views, it was time to head back to Gare du Nord station, ready for my return trip to London.

What a whirlwind day, attempting to fit in as many of the iconic landmarks as possible.

As with most European city day trips, there is never enough time to take it all in. I fully intend to return to the French capital in the future, perhaps extending my adventures to the outskirts of the city itself.

 

City Break: J’adore Bordeaux!

Whilst my suitcase was barely unpacked from my trip to Budapest back in September I was already hunting down the next adventure. Then came along the Ryanair sale and before I had the chance to stop myself, a cheap flight to Bordeaux was booked – ooops!

I don’t often get to travel this time of year, due to previous work commitments, so the opportunity to spend the “Black Friday” weekend away from the hustle and bustle of crazy Christmas shoppers was something I was not going to pass up.

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Bordeaux provided the perfect opportunity to escape the madness!

Located in the Aquitaine region, in southwestern France, this UNESCO listed city has oodles of charm with its 18th – 19th century Gothic architecture and of course being the capital of wine it is the perfect location to experience a variety of wine tasting.

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Unsurprisingly, with my love of wine, my first port of call was Cité du Vin – a unique museum dedicated to the heritage of wine located on the banks of the Garonne. I decided to work up my thirst by taking a long walk round, crossing the Pont de Pierre bridge and taking in the river views from the west side of the city.

Within minutes of setting across the bridge it was clear to see that Bordeaux is a city full of active residents. I lost count of how many runners passed me en-route to Cité du Vin. There were so many, I actually thought that there must be some kind of race taking place. However, I quickly discovered that residents just have a love for running – and who would not want to run in such a picturesque city? The flat route along the Garonne offers such views, with plenty to keep your mind occupied.

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Crossing back over the river saw me walking over the Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas bridge and offering the most perfect view of Cité du Vin as a result.

You will need to allow yourself around two hours to enjoy all the exhibits the museum has to offer. For twenty euros you can work your way around the attraction at your own pace, with a personal guide to assist you. Then take yourself up to the eight floor, as included in the cost of your ticket is a wine tasting with panoramic views of the city.

For any wine lover it is the perfect place to spend your first few hours in Bordeaux.

It is easy to cover some considerable distance during your time in the city. And I certainly did that after my visit to the museum. Heading back along the Garonne I took my time wondering the streets, taking in the 18th century architecture and all the beautiful sights.

You cannot miss the Place de la Bourse whilst walking along the river bank. The impressive landmark square, with the world’s largest reflecting pool of Miroir d’eau.

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This was an area that has to be visited in daylight and then again at night. It is simply magical.

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Wonder a little further into the main hub of the city and you will spend hours strolling along Rue de Catherine. The shopping hub of this city offers a mix of recognisable clothing retailers, boutique shops, cafes and chocolate shops. I spent many hours wondering, window shopping and purchasing chocolate and macarons to take home.

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In the vicinity you will also find the Grand Theatre, Cathedral Saint-Andre, Monument aux Girondins and Port Calihau – all equally impressive, especially lit up with Christmas trees and lights at this time of year.

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It you like a little nature I thoroughly recommend visiting Jardin Public! The gardens here are small, but ever so beautiful. With the changing of seasons, they provided such a stunning backdrop for a leisurely afternoon stroll.

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With thirteen miles covered I decided to call it a day – heading back to the hotel for a little rest and recuperation, along with plenty of wine of course.

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The second day’s plans saw me pick up a half day tour to Saint-Emilion – the charming medieval village located in the heart of the this wine region. The village offers world famous wineries, fine wine, beautiful architecture and fantastic monuments. Booking the day trip with Viator meant that as well as visiting Chateaux Champion for a wine tour and tastings, I also got a guided underground tour of the largest monolithic church in Europe. This picture perfect village is a sight to behold; the views, the history and the vibe completely stole my heart.

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Photos simply don’t do it justice. Visiting during the off peak season, during pruning season was somewhat beneficial – the streets were quiet meaning the free time we were given to explore the village was rather blissful. Our guide made a point in advising that peak season in the area proves to be rather stressful, with the streets bursting with tourists.

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Saint- Emilion quickly became a place dear to my heart. I only wish that I had more time to explore, to sample more wine in the numerous wineries and take time to taste the local produce. One village that will definitely require a re-visit at some point, perhaps in the peak season when the vines are blooming!

With the half day trip over, my time in Bordeaux was soon to come to an end. Spending the next morning retracing steps in the city I picked up some souvenirs to take home and generally took in as much of the culture I possibly could.

As my first solo break, Bordeaux was a cultural treat offering me the opportunity to relax and unwind, whilst continuing to be active.

Though smaller than other French cities, the charm and culture is plentiful. Anyone planning to visit will not be disappointed. Bordeaux is simply a city that needs to be added to your bucket list.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Nestled in the glorious depths of Cornwall you will find The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Boasting over 200 acres, it is renowned for being one of the most mysterious and romantic estates in England – a genuine secret garden that for years was overgrown.

Today it has over 20 gardeners and estate workers cultivating the walled gardens, growing vegetables and creating a thriving community to ensure that it remains is it is now – a magical place to visit.

As my sister lives in Cornwall I have been to the county numerous of times and never ventured to the estate myself. With my nephews being extremely young in recent years we stayed close to home taking them out to soft play, local beaches, zoos and farms.

During my recent visit this week we decided to take the boys to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. As a strong advocate of keeping active and teaching those of a young age to be active, I wanted to get them out exploring. And they were thrilled at the thought of going back – as unbeknown to me they have annual passes. Though I think the child in me was more excited to see the estate, take in the scenery and generally be outdoors during my stay. I thought the boys would be bored – I was so wrong.

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Those working at the gardens advise that you need a couple of days to take in everything the estate has to offer. However, in the three hours we were wondering the grounds we covered a fair amount of distance. And the boys were not bored at all, they were enchanted with everything the estate has to offer.

 

Starting along the “woodland walk” we followed the path round, spending time clambering over the “giants adventure trail”, taking pictures of the Giants Head and Mud Maid. This area seemed to be one of the busiest areas – with everyone keen to get their own pictures – so we swiftly moved along to areas that gave us the serenity to walk around at our own pace.

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We made our way down to the “jungle” area – which was simply breathtaking – walking down to the raised boardwalk around the water towards the area dubbed as “Fern Gully.”

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Here the boys remained enchanted with the idea that this was where the fairies lived (obviously me telling them so) and spent an age spotting tadpoles in the water.

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Moving on we started to walk along the path known as the Georgian Ride through the “Lost Valley” taking in the Charcoal Sculpture and tackling Bottle Dump Hill and Higher Sunken lane – with buggy in tow. The older boys aged five and three, did not complain one bit. The sense of adventure within them keeping their legs going on the upward climb. So proud of their good behaviour they were treated to some ice cream that was suitably located in the picnic area at the top of the hill. To be honest I was relieved to have a sit down after taking turns to push the buggy up the steep hills.

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Refuelled and ready for some more adventure we ventured on to the home farm – taking in the animals – before wondering around the gardens through Floras Green. It was here I was told by one of my nephews that he wanted to go home. Several hours walking in this adventurous estate had finally tired him out (for the next hour or so at least).

So we made our way home – happy to have spent a good number of hours exploring but at the same time sad to leave such a magical place.

And it is simply that – magical. There were many parts we did not see, some due to the children being too young – for example the rope bridge. I would love to take them back in a few years time when they are able to explore this area too. And when the youngest no longer needs a pushchair – as trying to push this up some of the rocky hills was somewhat of a challenge. But a good work out for both myself and my sister.

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If you are currently in Cornwall or if you are planning a visit in the coming months I would thoroughly recommend adding the Lost Gardens of Heligan to your list. Pack a light lunch and refreshments and spend the whole day exploring.

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Compared to some other attractions in the area it is reasonably priced, making it a wonderful day out for all the family or even just an adventurous day out for those without children. No matter your situation you will simply be enchanted by this charming attraction.

Game of Thrones Tour

With Game of Thrones due to return to our screens in less than a week, for the seventh series, it has got me reminiscing about travel adventures past.

In early 2016 I treated Ross to a Game of Thrones tour, which departed from Belfast, for his birthday. With him being an avid fan of the TV series and myself having read the books (but not watched the show), we were both keen to pack our bags for a short adventure to the Emerald Isle – obviously turning the Game of Thrones tour Game of Thrones tour into a cheeky city break to Belfast.

For anyone who is a big fan of the show or books, this tour is simply a must. For those who are not a fan, but would still love to see the beautiful sights along the Antrim coast then you will be equally enchanted by the views on offer here.

Starting in central Belfast you will journey along the coast (the longest part of the trip without a stop) with the tour guide pointing out landmarks of interest on the way.

Stopping first at a small town called Glencoy. Here you will be shown a filming spot from season six, where Ayra Stark climbs out of the water via the stone steps. A short stop to allow pictures and you will be on your way again.

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The next stop on the tour was the Cushenden caves. The filming location where Melisandre of Asshai gives birth to her shadow assassin. Here you are able to walk into the caves, take pictures and try to imagine what it would have been like with everything needed to complete filming the scene.

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After this stop, the tour allows time for lunch – which you can purchase if you wish. Personally, as a vegetarian I did not find the food options that great. So I would advise to keep your options open by bringing a packed lunch – which you are allowed to eat at the venue.

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Once lunch is consumed you will be on your way to the next area on this tour which will see you visit the Camp of Renly Baratheon of Storms end, followed by one of my high lights of the tour – the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. Crossing the bridge is optional, you are not forced to do it. However there is a charge for this that is not covered within the fee of the tour. I would thoroughly recommend paying this – unless of course you are scared of heights and rope bridges. There is not much to see on the other side of the bridge – but it is an experience to cross it, especially if your other half is a man child like mine and decides to bounce it whilst you are crossing (something I did not find it funny). If you don’t want to cross I would still recommend the walk up to the bridge – the views are simply stunning, though the walk when we went in the winter was slightly bracing (hold on to your hats and scarves).

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After a quick drive up the road the next location will see you visit Lordsport, the port town on the Islands of Pyke, in the Iron Islands, where Theon Greyjoy returns to his family and betray those who raise him.

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The next stop on the tour is not featured in the TV series, but you cannot take the trip along the Antrim coast without visiting the famous Giants Causeway. The UNESCO listed site is simply breathtaking. The tour allows you a good hour to explore the area – but to be honest you could easily spend the best part of a day here. We spent the time simply clambering over rocks, taking pictures and generally trying to ignore the fact that we could no longer feel our ears (yes, in April it was that cold and windy).

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Sad to leave the Giants Causeway but desperate to see the final location on our tour we made our way back to the bus and on wards to the photo stop on the “Kings Road.” The Dark Hedge, with its natural archway and intertwined trees is remarkable. As one of the most photographed locations in Northern Ireland this is where Ayra Stark dressed as a boy to escape the Kings Landing. An incredible final location for the full days tour, we took our photos and were soon back in the city centre of Belfast.

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This tour is exceptional, it was definitely worth the money I spent. Both myself and Ross had an amazing day, with memories to remember for a lifetime.

Plus, it gave us reason to visit Belfast. A rather small city in comparison to others we have visited, it still offered plenty to see and do.

And of course no visit to Belfast would be complete without a trip to Titanic Belfast and the Crumlin Road Goal, both filled with fascinating facts that would thrill anyone interested in the history of this thriving city.

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As with most city breaks, the time is short but very sweet and we were soon on our way home. Ross found a new love for the country and as such we came back in February 2017 to visit Dublin.

Next on the bucket list, most likely for 2018, is a trip to the Kings Landing. Continuing our Game of Thrones tours in the beautiful city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

 

 

City break: Prague

Facebook takes great joy in reminding you on a daily basis what your memories are for this day in time. Today they reminded me that this time last year we had landed in Prague for our much needed and delayed trip.

Prague is a top European city destination no matter what time of year you go. But to have the pleasure walking around the city without a jacket and experience its stunning baroque buildings under blue skies was a treat.

If you are looking for a break filled with history and of course the beer then look no further, book a trip today. It was one of the most memorable city breaks Ross and I have experienced together to date. My only faux pas was booking a hotel slightly out of the main centre due to the fact that they had a swimming pool – which we were not allowed to use. Don’t make that mistake – book closer to the main centre if you can.

That said – being out of the town meant that we covered many miles each day on foot, ensuring we had plenty of beer stops for Ross of course.

Day one had to be spent seeing the iconic Charles Bridge and the bridge we ended up crossing every day. The bridge is a stunning piece of architecture dating back to the 15th century (when construction was finally finished). One can only cross this by foot – no cars. So you can take your time strolling across, listening to the street performers and taking numerous photographs.

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Over the bridge into the Old Town Square is the famous astronomical clock. Time it to arrive on the hour and you will see the clock come to life with 12 apostles passing by the window above the dial and symbolic features moving aside.

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Being one of the most popular tourist attractions within the city, it attracts large groups of people into the square to watch the clock come to life. If you have time, climb to the top of the tower for fantastic views of the Square, the red roofed buildings and the castle in the distance.

 

Day two saw us spend more time closer to our hotel exploring Prague Castle, the grounds and St Vitus Cathedral.

An area that was also popular with tourists. You could easily spend a day here exploring everything that the area has to offer – paying to tour the cathedral and museums in and around the castle. We were just happy to potter around the grounds, taking pictures, enjoying the stunning views across the river and even watching the changing of the guard.

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After a mid morning pit stop we ventured on our way to the Petrin look out tower, a 63.5 metre tall steel frame work tower, which I was told strongly resembled the Eiffle Tower (though on a smaller scale) and had some fabulous views over the river and of Prague castle too. We were not disappointed here.

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After a long climb of 299 steps (and feeling the structure sway too) we finally made it to the top. The views were stunning. If you are up for the climb I would definitely recommend making the effort for the views alone.

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Plenty of pictures later we made our descent to ground level, wondering through the park grounds and back across the river for some lunch, I believe some beer and a hunt through the city to find the Dancing House and John Lennon wall – a must for any Beatles fan.

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Our final day was spent doing a mixture of activities from a cruise on the river Vltava – soaking in the sights from a different view – visiting the Prague Beer Museum and wondering round enjoying everything Prague had to offer.

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We covered a lot in the short time we were in the city. But I know there was so much more to see. If we wanted to spend more time indoors then there were plenty of museums to visit – but we enjoyed being out in the sun soaking up the culture of Prague itself.

Sadly, as with all adventures, there has to be an ending. And the next day it was time for this one to end. With our new found love of Prague we flew home promising to return one day soon.

If you are looking for a city break this summer, or even beyond that, add Prague to your list. Not only does it offer so much culture, it is a diverse city that suits travellers of every budget. You will not be disappointed.

California Dreaming….

This time last week I was sitting in the sun, glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand and listening to live cover bands at the Vista Strawberry festival. Already my adventures in San Diego, California are becoming a distant memory and the post holiday blues have most certainly set in as I am now back to reality of work, unpredictable English weather and the feeling that the next holiday is far too far away.

Therefore, in order to keep my adventures alive in my mind, I share my highlights, my favourite days and those attractions that I would advise other travellers to avoid.

Day one saw us cover a massive 13 miles round the city. A beautiful sunny day, I was happy to explore the city mainly on foot. Jumping on the “trolley” we headed down to Seaport Village for a wonder round the marina, soaking up the views and enjoying the glorious sunshine. Moving on from the area we headed to the famous Gaslamp Quarter – what became one of my favourite areas in the city. Known as the historic heart here you will find a multitude of bars, restaurants and events. Here we stopped for refreshments and to wonder round the shops.

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With so much to see we didn’t linger for too long. Off we went, walking the streets all the way to Balboa Park – which is simply a MUST for anyone visiting San Diego. Beautiful grounds in the middle of the city, with plenty to keep you busy. One could easily spend a couple of days here – especially if you enjoy museums, there are a whopping 17 museums to keep you busy if that is something you fancy. Not wanting to spend any time indoors, when the weather was so amazing, we simply chose to stroll around the park, taking in all the architecture. Of which there was so much to take in, all the buildings along El Prado were a sight to see. From the botanical building, Lily pond, the Japanese Friendship Garden, to name a few, even if you decide not to visit the museums there is plenty to keep you occupied. And if you fancy a spot of lunch I would thoroughly recommend stopping at The Prado at Balboa Park or even bringing your own picnic.

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Day two saw us venture down to the USS Midway museum. For anyone who is interested in their history then this is definitely worth a visit. For just $18 (if you book an online ticket), this is a great day out for all. We spent a good 2-3 hours at the museum, which allows you to get a sense of how life on the USS Midway would have been like. You can also watch short films about the history of the Midway and how it came into commission. The flight deck was the highlight for me – where you could wonder round the planes and helicopters. Ross was in his element! The area surrounding the Midway had plenty to see too – the Famous “Kissing Statue”, Bob Hope memorial and various monuments to honour those who lost their lives in service – including Pear Harbour.

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In perfect proximity, we then headed to Little Italy. We after all needed refreshments and I wanted to check out the area. We found a perfect spot for coffee for Ross and a San Pellegrino for me. Then came back a few nights later for dinner at Davanti Enoteca – great pizzas, though the wine was a little more pricey than other establishments we had come across so far.

Over the next few days we continued our adventures with gusto. Visiting the area of Carlsbad to Legoland – which I would not recommend at all. $90 for a day where a lot of rides were closed, there was no atmosphere and If we did not visit the coast line afterwards, it would have been a complete day wasted.

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The area of Pacific beach should definitely be on your list. The beach is simply stunning, no Instgram filters needed here. The sea front is lined with many restaurants, bars and there is plenty to keep you occupied too. If you are an active person, then you would fit right in with many of the locals who were running, skate boarding, cycling and roller skating along the beach front!

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We continued exploring the coast line. With stunning beaches continuing – at Del Mar, Encinitas and we even travelled as far as Huntington Beach – which was heaving with those celebrating Memorial Day weekend.

Travelling slightly outside of San Diego and North County we could not resist a trip to the Wine Country of Temecula. What a day. Being slightly inland resulted in a rise in heat – boasting 90+ degrees on the day we visited – I was in my element. Wine and sunshine – two of my favourite things. Visiting two wineries in the area, Callaway and South Coast was simply a dream. I loved every minute of the day – taking in the views and tasting A LOT of wine. Then, after, visiting the Old Town of Temecula too. It was one of many great days we had during our holiday – something I definitely would do again and recommend others to do.

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La Jolla. What can I say about La Jolla? If you have been to the area but not stopped by here, then shame on you. It is simply paradise. The views are amazing – I could sit for hours on the coast line just doing nothing! It is so tranquil. And to top it off, you get to see Sea Lions and Seals in their natural habitat. At sunset they were chilling on the beach, but during the day they were swimming in the sea – very close to the beaches or sunning themselves on the rocks. A sight to see for sure, and definitely an experience worth having. The area is known as the “Beverly Hills” of San Diego so you can imagine what the high street was like. Ferrari and Maserati show rooms, roof top bars with Ocean views and estate agents dubbing the area as “Billionaires Row.” I fell in love with La Jolla and would happily retire here – if I was a billionaire of course.

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Sadly, shortly after visiting La Jolla, our holiday was closing to an end. For the first time ever we were not ready to go home. So different from other breaks in the USA, we simply felt at home here. We wanted to stay, we wanted to see more. So we packed in a few more days of fun; including shopping at the Mexican borders in San Ysidro, a local Strawberry Festival at Vista and on the very last day, in our last remaining hours we stopped off at Coronado Island for brunch, a walk along the sea front and even managed to wonder round the Hotel del Coronado – the hotel where Marilyn Monroe was famously filmed in “Some Like It Hot.”

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San Diego must have been in mourning for our departure as the sun did not shine at all that day – the only day in our two weeks that we did not see a peak.

So our adventures in the Golden State were over and it was time to come home. Five days later, with jet lag still in force, I am missing the sunny care free days in California. Sadly this is what happens with holidays, they have to come to an end, we have to return to reality and start saving and planning for the next adventure.

I never expected to love San Diego as much as I did, expecting more time on the sun lounger than on my feet. But there you go, some places in the world just surprise you and stay with you. San Diego certainly did that. And I will welcome any opportunity to go back, perhaps explore a little more of the state of California too.

In the meantime, reality is beckoning on a Sunday evening….