To Hull (& Europe) and Back: Part II

Don’t forget to read Parts I and III.

Day 4 – Dunkerque and Ypres

It’s only an hour’s drive to Dunkerque this morning where 2015 marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Dunkerque and Operation Dynamo and between 21 and 25 May, a number of events will be taking part to commemorate this historic marker.  Visit the War Memorial Museum for just €4 pp and learn about the Battle and evacuation of over 300,000 allied soldiers during Operation Dynamo.

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Sanctuary Wood, Ypres. Photo by Amanda Slater.

Make your way to Ypres, only a 45 minute journey away, and head straight to an early lunch at Den Olifant.  There is much to do in Ypres but we recommend the Grand Tour of Flanders which lasts for 4 hours and starts at 1pm costing €38 pp.  The tour gives a very real insight into Ypres 1914-1918 and you will visit a number of battlegrounds and the trenches, a deeply thought provoking experience.

Spend the night in Ypres at the Albion Hotel or Hotel Ariane (also great for food).

Day 5 – Lille

It’s a short drive to Lille this morning before having the remainder of the day to explore.  Try Tradi’Balade, a tour of the city in a 2CV, great for Bond fans and lovers of classic cars.  From €28 pp for an hour’s tour, this may be the perfect way to begin your stay in Lille before venturing out into the city on foot.  Head to the Grand Square, where the old stock exchange (Vieille Bourse) is located and admire the buildings and then stop at one of the many cafes around the Square for lunch.

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Vieille Bourse.  Photo by Yann Caradec.

Take a closer look at the Vieille Bourse and sneak a peak at its courtyard (free entry Tuesday afternoon until Sunday) and pop inside to its flea market where you could well pick up a bargain.  Also, every Sunday evening from July to September between 7-10pm, you can enjoy watching the Tango being performed here.

Spend the next 2 nights at either the modern Hotel Barrière Lille just 15 minutes from the centre or choose the beautifully historic L’Hermitage Gantois just 5 minutes from the centre, previously used as a hospital.

Day 6 – Lille

If you enjoy modern art and don’t mind a drive out of the city, make your way to Musee d’Art Moderne which has displays both inside and out, not too dissimilar to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  It’s open most of the year (but for 1 January, 1 May and 25 December) from Tuesday to Sunday 9am until 7pm and costs from €7 per adult.  We like the ‘Objets Perdus’…..a centrepiece which forms a map of France from lost objects; a rather lovely juxtaposition.

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Musee d’Art Moderne.  Photo by Olivier Bacquet.

If you are with younger travellers, spend the afternoon at Parc Zoologique which opens again on 2 May and has no entry fee.  A municipal park, similar to that in Amiens, Lille’s Parc Zoo is home to a plethora of animals you wouldn’t expect in the city including monkeys, rhino and tapirs.

Dine out at Le Potager des Demoiselles Cote Bistro, a cosy little restaurant which serves great wine, meals and desserts.  It’s a drive out of the centre and so if you’re feeling more inclined to relax at a restaurant which is central, try Autour de Vous which has been impressing food critics, locals and tourists and for something a little different, head to Delassic for a cheese and wine night.  Watch out for special evenings where you can taste 9 cheeses, 4 wines and finish with a dessert for €40 pp.

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Lille. Photo by Craig Morey.

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To Hull (& Europe) and Back: Part I

This 10 night itinerary covering six cities in Europe begins in Hull and takes you over to Zeebrugge, returning via Rotterdam.  With Zeebrugge being such a wonderful gateway to Europe, the options are endless and so this itinerary is just one of the many adventures you could have.

Day 1 – Crossing the North Sea

The ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge leaves in the evening and so you can sleep on through the night ready for your city break adventure.  If you can, upgrade to the Club room which offers far more comfort.  If you don’t want to pay the price in advance, always check on the day immediately when boarding just in case there are any rooms available in Club…..you may get a steal!

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Bruges at night. Photo by artorusrex.

Day 2 – Bruges

Arrive early into Zeebrugge and head to Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage City, to explore the chocolate box centre.  As you will be arriving early, stop for breakfast at Prestige Patisserie where you can indulge in the Prestige breakfast which includes some very delicious pastries.  There is also a shop on site stocked full of delicious treat including breads, pastries, cakes and quiches that you may find it hard to leave without a little souvenir for later.

After breakfast head to Basilica of the Holy Blood, which looks to be a small and yet beautifully ornate church tucked away in the corner of a square.  It’s quite dark inside, giving away its 12th Century build.  It claims to have the blood of Christ in a vial which you can see between 11:30-12pm (or 2 – 4pm) and even better, if you are there in May, you can witness the procession around Bruges.  Whether religious or not, this is a lovely little church to see and entrance is free.

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Basilica of the Holy Blood.  Photo by Chris Brown.

For lunch, why not indulge in a compulsory Belgian Waffle at the Carpe-diem Tearoom.  You will then need to burn off at least part of that heavenly lunch stop and so we recommend you head to the Belfry……sadly not a golf course but gladly, a wonderful view over Bruges once you have climbed the 366 steps.

Spend the night at Martin’s Relais Oud Huis which overlooks the canal or the luxurious Grand Hotel Casselbergh.

Day 3 – Bruges

Begin your day with a trip on the canal.  Boats operate between March and November and the first trip sails at 10am.  Each boat company offers the same 30 minute tour and price (just shy of €8 pp) and so no need to shop around.

After this gentle start to the morning, it’s time to get moving and work up an appetite for your late lunch.  If you’re into your films, why not try a free 2 hour walking tour which will take you to filming locations spotted in the film ‘In Bruges’ (tours usually start at 12pm, 2:20pm and 3pm from various locations).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, try a segway tour of the city which lasts between 1 and 2 hours with prices starting from €35 pp.  For those of you who are feeling more active, skip the morning canal trip and take a cycling tour of the city which departs at 10am for 2.5 hours and costs €28 pp.  Upon your return, consider that restful canal trip before taking lunch.

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Segway on Bruges.  Photo by Michela Simoncini.

As you are in Belgium, build in a lunch stop at De Halve Mann brewery where you can enjoy 3 courses (including beer pate!) for €29 pp.  After lunch, take a tour lasting 40 minutes and be rewarded with a pint at the end, all for just €8 pp.

Make sure you stop at possibly the best chocolate shop in town, Dumon.  Set in a 400 year old brick building, you really will feel spoiled by the choice it offers.  If you have time and you really do love chocolate, visit the Chocolate Museum which will take about an hour.  If you want to take it a step further, take a workshop where you can make your own chocolates and take them home with you!

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Chocolate treats from Dumon. Photo by Cody & Maureen.

For evening drinks, we like Duvelorium for the views and for the beer, to Le Trappiste which is Bruges’ first international beer cafe.

Click to read Part II

Click HERE to read Part II

10 Things to do in Tenerife

  • Visit the Agromercado in Costa Adeje.  This is a farmers market where locals do their shopping.  When we visited, we were the only British there and so it’s a great way to test your Spanish!  We were self catering and so stocked up with a few things for the week and cooked some tasty meals with this delicious fresh produce.

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  • Loro Parque is a conservation park in the usually cooler part of the island, Puerto de la Cruz, and is great for all ages and particularly good for families.  There is an option at the beginning to upgrade (you can go behind the scenes, have lunch included, a guided tour and reserved seating to allow for the best views) and we recommend you do.  It’s such a huge park and by doing this, we felt we made the most of our time there.

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  • Candelaria is a lovely place to wander around.  The Basilica of Candelaria is quite impressive and if you venture up the hill, you can take a lovely photo of the square.  Another good thing about this place is that it has great ice-cream shops!

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  • Mount Tiede is something not to miss.  The journey there is quite long but there are lots of pretty villages to stop at along the way and pine forests which are heavily and beautifully scented.  You can take a cable car almost to the top and so make sure you bring a cardigan or something warmer with you as you really feel the temperature drop.  You can climb the final 200m but will need a permit which you can get online in advance for free.

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  • Possibly the best water park in Europe, Siam Park is great for families, couples and groups.  Some of the hotels include entry within their price and so if you’re into your water parks, this may be something to consider.
  • The Pyramids at Guimar is an historical site with a small garden of poisonous plants to look at!  Uniquely, this is one of the very few places on the planet where you can witness a double sunset behind twin peaks.

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  • La Oratava is on the way to Loro Parque and we managed to see this town and the Parque in one day.  The main attraction is Casa de los Balcones but there are also some beautiful gardens and again, some very pretty streets to wander.

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  • We ventured away from the tourists to Poris de Abona and sampled fine tapas and very inexpensive wine whilst looking out to sea.  We picked a place right on the seafront at the very far end, almost hidden away.  It was so tiny with just a handful of tables (pictured).

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  • Tenerife is known for its dolphin watching trips and so make sure you hop on board when you’re there.
  • There are also lots of Watersports on offer for the more active holidaymakers from jet skiing, parascending, paddle surfing, flyboarding and of course….the banana boat!

Malta: The City Break

Many people think of Malta and think of a week or two long holiday but we love Malta for a city break.  We spent 3 nights and 2.5 days on the island discovering just some of its jewels and look forward to returning again soon.

Where to stay

  • Best boutiqueValentina, St Julians Bay

What to do and how to get there

If you don’t fancy driving, the Hop on/off bus is an easy option.  Just remember to pick up a timetable and note the departure times.  There are North and South tours and on some days, these are combined and so check with your hotel or with the tour company to see which tour is running.  We took the combined tour on day 1 and took in Valletta, Mdina and a tour of the island.  On day 2 we took the South tour and saw the 3 Cities and Marsaxlokk.  You can save money if you buy the 2 day tour and so have a think about what you would like to achieve before you buy:

Valletta

  • St John’s Cathedral – The most stunning cathedral we have ever visited.  Every inch has been decorated with a thoughtful touch and no picture can do it justice.  Take the free audio guide and be absorbed in the beauty of this cathedral.

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  • Wander the historic streets – They undulate, they are characterful and they host a fine mix of eateries and great opportunities for shopping.

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  • Lower Barrakka Gardens – Situated towards the far end of Valletta, you can start at the Waterfront and ascend to the Upper Barrakka Gardens via the Barrakka lift in just 25 seconds which saves those muscles for later on!  From here, it’s a lovely walk to the Lower Barrakka Gardens where you will find a tree planted in April 2012 to mark the 70th anniversary of the award of the George Cross to Malta by King George VI for its bravery in the Second World War.

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Mdina

  • Wander the historic streets – Mdina is like a maze.  Around every corner there is a beautiful building, a stunning old wooden door, pretty flowers climbing the walls or a quirky shop selling Maltese produce.  It’s a fun maze to get lost in and explore, eventually winding your way to the viewing point out towards the sea.

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  • St Paul’s Cathedral – Make your way through the narrow streets and you will find that they open up into a large square where the sheer size of the cathedral will leave you with a wow moment, its size having a greater impact due to the small avenues you have just been travelling through.  You may notice the clocks on the outside give you different times.  It was thought that this would confuse the devil who may attempt to attend mass and sway people from the right path if he could be sure of the right time for mass!

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3 Cities

  • Beautiful boats – Take a stroll to see the Grand Harbour Marina, Vittoriosa.  You will see an array of boats you could only dream of owning or even sailing on.

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  • Gardjola Gardens – A reasonable walk from Vittoriosa over a bridge and right at the end of Senglea but worth the walk for the views across to Valletta.

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  • St Lawrence’s Church – a stunning church right next to the hop on/off bus and so no excuses not to take a quick peek!

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  • This is a pretty place to wander and there is a market every day where you can stock up on local honey, figs, biscuits and nougat (as well as some very touristy souvenirs).  Even better, if you visit on a Sunday morning you will be treated to its main market.  You will see hundreds of beautifully and brightly decorated boats here, fisherman mending their nets and repainting their boats.  It’s a lovely brief stop or take a little longer and have lunch here.

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On our last day we visited the Catacombs in Rabat and took a local bus.  It took about an hour and 15 minutes to get to Rabat from St Julians Bay.  On our return the speedier bus which was timetabled did not show and so we had to wait 40 minutes for the slow bus which then took an hour and a half to get back to St Julians due to traffic and so do plan well and allow for the unexpected.

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Hire a car and see more!  The Maltese drive on the left making it much less daunting.  You can get around the island far more quickly by car and see what we did on our hop on/off bus plus a few more attractions which we’re saving for next time including the Blue Grotto, the Tarxien Temples and the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples.

You could also try a day trip to Gozo (or even a few nights in Malta followed by a couple in Gozo) and snorkelling around Comino Island.

Where to eat

  • For ice-creamL’Accademia Café in Valletta – a VERY large scoop of delicious ice-cream for just 1.65 Euros!

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  • For fishZeri’s Restaurant in Paceville.  We had a starter of octopus, calamari and fishcakes, a main of red snapper, brown meagre and seabass all with potatoes and vegetables, a bottle of wine and water and a dessert each of Chocolate melt in the middle pudding with Bailey’s cream for 60 Euros each with a nice tip included.
  • Lunch stopThe Three Sisters, Marsaxlokk.  Run by……yes…..three sisters……with most fish served having been caught by their husbands……terribly romantic we know!  A sense of community draws you in to eat at this perfect lunch spot overlooking the harbour which bobs away with brightly coloured boats.

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Our Rough Notes: 2 Nights in Berlin

To us Berlin is about history.  It’s also about other things….club culture for example…..but that’s another blog.  We have focused on a short city break taking in some famous sights and hopefully a ready-to-go guide for anyone thinking of visiting.  Berlin is a great city break because it’s not too far away, most sights are free and if your German isn’t up to standard, you will still be able to get around….in a very efficient fashion!

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Our Top Tips 

  • Get yourself a Berlin Welcome Card which covers your transportation in either zones A & B or A, B & C for 48 or 72 hours.  It makes life so much easier when hopping on and off public transport and saves you money not only on the transport but also on entry fees in shops and restaurants.  When you get your ticket you will need to validate this (yellow machines on buses and near the ticket machines in U-Bahn stations).
  • If flying into Schönefeld, get the X171 or X7 to Rudow U-Bahn (about 10 minutes in duration) and then you can get to your hotel from there – it makes it a very cheap transfer and the public transport is so reliable and frequent.
  • When flying back, make sure you top up on water before the airport as the water there is expensive!  It was about 4.5 Euros for a bottle that cost £1 in WH Smiths at Stansted!  Duty free for spirits is excellent though.

Things to do

We managed to pack a lot in to our 2 night stay.  We caught a 06:30 flight from Stansted to Berlin on Monday and arrived at our hotel at 11am.  On our return just 2 days later, we left our hotel at just after 14:00 for our 17:05 flight home.  We managed to see everything listed below and we have listed everything in the order we did it to show you what is possible in such a short visit.

Day 1

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The museum sets the scene for the Berlin Wall – it summarises the war and then details what happened after, mainly focusing on the divide, and looks at the escape methods used.  The museum contains lots of information (too much in all honesty) but allow about 1.5 – 2 hours.

Cost – 9.30 Euros per person (this is with a discount for having the Welcome Card).

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There are exhibitions inside and outside.  We loved the outside exhibition which mainly looks at the rise of Nazism and what happened when the party came into power.  The inside exhibition repeats this a little but has interesting boards on the Nuremburg Trials and other historical happenings such as the death marches.  Again, a little too much information inside; allow about 2 hours and if running short of time and the weather is good, just see the outside.

Cost – free.

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One of the least busy and best views in the city!  Located on Potsdamer platz (red brick building).

Cost – 7 Euros per person – the Welcome Card allows for a discount if you get the ticket to the top and guide – it’s normally 6.5 Euros just for the ticket to the top.

Not far from Brandenburg Gate and now just a little information board on the site which is now a car park (at the top of the street “In den Ministergärten”).

Cost – free

Day 2

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This is adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate and it well worth a visit.  You will either love it or hate it.  We loved it but we like our modern art and we can see the symbolic nature of its position and formality.

Cost – free

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Symbolic of German Unity since the wall came down in 1989.  Stop here for a quick picture and to learn more about the history of this grand gateway.

Cost – free

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The home of Germany’s Parliament.  You can stop for a quick picture or if you pre-book, you can visit the roof terrace and glass dome.

Cost – free

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One of the best museums in Berlin.  It tells the story of the divide between East and West with real life accounts in the station which allowed limited passage between the two sides.

Cost – free

  • Chocolate shops

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Fassbender & Rausch (if only for the chocolate sculptures and displays – luxury chocolate at great prices) AND Ritter Sport (you can create your own chocolate and it’s quite cheap to buy and tastes very good) – both not far away from Unter den Linden which is where you can find the Brandenburg Gate.

Cost – it depends on how much you like your chocolate!

A pretty square with lovely buildings and cafes for drinks just off Unter den Linden and by Fassbender & Rausch.

Cost – free if just browsing

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Book burning square just off Under den Linden.  There is a plaque to see and it’s on the way to the Berliner Dom and so worth a stop.

Cost – free

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The great cathedral with stunning views inside and you can ascend to the walkway at the top (which eventually takes you outside) for some wonderful views.

Cost – 5 Euros per person with the Welcome Card.

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This is a huge site and we only managed sections A and B which easily took an hour and a half to do.  You can see what the death zone would have looked like, the chapel of reconciliation, more information on the war and the divide and a memorial of those who lost their lives as a result of the wall.  We got transport from Berliner Dom to here.

Cost – free

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A symbol of freedom and the largest remaining section of standing wall covered in art work on the East Side (never permitted until after 1989).  It’s lovely to just walk along and enjoy the messages behind the art.  We got the U-Bahn from Berlin Wall Memorial to here.

Cost – free

Day 3

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A bombed church which sits between 2 new sections, much like Coventry Cathedral, and it has a memorial from Coventry there too uniting the two cities.

Cost – free

From Kaiser Wilhem Memorial Church, it’s a 20-25 minute walk, partly through Tiergarten park.  The Victory Column is in the middle of a busy road but you can access it by a subway.

Cost – free to view but if you want to go up the victory column it’s 3 Euros per person

A bit like Selfridges but with a better food court!

Cost – free to browse!

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If you don’t fancy packing as much in and want just a selection from the above, try:

  1.  Palace of Tears
  2. Jewish Memorial
  3. Topography of Terror (outside)
  4. Berliner Dom
  5. Panoramapunkt
  6. Berlin Wall Memorial
  7. East Side Gallery

If you want the tick list…….add the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag of course!

Day Trip to Paris

Is it really possible?  Worthwhile?  A waste of time, money or sleep?

Let me tell you what we got up to and see if this helps you decide whether a day trip to Paris is something to consider.

We set off at 5am from Warwick one cold Saturday in February for our day trip to Paris on Eurostar.  I hadn’t been on Eurostar before and so was looking forward to the experience.  We drove to a tube station on the outskirts of London and paid our £2 day ticket (for parking) and used our Oyster cards to hop on the tube to Kings Cross.  We headed straight to check-in and found there was no queue.  Our boarding passes were scanned and bags put through a security scanner and then within minutes we were in the boarding lounge.  This area is nothing to write home about but it has lots of refreshments and a reasonable amount of seating.  We only arrived half an hour before our 8:30am train left and so hardly any waiting time before being allowed to board.

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The journey itself is about 2.5 hours.  You reach the tunnel in no time and within 15 – 20 minutes you reach France.  We travelled in standard coaches and found them to be comfortable with lots of leg room but a little tired in places.  They will also try and sell you metro tickets and other passes on board which are actually more expensive despite them mentioning a saving.  The only thing they will save is time queuing up at the Gare du Nord and so you may consider an extra £5 worth it.

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We arrived just before midday and walked to our first stop of the day, Brasserie Julien, a restaurant we’d found online.  I had been quite fussy with my requirements.  I had searched for a long time for a restaurant which was traditionally French looking, had a good menu and at a reasonable price; we chose well.  The food was delicious and typically French and the restaurant interior was stunning with a ceiling that reminded me of a Tiffany lamp, angelic paintings and large mirrors everywhere.  There were a lot of locals dining and a few British accents audible.  We spent 2.5 hours there enjoying the food and atmosphere and chatting to two local French women in broken French about our day trip.  They actually bought us a glass of champagne at the end of our meal breaking at least one French stereotype.

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With our bellies full of food and wine, we decided to walk this off at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (although we did catch a metro to the park to save time of course!).  We spent a good half an hour strolling around the park…..well, strolling between the hiking – it’s a very hilly park!  You are rewarded with beautiful and unique views across the city and you really feel a million miles away from the tourists.  This was our third trip to Paris and so we were happy to steer away from the tick box attractions and we loved this park.  It reminded me of Central Park and Hawkstone Park….something different around each corner – a suspension bridge was one of the highlights though.  Sadly, a key viewing spot was closed when we visited but do trek to the top…..the views will be worth it.  If you have more time, bring a picnic here in the summer.

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After a bit of fresh air, we were ready to hit the galleries.  We have visited the usual suspects but there was one gallery I had wanted to visit for a while as my love of modern art has grown – Centre Pompidou.  It’s not necessarily a cheap gallery to visit but I loved it.  It’s wacky, makes you stop and think and it’s fun to look at.  We spent just under 2 hours here smiling, being creative with our photos and deep in thought and I would recommend this to anyone who like modern art or something a bit different.

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At this point, we didn’t have much longer in Paris before we had to be back for our 8:10pm train home.  As the sun was setting we made a mad dash to Notre Dame and headed under the bridge, down to the river to catch a sunset photo of this stunning church from a different angle.  This is one of my favourite areas of Paris and so it felt almost homely to be back again.  Heading back to the Gare du Nord we felt happy and content and felt we’d squeezed every last drop out of our day.  The alternative…….a day cleaning at home or watching TV?  I know what I’d choose every time.  Yes, the early start and travelling is difficult (especially the drive back to London at 10:15pm after such a long day!) but the rewards far outweigh it and we got to have a lie in the next day.

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What I learned

  1. If you’re travelling to Paris, go by Eurostar rather than plane – almost certainly if you’re going for the day.  The security process is quicker and more efficient, the cost is much less, there are no weight limits and it’s so easy to use.  Make sure you book in advance as far as possible to get the best rates.
  2. If you have a few minutes, buy your metro tickets at the Gare du Nord and buy a ‘carnet’ of 10 tickets between 2 if you’re there for the day.  We like walking but we also had some things we wanted to see and do which weren’t close together and the metro was very handy.
  3. You can achieve a lot in a little time by planning well.  We have the advantage of knowing Paris a little but we know from past experience that whenever visiting somewhere new, you get to know a city better by looking at map, getting familiar with what there is to see and do, when things are open, entrance fees, tube stations etc.
  4. Day trips like these are fun.  They are different to the run of the mill Saturday.  You don’t need to pack.  You can feel like you’re a million miles away in just a short time.  It doesn’t have to be expensive but you can splash out if you want to.

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 Toni Sharp

How to pack light and avoid checking in your case

When you are heading off for a short break, you don’t want to be taking a lot of luggage with you, especially as this is likely to lead to pricey checked luggage charges.  I am terrible for taking too much with me and no matter how hard I try to scale my luggage down, it’s always a close call.

I headed to Malta and Berlin this year for 3 and 2 night breaks respectively.  I decided to challenge myself to taking hand luggage only.  At the beginning, my only concern was the weight limit……how to scale down my 20kg load to just 10kg.  That actually turned out to be the easy part!  What I found really tough was only being able to take a single 20 x 20 cm bag for all liquids.  I took facial scrub, cleanser, various moisturisers, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, contact lens fluid, toothpastes, sun lotion, foundation, mascara, eye liner……you get the picture (quite literally….below)!

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I am pleased to say that I managed, comfortably, to pack light for my break in Malta and Berlin and it was liberating to be able to head straight to security rather than stand in the check-in line.  It was even sweeter to walk out of the airport the other end without waiting for my bag to make an appearance on the carousel.

I thought it would be useful to give my top tips on packing light to save you time and money.  Just be mindful that you could actually arrive at the airport and be asked to check your bag in and so take a padlock with you just in case or if you forget and happen to have a hair band or elastic band, these come in useful as ties (potentially more secure as they can’t be tampered with as easily).

My top 5 tips

  • It starts with the case.  Invest in a lightweight case which takes your little finger alone to lift it.  We used the IT case.
  • Make a list of what you want to take and then think about what you need to take.  Take a second look at everything.  Do you need to take a full bottle of shampoo for 3 nights?  What does your hotel already provide?  Do you need 3 pairs of shoes?  Everything can be scaled down!
  • Be creative – I used a spare contact lens case for my cleanser which continued to last long after I got home; I can safely say that it would have lasted 14 nights (morning and night use).  Think about using sample sachets of body lotion and conditioner and samples of perfume (which lasted more than my 3 night stay).
  • Packing light means packing light clothing.  I took lightweight dresses which didn’t crease for the evening……better than heavy jeans.  I appreciate my sunny destinations helped with the light weight packing but even in Iceland a couple of years ago where it was very cold, I could pack a light dress and tights for the evening and I was already wearing my heavy coat to the airport which I would have worn over the dress.  Men could pack linen trousers as an alternative or, if jeans are a must, find some light weight ones.  You can always wear your heavier items!
  • Plan your wardrobe.  Usually, I just pack a lot of things and decide what to wear when I arrive.  For these short trips, I planned out everything, making sure I took items which I could mix and match.  Use a particular colour palette to make this easier.  It’s tedious I know but it will mean you don’t waste your valuable packing space, leaving room for souvenirs (non-liquid ones of course unless you have room for a small one in your 20x 20 cm bag!).  It also means you get dressed more quickly as you have already decided what you are going to wear!

Toni Sharp

Manchester Covered

The Hotel

The recently opened Hotel Gotham takes its inspiration from Batman.  You will find stylish monochrome rooms with a splash of comic book colour and with all the usual hotel comforts.  Previously a bank, this hotel has retained and lovingly restored the beautiful architectural features and seamlessly fuses the old and new to create this stunning new quirky hotel.

The Restaurant

Australasia……and you have to go down under to reach it!  The entrance looks similar to the Louvre only much smaller.  Enter the glass pyramid structure, head down the stairs and await the flavours which will awaken those tastebuds.  A blend of Indonesian, Southeast Asian and Japanese flavours come together to offer dishes such as Pot-roasted lobster with kaffir lime, chilli and Thai basil and Rack of lamb with polenta and Japanese aubergine.  For those who can manage, desserts are a must with unique offerings such as Ginger and green tea cheesecake and Mango soufflé with coconut ice-cream and a mango soup.

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Australasia. Photo by Duncan Hill.

The Bar

If you want to head somewhere a little different, try Dusk Til Pawn.  This quirky cocktail bar is well disguised as a pawn shop but be brave enough to step inside and you will be treated to an array of good quality spirits and cocktails and it even has a good old fashioned jukebox.

The shop

We’re cheating here and having two!  For clothes, head to Junk which offers sustainable fashion that’s creative, playful, multi-cultural and distinctive and it’s all made in Manchester.

For music lovers out there, Piccadilly Records needs no more than just that mention.  For those of you less familiar, this is one of the world’s finest independent record shops and has awards to prove it.  If it’s a CD or vinyl you’re looking for and whether it’s disco or Balearic, this friendly shop is very likely to be able to find it for you.

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Piccadilly Records. Photo by Mark Wathieu.

The Gallery

The Whitworth Art Gallery is Manchester’s ‘Gallery in the Park’.  Recently reopened after a large refurbishment, you will find two new wings in which it can show off its historical and contemporary pieces.  You will find works by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and watercolours by Turner alongside changing exhibitions.  Cornelia Paker’s signature piece, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, will be exhibited until the end of May.

The Hidden Gem

Funnily enough there is actually a church which is called the ‘Hidden Gem’ and so a mention must be given to this.  However, if you like books, a visit to Chetham’s is a must.  It was founded in 1653 and is the oldest public library in the English speaking world.  It’s closed from 12:30 pm until 1:30pm for lunch and at 4:30 pm for the day and so time your visit well.

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Chetham’s Library. Photo by Michael D Beckwith.

What not to miss in London

Hampstead Heath

It’s not just a lovely park to wonder around with great views back to central London but it has outdoor swimming facilities with all day prices starting from just £2 per adult.

A piece of Theatre of the unusual kind

If you like the theatre, then head to the West End and catch one of the many wonderful shows being staged (and don’t forget that you can get heavily reduced tickets from TKTS on the day).  However, for this not to miss, we’re taking you to the Old Operating Theatre Museum where you can visit one of the country’s oldest operating theatres and learn about the horrific history of medical ‘cures’.

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Magic moments

For kids of all ages, Davenports Magic is a must.  Located in the Charing Cross Underground Arcade, this old fashioned shop has an Ollivanders feel to it.  Staffed by magicians, this is a great little place to stop and impress the children and they even run magic classes (for all ages!) and so you could tie your visit in with this.

Cocktails at Ruby’s

If you’re a fan of the mixers, head to Ruby’s in Dalston and enjoy the delights of this hidden gem.  Tucked away in a building previously used as a Chinese takeaway, this quaintly half-finished feel bar will intrigue and please in equal measure.

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Jazz hands

If you enjoy jazz, you can’t leave without a visit to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho.  Many live albums have been recorded here by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Chet Baker and with a constant flow of entertainment, food and drink, you will be wondering why you haven’t visited before.

Walking the Isle of Man

When you think of the Isle of Man, what most likely comes to mind is preconceived ideas of motorcycle racing, cats with no tails and a tax haven for the wealthy.  But what you may not realise is that it’s something of a walker’s delight as well.

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Niarbyl Sunset. Photo by Grant Matthews.

Located slap bang in the middle of the British Isles, the island is 220 square miles in size, with no place on it more than approximately 7 miles from the coast.  That in itself is a great attraction for walkers; the prospect of frequent sea views and the difficulty in getting lost, which also makes it attractive for the casual walker.  The island’s geology gives it a tremendously wide range of scenery – from wild moorland and woody glens, to dramatic cliffs with crashing seas.  It has just one mountain, Snaefell, standing at 621 metres above sea level, which many will wish to conquer.  It’s an easy one to bag as the Victorian electric railway takes you up from the Bungalow Station in mere minutes.  More discerning walkers can take the 40 minute hike up, but better still would be to look elsewhere on the island for rambling inspiration.

A few years ago, I completed a 15 mile walk from the pretty seaside town of Port Erin to the island’s former capital, Peel.  A beautiful coastal walk, it took in three significant ascents and certainly some stamina, but was ultimately extremely rewarding.  The initial ascent up Bradda Head takes you to a commemorative plaque where Kodak’s “World’s Best Photograph 1931” was won, and about half way along the route I came across Niarbyl, where the thatched cottage scenes from the movie “Waking Ned” were filmed.  Apparently the Isle of Man looks more like Ireland than Ireland does!  The final descent over Corrins Hill into Peel as the sun melted into the Irish Sea was a truly magical moment, topped off with a much-deserved pint of local Manx ale at The Creek Inn.

The island has several official long distance paths.  The Millennium Way is 23 miles in length and follows the old route of kings from Ramsey in the north to Castletown in the south.  The walk gets you away from the coast and gives you the opportunity to explore more inland scenery, some of which certainly resembles the Lake District.  It is achievable in one day, but can be conveniently split into two days by stopping over at Crosby, for those who wish to savour it.

The 14 mile Herring Way follows, as the name suggests, the old fishermen’s roads, and is a great path on which to enjoy a balance of coastal scenery and quaint glens and woodland.  There is also the opportunity to take a modest diversion to ascend South Barrule, where you will be rewarded with a stunning view over countryside and sea.

For the most committed of walkers, there is the official coastal path (the “Raad ny Follian”), a 96 mile footpath round the whole coastline.  Typically starting at the island’s capital, Douglas, It’ll take about a week to complete, with accommodation on or near the route readily available.  The path winds its way along the coast, yes, but also a nature reserve, a disused railway, fishing villages and numerous sites of historical interest.

Want to know more?  Take Terry Marsh’s excellent walking guide with you for a superb variety of walking inspiration.

When:  Avoid late May, early June and early September, when the island is invaded by motorbike enthusiasts for the TT Races and Manx Grand Prix.

How: Aer Lingus, British Airways, Citywing, Easyjet and Flybe all serve the island’s only airport at Ronaldsway.  Regular buses go to and from the airport linking it to Douglas, Peel and Castletown.  You can catch the ferry from Heysham or Liverpool but this is often more expensive and time consuming.

Ben Sharp