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What NOT to wear on a long haul flight………

By Toni Sharp

I have a problem when I fly……what to wear.  I want to be comfortable but stylish without being too over the top. 

We all know those sorts of outfits are the worst to put together and I always leave thinking I have it right but later find my new flat (sensible!) ankle strap (didn’t think it through!) sandals struggle to be fastened when I am departing the plane because my feet have swollen to an unrecognisable size.

I fly quite a bit throughout the year for work and for pleasure and have learned what works well. I cannot bear to wear a tracksuit (clap or boo) and trainers are meant for the gym but how do you look stylish without being over the top?

TIP 1

If you are travelling in the winter, a maxi dress is amazing.  You can wear leggings underneath and even boots to brave the British winter as these are hardly seen.  On top, pop on a cardigan or smart jacket and carry a pashmina in case you need it.  Accessorise with statement jewellery and not only will you look smart but you will feel comfortable. When you arrive at your exotic destination, you can take off all your winter wear and be left with your summer maxi dress.  Make sure you carry light weight flip flops in your hand luggage to quickly pop on!

TIP 2

Try to avoid white.  I have worn white several times and have been lucky but I always worry it won’t be white when I arrive.  You never know who you will be sitting next to or what could be spilt on you!  If you want to wear your whites then pack a lightweight spare top/bottoms in your hand luggage you can to change into if the worst happens.

TIP 3

Do not wear strappy sandals or evening shoes.  Unless you’re Victoria Beckham it’s not a practical look and not a particularly stylish one.  THINK COMFORT!  I chose a pair of Toms to fly to Malaysia in.  They were flat and comfortable when I tried them on in the shop and were quite classic and stylish.  However, I didn’t break them in.  After the first leg of our flight, I hobbled off the plane as they were rubbing my heels and the strap was at bursting point with my feet having swollen because they had been strapped in.  The 20 minute walk that followed was not pretty and certainly not stylish.  Try your most comfortable flip flops or if you are wearing pumps, make sure you break them in!

Accessorize Flip Flops

TIP 4

If you are not planning on wearing socks, take a pair with you in your hand luggage.  If you want to take your shoes off, you may not wish to put your bare feet onto the floor.  Also, you usually get pretty high up in a plane and so it’s much cooler up there and your little toes may get cold and socks keep your feet warm.  That pashmina from earlier may come in handy too.

TIP 5

Don’t wear fabrics which are susceptible to snagging, tearing or staining easily.  You will be bending down, stretching, eating in a confined space.  Don’t wear fabrics that crease easily if you want to arrive looking fresh. I love my skinny 3/4 trousers from gap which are actually more comfortable than they sound. They’re perfect for long flights and they do have a bit of give in them.

Gap stretch 3/4 trousers

A final few things…..

  • If you want to sleep on a plane take ear plugs as a minimum.
  • Do you need that pillow? The number of times I have forced my travel pillow into my hand luggage and not used it. If you need one, invest in a quality travel pillow that you can perhaps deflate.
  • Pack hand sanitiser.
  • Use the hand towel you’re given to wipe your food tray (or take wet wipes with you to do this)…..don’t think the cleaning team will have time to clean every single tray before you board!
  • Pack your own headphones if you’re travelling in economy. The BA ones I recently used hurt my ears and the Virgin ones let far too much external noise in.
  • Take an zipped A5 travel wallet with you. I have a bright sky blue one form (easy to find!) and use mine to store my passports in, otherwise they sink to the bottom of my bag. After security I transfer my travel perfume, travel mirror/brush and lip balm across and then keep this in the seat pouch in front of me on the plane so it’s in easy reach.
  • Taking a short haul flight without entertainment? We always download a bunch of things from Netflix onto our phone or tablet and take a mobile battery pack with us. We also have a dual headphone jack (easy to pick up from the electronics department after security).
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Europe

Our Normandy Adventure: Part III

Day 4

One thing you have to do when in France is to try a French breakfast and make it local.  We headed to the tiny bakery in Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer and were like kids in a sweet shop.  The range was quite astonishing considering its size and also at home we’re just used to 2 options when it comes to a continental breakfast pastry (croissants or pain au chocolat). We picked an apple based pastry and a custard filled one and took these away to consume in our car.  One of the tastiest breakfasts…..if only they were healthy and I’d be eating them every day!

Before Arromanches, we headed a little further on to Longues Sur Mer to see the German battery flanked by the landing beaches and the only artillery battery to have Listed Building status.  You will find four quite in tact gun casemates.  Allow about half an hour for this stop.

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Arromanches has a few memorials to explore but its real draw is the film shown there in its 360 cinema.  By far the most emotional of all and possibly the best of all films seen on our trip to Normandy.  People left the cinema with tears in their eyes and even writing about it now, stirs my emotions.  This 19 minute film showing previously unseen footage projects onto 9 screens in HD and tells the story of the 100 day Battle of Normandy.

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We then headed to Bayeux.  We made our way first of all to the Commonwealth Cemetery which was quite a contrast to the American Cemetery.  All the headstones were very similar and lined up to precision but many contained personal messages from home and they all had flowers planted.  It was not as grand but it felt a little more grounded and peaceful.  This cemetery is home mainly to British servicemen but also has people buried here from New Zealand, Canada and South Africa to name but a few nations; there were also German graves which I found quite touching and which provides such a powerful message.  Again, very different to the American Cemetery and possibly one of my favourite spots on our trip to Normandy.

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We found Le Moulin de la Galette for lunch.  Situated overlooking a river with its own water wheel, this place used to be a mill.  Now it dishes up the friendliest of welcomes, a huge selection of galattes (including a choice for me with several without ham!!), one of the prettiest locations and great home cooked food.

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Feeling very full and having had my fill of cheese, we walked slowly across the road to see the Bayeux Tapestry.  Being entirely honest, I was not too excited about this.  Yes, it’s old and big but would I enjoy it?!  Absolutely!  The museum is well thought out.  You take an audio guide which starts when you reach a certain point and this then guides you through the story being told on the tapestry making it fun and it also set you on a good pace. After seeing the tapestry there is a small museum followed by a 16 minute film.  You learn how it was a miracle the tapestry was still in existence.  It was used as a covering and once almost torn up for a parade.  The tapestry itself is amusing, clever and so well preserved that it’s hard to believe the 70 metre long embroidered cloth is more than 900 years old. Allow around 1.5 hours here and the cost of entry at the time of writing including audio guide was 9 Euros per person.

Afterwards, we spent some time in Bayeaux and with an ice-cream in hand wandered to the cathedral although the outside is far more impressive than the inside.  We had also heard about an organic cider and calvados producer with a shop in Bayeaux run by husband and wife team, Christele and Francois, which we managed to track down. Lecornu is situated west of the cathedral near to a green (Place de Gaulle) and sells calvados, cider, apple juice, calvados jelly and many more wonderful products.

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We were lucky that the weather was so beautiful for exploring Bayeux and then for sitting out in the evening with a glass of wine and nibbles listening to the birds sing and reflecting on what a terrific day we’d had.

Day 5

When we visited Normandy, we visited every beach and related museum and tried to experience as much as possible.  I believe that Utah beach has the best museum.  We only had about 2 hours here to explore and actually could have spent at least another hour here. The museum like all others has a film, accounts from those who fought, objects from the war and it was the only place I recall seeing the German story being told, although this was very brief.  One thing that struck me when listening to the stories of the French who were occupied was in relation to a German solider.  He used to visit them and loved playing with the children. He had white hair, that’s all the family remember, and he said he had children and missed them.  He went missing, presumably died in the war.  Many people didn’t want to be there fighting but felt obliged to and were terrified of the consequences. Utah was an American beach landing and was largely successful although not without its terrible losses.  We didn’t actually see much of the beach, mainly because the weather was poor on the morning we visited.  However, the museum here is wonderful, set on the beach which brings you closer to the history you’re learning about, brimming with accounts I could have listened to all day, with terrific exhibits and there is a walk right at the end above the trenches giving you a silent insight into life at Utah.

When you are at Utah beach, you’re not far from Sainte-Mere-Eglise which is worth a visit for its museum but probably more famously, the statue of the airman hanging from the church spire by his parachute.  When the paratroopers were dropped by the gliders and were dispersed throughout the area, one soldier found himself dangling from the church spire.  A comrade fought off German forces to save his life and was himself killed in action but John Steele played dead and lived to tell the tale.

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The museum, situated just across the road from the church, contains 3 areas all worth a visit.  Allow about an hour and a half to see it all with an entry fee of €9.90 per person (at the time of writing).  The best part of the museum for me provides you with a tiny insight into what it must have been like in Normandy in 1944, thanks to a hyper-realistic museography.  There is a plane you walk into which is noisy to the point of being quite scary and it’s full of paratroopers ready to parachute into the night.  When you exit, you’re looking down onto the local area from above, you can see the church on fire and lots of parachutes descending.  Then you’re on the beaches and gun shots are being fired.  Making your way forward you’re in the middle of hedgerows avoiding sniper shots. Even though you know it isn’t real, your heart can help but beat a little quicker and your reflexes make you a little lighter on your feet.

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Now home and having reflected on the trip, I realise how quickly pain can be forgotten.  How we move on with our lives at great speed giving little time to let the past help our future.  With the anniversary of D-Day approaching, I hope everyone reading this will take a moment to remember those who gave their lives so we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

Read Part I and Part II.

Europe

Our Normandy Adventure: Part II

Day 2

Feeling refreshed after a great night’s sleep, we set off at around 9am to Caen.  Caen was heavily bombed in the war and was left with just one medieval street remaining although the city does not look as modern as some of the others which rose from the ashes.  Its cathedral, rebuilt after the war, makes a skyline statement and its castle looks rather impressive, reminding me slightly of Cardiff, but without much substance.  A view best appreciated from outside if you’re short on time.

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After a fleeting visit to Caen, we made our way to Pegasus Bridge about 20 minutes away. This had one of the best museums we visited, dedicated to the men of the 6th British Airborne Division.  It was not overwhelming and recounted real stories which I love.  We learned about the gliders that dropped paratroopers into the area before D-Day to try and make a little headway in preparation.  We learned how that particular plan didn’t really work too well and many were dropped in water where they drowned or right into the hands of the German forces and others were scattered all over then left with the task of reuniting with their sections.  The museum is split into an inside and outside section.  Outside, you can see the actual Pegasus Bridge, a glider and learn about the ingenious Bailey Bridge. Allow an hour for this visit and at the time of writing, the entrance fee was €8 per person.

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After a quick packed lunch in the car (cheese of course!), we made the 15 minute journey to the Caen Memorial Museum.  You will be able to see the museum from a distance as there’s a large statue outside of the sailor and his sweetheart!  The Museum we found a little overwhelming but certainly worth a visit.  It took just shy of 4 hours to see it and that was without spending too much time in the latter part devoted to the Cold War and Berlin (we’d recently visited Berlin and so just looked around briefly as we’d learned so much there).  There is a lot of detail in this museum and although it flows very well, it is tiring. There is a film here which is well thought out and presents very differently to the others; it appears about three quarters of the way through the museum tour and runs every half an hour.  We had about 20 minutes before the next showing, just enough time to go to the café and grab a coffee and share a raspberry tart.  Once we’d finished the film, we headed outside to see the remembrance garden for the Canadians and Brits which is certainly worth a look.  The British garden was immaculately kept and was very peaceful with us being the only ones there.  If you plan on visiting both this museum and Arromanches 360, be sure to buy the joint ticket costing (at the time of writing) €28 per person and which also now includes the Civilians in wartime Memorial in Falaise.

Our final stop of the day was Sword beach, one of the British beaches.  There’s no museum here but there are some memorials just off the beach.  We took a very long and blustery walk along its lovely and peaceful promenade.  Be prepared for a long walk!  We seemed to walk forever and we only really scratched the surface.  This gives you an idea of how big this beach is.  The houses that line the front are characterful, pretty, most of them locked up until the summer months arrive. It’s a peaceful place full of joggers, dog walkers and kite surfers!

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After such an exhausting day, we headed back to Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer, our favourite little French town, and settled down to dinner at Le Crabe Vert.  As someone who doesn’t eat a lot of meat, I did find this part of France a bit of a struggle as they love their pork!  I was usually left with mussels, Scottish salmon (odd!) or whelks!  However, this restaurant served up a delicious seafood pizza which I ate a little too eagerly and then finished off with a scrumptious sundae.

Day 3

Our first stop of the day was Pointe du Hoc.  This surprised me as I really didn’t know much about this before arriving.  This is the cliff face scaled by brave American Rangers in the D-Day landings.  The German forces were not overly concerned about this spot as it was almost impossible, in their eyes, that anyone would try to target this spot as it was so hostile.  However, the Rangers did it although only 90 of the 225 were still able to bear arms on 8 June 1944, 2 days after D-Day.  You can visit the spot, see many craters where bombs hit, see the German trenches and gun emplacements and stare out to the raging sea below.  This was a mission impossible and I was in awe of their determination and the success of this operation.  The museum is very small but nicely presented.  There are a few information boards inside, tributes outside and the scene of Pointe du Hoc is left very much in tact.  Allow at least 2 hours to visit this spot (no entrance fee) which is exceptionally memorable.

Omaha is the beach which will stick with me forever.  It was truly the most beautiful of all beaches, long and golden and I would recommend visiting the beach here and taking a walk along the sea front.  There is a small museum although it’s not for everyone.  There’s lots of memorabilia which is great for people who like this sort of thing.  For me, I prefer reading letters, the stories and the real life accounts.  The people are interesting and for me, the objects less so unless of course they have a story attached.  Here, there was mainly just a note about what the objects were and so I found myself whizzing along to a board detailing the stories of several soldiers and then listening to the film at the end which is certainly worth a watch.

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You cannot visit this area without visiting the American Cemetery. If you have ever watched ‘Saving Private Ryan’ this will be familiar to you as it features in the opening and closing scenes.  It is grand and the headstones are positioned to military precision.  They are all very similar with the only difference being that the stones are shaped to the faith of the soldier.  There are also many stones which read, ‘A soldier, known but to God’.  There is no order as such to the stones; the men were not buried by surname, date of death, platoon or battalion, they were buried randomly, side by side.  Even Theodore Roosevelt Jr, the ex-President’s son, is buried amongst his colleagues without a special position.  It’s a very stark picture when you step out and see all of the headstones, all 9,387 of them, and realise this was the tip of the iceberg of the death toll of this Total War.  There is a film to watch inside and so do make the effort to go through the security checks to see it.  It tells the heartbreaking stories of several soldiers and this is what makes it so real.  After the film, head out through the long enclosed corridor whilst the names of those buried at the cemetery are read out.  There is also a board dedicated to the Niland brothers just past this which is worth reading (Saving Private Ryan used this for its inspiration).

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Gold beach is very similar to Sword although the promenade isn’t as pretty. However, this beach does have a museum with the nicest staff.  We arrived with half an hour to go before closing but were welcomed and actually offered a free return visit the next day.  However, half an hour is plenty of time to see this small museum which is split into 2 areas.  The first is dedicated to a plane which crashed in the local area.  It had set off from New York in 1927 and was the first airmail link to France and due to the bad weather on route, had to divert from Paris to Ver-Sur-Mer.  The second part was of most interest to us and tells the story of the British invasion. This section is relatively small, but perfectly formed, and so half an hour is sufficient.

We were staying in Cote de Nacre and were about a 10 minute walk from the beach which forms part of Juno beach where the Canadian forces landed.  Like the others, the sea appears miles out when the tide is out, very much like Weston.  It only adds to the sheer size of the beach.  When the forces landed on 6 June 1944, they opted to land when the tide was out so they could avoid the obstacles and booby traps in the water such as the hedgehogs.  To land so far from the sea and then have to make their way with their heavy kit to the edge of the beach and onto the road…..it really is astonishing how they did it under that fire of bullets.  Juno was a success story but again did not come without its losses.  There is a lovely memorial by Courseulles-Sur-Mer which is worth visiting.  This is the spot where many of the key figures arrived after D-Day such as Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, King George VI and Eisenhower.

We returned once again to our old faithful, Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer for our evening meal and decided to splash out at Le Poisson Dans Tous Ses Etats (‘Fish in all its states’).  We hadn’t booked and were lucky to get a table as this place filled up with locals quickly.  We enjoyed fish soup, battered fish and chips with two types of fish and a trio of desserts and a lemon mille feuille.  The restaurant does not have a website but is on the promenade looking out to sea next to Le Charleston; if you always pick where you eat on Trip Advisor you will miss out on this little gem!

Read Part I and Part III.

Europe

Our Normandy Adventure: Part I

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As I walked along the beach at Omaha, still golden in the low winter sun, watching families building sandcastles and holding the hand of my better half, I could not imagine the horrors that struck this place just 72 years ago.  That’s tangible history and yet it didn’t seem possible watching the scene unfold before me that something so unimaginably terrible had taken place here.  At first I felt bad about the family enjoying their time building sandcastles underneath the sculpture remembering those who’d lost their lives here.  Then I realised that if we weren’t enjoying our time there it would have been for nothing.  They gave their lives so that we could enjoy ours.  This place was once blood, bullets and bodies and now there was love, life and laughter.

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The Normandy beaches should be visited in your lifetime. I think it should be part of every school curriculum to visit these historically key locations, to learn about those who made the greatest sacrifice at all, to learn how it all started, the evil genius that brought this into being, the brutality, the morale, the struggle, the fight, the resourcefulness and why we are here now doing what we are doing.  It’s a part of history we all have in common.

Day 1

We took the ferry over from Poole to Cherbourg early on Monday morning.  We were lucky to have such a lovely sunny day for our sailing and even got to peek at millionaires row at Sandbanks on the way out to sea whilst sailing just past Brownsea Island.  Don’t pin your hopes on the Brittany Ferries‘ breakfast and take a good book with you to keep you occupied!

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We arrived in France at around 2pm and headed straight to Auchan to stock up on French goodies.  We selected several wines with the aim of tasting them before our return journey so we could buy more of what we liked.  Good decision!

For this trip we were reaching back to our childhood memories and decided to stay at the perfectly located Eurocamp Cote de Nacre at Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer, now part of the Sandaya Group, about an hour and a half away from Cherbourg.  It was a lovely site tucked away behind residential streets which felt as though we were part of the community.  We took a walk around the site which was really quite quiet in April.  Our holiday home was completely private and had no-one staying immediately next to us which made it nicely secluded.  The grounds were beautifully kept and for those needing the communal washing facilities, we’ve never seen such a modern shower block.

Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer was fairly quiet in April.  The cold windy weather, although sunny, didn’t help much in bringing out the crowds but we were welcomed by the restaurateurs and chose to eat at Cote Sable.  On our first night we enjoyed the local delicacies of Normandy Mussels (mussels in a creamy white sauce) and a ham and cheese galette all washed down with wine and a bowl of cider.  It would have been rude not to have sampled the crepes and so of course we obliged!

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Read Part II and Part III.

Reviews

Seaweed Gin

SEAWEED GIN

I visited a wonderful distillery near New Quay in Wales a few years ago now but it’s still one I always recommend as it’s so unusual and tastes amazing.  This place is terrific.  It’s small, friendly, organic and it makes and sells a different kind of gin to the ones you get on the supermarket shelf.  If you are a gin connoisseur or if you want to impress your guests then you should certainly visit.

The distillery launched its seaweed gin on 1 March 2014 and quickly sold out and it’s no wonder why.  When you first taste this gin, your tastebuds will spring into life and you will want to try more to break down the layers of flavour and of course, to crank up your intake of super foods!

Situated down a long and narrow farm track in Llandysul, you may feel as though you have taken a wrong turn.  Stick with it and right at the very bottom, you will find a very smart art gallery/tasting centre where the owners will be delighted to introduce you to a number of Artisan Organic Spirits.  You will find it difficult to leave empty handed once you have had a taste of its award winning spirits and make sure you stock up as they are in high demand.

The distillery also shares its home with Teifi Farmhouse Cheese.  Before you even walk into the shop you can smell how good this cheese is and so it’s no surprise to discover that its flagship cheese is multi-award winning.  Made on-site at the farm’s dairy, the distinct cheeses are crafted using only the finest, locally sourced raw (unpasteurised) milk.

With its Artisan model, exceptional quality of produce and friendly welcome, I predict very good things to come for Glynhynod Farm.

Europe

For the love of Baklava

One of my all time favourite desserts is Baklava and the best I have ever tasted was in Fiskardo, Kefalonia (although my parents have just returned from the island and still say mine is better and so I will take that!). Mine is a combination of a traditional Greek receipe and Lorraine Pascal’s baklava recipe. Give it a whirl and share your pictures on Facebook with me @MTGHolidaysplease.

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Mini Baklava

Ingredients

  • 250g unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 packets of filo pastry (you will get about 6 sheets per pack)

For the filling

  • 500g of nuts of your choice – we often choose pecans, walnuts and Almonds (roughly chopped/broken up by hand) and Hazelnuts can work well too.
  • 3tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp soft light brown sugar
  • 1.5tsp mixed spice (or make your own by mixing spices you have – e.g. cinnamon and a little nutmeg – a little goes a long way with nutmeg and so don’t be too generous! – or ground clove)

For the syrup

  • 340g granulated sugar
  • 200ml water
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Method

  1. Defrost your filo overnight in the fridge.  If you forget and need to do defrost it the same day, place it somewhere warm, but not hot, and leave it for a couple of hours.
  2. Put all your filling ingredients into a large bowl and mix them up.
  3. Put half of the butter in a bowl and melt (we use a microwave to do this but pick whichever method you’re used to).  There is no set amount of butter really, it’s simply as much as you need but 250g is a rough estimate – don’t worry if you don’t use it all or if you need more.  The suggestion is to only melt half now because if you’re not a very quick worker (unlikely when working with filo), the butter will turn white (separation) and you will not be able to work with what’s left.  Keep melting the butter as and when you need it.
  4. Whilst the butter is melting, carefully unwrap the filo and lay all the sheets out on a clear surface and cover with a damp towel (which stops it from drying out which makes it more tricky to work with).
  5. Choose a tray to bake in.  We have a large Pyrex dish (the sort you may cook lasagna in – about 21cm x 14cm*).  You will need to cover the inside of your chosen dish with a coating of your melted butter from step 3; we do this with a silicon pastry brush otherwise, you risk getting hairs on your pastry if you use the standard basting brush.  Once you have done this, take a sheet of filo and line the dish with it.  Then you need to coat the first filo layer with more butter.  Repeat twice so that you have 3 layers of filo with a final coat of butter on the top layer.
  6. Use 1/3 of the filling mixture and spoon this on top of the third filo layer making sure you have an even distribution.
  7. At about this point, put your oven on to get up to temperature (180 degrees or 350 fahrenheit or gas mark 4).
  8. You will then need to add 3 more layers of filo following the instructions at step 5, followed by a second layer of filling, as in step 6.  Then, a further 3 layers of filo (as per step 5) and the final 1/3 of the filling before finishing off with a final 3 layers of filo.  Once you reach the top, score the pasty diagonally so you have diamond shapes on the top and then coat with a final thick layer of butter.
  9. Put your masterpiece in the oven for 25-30 minutes.
  10. Whilst your baklava is baking away, put the water and sugar (for the syrup) into a pan and keep on a low to medium heat.  Keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Then add the honey and cinnamon stick and turn down to a low heat for about 10 minutes.
  11. Once the baklava is out the over, leave to stand for about 10-20 minutes before pouring over the syrup from step 10.
  12. Enjoy!

*Don’t worry if the dish you use is smaller.  Filo is long!  Simply start placing your filo in the dish one end, let it overlap at the other end and then fold it back on itself.  Essentially, half of the dish will have a layer of filo and the other half may have 2 layers thanks to the doubling up.  Simply rotate the dish for the next layer so you’re all even!

Please feel free to add pistachios (which appear in some recipes) or lemon zest or orange-blossom water which appear in other recipes.  It really is all down to individual taste.  We have tried the recipe inducing these additions but always return to the recipe above!

Europe

Cycle the Camino de Santiago

This 500 mile route stretching through the north of Spain has been witness to thousands of pilgrims each making their way to Santiago de Compostela’s Cathedral, the final restring place of St James.  The pilgrimage is believed by some to be one of three pilgrimages for which the sins of the pilgrim will be forgiven.

Many people will choose to walk the route and complete in several stages or join it at a later point just in time to earn the compostela (certificate of accomplishment).  The minimum you need to complete to earn this is 100 km (walking) or 200 km (cycling).

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Cathedral Santiago de Compostela. Photo by Jose Luis Cernadas Iglesias

We have found the perfect cycling itinerary which covers the last 200 km and takes 7 days although you will actually cycle 280 km in total.

Day 1

Arrive in Bilbao and if you have time, take in the wonderful Guggenheim Museum and then off to El Pero Chico for a delicious meal with friendly service (and also popular with Frank Gehry while he oversaw progress on the Guggenheim).

Day 2

Make your way to Leon just in time for lunch which you could take at Alfonso Valderas, the city’s most famous restaurant for salt cod prepared around 25 different ways!  We love the pil-pil version.  After lunch, you will cycle to Astorga across a section of the Meseta Plains.  A great place to head for food in the evening is La Peseta which serves local dishes but with cheaper menus for pilgrims!

Day 3

You will cycle across the Biezro Hills stopping at the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) at 1482m, the highest point along the trail.  It’s traditional at this point to leave a stone in prayer.

Day 4

Make your way to O’Cebreiro where you will find unusual stone houses with thatched roofs which mark the entry to Galicia.  You will then cycle to Tricastela and on to Samos.  Samos is a lovely village built around the very fine Benedictine Monasterio de Samos and well worth a visit when you’re there.

Days 5 & 6

The next 2 days will be spend cycling through the unspoilt landscape of Galicia through medieval villages, taking in Portomarin and Azura.  You may want to see San Nicolas in Portomarin, the church which was re-built stone by stone to rescue it from the reservoir which was to be flooded.  In Azura, head to Casa Theodora, run by brothers Jesus and Gabriel, for a well earned home cooked meal.

Day 7

Today you will reach your destination: Santiago!  Santiago de Compostela (Old Town) in a UNESCO World Heritage site and so there is lots to explore, including of course its Cathedral.  Around every corner you will discover something new and so you may want to extend your tour to relax and take in the sights at a more leisurely pace.

Americas

10 things to do in New York this winter!

Stop for drinks on the 8th floor of The Marriott Hotel in Times Square.  It’s not very expensive when you consider its location and the view you get of Times Square.

Catch the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City with the Rockettes from November.  For all Scrooges out there, be warned!  It’s very happy and Christmassy and full of American splendour.  We got tickets on the door.  They were in the very back row but even these were great and we got to sit next to two old New Yorkers who go every year.

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You have to see a show on Broadway when in New York but don’t forget to save yourself some pennies and head to TKTS earlier in the day (the same TKTS you find in Leicester Square).  We got tickets 5 rows back for little over $50 each.  The kiosk opens at 3pm for evening performances (2pm on Tuesdays).

Get your skates on at the Wollman Rink which opens in late October.  It’s the biggest rink in the city and set in Central Park.  Head to Bryant Park for free admission (also open in late October).  You still need to pay for skate hire and a lock for the lockers (!) and so if you have a lock with you (on your suitcase!), you may as well take this as it just may save you a few dollars.  Travel light as lockers are small.

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We found Max Brenner (see the dessert menu!) by accident and what a wonderful accident that was.  A must visit for all chocolate lovers out there.  You can order incredible ice-cream, chocolate pizza, fondue and try the Hug Mug with Mexican spicy chocolate or Italian hot chocolate (this is best dark).

Walk, walk, walk!  There is so much to see in this city, don’t miss out by taking cabs and the subway all the time.  Take in sights such as the Empire State Building, the New York Public Library, the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station.  Don’t forget the views back over the city from Brooklyn Bridge and of course Central Park.

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Take a helicopter flight at night and fly around the Statue of Liberty.  Try Liberty Helicopters where you can buy a ‘City Lights Ride’ from $149 pp.

The Statue of Liberty tour takes a long time and so get up early and head for the first boat out at 8:30am from Battery Park taking in Ellis Island on the way back and don’t plan too many other activities for the day.

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Take your credit card for all the shopping there is to be done.  Macys is the largest and most reasonable of all department stores and has a wonderful shop window display nearing Christmas and don’t forget your brown bag from Bloomies.

If you are there for the Rockefeller light switch on (late November/early December), don’t miss it.  It’s known for having a host of fantastic acts.  We saw (or rather heard!) performances from John Legend, Sting and Enya to name a few.  Our tip is to get there early to get a better spot but be very prepared to stand around for a while.

Trips

Iceland: Your 5 Night Winter Getaway

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Day 1

It’s an early start!  Depart the UK on an early flight and arrive in Iceland in time for lunch.  As you venture outside for the first time, the place feels grey and almost of another time.  It’s cold, quiet and eerie but very intriguing.  You can buy your return bus ticket into town in advance or at the airport although it’s not easy to find the bus once outside and so be prepared to ask.  If you pay a little bit extra you get dropped right to your door (fully recommended given the small extra fee and because you may well be feeling too tired to navigate with a suitcase trailing behind you).

We chose to stay at Center Hotel Thingholt which is very central, reasonably priced and very contemporary.  The lobby is decorated with dark glass masks representing the hidden people of Iceland and a small waterfall trickling down over them.  There is a small bar area just off reception which serves great value cocktails in the evening.

Head to the Laundromat for lunch.  Opened in March 2011, this little café is a stroll from the hotel and combines the practicalities of completing the week’s laundry and replenishment.  You can pick up light bites or something more substantial if the early start has left you hungry (including good vegetarian and vegan options).

Afterwards, take a walk to the nearby concert Hall, Harpa, to see what is on in the week.  In the winter look out for free Christmas concerts which are short, mostly in Icelandic but immerse you in the Christmas (and Icelandic) spirit.

Wonder back to your hotel via the water front and side streets, not forgetting to take in the Sun Voyager Sculpture and Höfði, and then (after a siesta) spruce up for an evening out.  Cocktails in the bar, possibly a bite to eat and then relaxing listening to a live band.  Try Kaldi for its local beers and homely feel, or if you fancy a night on the town (if you have any energy left!) try Club Solon and for live music go to Kaffi (Klapparstigur 25, Reykjavic, Iceland).

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Day 2

A day exploring the capital.  Start by visiting the Settlement Exhibition by the Tourist Information office.  It opens at 9am but if you’re up before that, head to Landakotskirkja beforehand (a little church nearby).  This is a small museum but gives you a good understanding of how Iceland has developed over time.  It’s a good place to start as it doesn’t get light in the winter until about 11am and so it won’t matter if you’re inside.  Tourist Information is a great place to go to book all your trips for the week and so pay it a stop afterwards.

Explore Hallgrimskirkja and don’t forget, if you want daytime shots, go between 11am and 3pm although the best time for those magical shots will be closer to 3pm when you have the change in light.  Cafe Loki just opposite is well worth a stop.  If you fancy trying the local delicacies, this is one of the places to go and even if not, it’s a good place to try Skyr.  If you fancy something a bit more traditional, try the oldest coffee shop in town (Cafe Mokka) which serves up the best waffles and most warming hot chocolate on a cold winter day.  If you’re out and about, don’t forget to stop at the Bernhofts Bakery not far from the hotel which sells wonderful cakes and pastries for that much needed sugar boost.

Explore the art galleries (Hafnarhus was our favourite although if you love art, make sure you give yourself time to see all 3 included in the entrance fee) and don’t forget to take a walk around the small lake Tjörnin.  Not far from here you can explore The National Museum of Iceland  which makes your realise just how far this place has come is such a very short space of time; remarkable.

Looking for somewhere to go for your evening meal?  Try Café Paris which offers lots of choice and is very reasonable.

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Day 3

Take a trip to the Blue Lagoon to relax after a hard day of sight seeing.  You can catch a bus from the main bus station which is about a 20 minute walk from the hotel.  You can buy your entry tickets from Tourist Information which means when you arrive you can walk straight in.  Set away from the capital and close to the airport, many travellers will choose to do this trip on the way from or to the airport but others may want a more relaxing experience.  If you go early in the day and before sunrise, you arrive to coloured lights illuminating the power station next door which provides the lagoon with its warm water.  It’s a very unique experience running over sheets of ice in the darkness to plunge into warm waters and not be able to see more than a foot in front of you for all the steam.  The lagoon has boxes of silica mud situated around the edge for you to apply to your face and body which you leave on for 5 minutes and wash off in the spa water.

Head back into town for an afternoon coffee and to sample another local favourite, dried cod or haddock.  It doesn’t sound too appetising but try it with cocktails if you’d prefer and you may well go back for seconds.  If you like lobster, you will love the very sweet cafe Saegreifinn which serves a lobster soup near the harbour.  The seats are cushioned barrels and it’s very cozy but just what you want on a cold day.

Try the local fish and chips at Icelandic Fish and Chips (it has recently moved from the harbour) which is almost self service but you can’t get it fresher.  It’s a basic set up but the taste is everything but.  Head on our for an evening boat trip to spot the northern lights (we chose Special Tours) and keep warm with free tea, coffee and hot chocolate and keep fueled with biscuits.  You can go in land although that is a 4 hour trip as it involves a 1 hour bus journey either side.  The boat trip races you out to sea in a matter of minutes although be warned, this is a cold trip and so wrap up warm.  Also, if you’re there for photos, try the land trip as the boat can get quite rocky.

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Day 4

Early start today!  Head out on a pre-booked golden circle tour (we picked Iceland Guided Tours because it was a tour by mini bus and so much more efficient and also, it was the cheapest).  Get picked up from your hotel and take in Gullfoss, the geysirs and Thingvellir Park.  If you are going in the Winter, you may find Yaktrax useful!  Gullfoss is one of the coldest places we have ever been and taking your gloves off for just a minute can be very painful.  If you’re there for photos, you will either need to be very brave or take a pair of well insulted and thin paid of gloves.

After a long day exploring just some of Iceland’s most beautiful sights, you will deserve a very nice meal out.  We tried Fiskfelagid Fish Company which offered a 3 course meal plus a gift from the chef, bursting with flavour.  We did not expect Iceland to offer so much from a culinary perspective but we loved every meal there are were very impressed.  Treat your tastebuds to anything on the menu and you will not be disappointed.

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Day 5

Your final day.  Spend this walking across glaciers, exploring more of the capital, taking a walk to Perlan (also a restaurant) just on the edge of the city for some wonderful views, go snowmobiling, horse riding or take a jeep tour (see Reykjavik Excursions which run a number of day tours).  The choice really is endless.

Take a quick bite at Hamborgarabulla Tomasar near the waters edge (Geirsgata).  You can’t miss this tiny restaurant which radiates light from within in the lead up to Christmas and the burgers are good and brilliant value.  It’s small and so be prepared to wait for a space.

If you want to, take another tour out to see the northern lights as this may be your last chance.  We were lucky enough to see them in the capital on our last night there which is unusual due to the light pollution and so another trip out to the darkness may well be your best bet.

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Day 6

Another early start to catch your plane home (Icelandic chocolate and alcohol are very reasonably priced at the airport).  A final bus ride through the middle of the night morning and you’re back at Keflavik Airport with a thousand memories and a desire to return.

Europe

The Famous Five

The Cinque Terre walk (Italy) can be completed within a day.  The route takes in the 5 pretty villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and finally Riomaggiore.

Taking some time to stop in each, the route is likely to take about 7 hours (5 hours walking and 2 hours for sight seeing and refuelling.  You may wish to base yourself in Monterosso and start the walk from there as early as you can.  We would advise starting at 7:30am as the first part of the walk is most difficult and you will want to avoid the heat of the day.  Once you reach the end, you can get the train back and enjoy a well earned dinner and cocktails.

Alternatively, the easier route is Riomaggiore to Monterosso (you can catch the train to Riomaggiore in the morning if staying in Monterosso) but the difficult bit is towards the end and the best views are behind you!

Where to stay in Monterosso

The hidden gem – Hotel Ristorante Marina

The one with the pool – Hotel Porto Roca

The friendly modern one – Hotel Souvenir

Where to eat

As you will most likely be starting early, you may not have time for much of a breakfast.  In any event, you may choose to eat something light as the first part of the walk to Vernazza is the toughest section.  However, you can reward your efforts upon arrival by visiting Panifacio Focacceria, the town’s best bakery.  Pick up some pastries and head to the harbour to enjoy the view, food and achievement.

By the time you arrive in Corniglia, you may have worked up a small appetite.  We wouldn’t usually suggest only indulging in sweet treats, but as you’re working so hard, you deserve to treat yourself to some of the best ice-cream in Italy at Un Mare di Yogurt.

The last part of the walk is relatively gentle and by the time you arrive in Riomaggiore, you may be ready for a late lunch.  Il Pescato Cucinato is the perfect place to stop, being located close to the harbour and the train station.  It serves fabulous sea food in paper cones which you can take out into the sun to enjoy the view.

And don’t forget the lemonade stop on the route……you will regret missing out!